August 18, 2009

Just outside

Front step

The little neighbor kids, Ponytail and Biker Boy, have spent many mornings this summer playing on my front step. I leave bins of toys on the porch for them, and we’ve got a big lawn that is mostly shaded. We’re on a quiet, deadend street so my front yard is a safe place.

Some days, they’re good about playing quietly while I’m working in my home office, just a few feet away. When I want to take a break, I come out and sit with them for a while. We talk and eat snacks -- or put the garden hose in the tree so that they can run in the spray. Sometimes Shaggy Hair Boy will play with them or take them on walks. He’s good with kids.

Four of us in the household work at home sometimes, and that’s hard for these little kids to understand. Boy in Black’s summer job has been doing research; that is, he’s getting paid to sit on the couch in our living room writing computer programs and running simulations on his laptop. One of my daughter’s jobs has been freelancing for a magazine: editing articles on her computer. I’ve been writing, of course, and putting together syllabi. My husband checks the stock market on his computer and answers emails when he’s working at home.

The kids don’t get how doing stuff on a computer can be “work” or why we might need the household to be quiet during the day. They’re needy kids, with a difficult home life, and sometimes they drive the household crazy, always banging on the door to ask for another drink or snack or “Can’t I play the drums now?” Teaching them boundaries has been difficult work. One day when I left early to go run some errands and forgot to lock the front door, Boy in Black was awakened by the two kids jumping up and down on top of him.

Little Biker Boy is a child with a whole lot of anger inside him. At eight, he’s already got a host of childhood demons to deal with – and not the resources to do so. I’ve explained to him many times that the “no hitting” rule at my house works in his favor – since he is considerably smaller than the gang of young men who live with me. But it’s taken him a long time to curb his tendency to react violently when he doesn’t get his way.

But he can be sweet and charming, too. He’ll bring in the trashcans after the garbage truck comes through, and he’ll be so proud of himself for doing us a favor. “Look! I brought your trashcans up the driveway!” Some days, I ask him to wash my car with the hose – just to keep him and his sister busy and cool – and he’ll brag for the rest of the day about how clean the car looks.

On a ridiculously hot day this week, I came outside with juice so that we could have a snack in the shade of the river birches. I was wearing an old shirt that was covered with stains, and shorts leftover from the 70s. I’d yanked my sweaty hair up off my neck with an old scrunchie – not a flattering look -- and because my contact lenses had been bothering me, I was wearing a pair of glasses that my daughter has called ridiculous.

Little Biker Boy gave me the kind of sweet look only an eight-year-old boy can give. “Jo(e),” he said with complete sincerity, “you look beautiful today!”

12 comments:

BrightenedBoy said...

It's a difficult thing to do, and you're noble for doing it.

Honestly, hearing you admit your frustrations makes me feel better; sometimes it's easy to imagine you as being superhuman, with the perfect solution to every problem.

I'm sure the situation isn't helped by the fact that they still go home every night, where your rules--and your protections--no longer apply.

I hope you can make a difference. If anyone could, you'd be the one.

Has their mother at least left that awful boyfriend?

Lilian said...

Yes, I'm glad that they can count on your family. I'm sure that oftentimes they're a nuisance, but you're doing a wonderful thing for them. I cannot imagine how things will/would be if they moved...

KathyR said...

Aww. What a sweetie.

Amelie said...

You're so kind. My mom was like this, too, there were kids from the neighborhood who came almost every afternoon, who sometimes had lunch with us. They didn't have quite such a difficult situation at home as Biker Boy and Ponytail (as far as I know, anyway), but they were happy to come to the friendly space that was our home. I hope you can make a difference. Actually, I'm sure you do.

patti said...

You have no idea how important the haven you're supplying is.

liz said...

You're doing good work there.

RageyOne said...

Though it may be seen in the immediacy, I bet the care & concern provided by you and your family will benefit those 2 young people in the long run. Keep it up! Influence is not always seen until much later in life.

Lorianne said...

That last line just slew me!

Psycgirl said...

You're so good to provide the structure and boundaries those kids need - they will learn so much from you. Your posts remind me of my parents, whose 6-year old neighbor has also adopted them and comes and goes when he wants. My poor mother can get frazzled having to get him to follow rules at our home that his home doesn't have, but she is so patient. So are you - those kids will always remember you no matter where they go in life :)

kathy a. said...

(o)

bsouth said...

Thank goodness they have somewhere safe to play. And well done to the boy for knowing exactly when to flatter!

Kyla said...

That is very cute.

I'm very glad they have you.