50-8 – Summer in the City


Then and House Rules for Now.

I have one very distinct memory of childhood that doesn’t come from a picture or someone else’s recollection. I am in a very small square kitchen with a few other kids – I want to say a bunch, but a bunch seems too many. We are standing around a small white stove – gas, of course, and there is an adult, but for the life of me I can’t remember which adult it was. I don’t think it was my mother or my grandmother so it may have been a neighbor or the neighbor of a friend. We wandered in those days. Someone was always watching and even if you couldn’t see them or if you didn’t know them, they knew you and your parents and your parents always found out.

The stove was next to a back door and just outside the backdoor was a strip of asphalt or more accurately a cement walkway between the door and the rest of the house, and a patch of grass. There may have been a fence, but that is less clear to me.

We’re standing around the stove, not too close, and the mom whoever she was, and yes, she was a mom, was wearing pants and a turtleneck. The whole scene is colorful in my mind, but I don’t see physical colors; I just know they are there.

The stove is lit with that blue flame that comes up from the pilot and the gas, and the tin foil of the Jiffy Pop is expanding exponentially. The pops popping faster and faster until the foil splits and the popcorn is ready. I know we had red juice to drink, probably Hi-C or more likely Hawaiian Punch Fruit Punch. To this day, whenever my kids are at a party and that is the drink of choice, I always steal some and it tastes just like summer in the city, eight or so years old, running out the back door with a cup spilling over our hands and the other hand carrying as much popcorn as is humanly possible.

My kids saw Jiffy Pop once and it was a fandom thing, but I might have to get one for this summer. They know precisely how to make microwave popcorn and for them that is their pop-popping memory, but there is something about the foil splitting that says it’s ready that really has all the feels.

As a kid, we were never the Kool-Aid house. We lived in a court so if the kids wanted anything they went home for a minute or two.

When I had kids, I wanted to be the Kool-Aid house, but that lasted all of three minutes. I babysat for a couple of kids when my son was young, and they were great kids. Really. But every time they would jump on my furniture, not a constant jumping, but a normal, excited, jump, once, no big deal, it would make me crazy. I had to walk away so as not to yell at them because even though I didn’t realize it was an anxiety thing, I knew that what they were doing was appropriate for their age. It just bothered me, and most of the time, I bit my lip and let them be kids, but it was hard for me. I know that some of that comes from my mother having a “formal” living room with plastic on the furniture that even when company was over, we weren’t allowed to sit on. That was for company. And so despite none of my apartments having a den, I still felt that my living room was more for adults than kids. We kept glass out, and decor because my son was really good about not getting into things. Other kids, though… And his brother and sister when they came along had no concept of don’t touch, don’t drop, don’t, don’t, don’t.

We’re always cluttered. We have toys and magazines and comic books and hair ties all over the place. We live in our house even if sometimes we feel claustrophobic from all the disarray. We’ve gotten most of it under control for my son’s girlfriend to visit – the dreaded popover. My daughter has a friend who lives a few houses down. He came by and didn’t knock but waited patiently for someone to hear the screen door open. He’s done that three times already. The other day, it happened: “Can I give M some water?” Sure. “Can M use the bathroom?” Um…okay. And so it begins. With or without the fruit punch, we might be the Kool Aid house after all; for at least one friend. It must be time for –


I don’t remember a lot of house rules growing up. I remember being outside a lot, and as I mentioned we lived in a court. We couldn’t go in the back without a parent. There was a playground back there that I once got my hand punctured climbing over the fence. Anyone who knows me would be surprised to know that I climbed over fences. We also couldn’t go past the big grassy middle. Once we hit the sidewalk that followed the big city street we had to go back.
Nowadays, we all have them (house rules), and we all slack off for whatever reason, but with the kids home nearly all day every day we need to step up our enforcement.

The popover has already happened, so now we’ve set a frightening precedent. We’re on the way to my sister-in-law’s vacation house (yeah, I guess people have those) and she’s already come twice with two hours notice. We must keep the house clutter-free.

This is also a good time to reestablish indoor and outdoor voices and the basics of polite manners. Kids, at least mine, like to show off in front of their friends. Nip this in the bud or it will lead to misery.

Keep the chores going through the summer. Have kids clean their rooms regularly. Water the plants. Take out the garbage. Put your clothes in the laundry basket. Fold them when they come back from the wash.

Everything in its place. Jackets on hooks. When you’re finished eating, put your dishes in the sick. Or better yet, wash them (depending on the age of the kids.)

Refrigerator is off limits without an adult. No standing in front of it with the door open. No pouring your drink into your cup with the door open. Basically, keep the door closed. Same for the freezer. By the same token, kids should know what snacks are available and what they’re allowed to take and what they need to ask for.

Good items to have on hand for groups of kids (but that I don’t allow in the house for various reasons of mess) are: those frozen popsicles that are about a dollar a piece or even five for a dollar, sidewalk chalk, individual bubbles (these can be found in small batches for about $5 in the Target birthday section or at Party City).

Summer is the best time for fresh fruit snacks.

Ask before you invite.

Leave your shoes at the door. The only thing messier than summer is mud season although sometimes the dry dirt and sand is worse because it never goes away.

Hopefully, I can follow my own advice.

Check out this spot during the rest of the week for other rules that we’re trying out here and some ideas for a fun summer with your kids.

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