kids

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.

We have become… them.

When Martin and I bought our first house, almost 20 years ago, it was love at first sight.

The realtor unlocked the door and I sprinted up the stairs, shouting with joy — extinguishing any chance of price negotiation.

And I brainwashed Martin to accept this 1890s white elephant, despite faulty wiring, water damage, cracked plaster, and (as we learned at home inspection) a roof without flashing, and a furnace that — if used — might burn down the house.

That first morning, however, Martin and I weren’t merely stunned by the repairs, but by the general state of the house. It was a mess: dishes piled in the sink and mounds of dirty clothes in every bedroom. A catcher’s mask, chest protector and leg guards scattered in a bathroom suggested a player urgently needed the toilet. But the discarded gear looked days old.

As we wandered around and absorbed it all, the family dog — plagued by a nervous bladder — trailed us, pausing to squat in each room.

“How do people live like this?” I asked Martin.

“No idea,” he replied. Not only had the owners failed to tidy up for potential buyers, they obviously resided in a perpetual state of clutter.

“Well, they do have five kids,” the realtor remarked blandly.

“Even so,” Martin said, as he waded through knee-deep oak leaves, which had killed the lawn after years of neglect.

We couldn’t conceive that capable, able-bodied adults would abandon all semblance of order. Why didn’t they patch the ceiling? Or fix the leaky pipes?

And what kind of useless, heathen children were they raising?

Clearly, they weren’t right in the head.

We renovated the house, enlisting family and friends to assist with the demo and prep work. Outdoors, we restored order and reclaimed the yard, filling a full-sized dumpster with twigs and tree limbs.

The master bedroom, down to the lath

 

 

Prying up carpet staples in the hall, with Dad

Within a few months, the house was habitable and we lived there for three, fun-filled, party-fueled years. But eventually we moved on.

Over the years, I’ve thought about the former owners of that house, and wondered about their neglect and lackluster care.

Fast forward 20 years and I no longer wonder. All of my questions have been answered.

Recently, Martin and I stood ankle-deep in toys, gazing at the yard which resembled a graveyard for garden tools. We were knocking around the topic of home repairs. This discussion always starts and ends the same: We need new siding, and should buy new windows, which would necessitate more insulation (and God knows what else), and if we’re ripping out walls, we should install central AC, and don’t forget the ancient kitchen, not to mention our master bathroom… but we can’t afford all that, so why are we having this conversation anyway?

“You know… that we’ve become them,” I said. “Those people with the kids, who owned our first house and let the place fall apart and become a pigsty. We couldn’t figure them out. But now we ARE them!”

Martin looked resigned, admitting that he’d already reached that conclusion.

A month ago, my mom stumbled on a listing of our first home. It has changed hands a few times, and undergone progressive upgrades and renovations. Presently, it is picture-perfect.

The living and dining rooms

We scrolled through the photos, marveling at improvements that others would miss — heating where there hadn’t been any, using vintage radiators that matched the rest.

The baseball gear bathroom, which had no heat and was always shabby.

The kitchen layout was the same, but it looked divine. I’m sure that the owners would cringe with revulsion if they saw the state of their home 20 years ago.

Here’s a photo of a sitting room, when we closed on the house.

We removed the grim paneling, and ripped out the carpeting throughout the house. When I snapped the photo below, we had moved in, but were still renovating — hence the missing window moldings.

(Side note: I mentioned this particular floor-to-ceiling window in a February post, in reference to Corrie, who’d deliver her Border Collie stare when we watched TV and feigned fatigue.)

Our renovation was a vast improvement.

But another owner took a cataclysmic leap in the quality of upgrades and decor. Here’s that same room today.

“You know, we could do this!” Martin said, scrolling through pictures of our old house transformed. “If we’re tearing out the siding and walls, I think we should move the kitchen to the other side of the house, and build out a new mudroom, and then put a living room where the kitchen was before…”

Move the kitchen? Sure, that sounds realistic and affordable.

Personally, I’d take a kitchen and bathroom upgrade, and new siding. Some day.

In the short term, I’d settle for less clutter…

…And fewer rug-dwelling potato chips and cookie crumbs, stuck to the bottom of my socks.