In the weeks leading up to Jennie’s visit I was a tad nervous.
At one point my friend Heather shook her head at me, “Oh, she’s just a 14 year old girl. RELAX.”
Yes yes, I know. But she’s not ANY 14 year old girl, she’s Clay’s daughter, making her a big part of his heart. And…she’s a 14 year old girl.
I remember being 14. I was insane. I couldn’t imagine myself, at that age, being cooped up with three young boys for two weeks. Blood would have been shed.
And yes, Jennie and the boys have always gotten along before, but they’d never LIVED together. And I may remember BEING a teenaged girl, but that doesn’t mean I know what to DO with a teenaged girl. I’m thoroughly accustomed to boys, to my gaggle of noisy, smelly, inappropriately behaving boys.
Ok, and here we get to the heart of my worst fear: how would I handle it when my sons annoyed her? Could I be fair? Would I go all mother bear on her? How ugly would THAT be?
And then she arrived, and she was lovely.
I mean that in every way. She’s a gorgeous girl, but she’s also funny and smart and interesting. And eventually she and the boys did have conflict – very normal siblingy sort of irritation – and it didn’t bother me any more than it does when the boys bicker amongst themselves. She was just another one of the crowd of kids around here. There were differences, of course. She plays music all the time, and if she was awake there was the sound of her radio drifting up the stairs. She is also computer savvy, leading to an intensely uncomfortable session where I sat on the couch, trying to read my book while she read my blog.
“You had a futon mattress in here?” She asked innocently.
“Hmm? Oh, yeah – WAIT, WHAT ARE YOU READING?” I scrambled around to see the screen. “Uh…you don’t have to read that one, ok?”
“Mmm-hmmm.” She read on in silence, then shook her head, “The THINGS people will write about on their blogs.”
“I TOLD you you didn’t have to read that one.”
Toward the end of her first week her mom called to see if Jennie could stay an extra week. Sure, we said, of course.
But then, midway through that second week, she called back to say that plans had changed, could she come home on Saturday as originally planned? Well…sure. Of course. I didn’t participate in the conversation, naturally. Clay talked to her, then gave the phone back to Jennie and came into the bedroom where I was sorting socks, to tell me.
“But…THIS Saturday? That’s just three days away. We had plans.” Irrationally, I found myself blinking back tears. I turned my back to where Jennie was sitting in the living room, not wanting her to see me. I didn’t want her to think I was mad. Plans change. Life is like that. I was just surprised.
And I knew that Jennie was getting homesick for her mom and her friends, and that this would be a good thing for her.
Thursday night the kids all reminded me that I had promised to take them to get shaved ice before Jennie went home.
“You PROMISED,” they chorused, giving me their best sincere looks of wavery hope. It was a stupid, stupid promise I made at the end of a zoo trip. I still had to go shopping for some things for Raphi’s birthday, and had worked out a scheme with Clay. He would take the kids out for ice cream and I would shop at the Target right across the parking lot from the ice cream store. It was a BRILLIANT plan, except that on our last stop at the zoo the kids spotted a shaved ice stand and decided they wanted that more than ice cream. More than ANYTHING, they wanted shaved ice. In desperation to acquire the necessary plastic garbage to host a birthday party, I said,”OK, FINE, but not today. I PROMISE I will get you shaved ice before Jennie goes home, but today it’s ice cream.”
And then I spent the next two weeks glancing around whenever we drove anywhere, a growing sense of doom clouding my heart as I realized that shaved ice seems to live in the zoo, and is not allowed out of captivity.
So Friday morning it was my last chance to make good on my promise. I loaded the kids in the van. Clay had the day off work and he came along too. We all had places to go and not QUITE enough time for this trip, so we had to move. I craned around to tell the kids,
“When we GET to the zoo, NO ONE LOOKS AT ANIMALS. We do not CARE about educational opportunities. Is that clear?” They nodded back.
At the zoo we flashed our membership card and hoofed it to the BACK of the zoo, where the shaved ice stand stood.
The kids all took it pretty well, although Max did point out that this meant I’d have to bring them all back again, and nearly had his head bitten off by his mother. There was no time to waste, so we turned on our heels and marched back to the van. As we walked along, I gripped Clay’s hand and avoided eye contact with anyone. I felt awful.
All I wanted, I thought, was to do right by Jennie. There isn’t enough time. I just wanted to do right.
Saturday morning she and Clay left, early. The boys and I hugged her goodbye, and then she was gone. We shuffled around for a few moments, then wandered off to our own thoughts. I started making breakfast, thinking how strange it seemed not to be making her a smoothie. It seemed like she should be here. I could almost hear…I paused, and listened.
“Tre, can you go downstairs and turn Jennie’s radio off?” He nodded and thundered down the stairs.
I don’t know how to do this, exactly. I don’t know how to be this kind of family. She’s one of us, yet she has to leave to go home. She’s still a mystery to me in many ways, yet I love her too.
I guess we’ll figure it out.