I was standing in the bathroom using a Q-tip and some bleach to get chocolate ice cream stains out of a white pinafore and I wondered why it is that I do the things I do. Why do I make pinafores, clean stains, wash clothes, make beds, and try to make the space that we are in pleasant and inviting? These aren't essential. Life continues along fine without them, as I know from the many times when I'm too tired and let them slide. The answer of course is that I am a mommy and that's what mommies do, or some variation thereof.
I've been feeling a bit like the Pied Piper the last several days. The GH is away and it's just me and the kids, and the kid who lives across from us, and the two little kids who live on the end just around the corner, and the three kids that live across the street from the playground, and the bigger boys that live further away, the boys that don't even live here but their daycare provider is a friend of mine, and the little 2 year old girl who comes running straight through my door whenever she hears the Baby crying and would be content to sit on my rug all day and hand the Baby toys and pet her if her embarrassed mother didn't drag her away to the playground. Some days I have all of those kids in my house at some point or another.
On Sunday night Jesse (6) and his little brother Andreas (3) who toddles after him wherever he goes, wondered into my front door to watch the show my kids were watching on my computer screen. It's a tiny little screen, but there were 6 kids huddled around it near the end. Their 8 year old sister came by looking for them. I have never seen them under the supervision of anyone but her and they play outside all day. She started asking me about my piano, so I played for her, and then she wanted me to teach her. So I showed her the basics, and she spent an hour learning all of the songs that she could in the Boy's beginner book while her brothers watched Spirited Away and asked me questions every 5 minutes. The boy across from us appeared at the door and hung back for a minute in his customary way before coming in and getting on the floor to play with the baby. The big 10 year old boys on scooters popped in and out to look at the show, tell me about the lizard they found, and drag me out to watch their cool scooter tricks. I get them all water when they're thirsty, I sometimes feed them but not usually, and I listen to them talk and answer their questions while I try to do some of the work that needs to be done. Eventually I just give up altogether and go sit on a chair outside to keep an eye on the Girl while she wanders in and out of all the activity.
I started wondering why all of these kids come to my house all of the time. My kids don't have very cool toys compared to some of theirs. I don't feed them treats. I tell them to clean up after themselves if they trash up the place, I stop them when I see them stabbing trees with screwdrivers or trampling on the plants, and I tell them to watch their language, to be kind to their younger siblings, to be careful of the Baby and to please not yell in the house. I'm starting to suspect it may be because of me, and the Genius Husband. Why else would a bunch of kids walk right past the playground to come to my door? And then it occurs to me that I've met very few of these children's parents. I never see them with their mothers, or fathers, I only see them wandering feral across this community of ours. (Though the big boys have mothers that I know and some carry walkies to keep in touch with home.) I wonder if perhaps they come because I'm here; because I learn their names and try to talk to them like they're people instead of just kids. Maybe it's because I watch their tricks and make them behave and teach them how to play the piano. Maybe it's because kids need a mom and these kids don't see that much of their mothers. Maybe it's because they need a dad and the GH is usually willing to sit outside with them and show them his knives and teach them how to wrestle. Maybe it's just because we leave our door open all the time.
I know that a lot of the moms here work outside the home, usually cleaning someone else's. They work hard, they work long hours, and I try not to judge them, I really do. I could never let my kids go into a house when I've never even met the parents, let alone decided if I can trust them. And I don't let them go unsupervised so long that they could wander in without my knowing.
My neighbor runs a daycare out of her home. She told me one day that she can always tell the kids who don't have mothers. She said it has to do with little details like the state of their clothes, and hair, in the way they react when she talks to them. She just recently started taking care of a new boy and asked him if he ever visits his mom since she knew his parents were divorced. "Sometimes," he replied, "my mom is in jail." The other three boys in her care piped up, "Our mom was in jail too."
You can see in those boys how not having a mother has changed them. The oldest boy has taken it upon himself to take care of the younger two. They carry themselves as though it's them against the world. The younger boy is so very serious and he's not very resilient. Where other kids would get up and play again after a bump, or hurt feelings, he curls himself into a ball under the playground and cries. Trying to help him makes him cry worse and he only responds to his older brother. They are half orphans, the world has been thrust upon them too soon and they seem slightly overwhelmed by it all.
So while I stood and watched the bleach eat away at the brown stains until they faded into nothing, I concluded that this thing that I do, this worrying about details, and cleaning ears, and being pulled at and needed, and always having more that I could do after days of doing, and hugging, and talking, and listening, and setting boundaries, and making sure that they're clean and safe, matters, even if it doesn't look like it at first glance.
And all of those kids who flock to our house seem to think so too. I hope that the brief moments that I give to them will help them along, that the friendly interest of one grown-up will be a buffer against some of the not so friendly things they will run into. I am glad that they come here, for I know that here is safe for them. I'm glad to be part of the village that raises them and pray for them that the other people in their village will be kind to them as well.