I have mentioned, I think, that dogs and kids like me. I understand the dog thing – I’m around them pretty much constantly, I speak their language as well as I can in this funny hominid body, and I can read theirs pretty well. It’s the kids I don’t understand. I’m not a Kid Person. I think of them much as I think of dogs, which is: this is a small critter with a limited vocabulary, no sense of impulse control, and can move like the damn wind when they have a mind to do it. I often pat them on the head, which is all their fault because they’re within head-patting range.
One of my Occupy friends, Pappy, decided to do me the world’s biggest favor by attacking my back yard with machete (I told you about Florida gardening and machetes), shovel, hedge loppers, and bare hands, turning the overgrown weedy jungle into a swathe smooth as a dog park. All I had to do was keep him company, keep Josie from being too much of a nuisance, and provide a lift to and from where he lives, a house full of people called the Anarchist Sweat Shop.
I am one hundred percent not making this up. They’re a bunch of activists and related ne’er-do-wells who protest, study, and garden. There are a few cats running about the place, tons of people, and I am told two Costa Rican tarantulas. They live off the grid as much as possible in a sizable city like this one, gleaning expired food at supermarkets, dumpster diving for stuff, growing tons of food of their own. They’re always working on projects, building stuff, growing stuff. It’s like one of my mother’s Back In The Day stories come to life, but with more spiders and internet, and she was tickled pink when I told her about them.
I don’t know these people very well because I’m me and nearly criminally awkward-shy, especially in a crowd, but the youngest one, little Kriz, has decided I’m good people, and since he is three years old I have no idea what to do with that.
This is where the funny story of yesterday starts: we rolled up in my car, I pulled halfway into the driveway, Pappy ran off to grab something for me, and little Kriz ran up to say hi. He then brought me a milk crate from a stack out front. (Inside my head: Dog brings ball. Kid brings crate. Okay, I get it, I think.) He handed me the crate and I took it to put it back on the stack, saying something about “hon, I don’t need that, but thank you.”
Somewhere during this little exchange, everyone else vanished. Oh hell.
I figured if I could distract the boy for a few minutes, somebody else would turn up eventually, and — see above re: Awkward and Shy, I wasn’t going to bring him inside because I pretty much need written invitations into other peoples’ space and that’d be Intruding — so I grabbed a seat on the milk crate to talk to Kriz. He tried to hoist himself up onto a stack of two next to me, failed, and then gave me this look like “You’re supposed to lift me up here.” So I did.
It occurred to me that introductions were probably in order, so I told him my name and asked for his. I held out my hand to shake it (I. AM. SO. AWKWARD. JESUS. CHRIST.) and he offered me his tiny hand, very solemnly, which he wrapped around two of my fingers.
“I had a sandwich,” he told me, and then he bounced off the crate stack like a flea and went straight for my car, which still sat idling with the driver’s door open, half in the driveway and half in the street.
“CAN I PLAY DRIVING?” he asked, halfway in.
I went through some very quick thoughts there. One: kids told not to do things they want to do often cry about it, and the only thing I know how to deal with less than a child is an upset one. Two: if my mother, my dogs, and my own self haven’t killed that car, a three-year-old boy probably can’t within the space of five minutes. And then three: I hope that’s all right with whoever’s minding him because he’s already in. “Lemme just turn it off,” I said, reaching in and pulling the keys out of the ignition, and redirecting him away from pulling the gearshift. “Go on, go drive.”
He couldn’t see over the steering column, so he knelt up on the seat, tugging the bottom of the wheel ineffectually – fortunately it locks when shut off – and then laid into the horn. He looked at me with an ear-to-ear grin and did it again.
This is when everyone reappeared, when my Awkward-Ass Stranger self had let their kid goof around inside her car, honking the horn, pulling the wheel, yanking every lever within reach.
To my surprise, nothing ended in calamity. We coaxed little Kriz out of my car — and he then told me that the window was up with such determination that I put it down, even though I’d be putting it right back up after, because the weather is broken and on the day after the Winter Solstice the high was eighty-five degrees. I got a hug and a crate full of veggies and snacks, and then was on my way — with my left blinker and the windshield wipers both going at a rapid clip, because levers must be pulled.
I don’t know how these things happen. I really don’t. Kids gravitate towards me and I do not understand because I am as maternal as a coral polyp. The last significant amount of time I spent with children of any age, I was that age too. I have no idea what to do around them. But they like me anyway. I don’t understand this at all.