Children Raising Children

Children Raising Children

My father’s spot is on the short end of the L-shaped couch, facing the television. Sadie and I are on the floor in front of the long side with our knees under the coffee table, still finishing up dinner. We have never eaten at the real dinner table with its fancy mahogany legs protruding out from under a mound of miscellaneous junk – disposable diapers, sunglasses, empty coffee cups from 7-Eleven, and a pile of bills growing up the wall in the corner it is pushed against.

The house on Yorkshire Lane is so small, my stepmother Rachel is practically in the same room as she prepares our dessert. Rachel serves the three of us and returns to the kitchen with our dirty plates for washing. “Oh honey,” my father says as she walks away, “Can you get me some water?” As soon as she sets the dishes down on the counter, my father tosses his plastic cooler mug to her in the kitchen, not realizing it still has a small amount of water in the bottom, which splashes up into Rachel’s face. His laugh provokes her to throw it back at him just as he’s taking his first bite of pudding. After looking down at his messy shirt, he proceeds to catapult a spoonful of the chocolate goo directly at her face. It sprays like a shotgun, the majority landing on her forehead, saturating her bangs and running down her face as she reaches for her own bowl to invoke revenge. Released from shock by my own personal facial pudding attack, I turn to face my perpetrator and clobber Sadie, leading to an all-out family pudding war.

Sadie and I spend every other weekend on Yorkshire Lane at the home my mother and father purchased as newlyweds. The carpets are orange shag, with a matching brown and orange color scheme for the furniture. It was a fixer-upper that never got fixed up. There are no doors; just blankets covering the doorways and exposed kitchen cabinets that look more like shelves. The grass in the yard is up to my knees with only a beaten-down path where my stepmother drives her car right up to the front door. Hidden in a thicker patch by the road is an old MG Midget, one of many broken-down vehicles that my father collects.

He has a knack for starting projects and not finishing them. A sliding glass door was installed by him and his friends in the wall of the upper level that was intended to lead out to a barbeque deck, but the deck was never built, leaving what Sadie and I call the Sliding Glass Door to Nowhere. We envision one day running a waterslide from the opening that will empty into a large pool underneath.

Taking up the entire floor of the hallway corridor is a powerful heating duct that, while keeping the entire house quite warm, is impossible to get past with little bare feet. No matter how long your leap, there is not a straight shot, leaving only two inches on the sides that have to be navigated quickly. If the air is not blowing, one might forget that it could still be hot and inadvertently step right on it, burning grate marks into tender feet bottoms. Every one of us has been branded.

Rachel picks us up from school on Fridays and takes care of us but our half-sister, Jenny, is her little princess. She is spoiled and rotten, and we are forced to include her in our dynamic duo. There is a Doberman pinscher and several cats all named after members of the A-team. Mother calls this a madhouse. There is no bedtime. No teeth-brushing reminder. No movies we can’t watch. She says we act like animals when we come home.

Mother hates that we come here to visit our father and he doesn’t even show up after work. Sometimes Rachel drives us to the job site where he and his buddies are still there sitting on tailgates drinking beer. If he goes to the bar instead, we don’t see him until Saturday morning. Mother says Rachel is either a saint or a martyr. Rachel got angry with him only once that I can remember for spending the night out and in the morning drove us all to an unfamiliar house. When my father answered the door she said, “I knew it,” and we watched from the backseat as they yelled at each other, though every word was clear. When the fight was over, Rachel sat down on the curb and cried before getting back in the car to take us home.

With only two bedrooms in the house, Sadie and I sleep on the floor of Jenny’s room until Casey is born. A crib is moved in, and Sadie and I are shuffled up to the attic with its ceiling slanted on both sides that leaves only a small pathway down the middle for an adult to stand up straight. The floor is linoleum and peeling along the wall. Very little light passes through the old window, which my cousin Jake likes to open and try to aim his pee on the white cat that sleeps on the fence just below.

Sadie and I discover the cobweb-covered record player next to some dusty albums in an old milk crate all labeled in the bottom right corner with my mother’s handwriting. She must have left them behind. My favorite is Alabama, but most are the Beatles, and what starts out as an accidental memorization of the lyrics to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” turns into Sadie’s all-out obsession with everything John Lennon.

Out of sight, out of mind. If anyone comes upstairs at all, it is to check the water heater, not the children. We can do whatever we want.