We had a cookout with Hunton burgers this past July 4. Maya invited a bunch of people over, including one kid, who was destined to be my problem, since I was taking care of the kids while the adults did their thing. Since Keaton was there too, I reckoned I wasn’t going to really have my hands full, since Jacob and Matteo are well brought up kids…and how bad could this Asher kid who was coming for the afternoon be?
Both the boys warned me that Asher was a brat, but, when I first met him, he seemed ok. He’s almost exactly Jacob’s age – meaning he turned 12 back in May too – has brown hair and eyes, and is a little shorter but a little more solidly built than Jacob, who’s a pretty wiry kid. Since all the adults were vaccinated and we were going to be outside the whole time, Maya lifted the mask rule. But then Asher insisted he wanted to keep his mask on…maybe it was something he got from his parents, although neither David nor Sylvia had a mask on. It’s just not fuckin normal for a kid to want to keep his mask on when it’s a gorgeous Southern California day and you’re going to be in and out of the pool all afternoon.
Maya had set up one of the guest rooms in the house as a place for everyone to change, since the pool house, which was kinda designed for that purpose, is currently occupied. Not everyone changed. Suzy came in a flimsy cover-up that may or may not have had a swimsuit underneath, but she never took it off. She also had huge sunglasses and a big floppy hat…and then sat in the shade the whole time. I reckon getting tan isn’t something Asian women do. Devin and Michelle didn’t change either, and nobody really went swimming for any long period of time, with the exception of me, Keaton and the kids…although we had to try and keep it down some because adults were trying to talk while we splashed around.
It didn’t take long for me to discover that Asher was a troublemaker. He started out by running around the pool, which is dangerous. So I had to play lifeguard (actually that’s a job I did one summer back home) and tell him to stop. Which he didn’t. Then he took a running cannonball into the pool, which made a huge splash, which got all over Michelle and the book she was reading, and I could tell she was pissed.
And neither of Asher’s parents did anything. I think Sylvia said “don’t do that” barely even loud enough for him to hear. That was how involved she was, which seriously pissed me off, because, even if I were being paid to watch other people’s kids – which I’m not – you’re never going to win trying to discipline them. I could easily imagine David and Sylvia getting involved and blaming me if I tried to tell Asher what to do.
The other problem was that the camera was rolling the whole time, which meant I had to worry about how me, Keaton and the kids were gonna look on TV. More than that, I knew that Ethan was expecting that there’d be some good footage of the kids having a good time, and that I was kinda responsible for making that happen. So it was awkward and a lot of pressure on me that I could have done without.
One of the things we have at the Sharpmans that I’m pretty dang proud of is the batting cage that’s replaced the tennis court. (Neither Maya nor Robert play tennis, so the court was just wasted space until we took it over for baseball.) I thought that I could interest Asher in that and get him away from the adults he was annoying for a while. I know that Keaton is always down for a little BP with the pitching machine, and, believe it or not, Matteo doesn’t mind it too much these days if you don’t make him bat for too long. He’s even making contact at an ok rate. As for me and Jacob, we could spend the whole day in there.
“We’ve got a whole batting cage set up. Wanna come and hit a few balls?,” I asked Asher after he’d pulled the cannonball stunt.
“Baseball sucks,” he answered. Keaton heard him and took one look at my face and broke up laughing. I next thought that maybe Asher and Jacob could play a little basketball one-on-one, and that he went along with. Jacob’s pretty good…and Asher sucked, so, when Jacob beat him 10-1, he got pissed off and said Jacob had been cheating. I’m not sure how Jacob could have been cheating while I was watching the whole game, but that’s what Asher said when he ran back to the pool and tattled to his mom.
I could tell that Keaton, who didn’t have to pretend to like him, was done with Asher at that point. I Asher broke a cardinal rule of the Penner Code when he told his mom. It breaks a rule Dad taught me, too: never tattle unless it’s something really serious or dangerous. Dad trusted my judgment when it came to that, and I’m pretty proud of myself when I look back and see that I pretty much always made the right decision.
So now I was in an uncomfortable situation. I knew Jacob didn’t cheat. He didn’t have to: he was just a way better athlete than Asher. Jacob is my responsibility, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to discipline him for doing nothing wrong, although it looked like something was going to have to happen when David went to Maya and said that Jacob had cheated. That was getting me in trouble in turn, since it happened on my watch. There was absolutely no way I could win, so I finally came up with: “why don’t we just get in the pool and cool off?” as a solution.
When Matteo took his tshirt off – he’s been willing to appear in public in a bathing suit since he hit his goal weight, but he’s still shy about it – Asher said to him:
“Hey, didn’t you used to be fat?”
“Yeah…well…I’ve been on a diet.”
“You look too skinny now, although I guess that’s better than being fat like you were.”
In any event, we all got in the pool and splashed around some, but were careful to splash each other and not the grown-ups out on the deck. Well…that’s almost all of us. I’m not making it up when I say that Asher splashed Michelle a few times and really said “Jacob did it” when she looked up. Once again, Jacob was getting blamed for something he didn’t do, and I was caught smack in the middle.
We got a game of Marco Polo going, and Asher behaved for that. That got me to thinking maybe he wasn’t such a bad kid after all. The boys in the meantime were having a great time with Keaton, who was awesome with them. I already knew that he knew exactly how rough he could get with them when it came to shit like dunking their heads under water, and that he could play rougher with Jacob than with Matteo without Matteo feeling left out. Anyone who saw Keaton in that fight where he busted that dude’s nose would be surprised to find that he’s as good around kids as he is.
The lull didn’t last too long. We got out of the pool for a spell (yeah, the gay couple got to see me climb out…same reaction I usually get, only this time it came in the form of one of them saying “woof” to the other…within my earshot, which was pretty grossass.) Anyway, I was drying off on a chair and Matteo was standing on the concrete deck about 4’ from the edge of the pool…when Asher took a huge run at him and pushed him across the concrete deck and into the water.
I was in the water in a flash, even before Keaton had time to get to his feet, and swam out to make sure Matteo was ok. I got him to where he could stand in the pool, and he started crying. It was a pretty savage push. Way too rough to be intended in fun. Matteo even scraped his leg pretty badly on the edge of the pool as he went in.
Oh yeah…the cameras got all of it.
After I lifted Matteo out of the pool and was looking at his bleeding knee, Jacob went over to Asher, and, before I could do anything, said to him:
“Nobody does that to my brother.”
And then he hauled off and took a huge swing at the brat.
Now I should make something clear: I’ve never given any fighting advice to either of the boys. It’s pretty obvious that I’d like to teach Matteo to take care of himself, and I’d of taught Jacob at the same time, but I’ve never been sure what Maya and Robert would think. So I haven’t done anything. Based on how hard he hit Asher, maybe Jacob doesn’t need too much of my help. It was hard enough to get Asher to cry, although it didn’t knock him down or anything. Of course Asher went running to his mother…and soon we were in high drama mode.
Sylvia told Maya that Jacob was bullying Asher, since that was how Asher made it sound. I was still with Matteo, and Keaton very wisely got hold of Jacob before he could do anything else.
It all happened on my watch and I wasn’t sure how much of it I was gonna get blamed for, either. And, meanwhile, I had a kid who needed to be patched up. I sent Jacob and Keaton together to go get the first aid kit that’s in the pool house. Matteo wasn’t badly injured, but he did have a scraped knee and needed some hydrogen peroxide and shit. It was pretty obvious that Keaton was glad Jacob did what he did, so I figured they were safe together, although I was hoping that Keaton wouldn’t tell Jacob he did the right thing before Jacob’s parents got to weigh in on the issue.
Meanwhile, Asher was still being hysterical to his mother and doing all he could to get Jacob in trouble. It was rapidly getting out of control, as David had started getting into it with Robert for having a kid who beat up on other innocent kids. Lucky for Jacob (and me), Robert wasn’t entirely clueless and anyone who was there knew that Asher was a discipline problem. He was also carrying on way too much for a kid who got slugged once. Yeah, Jacob had hit him hard for a 12 year old, but you shouldn’t still be crying over it five minutes later. Even Matteo stopped crying before Asher did…and Asher was too old to be crying in the first place.
Keaton and Jacob got back with the first aid kit, and stuck around while Dr. Block put Matteo back together again. (No, I’m not a doctor, but I did get a first aid merit badge; you also pick up a lot about first aid from being on the receiving end of it as often as I was as a kid.)
Maya came over to where we were with Matteo and checked to see if he was ok. He was, although he was still a little shaken. Maya had been over in the shade talking to Suzy when the incident happened, so she didn’t see Asher shove Matteo into the pool, or even see Jacob slug Asher. So she was trying to reconstruct the incident. Before she could straighten things out, Sylvia came over and started in on Maya about what a bully Jacob was…which was exactly what Asher wanted her to do. One of the many differences between Maya and Sylvia was that Maya wasn’t her kid’s fool, while Sylvia was.
“Did you see what happened?,” she asked me as I was looking for a bandage big enough for the scrape on Matteo’s leg. It was kinda weird being the responsible adult in a crisis.
“Yeah,” I said. “Asher took a run at Matteo and shoved him into the pool. You can see that he got hurt a little. So then Jacob stood up for his brother.”
“I’m sure Jacob was the aggressor,” Sylvia said. “Asher was probably retaliating.”
“Matteo is younger and smaller than Asher,” I said, still standing in the water since it was easier to reach Matteo’s knee from there. “And he’s not the kind of kid who’d start something.”
“Yes,” said Maya, backing me up. “He was getting bullied regularly in school.”
“And you think Asher bullied him on purpose?,” Sylvia asked. “Asher’s not that kind of child.”
“I’ve got it on tape,” Ethan said, stepping forward out of nowhere. “You can see what happened. A picture is worth a thousand words.” I wasn’t sure how it worked, but he said he could get what they filmed on his phone. He had the video up and ready to show Maya and Sylvia in about a minute. They watched it; Ethan clearly got a great shot of Asher taking his run at Matteo.
“Oh,” said Sylvia after it was over. “I…”
“It’s ok,” Maya said. “Boys will be boys.”
“Are you going to put it on TV?,” Sylvia asked.
Matteo was all patched up by then, so I sent him to go sit in the shade while I pulled myself out of the pool.
“Nothing hotter than a butch man taking care of a kid like that,” one of the gay guys said from his pool chair, loud enough so I could hear it. Ew.
Asher knew he was busted when his mother called him over. She then did something pretty uncool: she disciplined him in front of me, Maya, Keaton and Jacob. She should have taken him aside and talked to him. Not that she punished him or anything, but she did ask him why he did it…and he tried to lie his way out of that, too. it was pretty dang awkward for everyone, and Keaton got the good idea that we start thinking about the burgers. So we took the boys and headed for the kitchen.
Keaton let the boys go ahead of us and he turned to me.
“Put a fuckin shirt on, bubba. You look so fuckin gay it’s not even funny.”
I was going to say something about how Keaton was probably just jealous of my six-pack, then I realized how gayass that sounded inside my head already lol. So I headed back to the pool house, got a Dodgers shirt, caught up with Keaton, and led the way to the kitchen.