The Children of the Grove
It was early afternoon and my first born and I were hanging out in the kitchen. He was sitting on the floor and I was stirring milk into a can of tomato soup. He flipped over to his hands and knees and bolted for a dirty fly swatter. "No," I said.
"Don't tell me no words, Mom!"How does a guy who's only means of transportation, which happens to be on all fours, even know the word, words? It's not like we'd say, "Marques, say the word, cow. Or, Marques, say the word, moo. Or, Marques, say the word, Daddy." No. We'd say, "Marques, what is this? Or, "Marques, what does a cow say?" Or, "Marques, who is that over there?" So, it was pretty clear from the beginning that my son was a prodigy. It is hard to know what is right and what is wrong when raising children. Especially when you have no idea what the fuck you are doing. I called my mother one day to ask if I should take Marques to the doctor because his little piece of manhood was standing straight up during a diaper change. "Millie," she says. "That is natural." "For a baby?" I screamed. "Yes, honey. A male is a male right from the get go." Clearly, I should not have been in charge. For some reason, and I am guessing it is that we were broke, my husband Jason and I owned a washer, but not a dryer. After Marques' nap I would plant Marques and his bouncy seat into the basket of wet clothes and take him out to the clothes line. Well, everybody knows that house fires kill. And it is always the same story in the newspaper. "I just stepped out for a minute." Over my dead body. I didn't shower while he was sleeping either. Bouncy seat in the bathroom. Mama in the shower. And Marques liked my singing. The first true word that ever came out of his tiny mouth, was the F-bomb. His enunciation was stupendous and he said it with the same amount of zest that his father had just used, seconds prior, because the tire blew. At two, Marques announced to the entire grocery store, which unfortunately also happened to be my place of employment, that I needed tampack. I said, "What?" He says, "you know, those things you put up your butt." By the time he was eight, I was sure that he was responsible enough to stay home with his baby brother, Rene, who was two years younger, while I ran down to the Little Store. "I will be right back. Just stay where you are and watch your show with your brother. You are in charge." "Okay Mom," he says. Five minutes later, I walk in the house only to find a note on the kitchen table.
I would have known it was my Marques, just from his handwriting. I looked out the window and waved. Marques had been a fussy baby. They called it colic. I am surprised the word has more than four letters. I thought that all babies opened their eyes and their mouths at the same time and screamed bloody murder. So, it was quite a shock when Rene was born. He didn't do that. They were opposites. Marques liked the baby jars of vegetables, all the dark green and orange ones. Rene spit those out. He liked all the light colored, sweet jars. Marques didn't walk until he was going on fifteen months and talking in paragraphs. Rene was running by ten. Marques always had something to say. Rene was always quiet. Oh, wait. Hold on just a minute. Rene wasn't always quiet. Rene was the poster child for melt downs. There was that memorable instant in my life when I didn't understand his perfect enunciation. "The what?" I said looking in my rear view mirror. "The bean bag basketball." "The what?" I said again, timidly. I could feel his four year old temperature rising. "THE BEANBAG BASKETBALL!" "Honey, I don't know what that is." "THE BEAN BAG BASKET BALL! YOU KNOW! WHERE WE JUMP ON THAT THING AND PLAY THOSE GAMES AND THEY HAVE THOSE TURTLES!!" "Do you mean the Brat and Beer Festival?" "YES. THAT IS WHAT I SAID!! THE BEAN BAG BASKETBALL!!!" "Why do we always have to stop and start?" he yells from the back seat of the car, when he was six. "Honey, Sven just has to run into the bank. He will be out in a minute." "Jeez. It's just like the school bus. Stop start! Stop start! Stop start!"
He was extremely cute and had the patience of his great grandmother.Even Marques would say a silent prayer as Rene spun the arrow hoping that Rene's game piece would not land on the block that was only three squares away from the end, but instead gave you a ride all the way to the second tier of the board, during a friendly game of Chutes and Ladders. It was not all Rene's fault that he was hot headed. His brother liked to bush buttons from the beginning on everything he was not supposed to including his little brother. And Adrienne. his step sister, three years senior to Marques, was not a lot of help either. "What is that planet?" she would say pointing to the sky. "Penis." "Would you kids please stop asking him that question!" I would yell from the kitchen. Rene was at a disadvantage being the youngest. Because no matter how much he tried to keep up with the Joneses and wash his grocery bag of gravel, those rocks of his did not do well in the market of pretty sparkly stones on the living room floor exchange. It's a shame that MTV was never around the Grove to film all the Guns-n -Roses concerts that took place in our tiny house on weekend mornings with pots, pans, metal spoons for percussion and Adrienne leading in song.
"Come and feel the noise. Girls ROCK your boys. Get, wild, wild, wild."Adrienne liked to hold fashion shows. She walked the runway which came out of our bedroom, through the living room and up the two stairs into the kitchen, where she would strut her stuff back and forth in front of us, wearing my oversized shoes and wardrobe. She was always trying to fix up my hair by setting it with curlers, which in reality were red, blue and yellow, plastic lock blocks. Going out for breakfast went something like this. Adrienne: Yay, we are going to the Downtown Café. Café was pronounced like cape only with an f. The waitress would stop by with pen and pad. Marques: Yes, I will have the steak and eggs, steak medium rare, eggs over easy, with white toast and a large glass of orange juice, a small milk and an order of sausage on the side. His order alone would deplete our cash flow for the month. Thank God the other two were into French toast, pancakes and whipped cream. But Rene had little tolerance for the wait staff dropping off food at nearby tables and every order that came out of the kitchen that didn't land in front of him was not taken with grace. Rene: When are they going to bring me my pancake?!! We didn't go out for breakfast very often. The three loved hiking and picnicking in the woods. Although it was an adorable view from the kitchen window, there were times that I did wish their journeys would last longer than the time it took me to make all the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sven built a treehouse in the back yard. We were invited for lunch up in the shack one day after they'd swept it out and had it all spit shined. The table was set and we were served bologna sandwiches, with potato chips and milk. It was excellent. Learning to ride a bike can be tricky business. Rene was pedaling like mad and I was running alongside hanging on and shouting all kinds of encouraging words. And then he took a sharp left and bam, he landed in the ditch. "Mom!" he yells. "I want Sven, to help me." Just for the record, Rene was in charge of the steering.
Everyone eventually could ride a bike.
Even the cat."Left, left, left, right, left." Rene spent some time, working on this march, literally. You should try it. It aint easy. There is a lot of hopping and the one right, is not enough to regain your balance. Adrienne was born with bionic ears.
She also loved to swim."Come on in, Millie" she would beg. "It's too cold." "No it's not," she would say with quivering blue lips. Sven and I watched the tube of her snorkel go back and forth and back and forth across the swimming area at Devil's Lake from our blanket on the sand. Sven turns to me and says, "I think we should get going pretty soon."
"I can hear you!"Sven and I turned our attention back to the lake. There she stood in the water, goggles on, arms folded and snorkel hanging from her face. I am the reason that Marques was such a good baseball player. A lot of people don't know the truth. But I would pitch the ball to him out on the street and he had to swing on every side, at every height and also use his bat to protect himself. So, when he actually got to hit the ball off the T and then move on to the pitching machine and then swing at a ball that another kid threw over the plate, he was prepared. My pitching maddened him so much that he became a pitcher himself. A city sewer was coming through the Grove. Now, my sweet and frugal Sven was not about to pay any kind of fee to have a back hoe come in and dig out the mandatory trench. He dug that mother himself, for days. A hole in the ground in your front yard is a natural hangout for guys. The entire neighborhood of boys, and the Grove was full of them, were in heaven. Marques and Rene lived out there by that hole with Sven. Rene peeked over the edge and said, "Sven, how deep does it have to be?" "Six feet," Sven answered.
"Is that kids feet or adults feet?"Marques made a trade of his dime store plastic cap gun for an electric keyboard. Like his youth football coach told me, "He is not going through life with his eyes closed." However, Marques did not have that electronic keyboard for long. Jessie's father came a knocking. "One, two, three, we're sorry!" was the rehearsed chorus coming from the back seat of the car. This familiar apology would occur after the people in the front seat were so pissed off at the people in the back seat, due to all the back seat bickering, that the driver would threaten to pull over and let the back seat people out in the middle of nowhere. To be fair, children of divorced parents can end up spending more than a healthy amount of time in vehicles, just getting to and from their different homes. So it is not entirely their fault that they were car riding assholes. I don't want to name any names, but my friend Claudette actually did stop in the middle of nowhere and kick her kids out of her car. So, I guess there was a lot of that going on and it wasn't just the children of blended families that were dicks. Counting Christmas lights is a nice pastime while riding from place to place, unless you get the side without any houses for that one stretch. And Adrienne and Marques thought ahead. Time spent in cars can also get you thinking. "You know what I want to be when I grow up?" says Rene. "No, what?" I say, very excited about the fact that my small child was making life plans. "I want to be the guy who gets to paint the yellow lines in the middle of the road. How do you think he does the dotted ones. Do you think he just goes like this with the brush?" Nice things happen in cars too. "I love you two hundred and eighty-fifty," Marques said one day from the back seat. "Oh that is so nice, honey. I love you too," I said. Not to be outdone by his big brother, Rene pipes up. "Well, I love you hick hundred and hickey hick tousend,"
"That's not even a number," boomed Marques.Sven was making a birthday present. I was not allowed in the basement. "Do you want me to tell you what it is?" says Rene. "No, honey. I want to be surprised." "I will just give you a hint," he says. Before I could stop him it was over. "It's about this big. It has drawers and you pit your clothes in it."
And then came the teenage years.
"I don't care what kind of a screw driver it is!" Adrienne yells at her father.
"As long as it goes like this!" And she holds up her forefingers making a cross.
Her girlfriend got her driver's license and they took Marques and Rene out for dinner at a Chinese restaurant.
Marques ordered an entire fucking Peking duck.
Unfortunately the credit card of Adrienne's girlfriend's mother, wouldn't go through and it was kind of a scene before the debt was covered and ten year old Rene was pretty shaken up.
As I hinted, the teenage years were rough.Sven consoled me one day. "Millie stop crying. It will not be like this forever." "How do you know?" I said. "Because everybody grows up. Adrienne will too. She won't hate you always." "How do you know?" I persisted. "Because someday she is going to be forty and you will be sixty and everything will be different. You will see." "When I am sixty? I am never going to be sixty! What the hell? Is that supposed to be consoling?" Well, here is a fact. I am still not sixty. What an idiot. Here is another fact. Adrienne is not yet forty. What an ass. Sven was dead wrong. He was way off the mark. Things started really turning around for Adrienne and I, long ago. And I was only fifty-three. All families have their struggles. We definitely had our fair share. The road got a little bit rocky and there were some potholes. But, I would not give up even one minute of our journey together as a family. Not one. Nope. "What, Louisa?"