Mice Capades: Part 1

It’s been a cold winter, followed by a none-too-balmy spring. This has been difficult on the animals with which we share the swamp our town is built upon. It’s not been a good year to be a deer or a skunk. We haven’t seen our favorite ground hog (a.k.a. the little man who lives under the porch) in a while; we suspect he packed up and retired to Palm Beach.

We’ve had chipmunk and squirrel squatters before, but never mice – not until this year. In December, we discovered that someone had been nibbling at the groceries in our pantry. Whoever coined that phrase about not pooping where you eat was not a mouse.

We finally caught the miscreant with a combination of peanut butter and Gold Fish crackers. He and I went for a little ride. But I’m soft, so I let him go in a field where he could freeze to death, starve, found a flourishing rodent colony, or do any of a myriad things that were no longer my business.

I left the trap in the pantry, but didn’t catch anybody else. The signs of nibbling disappeared.

Last week, the boys and I were playing with the new train the big boy had earned for getting to the top of the color ladder at school (Go, big boy, go!), when the little boy became unusually animated. He pointed under the coffee table and let go a stream of baby talk exclamations. He can speak some English in quiet conversation, but not when he is whipped into a frenzy.

MIce? Don't be ridiculous!

“You want me to catch what? Oh, you people crack me up!”

I peered under the table. All I could see were some wooden puzzles and other forgotten toys. Buster was adamant. Getting down on his knees, he pointed under the table, showing his alarmed face before morphing it into his scared face. All the while an unintelligible rant poured from his mouth, like from a taxi driver after a fender bender.

To assuage his misguided alarm, I reached under the table and pulled out a puzzle frame. We all jumped back as a furry lump scurried across the floor and into the entryway. The mouse hid behind one of my shoes. I grabbed the cat out of his nap on the couch and put him down within two feet of the mouse. As determined as Buster had been to find the mouse, the cat was determined to ignore it. I could not get him to turn his head in the right direction. He knew there was a problem that way, but if he didn’t see it, he couldn’t be made responsible for it.

While I went to retrieve a plastic dish cover, the cat tip-toed away to a different floor of the house. I had little faith in my ability to catch the mouse, but maybe this one had the rheumatism, because he was just slow enough for me to corral under the dish cover. This gave us leisure to have a family debate about our next move.

To Be Continued . . .

Protect your parts

We’ve signed our kindergartener up for soccer this spring. It seemed like a good deal until we realized we had to buy him a jersey, a ball, spiked shoes, and shin guards. I don’t know if we were required to get the shoes, but everything came as a package at the sporting goods store. They saw us coming from miles away.

The shin guards were deemed essential. I suppose this is the way of the world, but it struck me as overkill. I played after-school soccer in elementary school, and we never entertained the idea of protecting our shins. Naked shins were part of the competition. If you couldn’t kick the ball, you compensated by nailing another kid in the shin. Likewise, you had to be aware of your surroundings, inasmuch as they contained other kids’ shoes. After limping home a few times, you learned to pay attention to the game.

I don’t think kids have changed. This smells like adults fearing liability. I’m confident my son will learn to hate wearing shin guards after 30 seconds. They will watch his soccer matches from the trunk of the car. He’ll get kicked in the shin, it will hurt, and maybe he’ll learn to move a little quicker when an expensive soccer shoe is sailing toward him. The thing for the courts to know is that his parents were warned to properly equip him.

putting on shin gaurds

This is how we put on our new shin guards.

shin kickin'

And this is why we put them on. Forget soccer, Daddy could use a pair of these for walking around the house.

I played a lot of baseball when I was young. I already had a glove when I started Little League, so the only thing my mother ever had to buy me was a jock strap. I was her fourth son, but the only one she ever had to buy a cup for. I wonder if she realized her good fortune.

For some reason, we didn’t need a cup to play our regular season. Around July, the coaches chose an All Star team from our town to play against neighboring towns. For this we needed to wear cups, because outsiders would certainly be less considerate of our collective loins than friends and neighbors were.

My mom was inexperienced at selecting such equipment. Consequently, she presented me, at age 10, with an adult cup. I didn’t know the difference; all I knew was that it was difficult to walk, let alone run, wearing that monster. This was not the problem it might have been as I was not much of an All Star. There was little call for me to do much running in the dugout. Through the games, I, and my man-sized bulge, kept company at the end of the bench. Thank goodness, I never had to waddle out into the light of day and play ball in that condition.

Paba Bear and Baby Bear

Size matters – when you’ve got to fit that thing in your pants.

By the next season, we figured out our mistake. I got the appropriate equipment and was able to ride the bench in relative comfort. So I guess the second cup was worth the money. I hope we get that much value out of my son’s shin guards.

The stubborn contrarian doesn’t fall far from the tree

We had our spring parent conference with the boy’s kindergarten teacher last week. The good news is that the boy is doing well academically. As I often tell him, he’s too smart for his own good.

On the citizenship front, he’s not quite the hotshot he is academically. He’s getting better at focusing on his work, but he still has too much of his parents in him to be the most conscientious pupil. Like his mom, he’s a social butterfly, getting lost in chit-chat when he should be working quietly. He is too much like his dad when it comes to being a stubborn contrarian who knows it’s enough to be right – they don’t have to know why you’re right.

Even with the burden of his chatty, mulish genetics, the teacher likes having him in her class, so we ended the conference feeling good. But the most enlightening things were yet to come.

Outside the classroom, the kids’ projects were on display. For St. Patrick’s Day, each child had cut out a pot of gold, with coins labeled as things that were more precious than gold to them. As we walked down the line of these, the recurring words were, Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, and the like. It was sweet to see how the children valued their families. At our boy’s pot of gold, we squinted to make out the names on the coins. Don, Mikce, Leo, R-something – who were these people? They weren’t family members. They weren’t even kids in his class.

The teacher was still with us. Noting our confusion, she explained. “That’s Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael. The Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

More precious than turtles?

It’s not that Mommy and Daddy aren’t precious; they’re just a little trite for this pot.

The way I’m going to spin this is that the boy doesn’t value cartoon turtles more than his parents; he just didn’t want to do the same thing all the other kids were doing. That’s plausible, isn’t it?

Next, we looked at a book called If I Were President. Each child did a page on which they wrote a phrase to complete the sentence, “If I were President, I would . . .” and drew an accompanying picture.

The book was full of compassion. “Help the world,” was the common theme, with variations toward “Make the whole world safe,” or “Help poor people.” The pictures were of the Earth or of a group of presumably poor people.

On my son’s page were drawn fighter jets and soldiers. It said the following: “If I were President, I would control the Air Force.”

My son (you may call him, Mr. President) is the big, blue guy. He is commanding the troops to put on their saucepans and scramble their brown jets to go save the world.

My son (you may call him Mr. President) is the big, blue guy. He is commanding the troops to put on their saucepans and scramble their brown jets to go save the world.

As I see it, he’s not limited by the naïve idealism of his classmates. If you want to protect the world, you need to formulate a specific plan for doing so, and that plan had better entail adequate air power.

This boy has as much compassion as any five-year-old, but he understands that caring goes a lot farther at Mach 3. I’m sure Don, Leo, and those other guys who are collectively my son’s favorite people would agree with me.

Lessons from the great heifer attack of 1974

It was probably 1974, that day when my little brother and I were playing in the pasture behind the barn. I was skipping pebbles across the creek (pronounced: crick, in this story). My little brother was shooting pebbles at the backside of a Holstein heifer.

I wasn’t paying attention to my brother. I considered neither he nor the heifer to be any of my concern. It was a childish presumption.

The heifer bellowed at him, but that wasn’t any of my business. I had stones to skip. They could work out their disagreements on their own.

I didn’t notice my brother go under the barbed wire fence and up into the barn. I was alone with the heifer, and she was still nursing a grudge against human children and their pebbles.

In a better world

One day, we might have been friends, if not for the pebble incident.

Somehow, the heifer imagined that pebbles were still hitting her. And since there was a nearby human child with pebbles in hand, she concluded that I was the culprit and should be chastised.

When I looked up from my experiments, I discovered her bearing down upon me.

A heifer is not large for a cow, but she is plenty large for a little boy. I ran toward the fence. If I could slide beneath the bottom row of wire before she caught me, I’d be safe.

I almost made it.

Dairyland thugs

A gang of young toughs, on the lookout for a fresh victim. (Image: Marion Post Wolcott/US Farm Security Administration)

I was within arm’s reach of the fence when she knocked me on my back. Before I could shimmy under the wire, she pinned me, her head planted firmly upon my chest.

I still don’t know if she intended to kill me or merely teach me a lesson. She was still a young’un too, so maybe she hadn’t figured that out for herself yet. At the time, I felt doomed.

I tried to scream my fool head off, but it wasn’t easy with her squishing me like a bug. It was hard to breath, let alone scream. My whole life passed before my eyes. I was seven; it was a short film.

I remember seeing the sky, which was where I supposed Heaven was, so at least I’d get a good look at where I was headed. My little brother would get to stay here and play in the creek. Life was so unfair.

Just when it seemed like Heaven was the only exit, I slid beneath the fence. I didn’t do this under my own power, as I was completely powerless. I was dragged under the fence by an arm or leg and carried away by my father. I don’t know how he got there, but I am older and wiser because he did.

The heifer was, no doubt, disappointed at being robbed of her kill. I probably got spanked for antagonizing the livestock, but when you’ve cheated death, a spanking is practically a treat.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit to you that my client could not be guilty of the attempted murder of that boy as she is neither a Holstein nor a heifer."

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I submit to you that my client could not be guilty of the attempted murder of that boy as she is neither a Holstein nor a heifer.”

One day I will tell my boys this story. They don’t live on a farm, but they can still take a valuable lesson from it: Whether it’s with bovines or the girls at school, you can always count on a brother to leave you in an awkward situation.

You’re an extremely lucky lad if your dad can get you out of it.