Safe Haven


It’s summer and once again, more often than not, there’s an extra child in the house. For at least three years this has been a thing. At first it was Mr. Smarty-pant’s friend, K. He lived down the street, but spent nearly every day here and frequently spent the night. I fed him. I took him to the park, the zoo, to movies. He lived his whole life in Memphis and had only been to the zoo once in pre-k on a class trip, and had never been to the river or to Shelby Farms.

He had a good relationship, from what I heard, with his dad, but his dad lived in MS and he didn’t get to see him that often. In all the years he lived on our street, his mother never more than waved at me. His ex-con, gang-member step-dad was more courteous. The relationship between K’s mom and his step-dad was apparently tumultuous, which is why K spent as much time as possible at our house. That, and I serve some really awesome food, even if soup is on the menu more often than a teenage boy would prefer.

At the end of last summer K moved to a townhouse a mile or two away. He still visits frequently, but it’s just far enough that he can’t slip out of the house and just wander over whenever he likes.

So, this summer Mr. Smarty-pants has another friend who is a regular fixture in his room, J. J is a smart kid, polite, and treated like the red-headed stepchild at home. His sister is spoiled and her behavior was such that both Miss Drama and Miss Diva quit trying to be friends with her. To be honest, she’s just plain mean. Meanwhile, J’s mom has had a stint of unemployment and hospitalization due to illness. Even on nights where he went home, I’ve fed him, because Mr. Smarty-Pants quietly informed me that J didn’t have any food at home. This morning I quietly asked if J’s mom knew where he was. Mr. Smarty-pants replied, “That’s part of the problem. She doesn’t really care.”

Mr. Smarty-pants may complain and whine about how mean I am. He’ll sulk when I don’t let him wander the neighborhood at 9pm at night. It might chafe his, “I’m totally almost grown” mentality, until his inner little boy pops up and reminds him that I make him waffles, and let him have some of my coffee, and care enough to demand he get his butt home when I say so. He thanked me for the waffles and bacon this morning. He has his moments.

Going on six years ago, Mr. Smarty-pant’s dad and I split up and he moved to his own place. Before that, neighborhood kids never came in the house unless he was out. They avoided him like the plague. Animals didn’t like him either. I know, I should have taken note. Anyways, it didn’t take long for the children to congregate once he left. I certainly didn’t pull out my pied pipe. At the time I projected a bit of a “Mean Mom” aura so that none were tempted to misbehave, but then JD fell down and got a gash on his head and I fixed him up.  My cover was blown.

There were occasional Popsicles offered and fresh-baked homemade cookies. I would talk to them when they asked about my garden. I’d teach them little things and they’d listen. I, in turn listened when they talked, something I suspect few adults they knew did. So, I suppose it’s no surprise that all of Mr. Smarty-pants’ friends realized that when they needed a safe place to cry, to get some food, or just to have a place to laugh and be happy, his house was the place to go.

I accuse Mr. Smarty-pants of being conniving because his friends will help him with chores. After all, he has a chronic case of lazy. Some of it is his charm, but I think some of it is quiet gratitude from his friends. One of them, JQ maybe, JD, heck it may even have been D…I forget which, once scolded Mr. Smarty-pants in front of their whole little gang of friends, because he gave me attitude when I read him the riot act for doing such a crappy job with the yard that I had to essentially redo it.

I didn’t plan on being the safe haven, exactly. It sort of just happened. I suspect it had to do with my own mom sending me outside to “play” AKA “keep an eye on” the little pre-k kids that lived on our street when I was about Mr. Smarty-pants’ age. For the record, “playing” with half a dozen kids between the ages of three and six was exhausting, even for a fourteen year-old. I’d tag my brother to take a turn and catch a breather, and he’d have the kids laughing and giggling, and the little ones used him as a jungle gym. Even at fourteen, I knew a three year old had no business outside without an older sibling or a parent watching. When my mom felt it was time for us to come in we’d walk the little kids home, making sure each one was delivered to their parents.

In two or three decades, I imagine Mr. Smarty-Pants will be sitting in his recliner as a small mob of kids parade through his house. Much like me, part of him will pine for that thing parents rarely get….silence, but not for long. Laughter is far more satisfying and infectious than silence. Besides, they do eventually sleep.

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