Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Pursuit of Pizza and Happiness

We have finally made contact with some of our neighbors. After four years in this house. I know, I know, I should have brought pies door to door when we first moved in. I was a little distracted. Anyway, it all started because the elderly lady next door invited some of her kids and grandkids to live with her (her husband passed away last year) and the grandkids are 11 and 13, a girl and a boy. They are very friendly, and the owners of five even friendlier cats who spend a lot of time in our yard and a little time in our house.

Those two started playing with the boys across the street, who are 8 and 5. The 5-year-old is smaller than Jarrah, but can already ride a bike without training wheels. The four kids have been playing hide-and-seek and Jarrah--never one to stand on ceremony--has inserted herself in their games several times now. She never seems the least bit concerned if they want her or not, and isn't at all fazed when the littlest boy shouts "Don't follow me!" when she runs after him on his bike. I am delighted by this precious historical moment when she seems to be completely lacking in self-consciousness, totally motivated only by her own ego, as I remember all-too-well the riptides of mortification that dragged me under throughout elementary and middle school. It's like I'm seeing a comet or a full eclipse or some other natural phenomenon that is beautiful but elusive and short-lived.

One evening, the mother of the little boys called across the street to see if Jarrah could join them for pizza. I got to chatting with the mom, Lucy, and she is a sweetheart. Then our other neighbor, Doreen, came home with her two grandkids, who are teenagers. It was a regular block party out there, and Jarrah was not pleased when I told her she had to come in and get ready for bed.

Since then, it's been a bit of a struggle keeping her inside. One morning I rounded the corner from the bedroom to see her opening the front door, and with a cursory glance over her shoulder she announced that she was "going outside to see her friends."

"Um, noooo." I said, alarmed. "You can't just go outside whenever you feel like it. You're four. You need to ask, and if I can't go outside right then, you're just going to have to stay inside, I'm sorry." She didn't like that.

She liked it even less a few nights later when the four kids were playing a game that involved a lot of sprinting back and forth across the street. To her credit, she asked if she could do that, too, and I said NO WAY. "If you want to cross the street, tell me, and I'll hold your hand. But there's no running back and forth. I'm sorry." I was using my "don't mess with me" voice so she knew I was serious. But a little while later, I saw her sitting on our garden wall, sulking with tears in her eyes. I took off my gardening gloves (I was weeding the roses) and walked over.

"What's wrong?"

"I want to play the game like they do."

Suddenly, I realized I was having a signature parenting moment. It impressed me how clear and unmuddled I felt, and how confidently I made the following speech:

"Sweetie, I know you want to do what the other kids do. But I need to tell you something serious. You are little, and I am your mom, and I signed up to do an important job. You wanna know what I signed up for? To take care of you, and keep you safe, even when you don't like it. Sometimes I'm going to say things that seem unfair and unfun and you'll be mad, but it won't matter because I need to keep doing my job. And right now my job is to make sure you aren't squished flat as a pancake by a car speeding down our street that can't see you because you are very small. You should know that no matter what you say, I'm not going to change my mind. I'm sorry about that, but it's true."

And you know what, Readers? She so KNEW I wasn't going to change my mind. It was obvious to her, and to me, and to every planet and star in the cosmos. It was my "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." moment. And while my words made her very sad, she didn't even consider questioning their logic.


Amanda said...

We love our neighbors too!

My kids know they can't open the front or back door without Mom or Dad. It is LAW!!

Stephanie said...

"I remember all-too-well the riptides of mortification that dragged me under"

Love this and I love that you witnessed and recognized the moment.

Congratulations too on your 'but it's true' speech. Though she was disappointed, you gave her such a bigger gift--the security of an unwavering boundary.

Brilliant, I say.

Mary said...

I see lots of fun summer nights in store for her and you both this summer. It's great to have nice neighbors!



Aunt LoLo said...

What a good job, Mama. It's so hard when kids realize they're smaller than the rest of their playmates. We had a similar moment the other day, but I didn't handle it as well as you. A boy in church was jumping up and down on the pew next to us. His Dad was sitting in front of us, but this little one had escaped and his Dad couldn't wrangle him without causing a LOUD SCENE. So he shot him dirty looks every few minutes, coupled with threats, and kept swatting at the older brother for letting him get away. Fun times.

Anyhow, BBJ wanted to jump like the little boy (who I couldn't wrangle, either. It was his birthday, and I'm pretty sure someone fed him jellybeans for breakfast...). I turned to BBJ and said, "No, you can't jump up and down. He's jumping up and down because he's naughty."

Yeah, not one of my finer moments! (In my defense, though, the little boy WAS in a lot of trouble with his Dad - it was just that nobody could DO anything about it just then!)