Getting Rid of the Neighbor's Kid
“Suck bricks, kid!”
I hear these words, followed by a burst of giggles, coming from my kitchen while my son is hanging out with a kid from down the street on this cold, sunny afternoon. This boy, whose clothes reek of cigarette smoke and who skulks onto our porch every weekend morning, chin dropped to his chest and mouth slightly agape, to ring the bell and respond with a dull “Um, hullo … ” when greeted by an adult at the door. On one occasion, I was the one to answer and forced myself to offer a bright greeting: “Hey, Morgan (let’s call him Morgan, rather than one of the less generous nicknames I usually apply to him in my own mind). How’s it going?” To which he replied, “Um … what?”
Okay, the kid’s a bit slow on the uptake but I can’t seem to talk myself into giving him any slack. He’s mannerless and dreary. Not nasty, I’ll grant him that, but seemingly unaware of how to interact politely. When he trudges past me into the front hall, shrugging off his stinking coat (I believe the smoke comes from his household, not his own smoking habit … yet), and advancing toward the carpet in his mud-caked or snow-soaked sneakers, I find myself incapable of charitable feeling. My teeth are set in a grim clench that will last the entire span of his visit, and I’m left to lurk in nearby rooms to monitor what will come next.
I think my reaction, almost equal to my personal dislike of this boy, is about the parenting choice that seems to be at play here. I’ve met his mother briefly and quickly developed a less-than-favorable impression. The family had just moved here from Alaska (okay, it was right in the middle of the McCain-Obama election and I did have a teeny tiny backlashy reaction against a mom coming from Palinville; call me an Alaskanist – I can’t deny it!), with Morgan’s father left behind and Mom remarried and some number of adult children still living with them. Morgan, then age 9, seemed shell-shocked when he first arrived but, alas, that appears to be his permanent state.
The first time I actually met “Sarah”, she rang my doorbell on a dark winter evening – a school night, now bustling with dinner preparations and slow transition away from the TV and on to homework. Except I couldn’t get Morgan, who’d been mouth-breathing on the couch for a solid two hours at that point, out of my house. “Is Morgan here?” Sarah inquired anxiously. Well, yes, lady … why didn’t you know that?? I thought, while I nodded with what was probably obvious relief at my chance to be rid of him. “Oh, good!” she exclaimed, “I fell asleep on the couch and was worried when I got up.” Oh, well, there you go then. That happens to me all the time … in my fantasy life where I take naps and leave my children to fend for themselves for, you know, two hours at a time.Continued on the next page