Sometimes a whole family is a mess.
It was the first Saturday in August, and the parking lot was a bit slower than it had been throughout July. Sure, the lot was crowded, and we were busy, but the sense of chaos wasn’t quite so intense.
My interaction with the family started with the grandmother, who wanted to park with the other two vehicles in her party. She tried to park beside some trees (instead of nose-in, between trees, like most people park), but that didn’t quite work out, even with a young man standing behind her car, waving his arms and giving directions. Grandma gave up on this potential parking place rather quickly and drove off deeper into the parking lot to find an easier spot.
My next interaction with the family came when Dad (the young man who’d tried to direct Grandma in parking) approached me and asked about the location of the water slides. I pulled out a map, pointed to we are here, then pointed to the waterslides are there. The man exhibited no glimmer or recognition. Nothing. The lights were on, and yet, nobody seemed to be home.
Can we get there from here? Dad asked me.
Why yes! I wanted to say. This is a map. What a map does is show how to get there from here. Instead I pointed out the two roads he could take.
Dad walked away, skeptical, until his brother-in-law said he had directions.
Then Grandma joined the rest of the family in my vicinity.
I left my purse in the tent, she announced. I have to go back. I’m worried. I left my purse in the tent.
Her daughter thought she had left her purse in the car, until Grandma made her understand by saying, I left my purse in the tent at the campground.
Something in the word campground made the daughter’s brain click that tent and car are two different places, and the old lady’s purse was not a short walk away.
Grandma was insistent that she had to go back to the campground because she was worried about her purse in the tent. Her daughter said they were going to walk the trail before they went back to the campground, which didn’t seem to be nearby.
By this point, most of the members of the extended family that had arrived in three vehicles were clustered near where my co-worker and I stand at the front of the parking lot. Grandma was joined by her two daughters and at least ten children ranging in age from 3 to 14. I don’t know why they were all standing there—probably waiting for folks to return from the restroom, get water out of the cooler, or otherwise get their shit together.
The two smallest children were milling about fully in the parking lot’s roadway.
You probably want to get out of the street, folks, I said to the crowd. People drive into this parking lot fast sometimes. (Which is true.)
The first small child moved closer to the other children, but the littlest girl remained where she was.
Lyla, come here, one of the adult sisters said to the girl standing in the roadway.
Lyla turned her head away from the woman and ignored her command.
Lyla, come here now, the woman said again sternly.
Lyla had apparently lost the ability to hear, for she took no heed of the woman’s words and didn’t move a muscle.
Dee-lye-la! the woman shouted. Get over here NOW! This is a street!
A miracle! Lyla could hear again. She languidly turned her head toward the woman with a look of Oh? Are you talking to me? on her tiny face. Then she slowly left the middle of the roadway and joined the clot of kinfolk.
About that time, I looked to my left and over my shoulder and saw Junior, approximately age nine, sprawled in the middle of the roadway, messing around with his shoes. He’d managed to remove his red flip flops and put on his white socks. He hadn’t yet put on his sneakers. He was just sitting on the pavement, shoes strewn around him.
I should have just let him sit there, slowly figure out what shoes are for, how they relate to feet, how to go about the next steps in his task, but I imagined disaster and jumped up.
Sweetheart, I said, you don’t want to sit in the middle of the road to do that.
The grandma and the two adult sisters sprang into verbal action. That’s a street! they admonished the boy.
Junior shuffled around in his stocking feet, holding his sneakers and his flip flops, looking for a place to sit to put on his shoes. Apparently standing while putting on shoes was beyond his capabilities. None of the women could come up with a place for him to sit until Grandma honed in on my chair, which I had abandoned when I jumped up in astonishment at seeing an unsupervised little boy sitting in the middle of a place where drivers pull in too fast, where drivers often claim not to see me (and I’m a not insubstantial adult standing and waving my arm).
I should have let the kid sit in the road and go about his oh-so-slow business of putting on his sneakers. Maybe one of his parents would have noticed him and had him move. If a car had come in, I could have jumped to the rescue. But I’d had to open my big mouth and get involved, and worse, move my butt from my chair. Now Grandma was asking if the boy could possibly, just maybe, only for a moment sit in my chair while he put on his shoes.
I said yes. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t have an alternative to suggest, and I knew this family was not going anywhere until Junior had his shoes on.
So Junior sat in my chair and slow-as-getting-out-of-a-warm-bed-on-a-cold-Monday-morning, he put on his sneakers. His mother never told him to hurry up or bent down to humiliated him into getting his ass into gear by “helping” him. Everybody just stood there and waited.
I looked over and saw a second tiny girl. This one had her foot propped up on my chair. I realized she had her foot on my chair’s attached folding table, the table who’s top I’d collaged. She had her foot up on the folded down table, rocking it back and forth on its hinge. If any of the adults had noticed her activity, no one had told her to cease and desist.
This was all I could take. I rushed over to that side of the chair and said, Sweetheart! (in a tone of voice that really meant, Hey you snot nose brat!)
Don’t put your foot on my chair! You’re going to get it dirty!
To her credit, the child immediately removed her foot from my collaged surface. She actually looked repentant. (I probably looked like a rabid ape lady.)
Her mother directed the child to Say you’re sorry!
The girl child looked up at me with big cow eyes and whispered, I’m sorry; I almost felt bad.
I couldn’t take one moment more of this genetic pool, so I hid behind the information board until they all went away.