Those who know me know well my antipathy toward children. Well, perhaps antipathy is too strong a word; let's say that my opinion of most of them is not favorable. I think that in about 95% of the cases they are inconsiderate at best, and often downright mean, at least to each other. Apologists might admit this but claim that they behave so while being innocent of any malice, and it just takes some time to teach them how to get along in a civilized society. I dispute none of that, I just reiterate that I don't want to be around them until that's taken care of. I believe this to the degree that, at the age of 25 when I entered into a sexual relationship, I sat through the Are you sure you know what you're doing condescension ceremony that is the usually required prelude to having a vasectomy.

While I'm polite to people who insist on doing so, my friends know that I'm putting on a false face when I graciously review pictures of a coworker's new baby — or, God forbid, they actually bring the critters around — though I draw the line at actually oohing and ahing. I may or may not be comparable in this to W. C. Fields, though I have, on multiple occasions, happily performed dogsitting favors for friends; whether people might think this makes me a bit better, worse, or less consistent than M. Fields, I neither know nor care.

Politeness and the performance of familial duties led me to travel three thousand miles from sea to shining sea to visit my brother Gary and his wife Sally a couple of months after they returned from Bolivia with their two newly adopted children; Clara, one, and Sam, five. Some close friends through the years have insisted that I be "Uncle Clarence" to their children when they later have some, but this was the first time and it was the real thing. And the challenge this time was of a totally different degree than before, as I would have to keep my game face on for two weeks. At least I declined their offer to put me up in their house, opting for a motel instead.

So I'm spending a few hours of each day of my vacation at their house, playing with Sam, watching Clara roll over onto her back, which is about the extent of her activities given that she's in a half-body cast. I also spend time after dinner cleaning up the floor around Clara's high chair; she really enjoys throwing food. (Cuteness factor: 0)

I took a road trip for a few days, visting Mitzi in South Carolina. Along the way, I picked up some stuffed animals and a silly toy for the kids, as any uncle/aunt/doting grandparent is expected to do. The toy, of course, was neat for an hour and then got tossed into the corner and forgotten about.

A day or two before my departure, I'm out in the back yard with them. I've been giving Sam horseyback rides, and now he's off inspecting a bug or something. A little less hectically, I'm relaxing in down dog, palms on the ground, back straight, heels not quite making contact, and Clara is slowly pulling herself along the grass under me.

And it occurs to me that this isn't the worst thing in the world. I'm still resolute in my determination to have no children of my own, but I can take some pleasure in hoping that this little time I'm sharing with my niece and nephew are helping them along the path from untamed animal to welcome member of society. Perhaps we've both been changed in some small way.