The Lost Boys

What IS it with the kids on this block?

There are four boys on my street who are the same age as Little Brother.  I call them the Street Urchins.  They wind up here a lot, perhaps because I’m the one who lets them in.

They know that if they play at my house, they’ve got to play by my rules.  Street Urchins who drop the f-bomb in my family room get sent home.  That’s me, the Mean Mommy.

This morning, I mentioned to TheDad that last night one of the boys’ moms had come here looking for him about an hour after his sisters picked him up.  That’s when he told me that he’d heard there were marital problems in that household, and this boy might be moving soon.

One of the other boys lives with his mom and older siblings.  His parents have been on-and-off separated for several years now.  His dad, though, stays involved and is a Cub Scout leader.

I don’t really know much about the new kid on the block, other than the fact that his parents just opened their second pizzeria.  He seems to be on his own quite a bit.

And then there’s Adventure Boy, who (like his 3 older siblings) is being raised by his grandparents though his mom lives across town.  Sometimes he goes there.  Sometimes he spends a few hours with his dad, and his grandmother reports that the custody issues aren’t pretty.  He’s been left to his own devices since he was a preschooler.

A week or so ago, two of these boys knocked on my door at 8:20 on a school night, looking to play with Little Brother.  Ten minutes.  That’s all I gave them.  Who lets their kids out at 8:20 on a school night?  Who lets their kids disappear after school, never looking for them until they have a baseball game or soccer practice?  Who doesn’t call their kids home until after 8 (if then)–kids who have been out since 4 or earlier, who haven’t been fed dinner, who haven’t been nagged about homework?

Sometimes I think I should stop calling them the Street Urchins and refer to them as the Lost Boys.

I’ve ranted about these kids again and again and again.  I resent being Mommy to the whole block.  This isn’t what I signed up for.

After yesterday’s Cheese Ball Debacle, in which two of the Street Urchins thought it would be fun to toss Utz cheese balls into each other’s mouths, and then pulverized the ones that missed–all over my back porch–I was more than a little bit hot under the collar.  They come here, make a mess, help themselves to snacks and drinks, make a mess, kick soccer balls at my pool filter and front door, make a mess, and (apparently) never have to go home.  And I resent that.  A lot.

I plan to come down hard on the Street Urchins next time they show up, about the cheese balls.  That is disrespectful to me and to my home, and wasteful of food.  If I’d found the mess before they left, they would have been the ones out on the porch with the ShopVac.  Instead, it was Little Brother.

But after TheDad mentioned that yet another Street Urchin is dealing with problems at home, my heart melted just a little bit.  These kids need what they’re not getting at home, I realized.  None of them is in a situation of his own making.

I was wondering, the other day, if refusing to buy Johnson’s Baby Shampoo and Starbucks lattes really does any good.  I’m not convinced that it does.  And while I’m happy to be able to afford the big box of diapers every month that I donate to a local crisis-pregnancy center (and I will continue to do so), that effort is a drop in the bucket.

What I need to do is give where it really counts, and that means giving until it hurts.  That means putting up with the Street Urchins and continuing to remind them that baseballs are not Pool Toys and sending them home when the streetlights go on.  It means welcoming them, but setting (and sticking to) limits.  It means praying for them.  It means doing the right thing even when I don’t feel like it; even when I’m cranky and resentful and feeling put-upon.  Maybe especially then.

Honestly, this may be the most pro-life thing I can do right now.

In your charity today, please offer a prayer (or several) for the Lost Boys.

You Just Never Know

The Leaning Tower of Beverages

It was a rough night last night at the Tech Week Dinners.  Nothing bad happened or anything, but through a perfect storm of my usually-barely-controlled social anxiety, a heavy introvert tendency, and my current hormonal state, I really wasn’t dealing with even a small disturbance in the force field I prefer to generate around myself at all times.

And that force field was breached when the sweet and energetic mom who coordinates these dinners asked me to bring the muffin trays to the table where some other moms were setting out bagels.  Instant Mom-timidation ensued.  I was wearing a red t-shirt, tan capris and running shoes (after all, I was carrying 5-gallon jugs of lemonade, mixing iced tea, and standing for three hours on end.  I was dressed for the job, apron and all.)  They were wearing fashionable wrap dresses, strappy sandals, and coordinating jewelry.  But that’s not all.  The Mom-timidators launched into complaints about a lack of tablecloths, centerpieces and matching balloons.  For a pancake-and-bacon dinner for 75 teenagers in a high-school cafeteria.  Then they started lining up the butter, syrup and jelly in perfectly straight lines.

To be fair, these moms did nothing and said nothing that should have bothered/upset/intimidated me.  Really, they didn’t.  I’m sure they’re perfectly lovely people, but I can’t know that because I couldn’t stay there.  As soon as I could, I got out of the Mom-timidation Sector and went to my Cozy Corner with the big stack-o-beverage coolers and got busy pouring lemonade and iced tea.  I vented a bit on Twitter, just to blow off a little steam.

A friend came over at one point to tell me some funny stories of things that had happened to her that day.  That was well-timed, though I’m sure she doesn’t know it.  (She may have seen those Tweets of Desperation, though).  It gave my brain a break from dwelling on my completely irrational response to the Mom-timidation that I was completely aware I was imagining, but couldn’t stop myself from feeling.

When dinner was over, I cleaned up the drink stuff and headed home.  It took a while to wind down from my strange emotional response, which I’m seriously hoping didn’t show on my face all evening.  And this morning, I got a quick email from the lovely Tech Week Dinner coordinator, thanking me for showing up, stepping up, and jumping in and getting things done.  She’s very faithful and very sincere about thanking people.  And boy, that 3-sentence email could not have come on a better day.

Yet another friend saw those Tweets of Desperation and tweeted me this morning to make sure I was OK.  (yes, and thanks!)

The moral of the story is:  you probably never know the effect you are going to have on people.  So if you have the chance to do so, have a good effect on someone.  Send them that quick “thank you” email.  Give that compliment.  Tell that funny story.  Especially if someone has that Deer-in-the-Headlights look, like I probably did yesterday.

To the folks who came to my rescue, intentionally or not:  thank you!  I love you!

From the Department of "How Did THAT Get There?"

Things found on the living-room corner hutch while decorating for Christmas:

–one giant oak leaf, almost too big to fit in a Ziplock gallon-size bag
–two complete decks of cards
–the three of hearts from a third deck of cards
–one guitar pick
–six pieces of Lego U-Build Battleship
–one sea shell (clam)
–one nonfunctional laptop battery
–two Cub Scout awards
–one penny
–one “little black book” of Lent reflections
–one big black patch with a white star and Indian chief pictured on it (I’m guessing this belongs to one of my Scouts?)
–one video camera
–program from MAME
Middle Sister’s certificate from her school’s fall Honors Assembly
–one blue plastic frog
–and a black-and-white plastic chicken foot, broken off some long-tossed action figure.

This is, of course, in addition to all the stuff that’s supposed to be on those shelves:  photos of all the cousins, our framed wedding invitation, and a statue of St. Joseph.  That cabinet is my living room’s very own, very dusty Black Hole.

The Pot Calls the Kettle Black

Middle Sister missed the bus (again) this morning.  As she opened the door of the van to load her stuff in, a video-game cartridge fell out.

“Little Brother doesn’t take care of his things,” she complained as she threw her backpack onto the back seat, followed by her laptop and enormous sports duffel.

I just looked at her and then at her pile of stuff.

“What?  The IT people test those laptops by throwing them down the stairs!  I think it can handle my 2-pound sports bag.”

(She underestimates the weight of this sports bag by a factor of 10.)

“I don’t think they actually throw the computers down the stairs,” I replied.

“Yes, they do!  My freshman English teacher told us that,” she informed me.

“I have a hard time picturing the members of the Technology Department tossing laptops down the stairs,” I commented.

“And the keyboards are supposed to be spillproof too!  I kinda want to test that…”

An Island Never Cries

When I first heard Simon & Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock” I felt an instant connection.  That’s me!

A winter’s day 
In a deep and dark December; 
I am alone, 
Gazing from my window to the streets below 
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow. 
I am a rock, 
I am an island. 

I’ve built walls, 
A fortress deep and mighty, 
That none may penetrate. 
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain. 
Its laughter and its loving I disdain. 
I am a rock, 
I am an island. 
[ Lyrics from: ] 

I have my books 
And my poetry to protect me; 
I am shielded in my armor, 
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb. 
I touch no one and no one touches me. 
I am a rock, 
I am an island. 

And a rock feels no pain; 
And an island never cries.

Well, except for the poetry part (I prefer fiction, thankyouverymuch.  Failing that, a good cookbook will do.)

Sometimes, though, I find a few chinks in my emotional armor.  Today, I am not a rock.  Or an island.  And there is no perfectly good explanation for that.  I want to be in control of my emotions–and I pretty much knew, the second I woke up today, that such control is beyond my abilities today.

Unfortunately, I do not have the luxury of staying home and sipping tea and finishing the last book in the Hunger Games trilogy today.  It’s going to take every ounce of strength I have–plus plenty of strength I do not have–to keep it together today.

It’s easier, sometimes, to be an island.  But when you can’t, make sure you bring along plenty of tissues.

High Anxiety

Remember that prayer that was on all those posters in the 70s: “Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen today that you and I together can’t handle”?

I’ve been letting anxiety get the better of me a little (a lot?) more than usual recently. And really, this has got to stop. When I was talking about this with a good friend, she mentioned that, lately, she has been making an effort to pray when anxiety starts to overcome her. She asks God to help her hand over the situation, to guide her words and actions.

Good advice.

But I don’t want to pray that prayer from the 70s posters. To be honest, I find that prayer a little arrogant. 

As Father Cavanagh says in the movie Rudy, “I have come up with only two hard incontrovertible facts: there is a God, and I’m not him.”

Better to pray that God will guide me through a situation. I prefer this prayer, attributed to Father Mychal Judge, OFM, who perished in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center:

Lord, take me where you want me to go;
Let me meet who you want me to meet;
Tell me what you want me to say, and
Keep me out of your way.

There’s only one thing I may need to add to that: “Keep my foot out of my mouth.”


Because She Can

I’ve got no other explanation.

I left the house for an hour to attend Little Brother’s Vacation Bible School closing performance. When we returned, I found some onion peels on the floor, and the kitchen smelled like onion. Busy with lunch, I didn’t ask about it.

But Middle Sister told me anyway. “I cut up an onion before,” she declared. “I wanted to see if I would cry.”

“Oh…so what did you do with it after you cut it up?”

“Well, some of it fell on the floor, so I threw it away.”

“That’s too bad. I could have used it in tonight’s dinner. Later, you can cut up another one for me.”

She agreed, announcing proudly, “It made me cry, too!”

So she can cry again later. Saves me from having to do it.

Living Dangerously

Sometimes a little Boy Scout Camp can be a dangerous thing.

Right now, my back porch is full of Hood Ornaments. That’s my nickname for the bunch of Boy Scouts who hang around with Middle Sister and the Boy Next Door. I call them Hood Ornaments because they ride their bicycles in such an unsafe manner that sooner or later (I’m betting on sooner), one of them is going to become one.

I don’t usually mind the Hood Ornaments, though they tend to be loud and messy. But they’re good kids.

However, they came back from Boy Scout Camp last week, and they’re eager to put their newfound knowledge to good use. I just went out there and found one of them standing in the middle of a pile of yellow ropes and large carabiners.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m making a Swiss rappel seat,” he informed me.

I warned him to stay off the pool deck, shed roof and house roof, as well as my clothesline. I’m not sure where else he might go with all his mountain-climbing equipment, and I’m not sure I want to. I just hope that when he gets hurt (it’s a matter of time), it’s on someone else’s property.

Going Underground

We got some new furniture for the living room last week. I’ve been getting used to it (translation: I’ve been falling asleep in the new love seat a lot). But what has taken even more getting used to is the fact that my desk no longer fits into the living room.

Middle Sister, you see, talked me into investing in a “chair and a half” which is about the size of the old love seat. Plus we got a love seat and a couch. There’s lots of seating in that room now, which is great. But there’s no room for my desk.

That’s OK, in a way…I like that the living room seems less cluttered without my desk. But putting it in the family room means that I am right in the middle of all the action–rather than close to the action, where I can see and hear it, but not in a spot where Nerf basketballs regularly rebound off my laptop screen (note to self: close laptop when not in use).

Summer’s coming–two kids are already out of school and Little Brother only has three half-days left. I’m not yet used to having kids at home during the day–and the combination of one child who leaves the radio on in one room and the TV on in another, which happens to be the room I’m in, and another child’s musical experimentation with a homemade didgeridoo is making me crazy. I can hardly wait to add an eight-year-old boy, who’s in motion so much that he’s blurry in nearly every picture he poses for, to the mix.

I’m jealous of Barb’s “teacher’s meetings” at Panera. I think I’m going to have to work in one of those every week or so. Middle Sister can babysit, since Big Brother starts work on Monday. (What are the odds that he’ll be taking that didgeridoo with him?)

We have an empty desk in the basement that my husband was going to use for his home business. He doesn’t use it–ever. So I may be taking my laptop downstairs, at least to get my work done (see “Blogging for Coupons” in the sidebar). I’ll see how that goes.

The Real Thing

Grabbing the milk when we were ready to sit down to dinner, I noticed some writing on the red cap. After I poured my glass of milk I flipped over the cap to read it.


“Drat, I bought organic milk,” I complained, turning the milk bottle around to see if the label matched the cap. (It did.)

“So what’s wrong with that?” Big Brother inquired.

“I paid twice as much for the same gallon of milk,” I explained.

He responded, “At least you know it came from real cows.”