Part 1: Tofu and toes. Part 2: “Big Jack”

Below is a conversation that took place at our home yesterday afternoon.  (The “Jack” referred to here is “Big Jack,” our 5-year-old neighbor, about whom I will complain in the second half of this post.)

Me:  Amélie, I need to start thinking about dinner.  We’re having tofu stir-fry tonight.
Amélie:  YUM!  I love tofu stir-fry!  Jack, do you like tofu?
Jack:  NO!  I don’t like it.  I’ve never had it.
Amélie:  Then you don’t know if you like it or not, Jack!  It’s really good.  It doesn’t taste like toes at all!

I nearly fell over.  Toes???????  She thinks we’re eating a tasty conglomeration of sesame seed oil, garlic, ginger, vegetables, soy sauce, and toes?  As a matter of fact, yes.  I asked her about the conversation this afternoon, and she confirmed that yes, indeed, she thought we were eating toes.  A later dinnertime conversation revealed that she thought we were eating human toes

She also informed me that she had gotten so excited one evening when daddy was getting a ride home in a tow truck because she thought he was getting a ride home in a big–you guessed it–toe. 

Just stop and imagine Matt gallantly pulling up in our driveway in a big toe.  It’s OK to laugh.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The above conversation, as I noted, took place with “Big Jack,” our endearing but exasperating neighbor.  I am struggling, struggling, struggling with him.  Here’s the deal.  First of all, he often descends upon our home in a cloud of negative energy, which leaves a tetchy film on our spirits after he leaves.  He whines when I won’t buy them treats from the ice cream man.  He pouts when I won’t push him in the stroller meant for baby Jack.  He breaks things.  With one hand he takes the allotted piece of candy, while as soon as my back is turned he uses his other hand to load his pockets with sugary contraband.  He lies about the stolen bubble gum in his grubby fists.  He is mean to my daughter, and she takes it, b/c to her it is far worse for him to be banished to his house than it is for him to treat her badly.  And I could go on……

But here’s the other side of Jack:  yesterday was his kindergarten graduation.  No one from his family came to see him go pick up his diploma in his miniature cap and gown.  He has a nana who sits in her house, yells at her grandkids, and drinks can after can of Budweiser all day.  I’m pretty sure she didn’t have any engagements more pressing than the next can of Bud or another cigarette drag.  He has a mom who comes and goes in his life.  Sometimes she lives at that house.  Sometimes she doesn’t.  Yesterday afternoon during the graduation she was apparently visiting a friend.  He and his four siblings share one mom and four fathers, and the only reason there are four different dads and not five is because the oldest two girls are twins.  The kids breathe a haze of cigarette smoke day after day after day.  He is dirt poor.  I have never seen Jack’s mom say something positive to him or wrap him up in a big hug.  The kid has just about every card stacked against him.  I don’t want to be another of those cards.  He’s one of “the least of these,” you know?  He needs to be loved and affirmed and encouraged.  He needs a positive influence in his life.  Since he spends so much of his time here (much to the detriment of my sanity level), I could be one of those positive influences.

But the kid drives me crazy.  I get mad as hell when he’s mean to my daughter.  Today, under the influence of a particularly acerbic case of pms and just plain tiredness, I nearly lost it when he complained about the snack I gave him, didn’t appreciate the graduation gift Amélie and I had so carefully picked out for him, whined when I told him he couldn’t stay for dinner, and especially when he drove my sensitive daughter to tears after he told her that he was never, ever coming back to play (actually, I perked up a little at that point).

What am I supposed to do?   I love that boy.  I hate him.  He makes me cry with anger.  He makes me cry with grief.  Sometimes I want to wrap my arms around his filthy little body in a big hug.  Sometimes I want to sling him over my shoulder and then toss him into our pond.  I embrace his potential.  I anticipate his demise.  He’s a stinky little wretch.  He’s a precious human being.  He’s ripped my sanity and my heart right in two…and I don’t know what to do. 

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3 responses to this post.

  1. I am so ROTFLOL about the toe-foo. That is hysterical. Kinda like when last week I was trying to explain to Jacob what a lawsuit was and he asked, “Why do you have to wear a special suit when you do it?”

    I’ve been thinking about Big Jack all night and day. Maybe you should have a gentle chat with Jack and let him know he is welcome in your home, but he must follow the same rules as Amelie. Let him know what “house rules” are: no complaining, no whining, no unkind words, etc, or whatever you choose to enforce. Then if he (or anyone for that matter) acts up, you step in and enforce the consequence (going home, no snacks, etc). He may stomp off and threaten to not come back again . . . but like you said, maybe he’s never been shown a better way. Then when he comes back, you welcome him, but be ready to enforce your “house rules”. Probably the poor thing is starved for some positive attention and will learn quickly that if he wants to play, he has to learn to get along. Plus, it would be good for him to see an adult deal with defiance, disobedience, rudeness, whining, etc, in a calm, caring way. Too be honest, I’ve not had to do this much, but I’ve seen my friend Lesa do it many times. Her house is always kid-central. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard her remind young guests (she’s a bit more assertive in her tone now that her kids are teens), “I’m so glad your here to play in my house. In our house these are the rules: . . . They may be different than some of the rules in your house and that’s ok. But these are our rules, and if you don’t follow them, you’ll have to go home.”
    Let me know how you decide to handle it.

    Reply

  2. Posted by karmenl on May 17, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    This would be one of those examples that Paul (the pastor) might give as truly furthering God’s kingdom. And as you read Surprised by Hope, you will know more what i mean….if you don’t already. He said it is sometimes hard to tell what things are contributing to God’s kingdom coming. Sometimes christians do a pissy job of contributing, while all the while thinking they are doing pretty well. And people who would claim to not be christians actually contribute more than we will ever know to God’s coming Kingdom.

    I learned that a good way to tell if it is the latter or the former is this one fact….does it look like Jesus? And Jill, what you’re doing for that little boy certainly looks like something Jesus would do. I don’t know how you do it or if I could do it, but you are making a big difference in that little boy’s life. It probably feels pretty thankless. I think you are doing a wonderful thing. I would urge you to keep it up—as long as you’re not going to hurt yourself, Amelie, or him (or let him hurt you or Amelie) in the process of ‘keeping it up.’ :o)

    Reply

  3. i have a “big jack”. his name is Thomas. i fought Thomas for Mason’s time for the last two years. i thought maybe if i limited time together their kinship would somehow lessen. even Mason’s kindergarten teacher told me to limit their time together. if anything, limiting their time only drew them closer. i went through some of the same questioning as you. i wondered if it was possible to pray for someone and at the same time deny him.

    in the last year i decided to let him in and quit trying to control the situation. Thomas stutters, he whines, he’s dirty. He crys and yells and carries on when he gets hurt. He wipes his face on his shirt. He’s naughty by ignorance. He’s rough. He smells. He’s totally annoying to me and Cody. BUT, i’ve discovered he’s always obedient to us. He’s as polite as he knows how to be. He would give Mason the shirt off his back.

    it’s gotten to the point that it’s hard to tell him Mason can’t play. (our kids don’t have other kids over every day of the week, like many of the neighbor kids…and that’s just b/c we covet our peaceful family time.)

    sometimes i think Cody is too tough on Thomas. Cody says Thomas doesn’t want him to be soft on him…that by the time he’s 16 he’ll know Cody is his friend. i get to be the sweet but stern mom, too. ie)”Thomas, we like you coming over, but don’t ring that bell before 2pm on Sundays.” 2pm on sunday our bell rings without fail.

    he likes us. (remember reading what laMott said about feeling safe and sleeping with both eyes closed at her one friend’s house?)

    last week his mom wasn’t home after school and he came here. i detected uneasiness and when i asked him he started crying. tough boy broke down. i know he’d be fine on his own, so i think he has abandonment issues. someone has been living out of their minivan. he told me their landlord was going to make them move out after school was over.

    i know his parents will never reciprocate. i know mason will never be invited over (i’d probably say no anyhow). Thomas knows Jesus, but he might not buy it as he gets older and realizes how ripped off he got in the parent lotto.
    i also know most of the world will forever abandon Thomas due to these things that are completely out of his control. it’s not fair. so, while he’s in my life, he’s going to rest a bit under my wing.

    i’ll pray about your situation, too. we need supernatural strength and wisdom to love the unlovely. when it comes on though, it’s a pretty cool place to camp. (thanks for sharing and letting me share.)

    Reply

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