A small gathering of children from the neighborhood has congregated in my front yard. Our house and the next-door neighbor’s have become a beacon for the children to gather. Our lawns connect, and so create the largest play area for those that range between 2.5 and 14.
My dad, the king of this neighborhood, has turned on our sprinklers. And then the neighbor does the same. Eight sprinklers in all for the us to run through. This summer seems like the hottest of all – but most of us thought that about last year as well.
Shrieks and laughter fill the air. Moms and dads gather in lawn chairs around one of the smaller sprinkler heads, near a corner of my dad’s recently-mowed grass, with their feet in the water and cold beers or iced tea in their hands.
But not my dad.
For him, today will not be about gathering with the other adults and “shooting the shit.” It will not be about him spending more time away from his family, hidden away at the radiator shop he owns, working on cars so that we can enjoy at least a few luxuries in life. He will not man the barbecue grill and spend his day serving food.
Today is (finally) about enjoying a Saturday with his children. Even if it means playing with the neighborhood kids too.
My dad, thirty-five and always so handsome to eight-year-old me, chases children through the sprinklers. We scream and shriek and dodge his large and calloused hands.
One time he grabs me around the waist and swings me into the air as if I weigh nothing. I shriek with delight as he brings me in for a landing and I scurry away, tugging my bathing suit out of my butt for the hundredth time.
I turn a few more cartwheels through the water, twirl like a ballerina and then collapse on the driveway pavement. My mom had thoughtfully spread out towels across the driveway for us. I choose my beloved The Little Mermaid towel, lie back with my hands under my head and stare up at the clear blue sky for a few minutes. The childlike screams taper down until it’s a light buzz intermixed with conversation from the adults.
I hear the distinct creak of the gate that leads to the side of our house. I prop up on my elbows, shade my eyes with one hand and glance over. The children have joined me in relaxation on the towel-lined driveway. But somebody is in the side yard.
And then my dad appears from beyond the gate.
And although he holds it behind his back, I can see the thick green hose trailing behind him. Before anybody can fully process what is about to happen, he whips the hose from behind his back, places his large thumb over the sprayer and douses us all. Children, parents, soon we are all shrieking.
Two of the moms jump up and yell at him because the water will ruin their hair. He continues to spray, showering us all with the arc of water. The children run around, trying to get sprayed. Most of the parents have hurried away to the yard across the street, where they know the spray won’t reach. The two angry moms are over there.
And that’s when it occurs to me. My mom hasn’t been around for any of this. Why isn’t she enjoying the summer sun and the cool water?
As my dad concentrates the stream of water towards a few of the older boys, my brother included, I sneak away into the garage. The door that leads from the garage into our kitchen is open and I can see a shadow moving around. I tiptoe closer and hear the rush of water in the sink. I peek around the open door and see my mom. She is standing in front of the sink, washing a tower of dishes. She scrubs a plate, rinses it off, and then slams it onto the drying rack.
She is muttering to herself. Words I’ve been told to never say are pouring out with her breath. Another plate slammed into the drying rack.
Somehow I know that I shouldn’t be here, shouldn’t be seeing this. I should be back outside with the joyful children, running around with my dad.
But I can’t pull myself away. I stand there and watch her toss more plates into the drying rack. Behind me, the timer sounds on the dryer.
She slams her hands down on the counter, sighs loudly and drops her head. She stands there, silently, for a moment. Her shoulders fall. Then she slips the yellow rubber gloves off her soft and gentle hands and lays them out on the faucet.
I turn and run out of the garage, past the children, past the sprinklers, past my dad. I run to the side yard where water is escaping from where the hose connects to our house. I curl myself up into a ball and I cry, without really knowing why.
As usual, constructive criticism is welcome and appreciated.