When Andy and I decided to move, we fell in love with a particular area in the South Bay. It had sidewalks and sat under an undeveloped hill.
It was expensive. Out of our budget – until a tiny house across from a middle school went on the market.
The house had a huge backyard and gorgeous brick landscaping, but it didn’t sell immediately – unheard of in the South Bay. Apparently families that wouldn’t mind living next to a school didn’t want to fit into a house under 1200 square feet with only two bedrooms.
We thought we knew what we were getting into. Before making an offer, Andy actually drove to the house on a school day and watched the morning traffic.
“Those parents are insane,” he reported. “They blow through crosswalks with kids in them. They do K-turns in the middle of the street. They honk at their kids. They honk at the crossing guard. They honk at each other as traffic jams on the four streets leading to the school.”
“So it’s not for us?”
“I didn’t say that. We just have to not go anywhere 20 minutes before school starts. And probably not for 20 minutes when it ends.”
When we moved in, it was summer. The school was empty. The neighborhood was quiet. Many of our neighbors were retired. Most of them were the original owners who had bought their homes fifty years earlier. There were exactly two preschool girls on the block.
It was lovely.
Until school started.
The morning wasn’t bad. 20 minutes of mayhem, followed the sound of an occasional school bell for 7 hours. The noise during school hours was minimal. I barely noticed it as I worked on home improvement projects or writing projects. Insta-parking lot reappeared at 2:50 PM, but when I looked out the kitchen window at 3:10, the cars were gone.
I still heard high-pitched kid voices, though.
I looked out the window of our front door.
At least twenty kids stood and sat on our front steps.
The six trees that shaded our steps from the hot Los Angeles sun also created enticing hangout spot for tweens.
I couldn’t imagine anything worse than interacting with hormonally unbalanced almost-teens. I was once, very briefly, a substitute teacher. Until fifth grade, the kids were sweet people pleasers. Over sixth grade? Sullen assholes. So I hid in my house and watched as cars picked them up, one by one. My dog Woofie – who longed for a kid of his own – whined relentlessly as they disappeared.
By 3:30, most of them were gone.
I told Andy about it that weekend.
As my husband belongs to the “Get off my lawn” school of thought, he was miffed. “Why are they on our steps? Why don’t they walk home? Why don’t they take the bus?”
“Our school district doesn’t do buses anymore. I guess the parents all drove their kids and the buses were empty and the school district said, ‘fuck it’ and gave up on buses and saved themselves some money.”
“But why are they on OUR steps?”
“Our steps are the nicest on the block. And shady. Just think, it’s like we’re cool with the popular kids now.”
“I don’t wanna be popular,” Andy grumbled. He grumbled louder when he found Doritos bags stuck on to our roses. And when he found a broken sprinkler head the following week, he more than grumbled. He yelled, “It’s those kids! I know it. First they leave trash and now they’re messing with the sprinklers, damn it! This is war!”
“How are you going to go to war with these kids when you’re not even around when they’re around?”
“I’m gonna drive them away.”
“You’ll see,” he said, marching off to repair the sprinklers.
On Monday afternoon at 3 PM, I heard children screaming. I ran to the window and looked out.
The sprinklers were on. Andy had adjusted the automatic timer.
The usual step-sitters fled with across the street with their backpacks.
Then they returned without their backpacks. Two boys wrestled until one succeeded in shoving the other into the spraying water. Drenched boy retaliated. More kids joined them.
Andy called at 3:05. “Are the sprinklers going off?”
“Hahahaha, did the kids get soaked?”
“Hahahahaha, did they scream and run away?”
“Yep. Then came back with reinforcements.”
“I think we have about thirty kids playing in the sprinklers now.”
“Goddamn it! Shut it down!”
“The sprinklers are your babies. I don’t know how.”
“Hit the rain delay button!”
I hung up and went to the backyard to shut off the sprinklers. The water stopped. The kids let out a collective “awww” of disappointment, and dried themselves in the sun.
That night, Andy came home with many bags of fertilizer. The natural kind. Steer manure, to be exact. He spread it all over our front lawn. Our house smelled like a Kansas stockyard.
The next day, the kids made faces and sat elsewhere.
Andy heard my report with satisfaction and declared victory.
His victory lasted a week. The minute the smell abated, the kids were back.
“I’ll get some more fertilizer,” Andy said.
“You will NOT,” I told him. “I couldn’t open the windows for a week, and it hit ninety degrees and we have no AC.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Of course not. You work in an air-conditioned lab with no windows that simulates the temperature in space.”
“Can’t you just go outside and run the kids off?”
“Me and what army? There are dozens of them. Dozens of obnoxious kids who are dying to flout authority.”
“Take Woofie. He looks scary.”
“Yes, and they should be very afraid OF HIS DROOL. They’d figure out in seconds that they are only in danger of being licked to death.”
“She’s not socialized yet and she’s much more territorial. She might actually bite a skateboarder and then we get sued.”
“Well, they’re still messing with the sprinklers and I don’t know what they’re doing to the brick planters, but some of the bricks are loose.”
I figured it out the next day. Some of the kids stood on the edge of the brick planters. They rocked back and forth.
Next to the brick rockers, a girl plucked the petals off of a budding Princess Elizabeth rose.
Before I had time to gasp, a kid ran up to the porch, put down a skateboard, and hit a 360 as he rattled down my steps.
I yelled, “Are you fucking kidding me!?”
I grabbed Woofie’s collar and marched outside to do battle.
The battle continues in Part II: Autumn and the School Kids.