"Are you happy, Aunt Claudia?"

I spent the evening with my three-year-old nephew yesterday. It was my brother-in-law's birthday and he and my sister had dinner reservations. So, I decided to take my nephew out while they were dining.

At first, he wasn't too keen on leaving the house with me. I knew he'd be fine once we got on the road, though.

"Are you doing okay back there?" I asked him once we were a mile from home.

"It's not," he replied and gave me a little scowl.

"How about some Christmas music?"

"Yeah, Christmas music!"

And from then on he was fine. Yesterday morning, I told him, "Say 'happy birthday' to your daddy."

Instead of wishing his father a happy birthday, he said, "I want my Christmas."  So sentimental, that kid! Anyway, I know he's really getting into Christmas so that's why I figured some festive holiday music would be met with some enthusiasm.  We drove to Tysons Corner.  I wanted to stop at Lush for some bath bombs and also needed to pick up a birthday gift for my niece (who is returning home from Australia this evening). Sweet 16! I can't believe she's practically an adult. It seems like just yesterday she was playing with Polly Pockets and watching Blue's Clues.

As you might guess, I was not the only person headed to Tysons on a Saturday. Parking was insane. I finally found a spot, loaded my nephew into his stroller, and headed off in search of an elevator. Unbelievably, the four-story parking garage did not have one. Grrrr. I was not about to move the car, so I bumped the poor kid down a flight of stairs. I have to say he was a good sport about it. He talks constantly. "You can't find an elerator, Aunt Claudia? Did you see that car? It was orange. That's cool."  Everything is "That's coooool."

First we stopped at a candy store. I am determined to be the cool/fun aunt, so I bought him a plastic Santa full of candy.  Then I took him to the Disney Store. To say that my nephew is nuts about cars would be a drastic understatement. I tucked two Matchbox cars into my suitcase and gave them to him when I first arrived. He added them to his collection of hundreds. When we got into the Disney Store, he spotted a collection of three cars from the Cars movie. I took a picture of it and sent it to my brother-in-law to ask if these cars were already floating around the house somewhere. Good news - I was free to buy them. I was on track to be the best auntie ever.

We then headed to Lush and then to American Eagle to buy a gift card for my niece. I always feel like I'm about 100 years old when I visit American Eagle (which I do just once a year, to buy that gift card). The loud music, the hipper-than-thou cashiers, the clothes made for people with no hips . . .

There were other places I wanted to visit in the mall, but I decided it was best to give up at that point. The place was extremely crowded and most of the stores seemed impossible to navigate with a stroller. My nephew was behaving very well. I mean, he had cars and candy, so he was all set. I wanted to go to the food court on the third floor but it seemed like it would take an act of congress to get the stroller up there. So, we headed out.

When we got back to the parking garage, a car followed me to our space. I thought, surely they are not going to sit and wait for us. It seemed clear that it would take a while before we would be ready to pull out. First I had to extract my nephew from the stroller and load him into the car. He didn't want to let go of the cars, which made it a challenge to get him strapped into his carseat. Then I grabbed our stuff from the stroller and put it in the car.  And then came the final challenge . . . collapsing the stroller. I could not make this happen for love nor money. I'm sure the hardcore shopper in the car was wondering how on earth I didn't know how to collapse the stroller. It definitely didn't work the same way my daughter's stroller worked when she was little. I tried pushing and pulling the bar, looking for a handle of some kind, etc. Finally I just shoved that mofo into the back of my sister's Expedition as is. At long last, we were ready to go.

Next up, we drove to my grandma's house in Arlington. She and I chatted while my nephew zoomed around the house with his cars and caused minor mayhem. She has a priceless collection of Hummels and I did get a little nervous when I saw him peering into the glass case where they live. So, I would talk to my grandma for a few minutes, then get up and make sure the three-year-old wasn't drinking Windex or anything. At one point I got up to check on him and smelled an aroma of lemony freshness. He had found a bottle of Pledge and sprayed it all over the guest room (including the bed pillows). Ooooops.  Eventually, I decided we'd better head home. It was getting late and I knew my sister would be home shortly. I was hoping to get a photo of my nephew and my grandma, but the kid was not willing. He was done. "Bye, Gammaw!" he shouted, blowing kisses from the front walk. As I was opening the car door, he ran across the street, causing me to call him by his full name, loudly.

"Sorry, Aunt Claudia!" he said as he climbed into his car seat.  I have to say that he does have darned good manners for a three-year-old. As we were headed back home, he said, "I love you, Aunt Claudia. Thank you for the cool cars." Then I heard him say that he is a "yucky" (lucky) boy.

As we listened to more Christmas carols, he said, "Are you happy, Aunt Claudia?"  In 44 years, I don't think anyone has ever asked me if I'm happy. I'm guessing he didn't mean, "Are you content with your life choices?" but rather, "Are you enjoying yourself?"

"Yes, I'm very happy, " I said. "I'm happy when I'm with you."

"Happy when you're with me? That's cooooool."


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