At first, I learned to prepare for it. Later, I sometimes even looked forward to it. And now I’m going to miss it.
“Hi, Miss Kristine!” The tiny girl voice wafts through the backyard before I even have both feet on my deck. “Hey, can I tell you something?”
This is how the ritual has begun almost every day for the past two years, since a new family with a very precocious little lady moved in near me.
“Hello there, Miss Miriam. How are you today? And yes, you can tell me something,” is almost always my response—unless I’m on a call, in which case I wave and gesticulate to my phone (a fairly ineffective gesture with someone as persistent as Miss Miriam).
The “something” varies widely. Today, it was this: “See my new scooter? If I go like this (she says, popping a wheelie), I look like a motorcycle girl.”
“Why yes, you do look like a motorcycle girl. All you need is a leather jacket.”
“Miss KRISTINE, it’s too HOT to wear a leather jacket today. Don’t be silly.”
“Indeed it is, Miss Miriam. Indeed it is.”
Our conversations generally go in a similar direction. And her two tiny brothers generally pipe in to provide more color commentary.
“Did you get your hair cut, Miss Kristine?”
“Yes I did.”
“You look pretty. Can I tell you something? I want my haircut so I can only see out of one eye.”
I look askance at her.
“You know, the swoopy bangs that cover one eye and leave one eye out.”
“Don’t you want those, Miss Kristine?”
“I have a preference for seeing out of both eyes, Miss Miriam. Beauty has its limits. Eyesight is a keeper.”
She pondered that for a moment. “Well, you look prettier today than the other day.”
“That happens,” I say, thinking oh honey, just you wait. It happens more than you’d like. Glowing one day and like something the cat dragged in another.
“Can I tell you something? I was riding scooters with my neighbor Timmy this week and—you see this bandage?” She holds up her elbow with a super-size bandage on it. “Well, that is covering a HOLE in my arm. A HOLE. Because when I ride scooters with Timmy, I ride FAST. Why do you think I’m so clumsy? I fell twice.”
“I don’t think you’re clumsy. Reframe it. You’re adventurous,” I tell her.
More pondering on her end. “I think you’re right,” she says. “Because there was a lot of BLOOD. And adventurers get bloody, don’t you think?”
Being a Pirate Mom, I had to agree with her assessment. Usually some blood involved in adventuring.
Anthony and Nicholas, her brothers, nod solemnly. Blood earns brotherly respect.
I won’t go on (oh, I could write PAGES) about our conversation—you get the gist of it. So here’s the plot twist: Miss Miriam & company are moving soon. To a new house in a new neighborhood far from mine. And it’s not for happy reasons. Her parents, both restaurant servers, have hit hard times because of the pandemic. Despite working for a very popular, good restaurant nearby, business is down enough to make the mortgage too much to handle. And they don’t anticipate this autumn and winter being any better.
The thing about it—if we’re in true confession mode (and it’s Friday Happy Hour, so why not?)—is that sometimes I’d get annoyed with the inability NOT to engage in my own backyard. Sometimes, I just wanted time to read or visit with a friend or think—and not to get pulled into stories or sibling dramas.
Understandable, right? But now a little bit sad, in hindsight.
On the Fourth of July, Miriam’s mother sang with her band in a little concert on their back deck. They put on quite a show, which my friends and I enjoyed from my deck. I ran down to say hello and when I came back to my own yard, a friend’s husband was grinning from ear to ear. “What gives?” I asked him. “You and that little girl,” he said. “When you were bending down to talk to her and then when you both walked away—she could be the daughter you never had. She even walks like you.”
As I see her careen wildly around the yard on her scooter, perhaps we even scooter alike, Miss Miriam and me.
Roughly a year ago, I emptied my garage of a million boy things. My sons are now old enough that the mega water guns, the plethora of basketballs and footballs, and the frisbees were gathering dust. Miriam and her brothers were happy to cart it all to their house. And I’ve watched this summer as kids who really didn’t have a lot to play with were having a ball with someone else’s castoffs. They didn’t care. And it really made me happy to see those things bring joy again—to hear the shouts and screams. The inevitable fights as someone blasts someone else in the eye with water (perhaps a reason to consider Miss Miriam’s desired hairdo).
Hey, can I tell you something?
Truth be told, I’ll miss the kinds of erratic, rambling conversations that have filled the past two years. There. I said it.
But just today, I gave Miriam and her merry band of brothers some seeds from the balloon flowers in my yard. I told her she could plant them at the new house and take a little bit of her old neighborhood with her. I hope she sees them and remembers us fondly.
Now begone with you. Give me some space in my virtual backyard to ponder leather jackets, potential new hairstyles and adventures that don’t have to involve blood. I think Miss Miriam might be on to something.