It’s dangerous to have an open-door policy.
Not to mention messy.
I spy a pair of dirty, yellow socks under the couch in the living room and pop them into the washing machine with another load of clothes, then set a lonely tennis shoe on the front porch and pick up the granola bar wrappers that were abandoned on the kitchen table.
Some days I’m quite aware of how having extra neighbor kids in our house creates extra work. Other days I’m left speechless by what it teaches me about communication.
“These are for you from my friend,” my son says, and hands me a crayon-colored coupon book with tear-out notes that offer things like “Good for one free hug,” and “Good for taking out the trash.” Valuable coupons, for sure.
Then he hands me a little orange flowerpot with one wilty green sprig, squashed into the dirt. Colorful foam letters are stuck to the side, spelling out, “H I D E Y.”
“He made these for me?” I ask. My son smiles and nods.
The friend he speaks of is a neighbor-boy. One of the many kids who live nearby and tromp in and out of my house, coming out of the woodwork when their parents stop by to call them home for dinner. “Is Connor here?” “Is David here?”
Most days I’m not even sure how many kids are playing upstairs, but judging by the noise, it’s a small army. Sometimes they all come down the stairs one after another and a neighbors’ eyes get very big. “How many you got up there?”
I have no idea.
And I honestly don’t do a whole lot. Pat heads, give out snacks, break up fights. I just think it’s fun to have them all there, making my home feel fuller and richer.
The top shelf in the coat closet is getting fuller, too. That’s where we keep socks and sweatshirts and any other random items of clothing left behind. I pull down the pair of yellow socks, now clean and dry.
“Hey, buddy!” I yell to my son’s friend.
“Yes, Ma’am?” he yells back from another room.
“Come look at these socks. Are they yours?”
He appears from around the corner. “Yeah, those’r mine.” Freckles are sprinkled across his little-boy cheeks- whimsical cinnamon sugar.
His eyes are deep blue. I catch my breath. They look just like his mamas.’ The mama I watched help him tackle his math homework while he snuggled next to her in a hospital bed as she fought cancer last year.
The mama who passed away.
In the months that follow, I try to ask him questions to find out how he’s feeling. Try to offer encouragement and tell him all the things I loved about his mama. But he’s quiet and seems uncomfortable with my efforts. So, I pat his head and hand him a granola bar instead.
I unwrap my own, and we munch in silence. He takes his last bite, then, with his mouth full, offers a barely intelligible, “Tnks, Ms Hdi!” and runs off to join the light sabre battle with my boys and the rest of the army.
He’s teaching. I’m learning. Some things are said best by not saying anything at all.
I look at the flowerpot with the colorful foam “H I D E Y” letters, and I picture him at school, all the kids around him making coupon books and flowerpots for their mamas for Mother’s Day. He was the only one who didn’t have a mama. And so he made them for me.
I am speechless.
An open-door policy is dangerous. Not because of the mess, the noise or even the light sabres. But because you might find that some kid has wiggled his way right into your heart.