Todd wasn’t sure of much of anything other than he didn’t know why he was being sent off to stay with someone he wasn’t even related to, to hang out with a cousin he didn’t know. Was it too much to ask that he get to stay home just one summer? When his dad had first expressed concern about sending Todd to his parents for the summer, given that Todd’s grandfather was still recovering from a heart attack earlier in the year, Todd had been at least a little hopeful of getting to stay home instead of making the pilgrimage to Florida. Of course Todd instantly felt guilty about finding any bright side to his PaPa’s illness, and he loved his MayMay and PaPa dearly, it’s just that he really wanted to spend time in his own room, with his own things, doing only what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it, just about every other kid in the world got to do that so why couldn’t he? His dreams of summer freedom were short lived though, without wasting any time his Mom had swooped in, suggesting that Todd could spend the summer with her parents and extended family in connecticut, again, this summer. Todd’s summers were spent with one or the other sets of grandparents, even numbered years were Connecticut years with his mom’s family, Lilliane and Grover Macallum, odd years were Florida years, spent with his Father’s parents, Maybel and Lemm Arden. Since it was summer of ‘87, it was the Arden’s summer, Todd protested that if he couldn’t go to Florida, that he should stay home if only to preserve the proper order and rotation of grandparents.
His mother dismissed his argument with a “Well you’re going somewhere, you know you can’t stay home by yourself. I’m not going to not work this summer which means your father and I will be in a different country.”
So Todd was fully prepared to go to Connecticut for an unprecedented second year in a row. But then his dad came in with the news that Florida arrangements had been made after all, Todd would still be able to visit with his MayMay and PaPa, only the trouble of keeping up with a twelve year old boy would be undertaken by Todd’s uncles step daughter.
Todd almost instantly went from hating the idea of another year at the lake, to kind of thinking it didn’t sound bad compared to living with a woman he had never met. Besides the lake was really kinda nice wasn’t it?
The Macallums, who were strictly Grandfather and Grandmother, thank you kindly, doted on Todd since he was their youngest grandchild by a good ten years. Summers at their lake estate were always exciting and fun filled, if he had any room to complain, beyond not having access to his computer or any video games, it was that he felt that being there for the summer could in many ways feel like more work than being at school.
Todd had spent just about every other summer with them since he could remember, his parents would bring him and they might stay a week or two, before they headed off to wherever his Mom and Dad were working for the summer. Every day at the lake was something new and different from the day before, never spontaneous though, it was always a thing which had been planned, scheduled, and regimented to fit within the rigorous time blocks into which the day had been divided. Todd’s Grandfather believed in planning and ran the family holiday with the same precision and forethought as he brought to bear in his business ventures.
On a typical day, Mr. Cook who along with his wife served as stewards for their lake property, would rouse the boy before the sun was up, conveying him to the en suite bathroom. There Todd would sleepily brush his teeth before removing his pajamas and diaper from the night before, rolling the diaper up and depositing it in the lidded waste basket provided solely for that purpose. Mr. cook would have of course already started the shower for him, setting out towels on the warming rack for when Todd was done. You wouldn’t think you would want warm towels in the summer, but Todd had to admit they were very pleasant and made the early morning rousing just a little bit more tolerable.
By the time he was done showering, he would return to his room where his sheets would be replaced from the night before, regardless of whether he had leaked or not. The bed would be made and his clothes would be laid out on the bed, stacked neatly in the order he would put them on, his undershorts on top, lightly starched with a smart crease in them from having been pressed. There would be shoes appropriate to the mornings activity, or several pairs of shoes should the morning be casual enough for Todd to choose his footwear, under the bench positioned directly below the window that looked out onto the garden and their slip on the lake. There would be a long brass shoe horn set across the bench for his use.
Breakfast was usually taken on the veranda, with Grandmother, his Aunt Vera, Uncle Reggie and sometimes his cousins Chadwick and Veronica. Chadwick and Veronica were twins, and Todd had always looked up to them, for their age allowed them a great deal of autonomy and privilege. Now in their early twenties they seldom made an appearance for breakfast, and sometimes even missing lunch, having stayed out late with their friends most nights at the beach across the lake. Grandmother of course usually made it known that she did not approve of their partying, and either Uncle Reggie or Aunt Vera, or sometimes both, would nod and agree before saying something placating. Grandfather usually had his breakfast in his office, but he did occasionally join them, although if he did he mostly spent time thumbing through papers and harrumphing in agreement when Grandmother admired the sunrise or the flowers or the weather.
Post breakfast, Todd was doing something different just about every day, usually with his Grandfather. It might be going on the water to learn how to sail, or they’d go shooting clays (Which Todd loved and wished he could do more often), some days it might be going along to the country club where he might swim, or play handball, or be given golf lessons from one of the caddies. Occasionally his Grandmother would lay claim to him and they would drive into the village and go from art shop to art shop, or listen to a concerto performed by a string quartet, or eat ice cream cones while watching a mime or street juggler.
Todd loved doing all of those things, but it was still all kinds of hectic with one thing following into another just like being in school, most of the activities having strict start times, which meant he was always on the go and always being hurried. Which was why he so looked forward to lunch, which was usually had ‘in the field’ and led directly into a slightly more relaxed afternoon. If Todd were in town with his Grandmother it was a fair bet he could get leave to visit the arcade, those days being special to him as it was really his only opportunity to play video games during a Connecticut summer. His grandfather having declined to let Todd have a game system at the house, explaining that Todd had all of the rest of the year to play games and that if they were going to spend time together Todd would learn the kind of skills that might serve him later in life, not mindless button pushing.
After lunch he was generally free to make his own entertainment until dinner time as long as that entertainment was not watching television, which was deemed ‘a frivolous activity for those without direction or ambition’. So Todd would more often than not avail himself of the library, and read, which in truth he probably enjoyed more than watching reruns anyways. He had developed a love, that bordered on obsession, for the Hardy boy’s mysteries. The estates library having a complete set that had been purchased for Chadwick when he had been just a boy, alongside a set of Nancy Drew books for Veronica (which Todd had passed over imagining them to be too girly or something). Todd had read each Hardy Boys book now several times, but that didn’t stop him from going back for more, for when he closed the cover on the last volume he would put it back on the shelf and pull the first one down and start on the first page.
He loved the friendship and camaraderie shared between the brothers Frank and Joe and their friend Chet, even if that did make Todd keenly aware of his own lack of real, close friends. It puzzled him why he didn’t have even a single ‘good’ friend, much less a best friend, the kind of friend that sticks with you through thick and thin.
Todd had sufficient self awareness that he suspected the extent to which most other people found him to be irritating or annoying. Adults always seemed to have little patience for the things Todd thought were interesting and most of his peers and classmates likewise dismissed him outright as a defacto dweeb or nerd. In all fairness he did have some friends from the computer club and the science club, although both groups heavily overlapped. Still it was people he could eat his meals with, and could play dungeons and dragons with on those weekends in which they were required to stay on campus. But Todd knew they were mainly friends of convenience, ‘school friends’, okay to pass the time with, but he doubted any of them would want to spend time with him were there other, better options available.
Todd knew better than to sit there and feel sorry for himself, and he did his best to not focus on the negatives, but once he started down that path his thoughts would turn to the other reason why he believed he was so low on the social rolls at school. His bed wetting, he was certain was a factor too, for it relegated him to the special needs dorm, ironically to cut down on the teasing.
In the third grade, the youngest resident grade, he had been in the normal dormitories for his class, consisting of four rooms which each slept four boys. Todd only had two roommates in his room, and both the other boys took his night time protection in stride, with no one commenting or thinking it out of place, but just after Thanksgiving, a new student, Baxter Gilleon got the open bunk. Baxter did think it was funny, and quite noteworthy too, making it a point to tell everyone, not just those in Todd’s class, but the other third grade group as well, about the nurse who came by before lights out to change ‘Todd’s baby diapers’
The teasing escalated and was spread by other children too, in fact it was bad enough that by the time the holiday break was just about upon them the administration requested a meeting with Todd’s parents to discuss a course of action. The administration posited that the best solution would be to move Todd to the special needs dormitory, where his classmates would not see his diapers, and therefore not tease him about them, Todd would be given a roommate, a boy with cerebral palsy, who also wore diapers, to give him a kindred spirit and further reduce the likelihood of anyone finding out. Satisfied with the proposed solution, Todd’s parents agreed, and upon returning after the holidays Todd found himself in a new room, with a new roommate, Eliot. The plan did cut down on most of the teasing, which was a welcome relief. But it soon became apparent to Todd, that it also brought a new crop of problems too, not least of which resulted from being on the other end of the campus, far away from the main housing unit and it’s common rooms and activities which led Todd to be isolated in a very real sense, especially since students of his age were not allowed out of their dorms in the evenings unless there was a school function. A second, and entirely unintended consequence, was that while the teasing did indeed die down, Todd’s wetting became a matter of speculation and gossip. Now everyone, even kids in other grades, wondered why the otherwise ‘normal’ Todd was in the same dorm as the handicap kids, everyone asked ‘what’s wrong with him?’ and someone would invariably answer. The absolute worst thing about all of it though was that Elliot, who walked only with the assistance of crutches and wore diapers not just at night but also during the day too, seemed to be loved by everyone. In fact he was super popular! Todd could not recall even one time when anyone had made fun of Elliot, had called him a name or said anything behind his back. Not that he wanted Eliot to be teased or anything, it just didn’t seem fair that Eliot got what seemed to Todd like a pass because of his CP, and Todd who wet the bed for reasons no less valid or no more under his own control got teased to the point of being driven from the dorm.
So that was why when he read his beloved adventure stories, instead of being thrilled at the action, mystery and danger, his takeaway was that it would be nice to have a real friend. His vicarious friendships with the brothers and their friends was why Todd was in the library most evenings, where he would read until Mrs. Cook would find him to tell him he should get ready for dinner.
“It’s almost time for dinner now, bullpup.” She’d tell him with a smile, bullpup being her nickname for him since he was little.
When he was younger, it had often been Mrs. Cook who had watched him in the evenings so the adults could go out and she had always called him ‘little bullpup’, he never knew her reason and when he had gotten a little older he had once thought to ask her why, she just smiled and touched the tip of his nose, “cause that’s what you are, a little bull puppy.” Todd didn’t like nicknames for the most part, but Mrs. Cook could call him bullpup and it suited him just fine.
The Cooks themselves had a nice victorian cottage right on the lake itself, where they stayed year round as caretakers for the larger estate, seeing to the normal maintenance and upkeep. Come summer they would each assume other more domestic roles, with Mr. Cook helping with sundries, acting as an impromptu valet and acting as an occasional chauffeur since Grandmother didn’t drive, Mrs. Cook would for her part, true to her name, cook most of the meals, and keep up with the wash, and maybe do some minimal tidying, although a housekeeping service sent someone out twice weekly to do most of the real cleaning.
Todd loved them both like his own family, since he had known them all his life, seeing them just about every other summer, and for nearly every spring break. He thought they were fond of him too, but there was a cynical part of his mind which wondered if their fondness was a result of his Grandfather’s money, if they simply felt obligated to like him? Todd hated that part of him, sometimes it seemed like it would never be quiet, so he did his best to assure himself that the Cooks did indeed like him, after all Mrs. Cook wouldn’t call him bullpup if she didn’t, would she? And she certainly wouldn’t invite a boy she didn’t like to come to their cottage for cookies and lemonade.
Once told that dinner was imminent, Todd would return to his room where he would change clothes if he needed too, like if he was wearing swim trunks and a t-shirt, or other clothes which Grandmother said was not proper for the dinner table. He would comb his hair, wash his hands and if he needed to he would wash his face as well.
After dinner, the younger adults if they were in attendance, would leave the house to seek their friends at the public ‘beach’ on the other side of the lake, while the older grownups would all retreat to the lounge for drinks where they would play bridge or pinochle. On very rare occasions they might all watch a movie on the large projection set, which allowed Todd to opportunity to snuggle into his Grandmother’s lap as they lay on the large leather bar and tack sofa. If the adults were not doing something he found entertaining, Todd could watch the small TV in the study for no more than an hour, or return to the library if he’d rather. Sometimes he would seek out Mr. Cook and pester him to show him how to carve and whittle things using a pocket knife and some soft pine from the workshop.
Around 9 pm Todd was expected to find the grown ups and give them their good nights before heading to his room, where he would find his bed already turned down, whatever book he had been reading during the day somehow finding its way to the bedside table, regardless of where he had left it. Likewise, his pajamas and diaper would be already laid out for him. He would put on his diaper, remembering when he had been small enough that his mother or Mrs. Cook had done it for him, laying him across the shoe bench where he would look up at the ceiling while they worked. He really missed having someone to put him in his night diapers, he used to love the routine and ritual of it all. If he were being honest about it, that was probably what he was most jealous of his roommate Eliot for, was that he got to wear diapers day and night, and someone put them on him and never made him feel bad for wearing them. Todd knew he wanted to wear his diapers all the time too, but at the same time he knew, his Mom especially, would be mortified to find that out, so he thought if he made the thought go away when he had it, it might eventually stop coming up. So far it hadn’t.
In fact of all his memories, those of being little and being cared for, were his most cherished. He would often find himself daydreaming of those times when his mom would call him into the living room, telling him it was time to get ready for bed. He’d protest, she’d yell back and he would finally quit playing, she’d help him undress before having him lie down on the floor where she would diaper him, sending him off to bed with a hug and a kiss and a pat on the bottom. Those were nights where no one told him he should try and stay dry, and mornings where no one looked disappointed when he wasn’t. Something about him being teased at school had changed his Mom’s attitude toward his problem though. She put an end to diapering him the very night she had read the recap of what the school had sent.
“Todd, I’ve given it some thought and I think you need to take ownership of your problem. Your classmates were not making fun of you for wetting, at least not directly, they were making fun of you for being babied. That’s my fault, I should have insisted on this before you went off to school. Your classmates will respect you for it, and I’m certain you will feel better about yourself too.”
He’d cried that night, and the rest of the weekend too, but to no avail his mom could not be swayed. When he got back to school his mom went in to leave strict instructions that the nurse was not to come by. So that night at bedtime, Todd went to the restroom across from his room, taking his pajamas and diaper with him, Returning to his room a few minutes later with his dirty clothes rolled up under one arm.
“I hear a baby diaper. Hey Tim, are you wearing a baby diaper?” Baxter asked
Tim sniggered, “No, I don’t wear baby diapers”
Baxter ignored the other boy in the room, Josh, for he never participated in the teasing, which Todd was grateful for. Todd had considered both Josh and Tim friends before Baxter came along.
“Hey Jonah, are you wearing a baby diaper?” Baxter called across the vestibule and into the other bedroom.
Jonah appeared in the door “No I am not wearing a diaper”
“Who’s wearing a diaper then?” Baxter asked loudly as the other nearby dorm rooms emptied and all the third grade boys crowded around to watch
Todd following the advice of his parents, had simply tried to ignore Baxter, going straight to his bed and getting under the covers, doing his best not to cry,
But Baxter and Tim and Jonah pulled the sheet off and held Todd down so they could remove his Pajama bottoms which they then tossed around chanting “Baby! Baby! Baby!”
Finally Mr. Clemmons their teacher came busting in asking about the commotion causing the boys to scatter back to their rooms. Baxter just tossed Todd’s pj pants back to him with a smirk.
Baxter nor his compatriots weren’t disciplined or scolded. Mr. Clemmons simply told everyone to settle down or there would be no TV in the commons for a week.
The rest of the week was pretty much the same routine every night, which is why by the time his parents came in for their conference with the staff, the school had decided to move Todd to the special needs dorm.
Now without his mom or Mrs. Cooks help, he’d tape on his own diaper, and pull on the summer pajamas put out for him. He’d crawl into bed and read a bit more until around 9:30 when either Mr. or Mrs. Cook would turn up to gather his dirty clothes from the day, give him a glass of cucumber water for his bedside and ask if he needed anything before going to sleep. Mrs. Cook would kiss his forehead and say “goodnight bullpup’, and if instead Mr. Cook had come that night he would say the same little poem “Aye Lad, Sleep your sleep, and dream your dreams, for mornings not as far it seems.”
Summers with his Dads parents, PaPa and MayMay couldn’t be more different. There Todd could watch as much TV as he wanted as long as that TV consisted of the The Joker’s Wild, The Price is Right, the news, All My Children and General Hospital. After 3 pm, when the soaps went off the air, he could watch cartoons on the UHF channels if he wanted. There were no planned activities like those with the Macallum’s. Todd was free most days to do as he chose, although he would sometimes find himself being asked to move boxes in the garage, or to collect the fallen palm fronds and throw them away after a storm, or sometimes he might even be asked to empty the lower cupboard so they could be cleaned without MayMay needing to bend over as much. Lunch was almost always sandwiches on paper plates, and dinners usually simple boxed items like hamburger helper or macaroni and cheese, with the occasional bucket of chicken. After dinner they would all sit on the lanai with the windows open and play Yahtzee, or Uno for a bit before going back in to watch tv until it was his bedtime.
Despite his young age, Todd understood the financial disparities between his grandparents, he understood his Mom’s parents were well to do, just as he understood his Dad’s folks were not. Todd never felt a lack of anything when visiting them, except a lack of video games, but that was a truth with the Macallums well. MayMay regularly clipped coupons, something he couldn’t imagine Grandmother doing. And she planned out her shopping trips carefully, knowing which stores give senior discounts depending on the particular day of the week, or which businesses would take competitors coupons. Conversely Grandmother knew when the boutiques got restocked and which galleries were previewing artists she might like to collect.
It wasn’t these obvious differences between his grandparents that Todd thought was fascinating, but rather the similarities which you wouldn’t expect from people so separated by socio economic factors. PaPa and Grandfather both had strict strong ideas about how Todd should conduct himself and how he should spend his time. The both loved their boats and being on the water. Grandfather teaching Todd to sail and PaPa taking him into the gulf to fish. Both men loved the outdoors and nature, both trying in their way to impart that love to their grandson. For Grandfather it was just being out in the fresh air, you could be shooting clay pigeons, or playing a round of golf, neither mattered as much as just being out in God’s creations. PaPa, likewise loved to be outside, only he had to work around the south Florida heat, so their fishing trips were early, and their almost daily walks through the neighborhood, for PaPas doctors prescribed a certain amount of walking each day, was by necessity only after the sun had started to go down.
Of all the things he did with his PaPa, those walks might have been his favorite, something about walking through the neighborhood in the reddish glow of sunset, crickets just starting to chirp seemed perfect to Todd. Even the air smelled nice, unless of course someone had their sprinkler on in which case it smelled kinda gross and sulfury. They would walk without talking much, occasionally PaPa might point out a tree or plant he thought was pretty, but mostly they were both content to just walk and listen to the quiet, something not normal for your average little boy, but those walks were different somehow. He didn’t think he could articulate why, but those evening walks felt a little bit like church, like he shouldn’t talk lest someone shush him and tell him to be good.
His grandmothers also shared a lot in common. Grandmother always saw to it that she took Todd to the ice cream parlor for sundaes a few times each summer, and his May May kept the freezer full of ice pops and the fridge always had a mix of store brand sodas, and she never told him he had too many. (At least before dinner that is, afterward she would do everything in her power to keep him away from even the tiniest drop of water, May May being of the firm belief that drinking after dinner was the primary culprit in his wetting! She would even go so far as to remind him to spit out the water when brushing his teeth, so he wouldn’t wet the bed). Both Grandmother and MayMay always fixed his hair weather it needed it or not, and they both made room on the couch for him, and even more remarkable still, they would listen to him talk about his computer at school, or the one he had at home as if it interested them, which Todd realized it probably didn’t, but he couldn’t help himself it being so nice to get to share what he LOVED with someone, anyone, else.
So in the end it didn’t matter which summer it was, one for the Mccallums or one for the Arden’s, he loved spending time with both sets of grandparents. That wasn’t to say that he wouldn’t be happy just once getting to stay home for the whole summer, to be left entirely to his own devices.
Coming back from his meandering thoughts, Todd looked at the clock again to see how close it was to the time in which ‘Sharon’ was supposed to pick him up. He got why he couldn’t stay with PaPa and MayMay, He understood his PaPa was still recovering, which was something he hadn’t really understood until last night when it really hit home when he first spotted his PaPa as he waited for Todd at the gate at the airport. He looked so much older and frailer than he remembered, and for some reason that made Todd very uncomfortable. So he got the ‘why he couldn’t stay with PaPa and MayMay’, just not the ‘why he should go to some strangers house’, it just seemed off to Todd, he didn’t know the first thing about her or her family.
Additionally, the whole not being related part of the relationship bothered Todd for some reason too. Sharon, was his Aunt Sylvia’s daughter, which to Todd seemed as if it should make her his cousin, after all the formula for cousin is that they are your aunt and uncles children. Yet somehow she wasn’t his cousin and that didn’t make any sense, his aunt was his aunt after all, so she should be his cousin, end of story. His parents had tried to explain, as did PaPa and MayMay, but there was something about it Todd couldn’t quite grasp.
Most of this morning had gone by pleasantly enough, even though he had gotten up just as early as he did when he was in Connecticut, which to Todd was too early. He spent the morning greedily soaking in the affection and attention of his grandparents, talking them into playing Yahtzee before lunch. He was determined to make the most of his time with them since he didn’t know how much he would see them over the coming weeks, if at all. However as the morning turned into afternoon his mood had started to darken, he was getting increasingly apprehensive at the prospect of staying in a stranger’s house for three months. Even his aunt and uncle and cousin James were mostly strangers too, he hadn’t seen them since he was around four years old and he could barely remember anything about them. On reflection Todd knew they got a christmas card from them each year and that right there was the extent of meaningful information he had, which hardly seemed like enough for him to be comfortable staying with them for 3 whole months.
Bolstering his will, he did his best to force himself to try to see the good of the situation. He was looking forward to seeing James, who was the same age as him AND his cousin. His cousin would have to be friends with him right? They were family after all, and Chadwick and Veronica were always nice to him. He really hoped they would get along, it would be so nice to spend some time with someone his own age who actually liked him.
He both heard and felt the doorbell when it rang, a thing that set his nerves on edge. Why did he expect James would like him simply because they were related? He would probably hate computers and videogames and comic books and Hardy Boys books and all the things Todd loved, so why was he getting his hopes up? Why did he think he could even manage to not act like a dork, when had he EVER managed that? This whole thing was doomed.
“Well if it isn’t our favorite step granddaughter” She heard PaPa say as he opened the door.
“Hi PaPa” was the woman’s answer, punctuated with a little laugh that almost sounded forced to Todd. From his vantage point in the lanai, he couldn’t see the front door, which was close enough that he could hear, but with a wall blocking his view, he had no idea yet what she looked like.
“You got our Jimmy or your young ‘un with you? We got ‘em an ice pop if you do”
Todd felt a stab of jealousy, those were his Ice Pops weren’t they?
“Sorry PaPa, It’s just me, but I think Mom and Rick said something about all of us going out to lunch tomorrow?”
“Yeah that’s the plan” PaPa agreed, sounding a little disappointed, Todd being sensitive to feeling left out wondered if he was sad that his Son and Grandson hadn’t yet been to visit after getting in town last night?
“Todd your rides here” PaPa said, his voice sounding normal again, as he brought Sharon into the living room, which was positioned between the foyer and the lanai. Todd still feeling bad for his grandfather went and gave him a big hug, feeling him squeeze back, before he let go to turn and look at Sharon.
At first he thought Sharon looked a lot like his cousin Veronica, but then he realized that was only because like veronica she had big boobs, kind of like Dolly Parton. Todd wasn’t sure if that was really an accurate estimate or not, since all boobs over a certain size made him think of Dolly Parton for some reason. Her hair was red, and held back with a white plastic band, she wore a navy top which wasn’t really tight, except in one place, and her shorts were white with cuffs hitting mid thigh. Maybe it was her boobs that made her arms look so small and thin, but her legs didn’t look as dainty by comparison. Todd decided she was one of those women whose lower half was meatier than their upper, like his English teacher Ms Vellum, who was called Ms. Shelf behind her back, although didn’t get the joke.
Todd forced a smile on his face, hoping she wouldn’t sense his apprehension “Hello, I’m Todd and it’s very nice to meet you, thank you for letting me stay with you, I hope not to be an inconvenience and I promise I won’t be any trouble.” He checked off each of the things his mother had insisted he tell her when they meet.
Her laugh was definitely forced this time
“Well it’s nice to meet you too, and I don’t see how any cousin of mine could be any trouble anyway.” she told him as she pulled him in for a hug
“But we aren’t “ Todd started to say, genuinely confused after everyone from his parents to MayMay and PaPa stressing that they weren’t really related.
“Oh I guess not in the legal sense maybe, but my Momma is your Aunt isn’t she, so shouldn’t that mean were cousins?”
Todd, upon hearing his own premise from her mouth, in that instant lost any reservations he had about the woman. Sharon was brilliant.
“That’s what I tried to tell everyone too!” He said excitedly, until he realized he had blurted it out in the same cadence as an over excited six year old might.
Her laugh this time sounded genuine. “Some people worry about the silliest things sometimes, we can be cousins just because we want to right?”
“Allright boy, why don’t you carry your things out to the car.” PaPa asked gesturing toward the two suitcases which Todd had brought, along with his backpack, and the cardboard carton that held enough diapers for a good part of the summer.
Todd did as he was asked, it taking several trips though. Each time he returned to the house he would catch another bit of the conversation between Sharon and his grandparents
“I’m not so frail I can’t watch both my grandsons at once, and May is as fit as ever, so you call as often as you want a break, send the little one along to if it suits you, May’d love to have a little guy running…” was what he got when he fetched the second suitcase and the duffle.
Returning for the case of diapers he heard “Drews even got them a new video game system, and I haven’t been able to pull Jimmy off it for one second, so he’ll be in good company with this one I think. We just got to make sure they don’t spend all their time inside.” Todd felt elation at that one, wondering just what it was they had, and it sounded like James liked video games too which was better than Todd could have wished for! He could not believe how lucky he was, Sharon seemed great and it sounded like he and James might have something in common after all.
But nothing stays golden forever, for when he returned to the house after closing everything in the trunk it was only to hear “I try to keep him from drinking after 7” That had been MayMay talking of course, Todd sincerely hoped Sharon wouldn’t listen to her on this, it annoyed him to no end to go to bed thirsty, and it would be worse if James got drinks and he didn’t.
A few minutes later, hugs and kisses having been exchanged, Todd found himself just the tiniest bit nervous again as he pulled the seat belt across him in the driveway. He hated the way his emotions bounced around like this, happy one minute and scared the next, it was exhausting to always be yo-yoing between feelings. He took a couple of deep breaths, trying to banish his little voice of doubt, doing his best to go into this adventure with an open mind.
Sharon looked over to the boy who sat beside her, she got the impression he might still be a little nervous, and who could blame him? It’s not like he knew any of them or anything about any of them past that they were family he never saw.
When she had first walked in and saw him she thought this couldn’t possibly be the boy she was supposed to pick up, he was supposed to be twelve like Jimmy, and this boy couldn’t be any more than seven or eight years old. Forcing herself to make a second look, she realized he was basically the same size as Jimmy, his hair was almost black, where Jimmys was reddish brown, maybe he was just a wee bit shorter and perhaps not quite as broad in the shoulders, but there was no doubt in her second appraisal that he was in fact around 12 years old.
So why did he look so young on first glance? His clothes were what the kids these days called ‘preppy’, which was used to describe how someone who attended a college preparatory school or an Ivy League college might dress, and given what she had heard about the boy that was probably an accurate prediction for his future. As for the clothes themselves, he was wearing tan chinos, a brown leather belt and a teal golf shirt tucked into his trousers, a crescent of white beneath the collar from a crew neck undershirt. His sneakers and a peek of white socks at his ankles were the only thing he was wearing that said pre-teen, everything else screamed “Mortimer goes to Harvard”. To Sharon he looked like he was a little boy dressed for Easter, she half expected that he should squirm around complaining about the fancy clothes. Was that what made his bearing so different then? She decided that wasn’t it, that it was something more internal to his personality, her mind finally settling on the analogy that he was like one of those little chihuahua dogs, you could tell he was just shaking on the inside and was so nervous he might pee on the floor, but he was doing everything to look calm and pretend he’s big and tough on the outside. That’s the way this boy was, she decided, he might be twelve on the outside, but on the inside he was still wanting to hide behind his mothers skirts.
Even when he walked over to her and stuck out his hand, it had the earnestness of a toddler playing grown up, and his obviously rehearsed speech?!? That must have been Mary’s doing she decided, who makes a kid feel like they are an inconvenience and pre apologize for it? That just wasn’t right. Seeing him like that, her heart broke for him, and it was all she could do to just try and convey to him the best way she knew how that he could just be a 12 year old boy without having to apologize, so she gave him a big hug and said the first thing that came to her mind, about them being cousins and all that. That whole bit seemed like the kind of argument Andy, even at his age would have seen through, but Sharon was surprised, surprised and delighted when the boy lit up at her words with genuine happiness.
She started the car and pulled out of the driveway, her house was less than five miles away so she had decided to take the longest way home she could manage so she could feel him out a bit.
“So I hear you are a whiz with computers” She asked.
He turned to look at her before speaking, Sharon thought the look he gave made him seem as if he was trying to figure out a riddle or a joke. “Yeah, I have two computers, one at school and one at home. I’m also in the computer club at school, but there are only a few other kids in it, so it is not a very big club.”
“Wow! That sounds so cool, I’m not very good with them I don’t even really know how to turn one on without it breaking I bet” She said, seeing Todd was sitting a little more upright in his seat, a smile on his face.
“Jimmy is really looking forward to you coming too, he’s been wanting someone to play Mario with, and Andy, my little boy, isn’t so good at it.” Susan continued
“I love Mario and computer and video games in general. I love arcades and I love computers, but I already said that, and I don’t like pinball as much, but some of it is neat” He told her, his words pouring out in a tangle, just like Andy did when he was excited to talk about something, his brain working faster than his mouth causing all the words to get jumbled up.
“Well there’s an arcade at the mall we can probably go to some this summer if you like”
Todd nodded to her excitedly “That would be fantastic”
The ice broken, Sharon decided to steer the conversation in a new direction to see if there was anything to her worry about the boy and his wetting. After she finally had her conversation with Andy the day before, which went far better than she had anticipated, she had also had a private chat with Jimmy just to make sure he knew teasing of Andy or Todd either one for their issues was strictly off limits. The only variable left in that equation then was Todd, and if he has some self deprecating complex where he made it known he thought his diapers were terrible and that he was a loser, that could rub off on Andy with worse effect than being teased.
“So does the not drinking anything after 7 actually work?” She asked, trying to ease into the subject
“Nope. I just get thirsty,” He said sounding actually pleased to have been asked.
“Well I didn’t think it would. My boy, Andy, he’s five and a half, and he has never been dry at night. So of course we tried the whole nothing to drink after dinner, and the only thing it ever did was make him cranky”
“Yeah, Mom and Dad have both told her that there was no point in restricting my fluids, but they said they think MayMay is just set in her ways” His reply was easy and had no undertones of self pity that she could detect.
“That was a big box of diapers, how long will they last” She asked, deciding to push the issue a bit.
“Over a month, there are 4 bags of 12” He replied with a smile, was she right in thinking he might actually be enjoying the conversation? Couldn’t be.
“Wow, they must really be a lot bigger than Andy’s if that big box only had 48 diapers in it. When your mom told me where we could get bigger diapers I was really relieved, I didn’t know what we were going to do with Andy when he has outgrown the Huggies we buy at the grocery store.”
“Yeah they probably are a lot bigger, these are the youth 8s, before that I wore youth 7s, and before that regular size sixes. I started wearing the 7s in the first grade and out grew them around the time I started the fourth”
He WAS enjoying the conversation! He had to be if he was volunteering this level of detail. She wondered what would his reaction be to a little praise.
“You sound so well adjusted to your situation, that’s very mature of you. Andy is really enamored with his Uncle Jimmy, but now I am certain he is going to be just as thrilled to have not only another super cool older boy around, but one who also bedwets like him, to be his role model.”
If he looked like a little boy earlier, when she first saw him, now he looked his full age, he was sitting all the way up, his chest was puffed out with pride, and he looked as if he was trying not to grin. If calling him cool and mature was all it took to make him feel good about himself, he must be a lonely child, or he has the self esteem of a paint chip. Maybe she could help with that over the next few months?
“Thank you. It’s not always easy, and I did get teased about it at school a lot, but it’s not so bad really”
Then a thought hit her, Maybe he might have some real insight into what Andy might expect as he grew up? Not all of their experiences would be the same, certainly Andy wasn’t going to some fancy boarding school with his grandfather’s name on the library building. Nor did she think Todd’s experience with his mother would mirror that of Andy and herself. But there was still certainly things to be learned here. She didn’t know why she hadn’t already considered the benefit of being able to ask about his experiences. She should have been planning the last week about what she could ask, not worrying about things not likely to happen. She could at least get him to open up a little more, maybe give her some stuff to think about, so she decided to take another turn in the wrong direction to buy a bit more time.
“I think, based on some family history, that Andy might wet into his teens too. I know someday someone is going to make him feel bad about it, and I dread that, but right now I don’t even think he realizes that he is different than his friends. When he has sleepovers, none of his friends seem to notice or care that he’s wearing a diaper, but I know someday that is going to change. What can I do to make it better for him when it does?”
Todd was quiet, and Sharon wondered if maybe she had pushed him too much too quickly. Finally after he glanced out the window and shifted a little in his seat, he replied.
“Don’t tell him to just ignore his bullies, that doesn’t make them go away. And don’t tell him to ‘own’ his problem. Don’t tell him that people will respect him if he ‘owns’ it.”
She had no idea what he was talking about, but the joy was gone from his voice, and she felt a stab of guilt at having taken it from him with her question.
“What do you mean ‘own his problem’” She asked, although she was beginning to second guess this whole line of inquiry.
“When I got teased, mom said it wasn’t because of my diapers, but because I got help with them from other people, like her, and the nurse at school. She said that was why people thought I was a baby, not because of the diaper. So she stopped, made the nurse stop, and then I had to do it all myself. None of the people quit teasing me though, they eventually had to move me to a different dorm room to get it to stop.”
Sharon didn’t know what to make of that.
“You didn’t want to do your own diapers?” They whole thing seemed counterintuitive to her. In her mind she could see Andy getting to the point where he would insist on doing it himself to assert his independence, even if his grown up act was to put his own diaper on.
“Yes, I had wanted to do them myself sometimes. But some days at school the only good thing that would happen was Nurse Sue coming by and being nice to me, she’d sometimes bring me a cookie or a sticker. I know that is silly, but I was little and homesick, and her changing my diaper before bed was a little touch of home. Like when we were at the lake house and Mom or Dad would take me to my room to put me to bed, even with a bunch of people in the house it was just special time only for me”
Sharon blinked back a tear. This had to be the first time he had ever confided this to anyone, but the way in which he laid it out to her sounded to her as if he had spent a lot of time dwelling on it, no doubt this was something important to him.
“So you think I should keep changing Andy until he says he wants to do it himself?”
“Yes, I think he’d like that” the word ‘that’ was cut off like there was a catch in his throat
She was glad she was stopped at a light, because when she realized he was trying not to cry, she put the gear in park and leaned over to hug him “Are you sad because I made you talk about something upsetting?”
He sniffed and shook his head no.
“Are you sad because that is something you would have liked for yourself and didn’t get?”
He looked at her, guilt and shame playing across his face the way she imagined it would have on Andy’s when she was imagining Andy being teased and falling into a spiral of self loathing. Todd sat there with his head hung low and said nothing fighting back tears.
“Oh sweetie, it’s okay. You can say it, if you want to.” She hugged more, even ignoring the honk from the car behind her telling her the light was green.
“Yes” he said in a whisper before saying it a second time a little louder “Yes, that was what I wanted for me”
She smiled at him and squeezed his shoulder as she put the car in drive and pulled through the intersection. Her initial reaction was that his admission was a bit unexpected, because on the surface what boy his age would want someone to treat them like a toddler to change their diaper? But as she considered what she knew about him, remembering the loneliness and isolation she felt rolling off of him earlier, everything suddenly all clicked into place in her mind. A sudden epiphany which told her Todd wanted to feel cared for, like he was special, like he mattered. She was sure the adults in his life felt like they gave him everything he could ask for, every opportunity, every advantage. But Todd couldn’t see it, because he still felt as if he was just a boy who was passed around to everyone. Passed off to school, passed off for holidays, his summer breaks. He was told to ‘own his problems’ before he was ready to own them. Everyone was so worried about preparing the boy to be a man, that they never prepared the toddler to be a boy.
She didn’t know if there was anything she could do to help him or not, but she could at least grant his wish, what would be the harm in that? How could she get him to agree though?
“I could change you I suppose. In fact, I think you would be helping me out, if you let me do that for you. I think it might give Andy a positive role model, to see his older, cooler, cousin getting changed and not feeling bad about it? Do you think so too? Would that have helped you when you were his age?”
The deer in the headlights look she got back told her he must be embroiled in a fierce internal debate, but this time when he spoke there was no whisper, no reluctance, but a confident and very certain “Yes, I think it would”
Todd was absolutely shocked that he had said it, it was like some other part of him took control of his mouth and he had just observed himself saying the words. Still he felt elated, he was going to get what he had been missing the last five years. He envisioned what it used to be like when he was changed by his Mom or Dad, Mrs. Cook, MayMay, or anyone else who got wrangled into diaper duty for the then seven year old, and he wondered if it would be the same with Sharon. But then his elation hit a brick wall as soon as he added James to the equation, how would he react to Todd being changed? He found himself about to change his mind, to tell Sharon no that he misspoke, when a little voice in his mind spoke up “You’ll be no less diapered either way, wasn’t that what your argument with your mom boiled down to anyways? You thought it was crap when she suggested it wasn’t the diaper that your classmates made fun of, but the fact that someone put it on you. Well here’s your chance to prove her wrong.” Was it that little voice that had made him say yes to begin with?
By the time his thoughts had turned toward what would happen if his mom somehow found out that he was not ‘owning his problem’, that he had ate the apple as it were, he found that he simply didn’t care. Well to be honest, the new little voice said he didn’t care, and Todd found that he agreed, that his Mom was on the other side of the world, and if she wanted to make sure no one changed his diaper she could get her ass on a plane, fly back here and watch him herself. Todd dubbed the new inner voice, 9th grade Todd, for he seemed every bit as tough as the group of 9th grade kids from school who dressed in ripped jeans and iron maiden and judas priest t-shirts on the weekends.