Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Too Many Puppies.

About a month ago, I posted on The Boy's trouble on the bus with a boy named Cain. Since then, I've been driving The Boy home from school because, since it was already getting on the end of the year, and The Boy's mom and step-dad were: a) out of town; or b) working a million hours a week, the most workable solution seemed to be just removing The Boy from the situation. Since then, The Boy and Cain have made friends and Cain and his various relatives have been coming over to play after school.

My after-school situation is getting sort of out-of-hand. The problem is, I'm strict with The Boy. It's a lousy neighborhood, so I don't let him play outside without supervision; it's a lousy neighborhood, so no one else's parents gives a damn about things like that. All of the other kids get to run wild, and The Boy doesn't, and he doesn't understand. So I started letting him have kids over so he wouldn't be so bitter about it. Initially, it was just D.C. from the down the street, and occasionally another boy, K., from around the block.

Now my regular routine includes D.C., Cain, Cain's brother and five year-old cousin, K. and one or two of his friends, plus The Boy, sometimes The Boy's step-brother X, AND The Boy's best friends from school, who happen to be twins. Now, that means that sometimes I have as many as eleven boys, aged five to ten, to try and keep from killing themselves or others. As a rule, these kids from broken, violent families, and they aren't really accustomed to anybody giving too much a damn about them.

This leads to both funny and sad situations, often at the same time. Today, Cain and his five-year old cousin came over to play Gamecube. Cain, being nine, is very bossy with Nkabe. Nkabe, being five, generally accepts Cain's authority, but practices the little brother art of sabotage. They were playing Dragon Ball Z and Nkabe wouldn't let Cain charge up, and Cain was getting mad. Cain said, "Nigger, I'ma mess you up! Let me charge!" And Nkabe responds: "You such a jigaboo. Jigaboo, shut your mouth!"

I had a problem on my hands. I am white. Very white. I couldn't be more white if I tried. So the "N" word and the "j" word aren't part of my vocabulary. The Boy is also white, and while he could probably use those words with Cain and Nkabe, who are black, I don't want him to try it on other black kids who might not be so ecumenical about it. Besides that, I don't like those words and I don't really want Cain and Nkabe using them either. But somehow, it's hard for my cracker ass to tell black kids which anti-black ethnic slurs they're allowed to use.

So I say, "Hey boys, I don't like those words. We don't use those here." And Cain says: "What's wrong with them? My mom doesn't care. I use those all the time." So I say, "Those words have been used to hurt people for a long time. They're not nice words. I know you're playing, but there are some things you shouldn't say even when you're just messing around." I know that they don't really understand the gravity of it, and I'm glad that they don't. For all their problems, they are - like all children - very good boys who don't ever deserve to find out how nasty those words are, or have them used against them.

For the rest of the night, every time anyone insulted anyone, I had tattlers. "Oo, Miss Sarah, [The Boy] called me stupid!" "Oo, Sarah, Cain said retard!" "Saaaaaaaaaaaraaaaaah! D.C. said [K]'s too ugly to get girlfriends!" I didn't know whether I should be happy that they were respecting my rule, or irritated because I now have eleven little boys, with eleven habitually filthy mouths, all intent on letting me know just how habitually filthy they all are.

This summer will prove challenging. I'm not good at being mean. I have learned to be relatively hard on The Boy, but I have a soft heart for all of the kids in the neighborhood. They're nice kids and they can't help the fact that they don't have anywhere to really play. It's hard for me to say that D.C. or K. can come over, but not the throbbing masses of other kids. If he already has friends over, how do you turn away other friends? I can handle four boys, and I'm glad that he has someone to play with. Eleven little boys, however, is just a safety hazard.

I guess I'll figure it out soon. It's interesting to me that The Boy's house is the only house in the neighborhood with rules, and it's still by far the most popular place to play. I guess it doesn't hurt that The Boy's house is also the only house in the neighborhood where the macaroni and cereal flow free. But I still wonder if it doesn't have something to do with the fact that the kids feel more secure with me there. Most of the boys don't have adults home until eight or nine at night and if they weren't in with me, they'd probably be out playing on the street that late, too. Even though they're not getting away with much when they're with me, I wonder if that isn't nicer than the excessive freedom they're used to. Rules mean discipline, and most nine year-olds aren't very into that. But they also mean protection from other nine year-olds, and I imagine that that's a pretty nice thing in a tough neighborhood.