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GROB: The gift that keeps on giving

GROB: The gift that keeps on giving
James Grob
By James Grob,

“Are you okay, Uncle James? It’s snowing here, is it snowing there?”

I’ve been getting a lot of text messages on my phone like that one lately.

At the family Christmas gathering, I made a snap decision, and I’m not sure if it was the right thing to do or not. Time will tell.

I gave my phone number to my nephew. I knew it might be a mistake when I did it, with unintended consequences, but I’m an old softy sometimes as an uncle, so I just did it.

I should tell you a little bit about my nephew, new owner of my phone number. His name is Christian. He was born at Christmas time several years ago, a Down syndrome baby. He’s highly functional, very self-aware, and one of the most caring individuals I’ve ever met. You haven’t been hugged until you’ve gotten a Christian hug.

Of course, he has special needs. He has disabilities and mental and physical developmental delays. He was fortunate to be born into a family with one parent who regularly works with disabled people as a part of her career, and another parent who has the patience of a saint.

Christian is lucky; many who are like him aren’t. They need help, and their families need help. That’s a different newspaper article for a different day.

Christian has grown from a Down syndrome baby to a toddler to now a teenager, and each next step has brought our family joy. It’s safe to say he’s the best Christmas gift our family has ever received.

But since he’s taken control of my phone number, the text messages have been perpetual and the FaceTime calls have typically come at inopportune times.

Sometimes, I’ll get a weather report.

“I just wanted to give you a heads up. It will snow on Saturday and it will snow the following Wednesday. It might start snowing the following weekend and week, so thanks for listening. I love you Uncle James.”

Sometimes he’ll tell me about his jobs — yes, he’s old enough to be getting jobs now. From what I understand, he’s a part of a culinary program in his school district, and he’s learning how to cook. I don’t think he’s putting out master chef dishes; I think it’s more short-order cook stuff, but he’s excited about it.

He’s also, from what I gather, working part time at a movie theater. I believe he’s doing things like sweeping floors and making popcorn. I told him that when people ask him what he does, he should just tell them he’s in the movie business.

“That’s funny,” he texted. “I like your attitude there, Uncle James.”

For the past several years, he’s been involved in a local community theater for children and young adults with special needs. They put on elaborate productions of Broadway musicals. A couple years ago, he had a part in “Beauty and the Beast.” Last year, he was one of the monkeys in “Seussical.” This year, he’s a hyena in “The Lion King.”

I’m looking forward to seeing the show later this month. He spent most of his Christmas practicing his lines and songs — and the lines and songs of everyone else in the show.

I’m so proud and grateful that Christian is involved in all those things, but mostly, I’m proud and grateful that he’s my nephew, my little sister’s kid, my parents’ grandkid, and a good brother to my other nephew.

He’s in a family of diverse sports fans. His dad loves the Bears, his mom and his Uncle James love the Vikings — but Christian loves the Packers. His late Grandpa was a big Packers fan, and I think he chose the Packers out of respect for his grandpa’s memory.

He still watches the Vikings, though, as I found out last weekend, as my phone started squealing non-stop with messages from him.

“Are you watching this game? This is nuts,” was the first text message.

Later it was, “The score is 14 to 13. The Vikings can win this game.”

And then finally, it was, “I told you. The Vikings win this game in overtime.”

Later, he inexplicably sent me a photo of his brother.

“My little brother is so funny. He is the best.”

“You and your brother are good kids and you should look out for each other,” I replied.

“I like your attitude there, James.”

I received a Face Time call in the middle of a meeting last week, which interrupted a speaker and embarrassed me. I quickly hung up, which apparently Christian didn’t understand. So he called back again. And again. Finally, I had to just turn my phone completely off and apologize to the others at the meeting.

When I turned it back on later, there was a text message waiting for me.

“You are not talking to me, are you okay? I hope you aren’t sick. What’s wrong, Uncle James?”

I explained to him that he couldn’t try to Face Time me during the day when I was at work. I think he understood. I told him it was OK to text me, but not to try to Face Time me unless I gave him permission ahead of time.

“Good thinking, James.”

“Thanks, Christian.”

“I like your attitude, there, James.”

The following Saturday, I was doing a little work, as we newspaper people do sometimes on Saturdays, and he attempted to Face Time with me again. I gently informed him I was working.

“You can’t be at work because it’s Saturday. We get the weekend off before we go back to school,” he told me.

I explained that sometimes people have to work on Saturdays, too. There was silence on my phone for several hours. Then this text message:

“I don’t want to distract you but I love you Uncle James smiley face smiley face emoji.”

(There weren’t actually any emojis used. He just typed in the words “smiley face emoji.”)

A few days later, there came this text message exchange:

“Happy back to school day, Uncle James!”

“I don’t go to school anymore, Christian, but your Aunt Michelle went back to school to teach yesterday. I have already been back to work.”

“I see. Is that fun, Uncle James?”


“Why not?”

“Because I’d rather hang out with my nephews than work.”

“OK. Good answer. I like your attitude there, James.”

The best text message exchange came a week ago, when I had told him that I had the stomach flu on New Year’s Day. It’s this conversation that just might convince me that giving my nephew my phone number was the right thing to do.

“I have been sick too,” his text message said. “My shoulder is very sore and I got a headache. I’m a lot sick, I got a stuffy nose and the back of my leg is hurting.”

“I hope you feel better, Christian,” I said.

“Aw. Thank you Uncle James. I already do,” he said.

“I like your attitude there, Christian.”

“You’re funny, Uncle James.”