i join the neighbourhood

It seems our family has been adopted by some neighbourhood kids.

It started when our doorbell rang on Thursday afternoon. Allan told me there were kids at the door with a petition about animal cruelty. The petition was a little vague, but they were going door-to-door for signatures to give to our MPP. I was impressed. Besides signing, I went to the door to tell them what a good thing they were doing, and to chat with them about animals and activism. Any young person with an impulse to activism deserves encouragement.

An hour later, our doorbell rang again. The two girls were back. They said, "You were the only person who told us we were doing a good thing and actually talked to us. You were so nice and your dogs are so great and we were wondering, could we walk your dogs or come over and play with them sometime?"

I was friendly, but skeptical, as they're only 11. They both have dogs of their own, and one of them is very mature for her age. And of course, 11-year-olds are older now than we were kids. We let them do a brief trial walk while we watched, then a walk around the block without us, and it grew from there.

Yesterday Sue and Janie (not their real names) rang the doorbell off and on all day. They played with Cody and Tala in the backyard, and walked them a few times, and also sat around with me, drinking iced tea and talking about life.

They are bored - home all summer with no camp or planned activities - and have some upheaval at home. Janie's parents are already divorced, and she's in a joint custody situation, where she spends every-other week at each parent's home, a common arrangement. She has an older sister who doesn't see their dad, which makes me wonder what's going on with dad. Sue's parents are in the process of splitting up right now, and she's hurting. I'm no stranger to family upheaval. I could see it helped them to talk and get a little support.

They asked me a lot of questions about myself and Allan, and when they were found out we were writers, they almost exploded. Seeing books on our shelves with our names on them was the final kicker. (Looking at our packed floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, they asked, "Did you write all these?") As it happens, the serial fiction I've been writing for Kids On Wheels, which concludes in the next issue, is about a girl who is trying to stop some animal cruelty. I'm going to give them the story to read - a rare opportunity for me to get some feedback from a young reader.

Sue is very smart and mature. She's also an excellent salesperson, trying to convince me that she can be our weekend dogwalker while we're at work. One, I don't think she's old enough to have full responsibility for a job that my own job depends on. I'd have to get Sue's mother involved, and I don't want to bother her. And two, the job is already promised to a young woman who really needs the money, a college student who is a single mother.

I'm working out an arrangement with Sue where she can "help" me with the dogs this summer. Come September, if she's still interested in a job, I'll invent one.

I'll have to manage this, as they'd move in here if they could. Last night the doorbell rang while I was relaxing with the baseball game. When I said that I was done for the day, that I wanted to spend the evening relaxing on my own, Sue quickly said, "You're busy, that's fine, sorry to bother you," and I told them to come back tomorrow. It's my last weekend at home alone for a while, and I do want to enjoy it.

On the other hand, it's been a long time since I had some young people in my life, and this adult-friend role comes naturally to me. In fact, I once earned my living through it, as a nanny. (If "mkk" is reading, she's nodding her head in agreement right now, as her kids were my special friends through their teenage years.) These girls, one of them especially, are clearly in need, and I'm happy to make the connection.

Interestingly, no parents have contacted me. I've asked several times, but the girls insist their parents don't care, as long as they have their cell phones and they haven't wandered too far away. It's much more similar to how I was raised (sans cellphone, of course) - with a large degree of trust and freedom, without a lot of fear, different from the overprotectiveness and paranoia I hear about today. I won't speak to the parents unless they contact me, to further the bond between the girls and me. It will be interesting to see if anyone ever calls.

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