“So, uh, are you like, a mom? Or something?”
I was standing on the front porch, two ferrets trying to wriggle free, three little girls standing around me, petting twitching ferret noses and trying to decide if they were brave enough to hold them.
And I wasn’t sure how to answer that question. Was she asking if I had children for her to play with? Or was she asking if I was an adult, the authority figure at this strange house with ferrets, in the parlance of childhood that classifies people by the child-parent relationship?
It was spring again yesterday, after a week of cold and rain turning to snow and back again. And with the sunshine and warmer air came birds, and squirrels and rabbits, and apparently random children. I saw one little head run down sidewalk by my kitchen window, and found the small boy it belonged to in my back yard. He was looking for his sisters, and I saw him safely out of my yard again.
Five minutes later, I saw two girls in my backyard, giggling as only 10-year-old girls can. They were hiding from the boy, so he must have guessed correctly when he wandered into my yard. One of the girls I knew; her dad lives next door, and she periodically does, too. She’s a sweet, odd, solemn girl most of the time, keeping company with her dogs and cats, and she’s good with our ferrets. I let them stay – I think they’re less of a liability than an unwatched four-year-old. But I told them to ask next time, and apparently permission takes away the fun of playing in a neighbor’s yard, because they wandered out again and turned into dogs in her dad’s front yard.
And spring had settled into their veins and even the quiet one was loud, voices ringing across the quiet neighborhood, in realistic barking.
“Hey, pretend that the dog catcher caught me,” one cried out, then set about whimpering pitifully until she realized the other two weren’t interested in rescuing her, and hopped out of the wagon herself.
They hauled each other back and forth on the sidewalk in that red wagon that they’ve all nearly outgrown, and broke it, and left it broken down in front of my house to come see the ferrets (that they originally called rats). The ferrets weren’t sure at all if they appreciated the attention, and soon I set them free inside.
And the girls peered through the screen door to watch them on the rug, and one – the neighbor who knew the man we bought the house from – commented on how much nicer it is now. Replacing decades-old carpet will do that to a house.
“I was in there once, and there was something big and dead and nasty on the floor,” she told me, wrinkling her freckled nose, and I laughed.
Our predecessor was a hunter, with a big bearskin on the floor in front of the fire place.
“Like, do you have kids?” The inquiring child clarified, settling on the playmate end of possible answers. She was disappointed when I told her no, no one here to play with. One says her dad is thinking about adopting a playmate for her, which I’m sure is categorically untrue. But she’s hoping, the way she’s hoping for a pony, or a ferret. (Sorry, Joe, about the ferret thing. I know we’re responsible for that new plea.)
Today the cold is back, in a cruel back-and-forth game that’s been going on all April. But sunshine returns Sunday, and I wonder what other random children will sprout like the daffodils in my back yard?