Ways to Ask “What?”

DSCN7286“What are you doing?” is a question I’ve heard a ga-zillion times in my life. And since beginning to homeschool we do so many off-the-wall things, I hear it even more. But I gotta tell you; inflection is everything when it comes to the REAL meaning behind that word “What?”

When Morgan says it, his tone has that quick cadence of curiosity. He realizes that even though he doesn’t quite get what it is exactly that I’m “doing,” whatever it is, he’s interested. Because his next question usually is “Can I help?”

When his friend Austin says it, his tone has that nervous blurt of befuddlement. He can see I’m doing something probably not even allowed in his house, leaving him clueless and concerned. Because his next question usually is “Is that safe?”

Now Roberto, Valerie’s older brother (you remember Nails on the Chalkboard Valerie, right?), he’s another story. When Roberto asks, “What are you doing?” his tone inserts a silent “the fuck” right there between “What” and “are.” Doesn’t matter if it’s one of his latchkey lackeys, his own mother or me. You better be ready to justify your existence.

The Nails on the Chalkboard Tactic

DSCN9940The five kids had set up Morgan’s four-man tent outside our patio door. Morgan, Austin, The Girls and Valerie. The Girls are sisters—one in Kindergarten, the other in second grade. Little pistols. But for the sake of this story, inconsequential.

This one’s about Valerie, a chubby, nine-year-old Latino girl who lives in the apartment complex with her older brother and mother. Both of who do their darndest to ignore her.

“Demanding” is an understatement. Valerie knows that if she whines long enough, others will tend to her needs just to shut her up. At the complex’s pool, her mother stays on the cell phone with her back to her daughter. Valerie will shout, “Watch me!” over and over until, finally, some sap will offer to “watch” her do a flip or a cannonball or a handstand or swim underwater all the way across the pool. I’ve done it. All the while, Carmen chats, seemingly oblivious.

But back to the tent story… Austin’s Mom had gone to McD’s and come back with a bag full of dollar-double cheeseburgers, a few jumbo orders of fries and five small sodas. Beth starts doling out the burgers and drinks and divvying up the fries. All the kids are graciously taking their free food and saying their thanks. Except Valerie.

“I don’t want a little cheeseburger. I want a Crispy Chicken Club. That’s what I always get,” she said, not accepting the sandwich being handed to her. Beth continued to hold the burger in front of her face.

“Sorry, Valerie,” said Beth, “But I got these so I could afford to buy enough food for everybody. I wasn’t taking orders.” Good thing, because if she had asked, I’m sure all the kids, mine included, would have given her a longer list. But four out of the five kiddos understood to accept what you’re offered and be happy. At least if it’s somebody else’s Mom doing the offering.

As for Valerie, she left in a huff with an empty stomach. Beth ate her burger.

Blue Bags in the Snow

snowball.cropYesterday we had our first decent snow of the season. For Maryland, that’s 3-inches. But the beauty was the snow had that perfect consistency for snowballs. Actually, snowballs rolled big enough for snowmen. Morgan & Austin were revealing a green grass carpet as they bullied the snow boulder across the apartment’s courtyard.

Two other kids joined them—Little Ryan and some girl. Ryan was surprisingly well bundled. His crack-whore mother usually sends him out ill prepared to face the elements. The lanky girl, who I didn’t recognize, was in that prissy 10-12-year-old range. I never saw her actually help. She had the typical coat, hat and gloves. But on her feet were what I first took to be fluffy blue bedroom slippers. Turns out they were blue plastic recycling bags on the outside of her tennis shoes and tied in place by more blue bags. Yes, scuffing around in the snow with the bags on the outside.

When M’s Dad got home, he couldn’t wait to join them making the fort. Austin’s Mom came out on her balcony, waved hello and went back in. The other two parental-units were MIA. Even though I didn’t go out there, except to snap pics of the growing snow-VW, Billy represented our family. Besides I was busy inside being Mommy, making hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows for the gang. Two stirrers for each cup. I took the steaming hot cocoa outside on a tray just like June Cleaver or Aunt Bee. Except for the “instant” part.

What I want to know is—where was everybody else? The kids were outside for hours. Did it occur to any of the other parents to go play with the kids or make them something hot to drink or even give a shit where their kid was as long as he/she wasn’t inside bugging them? And what’s with the blue booties?