The Interloper

Olive is our sweet, affable — but dimwitted — barn cat.

Of the farm’s five felines, Olive is slow to respond to kids, cars and other threats to life and limb. Dopey Olive, we often say. She’s a few bricks short of a load. 

But Olive does possess an unwavering desire to lounge indoors. Leave the screen door unlatched…. crack the mudroom door to unload groceries…. and she skulks in, and bee-lines for a bed.

Once detected, she is discharged.

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Lately however, Olive has adopted a new tactic. She is a stealth, nighttime interloper.

Let me set the scene. It is 5:30 am. The house is relatively dark and I stumble groggily around the kitchen — assembling lunches — while my mind pedals through the day’s to-do list.

It is cricket-quiet and I presume I’m alone, until an abrasive SCRATCH-SCRATCH-SCRATCH rings out. I stifle a startled cry before spying the cat, clawing the couch.

Unceremoniously, I heave Olive out the door.

The next morning I’m lost in thought, when the cat freaks me out again, her darkened shape writhing in the living room shadows.

“Hey!” I yell at the kids when they emerge later. “Someone keeps leaving the damn door open and the damn cat is in the house, scratching up the couches! Shut the door, okay?”

Blankly, the kids stare back; none of them fess up.

Olive announces her presence over four consecutive mornings — clawing a different piece of furniture each day — until it dawns on me: 

This cat is beating the odds.

In the cellar I discover her entry point: she has popped out a broken, jagged window pane. The same window that I featured in my second-ever blog post, way back in 2009.  

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At the time, wise old Drippy stalked me from a perch by the basement window. But he never breached the glass barrier. He never puzzled it out.

Perhaps Olive is not as dimwitted as I thought.

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City mouse, country mouse

When it comes to race, religion, color and creed, our kids are fairly open-minded.

They are nonjudgemental. I’d hazard to say that they are “colorblind,” concerning race and ethnicity.

(Let’s hope they retain these views.)

Now that I’ve logged these niceties, I must add the following:

The kids are not without bias. They discriminate against a group of people.

Who’s caught in their crosshairs? Whom do they stereotype? Whom do they disparage?

City folk.

You people who deign to dwell in a townhouse.

Even you guys who own a quarter-acre in the suburbs.

You’re guilty as well.

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Martin and I first learned of this disparity last year, while we were all staying in a hotel in Washington, DC. It was an unusually warm December day, and kids of all ages were careening down a steep, grassy hill that adjoined the hotel courtyard.

Cayden led the charge down the slope and when he reached the bottom, he shouted to his sister: “Hey, Hadley!  DON’T KNOCK OVER THE CITY KIDS! They don’t know how to FALL like farm kids, and their parents will FREAK out!”

Okay! Got it!” Hadley shouted in response, suspiciously eyeing the kids beside her.

Martin and I exchanged looks. And we slouched down in our seats.

Just like that, a stereotype was born. City kids versus country kids. And our children continue to feed it, vocalizing apparent inadequacies of urban dwelling individuals.

In case you’re keeping track, urbanites are fragile, weak, easily injured and incapable of handling stressful situations. 

Last summer — after I encountered a deer with my car — I told the kids about the accident. And I mentioned that another driver was equally unlucky: she also struck the same deer with her car, and was unhinged by the event.

Hadley nodded at me knowingly. “That other driver,” she said. “Was she…you know… city folk?”

 

The irony of all of this? Our kids aren’t as country as they think. We don’t own a working farm. Our kids can’t drive a tractor or milk a cow. Their agriculture roots are thin.

Still, they are loyal to rural life.

A few weeks ago, I had to run some errands in downtown DC, and Cayden and Hadley tagged along. We’d barely crossed a street before it became clear that the kids were out of their element. I shepherded them between traffic and yelled as they strayed outside the crosswalk.

“Jeez!” I said, grabbing their collars. “You country kids can barely cross the street! You wouldn’t survive a day in the city!”

“Huh,” Cayden snorted. “Who would want to?”

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The Yardstick

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Poolesville Day, an annual community event, has become the yardstick with which I measure the kids’ growth.

We’ve attended these festivities for several years; often, I’ve brought my camera. And the images I’ve collected provide a barometer of age.

The pictures are a better measure than Christmas or Halloween memories, because the exact same setting is reproduced each year.

That’s the constant about Poolesville Day: it’s held the same weekend each year, with the same activities, stationed in the same place each time.

Inevitably, Cayden, Had and Brynn are drawn to certain attractions, and I document these events. The same rope walk, same backdrop, same kid, just a different year.

It is the ultimate measuring stick.

Toddler Hadley:

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Hadley now:

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Brynn then:

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Brynn now:

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I prefer candid photos, but in the future, I imagine urging the kids to recreate previous experiences — scaling the climbing wall or clambering atop a tractor when they’re older. Maybe when they’re teens.

If they’re still talking to me then.

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