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The Cupcake Walk

At almost every other booth at the Halloween Carnival, participants win no matter their performance. Pick a duck with a black bottom? Candy! But, pick a duck with an orange bottom? Toy! Toss a ring that lands around the pumpkin? Yay, a prize! Toss a ring wildly behind you narrowly leaving an innocent classmate’s eye intact? Yay, the same prize!

But, only five of the eighteen kids who participate in each round of the Cupcake Walk walk away with a cupcake. It’s a harsh reality to face. Cory and Fisher, together with their neighbors and good friends, Pierce (C and F’s age) and Laird (younger) line up for the Cupcake Walk. Cory and Pierce quickly pick up what to do. Laird has to be firmly directed, so, of course, Laird wins the cupcake, while they do not. As the preschooler enjoys the fruits of his, um, labors, Cory shrugs her shoulders, puts fingers to lips, and pleads with her eyes to do it again. Pierce is clearly upset as well, while Fisher — a very stoic Batman today — moves off to stand in line, you know, to shoot something. Cupcakes, schmupcakes.

Cory tries again while Pierce gathers his courage. Even though the walk is to one of her favorite songs (…”my anaconda don’t, my anaconda don’t…”…yah, don’t, as in, don’t get me started on that one…), she doesn’t win. Again. Pierce joins her for what is sure to be lucky attempt number three, bucked up by words of encouragement: it’s okay, not everyone wins every time, etc. When the music stops, she is called to the center, but he is not. She heads to the cupcake prize table; he heads over to the adults, struggling mightily against renewed disappointment.

Of her own accord, after much deliberation and ultimate selection of a cellophane-wrapped Halloween-themed cupcake, unprompted, she runs immediately over to Pierce to hand him her cupcake. He is a little shaken by this gratitude, which the adults all praise. She stares down, either a little embarrassed by all the attention or wistfully eyeing one last time the chocolate she won’t be eating.

For Daddy, it’s a win-win-win. The gift shows generosity and empathy, it blunts his disappointment, and no more sugar enters her system. And, believe it, more than enough sugar had already gone into her system this day to have justified two, three *other* posts, posts which would not have reflected well, probably on either Daddy or her.

Better to focus, at the end of a challenging day, on the positive.

Danny and Sandy

For some reason, it’s hard for Daddy to pull together a competent ponytail on just a random weekday. But, on the fiftieth day of kindergarten, already running late, Cory’s hair an inch and a half shorter, with layers, it’s near impossible. Then…

C: Daddy! You forgot my “C”!
D: Your what? Cory, we need to…
C (patting her heart): But, my “C”…

Daddy grabs the package of monograms. Sandy and Danny help find the cursive “C”. Daddy struggles to peel off the backing.

D: Hey, Zuko, can you find my glasses?
F: Oh! Sure!

Daddy keeps picking at the backing with glasses on. What’s wrong? Arrrr! Daddy walks over and, you know, actually looks at the package, which advertises “Iron-on Monograms.” Ah, crap. Finding the iron is a feat, since, um, no one ever irons anything in this house. Daddy pulls Cory’s dress off, wrecking the ponytail, and irons a ripped up “C” on it. Back over the head. A new ponytail, twice as stressful as the first.

F (on the way to school): Is Grease fifties time?
D: Yes, silly. Danny and Sandy are from the fifties.
F: Go, Grease Lightning, you earnin’ a [garbled]! (Pause.) Daddy, can you do me a favor?
D: Yes.
F (pointing): Can you wipe my neck? Something is wet. The grease lightning is running down.
D (smiling): I guess you can have too much grease lightning, huh?
C: Daddy, why are none of the older kids dressed like fifties?
D (looking around at older kids in regular clothes): Um…

Thankfully, other kindergartners, across the blacktop, are decked out. Another girl in Cory’s class is wearing the exact same dress. They decide to be twins for the day. Few other boys sport grease, but they at least have pant legs rolled up. The kids beam in their getups.

Cory’s “C” is hanging by a thread, but it’s hanging. Never. Making. Another. Ponytail. Under. Duress.

Hoping for a Graveyard Liftoff

In the nearby “broom graveyard,” Fisher gives it his best cackle. Despite Daddy’s warning that an old, discarded broom does occasionally come back to life, whisking its rider off to someplace exotic, magical, and scary, Cory climbs aboard.

Fisher tries really hard to kick “off the ground” a couple of times. Daddy is relieved that this particular broom is dead, as in, dead dead. “It probably only comes back to life at the deepest, darkest hour. Like midnight on Halloween.” Fisher gives it a wondering second look, after the walk moves along.

That night, at bedtime, following more Chamber of Secrets…

D: Who is the Slytherins’ new Seeker?
F: Ron Weasley!
D: Ron’s not a Slytherin, silly. It has to be…
C: Malfoy!
D: That’s right! And why did he…
F: Because his daddy bought the team those Nimbus 2001 brooms!
D (squeezing him): That’s right!
F: Harry Potter should buy the…what is his team called again?
C: The Gryffindors.
F: Harry Potter should use his coins in Gringotts to buy his team some Nimbus 2002 brooms, right, Daddy?
D: Oh, that’s a good idea. Except Harry might need that money for other things later, so…
More questions (they always want more questions) about Harry Potter and a lullaby or two later…
F: Daddy, can I ask you a question?
D: Sure.
F: Can I have a Nimbus 2002 for my birthday?
D: Oh, I wish, Fisher. But, there’s one problem.
F: What is it?
D: I don’t know how to get to Diagon Alley.
F: Oh, yah. That’s where Flourish and Botts is, right?
C (groggily): It’s in London. That’s a long day away, and Papa’s already in India, Fisher, so Daddy can’t just go to London. I miss Papa.

Daddy snuggles them and starts the last song.

F (slightly defeated): Oh, okay.

It’s a constant frustration to be so thoroughly Muggle-born.

Sunday Morning Chartreuse

The driver of the first car noticed on Sunday morning’s walk is either blind or indifferent, at least to children on bikes. Daddy glares.

C: She was going too fast, right, Daddy?
D: Right. Way too fast.
F: Sometimes drivers go too fast.
D: Uh huh.
F: But sometimes they go too slow, right, Daddy? (Pause. No answer as Daddy continues to glare at the car racing down the residential street.) You don’t like it when drivers go too fast, but Papa doesn’t like it when drivers go too slow. He just says mean words to them. But, they can’t hear him, so that’s okay, right, Daddy?
D (dialing back in): What? Wait. No, so…

The driver of the second car noticed on the walk is a computer. The Google self-driving cars are often out in force in our neighborhood, tooling around, practicing or something.

F/C: Look, Daddy! A Google car!
D: I see.
F: Why is it just sitting there?
C: Daddy, can we go down there by it?
D: Look, they are starting to move toward us. Move to the side guys.

The Google car pulls up to the stop sign, a twin waving on either side. The “driver” and passenger (who look barely sixteen) smile and wave back. The kids don’t notice. Instead, they stand transfixed, mesmerized by the revolving thing-a-mug-jig on top of the car. That needs to go on the Christmas list. Daddy wonders to himself how it should be branded: Google Stun? Google Freeze? Google Petrificus Totalus? Google Pretty Bush?

The driver of the third car noticed on the walk hasn’t moved it in months. On prior days, Fisher, knowing that Daddy has allergies, has kept his bike between Daddy and the Pollen Car, confident that by doing so, he can shield Daddy from sneezing and generally “getting lergic.” Rain the day before, though, has done it’s thing. All that pollen now lines a nearby puddle.

F: I didn’t know that the er, eh, uh, I didn’t know that the Pollen Car was blue!
D: Yah, it was an ugly yellow before.
C: It was dirty.
D: There’s a funny word for ugly yellow. Do you want to know what it is?
F/C: Yah.
D: Chartreuse. Can you say “chartreuse”?
F/C: Chartreuse.
F: What does that mean?
D: Ugly yellow. Hey, guys, I’m thirsty.
F: Okay, Daddy.
D: I really need something to drink. (Pause.) Hey, do you think I should drink the chartreuse water in that puddle?
F/C: No! Ew!
D: But, I’m really thirsty. I’m just gonna have a teensy sip…
F/C (moving to cut Daddy off): No, Daddy! Don’t!
D: But, if Quincy were here, she’d just take a…
C (laughing): But, she’s a dog!
F (laughing): She doesn’t even know! You don’t want to get lergic, Daddy!

Pause.

C (as the walk moves along): Daddy, can I tell you something?
D: Of course.
C: One day Rusty at my school ate grass.

Good to know. The cars noticed for the rest of that walk are moving, each having a human driver who actually seems to care enough to drive at a speed that minimizes risk to small children with, you know, the gall to go for a walk. Through a residential neighborhood. Early. On a Sunday morning. (Oh, and, get off my lawn…)

Black Spiders and White Lies

F/C (standing in the front yard): Can we please do the Halloween decorations now?

Daddy surveys the front porch. The bench sits there as usual. A few struggling, replanted fuchsias, are surrounded by a dozen pumpkins, all patch-bought. (The vines belched up nothin’ this year.) The morning started with carving, so one of the pumpkins is now a jack-o-lantern. That, and two bats hung from the eaves the prior weekend, do the bare minimum to transform a pretty weak-looking harvest theme into something ever so slightly Halloween.
Daddy waffles. (It’s only five days to Halloween anyway…what’s here could do…it all seems like work, rather than fun…)

F/C: Please!

Daddy rallies. The three get busy. Webs are stretched over the first window. Everyone steps back to assess early progress. Daddy looks sideways at Cory. She shakes her head rapidly in approval. Daddy glances at Fisher.

F: It looks good, Daddy.
D: Guys, I think we might need some more decorations.
F (as Cory widens her smile): Do you think so? But, where could we get some?
D: I mean, we only have like six or seven spiders…
C: We could buy some more or…
D: The store! Let’s do it! Go, guys, go! Shoes on! In the car! Before I change my mind!
They scramble toward the house.
D: Go! Go! Go!

It is getting dark by the time they carry bags of rats, spiders, and skulls out of the car. All three get to work. At one point, Daddy overhears them…

C: This is so fun, right, Fisher?
F: Yes, I love decorations.
C: We are staying up so late.
F: Cory, is it past our bedtime?
C: Yes, Fisher. Look how dark it is outside.
F: Is it past 10:10?
C (confident gesture): Oh, yah, it’s like half past thirty, so…

It’s 7:50….ten minutes before their bedtime.

C: It’s so fun staying up late like this.
F: I know! I am making a line of spiders so they could clackety-clack along this bench. Do you think Daddy’s going to let us keep decorating until it’s morning time?
C: I hope so!
F (seeing Daddy): Daddy, is it past 10:10?
D: Oh, yah, guys, it sure is late. We better wrap soon.
F: Aaaaw, do we…
C: No, Daddy!
F: …have to!
C: It’s only like 10:10!

Two verses into a lullaby and both are out only ten minutes past usual. In the morning, they act super-groggy, informing Daddy that they are an “extra bit tired” because they stayed up so late decorating. Daddy makes sympathetic noises in agreement. What’s a few white lies to go with all those black spiders this time of year…