Below is a conversation that took place at our home yesterday afternoon. (The “Jack” referred to here is “Big Jack,” our 5-year-old neighbor, about whom I will complain in the second half of this post.)
Me: Amélie, I need to start thinking about dinner. We’re having tofu stir-fry tonight.
Amélie: YUM! I love tofu stir-fry! Jack, do you like tofu?
Jack: NO! I don’t like it. I’ve never had it.
Amélie: Then you don’t know if you like it or not, Jack! It’s really good. It doesn’t taste like toes at all!
I nearly fell over. Toes??????? She thinks we’re eating a tasty conglomeration of sesame seed oil, garlic, ginger, vegetables, soy sauce, and toes? As a matter of fact, yes. I asked her about the conversation this afternoon, and she confirmed that yes, indeed, she thought we were eating toes. A later dinnertime conversation revealed that she thought we were eating human toes.
She also informed me that she had gotten so excited one evening when daddy was getting a ride home in a tow truck because she thought he was getting a ride home in a big–you guessed it–toe.
Just stop and imagine Matt gallantly pulling up in our driveway in a big toe. It’s OK to laugh.
The above conversation, as I noted, took place with “Big Jack,” our endearing but exasperating neighbor. I am struggling, struggling, struggling with him. Here’s the deal. First of all, he often descends upon our home in a cloud of negative energy, which leaves a tetchy film on our spirits after he leaves. He whines when I won’t buy them treats from the ice cream man. He pouts when I won’t push him in the stroller meant for baby Jack. He breaks things. With one hand he takes the allotted piece of candy, while as soon as my back is turned he uses his other hand to load his pockets with sugary contraband. He lies about the stolen bubble gum in his grubby fists. He is mean to my daughter, and she takes it, b/c to her it is far worse for him to be banished to his house than it is for him to treat her badly. And I could go on……
But here’s the other side of Jack: yesterday was his kindergarten graduation. No one from his family came to see him go pick up his diploma in his miniature cap and gown. He has a nana who sits in her house, yells at her grandkids, and drinks can after can of Budweiser all day. I’m pretty sure she didn’t have any engagements more pressing than the next can of Bud or another cigarette drag. He has a mom who comes and goes in his life. Sometimes she lives at that house. Sometimes she doesn’t. Yesterday afternoon during the graduation she was apparently visiting a friend. He and his four siblings share one mom and four fathers, and the only reason there are four different dads and not five is because the oldest two girls are twins. The kids breathe a haze of cigarette smoke day after day after day. He is dirt poor. I have never seen Jack’s mom say something positive to him or wrap him up in a big hug. The kid has just about every card stacked against him. I don’t want to be another of those cards. He’s one of “the least of these,” you know? He needs to be loved and affirmed and encouraged. He needs a positive influence in his life. Since he spends so much of his time here (much to the detriment of my sanity level), I could be one of those positive influences.
But the kid drives me crazy. I get mad as hell when he’s mean to my daughter. Today, under the influence of a particularly acerbic case of pms and just plain tiredness, I nearly lost it when he complained about the snack I gave him, didn’t appreciate the graduation gift Amélie and I had so carefully picked out for him, whined when I told him he couldn’t stay for dinner, and especially when he drove my sensitive daughter to tears after he told her that he was never, ever coming back to play (actually, I perked up a little at that point).
What am I supposed to do? I love that boy. I hate him. He makes me cry with anger. He makes me cry with grief. Sometimes I want to wrap my arms around his filthy little body in a big hug. Sometimes I want to sling him over my shoulder and then toss him into our pond. I embrace his potential. I anticipate his demise. He’s a stinky little wretch. He’s a precious human being. He’s ripped my sanity and my heart right in two…and I don’t know what to do.