“My Three Sons”…and two surrogate aunts

Max (5) enjoys playing with a helicopter in at "Aunt Vicki's" house.

We’ve been publishing Raising Arizona Kids magazine for 21 years. Since my sons were 2 and 4. Since staff multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint’s children were 7, 2 and two who were yet to be born.

As one empty nester (me) and one who is a soon-to-be (Vicki’s youngest, Annie, is now a senior at Xavier College Preparatory), we don’t spend much time in the company of preschoolers.  So when we were chatting with colleague Rob Turchick at a social event in late September, we urged him to remember that we’d make good babysitters if he and his wife, Krista, ever needed a break.

Sam (3) plays with a Duplo airplane.

As if the parents of three sons age 5 and younger — plus a newborn daughter! — ever needed a break.

I was on the phone with Rob on Thursday, talking about the possibility of building a podcast studio somewhere in our office. We chatted for a bit and then he paused. “Uh, remember when you said something about watching the boys?” he said. “Well, I’m wondering if I can take you up on it.” Turns out Rob, a audio-video production specialist who runs Mesa-based yipDog Studios, had a video shoot scheduled Friday afternoon. Krista had to be with baby Katy, who was scheduled to undergo a medical procedure.

Rob had already talked to Vicki, who jumped at the chance to take the first shift of what he expected would be a six-hour block of time. I quickly agreed to take second. Then I called Vicki and we decided that we’d do the second shift together, so we could keep the boys at one house (hers) and didn’t have to introduce too many new people or places.

Sam, Max and Vicki on the Balints' backyard patio.

We were both a little nervous, I think, about whether we could handle three active, curious little boys on our own. So Vicki is the real hero in this story because she did that by herself (just fine!) from 1 to 3:30pm. When I finished my last appointment for the day, I sent Vicki a text: “Fresh troops on the way,” I wrote. “I’m headed there now.” She responded: “Ha — they are a blast!”

When I arrived, the boys — Max (5), Sam (3) and Tyler (2) — were engrossed in play. Vicki had Duplo blocks, toy cars and all sorts of other early-Balint-parenting-era toys set up around the room. Tyler was carrying around a measuring tape and a flashlight. The older boys had moved on to something they found infinitely more intriguing: a stash of old CD cases, which they were counting, stacking and dusting.

Yes, dusting. Rob and Krista, you’re definitely doing something right. Max was adamant about wiping dust from the narrow tops of some CD cases that hadn’t been touched in years. Later, Max realized the Balints’ three dogs were shedding (a bit stressed, perhaps?), so he followed them around with a lint roller. When I took Max and Tyler outside, they fought over who got to use a small broom they found on the patio to sweep away pine needles from the trees towering above the house.

Wow. My sons are 23 and 25 and I’ve never heard them fight over sweeping the patio.

When Vicki got a call from her 28-year-old daughter Cory, who is in medical school in the midwest, she popped in her ear buds and carried her iPhone around the backyard, chatting with her daughter as she helped me keep an eye on the boys and used a lopper to clear away some overgrown vegetation at the base of a swing set that hadn’t seen much action in recent years. Talk about multi-tasking!

When we sat on the edge of the pool and kicked our feet in the water for a few minutes, Tyler and I managed to get ourselves so wet that he needed a change of shorts. (Unfortunately, Rob hadn’t packed an extra pair of jeans for me, so I spent the next few hours walking around looking liked I’d wet my pants.)

As we sat on patio chairs enjoying a snack of apple wedges and rainbow-colored goldfish crackers, Max made a solemn pronouncement. “I am being really good today,” he said. “Because I want you to be happy that you stayed with me.”

Getting into carseats for the field trip to Culver's.

Tyler (looking at the prize gallery), Max and Vicki at Culver's in Phoenix.

Awaiting our meals at Culver's.

With two hours left to go, Vicki decided we needed a change of venue. So we piled the boys into car seats in her car and drove them to Culver’s at Camelback Road and Eighth Street. Our first inclination was to go for ice cream. Then we thought it might be more appropriate (and kinder to Rob) to feed them real food first. So we loaded up on the requisite hot dog, chicken strips and grilled cheese sandwich, throwing in some sides of green beans and applesauce to prove we had their nutritional interests at heart.

Tyler took right to the applesauce and wasn’t interested in his grilled cheese. Sam didn’t want the chicken strips so we exhanged his meal with Tyler’s. Max decided he needed half of Sam’s grilled cheese along with his hot dog.

Max tries the green beans at Culver's. He wasn't very enthusiastic about it, but he did make a polite effort.

Max was the only one brave enough to try to the green beans. Sam ate some of his applesauce and then decided it needed some pepper. I was texting my husband to let him know where we were when Vicki started laughing. Sam, who was sitting beside me, was licking the top of the pepper shaker. (Vicki took it up the counter, explaining apologetically that they might want to wash it thoroughly.)

A Culver’s employee came around with ice cream samples and we doled them out to everyone…unintentionally leaving out Tyler. “Hey, did Mom forget you?” the employee said. Vicki beamed (“He thinks Tyler is my son!”) — and promptly told the story to her daughter Annie, who checked in by phone.

As my texting conversation continued, melted ice cream from Sam’s cone dripped down his shirt, onto his shorts and all over the side of the table. Vicki and I decided one thing for sure. We’re grateful that our stints parenting this age group came before the days of cell phones, texting and and social media. Parenting is enough of a blur without all that.

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3 responses to ““My Three Sons”…and two surrogate aunts

  1. what an awesome afternoon that was! thanks for documenting it!

  2. What a great article!

  3. The boys are still talking about how much fun they had! Thank you both SO much for your help! Seeing the day documented like this is a bit surreal but also shows how special you and Vicki are for taking on such a task and doing it so successfully. You are both amazing!

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