Monday, March 19, 2007

Real Moms Raise a Little Cain

David's found himself a new friend. The house across the street has been empty since the end of May when our neighbors moved away. Abby and Paul hung out with Spencer and David all summer long, running back and forth between the two houses for water fights, hide and seek and tag. For nearly five years--which is an eternity in child years--the four kids picked raspberries together, cleaned the hamster cage on the front lawn together and hit baseballs over the fence together until the day Abby and Paul's father got a job in New Mexico. All summer the house sat empty. Neighborhood kids still played on the corner lot--it was the best football field in the neighborhood--but one realty sign after another went up and still no one bought the house.

In January someone finally noticed the "sold" sign and we watched, waiting, to see who'd bought the house. Would they have children? Would they be friendly? Would they still let the neighborhood kids use their yard as a communal playground? A couple weeks ago David was outside playing when out of Abby and Paul's house came a little boy. They started playing together and when David came inside I asked him the name of his new friend.

With a puzzled look David said, "His name is Cain."


"Cain." Then a pause and, "Mom, isn't that the guy we were reading about?"

Now as it happens our family tries to get religion as best we can which lately has included reading the scriptural story of Adam and Eve--and Cain and Abel. No lie, earlier that week we'd read "And Cain rose up and slew his brother Abel . . . " (or something like that) and it had made an impression on my little theologians. So to be faced with a new friend with a rather sinister name confused David a bit. He wouldn't have been more surprised if the new kid's name was Voldemort or Darth.

Later that night around the dinner table when the other kids heard the news about our new neighbors and the moniker they'd bestowed on the child they'd begat it spooked them. The kids' eyes got big and round and rather worried. Andrew wondered how anyone could name their child Cain--you hear a lot of goofy things but you don’t get too many kids named Lucifer, Judas or Jezebel--I’ve heard of Delilah and it makes you wonder how a girl could get through life unscathed with a name like that.

Me, I figured that Cain was either a family name or they must not be the church-going types. It made sense that he’d be an only child, can you imagine a mom saying, “My little boy Cain can’t seem to get along with his brother at all. I wonder why? He has such problems with authority and anger management and we just can’t figure out the reason.” Who’d want to be the sibling of a kid named Cain?

So enter Cain. Perhaps you’re expecting a child with inky black hair, smoldering eyes and a flash of temper but the next day when I heard for the first time what was to become his signature "ding dong ding dong ding dong ding ding dong ding dong" ring of the bell I opened the door to a little second-grader with wavy sandy hair, big hazel eyes and the perfect amount of chubbiness to his cheeks. In short, a terrifically cute and appealing kid.

He smiled in a friendly way and as I looked at him a bit closer I saw he was wearing a somewhat thinnish winter coat—a good one in fine shape, just not the jumbo down puffy things I encase my children in—and boots. That’s all. This is Alaska in March coming off the nastiest cold snap we've had all winter, somewhere in the 15 degree range and he had his hood up but no hat, no snowpants, no mittens--just the coat and boots. He'd drawn his hands up into the arms of his jacket and shrugged his shoulders against the chill. Noting all this my mother’s heart instantly forgot his dubious eponym and wanted to pull him in for hugs, hot chocolate and a lecture on wearing proper winter gear.

He wanted to know if David could play and while waiting for David to appear I said, “Where are your mittens? Are your hands cold?”

He smiled a rather goofy, agreeable smile and said that once his fingers were white and hurting they were so cold.

My worry and curiosity aroused, I felt I couldn't let this little boy go without knowing more so I probed to see if he had any mittens at all or if he was just funny about wearing them. He dodged my questions in a curious way so in the end I went to my stash of winter gear, pulled out a rather worn pair of extra mittens and gave them to him. He quickly put them on. I told him we were going to the library and David couldn’t play right now but if Cain's mother said it was alright he could come with us.

Three minutes later he was back on the doorsteps with the mittens in his hands and gave them back to me saying, "My Mom says we already have extra mittens."

"Did you ask if you could go to the library?"

"Oh, I forgot."

He left and that was all we saw of him. This is quite a picture, I thought Here's a women who's named her child Cain and lets him play without mittens in these temperatures.

While Andrew and I were out Friday night Grace reported that Cain came by to see if David could play--dressed the same way--and five minutes after Grace had closed the door he rang the bell again to tell her a joke. He went through the whole performance (Grace is so patient, I can see her standing there kindly waiting for him to finish) till he came to the punch line at which point he cracked himself up and laughed and laughed. Grace politely said David still couldn’t play, come back tomorrow and goodbye.

He came by frequently after that asking if David could play and David’s been busy so he often couldn't but every time I saw Cain he was wearing—or not wearing—the same things. I watched him through our large living room window that overlooks the cul de sac, wandering between the houses on the street, his hands drawn up inside his jacket.

You’ll laugh at me but that night I laid awake worrying about this little boy and why he wasn’t wearing adequate clothing and why I’d not seen his parents yet. When I get tired my Mother Worry takes over until all I could think of was a little boy who didn’t seem to be supervised and who seemed a touch strange, though in a pleasant way.

Well after twenty minutes of tired thoughts I realized that the obvious solution was to stop judging and criticizing and to get over there and introduce myself. Ashamed at the realization of my rudeness and knowing that I knew how to be a better neighbor than that I decided to fix things.

So the next day there we were, six of us on their doorstep ringing their doorbell with a loaf of cranberry cinnamon bread waiting to see who'd open the door. When she opened the door it was apparent where Cain got his sandy coloring and good looks from--she was smiling, sweet, pretty, a little on the short side, and seemed surprised that someone would venture out in the cold to congregate on her front doorstep. She stood there with her arm affectionately draped around Cain's shoulders while we introduced ourselves and shook hands but when we said we lived in the gray house across the street, pointing in the direction of our house, she said, "Oh!" in a surprised moment of recognition.

It hit me that I'd probably offended her by giving her son the mittens and that I'd missed a chance to be a good neighbor by not coming over earlier. But I'm hopeful that I can change that and I'm looking forward to spring when everyone creeps, blinking in the sunlight, from their hibernation to look around and see who made it through another winter. David's found a new friend and maybe we have too.

So to answer DS's meme, real moms cut each other some slack--we're all doing the best we know how.

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sara - The Estrogen Files said...

Excellent post, you 6am girl. It's easy to see both sides of the "criticism" and you've done an admirable job of showing them both.

The Late Bloomer said...

What a lovely story!

Maybe she's just got her mind on lots of other things, and when her little boy runs out the door to go see his new friend, he doesn't give her a chance to stop him for glove-verification. But it sounds like things are turning out great in the end! You're a worrier like me...

Heffalump said...

We have enough gloves and mittens for each of our five boys to have three or four pairs, but we can never seem to keep track of them. They are like socks, and we can never seem to find the right mate. Luckily its not very cold where we live.
You are a good neighbor. We have a neighbor that brought cookies over to us two years in a row, and the second year I had to ask her who she was. It was embarrassing. We would always wave to each other from across the street, but I never saw her up close enough to recognize her.

Leslie said...

I can totally relate to this! I'm a mom that feeds and clothes everyone.

An Ordinary Mom said...

I think it is part of our mothering instinct to take care of all little kids ... well, most of them. I have known a few that are a little harder to love than others :)?!?!

I am curious to see what comes of this story over the next few months. Keep us posted.

MaGreen said...

I'm guessing he's named after the gaelic/celtic Kane, not the Hebrew Cain. It's a popular name in Austrailia, or so I'm told.

Shalee said...

Oh, Scribbit. I love this post. Seriously love this post.

I'm going to be chewing on this one for a while.

And good for you for doing something about the situation rather than just worrying and sitting on your hands. You totally listened to the nudging of the Spirit!

Lisa said...

This woman is really lucky to have you as a neighbor. I'm sure after meeting you, she realized this.

sweatpantsmom said...

Beautiful post. And a great reminder to 'cut each other some slack.'

jeanie said...

Yep - great post, great wrap at the end.

Lots of Kane's about here - and very few Abels!!

I was surprise, however, that she "let" her little boy knock on strangers' doors without introducing herself and checking they aren't someones not so nice - so methinks maybe she doesn't necessarily know how he is dressed before he does so as he may not advise her of his plans!

laughing mommy said...

Now you've got me worrying about the little cold unsupervised boy. I hope he doesn't freeze!

kailani said...

I'm actually surprised that she let her son come over so often without meeting you first or at least introducing herself.

I would have given him the mittens, too, and a scarf and some ear muffs and a hot chocolate . . .

JennyMcB said...

Maybe he just ditches the mittens, but I would be worrying also. When my kids were younger, I was like a nagging hawk, now that they are teenagers to young adult, I figure they are smart enough to know what cold is. But that's easy for me to say, I don't live in Alaska.

Is he an only child? Sounds like he really enjoys your son. I am with Ordinary Mom on this one, I think you will have more to tell.

wayabetty said...

And you can see why we're having such a hard time coming up with names for our 4th baby. I can't imagine going through life with that name either. And being a Mom, I'd feel the same way about Cain going outside like that with no mittens, day after day. You did good introducing yourself to the new neighbor. They are fortunate to have you guys as neighbors.

scribbit said...

Kane, huh? I wondered if there was something I was missing. I haven't asked him how he spells it and I didn't want to give too many questions since I'd already quizzed him about why he wasn't wearing gloves.

And yes, I thought it was a little odd she let him wander to knock on doors. He's come over to play and she doesn't even know us. I'm just glad spring is coming where the weather will be warmer and they can play outside together. He's really a cutie though.

Lisa Milton said...

I read this early this morning - well done. We have a little boy that is in foster care, and truly isn't looked after that spends a lot of time at our house. I understand the late night worrying. Anyway, thanks for sharing. It gave me something to chew on while I was still in cleaning mode.

my4kids said...

I do the mommy worry here to. I would have had a hard time not giving him gloves also! Also Cain? I hope its Kane but still a hard name for a child to grow up with. The warm clothes thing is one I worry about I am already trying to make sure we have warm clothes and things for winter.

Haley-O said...

GREAT post, Michelle! GREAT. And, just so you know, the new hottie on Y&R is named Cain.... HOTT!

Izzy said...

I'm so glad everything turned out okay. I was afraid she was going to be some nut case. You're so lucky to have a kid your son's age in the 'hood. We have NO kids around here.

K T Cat said...

I love it. It's a view into another world for me. As a single dad, all of these delicate, intricate thought processes are a wonder. If it had been me, I would have been jazzed that someone loaned my poppet some mittens. (I might have been curious as well, since we live in San Diego.)

Sometimes I despair at what my daughter chooses to wear (from a fashion point of view) and I'm too tired to get her to change. I figure our neighbors will cut us some slack. I'm currently trying to fix the situation by gradually retiring all of her ugly clothes without her noticing and replacing them with prettier things.

Anonymous said...

I used to know a Delilah in grade school. Her last name was pronounced "Wish-Shack." I have NO idea how she fared in high school.

chelle said...

Kids are pretty sneaky about getting out with proper gear ... But I could not agree more, Real Moms totally give each other slack! :)

Kerri said...

Reminds me of sisters I heard of being named Leah and Rachel, and fitting the descriptions of their namesakes. Always thought that was a bit odd.

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