the house that keeps on giving

a house is not a home. as so elegantly sung by the late luther vandross (thanks, mama, i love you for that song). it is a structure built with the intention and desire to one day be purchased and fulfill it’s destiny to actually become a home. some houses struggle their entire existence trying to become a home. i have been blessed to know many “homes” during my time. my mama’s house, my gramma’s house and my aunt’s house– no matter where they have been or will be, will always be my home(s). but i am lucky enough to have another home. it belongs to my best friend’s parents. they have been married for twenty-five years. they are both retired but have a busy social life and still manage to take care of their parents, their kids and the Three Grandkid-teers. this is a story about the home that they made, provided and shared. a home unlike any other.

in the thirty plus years that i have been a part of their family, i suspect that i have spent years at their house. i don’t know the exact number, but it’s safe to say that it would rival the actual number of hours that i spent at my own home. for as long as i can remember, the front door has been unlocked during normal operating hours. the front yard has not changed that much, and neither has the house for that matter. the only things that i can actually recall being changed affect the aesthetics of the house: the windows, the paint, several screen doors (not for pretty, but because of big headed, strong willed canines) and the decorations. it is now as it has always been — simple, warm and inviting.

the queen of the castle is meticulous. there is a method to her madness and if you don’t know it, you’ll soon find out. she likes her things “just so” and her things like it too. they are used to her and will unknowingly tattle-tell, if and when, you misplace or abuse them. she will see what you have done before you do. confess. it’s in your best interest. the king of the castle is laid back. not much bothers him that i’ve come to find. together, they manage their household seamless and flawlessly.

i grew up across the street, hence the amount of time i spent there. it’s a great house to grow up in and i have always known that. but recently, i had the opportunity to stay there for a week. the king and queen were away on travel. they provide weekly childcare for their three youngest grandchildren. with them out of town, the responsibility fell upon Nanny. the queen’s mom. but she’s eighty-four and while she can handle herself, expecting her to care for the two toddlers is outside of the comfort range. that’s where i came in. i agreed to house/baby/granny-sit in order to ensure comfort, ease of mind and a change of pace for all involved. what an adventure. so there’s Nanny, my SweetHeart Callie, her little brother the MadMan AJ and their littler cousin the PetiteSweet Emmie. not to mention, that i had with me my effervescent and energetic four-year-old SuperBoy Kenneth and me. whew. if there was ever a place to watch and care for a senior citizen, elementary schooler, preschooler, two toddlers, three dogs, a guinea pig and a betta fish.. it’s this house. thank the lord for the house on BlahBlah Street!

let’s start with a sorta-tour of the premises. the front yard is large and accommodating. there is enough play room and comfort room to watch the kids out front. through the front door is the formal living room. it’s formal. the furniture is white and there are lots of fragile breakable ceramic and glass items in there. stay out. it’s not a request, it’s an order. just don’t go in there or be in there unless it’s christmas eve and you’re with the rest of the family opening presents. moving on.. leaving the formal living room takes you to the formal dining room. again, it’s formal. stay out. unless it’s your birthday, they’re having a party for you and it’s time to blow out the candles. the formal dining room gives way to the family dining area. it’s cozy and comfortable and centrally located. from there you can go one of two ways, into the tv room or into the kitchen. there is a den, respectively known as “the tv room” and it holds one of the four televisions in the home, the fireplace and a pool table. yes, a pool table. the bestie and i used to play pool for hours. now it’s covered with plastic and serves as the queen’s craft table. uuummmm, don’t move her stuff. 😀 i don’t want you to think that she’s mean or territorial, she’s the queen. it’s her castle and she has rules and regulations. she is extremely generous and kind. it is because of the queen that the house is able to give relentlessly. technically it’s all her, and she just uses the house to share her love.

the tv room and family dinner table are right off the best room in the house… the kitchen! i love kitchens. all kitchens. they truly are the heart of the home. besides the appliances, you’re more than likely going to find Nanny in the kitchen. she cooks and bakes constantly. you will also find any and everything you could possibly want to eat. there is always cereal. probably four different kinds as well as a variety of milks to choose from. there is a fruit basket that is never empty. the most astounding part to me is that it always has apples, oranges and bananas. how awesome and healthy is that? it makes me smile just to think about it. the children will have good eating habits, even without their knowledge or effort. there are several other items that are a staple including yogurt, jell-o, popsicles, tortilla chips, a microwave meal or six, low-fat popcorn and sandwich fixins. oh, and a fifty-gallon bag of shredded cheese. again i say, how awesome is that? and what a great place to grow up in. there is now, and has always been a ‘snack drawer’. it’s what the bestie and her brother used to pick their lunch box treats from. it’s moved locations a couple of times, but it seems to multiply when your back is turned. it is never close to empty and always full of variety. more awesomeness.

just off the kitchen is the laundry room. the house (more like the queen or Nanny) processes no less than three loads of laundry a day. everything required is conveniently placed within reach. it also has a storage area full of food. yes, more food. the kitchen is full of food and the laundry room is half food, half cleaning supplies. next you’ll enter the “front bathroom”. it’s got a pink theme. always has. it also has two doors which can be confusing and/or embarrassing, depending on what you’re doing in there when the other door opens. there are four bedrooms, one of them is a part-time office. the beds are always made and every room has a ceiling fan to ensure maximum comfort. there are four televisions and a computer in the home. everyone can pretty much watch what they want and not have to fight with or disturb another.

the backyard is complete with plastic playhouse, small swing, things with wheels and a swimming pool with diving board and slide. what could be more inviting? i know! an on hand barbecue and the pool is fenced in so there’s no need to obsess about the kids falling in. the house is constantly telling you:

“you’re safe here. take a load off. you hungry? sleepy? rest. relax, i got you.”

now, if you have yet to be impressed by what i’ve described, take a trip out the back, into the garage and down the stairs. from what i remember, the garage has never held more than one car at a time. the king has his woodcutting hobby down there and of course there’s always storage, but what will catch your eye is the stock pile of food items down there. yes, more food. it’s breathtaking. i’m sure that Sam’s Club buys from her, instead of the other way around. there is so much food. but also, the consumable products: paper towels, paper plates, napkins, plastic cups, ziploc bags and the like. they make clean up with kids quicker and easier and who doesn’t love that? there’s more detergent in the garage than on the whole block. and all of these things add to the comfort of the home. they add to the ambiance and feeling that you are cared for when you’re there and you needn’t worry.

ok, so let’s zoom back in time to the beginning of last week. the king and queen left on tuesday and my aunt dropped us off on BlahBlah Street that afternoon. my son has many allergies and when we stay away, i pack my whole house. we unloaded and started our week-long working-vacation. we entered the house and immediately were harassed by the resident dog family: candy, peachy and mickey. we greeted everyone in the house and Nanny was already cooking dinner. she had promised us a chicken dinner a few weeks earlier but got held up running errands with her grandson. on the menu was fried chicken breasts, nanny-tatoes (kinda like homefries but better), green beans and chocolate covered vanilla cake. whooo hoo! it’s great to be home. my son was too excited to eat. he loves my bestie’s kids and just wanted to be outside running a muck. the rest of us ate and let the weight of the day slip away. the backyard calls to the children. they spend the majority of their time outside. however, it was a little chilly and the sprinklers came on so we corralled them and brought them inside for a movie.

the PetiteSweet, the youngest of the group leaves around dinnertime. both boys were broken hearted. she’s a people watcher and pretty quiet. but she’s quick on her toes. it looked like the two boys were getting physical and a hand came flying her direction, not only did she block it but she responded just as fast with an almost-hit-back. you go, girl! my son had instantly become enamored with her. Callie is his first love. he followed her everywhere to the point of annoyance. they all love each other though. it’s very cute to watch. dinner, movie, baths and bed. we slept in the SweetHeart’s room. she has a guinea pig, named G-force, and he is loud at night.

something about the combination of the guinea pig, the princess bed unlike my own and the realization that no one can say “i love you” louder and more clearly than if they ask you to care for their child(ren), made me not sleep that night. i was excited and a little nervous to wake the next day and have the responsibility of “the house” on my shoulders. eventually i fell asleep and when i woke up, the bestie had gone to work, the SweetHeart was already gone to school and the MadMan was still asleep. it was just Nanny, SuperBoy and i. i found Nanny in the kitchen (duh), drinking her coffee. you can’t get close to Nanny without being offered something to eat or drink, or eat. she wanted to know what i was going to eat. was it cereal? was it toast? was it chocolate covered vanilla cake? what, what was i going to eat?

“nothing right now, Nan, i’m ok.”

she continued… for at least another fifteen minutes. finally she told me:

“you’re makin’ me nervous by not eating! you want me to fix you something? i’ll fix ya whatever ya want, you know that. what can i fix? ya want some pancakes?”

“yes, Nan, pancakes would be awesome.”

“goood. i’ll start on um right now.”

she made me a stack of pancakes everyday, for four days straight! they were almost as big as the plate and drenched in butter (i love butter). she made me a stack of four, SuperBoy a stack of two and just one for the MadMan. that’s enough pancakes to satisfy an elephant and enough butter to last for the rest of 2011. death by pancakes. but you won’t catch me complaining, honestly. it was a pleasure and a delight. we should all be so lucky as to be forced to eat fresh pancakes every morning. before i could take the last bite and walk my plate into the kitchen, everything was cleaned up. i couldn’t even tell she made anything and then she was off to do the laundry while telling me to leave my plate in the sink. amazing.

Nanny allows the kids to help her do any and everything. SweetHeart is a junior chef already. she likes to be involved in all cooking processes somewhere along the way, and she doesn’t want your help, just your guidance. she can “do it”.  Nanny let’s the kids sit on the kitchen counter next to her while she instructs them accordingly. she lets the MadMan, a two-year-old, help her with the laundry. it’s the cutest and sweetest thing. he’s standing all tippy-toe on top of the tiny dryer-lent trash can and she hands him the clothes items one-by-one. she’s so patient and easy going. unless you’re refusing breakfast. i aspire to be as sweet, gentle, caring and wonderful as she is.

the days flew by pretty easy. (note: the PetiteSweet is only at the house for a few hours in the afternoon. and she didn’t make it the rest of the week. 😦 we enjoyed our day with her though. we look forward to the next time we see her.) with two boys in the house all day there is a lot of running, screaming and hitting. occasionally spitting, immediately followed by time-out. there was also a lot of “give it, gimme it, stop it” and “mine”. but all-in-all, they are like brothers and play as well as two brothers could. inside, outside, inside, outside and inside. outside. and with them, there are no inside voices. there’s one voice for the both in and outside. and it’s LOUD. they are more entertained by classic animation including tom & jerry and scooby doo than any of the newer, more impressive, pixar created movies. they love them all, but tom & jerry genuinely makes them laugh.

on the second night i proceeded to give SuperBoy a bath, once the water started running the MadMan came around the corner faster than lightning. i think all children have super-sonic hearing. especially if they hear the sounds of something they want to be doing. my son was in the tub and i was getting a towel from under the bathroom sink. i looked up and AJ was already out of his pajama pants.

“i wanna takey baff”

dammitalltohell. now there’s two of them in there. they did pretty good, there was only a quarter of an inch of water across the bathroom floor. it reminded me of this:

we pretty much did this same thing everyday. i got to start each morning with fresh pancakes. i think it was on the third day that both boys were seated and waiting. AJ said “yummy yumma”. if it had been warmer i would have braved the swimming area with the boys. there’s a hot tub that would have held the three of us comfortably. speaking of hot tub.. did i tell you that i found a rawhide dog bone, swimming pool brush head and superman in the bottom of the hot tub. i retrieved the items and gave the superman figurine back to the MadMan only to blink and see him actually throw it and watch superman hit the surface and sink to the bottom. i left him there for a day or so. 😀 as well, i found the fabulous and rootin’est tootin’est cowboy Woody in the hose attachment point of the shop vac. i present to you, exhibit a:

exhibit a

shop vac toy torture

can you see that? here.. lemme help you.

exhibit a zoom-in

the rootin'est tootin'est cowboy

the days flew by almost effortlessly. what a fun time. it wasn’t work at all. nothing out of the ordinary. i was happy to have some time away from my home, to allow my son to have an outing, to give my aunt some personal space, but also to be taken care of by the house, Nanny and the kids. they really took care of me. i left there happier and healthier. it made me grateful for all of the wonderful people that i have in my life. from Nanny all the way down to the PetiteSweet, i am loved. my aunt makes and saves a place for me and my son in her heart and in her home. she’s a saint. my bestie’s family loves me enough to entrust me with their little angels and their sweet sweet gramma’s. i am blessed! i am truly cared for. i hope that if i am ever fortunate enough to purchase a house that i will be able to turn it into a home. a home that will provide and embrace my family and friends for generations to come. a home that can cater to the elderly, small children and a variety of pets. a house that will keep on giving.

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the simplicities of the intricacies

we have a beautiful backyard. i will be the first to admit that i have not used it for all that it is worth. we have a covered gazebo, swimming pool, grass and garden areas, an avocado tree, and barbecue attached to the gas line. the pool is not fenced, so taking my son into the backyard is nothing short of a mild heart attack. the anxiety caused by just thinking about it keeps me from actually going out there. yes, i understand that i have robbed myself and my son of some wonderful outside antics. but, i am also certain that i have saved him from a near death experience, or twelve, and also saved myself from having to jump into whatever-temperature water to save him. thems the breaks. i cannot change what i have done, only what i will do.

so, i decided to go outside the other day. it was beautiful for the ump-teenth day in a row and very inviting. i tend to occupy the area to the far side of the pool that i call the “stage”. it’s two steps up from the deck and sits between two low gardens. one day i will actually garden those gardens, in the meantime we will let the ground cover… cover. the stage is in the middle of the yard, facing the house. prime seating for just about anything. i can see the entire yard and into the house from there. kinda like a lifeguard, but with a lot less skin, a rickety bench, and four years of bein’ a mom under my belt. a mama-guard. essentially, just a mom, but i like to accentuate the many qualities and jobs contained therein. what better way than a dash? anyway…

i cannot touch the sliding glass door or the screen without mr. mini-me and his canine-like sense of hearing:

“go outside mommy? go outside?”

“yes, bubs, put your shoes on.”

“ok, ok, ok. oooooooh kay!”

with my shoes on and his at least retrieved, we busted out of the house and into the world. it really was beautiful. there was a slight breeze and wisps of white clouds against the baby blue background called the sky. so i took my place on the debatable bench upon “the stage”, (i call it debatable because it came in a box and was probably put together with a butter knife). the sun is such an overwhelming force. my skin went warm and then hot. i don’t mind it though. i actually enjoy sun bathing. my son sat at the steps of the shallow end with his feet in the water. that didn’t last for long. lucky for the two of us, he managed to get distracted by the water hose. just then, my aunt came outside and she turned it on for him. it almost shot him right in the face! i laughed so hard at just the thought.

i adjusted the bench to optimize my receipt of the sun rays. he ran this way and that with the hose laughing and giggling the way a child should. he seemed to have a hard time holding the hose and getting wet so i did what any mom would. i took the hose from him and squirted him from head to toe. hahahahah! i sprayed it up in the air and let him run through it, under it and over it. he has such a great laugh when he’s having fun. he was soaked and ecstatic. i went inside and brought him a towel and a fresh outfit. when he said that he was cold, i changed his clothes and warmed up with a hug, a kiss and a few minutes in the sun. he was happy and entertained and it didn’t cost anything more than the water we were using. he got to expend some of his boundless SuperBoy energy and get dirty, wet and delirious all at once. i thought to myself “man, i’m gonna have to do this more often.”

i decided to further enjoy myself, but we would need some supplies. after seven minutes of consistent debate, i convinced my son to come inside with me, momentarily, while i changed into something worthy of sunbathing and got a snack or two. we returned outside with a small picnic and half the living room furniture. i took his little people table and chair outside. he felt it necessary to bring his sleeping bag, two pillows, both stuffed tiggers and the loving valentine sock monkey couple. hey, whatever makes him happy (within reason, and most of the time), right? he laid on the sleeping bag with his stuffed friends, mumbling to himself and resisting his nap.

it was during this time that i just sat looking, admiring and generally falling in love with the world around me. the breeze picked up and i could hear the many wind chimes clinking away. i watched as the resident lizards shifted this way and that in an attempt to also maximize their sunning. our neighborhood is a white-picket-fence type area. all of the houses have trees. most of them have at least one fruit tree, usually citrus. we have an avocado tree. the number of birds in the area is awe inspiring. we have a few regulars including an family of owls in the palm out front, one little black bird (he looks like he has a mohawk) that bathes in the swimming pool, and another with a white tail that uses the natural angle of the roof to aid in her early morning bug hunt and devour.

as i sat admiring the huge beige lizard just above my son’s head, i was delighted to see a few hummingbirds. they are mesmerizing, aren’t they? so tiny, weightless and never still. anyway, they seemed to be playing tag because they flew this way, one behind the other, and then back just as quickly. i don’t know how many there were, but i enjoyed them just the same. i was blankly staring at the avocado tree when my glance fell upon the joshua tree next to it. it always stands so proud in it’s awkward, no-method-to-the-madness shape. growing and regenerating from the inside out. the older leaves, brown and winkled, hanging down revealing the trees history. the newer leaves, untwisting and revealing themselves from the top. it seems to me that people grow and regenerate in the same way. maturing on the inside, but constantly changing and shedding the outside. our eyes and our hearts weather the storms of life. but our mind changes and grows and can always provide something new. we manipulate our hair and clothing to project what we want others to see. trees have no such option, but they don’t seem to mind.

while pondering the age of the joshua tree, one of the hummingbirds fluttered about. she (i call her she because it seems appropriate for something so cute, sweet and delicate) zigged and zagged and eventually came to rest upon one of the thick triangular leaves. the breeze that was present when i first went outside had picked up significantly. the hummingbird sat motionless except for the wind at it’s back. the leaf swayed and bounced and she seemed not to care. if i hadn’t seen her flying about i would have no idea that she was there. i watched her for a moment or so until i saw a bright flash out of the corner of my eye. it was the surface of the water in the swimming pool.

i love water. i always have. perhaps it is because i am an aquarius. or perhaps it’s because i like water. i particularly enjoy watching water be effected. the wind invading it’s space or rain drops making it dance. either way, i’m hooked. i used to live in an apartment facing the swimming pool. i liked to watch the rain and the pool collide. enchanting and entrancing. but at this moment, the wind was creating super tiny waves, pushing the surface debris toward the shallow end. my mind wandered about the things i was seeing and i contemplated the following:

  1. water and air are unpredictable forces of nature.
  2. they are both colorless and odorless when in their natural states.
  3. neither water nor air has a shape unless it is contained.
  4. they both contain pressure, currents and debris.
  5. when stirred up by mother nature, the affects of their damage is devastating.

those thoughts led me to ponder and question the world and our atmosphere. water, which has to be contained to stay in one place, is able to hold on to the spinning ball of dirt that we call earth. on top of that, we have a very delicate, yet balanced atmosphere that somehow manages to deal with the fact that we all inhale and exhale but we aren’t dead yet. can you say wow?!? i did. i don’t ponder too far after that. i love the scientific look on life. extracting the aesthetics and the shells and getting to the core of something, but i didn’t want to dissect the concept to the point of destruction. life and it’s intimate secrets border on the ultimate magic. once you learn the card trick or the how the rabbit actually disappears, it’s not as enchanting. i want to maintain my wonder and awe.

by this time, my skin was hot to the touch. i had changed from my usual paper-sack-tan skin tone to that of a burnt biscuit. my son was pink in the cheeks and cranky because he was void of a nap. it was time to go inside and leave the joy and wonder of the backyard. we had a good time and it didn’t cost us anything but the energy expended. my son had the time of his life with a water hose and i had been entertained for hours by just being. how spectacular! we’ll have to do this again… very soon.

nothing in life is simple. even if it appears to be simple, it is not. there is a driving force behind any and everything that, even when explained, cannot truly provide a reasonable theory of what is actually going on. everything is intricate. the simplicity lies within our view and our interest. sometimes, it is best to look, admire and move on. i can’t wait to see it all again. even though i have seen it all before, it will still be brand new.