Along with viruses and the occasional stray animal, your children also bring home other kids.
Some are invited; many are not. My son Foster, is suddenly best buddies with a leech kid down the street and this boy will not leave us alone. He’s resistant to hints. If so inclined, I could pelt him with eggs from my porch and he would simply duck and roll his way to our doorstep. Every night we’re trapped in our home, staring out the windows through slits in the blinds like the last survivors in a horror movie.
How did this happen?
The routine has become so firmly engrained it’s difficult to recount the first visit. I’m pretty sure it began with the water fight.
Summer was set to broil and Foster and I were out by the water hose. We had doused the English ivy and hauled the watering cans back and forth to the porch to bring some relief to the desiccated ferns and petunias. With the work done, we were now in full play mode. Foster was hiding behind the parked car as I shot an arc of cold hose water over the hood and onto his head. Once in a while, he would storm my position and get blasted in the process.
The neighborhood kids rode by on their bikes and scooters like a small gang. We live on a quiet circle in eastern NC, a place where other parents let their kids roam freely. Though we’d never even spoken to the kids, obscenely wasteful water fights are irresistible to children and they came up our driveway and asked if they could play with us. I said “Of course you can!”—and it changed our lives.
I couldn’t say no. My son was about to make friends with the neighborhood kids and it was an exciting moment. I knew this band of ragamuffins would be in our lives for the next decade or so, and even though he would make better friends in school and camp and playing sports, he would make no closer buddies than the ones from his childhood street. And it was an epic water fight.
It wasn’t just a water bill that came back to haunt us—it was Lance.
Six years old with a brown crew cut and round face, Lance appears to be a cute harmless child at first glance. He didn’t stand out during the water fight as a presence to fear or dread—watching him scooter around the circle never made me shudder with the chill of an unsettling omen. But he’s a Klingon, and there’s no other way to look at it. Why has he chosen us to suck onto? I imagine that the water fight forged a synaptic connection in Lance’s mind so that he now equates our house with unlimited fun and wanders onto our property whenever he needs a lift, which is several times a week.
Honestly, his first visit was a fluke and a visitor is more likely to find a hive of stress and confusion at our street address. He has encountered the “real us” during several drop-bys and you would imagine that it would deter him. Ringing our doorbell initiates a bark-a-thon from our two canines that rivals the sonic output of a full capacity animal shelter. I’ve met Lance at the front door while kicking back barking dogs and carrying Foster’s baby sister in full-wail as she’s trying to wiggle out of my clutches. Inside the house is my bellowing wife, yelling for the dogs to shut up. Amid the chaos, he’ll ask if Foster can come out and play. Does it really seem like a good time? Does he not see or hear how we live? If this is inviting, how do they live?
That’s been the prevailing question since Lance started visiting: What is his home life like?
How is he free to roam the neighborhood and come into the homes of strangers, sometimes for a few hours at a time? The local grapevine has spotty information. Rumor has it that his mom and dad divorced and he now lives most of the time with his paternal grandparents, our neighbors. It seems unlikely that the adults in charge could be his grandparents, at least what I understand grandparents to be. To me, grandparents are doting watchful caretakers with a tendency to spoil children. We try to indirectly ask Lance probing questions to see if any of his answers can help put the puzzle pieces together, but he’s an elusive interview subject. After one of the first visits inside our home, I gave Lance one of my business cards and told him to tell his caretakers how to reach us if they were ever worried about him.
Luckily for us and Lance, even with no formal training, Foster is a superb and thoughtful host. He offers Lance something to eat and drink. If he gets a snack, he makes sure that Lance has something, too. He defers to Lance’s interests when choosing toys and gives him total access to his room when they go upstairs to play.
The situation with Lance made me look back at my own childhood and try to recall if I was a nice host, if I was as selfless and open as Foster is. After careful consideration, I accepted the realization that I was not a selfless soul—I was actually the leech kid on my childhood street. I used the pools, basketball goals, woods and yards of my neighbors without hesitation or guilt. I would come over unannounced. I would swim in the neighbors’ pool and sun in their pool chairs when they weren’t even home. After developing a pre-pubescent fixation on a girl neighbor across the street, I even started to snoop and peep and one day her dad came out to investigate a noise and nearly brained me with a golf club when he found me hiding in his flower bed. Though our unblinking dogs would let us know if anyone was snooping around our house, I’m certainly aware of all of the creepiness that can come from a neighborhood kid.
Those bad scenarios play out in vivid detail when my wife and I discuss what to do about Lance.
Even though we monitor their play and Foster is not supposed to leave our property, what if he decided to follow Lance home? Then, anything is a possibility. Foster, check out my Daddy’s gun. Foster, let’s climb up on the roof. Foster, let’s drink some of this. It’s enough to make you lock your doors and never let your children leave the house.
To complicate things further, Lance’s entry into our lives has had a tremendous impact on our son. When it’s been a day or two since Lance has visited, Foster will go out and mope in the driveway, waiting for him to scooter by. He will take bikes and balls and toys from the garage, things that he thinks Lance will like, and look up the street hoping for a glimpse of his little friend. You can see Foster’s heart break when Lance doesn’t come. We tell him that tomorrow is another day and to read or play with his toys or come throw ball with one of us, but our attention is no match for the magical interplay between two young boys. As much as Lance can be a nuisance, we try to welcome him into our home, not only because our son adores him, but because Lance may need a boost. Surely, that’s worth some barking dogs.
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