Mud Season

The plan was simple, which is the only way to succeed with small children. Dawn took Rose to Sunday school for two and half hours, so I decided to walk to downtown with Samuel to check out the babes and splurge on some children’s literature at Bear Pond Books. Only first we had to clean the kitchen, put away toys, change his diaper, and get out of pajamas. Delay upon delay. At 9:45 I said, “Are you ready, Samuel Sam?”

“Snack!” he replied, the N spoken through the nose rather than the mouth, and his face crinkled as if he smelled something bad.

Two bowls of apple sauce and a 45 minute phone call with the grandparents later, we headed down the narrow stairs to the garage. Spring had arrived bringing temperatures just above freezing, but the wind chill fought back. We dressed in warm layers, leaving the winter marshmellow coats in the mud room. Father and son, man and boy, a tradition as inevitable as crocuses following winter bonfires, we were ready to take our first post-hibernation walk down the hill to downtown.

But first, we had to move the laundry into the dryer. And put the mittens and fleece hat back on. And strap Samuel into the wheeled conveyance because he didn’t want to ride in the backpack today. My winter potato physique did not complain about this choice.

“Are you ready, Samuel Sam!”

“Weeee!”

Out the garage we went, me pushing and Samuel riding in what is not exactly a stroller, nor a pram, nor a baby buggy. It most resembles a modern baby jogger, but in the way that a mule resembles a thoroughbred. We call it the Twinkle, because that is the model name stitched in gold letters on the purple fabric. It was on sale in a small touristy mall/office center in Palmer, Alaska. Back in 2003 it was just perfect for Rose and now it is just perfect for Samuel. The small, tough wheels and compact body were meant for walking and hiking on dirt trails. You can’t really race with it and it does not go well with Spandex, but you can stop and smell the flowers on the way.

The air was cold and crisp, like autumn, only damp. All that remained of the snow was a six-inch crust over the lawn. Dirty green grass showed through where the snow had peeled away from the warmth of the maples and the asphalt. Shreds of abandoned circulars, buried for weeks under the snow, sailed past on the breeze crying advertisements. The wind smelled sweetly of gravel and salt and wet wet mud and rotting snow. There wasn’t a soul on the road here. Everyone who wasn’t sleeping or eating brunch was either collecting maple sap or buying maple syrup.

We took the sharp downhill turn onto Main Street. A car drove by, and then another. On one side of the walkway was a steep grade going up. Across the street a guardrail separated the road from a sunken wooded valley. The soil was well below the road level and gave the appearance of a forest full of stunted oaks and pines. For the first time in months, I heard the roar of the brook, swollen with snowmelt, that flows by those trees in summer. The air was full of a fine mist, as though a waterfall were nearby, but there was no waterfall. Just the sound of the water taking its crazy sled ride to Lake Champlain.

“What did you say, Samuel?”

“Car!”

“I saw it!”

“Like. On.”

“You see some lights, Samuel?”

“Yellow likes.”

“Where?”

“On the cars.”

Halfway to downtown, we followed the curve to Hilltop. In the middle of a residential neighborhood was a mental institution on one side of the street and a geriatric home facing across on the other. The former was a tall imposing yellow brick structure while the latter hid itself behind a tall wooden fence. Though the parking lots were always full of cars, I could not remember ever seeing anyone go in or out of either building. I imagined terrible neglect and abuse behind its steel doors being exposed to the ruin and shame of our little village. Then I saw them as rival castles facing off across a treacherous river, and I wondered what would happen if someone built a tunnel under the road conencting them. Then I remembered to stop daydreaming. I was a father with responsibilities, pushing a small, inert boy in cold weather.

“Samuel, do you still have your mittens on?”

“Yes.”

“Let me see.” I leaned over and pulled up his rain coat sleeves. The left blue mitten was in place but the right one was gone, lost.

“Uh-oooooh!” says Samuel.

“Uh-oh,” I say.

“That’s Okay!” he let me know.

And it was. In any case, I wasn’t going to hoof it a half mile back uphill to go searching. I tucked his hand inside the inner fleece sweater sleeve and kept on trucking. We sang This Old Man together, one of Samuel’s favorites, and he sang lustily along all the way to downtown.

But when we got there – no babes. Not even a toddler. Just a bunch of crusty old Vermonters skipping church and cruising the few shops still open. The sun had disappeared and the red brick walls of downtown radiated a chill. The coffee shops were closed on Sunday, which was just as well for our budget. I lifted the back wheels of the Twinkle high enough for Samuel to press the crosswalk button, and for once the other pedestrians waited politely with us for the light.

Inside Bear Pond Books, I parked the Twinkle by the steam radiators. The store was not large and the bookcases were thickly arranged, leaving a narrow aisle between that the fire mashall would probably not approve of. The sides of the cases were decorated with maps and book advertisements and faux retro postcards. I walked with Samuel up the stairs to the children’s department. The steps were so old and steep that even the thick carpeting couldn’t muffle the groans and squeaks of the wood underneath. Upstairs were puzzles, small chairs, an ancient gilded cash register to play with. I quickly found a couple of books to buy for Samuel and sat down to read to him. He nestled in my lap. When we had read each one a few times, I said, “Samuel, we need to find a book or two for Rose too.”

“O-Kay!” He jumped up from my lap and ran across the room. The stairwell was uncomfortably close, and my forty-one year old legs heaved themselves painfully right behind him. He ran around a book case and stopped in front of the young reader chapter books. For two seconds he scanned the options and then pulled out a thin paperback, surrounded by identical thin paperbacks in the same series, something like “The Pterodactyl’s Dilemma: A Dinosaur Mystery.”

“Dis one!”

“You think Rose would like this one, Samuel?”

“Yes.”

“OK. Why do you think so?”

“Dat purple.” (Isn’t it obvious, Papa?)

“Oh, yes. Rose does like purple.”

Downstairs again, the clerk cleared a spot on the counter for Samuel to sit and schmooze. I’m not sure what we were thinking. In less than a minute, two display books and a stack of flyers were lying scattered across the floor. The clerk laughed, told me not to worry about it, held the credit card form so I could sign it with only one hand, the other keeping Samuel upright.

“Go home,” said Samuel. He was getting tired.

“Are you ready to go home, Samuel?”

“Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle.”

I clicked him in the Twinkle and all the way up Main Street we sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

How Butterfly Saved the Israelites

The latest in feminist revisionist history, and a quick appendum to my previous post.

Rose has now decided that Pharoah didn’t want to kill all the Hebrew baby boys. He wanted to kill all the Hebrew baby girls. So when Pharoah’s daughter found the basket in the Nile, it was actually a little girl and her name was Butterfly.

We might have to have a cup for Butterfly at the seder this year.

Eneurosis

I held up a bright, rectangular, plastic case, about the size of a stopwatch, and showed it to Rose. It was pink with silver sparkles on both sides. There was a clip with a safety pin and a long blue cord that attached to a small red clip.

“This is for you, Rose.”

“What is it, Papa?”

“It’s the bed wetter alarm I told you about. It came in the mail today.”

“It’s very pink!”

“I thought you’d like that.”

“Did you get the one that vibrates or the noisy one?”

“Actually Rose it does both.” To demonstrate, I turned it on and there was a gentle hum, like an electric toothbrush, only horribly eclipsed by a noise not unlike a car alarm or police siren twelve inches from our faces. Rose’s excited, happy smile slid off her face and landed in a messy puddle on the floor. She looked utterly appalled. I turned off the alarm, and from the other room, we heard Samuel repeating, “Noisy! Stop! Noisy!”

Dawn and I didn’t plan on intervening with Rose’s bed wetting. Eventually she would outgrow it, when her bladder supersized her kidneys. In the meantime, it just meant a little extra laundry. No big deal. Admittedly, her room did smell a bit … gerbilish most mornings, but it usually cleared up before noon, and we spent thousands on a mechanical air exchanger for the house, so let’s use it, right?

Then her sensitive skin began to form excema rashes from the dried urine. They flared and itched. Very uncomfortable for her, and we knew we had to do something.
But what? How to effectively intervene without embarassing her or making the problem worse?

Our first thought was to wake her in the middle of the night and bring her to the bathroom before she peed in bed. Dismal failure. No amount of calling and rolling and tickling woke her anymore than it would have woken a sack of potatoes. She sleeps VERY soundly.

How soundly? Once Rose came into our room in the middle of night and began talking to us. In the bleary confusion of interrupted sleep, we couldn’t quite understand her.

“What? What was that? Say it again Rose,” we repeated until I turned to Dawn and said, “She’s not actually awake.”

We were just spectators to the conversation. The words were English, clearly enunciated, but the sentences were meaningless. She looked intently at a random corner of the room wherein sat projected the Mama and Papa of her own imagination. Had she been making any sense, we could have gotten some valuable insight into the mind of a four year old. Then again, considering how random some of her behavior can be, perhaps it was more revealing than we understood. I walked her back to bed and tucked her in without waking her. In the morning she had no memory of it.

Bedwetting in children, we eventually learned, is caused by sleeping very soundly combined with hormones producing extra urine at night. Some children just have more of that hormone. The only method proven to work is a properly-used bed wetter alarm. Our doctor confirmed this.

Rose was on board with the idea. She was motivated. She had a carrot – the promise of a new bunk bed when she’s dry at night – and a stick – the excema. But the police siren in her face was provoking last-minute anxieties.

“I just want it to vibrate, Papa. I don’t like the noise. It’s scary.”

I thought of the sleep-walking, the drool-covered pillows, the times I found her in the morning with her feet on top of the bed and her head underneath.

“I don’t think this alarm will be enough to wake you at night.”

“Really, Papa?”

“Really. The noise is for us Rose. It will wake Mama and Papa so we can come help you get to the bathroom. At least for the first week or two. Eventually it will wake you too and you’ll do it all by yourself.”

On the first night, the alarm went off before Dawn and I had gone to bed. I ran to Rose’s room and turned off the alarm. “That was startling, Papa!”

I love my daughter’s vocabulary. Startling!

She was barely wet, so we walked to the bathroom together. I was so proud of her and praised her as she started to pee a never ending stream into the toilet. We both gushed.

The next night she was perfectly dry. In fact, she had woken herself up and gone to the bathroom before the alarm went off. The instructions said not to expect this for weeks. I was the last out of bed the following morning, and Rose came running up to me in her clean, dry, looky-looky, late-morning pajamas. She gave me a Knock-You-Down hug and crowed, “I have the biggest bladder in the world!”

The next night, the alarm made a double-liar of me. She repeated her 11:00 performance, but at five in the morning, the alarm went off, scaring Rose awake and NOT waking us. We slept through it for at least two minutes before Dawn leaped out of bed and raced into Rose’s room.

Bad parents. No biscuit.

At 11:00 tonight she got to the bathroom again on her own. I was still awake, and I found her already on the toilet. A brae and bold lass, she asked for a glass of water. When I got it for her, she drank it to the very bottom. What was I thinking? What had I done? Guilt begins to bubble in the cauldron of my belly.

“Rose?”

“Yes, Papa.”

“If the alarm wakes you later tonight, and we don’t come right away, just come into Mama and Papa’s room, OK?”

“OK.”

Wool Anniversary

Samuel woke us at two o’clock on Sunday morning. For weeks he had been sleeping fairly well, including several completely uninterrupted nights. But then his second-year molars began to erupt, and we were back to twice or three times a night. We rocked in the glider for a half hour and then I slipped him back into the crib, but he was fidgety and woke himself up again. Standing over his crib, I felt cold and a little dizzy from lack of sleep, so I sat on the floor, leaned my head on the railings, and slipped my hand through the bars to pat his back. The direct glare of the night light was blocked by a blanket draped over the opposite side of the crib, and in the ambient glow I could see his hands curling, his feet twitching. His right cheek rested on the pillow, then his left, then his right, but no position was comfortable. Finally I heard the terrible Coke-bottle-opening noise from his throat and he threw up on the sheets.

Samuel kept a quiet, single-minded efficiency at his task until he stomach was all empty and only then did he begin to scream. By the time Dawn came hurrying in, he was only quietly sobbing. I started a tub while Dawn cuddled him in a vomit-stained towel. She bathed and dressed him while I stripped the bed and started the laundry. Then I rocked him again while she put fresh sheets back on.

“Why don’t you go back to bed?” she offered, knowing I had been up a half hour already.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Happy anniversary.”

“Happy anniversary.”

Strictly speaking it was the day before our anniversary, but we had intended to celebrate it on Sunday when a babysitter was available. We had a reservation in twelve hours at the Moscow Tea House, and I had also arranged a surprise for Dawn, a little side trip to Single Spindle Spinnery to pick up a gift of cleaned, carded, and dyed wool. Dawn was ready to get back to her spinning wheel after a two year hiatus.

Though it was too early to admit it out loud, we both knew our plans were unraveling. Samuel continued to throw up once an hour until morning. I was up and down the rest of the night helping out, and Dawn never did get back to bed. In the morning Samuel spit up breakfast, unable to hold down even water, but with the annoying resilience of a twenty-three month old, he continued his usual round of running, climbing, and mischief, with Mama or Papa running after him with a bowl and towel.

And if that was not enough, there were long distance phone call full of extended family problems interrupting our domestic bliss. After one particular phone call, Dawn emerged from the bedroom and announced in a bottled voice, “I am going outside to shovel snow.”

Some people beat their fists into pillows, some people find a quiet spot in the wilderness to scream, some people break dishes and windows. Dawn shovels snow, and thank God we had a fresh two inches on the ground. One hour and Twelve Steps later, she returned, calm, resigned, exhausted, accepting of the world as it was. She slept most of the afternoon, whereas Samuel woke from his nap as if nothing had happened. No fever, no vomiting. He was hungry and active and happy.

Monday morning, with everyone healthy again, Dawn and I were determined to salvage our anniversary celebration. While she was making plans for a special dinner and a cake, I was surreptitiously on the phone with Carol at the Spinnery trying to arrange a way to pick up the wool. I was back to work and the Spinnery was too far away for me to drive, but Carol had an idea. Some reporters from the Montpelier paper were coming to interview her and perhaps they would be willing to bring the wool by. She said she would call me later after they arrived to let me know if it would work out. All afternoon I waited for the call, but it never came.

Around two o’clock, Dawn told me she needed cream for the cake frosting, an ambitious buttercream frosting she had never tried. I offered to get it just before dinner. A little before six o’clock, I drove Rose and Samuel to the market.

In the parking lot, I explained to them that I wanted to make a phone call before we went in. Carol said that they were nearly done and the women had agreed to courier the gift for me. She tried unsuccessfully to play intermediary and finally handed the phone to the reporter. I heard, “Hello” on the phone at the same time I heard from the back of the car, “This is really BORING waiting here in the car. Are you bored Samuel Sam?” followed by a cackling giggle Rose uses to make Samuel laugh. Over the tumult I caught the gist of the plan – meet at the Montpelier park and ride before the highway entrance at 6:30pm and look for a red Taurus sedan.

We rushed through the store and back home, and even though it was past dinner time, I explained to Dawn that I needed to run out again and would be back in fifteen minutes. She divined it was an anniversary errand of some sort, and even though dinner was late, and even though it wouldn’t keep, she gave me permission. I raced downtown and out toward the highway, and, having never been to the park and ride before, I missed the turnoff.

This left me on a divided road with only two choices ahead of me: I-89 north or I-89 south. I chose north and drove ten miles to the next exit and ten miles back arriving late to the park and ride. The red Taurus was there, waiting, and I apologized profusely to two very nice middle-aged women who handed me a plastic bag full of beautiful wool.

It was near seven o’clock when I got home. The children were squirrelly, and Dawn was trying to salvage dinner. But she loved the wool, and we had both decided that we weren’t going to let ourselves get upset. Even after her buttercream utterly failed, turning into a sharp, overly-sweet collection of curds, she valiantly started over with a simple vanilla icing and in ten minutes the cake was done. Dinner was delicious, and Rose kept wishing us “Happy Anniversary!” We skipped baths for the children and left half the dishes until morning, and we still got to bed over an hour late, exhausted.

Later that evening, Rose walked into our bedroom at two in the morning and threw up all over our floor.

Waking up

Follow the bouncing ball as we sing the cheery, wake-up alarm song.

Rose Rose.
Rose Rose.
Rose Rose.
Rose Rose.
It’s morning. It’s a bright new day.

She turns her head slightly, the better to stuff her face into her pillow, and lets out a muffled noise halfway between a groan and a sigh. She’s not even five and already I can see the teenager forming. By the time I have the curtains open, she is on her side, semi-fetal, sleeping, mouth ajar, eye softly closed. She’s not faking it anymore. She has fallen back asleep.

When I was a wee lad, my father would come wake my three brothers and me for school. He had a system to it. He went through each room and spent up to a minute trying to wake us with his voice. If we didn’t get up, which was most days, he would go on to the next brother. He did this cheerfully enough, and did not raise his voice or lose his temper. He did not really want us to get up. He was looking forward to Phase Two. Phase Two was a dripping wet washcloth applied to the face and back of the neck. It never failed to produce an upright, if snarling and surly, child.

Still, my best friend Richard had it worse. His grandma would snap once at him, “Richard, get up!” and if he did not respond right away, she would press on his bladder.

I am a softy in comparison. Perhaps it is my societal training. Maybe I can’t do these things to Rose because she is a girl, but I would like to think I will extend the same courtesy to Samuel when he is ready for preschool. As it is, he is the one who wakes us up in the morning, rudely and frequently. I’m guessing the accrued desire for revenge will play out in a few years and he won’t get the same treatment as his sister.

I pull the covers off Rose. She whines a little but doesn’t move or open her eyes. We have had some really surly, uncooperative mornings when I make her get out of bed and I don’t want another one today. I think for a moment and decide to try something new. I am making this up as I go.

“Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Rose Rose.” She is very still now. I think I have her attention. Nothing gets Rose’s attention like a story.

“And one morning, Rose didn’t wake up. Her Mama couldn’t wake her up. And her Papa couldn’t wake her up. Not even her baby brother jumping up and down on her belly could wake her up. They set off alarm clocks, and poured ice cubes all over her, they even fired off a cannon three feet away, but Rose would not … wake … up.”

Eyes still shut, but now there’s a hint of a smile.

“She stayed asleep for days and everyone worried. She missed preschool. She missed her playdates. She missed Spring coming. Then one day, a butterfly came along and landed on her nose and began to tickle her.”

I put my finger tip lightly on her nose and gently rub. She twitches a little.

“Rose tried to blow it off. Phhhh!” Smile. “Thpthhh!” Big grin. I make the next one as loud and juicy as I can. “Splthhhphhhhhh!” She laughs, but her eyes are still closed. Onward.

“But the butterfly wouldn’t move. It just kept tickling and tickling. Finally she opened her eyes to look at it.”

Rose opens her eyes and looks at me, but I am ready. My eyes are closed. I open them, and they are already crossed eyed looking at my own nose.

“And there at the end of her nose was a big beautiful butterfly. And it looked at Rose, who was looking at it, and the butterfly said [New York Bronx accent here] ‘Are you going to get up?'”

Rose answers for me, “No!” It’s loud. She’s awake.

“‘Then I’m going to tickle you some more.'”

I tickle her nose some more until she says, “OK! OK!”

Rose stands up, really quickly, almost clocking our heads together. I can never understand how children can go from 0 to 60 in two seconds. The butterfly demands she goes to the bathroom for her bath, and she scoots right over, but lets me know that she would never really blow the butterfly off her nose because she might hurt it.

Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.

Now what story can I tell her tomorrow morning?

Sugar on Snow

“Harry, was it daylight savings time last night?” A flicker of panic ripples through the room. Even the children are quiet for a moment, sensing something stressful this way comes.

“Oh, God. Yes. You’re right.”

We had a full day planned. Sunday School for Rose, lunch, a look at the ice jam threatening our brave little village, and then Sugar On Snow at one of the local farms. We’d been slowly working our way towards getting Rose ready for Sunday School, but rather than have forty minutes to spare, we were twenty minutes late.

In the grand scheme, this is not a big deal. The Aleph Bet class meets for only an hour on Sunday. We could miss it entirely, and I’m sure God wouldn’t count it as a strike against a four-year-old in his Big Book for Yom Kippur. But our family strives on stress. Like a ex-soldier who feels lost in civilian life, we need that adreline rush to feel alive. Dawn rose to the occasion, and Rose was there before class was half over, no mean feat considering that this involved rushing a four-year-old.

The house was eerily quiet after they were gone. Samuel and I were alone on the couch having watched the car disappear down the hill. The only sound was the drip-drip-drip coming from the casement window in the kitchen. The melt-off from the three feet of snow on our roof can’t get past the ice in the rain gutters. Somehow it was traveling inside the eaves, down our walls, and out the cracks in the window frames. It was not a comforting sound, but at least it explained the carpenter ant infestation we had our first year in the house. However, I was not interested in listening to it for an hour.

“Samuel? Would you like to go play in the snow?”

“Thsnow!” He lisped the word at top volume, wrinkling his nose as if he smelled something bad. He’s a loud boy these days. He will sit at the table and scream at the top of his lungs, with a full breath between each word, “more! … Pasta! … NOW! …….. please”

I got him dressed for outdoors. Even though it was a balmy forty degrees, he likes water and puddles and dirt and snow. Two layers of socks, waterproof mittens, fleece hat, and a bright red full-body-armor snow suit – ankles to wrist to neck with a hood that fits over the hat. Snow boots went on last and the Michelin tire boy was ready.

“Outdoors! Outdoors! Outdoors!” he yelled, punctuated with bounding stomps.

I opened the door, and he walked three steps in his big boots and fell forward into the snow. He stuck out his hands to brake his fall and his mittens punched right through the embankment, stopping him with his nose a half inch from the snow pack.

“Papa. Stuck. Stuck.”

I unstuck him, and we headed down to the driveway and then the road where it was cleared. The city plows did a good job on our street when they finally got here, but they pushed all the snow into a pile at the very end of our dead-end road, blocking all access to one neighbor’s driveway.

I am a bad neighbor. It had not occurred to me until then that our neighbor at the end of the street had been plowed into her own driveway for over a week. How had she managed? In my defense I might mention that, before we moved in, this neighbor had made enemies of everyone else in the neighborhood with her midnight yapping dogs. She had a reputation for being so difficult to deal with that her separated husband preferred living homeless out of his car. I asked her immediate neighbor if he knew anything, and he informed me that she had moved out weeks ago. So I’m even worse of a neighbor than I thought.

“Oh yes, and the actual owners of the house are thinking about moving into it again. I’m told they are rather unpleasant people to deal with, but I thought I would make an effort to be friendly.”

I listened but said nothing. The previous owners of his house had given me a similar warning about him, but I thought it would not be neighborly to mention it at this juncture.

Samuel and I walked down the street and stomped in every puddle. He dropped snowballs into the street drains and tossed pebbles into the snow enbankments, which was difficult when your hands are encased in mittens and you don’t know about the thumb pockets yet. The wind was gentle and cool and carried a hint of mud and Spring, but only a hint. A mile away the clock tower in Montpelier rung noon, and we stood perfectly still to listen. We didn’t count, so we never did find out if they slept through daylight savings too. Then Samuel threw himself belly first into a puddle, and it was time to go home.

Rose and Dawn came home soon after us. They had not been the last to arrive at class. In fact, they were one of the first. So many families forgot the time change that the teacher gave up on the planned lesson and let them make dream pillows with the big kids, a project for gifts to children in a nearby homeless shelter. Rose had sewed a heart on a pillow almost entirely by herself. I told my oldest brother this story, proud of my four year old, and he replied, “I’m surprised they let them have needles.”

After lunch, we detoured to the Cemetary bend of the Winooski River, so named for the cemetary across the street. I wanted to see the ice jam. The river at its widest is an long stone’s throw across, and the banks are deep enough that I could not imagine how the city could flood. But the flood watch was still in place, though there was no eminent danger.

We pulled into a muddy parking area under the interstate bridge as a minivan was leaving, and another arrived soon after us. Rural families out for a little local excitement. A large crane parked by the river carried a truck tire on the end of its chain, and off the truck tire hung a steel girder. We looked over the embankment and saw the river. It was very narrow where the river curved, and the small space was filled with chunks of ice. Looking back upstream, I could see the city not far away, and it occurred to me that it was entirely possible during Spring breakup for ice to back up a half mile all the way to the city. The media reports claimed that the city was using the latest monitoring technology, but I imagined that meant they were dropping the steel girder to break up the ice.

Afterwards, we drove to Bragg Farm for Sugar on Snow. Bragg is one of two local family-owned farms that have survived by converting their homesteads into tourist destinations. Besides farming, they have X-C skiing, a maple syrup operation, and a gift shoppe where they sell all kinds of Vermont products, sweets, coffee table books, placemats and napkins, etc. They aren’t as kitchy as some. Bragg even sports a display of educational toys for children, many of which are suitable for long car rides. I think this is a thoughtfull public service in a state where billboards are outlawed.

If you’ve read the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, you might know about Sugar on Snow, but the name describes it accurately. You take a bowl of fresh clean snow and pour hot maple syrup over it. The syrup gels into taffy candy which you eat and lick off your fingers. In early America when table sugar was scarce and expensive, this was a special treat. Nowadays, for four and a half dollars, you also get a doughnut, some pickles, some hot apple cider, and childhood memories guaranteed to bring you back years later with your own children.

Rose loved it, but then again she would drink the sap straight from a sugar maple tree if you stuck a straw in one. Samuel on the other hand found it “too sticky.” He did not even want the sugar cookie I offered because it had maple frosting on it. He wanted to “walk!” so we took a tour of the building and examined all the merchandise for sale that he was not allowed to touch.

On our way out, we met some friends from Sunday School who had not even shown up today. They had not realized they had missed daylight savings time until they were driving to the synagogue and heard Garrison Keillor on the radio, and even then Mom’s first thought was that Garrison must be getting kind of old to have made such an obvious mistake.

How Moses Saved the Israelites

It was after lunch on a chill and sunny day. Dawn was rocking Samuel to sleep for his nap. Rose was home from preschool, playing in the living room, looking through her books. I was unloading the dishwasher, one of my household jobs in our family’s divison of labor. The dishes are a good gauge for how far behind we are running. Sometimes they don’t get unloaded until just before the next dirty batch is ready to go in.

This day wasn’t quite that manic, and this particular moment wasn’t manic at all. In the natural cycle of our days, there is a lull following lunch. Perhaps it is all the blood that has rushed from our brains to our digestion system but, more likely, it is the disappearance of Samuel from the chaos factor as he is rocked to La La land in his room.

I was unloading the dishwasher and there was peace in the house.

“Papa?”

I looked up over the counter, and saw Rose had climbed to the top of the couch on the other side of the island. This was her first and only time of the day to have a living room full of toys and books to herself, but there is something about getting what you want that makes you no longer want it. Instead, what she wanted was my attention, and fortunately it was my lunch hour, so she could have it.

“Yes, Rose?”

There was a pause, as there often is once she has gotten my attention. She was holding her Snuggle Bunny, which has been her favorite toy since she was an infant, the one she sleeps with every night. A new toy or stuffed animal may displace her affection for Snuggle for a day or two or even three, but she always comes back to Snuggle, and Snuggle always takes her back in. Rose was holding her in one hand and gently stroking her ears with the fingers of her other hand.

Though she was looking at Snuggle, she was not seeing her. She had a far away look in her eyes – the Vacant Stare, as Dawn calls it, that she inherited from her Papa. Dawn does not appreciate the Dreaded Vacant Stare. It gives her the willies.

Rose was seeing something else entirely in her mind, a vision of her own invention. Half of her wanted to lose herself in that dream, but she has a strong and constant drive to narrate her life, even the dreamy, other worldly parts of it. So the story came out in fragments. I had to be patient and gently prod the story along, but it is usually worth the effort.

“Papa. A long time ago.”

“Yes, Rose?”

“Way back when the Israelites were still in Egypt.”

“Mmm hmm?”

“Way back in 1970.”

“1970. That was a long time ago.”

“Yes. Back then, the Israelites didn’t have any snuggle bunnies, and they all had bad dreams.”

“How awful.”

“So Moses went out looking in the desert and he found some fleece.”

She touched the fleece on Snuggle.

“And some thread.”

She touched the stitching where it says “Snuggle Bunny” in cursive letters on the fleece.

“And some silk for ears and paws.”

She touched these too and then paused as if waiting for the filmstrip in her mind to catch up.

“Pharoah had left these behind. And Moses found them and he sewed snuggle bunnies for all the Israelites and then they didn’t have bad dreams anymore.”

She turned to look at me with a proud smile on her face. I suddenly realized that I had been standing still with a stack of heavy dishes in my hands for I don’t know how long.

“Rose! That was a really good story. I really liked that one.”

“Thank you!” she chirped. And for the next ten minutes, as I get back to my menial job, she entertains me by embroidering the story of How Moses Saved the Israelites From Their Bad Dreams.