Grasping at straws

So my son -Leo?- I may have mentioned him a time or two (or a million) before on this blog, lost a tooth today at camp. He was thrilled.

“I can’t wait to put this under my pillow for the tooth fairy,” he said.

“Why,” I asked.

“You’ll see.”

Later on, Leo found a very nice card and a very nice pencil and he sat down to work.

“Mom,” he said. “How do you spell ‘fairy’?”

I told him. The house deepened into open-mouthed silence. Then:

“Mom,” he said. “How do you spell ‘please’?”

Then: “How do you spell ‘bucks’?”

Finally, after a long time working, he came to my office to show me his work. It was in his very best handwriting. Each word was exactly one fingerspace from the word before it. He had decorated it with wings and hearts and lightsabers.

“You worked hard,” I said.

“I know,” he said. “Because I have a new strategy.”

“For what?”

He looked over his right shoulder. Then over his left. Then he cupped his hands around my ear and whispered earnestly. “I know how I can get a Lego Death Star.”

Ah, the Lego Death Star! Lego Death Star II Coming Soon

It is, in the Barnhill house, the Holy Grail of toys! It is our World Cup, our Pennant, our dragon’s gold, our doorway to Valhalla! It haunts Leo’s dreams and occupies his waking moments. It is all he wants, all he dreams about. It is the one thing – the one thing! – that child covets.

“A lego Death Star?” I asked incredulously.

“I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. The tooth fairy! The tooth fairy has LOTS of money!”

He showed me his note.

Dear Tooth Fairy, his note said. Here is my tooth. I took care of it. Please give me 400 bucks. Love, Leo.

Then, he lovingly placed the note in a quart sized ziplock with his tooth, decorated it with stickers for good measure, and put it under his pillow.

Right now, that child is dreaming of going to Legoland in the Mall of America, plunking down his four hundred bucks in shiny new quarters, and skipping home with the death star under his arm.

Right now, under his pillow, is a new note.

Dear Leo, the note says,

After careful consideration, we decided, instead of four hundred bucks, to give you four quarters.




The Tooth Fairies.


Who’s the meanest mom alive? This girl, right here.


Into the Woods

Last year, I took my family into the wooded north of my fair State – to a wilderness area known around these parts as the Boundary Waters (officially the BWCAW, or Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness). If you’ve never been, you simply must. Ancient rocks, abundant wildlife, deep, cold lakes with some of the clearest water in the world. Moose. Eagles. Cougars. Wolves.

It’s magnificent.

We went sporadically when the girls were little, but ever since my son turned two, we’ve gone every year. And every year, we’ve come home saying, “Well, that was definitely our hardest year. Next year will be easier.”

We said that when Leo tried to lose himself on the portage.

We said that when he stabbed a hole in the tent with a stick.

We said that when he peed on my sleeping bag ….. on purpose.

We said that when he dumped boiling water on his feet – right before a huge storm, and we couldn’t leave.

And we said that last year, when, after using the latrine and accidentally dropping the hand sanitizer into its putrid depths, decided that he would be responsible. He would be useful. And he would be brave. So, my son – my irony-loving son – hooked his arm on the lip of the toilet, and lowered himself inside.

He returned to the campsite, up to his thighs in decomposing shit, proudly displaying the hand sanitizer.

Next year, Ted and I told ourselves with quavering voices and shaking hands. Next year will be easier.

And today, I believe it. Today, we venture into the woods.

There is a great poetry to the wilderness excursion. We go seeking……something. Peace. Riches. Serenity. Enlightenment. Adventure. Castles. Dragons. Enchanted Kings. And we re-emerge into our real lives indelibly changed.

Or the world that we left has shifted under our feet.

Or the universe we left is not the universe to which we return.

We go to the wood and survive in the wood and are changed by the wood. We become fairy tale, fable and myth.

Last year, when we were camping, I brought a notebook and wrote the opening chapters of my project Witless Ned and the Speaking Stones. Since then, I finished the book, and realized that Ned needed an accomplice – a girl named Aine.  Now I return to the story, again in longhand, and will restart the narrative while sitting on a rock, next to a groaning tree and a windy lake.

And you know, I’m rather excited about it.