other people’s children

by bam

i cooked up a storm. well, i got lots of pans dirty anyway. not sure though if the transitive “cook” quite applies to cranking the oven, cranking the stove, making miles of smiley fries, and pans of those faux chicken legs that taste to me like mush with some breading. oh, i skinned kernels from corn, tossed in some mom food–the requisite carrots, peaches and grapes. made them drink milk, just cuz i’m mean, and wouldn’t do cherry juice for saturday dinner.
the way i was cookin’ you would have thought i was feeding a whole army of children. really, it was only one extra. but, apparently, it was enough–on a saturday night–to make me think i had finally scored me the gaggle of kiddies i’d always wanted.
see, i grew up at a crowded kitchen counter. where elbows routinely engaged in a duel for space. to plant your elbows (and incur the wrath of my mother who would clomp them, remind you that elbows are not to be seen, not perched on the edge of the table anyway) was to have claimed victory over all the encroachers.
spilled milk was taken for granted. what with all the elbows perching and clomping and reaching for things, there was always some appendage knocking some glass and spilling its contents.
somehow though, despite the chaos, it made me want to grow up and repeat the scene. at least the math part of it. the numbers. i too wanted kids by the gaggle.
ah, but that was not to be. i am the mother of what was unheard of in my growing-up ’hood. i am the mother of two. a mere two, a duet, one then the other. maybe one’s hiding, look under the couch. must be a runaway ‘cuz just two is impossible.
running my old brain up and down the whole street where i grew up, the whole half mile winding through the woods, i can only think of one house where there were less than four children.
before i got married i said i wanted 13. then i downsized to a reasonable six. then, for the sake of a future with the man of my dreams, i settled on three. i was giddy, in the end, when i got two.
for a long time, maybe since i grew up next to an old orphanage, i said i too wanted an orphanage. wanted children from all over the world to come into my big old house. i wanted one on each hip. think angelina jolie minus the lips, i suppose. minus some other parts too. oh, never mind. scratch the image. just picture kids of all colors and kinds, home with their curly-haired mama.
well, lately, i’ve been revising that plan. i’ve got ideas. i am thinking i will be a way station for grownups who need a bit of alone time, and, even better, a place for kids who i love to come spend the night, or the weekend, or even a week.
way i see it, it’s win-win, all around. my boys could use the occasional substitute sibling. sort of a saturday night replacement for the same-old-same-old. mix things up a bit. change the dinner conversation. get more smiley fries.
i could finally get me a girl. i could stand right beside her, teach her the few tricks that i know in the kitchen. most likely, she would teach me. we could pick movies. girl movies. and for once, i wouldn’t automatically be outvoted. a weepy girl movie might air in this house at an hour that is not single digits, me waiting till all are asleep to settle in with my kleenex and my hugh grant, or even better, french with subtitles. ah, oui.
i would like that. i like my grand new idea. we could fill this old house with all sorts of other people’s children. i always wanted to be the house filled with everyone’s kids. but so far that hasn’t happened. so maybe i’ll do the inviting. like i did this weekend. a dear friend of mine is a single mama, round the clock, no time out except for the babysitter at 10 bucks an hour. that’s daunting, especially on one paycheck. i love her kid, and even though he doesn’t really know my boys, and my boys don’t really know him–or didn’t, that is–we knew him to be a fine lad. a lad you might want to have come for the night.
so he did. packed his bag, hauled his sleeping bag. i liked being his mama for the night. didn’t even mind that he wakes hours earlier than me or my boys. enlisted the other grownup in the house to handle that, to handle early-morning ping pong. (they played for two hours.) didn’t mind that he would have nothing to do with the smiley fries. or the corn. all he wanted was faux chicken and milk. fine with me.
that’s the thing about caring for other people’s children. their quirks are your delights. they’ve not been under your skin long enough to drive you batty. you find them wholly enchanting, engaging. delightful. maybe it’s sort of like grandparenting, which i have no clue if i’ll live to see. you send them home at the end of the visit. be it a night. or a week. or a weekend.
give them a hug, maybe a kiss. send them on their way. invite them back. cuz you happen to love kids any old way.

call me nuts, but is this not a fine plot: sort of a library of children. borrow them for a while. return without fine. it seems a grand way to spread around sanity. i know plenty of friends who really could use a break. i could too plenty of times. what if we all took turns? cranked up the ovens, crisped up those nuggets o’ chicken. played games that aren’t boring to whoever’s new? watched movies. pretended, before our time, that we were wonderful marvelous grandparents you couldn’t wait to go visit.