kids

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.

Max Und Moritz

How often one must read or hear

Of children, who should be so dear,

But are as naughty as can be

And practice darkest devilry.

 

Like most kids, I was raised on a diet of popular, perennial children’s books, like: “Green Eggs and Ham,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” and “The Giving Tree.”

But my grandmother also introduced me to Max and Moritz: two cartoonishly unattractive and unrepentant boys, who terrorize their community with cruel, malicious tricks.

Originally published in Germany, in 1865, “Max and Moritz, A Story of Seven Boyish Pranks,” occupied my grandmother’s bookshelf, and she frequently translated the tale — told in rhymed couplets — while I listened enraptured, and scrutinized each illustration.

The story was a welcomed diversion from typical books, laden with lessons and awash in sweet, furry animals and light-hearted fun.

These boys were rotten to the core. They strangled the neighbor’s chickens, in gruesome style.

They sawed through a bridge, nearly drowning the town’s tailor.

And they packed their teacher’s pipe with gunpowder, causing an explosion that disfigures his face and burns off his hair.

Not exactly warm and fuzzy bedtime reading…

But I never tired of this narrative.

Considering children’s literature that is banned or criticized — (Shel Silverstein’s whimsical poems have been banned for promoting disobedience) — it’s unlikely that school libraries will ever stock Max and Moritz.

Fortunately, my kids have not been deprived. While I’m unable to translate German, I recently stumbled on a tattered, paperback English version of the tale.

I read it over dinner. The kids barely touched their food, opting to peer at the pictures of two gleeful boys, wreaking havoc and celebrating the suffering of others… just as I had followed my grandmother’s book, so many years ago.

I was happy to share another childhood memory — a story, which actually, has a happy ending.

The villagers get their comeuppance.

Max and Moritz choreograph 7 pranks… but the final one does them in.

When they slash open a farmer’s sack of corn, he catches them in the act. And he bags them, and hauls them to the local mill. There, they are ground into bits.

From an adult’s perspective, I see the lesson instilled — from the relieved villagers, who express no remorse:

“None but self to blame, mischief is not life’s true aim.”

And, although the chickens are victims of Max and Moritz’s first trick, ultimately, the poultry persevere.

The ducks — who live at the mill — are fat and happy.

They devour all that remains of Max Und Moritz.

The tent people

It’s 11 pm and everyone’s tucked in. The horses are in the barn. The cats are in the loft. And the kids and dog are in their tent.

Yes, the squatters are back: in a tent, in the yard.

They did this last summer, but I don’t know what prompted an encampment now. One day, I was out running errands and when I returned, the tent had popped up like a mushroom.

That was more than 2 weeks ago. Since then, the kids have slept out virtually every night. And they refuse to surrender their new abode.

In fact, when they’re home from school, they make a beeline for their tent.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s kind of nice. When the weather’s decent, they only come inside to eat and change clothes. (There’s an outdoor shower).

But the tent shouldn’t be a permanent fixture, I explained. Okay, they replied, as they disappeared inside and zipped up the door.

Last Thursday night — about 10 days in — I saw an opportunity for eviction: 100% chance of rain, and high winds. Finally, Martin and I had some leverage.

But the kids slept out there anyway. (I did check the radar, which called for heavy rain but no violent storms.)

Still, I didn’t sleep well; I worried about them.

Weather weary, but still standing

I walked outside at 6:30 am. It was still raining. The tent was pretty wind battered. Overnight, water perked up through the ground and rain blew in, soaking their pillows. They’d all piled together on the driest portion of the mattress, like shipwrecked survivors on a raft at sea.

Awake, barely

Cayden sleeps like the dead, but the girls had a restless night. (So did Maisie, based on her expression.)

“I was totally freaked out,” Brynn told me. “I thought the tent was going to blow away!”

What did you do? I asked.

She shrugged. “I went back to sleep. I pretended the wind was the crowd, and the raindrops on the tent were hits.”

Brynn lulled herself to sleep with an imaginary baseball game.

This week, the cold posed a bigger challenge, with a hard frost a couple of nights. I tried to rub it in, asking Cayden, “Hey, will you make me a fire before you go out to your tent?”

But that didn’t smoke them out either. They just commandeered more blankets.

What’s next? I’m hoping for a heatwave. Oppressive humidity and soaring temperatures might do the trick.

Then, I’m breaking down that tent and stashing it from sight.