I heard them before I saw them. High pitched whoops and yells; the kind that would have had me shushing my own children, telling them to quiet down, so they wouldn’t bother anyone. Four kids crossed the busy street and entered the park. My children stared, apprehensive, excited by these noisemakers. The oldest of them was a girl. Her black fringe of bang well-intentioned, but lopsided. Two boys, both toting eerily realistic black water pistols. Another girl, toddling more than walking.
One of the boys ran for my daughter, pushing her into the sand as a greeting. She got up, bewildered, pushed him back. He offered her a turn with his water pistol, by way of atonement. She accepted. The older girl helped the younger girl onto the slide, then came to sit beside me on the bench.
“Hi Kayla. My name is Ginny.”
She broke off our barely started conversation to yell at her brothers. “You guys put your shoes back on! Or else!” They slid their shoes onto their feet. The older one wore a thick pewter hoop through each ear lobe. Both boys sported prominently labeled clothing: “Roca Wear”, “G-Unit”, “Sean John”. Their sisters’ shoes bore the “Baby Phat” logo. I can’t afford these labels. If I could, I’d be too afraid my kids would wreck them.
“I’m 8. How old are you?”
I laugh, caught off guard.
“Um, old. Like 33.”
“Wow. Are you those kids’s mom?”
“Oh. I’m not those kids’s mom. I’m their sister.”
I nod. “Mmm hmm.”
Kayla turns away again, to yell at the older of the boys. “God, Tyrell! You can’t just piss where ever!”
Tyrell is relieving himself on a tree, in full view of the surrounding homes.
“But I gotta go! We’re not supposed to go home.”
Kayla turns to me, silently gauging whether or not I heard that.
I smile, and concentrate on my left shoe.
Kayla comes back to the bench, and we sit some more.
It’s hot. I unzip my backpack, and look for water for my kids. I try not to feel guilty for not having extra for the others.
Kayla follows my lead. She’s brought a plastic bag with her. “PATIENT’S GARMENT BAG” is printed on the front, along with the logo of the downtown hospital where I delivered my second child. She retrieves a bottle of Coke, and opens it. Her brothers and sister run over, without being asked. They all take neat turns, sipping. My children try to take turns at the Coke bottle, but I stop them, and remind them they have water. They are unimpressed.
My daughter resumes her attempts to climb a ladder. Kayla’s little sister tries, too.
“It’s scary, when the little ones get up high, hey?”
“Yeah,” I answer.
“But you’ve gotta let ’em try. They’re actually pretty tough.”
The younger boy cries, and runs to the bench with his arm extended. “Kaya! Hurt! Ow!”
Kayla brushes the sand off her brother’s scrape. She kisses it, and says, “There. All good.”
He smiles. “Fanks!” and runs back to the slide.
“Kids are so funny, huh? Sometimes you don’t know if they’re really hurt or not.”
“You take really good care of them.”
“Yeah. I do.”
I look at my cell phone. 11:45. I tell my kids they have 5 more minutes, that we have to go home and make lunch. It’s hot, and they’re ready to go right now. As we’re walking to the exit, a German Shepperd runs past us, into the park. He stops by the swing set, crouches, defecates.
“Puppy! Puppy!” Both sets of kids run towards this exciting interruption. The dog is scared, runs through another opening in the chain link fence. The kids gather around the droppings.
“Kaya! C’mere! POOP!”
Kayla stays where she is. She looks at me. Maybe for permission. I give her a lopsided smile, a little shrug of the shoulders. She runs, bends over for a closer look
Because she is, after all, eight.