Sometimes, a walk down memory lane… sucks.

One of the cool things about kids is that they unintentionally unearth back-of-the-rack childhood memories.

It’s like my brain is filled with long, dimly-lit corridors, crammed with stuff I’ll never find. And, like kids running with arms outstretched down a grocery story aisle, eventually, they’re bound to knock something off a shelf.

It happens periodically. Most recently, this morning. The kids are attending a Harry Potter camp, and they were chattering about puffs… puffs, pygmy puffs and magic. It wasn’t long before my brain drifted to the song, “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

I don’t know if my parents owned the record, but I distinctly remember hearing the song in my Dad’s green MG. I was pretty young, waiting in the car, while Dad retrieved his dry cleaning. I remember twisting the radio’s black rubber knobs (which I was allowed to use, opposed to the TV dials which I couldn’t touch, after I accidentally removed the on/off knob). I heard that song several times.

Puff the Magic Dragon,” I tested aloud in the kitchen, “lived by the sea, and… and….what did he do? Something, something, in a land called Homily.”

The kids immediately took interest. They didn’t know the song, but they wanted to know it.

I googled the title on my phone and it popped up, accompanied by a low-grade, still-frame youtube video. I hit “play,” and resumed breakfast distribution and lunch assembly.

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea

And frolicked in the autumn mist

in a land called Honahlee

“Autumn mist, that’s it!” I said. “Now it’s coming back to me.”

But as it came back, so did the vague notion that this tale about a boy and his dragon didn’t end well.

Sure enough, as little Jackie Paper and that rascal Puff, frolicked, and sailed happily around the world, a feeling of dread settled over me.

“Hey,” I said slowly. “I should mention that things might not end well for Puff…”

Just then, Peter, Paul and Mary hit the stanza where Jackie Paper — lured by toys — loses interest in Puff. He totally disses the dragon, and Puff plummets into a deep depression. His scales fall off, he slips into a cave, and presumably dies.

That’s when Hadley unleashed a guttural cry. “That is SO SAD!” she wailed hysterically, tears streaming down her cheeks. “The dragon was his best friend and he ignored him! And he died!”

Cayden hugged Hadley and he started crying. Brynn hadn’t quite grasped the ending, but her eyes welled up, too.

“Hey, stop crying! It’s just a song,” I said, grabbing my phone. “Look, this isn’t even Puff! Puff has green scales! This stupid dragon is orange!”

Hadley kept sobbing.

“You never cried when I read The Giving Tree,” I said. “That boy cuts his beloved tree down to the stump, and you never got sad about that!”

“A tree isn’t the same as a dragon!” Cayden replied tearfully.

In the early 1970s, I never cried over Puff. But there wasn’t any visual evidence of the dragon’s demise. It was just a strange, kid-appealing song among adult contemporary radio rotation.

“Seriously, stop crying,” I said, semi-sternly. “Hey, some people think that ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ is about smoking pot!”

That didn’t help.

“Okay, you can update the song, with a modern spin,” I suggested. “Nowadays, the boy would ditch Puff, and some cool girl — who doesn’t fall for cheap, plastic crap made in China — would become Puff’s best friend. And together, they’d sail the world, and find Jackie Paper’s house… probably in some shoddy subdivision. And then Puff would use his fire-breathing skills to torch the roof off!” I gave the kids an encouraging smile.

“You could end the song that way. Puff would live happily ever after! Well, assuming he didn’t encounter a US Navy destroyer… or Somali pirates.”

Cayden mulled this over. Hadley remained remorse until we shifted back to Harry Potter.

So, what did I learn today?

It is possible to make three kids cry simultaneously at breakfast.

And some memories, miraculously unearthed, are best re-shelved.

Santa Vulture


Some kids don’t believe in Santa Claus.

Well, they better get with the program, because Santa Vulture’s coming to town.

We spotted him last Friday morning. I had all three kids with me as we drove Hadley to the orthodontist to have her braces cranked. We arrived around 8:30 and couldn’t ignore the solitary vulture, standing like a watchman in the grass by the office door. He eye-balled us but didn’t move when we approached. From the waiting room, we observed him through the window.

Perhaps he was sunning himself, but he’d parked right beside the holiday display, and he appeared to be watching ortho arrivals, and the flow of kids shuttling into the elementary school across the street.

That’s when I announced, with an authorative tone: “That — is Santa Vulture.”

The kids looked skeptical.

“Well, why else would he be here? He doesn’t need braces.”

“That is Santa Vulture,” the orthodontist confirmed, as he fetched Hadley. “He was wearing his red hat, but it fell off.”

While we waited for Had, I explained the details. “All those Santa-doubters, those non-believers at your school? On Christmas Eve, Santa Vulture poops on their houses.” 

“And the really bad kids? Really, really bad kids?” I paused to let them imagine any offenders. “Well, Santa Vulture pecks their eyes out.”

To be honest, the vulture sounded more plausible than the whole Santa Claus scenario: Flying, wingless, reindeer, lugging an obese man around the world, with a ton of toys?

At least the bird’s designed to fly. And as we observed, Santa Vulture was occupied watching the elementary school kids…. obviously noting the doubters. And we’d seen his buddies perched atop Tractor Supply or feasting on roadkill.

“That’s his posse,” I explained. “They help on the big night. And they celebrate Thanksgiving dinner on December 23rd, in preparation for their ‘deliveries.'”

By the time Hadley emerged from her tooth tightening, the story was set in stone and we were working on new refrains to old holiday hits.

he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good…or Santa Vulture’s gonna peck your eyes out….

It didn’t rhyme, but that didn’t stop us from singing, “Santa Vulture’s coming to town.”

It’s only a matter of time before I get a call from school — a report that the kids are terrorizing their classmates with Alfred Hitchcock-like stories of birds pecking out their eyes on Christmas Eve.

It’s so nice to share holiday traditions with others in the community…


Santa Vulture, plotting for Christmas Eve

Waking to a New State of Being


In our house there’s no morning rush, but a manic marathon to get out the door on time.

Or just a little bit late.

Fortunately, Hadley’s an early riser. By the time I stumble downstairs, she’s eaten breakfast, packed the lunches and is finishing her homework, stitching a dress or darning doll clothes.

What a slacker.

Cayden and Brynn share the other end of the spectrum. They sleep late, rise reluctantly and function at a tortoise pace. They must be nagged, dragged and threatened to dress, eat and gather their backpacks, which often spew papers, books and art projects from the night before.

Then it’s time to wage World War III: wrestling Brynn into her vest for airway clearance. The treatment takes 30 minutes but we allow an hour for resistance, arguments and a meltdown (or as my Mom called my childhood tantrums, “the dying chicken act”). Factor in errant shoes and missing permission slips and it’s a dash to beat the school bell.

A few weeks ago I started sleeping in the guest bedroom, so my insomnia-fueled tossing wouldn’t sabotage Martin’s slumber, and his snoring wouldn’t trouble me. But recently I’ve slept well. Like a normal human being.

So last night I decamped and reclaimed my side of the bed. And this morning I awoke to two revelations: wow, I slept great! followed by, oh crap, it’s already 8.

Eight o’clock is late. Too late for WW III, and we’d have to scrap chess club, which is twice weekly before school.

“Hadley!” I bellowed while reaching for yesterday’s jeans. “I need your help up here!”

Brynn awoke relatively quickly and offered to roust her brother. She scaled Cayden’s top bunk and straddled his chest while screaming, “Wake Up!” and bouncing on him like a bronco buster.

This wasn’t as traumatic as the time that Hadley woke Cayden by dragging him from bed by his feet. (Cayden stayed asleep until the free-fall, when his head struck the rungs of the ladder and he landed in a heap on the floor.)

While not as painful, Brynn’s bronc-riding wasn’t well received.


Note: falling from bed doesn’t guarantee consciousness.

I dished up a condensed version of the manic marathon and shoved them out the door at 8:55. Dirty dishes and food littered the kitchen. We left a trail of shoes, jackets, school papers and overdue library books in our wake.

As we sped to school, I lectured Cayden about his fidgeting and sluggish eating habits. And I lit into Brynn about — well — everything. “Hadley, we have got to get these kids up earlier. Much earlier. I’m sick of you all missing chess club.”

Tires screeching, we arrived at school. So late, there wasn’t a bus in sight. “Out, out out!” I yelled. “Hurry up!”

Brynn buzzed to have the door unlocked and chagrined, we filed in. I prepared to sign the late sheet, they awaited notes for class. I glanced at the wall where the clock should be. “Where’s the clock?” I asked.

“Chess club uses it,” the school secretary replied.

I shrugged and ducked out the door, relieved to avoid a finger-wagging reprimand about timeliness.

I thought I was home free, til I spotted Cayden’s lunch sitting shotgun in the car.

That kid, always forgetting something…

I buzzed the office once again. All three kids were perched on a bench.

“Cayden, here’s your lunch. Why are you all still here? Are you in trouble?”

“They’re in chess club, right?” the school secretary asked.

“Yea, when they get to school on time.” Did I miss something? Were they late for some special chess club meeting?

“Why are they sitting here?”

“Chess club doesn’t start until 8:25.”

“So,” I said, glancing for the missing clock. “Shouldn’t they be in class? What time is it?”

“It’s 8:05.”

Silence blanketed the room. Hadley and I exchanged stunned expressions. Cayden appeared indifferent. Brynn was oblivious — she can’t tell time.

“I told you to look at the kitchen clock,” Cayden finally said.

“I thought you were pointing out that it’s a few minutes slow. It’s 9:05… right?” The office staff erupted in laughter.

“It’s 8:05,” someone sputtered between laughs.

I felt my wrist, then my back pocket, but my watch and phone were at home.

“Well, it feels like 9:05,” I said, mentally reviewing the morning routine. “The clock beside my bed…. I guess it’s still an hour ahead.”

“So is mine,” Hadley admitted. “But I wake up with the sun.”

“It’s really 8:05? Well Cayden, I’m sorry that I made you bolt your eggs. And you can forget that lecture in the car.”

The staff was still laughing as I wandered out, mulling over my bonus hour. I glanced back at the kids. They were wedged together on the bench, wide-eyed and silent, undoubtedly pondering the situation.

This new, uncharted territory: being early.