“I don’t know how we did it when there were all five of them in the house, but I don’t remember it feeling this tight. Then again, they were smaller, so that might be it. You might be writing about a murder when all this is over. I just want to tell you that in case you want some nice Father’s Day story. You might not get that. Just letting you know now.”
The five children are all in their 20s, and when the pandemic struck, all were either furloughed or laid off. Three were living in New York City, one was in Washington, and the third was still nearby, but was at the end of her lease. The plan was not to have all of them move back home, but that’s how it shook out.
“We didn’t talk about it. They’ve always been welcome home if they need to come back. There’s usually at least one of them living here in between jobs or what have you. I wasn’t surprised when the first two called and said they were coming home, but then one day I looked up, and one was asking me where their box of clothes was from so many years ago and I turned to my wife as if to say, ‘Are they all back?’ and she just said something under her breath and walked away. We love the kids, but five is a lot, and they’re all grown now, and that’s a lot of grown-up people for a small house and one bathroom.”
A small house with one bathroom near Congress Avenue has one thing going for it — a nice backyard.
“When we bought the house, that was the thing we couldn’t believe. The yard was so big! Nobody we knew had a yard like that. We both grew up–my wife’s family was from Macon, Georgia. She grew up with nothing. Nowhere to play, because the house where she grew up had other houses all around it. I grew up near Atwells and we had a yard, but it wasn’t much. I saw this house and I liked the yard, because that meant the kids would have somewhere to play, and I think it was my father who told me we could put a pool in if we wanted to, and I liked that idea, and then it didn’t come to be, for what reason I can’t tell you, other than time goes by pretty quick, but the kids still loved the yard, but every summer, they would ask about the pool and I’d say we’d get to it one day, but we did not.”
But with warm weather and unexpected reunions comes … projects.
“It was my daughter — my middle daughter — she came up with the idea of doing the pool. I told her to have it, but my kids, you know, they’re good kids. I’ve never seen them do anything physical though. That’s not how they are. They’re very artistic kids. They’re smart, but they’re not the roll-up-your-sleeves type of people. For them to take on building a pool in the backyard– I … I was glad they had a reason not to be stuck inside. Let me put it to you that way. You want to spend more time outside? Sounds good to me.”
I’ve been checking in ever since one of his children told me I might be interested in writing a piece about five siblings building a pool at their parents’ house. The goal was to have it done by Memorial Day, but that deadline quickly came and went.
“You can’t just go building a pool. That’s the whole thing. I don’t know if they needed permits or anything like that. I didn’t ask. I thought it was important that they do this together, and, uh, I also didn’t have any interest in throwing my back out and having to go to the hospital in the middle of all this craziness. I watched from the window and I liked what I saw, but I still didn’t think it was getting done anytime soon.”
Little did he know, their new deadline was one they had no plans on whizzing by — and it was this past Sunday.
“We got you a Father’s Day gift.”
The kids had ordered that the curtains at the back of the house be closed for a week while they worked. He and his wife were forbidden from going into the backyard, but they could hear what sounded like tools and the occasional heated argument.
“I wanted to spend the day sitting in my yard relaxing and I told them that I wanted my yard back Sunday morning, first thing, and it better not look a mess. Sunday morning comes, and they’re already up. I go in my backyard, and there it is–”
A brand new pool.
“They looked up– ‘This is how you do this part and this is how you do that part’ on the Internet, and I always keep tools down in the basement. They didn’t– They had pretty much everything they needed, but my son had to borrow some extra shovels, and once the stores started opening, they could get the cement and the liner and all that. It’s a nice little pool. I’ve seen better, I won’t lie to you, but it’s not bad when you think about the fact that these kids never so much as fixed a pipe in their lives.”
He sent me a photo, and he’s right–
It’s a nice little pool.
But what’s even nicer are the five kids standing in front of it with their dad.
If I’m being honest, they look exhausted. Sweaty. Sunburned.
They’re also smiling the smile of a family that’s come together for a common cause. I asked the middle daughter what it was like building a pool from scratch.
“I think if we had known what was going to go into this, we never would have done it. It was– It was not a fun experience. But, um, the point wasn’t to have fun. It was to give us all something to do and give something back to my mom and dad, because a lot of parents wouldn’t have been so nice about having all their kids come home and stay with them for months, and they’re always here for us. Always. I think they worry about us and whether we can take care of ourselves, and I think having to come home didn’t really help that idea that– Yeah, we’ll be okay. We’re having a hard time right now like everybody, but we’ll be okay. And to be able to do this, I think, is our way of saying– Look what we can do. That’s why we kept going even when my brother almost cut his hand off.”
You can see in the photo that her brother’s hand is bandaged, and it looks as though at least two of the other siblings are a bit banged up as well, but their father didn’t bring any of that up when they presented him with his Father’s Day gift.
“I told you they had no idea what they were doing. I wouldn’t be surprised if this whole pool caves in one day after they’re gone. That’ll be how I die. Buried alive in the pool my kids built me. The shape’s all wrong too. Can you see it in the picture? It’s supposed to be a rectangle, but the left side is slanted and then there’s a curve at the top that I don’t think they wanted there.”
There’s a pause as he’s telling me about this over the phone. In the background, I can hear what sounds like splashing.
“But that’s all right. They’re good kids. It’s been nice having them here so me and my wife can play Mom and Dad again. I don’t know when I’m going to get them all together again like this. One’s going back to New York tomorrow and another one is moving back the week after that. It was tough seeing them go the first time, but the world is so different now. I don’t know how you can keep from scaring yourself to death thinking about your kids being out there in it.”
I told him what his daughter said about wanting to build him a pool so he could see that they’d be able to take care of themselves.
“That’s all well and good, but what does it mean that the pool looks like an oil spill? I’m joking with you, Kevin. That’s nice that they don’t want me to worry. I’m always going to worry. That’s how it is when you become a father. You worry until your kids are ready to worry about you. Hopefully I don’t get there anytime soon.”
From the other end of the line, I heard people yelling.
“They’re telling me I have to go in the pool with them. You know, when they were little they would try to cook a meal for me and my wife, and we would eat it, and pretend it was delicious, and most of the time, it was the nastiest thing you ever ate in your life. But we’d pretend, because they were so proud of themselves. So I got to go in the pool. You have yourself a good day now.”
Somewhere in Providence, there’s a small house with one bathroom, two parents, five grown-up kids, and a new pool that looks like an oil spill.
Just don’t tell the kids that.