Early one night last week, MP saw a man on a horse walking down the road. Grammy, MP and I went to say hello and after some conversation, learned he lived just a short distance away. Turns out he and his wife have two daughters — one four and one eight. They’re home-schooled and in his words, desperate for contact with other kids. We exchanged numbers and I extended an open invitation for them to come over any time.
I guess I thought they’d CALL first.
Friday afternoon I was totally ambushed. The house looked like a bomb went off — a mountain of clean laundry piled on the couch, spilling onto the floor, MP’s toys strewn EVERYWHERE and a pile of dishes in the sink. MP and I had just gotten back from a hot, sweaty bike ride and were home no more than 10 minutes before the Home-schoolers showed up at the door. I was HORRIFIED. From the looks on their faces, so were they.
The girls wore peasant skirts; Mom was fresh-faced with long brown hair pulled into a loose pony. A crunchy granola Ingalls family. Very nice, but … awkward. Like they didn’t have much contact with the outside world. I imagined them reading by gas lantern at night.
I invited them in. MP was ECSTATIC to have playmates over. She took them into her playroom. I asked Ma Ingalls if she’d like a seat, and she said she was fine sitting on the wooden bench by the door. Ho-kee. I checked on the girls. The older one, Ingrid — who MP kept calling “Penguin” — was busy cleaning the play kitchen, telling me (not without a slight note of disdain) she was “organizing it because it was SUCH a mess.” The glow of that gas lantern brightened just enough for me to now envision the impossibly tidy log cabin Ma Ingalls no doubt kept.
The younger girl ran out to her mother, one of MP’s baby dolls in her arms.
“Mother!” she said, “MP’s so KIND. She let me play with one of her babies!”
I was quickly falling under the impression these kids had NO playmates. Their speech was bookish and almost antiquated. It dredged up memories of third grade and Peter Costa, teasing dorky, bespectacled eight-year-old me in front of a group of classmates.
Not to worry. I had a comeback.
“Yeah? Well, it’s not like … I’m … FOND of you or anything.”
Good one. FOND. While I was reading Wuthering Heights and building my Victorian vocabulary, Peter Costa was busy being the Cute Boy. And while Peter and the group snickered at my prudish reply, I knew THAT choice comeback had effectively bumped me to the next level of nerd status.
So, I felt for the Ingalls girls.
After spending 45 minutes wrapped in small talk with Ma — all the while side-sweeping clutter into neat little piles — it was closing in on dinner time. Getting ready to leave, the little one said to MP, “You should give me some of your toys because you have SO many.” We all heard it. Ma just smiled. I let out an uncomfortable chuckle. MP stared. It was weird.
Eh, you can’t blame the kid for coveting Hungry Hungry Hippos, when all she has are wooden pull-toys. And sticks to whittle. In that cabin with the gas lantern.
As we walked them down the dirt driveway — MP clickity clacking in her pink plastic Cinderella heels; the Ingalls Family in their patchwork skirts atop their bikes — I told Ma we went to the public pool every Friday.
And she said they could rearrange their schedule so THEY could go to the pool every Friday too.
Apparently they’re FOND of us.