From then on it was a complete whirlwind. E was 17 and M was 19 but it was very much as if they were still children, especially M.
They knew things, had seen things no child should ever have seen or experienced. They had incredible street smarts and common sense; however, they were not very in control of their emotions, didn’t deal well with anger and didn’t really know how to be consistently reliable. They were very kind and generous but at the same time, they always, always thought of themselves first. It was definitely frustrating yet I completely understood. Basically, we were seeing and experiencing the results of what happens when parents don’t parent and kids are forced to fend for themselves.
However, while this may be, in my amateur opinion, a reason for this behavior, it was not an excuse. As young adults, they were absolutely responsible for their behavior. As I was not their mother and they were not exactly children, I wanted to be very gentle in my approach. I took K and B out for coffee one morning. We chatted about the situation and, because we were all convicted that M and E were going to leave our home with more skills and/or a better situation than when they arrived, we came up with a game plan.
K and B would take responsibility for teaching them how to do more menial tasks like laundry and cleaning. Of course they had washed clothes before but they did not know how to separate clothes, adjust temperatures and spin cycles etc. Of course they knew how to pick up after themselves but that usually meant just removing the clutter. E could dust and vacuum but that was the extent of her housekeeping skills. With M moving around and living the way he did, he had absolutely no experience with these sorts of things. I would work on teaching them to cook more than macaroni and cheese, sandwiches and scrambled eggs and I would take on the task of teaching them responsibility. To keep M and E from feeling picked on, dumb or inept and bolting, we agreed not to teach them most of these things overtly. We would simply explain what we were doing as we lived our lives, confident they would learn.
Over the days, the weeks, we filled in their wardrobes a little bit more. They both got new glasses. They started their job search. They began attending GED classes every morning.
We had discussions about hygiene (“But I DO take care of myself. No matter how bad things are I make sure I shower every month no matter what!”)
We had discussions about etiquette. (“Why can’t I eat my burrito from a glass?” ~ “Well, wash the dishes and I think you’ll figure it out.” ~ “Oh. I get it. I’ll let it soak.” ~ “No, really. It’s your turn to wash dishes. 😉 ” ~ “Oh. Darn.”)
We had discussions about how to live in a house, a neighborhood with other people. (“But I couldn’t sleep. I always play guitar when I can’t sleep.” ~ “You can’t play guitar because it’s 2am.” ~ “…and????” ~ “And it bothers other people who are sleeping.” ~ “But you are up reading anyway.” ~ “Yes but B isn’t. He has school tomorrow. And you can hear that outside and the neighbors work tomorrow.” ~ “But… we’re in a house.” ~ “Yes but it doesn’t matter where you live. You always need to be courteous of your neighbors. How would you like it is you were trying to sleep and they ran a chainsaw outside your window?” ~ “Oh… I get it.”)
They picked up on things pretty quickly and, because they wanted to make us happy, they went along with it. Watching them try so hard was fun and even when they made a mistake, we had quickly gotten to a point where we could laugh about it. And sometimes, they had the most interesting viewpoints and unique take on everyday things.
One day while we were cleaning the bathroom, E told me that she wasn’t really sure how welcome they were at first. “Even now, almost a month in, whenever we use the restroom, we have to stop and think through things again, ya know?”
“Wait, what?” I was completely perplexed so she explained.
“Well, it’s your toilet paper. You always leave it hanging from the back, the underneath side. People who do that are really private people and don’t like other people in their space.”
“What? I’ve never heard of anything like that.” I responded, amused and confused.
“Well, you know,” she explained. “People like you who hang the paper so it goes in the back are like ‘This is my paper. You can’t have any. And if you insist on having what is mine, I am going to make you search for it, work for it and make it rip off early.’ People who hang their toilet paper so it goes over the top are all like, ‘Here! Have some paper. It was my paper but I want to share it with you. Take some. No really take some.” and no matter what you do, extra paper rolls off.”
“So… wait. E, are you saying I’m stingy?”
“No! Not at all. That’s why you’re so confusing. … See whenever we were invited into someone’s house, M and I would always ask to use the bathroom one of the first things. If the toilet paper hung in the back we knew not to expect too much and that we’d have to leave ASAP. If the toilet paper hung in front, we were usually good for a few days and could sometimes score some food or toiletries or something.”
They were making a lot of changes. It was fair for me to make a small one so I started hanging the toilet paper so that it hung in front. Neither one said anything but I know they noticed.
One night supper had been eaten and the dishes had been done. We were playing a game and M said, “Okay B’s mom. It’s your turn.” And it suddenly struck me that he had not been calling me by name for some time. So, I reminded him, “You know, it’s okay to call me Terri, right?”
“Well, no. … Actually, it’s really not.” He responded. Even B and K looked confused.
He continued, “I respect you too much to call you by your first name now. B’s dad doesn’t live here anymore so even though you’re still kinda married to him, it doesn’t feel right calling you Mrs. __. And… even though you are more a mom to me than anyone else in my whole life, the word ‘mom’ has a really bad feeling with it. I call my own mom ‘Mother’ so that’s out and well, I just don’t know what to call you. So… you get B’s mom or K’s mom until I figure something else out.”
That was so sweet! “Oh, M! I want you to be comfortable and I don’t want this to stress you out. You know that I’ll respond to pretty much anything as long as it isn’t obscene, right?”
He got a mischievous glint in his eye. “Anything not obscene, huh?”
“That’s right,” I confirmed.
“Okay then, … what about T-Sizzle?”
“Wait … what? T what?” I was extremely confused.
“T-Sizzle. A hip hop name for a hip kind of mom person. … And, of course, I really like Terrell Suggs.”
“Daryl who? Wait, did you just swear?”
“Oh….. I can see I have some work to do, T-Siz. You don’t know who Terrell Suggs is? This weekend, I am going to teach you about football players.”
E chimed in, “Oh yeah… he makes me memorize football stats, too. Ask me something.”
“Um… I don’t even know what to ask.” This whole conversation was so confusing.
“Ha! M.” E laughed. “You are going to have a lot of work to do!”
“Be a’ight. T-Sizzle, you just nizzle to lizzle about footbizzle. It’s just a thizzle ‘cuz she ain’t no chedda. You with me?”
“So, what’re you like a rapper or something now?” E asked.
M jumped out of his chair reciting a song, “I’m a gansta, but y’all knew that. Da Big Bo$$ Dogg, yeah I had to do that…”
“Whatever.” E said. K rolled her eyes and B just laughed.
E continued to call me by my first name but from then on, to M (and over time, a lot of B’s other friends), I was T-Sizzle.