Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Model U.N.

Later, as we stood in the hallway with no adults to greet us, in a house that seemed to be devoid of furniture - except for a hair dryer in the living room - I had a better sense of her apprehension.  But at the time, after logging a "oh, so that's where they've been," I couldn't figure out what Josie's problem was.

The house in Virginia that my parents live in, and where we go for Thanksgiving every year, has been their home since I was 14.  Which may not seem like a big deal to people who grew up in one city and live in close proximity to their extended family, but with my peripatetic upbringing, having a single location that has been something of a home base for over 30 years is huge.  Even though I only actually lived there for a year and a half - the time after Israel and before India, when I attended Langley High School for 10th grade and half of 11th grade - it's as much of a "where I'm from" as I've got.

The house is in a quiet, wooded neighborhood and sits up at the end of a pipestem.  There's another house across the pipestem, and until last year, the same family lived in the house since we moved here.  They were a lovely family, with three kids close in age to Josh and Sam and me.  We chatted when we saw each other coming and going and kept up with each others' lives in a general sense.  We were friendly and neighborly, but not really friends.  Their daughter is around my age, but we never hung out - my natural reticence and introversion would never have allowed me to just approach her about getting together.  As much as I can be social and outgoing, it's always been an effort (particularly as a teenager), and I don't approach the world as if I assume that people have any interest in wanting to hang out with me.

My children are another story, however.  Zeke will introduce himself to anyone, and Josie, while slightly more reserved, isn't too far behind him.

The confusion started when Josie came downstairs yesterday morning and announced, "I want to have a playdate with Johnston and Winston."

I didn't have a fucking clue what she was talking about.  In my head, the associations those words brought up were first Brookstone (the gadget store) and then Masters and Johnson, neither of which made any sense.

"Who are Johnston and Winston?"  I asked.

"Our friends across the street."

I looked at my mother for help.

"There's a new family that moved in after Ann sold her house last year.  They've got two kids, I think they're around 7 and 9."

"Ah.  And their names are Johnston and Winston?"

"Justin and Wilson, actually.  The family is Chinese, grandmother lives with them and doesn't speak much English, the parents are both doctors, and the kids go to Spring Hill Elementary."

"Oh, OK.  And you and Zeke have met them?"  I asked Josie.

She looked at me as if I were demented.  "Noooo!  Not yet!  But we're going to."

Fairfax County Public Schools aren't closed all week (the way Denver's are), so Johnston and Winston were still in school, but the plan was to wait until they got home and go across the pipestem, say hello, and play.

Hours later, after we went and got mani-pedis, hiked at Great Falls, and the kids went to the park with my dad, Zeke, Josie and Hazel disappeared.  A while later, Josie came back looking very serious.

"Hi, honey.  Where have you been?  Are you ok?"

"We were at Justin's house.  But I don't want to stay because I don't speak Chinese."

"But Justin speaks English, right?"  I asked.

"Yeah, but nobody else does."

So she stayed with me and colored for a while, and then went to watch Tinkerbell and take a nap.

Zeke came over a while later.

"I had dinner there," he said.

"What did you have?"

"I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?  Was it a sandwich?  A hot dog? Was there meat of some kind?  What did you have?"

"I don't know.  Anyway, I'm just getting my Kindle and I'm going back."

"Is Hazel still over there?"

"Yes.  We're playing."

He left.

My mother and I looked at each other.  "We should go over there and say hello and thank the parents," I said.

As we stepped outside, we saw Zeke walk up to their front door and just let himself in.


We walked across the way and knocked on the door.  Through the little side windows, we could see the kids hanging out on the floor right in front of the front door.  The downstairs seemed very bare - no discernible furniture, no rugs on the floor, no pictures on the walls.  Hazel was sitting on the bottom step of the staircase, and Zeke and another boy were inspecting a Rubik's cube.  There was a kids' plate of food sitting on a stool.

We knocked some more.  The kids looked blankly at us through the window, but didn't move to open the door.  We couldn't hear any footsteps or see any sign that there were adults interested in talking to us.

So I just turned the doorknob and we walked in.

A little Chinese boy who I assume was Justin looked at me.

"Hi," I said, offering my hand.  "I'm Wendy, Zeke's mom."

He held his hand out and limply shook mine, but appeared so painfully shy that it was as if his personality had been pulled into a black hole.

My mom and I stood there some more.  Nobody said anything.

I could hear some activity in the kitchen, so I just walked back there saying, "hellooooo??"

We found Justin's tiny little white-haired grandparents, bustling around and cooking at a wok.  They smiled when they saw us, said, "hello! hello!"  They gave my mother a huge hug, pointed at me and said in extremely broken English, "you daughter?"  When she said, "yes," they smiled and said, "very beautiful!"  Mom said, "thank you, are the little children behaving?"  They said, "oh, yes, very nice!"

There was some more back-and-forth which led me to believe that nobody really understood what the other was saying.  But it was all good.

So we said thank you, walked back to the door, told Zeke and Hazel to behave, and left.

As soon as the door closed behind us, we looked at each other and said at the same time, "what the hell was that?"

Whatever it was, I understood why Josie felt a little weird.  Nothing was wrong.  Everybody was very nice.  But it was just an odd scene.

Zeke, being Zeke, stayed for another hour.  Of course, this is the kid who can meet kids at a Passover seder in Reykjavik and become best friends with them without knowing their names or having a common language.

I don't understand it, but I admire it.

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