Monday, August 3, 2015

Our Own Toy Story

The drama began with a simple and unsurprising statement: "I can't find Leo." It was the morning my son would be spending his first overnight at camp, and he was packing all the last-minute items.

Leo couldn't be packed the night before, because my son sleeps with him. Leo is a very small lion and the first thing my son purchased with his own money when he was five years old. They have slept together ever since, even though Leo is really far too small for an eleven-year-old to cuddle. He may have been just the right size six years ago, but he is only a handful for a big kid.

Because he's so small, Leo often is missing. He gets buried in the blankets, stuck between the bed and the wall, and hidden under clutter after being tossed out of bed. Given his propensity to disappear, Leo may vanish for days at a time without anyone sounding the alarm, so no one was surprised that he was missing. I knew my son could do without, and he did.

We knew Leo would turn up eventually, because he doesn't leave my son's room. After several days, however, there was still no sign of him.

I stripped the bed and washed the sheets. I shook the blankets and looked under the bed. No sign of the little guy.

And then I remembered the trash can.

A couple nights before Leo disappeared, my son had a very runny nose. He'd pulled the small trash can right next to the bed, and the can was overflowing with tissues. What if Leo had fallen out of bed and into the trash can? He might have been buried beneath the tissues. Our housekeeper had come hours after Leo went missing, and the trash had been taken out and away. My heart sank.

I kept hoping for the best and didn't share my fears with my son for days. When I did, he too became convinced it was the only possible explanation for Leo's prolonged disappearance. He was bereft. More upsetting than the idea that Leo was gone forever was that he was sitting somewhere in a giant pile of trash.

It was a sad, sad night.

In a last desperate attempt, I texted our housekeeper to explain the problem. Had she seen Leo? Would she have noticed him when she emptied the trash?

I was sitting at the beach the next morning when a photo of Leo appeared in my text messages.

Leo had been in the trash. He'd gotten emptied into a larger can when the housekeeper spotted him. She wondered if he belonged there, but I guess she didn't think to ask.

Thinking he looked worn but not useless, she saved Leo from the trash--to give to her dog as a chew toy. She took Leo home, washed him, and tossed him to the dog.

The dog had no interest. Leo was saved again. He was clean, intact, and at our housekeeper's house.

I almost wept for joy.

Leo is now home, safe and sound after his big adventure. He's been reunited with one happy boy who now keeps the trash can far from his bed.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Digging Pit

When we moved into our house eight years ago, we were delighted to learn that the backyard neighbors had kids. Not just any kids--two boys the same ages as our son and daughter.

The eldest were three at the time, and the little ones were just babies. We spent a lot of time over the next few years in our backyards because, for a toddler, a backyard is world enough.

The neighbor boys liked to dig in the dirt. Really, really liked to dig in the dirt. Instead of buying their boys a sand box, the neighbors decided to build what the boys really wanted--a place to play in the dirt.

At the edge of our property lines, where we both could see it from our houses, the neighbor dad cleared an area of grass, much like he was putting in a small garden bed. He edged it with paving bricks, and then he did the most amazing thing. He sifted through all that dirt, making sure there was nothing in it that could hurt the kids.

It was back-breaking work. I know, because I stood there and watched him work and sweat, trying to decide if he was the best dad ever or just nuts. Maybe both.

It was a huge success. The digging pit, as it became known, overflowed with shovels, trucks, and kids. Their boys could move dirt around for hours, and in her second year, my daughter was covered head-to-toe in dirt most days. Over time, lawn chairs appeared so that digging pit spectators didn't need to stand. On weekend mornings, we parents would congregate around the digging pit with our coffee, watching the kids play and ensuring that no one got hit over the head with a rake.

Time marches on, and our kids are now eleven and eight. No one has played in the digging pit for a very long time. Without the children drawing us to the property line, we adults don't spend much time together anymore. The kids still play together, but we don't need to supervise them like we once did. We adults stay in our own houses and yards, doing our own things.

When I do visit the neighbors, I get wistful when I step over the digging pit. It is neglected and weed-infested. There are no more trucks. All four kids couldn't fit in there if they wanted to, which they don't. The overgrown digging pit is a reminder of when our kids' world was simple and small.

I watched landscapers planting there today. The digging pit is no more. It is now the garden bed it always resembled, with large plants blocking the way from our house to theirs. Instead of pulling us together, the digging pit is now an obstacle to be walked around.

The kids aren't so little anymore, and that's made us that much less neighborly. The digging pit era has long been over, but those new plants make it clear in a way the weeds had not. Those plants make me sad.

Goodbye, digging pit.