Thursday, May 31, 2012

Belated Memorial Day Thoughts: Freedom & the Fiddler on the Roof

I hope it isn't too late to post about Memorial Day. It was a big Jewish holiday this weekend so I couldn't post, but Memorial Day is a special day and I try to honor it with more the just hamburgers and taking advantage of low low prices on mattresses. Sometimes there is a trip to somewhere special, other times it is an extemporaneous lecture on liberty and the Constitution.

A few years ago I took GoofBoy to an elementary school production of Fiddler on the Roof. (This wasn't on Memorial Day, but it is in the spirit of it - just keep reading.)  The play had all of the virtues of that genre of production. GoofBoy walked out humming the tune "Tradition."

"You liked it buddy?" I asked.

"Yeah, but one thing bothers me. Where was the fiddler? The play is called "Fiddler on the Roof" but there isn't one."

GoofBoy believes in truth in advertising, he gets that from his mother.

"It is a metaphor, the fiddler on the roof is ridiculous and could fall at any moment but he is up there anyway. But isn't that kind of how life is?"

GoofBoy nodded.  "Now, I have a question for you.  Did you like the play, did it make it seem nice to live in the shtetl?"

"Yeah, Dad, it really did."

"Well it wasn't! It was poor and dirty and dangerous.  I've told you this before, be grateful every day of your life that your great-great grandparents - who I never even met - got their tuchases out of Russia and came to America!  They went from the worst place in the world to best!"

I'm on a roll now, and nothing will stop me.

"Remember in the play, the blessing for the czar?  May hashem bless the czar and keep the czar far away from us! In America it is the opposite.  When America first started there were only a few Jews and they wrote a letter to George Washington asking if America would treat the Jews fairly.  George Washington wrote back to them..."

I am yelling, choking up, and reciting from memory all at once - I don't wait for GoofBoy to answer.

"For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens."

"And then to finish up, just to show he really meant it, he quoted the Prophet Micah and wrote: May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."

"Buddy, I won't tell you America is a perfect country - it isn't.  I'm happy to tell you all about mistakes it has made.  But it is an awfully good country, be grateful for it."

"So, life is hard and unpredictable no matter where you live.  We are all Fiddlers on the Roof.  But at least in America - not everyone is trying to knock us over all the time just for being Jewish."

I believe firmly in bringing things around full circle.

"Dad," GoofBoy looked up, "Are you going to turn every single question I ever ask into a history lecture?"

"You can count on it."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Little Goofs Read from the Torah

Memorial Day weekend was also the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which celebrates the giving of the Torah. It is a big thing for Jews (and really for Western civilization). It was extra-special for the Goof Clan, because GoofBoy read Torah the Saturday afternoon, just before the holiday began.

It is traditional for Jews at 13 to read from the Torah before their congregation and establish their commitment to Judaism as an adult. But kids don’t have to wait until they are 13 – they can read the Torah to the congregation before that. It should be emphasized, that reading the Torah out loud isn’t just a matter of Hebrew fluency. It also requires learning a special trope that is just for the Torah. My synagogue has a wonderful and unique program run by a member who volunteers his time, in which kids learn to read from the Torah and are given the opportunity to do so. They get prizes when they reach certain milestones – after their first reading, third reading etc.

An important component of the program is to teach trope to other kids. So on Saturday mornings at our synagogue we have a group of children teaching one another to read from the holy text of the Jewish people. It is as inspiring as it sounds.

GoofBoy is an enthusiastic participant. One of his motivations is that he is a bit behind Carpool Buddy, who has a mom and dad who can help him. For me this is yet another area where GoofBoy has surpassed me completely. Regardless, everything about this makes me proud of him. That he is learning his way around the central text of the Jewish people, that he is self-motivated to do this, and that he actually reads hard stuff out loud in public with aplomb.

Oh, and one more thing. When I was bar mitzvahed, several hundred years ago I fought and complained and refused to study. For me, and unfortunately most Jews, the bar mitzvah is a one off – the kid studies for that particular event but does not acquire the broader skill of reading Torah. My parents (the GrandGoofs) were terrified that I would flub the whole thing because of my refusal to prepare. No problem with GoofBoy – he already knows how to do it. In two years when it is bar mitzvah time he’ll own this. Anything involving a 13 year old is bound to be stressful, but this will take one small piece of that away.

GoofGirl’s Trial by Fire
GoofBoy is a natural leader and innovator. One of the great things about Torah Club is that younger siblings are inspired to learn to read the Torah watching their elder siblings. GoofGirl is too young to join the program, but she can’t wait and kept begging her brother to teach her.

So, Sunday morning – during Shavuot – GoofBoy acquiesced and began teaching his sister. She was a ready student (she knows Hebrew pretty well too.) Still, any beginner makes mistakes with the trope. Usually the teacher gently corrects the student. But GoofBoy had a different idea for motivation. Every time his sister made a mistake, he shot her with a Nerf gun. That was more fun for everyone (I think GoofGirl started flubbing it on purpose). GoofBoy is going to propose Nerf Gun firing squad as a regular Torah Club teaching method.

Friday, May 25, 2012

While Mama Goof is Away, I am allowed to do laundry

The kids got home and saw clothes hanging and said, shocked, "Daddy, you did laundry! Are you allowed to?"
"Why wouldn't I be allowed to do laundry?"
They were suspicious, "Does mommy know you are doing this?"
Mama Goof is in LA, not for fun, more on that in some other post. I am pretty good at single parenting - for a disorganized guy. We monitor the little Goofs screen time pretty carefully, so we bend a bit when one of us is away. I'm a pretty lousy homemaker, but I can get by - except for one thing. Mama Goof does not trust me to do laundry. She’ll tolerate my minimalist efforts to prepare food (veggie chicken tenders and cucumber slices for dinner anyone?) But not laundry, she trusts no one and especially not me. Her mania is to the point that she left the detergent bin empty to prevent me from even trying.

A few years ago that would have dissuaded me, but no more. I told her I was going to do laundry no matter what, so she may as well give me instructions and thereby at least mitigate the damage inflicted on the family wardrobe.
The basic mistakes of male laundry involve the failure to distinguish between different phylum of clothing, efforts to press the engineering capacities of the washer and dryer to their maximum capacity, which are then exacerbated by a general sloth (the vice that is, not a very slow animal with lots of epaulets – although that would be pretty cool).

I promised Mama Goof that I would separate lights and darks, when in doubt use cold water, put anything really nice to the side, and hang to dry if I wasn’t absolutely certain. I promised to pay close attention and not let clothes ferment in the appliance after their cycle was complete.
I explained that I understood that Kenmore washing machines are not Corvettes or pickup trucks. Pushing them to their limits is not fun and could result in flood or fire. No shortcuts, I would do modest sized loads of laundry and not do experiments to see just how hot the dryer could get.
But this wasn’t enough. For Mama Goof, laundry is more a Faustian affair. Washers, like imps, are not to be trusted. But dryers are demon-powered machines that derive their heat from the fires of Tarturus. They are just looking for excuses to destroy clothes. If GoofManor ever has a poltergeist, it will enter through the dryer. Dryers are not to be trifled with; to do laundry is to dabble in the dark arts.
I promised to do everything my wife said, but still MamaGoof wasn't sure. She stared into the distance for a moment then said, “Before putting something in the washer and after taking it out of the washer – just shake it out.” She demonstrated.
“What, that’s it?” I said, incredulous, “That is the big mystery behind doing the laundry. Are you that concerned I can’t shake the clothes out, and then there might be a wrinkle? If I don’t shake the clothes out, does it make them more prone to shrink?”

She nodded sadly, knowing that I would inevitable forget to shake the clothes out. But I haven’t forgotten to do it – I’ve been very careful. I don’t want to know what happens if the washer imps and the dryer demons link up.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

But GoofBoy goes to 11

GoofBoy turned 11 recently. Eleven is big - like ten but more so. It puts you squarely into double digits and into your second decade. I’ve written before that seven is the beginning of a golden age for parents. Eleven, I fear is the glorious sunset, before the long dark night of puberty descends.

Still, at seven GoofBoy is pretty awesome. Sure, he gets mad and frustrated with himself and with the limitations we put on him. He gets anxious. He forgets about homework assignments and then panics. (This is far better then I was as a kid, I didn’t forget – I just didn’t do homework. Now, ironically, I am a grad student and a writer – my life is homework. My hobbies are blogging and exercise – more homework.)

But still, he is a great kid who just takes most of what comes his way really well. He loves comic books and computer games. He loves to play ball and to dance. He wants to go fishing and camping. Whatever is going down, GoofBoy is in.

We went to a local middle school play – he loved it. I let him stay up a little late to watch the ball game, he’s happy. I make him a quesadilla, and he says it is as good as mommy’s (obviously a lie, but I appreciate it.)

When he appeals to me for dessert, he does it humbly. “Dad, I’d like to split that chocolate diamond with my sister. I’m not complaining, but you know you haven’t given us dessert in four days.”

And that’s another thing, he includes his sister in his planning. He looks out for her, is thrilled to go to her activities at school and encourages her. Sure, sometimes they spat – but not often, all things considered.

We haven’t gotten his birthday party organized yet, but he’s ok with that. Also his plan to gather dozens of friends and battle across a school building with Nerf weapons may require legal counsel.

When I told him that while he and his sister are away this summer mommy and I will go to the beach and be in walking distance to our beloved Dogfish Head Brewery, he responded, “That’s good. You guys deserve it.”

And he’s getting smart. He read Moneyball (and says he understood it) and can ask about and understand some pretty serious concepts.

At 11 I see the terrific person he is becoming – sweet, sensitive, and smart. But I also know that person is about a decade away because the other thing about 11 is that 12 (with all the attendant chemistry) is right around the corner.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Call me "Runs with Cheetahs"

GoofGirl recently went on a school trip to the zoo. She came home very excited, but also angry that the zoo did not have ocelots. To end her tirade, I told her my own, very special zoo story

“Before you were born, mommy and I lived in an apartment not far from the zoo…”

“Is this the one about the cheetahs, you always tells us this story?” GoofGirl interrupted.

“But mommy is here now and can confirm it, because every word is true!” I continued, “We lived exactly one mile from the zoo. So sometimes in the morning I would run to the zoo visit a few animals and run back. You know the first animal near the entrance?”

“The cheetah!”

“Exactly, and if you get there before they had their breakfast they are very interested in things that run by. One time, I was running along their pen and the cheetah started running next to me.”

“He must have been pretty bored, because you run really slow,” GoofBoy chimed in.

“Well it was still cool. He hissed and leapt at me. Even though there were bars, it was a little scary. Anyway, I ran back to our apartment and told mommy all about it. I was jumping up and down, I was so excited.”
“That is completely true,” MamaGoof said.

“It happened more times. Not every single time I ran to the zoo, but pretty often.”

“I didn’t really believe him,” MamaGoof said, “Your dad does make stuff up.”

“One night, we went to a reception at a hotel near the zoo. We had some wine. Walking back to our apartment, the gates to the zoo were open. Usually they are closed at night. So we went in, we could see the silhouettes of the giraffes and elephants in the dark. It was a weird night. It wasn’t raining, but there was thunder and lightning.”

The little Goofs looked skeptical, but mom nodded her assent.

“We went over to the cheetah area. We couldn’t see anything, but I started running back and forth. I had been drinking wine. Suddenly, there was a flash of lightning and in that instant mommy and I saw a cheetah running alongside me.”

The little Goofs looked to mom. “I saw it. It really happened. You can believe your father, on this one. He ran with the cheetahs.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

GoofBoy at the Plate

I cannot remember a baseball game that made me feel so good. Maybe it is because I am an Orioles fan, and even in their good years they often lost in the end (I was at the seventh game of the 1979 World Series when I was GoofBoy’s age – something like that stays with you.) Of course my own athletic endeavors were irrelevant – I was never any good or on a team that was any good.

When GoofBoy’s baseball team won on Sunday, it was big. They had won the week before, against a team that they clearly outclassed. Nice, since they’d lost their first two. But this game was different. The teams were evenly matched, if a ball was in play, it was fairly likely to result in an out. The other team jumped to an early lead. But GoofBoy’s team clawed back – a run here and a run there.

GoofBoy had been having trouble making contact. But he connected and got a single and his first RBI. Nice. Later he walked and scored the winning run.

In the field GoofBoy isn’t fast or flashy. But he is smart and observant. In the previous game, a coach had ordered him to slide into third. GoofBoy didn’t, explaining later to me that he had watched the other teams third-baseman who wasn’t tagging – just stepping on the base which only counts in a force play. I was impressed, but told him to listen to his coaches.

GoofBoy plays the responsible positions. The outfield, at this level, is mostly about back up and containing the damage. GoofBoy is always in the right place. He’s also at first base, which he handles with steadiness and he LIKES playing catcher. I “liked” playing left field because it made it extremely unlikely the ball would arrive in my zip code. I knew I would probably drop it if it got anywhere near me and that it was highly probable that it would hit me in the neck (this happened several times.) GoofBoy, on the other hand, can’t wait to get hold of the ball – he wants to be where the action is and is confident he is up for it when it comes.

On learning GoofBoy was catching, I reacted the only way I could. I handed him a book, a copy of Roger Angell’s book Season Ticket and told him to read “In the Fire,” which begins:
Consider the catcher. Bulky, thought-burdened, unclean, he retrieves his cap and makes from the ground (where he has flung them, moments ago, in mid-crisis) and moves slowly to his workplace. He whacks the cap against his leg, producing a puff of dust, and settles it in place, its bill astern, with an oddly feminine gesture and then, reversing the movement, pulls on the mask and firms it with a soldierly downward tug. Armored, he sinks into his squat, punches his mitt, and becomes wary, balanced, and ominous; hi sbare right hand rests casually on his thigh while he regards, through the portcullis, the field and the deployed fielders, the batter, the baserunner, his pitcher, and the state of the world, which he now, for a waiting instant, holds in play….
I am perhaps not the most useful father – reading enormous amounts about baseball did little to make me a good player – but it is all I have to offer (and awesome blog filler). GoofBoy has already surpassed me athletically in every possible way except brute strength – and that’s coming within five years.

When the GoofBoy’s team held onto their lead for the other side’s last ups the parents burst into cheers. Our team had triumphed over a team of little Jewish kids (although in fairness, since our time is a bunch of little Jewish kids too, I guess that still counts as awesome.) Every single kid had played a part in our victory – and we parents liked to think that we played a part as well.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Nicest Kid in Carpool

For the past year or so, in fall and spring, I have been running baseball carpool. I pick-up GoofBoy, CarpoolBuddy, and another kid, and sometimes whichever other kids beyond that need a lift. Pickup is 330 and practice is at 530, somewhere inconvenient. So I get a quality two hours with a pack of boys in which I have to make sure they do their homework, eat something, and get into their baseball uniforms. Then I get to hang around practice for two hours. Thankfully, unlike the other dads, I don’t help in practice. My mere presence on the field makes all athletic teams demonstrably worse. Naturally I get bored during all of this and to keep myself amused I tell various lies to the boys. Since GoofBoy and CarpoolBuddy already know my shtick, I focus my abuse on the new kid. This does not work out well, since he is the nicest kid in the world. When I yell at him in mock exasperation for annoying the other boys, or putting his pants on backwards, or for biting CarpoolBuddy (because as a Canadian maple syrup runs in his veins) he just smiles good-naturedly. In fact he has effectively neutralized my campaign of abuse through sheer kindness. The other day yet another boy joined us for carpool. As they climbed in the car I began drill sergeant style yelling at the nice kid, “C’mon! In your seat! A lemur could figure out that seat-belt faster.” The nice kid smiled and explained to the newcomer, “You have to understand. Everything that goes wrong in carpool is my fault.” In carpool I put on Latino stations. If I put on the news, they complain and if I put on music the boys sing along – badly. The other boys complain about the Spanish music. But the nice kid gets into it, begging me to turn it up, dancing in his seat, and laughing with me at the commercials and news reports – which sound like tons of fun. One traffic report sounded like it was urging people to drive to the traffic jams and turn their radios up loud. (This confusion between traffic jams and parades would explain a great deal about the history of Latin America.) Finally, I asked him, “What is something that would really make you mad?” His soft, kind eyes blazed with fire for an instant, “If the Capitals lost in the play-offs. Don’t do anything to make them lose!” “Kid, while all the other dads are wearing suits and going to offices, I’m in sweats driving you to practice. What makes you think I have the power to affect anything?” Then I realized, it was all just a ploy to make me feel important. Nice kid, but now I’m really suspicious.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Our Sendak Story

Maurice Sendak saw the world through the eyes of a child his entire life. There was nothing sentimental in this, children are not magical beings who only see gumdrop trees and rainbows. Children quite often see the ugly and arbitrary more clearly then any adult. Sendak got that and, with his unstinting honesty, helped children process it for generations.

Of course the little Goofs know some of the Sendak classics - I bought GoofBoy a special copy of Where the Wild Things Are. But somehow the best known Sendak work at GoofManor is this:

It is a painfully insipid story, about a family celebrating Hanukah. The big surprise is that daddy surprised them with a kitten. It is a bit of Jewish organizational propaganda, featuring regular mentions of the Jewish National Fund box in which the children are urged to drop their coins. Naturally, the little Goofs love this story and insist I read it to them every Hanukah.

But the illustrations are classic Sendak - and as such are just a little bit creepy.

Especially this one:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, May 04, 2012

Sleepless Slumber Party

For GoofGirl’s birthday, in yet another triumph of hope over experience, we allowed her to have a sleepover extravaganza. Three little girls came over that night and were joined by yet another the next morning. Although GoofBoy has – for his own devious reasons stuck around at his sister’s birthday parties, for this one he readily agreed to be elsewhere. One of GoofBoy believes that one of GoofGirl’s friends is trying to kill (and she is capable of doing so, the little ninja.)

The party went pretty well. I was very pleased that there was no factionalism amongst the girls (a rare thing when more then two are together.) Sure, they occasionally got bored and couldn’t think of things to do – but the worked through that, sometimes with some parental intervention. On the downside we had as many as five sugar-primed little girls bouncing around our house. Parental interventions quickly turned kinetic. They discussed leaving the house in order to hunt down my son – GoofGirl was more then willing to reveal his undisclosed location. But instead the little monsters turned on me – forcing me to give horseback rides, be an indoor jungle-gym, and provide a target in the pillow wars.

It was exhausting.

But my fatigue was made worse because one little Girl hadn’t slept (coincidentally, this is the little Girl who has been plotting to kill GoofBoy). Her parents had warned us that this was possible, but I thought she’d drop from exhaustion from mayhem with her friends. But when everyone else crashed after the movie, this one insisted on calling her parents to say good night.

OK, I thought – that seems fair. She took the phone and shut herself in the bathroom. She was there for a very long time – way past goodnight.

“What’s our play here?” I asked MamaGoof.

I knocked on the bathroom door and chatted with the sleepless one’s parents. What we agreed is that we would tell her that her dad would be here to pick her up in about an hour (it takes 20 minutes) and that she should lie down in the meantime. I offered to keep lied down on the living room couch as sleepless one joined her friends on the living room floor. We were sure she would be asleep in no time and her parents did not need to come get her. These little deceptions are the very essence of parenthood.

The plan worked, she was asleep in moments, so I went upstairs and went to bed.

Three hours later she came up to our room and demanded to know when her father was going to arrive to pick her up. The sleep of four parents was at stake here – I decided I would take the hit.

“You fell asleep, so I told you dad not to come over. Now it is really late and I can’t call him.”

“Yes you can, your phone works.”

“But that would wake him up, it isn’t fair. How about you get in my daughters bed, and I’ll lie on the floor in her room to keep you company?”

“OK…” she said skeptically. It was unseasonably cold, but she fell asleep after a while (and MamaGoof let me sleep in and made breakfast.) The sleepless one, by the way, was bouncing around at full volume with her friends. If she was short of energy, there was no sign. Later it occurred to me that she had been programmed to wake up in the dead of night when GoofBoy was vulnerable…

Discussing all of this with the Sleepless One’s very grateful parents the next morning, we learned that this has been a regular occurrence at our house, and boy were they glad to get a good night’s sleep.

Every once in a while, it strikes me that I am a grown-up. When other parents engage me as peers (don’t they realize I’m an overgrown kid who is constantly being told by his progeny to calm down?) But gently handling a difficult, albeit minor situation by sacrificing some comfort – I guess that’s what grown-ups do.

My verdict: Percy Jackson bests Harry Potter

We are nearing the end of the Percy Jackson series. I reviewed it before and argued that while it would be easy to deride it as a Harry Potter knock-off, it was pretty good in its own right. Further, one of the things I really liked was that there was something at stake. The doings of the Greek pantheon and their heroes were plugged into the mortal world and we learn that if the pantheon goes, Western civilization goes with it. (I’m pretty keen on Western civilization.)

One thing that always bugged me in Harry Potter was the scene at the beginning of book six, when the Muggle Prime Minister meets with the Minister of Magic. Top-level politicians don’t tend to be passive types. I can’t help but think that the prime minister’s reaction to these magic types wreaking havoc in his country might involve F-16s and Tomahawk cruise missiles. Being a wizard does not make one bulletproof and for all of their magic powers, except for Dumbledore none of them seemed all that clever.

I’ve probably gone a bit farther with this then is completely healthy. I imagine the prime minister calling in the head of MI-5 and bringing George Smiley out of retirement. I see Mundungus Fletcher being waterboarded. I see cruise missiles slamming into Hogwarts and Special Air Service commandos clearing out Diagon Alley.

OK, maybe I went a little far with this. But in the Percy Jackson series, usually the mortals are unaware of what’s going on – but when given a chance they fight monsters and do pretty well. In fact, my favorite scene is when the tide of battle turns and the father of a daughter of Athena shows up in the Sopwith Camel he had reconstructed – machine-gunning Titans and medusae. I kept hoping for a reprise, but no luck.

There are innumerable intriguing bits in this series. In the section we just listened to Hermes and Percy discuss the “Mist” which prevents mortals from seeing the activities of the deities and monsters. In some profound sense, this rings true. Not that I’ve become a pagan, but the idea that we only understand the surface of things and how we create stories to explain things to give us an illusion of understanding is humbling.

Also, I love the centaurs. In Harry Potter they are mysterious creatures that possess a deep wisdom. But the ancient Greeks saw the centaurs as dominated by their beastly appetites – and in Percy Jackson they are party animals.

I can offer no higher praise then to say that I am sorry the series has come to an end.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Puppies, Coyotes & Snakes, Oh My! Kids dealing with Scary Animals

The Carpool Clan (with four children) decided that they needed more mammals in their house – so they got a dog. It goes without saying that they are insane (although I should probably be nice since I rely on them to move my children about and leave my schedule open for blogging) It is a very sweet dog, an energetic, good-natured puppy that is very cute and – all things considered – well-behaved. His name – for the purposes of this blog and eternity – is Declan.

GoofGirl is terrified of him.

This is a real problem, since we visit all the time (3C is the go-to playdate when neither have anything to do.) But, whenever Declan came near her – romping as puppies do – she would run terrified. The puppy – being a puppy – was thrilled that the chase was on and would bound after her.

I was a frustrated, this was just a sweet puppy and if she would just stand still, he would ignore her and go find something disgusting to sniff. GoofGirl knew this. When the dog was secured on a leash or behind the screen door she tried to get to know him. She played with other dogs. But, when Declan slipped his leash and began bounding – GoofGirl fled.

I rebuked her sharply, but as someone wise pointed out, “Look, she’s really scared.”

This caused a little paradigm shift. Where I saw a sweet, tumbling puppy resembling a moving carpet that nips as a puppy will (they are training him not to). GoofGirl, being much shorter, saw a big fast-moving, unpredictable creature with teeth. Her brain told her he means no harm, but GoofGirl’s heart didn’t believe it for an instant.

I thought about looking into some sort of therapy – GoofGirl couldn’t just not go to her best friend’s house. But GoofGirl came to terms on her own. On an after-school outing she went with Declan to the vet (our lives are all a bit too intertwined.) She held his leash at the vets and got to know him a bit. She is still tentative, but not wracked with fear. Best of all, she asks to go see him. She’s a brave one.


Other encounters haven’t gone so well. We are great friends with a spirited (and extraordinarily athletic) little boy who epitomizes daring and he loves GoofBoy. So one Shabbat afternoon he came home with us. But on the walk to our house we were having a good time exploring the woods close to our house. Our companion rushed down the hill to get to the stream. GoofBoy noticed something in the grass along the path.

“Check it out, a snake!” GoofBoy was excited at this discovery but his friend was not. He burst into tears and started yelling. I was some distance away. GoofBoy tried to calm him down, “Don’t worry. He’s more afraid of you. Just walk slowly back and leave him alone.”

“No, no, he’s gonna bite me! I’m gonna die.”

GoofBoy added, less helpfully, “I’m pretty sure it isn’t poisonous!”

Grown-up time.

“Buddy, not helpful,” I told GoofBoy then turned to our companion, “You want me to come get you?”


I rushed down. It was a pretty big snake, black snake. I don’t like snakes much myself. But it was just sitting there.

I went to pick him (the boy, not the snake – which may have been female) up, but as I did, he effectively climbed up me as if I were a tree. He was practically sitting on my head. We walked back up to the trail, giving our reptile acquaintance a very wide berth. He didn’t want me to put him down, declaring, through his tears, “But he’s gonna bite me!!! He has poison.”

When I finally did, he sprinted along the trail. Back at the house, GoofBoy got his big book of reptiles (from his kindergarten birthday party when we had a reptile guy come) and looked for what we saw. He found something that looked right and assured his friend that it wasn’t poisonous. I’m not sure GoofBoy’s calming words worked – unlike puppies, snakes are kind of an acquired taste.


GoofBoy had a sleepover at a friend’s house. While there, I chatted with the friend’s mom who mentioned that there was a coyote in their neighborhood.

“Cool!” I said.

She looked at me askance. She’s a New Yorker and not a fan of all this wildlife in suburbia.

“No! Now the cats and the boys can’t play in the backyard!”

“You should keep the cats inside, but your son will be fine.”

“Really?” she looked skeptical.

“Coyotes don’t mess with people –we are too big for them. Way more people are bitten by dogs. Just leave them alone and they’ll leave us alone.”

She looked skeptical.

“I promise I’m not making this up. There was a big article in the paper about this. Cities with large coyote populations have quickly developed education programs and really managed the problem. Don’t worry about it, let the boys play outside. And also, despite what you’ve seen on TV, there is no evidence of coyotes ever using explosives.”