The Scream

Kids have a way of tugging at their parents — physically, verbally, psychologically — until all that’s left of you is a murky puddle of frustration and weariness. 

I think that’s what set off Martin last week. We were at the crossroads of the day — evening, when work ends and kid chores begin. We were especially tired and on the deck, the kids were buzzing around us like mosquitoes. Hadley was the worst.

So Martin caught her eye and flatly announced, “I’m going to cut off your toe.”

Why a toe, I don’t know, but he spoke with conviction. And the Leatherman knife sold the threat.

He turned the blade in his hand. Hadley, I’m going to cut a toe off.

It was such a ridiculous thing to say, I was shocked by Hadley’s response.

She screamed with every fiber of her being. Not that cry of pain, frustration or despair. But raw terror. She tipped her head to the sky, opened her mouth and released a visceral, horrific shriek. Over and over, only pausing to refuel her lungs.

It was really loud. Awe-inspiring.

Finally Martin piped up. “Okay, okay, I won’t cut off your toe. But I’m going to cut off your brother’s instead. Cayden, get out here!”

Apparently, Hadley has just as much affinity for Cayden’s toes because she screamed even louder. The wailing reverberated off the barn and outbuildings.

“Dad’s just kidding! He’s kidding!” I yelled unsuccessfully.

And then the phone rang and Hadley snapped her mouth shut and bolted for the door.

“Hullo?” she said in her typical wary drawl.

“Yea,” she said into the receiver, “that was me screaming.” A pause. “Because my Dad was going to cut my toe off!”

“What did she say?” the neighbor asked me on the phone. “I couldn’t understand what she said.”

Probably for the best.

And as a rule, you shouldn’t issue empty threats. Kids will call your bluff. 

And maybe, “I’ll cut your toe off,” isn’t the most practical threat. But it does get their attention.

Go Fly a Kite

When I was a kid, kite flying was solely a beach activity, where both wind and unfettered space were abundant. At sunset Dad and I staked out an empty slice of sand and I’d pound down the shoreline, kite in hand, until Dad yelled, “okay, let it go.” The kite would hesitate, catching a huff of humid salt air, then make a few desperate dives before the wind finally stepped in. Dad would unspool the string and that kite would climb higher and higher. We’d marvel at how far it went… until it eventually made a suicide plunge into the ocean.

Our kids don’t have to wait for summer vacation. Wind is plentiful. So is the space, if you don’t mind the high grass itching your legs.

Monday was perfectly breezy so we broke out our dragon kite and set it free. Well, not totally free. We let it run on a long leash. And then we reeled it in again.

Rent-A Redneck?

Many years ago, when Martin and I had just bought our farm, we woke early to marvel at our new property.

“Just look at the view,” Martin said, pulling me to the window. “Isn’t that a great sight?”
The sun was already high in a brilliant blue sky and birds twittered along the carriage house.
“Hey, look at the groundhog,” I said pointing at a fat, sandy-colored, beaver-creature ambling around the boxwoods. “Isn’t it cute?”
Just then Pongo, the neighbor’s dalmatian, darted in view and sunk his jaws into the groundhog’s midsection. He thrashed the dickens out of it.
The groundhog put up a fight; it screeched a near-human scream and slashed the air with its claws. But the oversized rodent was no match for Pongo. After an interminable five minutes, the dalmatian dragged away the limp quarry, leaving a pool of blood on the drive.
“Well,” said Martin, “welcome to the country.”
That was 11 years ago. During our naive-newbie days. When groundhogs were cute and Pongo was a miserable cur with a murderous streak.
Now I’d give anything for Pongo and his blood-thirsty vigor.
Since that dog’s passing, groundhogs have been a growing problem. They unearth ankle-breaking holes in our horse pasture. Historically, the burrows have been nestled near the trees — in an area avoided by galloping horses.
But last weekend Martin was mowing the back field when he lost a tire down a huge groundhog burrow. He freed the mower and moments later, Hadley ran across the field and encountered the same crater.
It nearly swallowed her whole.
I did not photograph Hadley’s mishap, but asked if she’d serve as a measuring stick:
“You want me to do what?”
Water and nurture them as seedlings and your kids will sprout in the springtime…
Going, going, almost gone….
It would be devastating if a horse stepped into one of these holes so we’ve moved the herd to the front field while we plot the groundhogs’ “departure.”
There are all sorts of homemade eradication methods — stuffing the burrow with moth balls, ammonia rags, Pine-sol, gasoline, exhaust fumes, sulfur gas cartridges, or cat urine. There are also Havahart traps. But among the dozen I’ve queried, one solution floats to the top: find a good marksman.
Unfortunately, I’m only certified to shoot a water gun. We need to borrow a hunter or rent a redneck. Someone who knows what they’re doing — unlike the pigeon hunters who predated us; they shot up the hayloft, turning the barn roof into a colander.
Sorry, groundhogs. You and and your bone-breaking burrows have got to go!