You know it’s bad if you can’t figure out how many children live in the house next door.
They won’t hold still for the counting.
And the three puppies bark and three bunnies escape and so does the three-year-old, the one with the faux-hawk and perpetually dirty face and they all troop right through our yard, the little one several yards behind but running hard, to jump in the pool at the other neighbor’s house.
They live in swimwear, small bodies bronzed and hair bleached white.
And it’s strange but I’m honestly looking forward to school starting again; it means at least the few mornings or afternoons that I have off work, it might actually be quiet.
Today I’m home, waiting for the yard to dry before I mow, and for the past 10 minutes they’ve been fighting. Their voices come loud through the open kitchen windows, hollering and yelling across their own big yard.
“I’m already over,” I hear the girl, her voice catty, and the boy bellows loud. “Mooooooooom!” The fence rattles; one or both have vaulted it.
I don’t want to be the kind of neighbor the children hate but I don’t like them running through the yard. I hear crying and have to check: that little one gets out alone sometimes and I don’t want any hint of responsibility if he gets hurt. And the fighting. It goes on and on, and I’ve never heard any adult voice interject into the mayhem.
But when they invite me to their lemonade stand — the one they think can fund next summer’s vacation — I spend my 50 cents and try not to think about the dirt-covered hands pouring it out for me.
I remember lemonade stands on our dead-end street and how every neighbor stopped for a glass.
Katie, the one we thought was a boy, picked irises from her mother’s garden for our stand and flagged down her father’s truck, winning us another sale.
Probably those same neighbors who bought our lemonade tried – and failed – to count us, running through the scrubby back yard that stretched enormous, it seemed then.
And for all the times their fighting annoys me and for all the times I think darkly that someone has got to get control of these children and for all the quiet evenings on the front porch their running feet have disturbed, I know I can’t complain too much.
Because I’m not quite so old that I can’t remember long summer days outside, and I still remember how dark my skin turned by August and my feet were always dirty and I’m sure a few neighbors sent dark thoughts our way more than once.
I just hope we didn’t fight quite that much.