Since I choose to do my computer work next to an open window, I usually spend more time watching and listening to the kids. Between you and me, productivity is not why I sit there.
For most of the morning a toad hunt has been underway, but the day was getting hot and a cluster of neighborhood kids were now gathered in the shade of a tree near our house.
"Guess how big God's squirt gun would be?" a blond neighbor boy asks. There's a pause as all the kids look around furtively like they sense that the conversation had just veered toward the deep secrets of the universe, and more importantly, that they are bound to get into trouble for it. It always gets me, where kids expect discipline to could come from and then the frog-in-the-fridge-because-he-was-hot times when they couldn't be more surprised.
My daughter, who's the oldest in the group and therefore considered the sagest, pipes up, "Well I don't know, but it has to be the opposite of Tinkerbell's." A nodding of all the heads in the group. Little frowns, little furrowed brows, it looks like Congress.
"Can I add the flowers now?" Rosalie asks. I hadn't noticed before, but she's got a pot of what looks like mud and a stick to stir it with. The other thing I newly notice is that it isn't a pot, but one of my best tupperwares. The big one, that I always stuff leftovers into and they magically always seem to just fit.
"Sure, but slowly, so you can stop if the potion gets chunky."
"I've mashed the berries and he's gonna love this," the neighbor boy with the deep questions adds. There's 6 of them all huddled over the bucket of swirling brown alternately stirring and adding precise extractions from their pockets. I make out that this potion is for the leprechaun who lives in the base of a nearby tree.
As it turns out, he is the reason there are no toads to be caught this morning.
"He wrangles them," explains my 7 yr old son who recently saw part of Shane. In one of those rarely witnessed moments, he has his arm around S and is filling in his little sister and with the seriousness that kids can only muster when they're trying to catch something; he's teaching her the finer points of leprechaun culture. They don't have cars. Of course they don't, they're too short to reach the pedals. Leprechauns travel by toadback through underground passageways that connect their trees to the trees of other good little children. He grins at her, and I can tell that he's added this last part for the exact same reason that I say things like, "Santa always knows who's good and who's bad."
As I watch, the kids add pine cones and bits of string, spit from each of them and even some mashed up worms. From the groans and giggles I can tell that it has to be truly rank smelling. The theory behind the potion seems to be that if a good child sprinkles some around a leprechaun's door at night, then that leprechaun will come to investigate and when he opens the door all the toads will get out. I picture an old woman in her bathrobe and curlers peering out after being ding-dong-ditched and the dag-nabbed cat slipping out.
Charlie speeds into the house and past me to retrieve a carton of rotten cottage cheese from our trashcan and into the potion it goes. As usually happens with adult life, I get distracted with work and lose track of the kids for awhile until I hear a gut-wrenching wail coming from outside. It's K, my oldest, I know immediately by the voice and I also know, like a knife to my core, that she's hurt and hurt badly. I fly outside, preparing for a broken leg, a skinless arm, 9 fingers-- something serious-- but when I get to her I see it's nothing like that.
And I run to go get my camera.
Charlie fills me in on the details, though, by the smell and the sight of my now empty tupperware, I can guess the gist. K decided since they had to wait until nightfall to put out the potion that it would be safest waiting up in a tree. She spied a branch, hoisted the slop-filled bucket up and then... it toppled onto her own head.
Maybe the leprechaun had a few tricks up his sleeve for protecting his wrangled toads.
Or maybe, just maybe, the Great Smiter really doesn't appreciate discussions about his summer toy collection.