A not-so-secret secret: I don’t like children, unless they’re my own, both of whom are better looking, smarter, funnier and all-around more loveable than anyone else’s kids. Just ask me. Or them.
Unfortunately, the kids in our neighborhood (and various small animals) gravitate toward me. I suspect this is because I’m so short they simply cannot believe I’m a full-fledged adult. Or maybe it’s because I’m not above whipping up a batch of cookies and offering them as many as they’d like if they’ll GO HOME and eat them. Hard to say. Also unfortunate: some of the kids in our neighborhood are just downright stupid. No, I mean it. They’ll come over and ask my son to play outside with them, then swarm my yard until the sheer noise of the throng drives me nuts.
Now, when I say “throng”, I mean it. There’s one family in the neighborhood that consists of six siblings and an endless rotation of cousins (at least two on any given weekend), all of whom are required to play outside as a group, despite the vast difference in their ages, and add two other pairs of siblings — who also seem to come as a unit, like “Invite one! Get two!” — plus my son. Now, I suck at math but that’s
a coven a shitload of children. All playing in my yard.
(Come to think of it, I bet their parents send them with instructions to play in my yard just so they can get a break from their noisy little brats. Oh man. THAT is going to come up at the next block party, I assure you.)
Anyway, after a while I just can’t take it anymore. By that point, they’ve played ‘Ding Dong Ditch’ a half-dozen times even though I never, ever bother answering when the bell rings. (All of the neighborhood parents, having been similarly victimized by this stupid game, know to knock .) They’ve each had a turn being It in Hide-and-Seek, which means I’ve heard “One…two…three…um, six…twelve…five…”
at least a dozen a shitload of times. And, more often than not, I’ve passed out numerous Band-Aids or ice packs, depending on whether they were riding bikes or playing tag that day.
Then I snap.
That’s when I’ll go outside to pass around cookies — “Take one for each hand and GO HOME, kids!” — and they’ll stand there, grasping their cookies, completely oblivious to the GO HOME part, until I say for the fourth or fifth time, “No, really. It’s time to GO HOME!” That’s usually sufficient enough to set them on their way, although I’m not above pointing out to the stragglers that if they continue hanging around they have to give me back their cookies. After all, we had a deal.
But it never fails: some kid always forgets something at my house — gloves, a hat, their Pokemon cards. (Once, I even found a rather nice lacy bra, which is weird since none of the kids are old enough to wear one. I didn’t know which kid to confront, so I put it away for safekeeping. That, too, will come up at our next block party. Count on it.) Fortunately, the kids never realize they’ve forgotten something, so I don’t have to worry about the doorbell ringing again just when
I’m finally getting my drunk on to settle my nerves things are calming down around here.
Now, on one recent evening after VH, the Big-Eyed Boy and I had finished our dinner and gone downstairs to watch TV together, I kept hearing things. At first, I thought I heard a bump in the garage but figured it was just our cat, who sometimes likes to go out there to smell what’s new. A few minutes later, though, I was certain I heard someone talking, but by the time I’d nagged VH into tearing his hypnotized gaze from the TV to find the remote and mute the volume, the noise had stopped.
“You’re hearing things,” he told me.
“Well, duh,” I said. “Isn’t that implied when someone asks ‘Did you hear that?‘”
A few more minutes went by, and this time I was certain: someone was knocking on the door. And that, of course, means one of the neighborhood parents was standing on my doorstep. And THAT means some kid did something stupid while they were here, so I glanced at mine to see if he looked particularly guilty, but he was obviously as confused as I was. Which is why I sent him to answer the door. Who (besides me) is going to go off on a kid, right?
He came back to the basement shrugging. “No one was there. Guess someone’s playing Knock, Knock Ditch?” He thought this was particularly funny until we heard yet another knock, this time louder. Only, this time I could tell it wasn’t coming from the front door, but from the garage, instead. As in, the door inside the garage that opens into the kitchen. So I raced up the stairs worried that we’d left the big, outer garage door up and some thief was now trying to get in our house. (I know, I know: like thieves would knock, right?) So I grabbed the baseball bat we keep in the coat closet and flung open the door to confront the intruder.
The instant I flung open the door, I saw that the large, outer door was closed and realized we must’ve trapped a wild animal inside. And just as I was realizing this, that very animal emitted an ear-piercing scream. Naturally, I screamed, too, and it went on like that for several long heartbeats: the beast screaming, me screaming, both of our screams making the other one scream.
That’s when I pulled it together and took a good look at the rabid thing and saw… it was a three-year-old little boy who’d tagged along with an older sibling to play with my son earlier. And, from what I could decipher between his chest-shaking sobs and snot bubbles, he’d crawled into my minivan in the garage and fallen asleep while everyone else was playing, only they’d forgotten all about him when it was time to go home. (Naturally, they’d taken their cookies anyway.)
He was obviously terrified, and who wouldn’t be, waking up in someone else’s dark garage and not remembering how the hell they’d got there.
It’s scared the crap out of ME every time it’s happened. Poor little guy. So, holding him at arm length while I wiped the snot off of his face with a wad of disposable tissue, I assured him I’d walk him home and, yes, he could have his two cookies.
Now get this: when his mother finally came to the door, she had the audacity to ask why I didn’t know her son was still at my house, much less that he’d crawled into my van and fallen asleep. It was such an unexpected, blame-shifting question that I just stood there and stared, blinking slowly, my left eyebrow raised in that disdainful, Spock-like way that I’d practiced in front of the mirror for hours when I was a kid.
Eventually, she’d replayed her own words in her head. She has one of those faces that pretty much telegraphs every thought in her head as it happens. One minute, she was scowling at me, her eyebrows lowered into an angry V over her nose and jaw jutting forward beneath puckered lips. The next, her face went blank and slack, like she was listening to some far-off tune. Then — BOOM! — it hit her: why didn’t she know her son was still at my house? And that’s when I turned on my heel and left her standing on her front porch, contemplating her own stupidity and calculating how long it’d take the story to make its rounds of the neighborhood.
The next afternoon, the same neighbor came knocking on my door bearing a plate of homemade cookies and an apology for having gone all unreasonable on me the night before. As she explained — and she was very nice and contrite about it — with so many kids in the house, sometimes it’s easy to lose track of them, which is why they’re supposed to keep an eye on each other, too. I totally get that. Really, I do. I can’t imagine having more than my own two, who keep me at my wit’s end. So we made nice and everything, and we were all smiles and stuff, as I closed my front door.
But just in case, I tossed the cookies into the trash. Who knows what snot-nosed kid of hers had touched them.