My sister graciously allowed me to hang out with my (elementary-school-age) niece and nephew this afternoon and evening. It's a good deal all around: I get to spend time with a couple of cool kids, they get a break from their usual routine, and my sister and her husband get a little time to themselves.
Since the weather is once again cold and dreary, and I'm cheap, I told the kids we could do whatever they wanted so long as it was age-appropriate, indoors, and free. So we headed to the library, where I was (as usual) impressed by the staff. As we entered, my nephew mentioned that he wanted to ask one of the librarians a question, and the lady sitting nearest the door piped up, "Ooh, ooh, ask me, ask me!" It's always nice to encounter someone who clearly loves their job, and even better when they're in a position to serve as a positive role model for kids.
After filling our minds at the library, we headed to our favorite burger-and-ice-cream joint to fill our tummies. (I can't work up much enthusiasm for ice cream when it's cold outside, but that never seems to deter the kids.) When our food arrived, my niece (who's well aware that I don't believe in god, and who has challenged me many times previously on that point) initially insisted that I had to "say grace" before we could eat. I replied that I don't pray, but she could if she wanted—my usual response in that situation. (I won't pretend to join in others' religious rituals, but it's not my place to interfere with someone who just wants to say some "special" words over their dinner.) After considering my answer briefly, she declared, "We don't have to say grace if you don't want to," and tucked into her food. She may be pious, but she's also practical.
The kids didn't need to be home until 8:00 (meaning "my sister and her husband wanted a little time to watch one whole TV show with no interruptions"), so we hung out at my house for a while after dinner. I let them play around on an ancient (Windows 95) laptop that I won't miss at all if it happens to get broken. My nephew asked how the different keys on the keyboard work (so I demonstrated Page Up/Down, Home, End, etc. to him), and what some of the symbol keys like the asterisk (*) are for. I explained that the asterisk is sometimes used as a multiplication symbol (e.g., 4*5=20), but then I got into the concept of footnotes,* and that spawned a whole new discussion into sentence structure and composition. (How teachers manage whole roomfuls of such inquisitive young minds, I'll never know.) I felt a little more confident when my niece asked how she could save a copy of the drawing that she'd lovingly crafted in Windows Paint, and I chanted "Click File, click Save, type a name, click Save, click File, click Exit" without even having to think about it.
Ah, the joys of nieces and nephews. For someone like me who never bothered to have kids of my own, they provide all the privileges of grandparenthood: I get to spoil 'em rotten, impress them with my knowledge of Harry Potter, and pass along my "wisdom" to them. And once I've filled them with junk food, I take them home to their parents. It's a great system.
* Like this one.