Why I wouldn’t harm a fly (in October)

Our six-year-old has a love-hate relationship with bugs. He’s happy to discover a Roly Poly, having a genuine soft spot for these ugly little creatures. For some strange reason, he refers to them as his Facebook Friends. He’ll turn over a rock with the question: “I wonder if any of my Facebook Friends are under here?” Perhaps this is social commentary; if so, it runs too deep for me.

Spiders are on the opposite end of his continuum of bugs. He doesn’t like spiders, and with good reason. Spiders don’t keep themselves inconspicuous, under rocks and other things typically found outside of the house. Spiders have no respect for human property rights and trespassing laws. Spiders have been known to bite people. These qualities do not recommend them as Facebook Friends.

Spiders sometimes get into little boys’ bedrooms. This is the worst thing spiders do. You know they’re just waiting for the lights go out, to crawl all over an innocent sleeper and probably jump into his mouth. Spiders are mean-spirited like that.

web of desire

I presume these are the long-missing, former owners of our house. The spiders in that bedroom are merciless.

Over the years, we have discovered three or four spiders in this boy’s bedroom. He has never been attacked by one of them, but they have left their mark. He just knows that for every spider seen, there are thousands of unseen brethren, biding their time, waiting for the perfect night to strike.

When this perfect night is scheduled within the spider community is unknown to us, but one thing is clear: we must be ever vigilant. This vigilance extends beyond spiders to their potential allies in the bug world. Even a visit from the harmless Lady Bug triggers the siren: “Bug in my room! Bug in my room!”

Daddy scrambles with his handful of toilet tissue to catch and escort the intruder to his final flushing place. The crisis isn’t over until Daddy explains why, logically, this wouldn’t be a good night for The Spider Revolt. Everyone knows, spiders are very logical.

Recently, the “Bug in my room!” siren was set off by a late season housefly. It was one of those plump, lethargic flies that you could pick up in your fingers if you wanted to. It was the quintessential housefly in autumn.

I have developed my own psychological bug thing. I can swat a housefly in spring or summer, no problem. But I can no longer bring myself to kill a housefly after the Equinox, for the stupid reason that the book I am in the midst of publishing is titled A Housefly in Autumn. Swatting that bug would be like killing my own book, which I would much rather wait and let the reading public do.

swatting for fun

Sometimes I yearn for the days when I could sit back with my swatter and make sport of the autumn flies. (Image: Russell Lee/US Farm Security Administration)

I flung a tube sock around the creature, trying to coax him out the door. Buster joined his brother in watching me do my Royal Fool Sock Dance. They had little patience for my forlorn efforts and as much sympathy for my superstition. “Kill it!” they yelled at me.

I couldn’t kill it. I swatted madly until we lost sight of it, then persuaded the boys that it was dead. It wasn’t dead; it was merely pushed off into obscurity. That’s a step above dead, right?

The family that shops together . . . ends up with a cart full of junk food

Last time I wrote about our family adventures in the grocery store, it was to praise the unsolicited intervention of “helpful” strangers. On our latest trip to the market, we could have used a helpful stranger – one good at pushing shopping carts instead of friendly advice.

If we are only collecting the products we actually need, one cart is plenty. I am more than equal to the task of pushing it around the store while my wife herds the children in the generally desired direction and hunts coupons on her iPad.

But when Buster scoots down the aisles on impulse power, bringing in every item that looks good to his sweet tooth or salty-snack-craving tongue, we could use a second cart for the pile of groceries that nobody with any money intends to buy.

I don’t remember Big Brother ever adding this volume of groceries to the cart. Buster started doing it because he thought he was being helpful. Back then, it was random items to help us fill the cart. Now, he’s become selective, choosing only products that look good to eat.

Buster's groceries

Buster’s stash of groceries that he absolutely needs.

If the cookies look particularly tasty, Buster is not above bringing multiple boxes to the cart. Any attempts to dissuade him from his gluttony are met with a standard reply: “I need it!” When you are two years old, chips and candy are no mere desires. You need these things to sustain you in your never-ending battle against the meat, fruit, and vegetables that are constantly being pushed at your face.

My wife and I have different philosophies about Buster’s foraging expeditions. I try to discourage him from putting extraneous items into the cart, but my wife doesn’t think it’s worth the public whining and crying. She wins this debate, though she now has Buster nearly trained to put his groceries on the bottom of the cart, which is something of a compromise, I suppose.

At least it keeps Buster from dropping a jug of juice into the basket on top of the bread and eggs. Most times it does; as I said, he is nearly trained.

Here comes the juice

Nearly trained, but sometimes you’ve just got to see how a jug of juice will bounce.

At the last aisle, we have another debate over whether to dump all of our unwanted groceries on a lucky cashier or attempt to put them back where they belong. I win this debate. My victory entitles me to be the one who retraces our path through the store searching out the homes of all our superfluous items while my wife distracts Buster elsewhere.

I feel a little strange going through the store putting things onto the shelves. I bet it’s not really what my fellow shoppers want to see me doing. But, it will be over soon. In the blink of an eye, Buster will have graduated from his hunter/gatherer stage. Then he will be right there with Big Brother, pleading his case: “Can we get those cookies? Why not? Just, please.  Can we get just one box? That’s not fair. We never get to buy anything I like . . .”

Kid catcher

When I was a much younger man, I had blond hair. Now my hair is one part dark, one part gray, and one part gone – these parts are neither equal nor listed in decreasing order. In my young, blond days, I would sometimes let my hair grow long. It would get very curly on the ends. Historically astute friends compared my locks to those of Lt. Col. (a.k.a. General) Custer.


My hair twin. He was brave, warlike, and a heavy greaser. I am none of these things, which may explain why I have outlived my hair.

During one of my Custer periods, I worked with a Native American woman. My historical doppelgänger notwithstanding, we got along well. She made dream catchers and one day she presented me with a very attractive dream catcher as a gift.

If there were any irony in this hand-made Native American craft being given to the look-a-like of General Yellow Hair, it did not stop me from accepting the gift. To this day, it hangs over my bed.

It works pretty well at catching bad dreams. Unfortunately, it does nothing to stop children from coming to me in the night. What I really need in my room is a kid catcher.

The other night, Big Brother woke us up to announce that he’d had a bad dream. I know he has his eye on my dream catcher, but he’s not getting it. I earned that dream catcher by proving that all guys who look like Custer aren’t jerks to Native Americans.

Custer's dream catcher

It used to be a bit more ornate, but time and curious children have taken their toll.

I was too tired to endure him climbing over me, so I moved over and let him sleep on the edge. That’s when I remembered how much I hate the middle. There was no hope of rest between two such interpretive sleepers as my six-year-old and my wife.

I was saved from this spot by the silhouette of Buster, back-lit by the hall night light, standing still in the doorway. Whether he’d had a bad dream, or was merely plagued by too many toddler worries on his mind, he did not say.

As Big Brother gets less creepy about coming into our room in the night, Buster picks up the slack. Buster silently hovers in the doorway, a mini shadow of the human form. The mere vibe of it, spurs everyone to full wakefulness.

Since there was no room for a fourth in our bed, Mommy got a brilliant idea. Both kids should sleep in Big Brother’s bed and keep each other company. “Would you like to sleep in Big Brother’s bed?” she asked Buster.

“No,” he replied. “Sleep with Daddy.”

Her great idea wasn’t a total flop. She somehow used the momentum of it to get Big Brother back into his own bed, even without the company of Buster.

But that still left us with an extra human in our bed. Buster tossed and turned as he thought his deep thoughts, and so did I, even though my thoughts were comparatively shallow.

We do have a kid catcher in our room after all. Mommy and Daddy have always called it by the wrong name: our bed.


Reading is fun, except for all those words

I was helping my 1st grade son with his homework. This isn’t the perfect bonding exercise, as he does not like doing his homework and I do not enjoy watching him not like doing his homework. It leads to impatience in my voice, which he likes almost as little as he likes doing his homework.

Earlier this year, as I was dragging him out of bed for school, he told me, “I don’t like learning. It’s not really fun for me.” Dragging him out of bed in the morning is not really fun for his parents, but I suppose that’s an issue for another day.

Part of his homework that night was a questionnaire from his reading teacher. I guess she wanted to get a feel for each child’s attitude about reading before getting too far into the year. My son is a pretty good reader, when he has to be. And when he doesn’t have to be, he’s playing with LEGOs.

When it comes to reading practice, he’s lazy. I could compare him to a mule or other reluctant worker, but that’s not quite strong enough. The only simile that fully captures it is: he’s as lazy as a six-year-old.

The first question on the homework was: “Reading is _________”

The boy thought about it for a second, then filled in the word fun.

I raised an eyebrow. “Really? You don’t act like reading is fun.”

“Reading is kind of boring. But I think this is what the teacher wants me to say,” he explained.

It would be hypocritical of me to make him change his answer, since much of my own school career was based upon political expediency.

What books?

He loves going to the library. They have fun toys and games there, and you can even borrow Sponge Bob videos.

He answered a few more questions about his favorite subjects to read before he got to the question: “The best thing about reading is _________”

He didn’t have to think about it at all. He quickly went to work answering the pictures.

This didn’t sound much like a reading is fun kid, but maybe you can like to read and still like the pictures even a tiny bit more than the text. I let it go.

The next question was: “The worst thing about reading is _________”

He didn’t miss a beat. “The words,” he said, quicker than he could touch his pencil to the paper.

I had to slow him down this time. If you are going to start off playing this game of hiding your opinions behind the expected preferred opinions, then you ought not directly contradict yourself by letting your true feelings out later.

I should have let him look foolish with his incongruous answers, but I was in no mood to be dragged down with him.

We discussed it and decided the hard words made a better answer.

So it boils down to this: reading is fun, especially when accompanied by numerous illustrations, but the enjoyment can be diminished by an overabundance of difficult passages.

That sounds like a perfectly reasonable opinion, doesn’t’ it?