Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies. – Edna St. Vincent Millay
A new family moved in next door over the winter. We didn’t have much opportunity to meet them for the first few months, it being winter and cold and all. We exchanged a wave here and there, but had little interaction until the weather started warming in recent weeks.
This new family has five little ones. All boys, I think. This is a good thing for Little Guy who lives in the house on the other side of ours. In a neighborhood full of old farts, he’s finally got friends to play with. And I probably won’t seem so cool to him anymore, but I’ll happily relinquish my status as one of Little Guy’s few neighborhood friends (all of us being significantly older than he) in the interest of him hanging out with people his own age. Besides, unlike me, those five little boys probably have plenty of energy to keep up with Little Guy’s never-ending stream of jumping, running, dancing and somersaulting.
The neighborhood gossip-slash-retired guy across the street tells us the new family is a yours-mine-and-ours situation. Some of the kids are hers, some are his and one is theirs. The youngest one is a baby, but the other four are old enough to have been out playing in the back yard several times when I’ve come home from work lately. They appear to be very close in age, the oldest I would guess to be no more than seven or eight years old.
The previous owners left a play structure behind when they moved, but this was apparently not enough to keep all those little boys occupied. A couple of weeks ago, an additional, new structure went up, very close to our fence.
I went out in the yard yesterday after work to play with Lucy and do a little necessary clean-up. While doing so, I noticed a plastic stick-looking thing by the fence that borders the new neighbors’ yard. Four little boys were climbing and sliding on the new play structure, shouting and screeching as little boys tend to do. All were armed with plastic Nerf guns and they all stopped to watch as I wandered over to pick up the black plastic stick.
“He threw that over there,” one tattled to me, pointing at one of his brothers. He, the tattler appeared to be four or five years old.
“That’s okay,” I said. “Is it a part to one of your guns?”
He nodded and told me I could “just throw it back over.” The others stopped and quieted, watching us talk, probably curious to see if I was going to turn out to be the nice neighbor lady, or the scary, crabby neighbor lady. I think I established myself as a friendly old lady. Anyway, I’m planning ahead on being the one that gives each of them an extra handful of candy when Halloween rolls around again, so that should work in my favor.
“But you might not want to throw your things over here,” I warned them. “Lucy loves to chew on sticks, and I can’t promise she won’t chew on your toys, especially ones like this that look like sticks.”
They all agreed, and one noticed the shovel I held in my hand. He crinkled his nose and said, “You’re picking up poop with that shovel? That’s gross!”
“I know,” I agreed. “I’d hate to step in it. That’s why I’m cleaning it up!”
“You should get a pooper-scooper,” one of them offered. I smiled and agreed I might.
Curiosity satisfied, the boys returned to their games of make believe. In spite of the guns in each of their grasps, I heard someone say, “Let’s play house.”
That made me smile. Those tough little gun-slingers had a soft side after all!
At the invitation to play house, one of the boys responded with fake-crying. “I want my mommy!” He wailed.
“She’s dead,” came the reply.
I’m not sure where the game continued after that. I was pretty taken aback by the abrupt, unemotional announcement that make-believe Mommy was dead. Seems the world of pretend is a lot less innocent than it used to be.
I’m looking forward to summer and getting to know the new neighbors better, along with their little boys. I’m imagining sweetness and laughter, slip-and-slides and whiffle ball games. And hopefully, no shooting Nerf guns at my dog, and no more make-believe death in the make-believe family. The real world’s got enough of that already.