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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a little goes a long way

i have known my best friend for more than thirty years. her name is shannon. i am six months older but she is more mature. way. together we are gorgeous, neurotic and hilarious. we share common interests; including entertainment, clothing, accessories and sweet tooths. especially the sweet tooths. we have been through the thick and the thin, the better and the worse and we still love each other. she is my sister, my mentor and my therapist. i love her dearly. when our relationship started, we were little girls. we have survived childhood, adolescence and have grown into women. we have weathered the storms of other friends, boyfriends, the birth of each others firsts and the death of loved ones. we are part of each others families and we wouldn’t want it any other way. while we have been many places together and share many memories, we have always had the best time doing absolutely nothing… besides being together.

we grew up across the street from one another. i would go to her house for days on end. she had a swimming pool, snack drawer, little brother and a gramma much like my own. her mom introduced herself to my gramma in the grocery store. the rest is a lifetime worth of memories and good times. we have walked, biked and roller skated through the city of grand terrace a hundred times over. i have probably spent years of my life at her mom’s house. we used to hunt for ladybugs, ride anything with wheels and spend hours a day in the backyard. we would sit up at night in the kitchen; snack on everything and giggle about anything. as we got older we continued with these same activities, even after we moved away from our parents and grandparents.  we have always snuck out of the house to see each other when we were sick and not supposed to go anywhere. we also used to call each other and say:

“i’m bored.”

“me too.”

“well come over here and be bored with me.”

isn’t that hilarious? and we would do exactly that. just be in the same place. bored and usually eating. we simply enjoyed the company. we don’t get together as often as we used to because.. well…. because we’re adults, we have families, jobs and other obligations. the days turn into weeks and months before you know it. it took me a long time to realize that it didn’t matter if we had elaborate plans, simple plans or if we actually did anything at all. just being together and sharing is all the good time we needed.

shannon has two children and they are both my sweethearts. callie is my original sweetheart. she is shannon’s first. she is my first as well. i experienced that pregnancy with shannon, including nausea, weight gain and sobriety. the three of us (shannon, alfonso and i) were connected at the hip during that time. we went to shannon’s appointments together, we painted the house together and we even went to lamaze class as a happy family; just the three of us. i was enamored with this little girl and she had yet to take a breath. she had a place in my heart, my home and my new car. she happened to be born on my saturday. at that time i had three consecutive days off. i took two extra days off just to be close. i was so excited to see and meet her. when shannon returned to work three months later. i kept callie for one of those three days off. i had my own supplies including car seat, bathtub, towels, clothing and eating supplies. she always made me happy. when i felt bad, i went to see callie. when i felt depressed, i went to see callie. whenever i needed a pick-me-up, i sought callie. she loved me too. one day she sat on my head and when her mama inquired as to what she was doing, she responded:

“i love herrrrrrrrrr.”

years later, when i was pregnant with my son, i saw her almost everyday. they lived in between my work and home. every night i would stop by and give her a bath. we had fuuuuuun. this carried on until my prego belly was too big to accommodate. i was unable to find a comfortable way to bathe her and still be able to breathe. not to mention, my son had his hard joints pressed into every rib. yes, bathing my darlin’ became a chore and i had to resign. she was N. O. T. happy. not at all. she cried the first night. she refused to allow shannon to bathe her. she wanted “neeeeesshaaa to doooo itttt”. she didn’t even stay in the bathtub, she got up, stomped down the hallway to the master bedroom and sat sulking on the floor of the shower.

my son, kenneth, was born a few months later. shannon was present and pacing in the delivery room. moments after he was born, i dismissed my cheerleader and fan club to get some much-needed rest. the next morning i received a phone call from her asking:

“can you have four-year-old visitors? can you please ask? she’s dying to see you. she’s been crying about it.”

my poor sweetheart was tortured knowing that kenneth had made it into the world and that she hadn’t seen him yet. she came to the hospital laden with gifts, goodies and curiosity. she even wore a new outfit! she climbed up in the bed beside me and looked at him with awe. she inspected his fingers and toes. his not yet formed belly button. she commented on how hairy he was. she was so excited she could hardly contain herself. a week later, we all (alfonso, shannon, callie, mike, kenneth and i) went to big bear for a couple of nights. it was during that time that callie found out that newborns were not as much fun as she had hoped. they don’t play, they don’t cooperate and they usually have something going in or coming out of them. that did not hinder her interest in him at all. she was attendant at every diaper change and she asked every question under the sun. she loved kenneth. she kept tabs on him and she made the idea of nursing him utterly hilarious.

“why he cry, neesha?”

“he’s hungry sweetheart.”

“what him wants, neesha?”

“he drinks milk.”

“oh, want mama get it ?”

“no sweetheart, i have milk for him.”

“where?”

“well. hold on, lemme ask mama something.”

“shaaaaaaannon!”

“what?”

“callie wants to know where his milk comes from.”

“tell her.”

“ok. well, sweetheart, his milk is in my boobies.”

“oh” she said with a very curious look on her face. we all know it was a concept too complex for her to understand, but she attempted to. every time he cried after that she said:

“i think him hungry. i think him wants you boobie.”

priceless! she is still just as curious and candid today. i love her very much. she is absolutely beautiful inside and out. she is very considerate and helpful. she got to be big sister for kenneth and that turned out to be excellent training when the MadMad showed up almost two years later. i was not as close in proximity when shannon was pregnant with AJ. she gave birth to him quietly and without me as a screaming cheerleader. we did not start out with the same relationship that i had with callie. however, we have since made up for it and he is my friend. he comes to me when he’s happy, hungry or hurt. he sometimes calls me “neesa”. and sometimes he calls me “mama”. i’ll take it either way. he’s a lot of fun and i adore him just as much as i adore his sister. i have given birth once, but i have three children. they rock my world.

now, with ALL of that said, we are two women, two friends, and we share our three children. we are close in ways that cannot be explained. hopefully the friendships of our children will stand the test of time and they can blog about each other in the future. we had a sleepover recently. simple, yet astounding. shannon and her little man, my friend “the MadMan AJ” came to pick us up. apparently, AJ had inquired as to our whereabouts first thing in the morning for two days in a row. he’d asked for us and we were available. the boys are always excited to see and play with each other.  they pulled up into the driveway and as shannon opened her door, i could hear AJ chanting:

“kenneth. kenneth. kenneth?”

his voice makes me smile. he’s a happy little man. he has the most expressive eyes and boy, does he know how to use them. i peeked inside the car and when he saw me those eyes opened wide and he squealed:

“neeeessa! kenneth? kenneth? kenneth?”

“he’s coming sweetheart, hold on.”

“kenneth?”

we made a few stops and when we got to the house, the boys busted out of the car faster than you could imagine. they ran straight inside murmuring about choo choo trains and went into AJ’s room. he came out shortly with a puzzled look on his face:

“neeesa. help. choo choo train.”

i pulled all of the train related items from our overnight gear. they just wanted to hold a train each and watch the thomas the train dvd. two peas in a pod those boys are.  they rip and run until they are worn out. they get testy with one another and have been known to hit. but if you separate them, you’ll be sorry. they have to have eyes on each other at all times. my son asks for AJ constantly. you would think they were separated at birth. good memories and a great friendship are being formed. it warms my heart.

so we watched some movies, snacked (of course),  and then it was bedtime… until “g’morning!”. we were going to make breakfast. WERE. we had pulled the waffle iron out and all sorts of things, only to realize that the dishwasher was going to be installed and the magic man that would do it was already on his way. plan change: to zorba’s i went. with breakfast retrieved and the boys seated, we served them and fed ourselves standing, the way most moms do.

we didn’t have any plans, just to be together. we often take the kids for walks. to help expend some energy, to get them out of the house, to enjoy the world and all of the critters it has to offer. so, we walked to the park. they had so much fun. all three kids were on the swings at the same time. i was being ordered around:

“mama, push me.” from my own.

“neesa. fwing. help.” from the MadMan, and

“neesha, can you push me higher?” from the little miss.

they were ecstatic. it was amazing. they were laughing hysterically and for just a second and it made me laugh too. they were so happy and it didn’t cost a dime to take them to the park. they were swinging with each other, laughing at one another and enjoying life. callie and i agreed that swinging barefoot is the bees knees. if you’ve never done it, i suggest you do it. i took so many pictures. i just wanted to stay there and watch them. freeze time. they grow up so fast and time breezes by.

this friendship, between shannon and i, this life long friendship was based around these same types of outings. going for walks, bike rides and swinging at the park. when we were kids, shannon almost always took me with her, wherever she went. we have been everywhere together. her family has always included me and treated me as a family member. back then, we didn’t have money or cars, we just had each other. someone to talk to and laugh with. we were blessed that our families came to pass one another. and our children are also blessed because of it. they are able to visit, interact and love one another as often as we can get them together. granted, groceries, water for fun and baths, along with something damaged and/or broken are not free. they are a luxury, but the time together is free, and the small cost is worth it. our friendship and theirs are effortless and rewarding. just us. just them. it’s essentially us all over again, but this time with an audience.

i have come to appreciate this friendship on a whole new level now that we have children and they are able to interact. i have some very dear friends from my childhood and from my different places of employ, but my thirty year friendship with shannon is one to be recognized. we have been through a lot, and even when separated by distance, we have always been there for each other. i hope that our children are able to foster the same type of relationships with each other. we have laid the ground work and provided an example. we talk to each other, laugh with and at each other, and we love each other. we share, we care and we make room for each other and our kids. we don’t always make plans or have a place to go. we just need to make room and be prepared. yup, a little goes a long way.