There’s a little girl in our neighborhood who comes over to play at our house, and every time I see her it makes me want to cry. I don’t know how to explain this. It really makes no sense. Just a vibe I guess. It’s funny, though, how the obnoxious way she pounds on the door is a stark contrast from the timid creature standing there waiting for me to invite her in.
“Can …can I play with the girls?” She asks, with fidgety anticipation.
Her bashful voice reminds me of Flower, the shy little skunk in Bambi, and I wonder how anyone could ever say no to such a sweet kid. I’ve only had to say this when my stepdaughters were gone, and even then it crushes me, watching her head sink as she turns to leave. I’m glad, then, that the girls are home more often than not, because the subsequent smile this kid get as she walks through door is like watching the feel-good movie of the year.
When the my stepdaughters and I bike home from school, this girl’s mother goes whizzing by like a bat out of hell. Twice she’s nearly hit us and never even tapped her brakes. It wasn’t until the day I saw this quiet neighbor girl waving to us from an open window, that I finally realized who the maniac behind the wheel was.
Since then, this is how it is almost every afternoon—green Chevy Tahoe rushing rudely around us and a smiling little girl’s frantic waving from the backseat. The thing about this that sticks out most in my mind, though, is the expression on the girl’s face as she goes by.
“Oh, thank you,” it seems to say. “You’re going to be home when I come over.” The accompanying grin, the mixture of happiness and relief that come from believing we are among the few things she can rely upon. This is different from the rest of the neighbor kids who are just happy to have someone to play with. For this little girl it appears more like we’re meeting a need as in, “the rest of my world might be a mess, but you guys will always be there.”
My stepdaughters told me that this little girl thinks I’m nice, which to me sounds odd since, up until now, I’ve hardly said more than three words to her on any given visit. I had no idea she was even paying attention to me as most of the 80 or so kids running in and of our front door view me as a room accessory, or, at best, a gatekeeper to the pantry.
The little girl has an older brother. He’s actually the one who started showing up at the front door first. He’s a good looking kid—future lady killer for sure, but the boy is different. You can tell he shares his sister’s same sweet nature, but there’s something that suppresses it, something angry.
During one visit I eventually had to step in after listened to him berate my youngest stepdaughter for messing up while playing video games. On another occasion I had to kick him out for good after discovering he was trying to kiss my oldest stepdaughter by instigating a game of spin-the-bottle. Spin the bottle? For fourth and fifth graders? In my house? I think not.
After this, the girls told me the boy is terrified of me. This doesn’t bother me, at least it didn’t until recently finding out what a rough time he and his sister are going through right now. Their parents are going through a bad divorce, and their dad’s not such a good guy.
To be fair, I don’t know all the facts, so it wouldn’t be right to over speculate, yet at the same time it’s hard for me to get this brother and sister out of my head. I wouldn’t wish a divorce on any kid. Even if the circumstances warrant a split, it stills shatters a whole world that a child once put all their faith in. I hated putting mine through one. I always will. And I hate seeing other kids have to go through this.
The other day as the girl left for home, I handed her a video game magazine. “Here,” I said. “Your brother might like this.”
She smiled, said thanks and left.
Her brother now shows up at the house again. This time though, I make sure to ask him how’s he doing, and I talk more with the little girl too. Just those few minutes of paying attention to them turns on an unmistakable light in their eyes. Showing interest in them—this is all they want right now. And it breaks my heart.
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Ron Mattocks is a father of five (3 sons, 2 stepdaughters) and author of the book, Sugar Milk: What One Dad Drinks When He Can’t Afford Vodka. He blogs at Clark Kent’s Lunchbox, and lives in Houston with his wife, Ashley, who eternally mocks his fervor for Coldplay.
Photo Credit: FreeRangeStock.com
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