Thirty minutes later, Jane asked me to watch Bella while she went to deal with laundry in the garage. I followed my niece into Jane's bedroom and watched as she scaled the bed frame and pulled herself onto the recently made bed, letting out a sigh of satisfaction at her accomplishment and the feel of the fluffed blanket beneath her as comfortable reward. I decided to be a spontaneous and fun aunt by giving her a zerbert, that funky and strange act of blowing on someone's belly until your lips vibrate and make a sound that closely resembles that of flatulence.
I uncovered her stomach (which, similar to most toddlers, sticks out like a pot belly), applied my lips to her flesh, and blew away. She squealed with laughter and said, "Again!" But something was wrong. When I stood up to smile, my lips slid against each other in an odd way. My face felt...greasy. "Wha?" I was wiping at my mouth, nonplussed, when Jane walked into the room carrying a hamper full of clean clothes.
"Jane! I gave Bella a zerbert and my face feels all weird."
My sister didn't look concerned at all. She looked amused. Then she doubled over and cackled like a hyena over a stolen carcass. She somehow managed, between gasps for breath, to communicate that before she went to the garage, she had applied some kind of topical steroid to Bella's stomach to relieve the itching and soreness caused by a fleabite near the child's belly button. I fervently wiped at my lips as the "ewww" factor returned full force.
"Can it hurt me? Will I get sick?"
"If anything," Jane laughed, "it will soothe your face."
"Wonderful," I said sarcastically. "Can we watch the other movie now?" I settled back onto the couch, trying to ignore the dried milk on my clothes and the residue of slime on my face. Our second movie was In Her Shoes , a story of two sisters who lead very different lives. Neither Jane nor I had the heart to tell Bella to stop banging a ceramic piece from her tea set against her wooden table; we simply set up the subtitles so we could read what was being said on the screen.
After dinner, which Bella intermittently interrupted to demand we stop eating, I decided to call it a night. When I arrived home -- soiled, traumatized, and humbled -- it was as though I truly had worn Jane's shoes, with the blisters to show for it.