(Tyrone's part of the neighborhood)
I first saw Tyrone running by me at the playground, where I was hanging out with my kids. He was surrounded by four boys of various ages, leading them off to play in a nearby field, carrying several huge, candy-colored toy guns. Afterward he told me he’d had plans for a game, but it turned out none of the kids wanted to be zombies.
After exchanging a few words about how the zombies would clearly be the best parts to play in any game, we went in different directions, but later I had time to talk with him while we stood by the jungle gym. He told me two of the boys were his sons, a seven-year-old and a four-year-old. The others were new neighbors.
Tyrone—not his real name—lives on a street of small single-family homes and shade trees right across from the playground. He was trying to feel the new neighbors out, he said. He was a little surprised that the kids’ parents had thought it would be okay for the four boys to walk to the playground by themselves. He wasn’t about to let his four-year-old go out under the supervision of a 10-year-old, so he came along.
Tyrone said he thinks a lot of kids take on too much too young. He gestured to a group of elementary school girls on the swings near us with no parents in sight and asked if I’d heard them talking about wanting to have babies.
He worries about fighting too, and tries hard to make sure his kids learn to express themselves with words.
“We try to stay away from the violence that’s going to happen,” he said.
It’s not that the neighborhood is bad, Tyrone said, but there’s going to be trouble around wherever you go. Early in his life, he lived in a much tougher neighborhood in Boston, but his family moved to Nashua when he was still young.
“I guess my mother was tired of carrying a knife to the laundromat,” he said.
Still, his father didn’t shy away from advising Tyrone to get physical: “Somebody puts their hands on you, make sure they don’t,” was the prevailing attitude, Tyrone said.
Perhaps by following that advice, Tyrone ended up in county jail. Once he was out, he pulled his life together one piece at a time, working two jobs and making $26,000 a year at first, but then building up to a solid construction job in Massachusetts, where, thanks partly to prevailing wage laws, he was making $100,000. When he had kids, he stopped spending his money on sneakers and clothes, and started saving it. His wife was able to stay home and watch the boys. Thanks to federal stimulus funding, the company where he worked did well even through the recession, and he liked the work he was doing.
“You go into the streets of Boston,” he said. “I’ve found wooden sewers with square nails they don’t use anymore.”
But last August, he hurt his back on the job. He was out of work for six weeks, doing physical therapy. After that, he worked all through the winter, but the pain got worse, and the heavy-duty medications he was taking stopped being enough.
“I just stopped taking it because it became like taking aspirin,” he said. “I just really couldn’t take the pain anymore.”
Finally, he got an injection, and, when that didn’t work, went in for surgery. In fact, he said, the day I ran into him was the first time he’d taken the kids out like this since the operation, and he figured he’d be paying for it later.
“It takes a lot of effort to do, really, anything,” he said.
Tyrone said his wife has gone back to work as an aesthetician at a spa since he’s only getting part of his usual pay through workman’s comp. But he said the family’s doing okay financially.
We’ve always been penny pinchers,” he said. “It really hasn’t changed much.”
What’s harder is the pain, and the change to the family’s schedule. Taking care of the kids on the days his wife is working has been an adjustment for everyone.
“They’re more responsive to their mother,” he said.
But Tyrone said he’s happy to be able to spend time with his boys. His relationship with his own parents was strained, he said, and he’s making a conscious effort to do things differently.
“I hated my mother for working so much because I would have rather had someone to talk to,” he said. “I give my kids lots of hugs.”