As a stay at home mom, large parts of my day are out of my control. The one thing I do have control of is bedtime. I can arbitrarily move it back and forth, according to what kind of day it’s been. The worse the day, the earlier the bedtime. Lately, bedtime has been getting earlier and earlier. The kids are swallowing the last bite of supper as I’m jamming their legs into their PJ bottoms. (I’m exaggerating.) (But not by much.) Today, both kids took naps. Long ones. So getting them into bed was going to be as easy as nailing jello to a tree. This extra time somehow morphed into a “Let’s pretend” game. The loose premise was that our 4 year old son was running a candy store. His little sister was his helper. His dad and I were customers. We needed a back story ( a collaborative effort) every time we came into his store . We were Flo & Chuck, Texan oil millionaires with a hankerin’ for taffy. Bernard & Phoebe, dotty British pensioners looking for lemon drops. Jacques & Mimi, quaint Parisian mimes (no one could figure out exactly what it was they were trying to buy). We ended up laughing till we cried, all of us.
I got this memory back tonight. I haven’t accessed it for years. It’s a winter night, after supper. Us 4 kids, and our parents, are sitting in the living room, playing the board game “Balderdash”. One of the few perks of having a larger family was that we could get a pretty decent board game going. Balderdash was always pretty popular, because we were funny as hell. (No, I am not biased. That’s just the way it was.) We had 2 channels of TV, and if the weather was bad, we didn’t even have that. We were a year away from buying a Nintendo, and the only game we would ever own for it. If you didn’t have a book on the go, there wasn’t a whole lot else to distract you. So we’re mid-game, and we see headlights in our farmyard. Dad leaves the game to answer the door, then walks back in, followed by our neighbor, whom I’ll call Sam. Sam makes himself comfortable on the loveseat. Which is weird. Farm type business is conducted in the kitchen. That way, no one has to take their boots off. The drop-in drinking done in our community is also done there, for the same reason. But Sam is in the living room. Just watching us play.
Sam’s kids ride the bus with us every day. Nice kids, good kids. They’re middle class, and when you’re as poor as our family, that makes you seem pretty rich. New clothes, new toys. Nice house, late model trucks. Four kids, just like us. We hung out occasionally, the differences in our situations coming up at random times. Sam is sitting, watching. He usually has a pretty closed off look on his face, kind of tough. Not tonight. He’s got whiskey breath. He’s softened up. His eyes are smiling, as he’s listening to the crazy shit we’re coming up with in our game, listening to us laugh, make fun of each other.
“We don’t do this.”
No one says anything. We’re not quite sure what he’s talking about.
“We just don’t do this.”
Us kids look to our parents, hoping to get a clue as to how to respond.
My dad looks over at Sam, half-smiles an invitation to continue.
“Like, just sit around and talk. Have fun with each other. How do you….”
He sits back into the loveseat, the toughness starting to creep back onto his face. He waits for another 20 minutes or so, silent. Then he’s on his feet and through the living room.
“Gotta go…” he says over his shoulder.
I didn’t stop being jealous of Sam’s kids, coveting their toys, their first-hand clothes. But it was a little easier to deal with after that visit.