I am not sure if this is due to COVID keeping the kids home, or just the advancing age of the neighborhood kids, but a gang has sprung up in our alley between a few neighboring homes. And who has become the king-of-the-mountain/ gang leader? My dear Mick!

This is partly due to his advanced age, he is now 11 and going into sixth grade versus the younger kids who are headed into second and fourth grades. But it is also partly due to his charisma. Who can blame them? This mother sees her son as a kind, smart and beautiful child. The neighborhood boys see him as an idol. The neighborhood girls see him as a crush — even though he has flatout put them down. (Thank the Lord! For now…)

What about Shannon? At 13 and going into eighth grade, she is far too mature to be bothered with them. When I asked her today why she doesn’t like taking them all to the park, her response was, “The girls always try to talk to me.”

Must be a rough life to be such a grownup child!

But I push them to be good examples for the other children. Teach them how to take the dogs for a walk, model good behavior like wearing your helmet — you know, the normal mom stuff.

For the past month, the children have been on their summer trip to Grandpa Ryan’s house in North Dakota. This stretched out adventure came at the perfect time. After “homeschool” through COVID, we all were ready for a little space. We good-missed each other.

As I explained to them, it is good to miss each other, in a good way. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. It was a time apart for them to learn from and bond with Grandpa. Surprisingly, it was also a time for me to work on my marriage.

Bad missing verges on traumatic. This brings memories and fears of abandonment- something we desperately avoid.

The trip was long. Even though we spoke nearly everyday, it is good for them to be home.

The day of their arrival, I was so excited that I woke up at 6 a.m. (I am normally a very late riser) and couldn’t get back to sleep. I hopped around the house and when I finally saw Jerry’s eyes flutter open a few hours later, I was in his face — demanding attention like an excited cat.

This time apart was not only a change for us as a family, but also for the neighborhood gang.

The young lad next door, Mick’s minion, would ask us, every time he saw us, if Mick was home yet. Everytime we were taking out the trash or getting into the vehicle, he would come out of nowhere and assault us with his disappointment.

Finally, I asked him if he had a calendar at home; he did. I told him to count how many days until Father’s Day and that was when he would be home.

The parroting of his question then change from:

“Is Mick home?”

“No.”

To:

“Is Mick home?”

“Is it Father’s Day?”

“No.”

This seemed to work and I overheard a few conversations across the fence of him asking his mom how long until the holiday. It seems the gang was temporarily leaderless and the children had to find new ways to entertain themselves.

The week leading up to Father’s Day I noticed a change in our neighbor boy. He knocked on our front window on Wednesday and asked if Mick was home. Cupping his face to the window, he startled me while watching a crime show. I kicked the footstool over. Thursday, the window was open and he started talking to me, as if we were in the middle of a conversation.

Friday, when the top portion of his head appeared, I came to the window. He knew Father’s Day was that weekend. I helped him count the days — three- — until Mick would be home.

“To be honest, he might be here Saturday night but it will be late and he won’t be able to play.”

“That’s OK! I stay up late!”

“But I miss him, too, and I’ll need to give him a lot of hugs before bed.”

“If you miss him, why don’t you tell him to come home now?”

This deep, almost existential question, came from the mouth of the babe and I explained the importance of him experiencing life and love with his Grandpa, someone he has only known the past few years.

My window talker walked off, somewhat defeated.

I didn’t see the neighbor boy Saturday. But Sunday morning, this lad and the two ladies from across the alley rejoiced when Mick met them in the alley.

“He really wants me to spend the night,” said Mick, coming to test my response.

I spoke to Mick. “You can’t go into anyone’s house. You might be a carrier of COVID and we don’t want to infect anyone.”

When the little boy came up to me I explained that we had to be careful. “We don’t want him to get your baby brother sick,” I explained.

“Yeah, OK,” he said defeatedly. Yet, it was clear this big brother (he is going into second grade, after all) understood that he needs to protect his baby brother who is not yet one. Then, the lad looked at his big buddy and they ran back to their gang headquarters in the alley and went back to enjoying the summer.

I found their location convenient. Although I couldn’t see them, when I yelled for him to come home, he heard me. However, an hour later a little head popped into the front window.

I swear, one of these days they are going to spy me picking my nose or something! I wished the children goodnight and assured them Mick could play the next day.

I don’t look forward to when Mick and Shannon go visit their other grandparents!

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