Every so often, when I’m feeling self-pitying and a little drunk, I’ll tell someone that my greatest regret in life is not having more children. Only the boldest among them ever point out that whenever I’m actually in charge of more than one child, I behave like Courtney Love with PMS.
This weekend was Mass Garage Sale weekend back in Fort Wayne, when two adjoining neighborhood associations urge all members to sell all the crap in their house. The association buys classified ads, and at the crack of 8 a.m. the whole neighborhood fills with crap-seekers from all over northeast Indiana. (To understand why this is one of the two or three social events of the year in my neighborhood, it would help to be a Hoosier, but if you can imagine, you know.) Kate’s been bugging us to let her invite her Ann Arbor friend Sophia to spend some time with us in the Fort, and it seemed like this was the perfect opportunity. We’d sell our crap and hang the screens on Saturday, then head up to the lake on the way home, weather permitting. We’d have takeout and cookout and ice cream at Zesto, and oh what a time we’d have.
And, truth to tell, we did. But I’d forgotten the most important rule of parenthood: That one child has the maturity and IQ of one child, but two children have the maturity and IQ of half a child, and when you throw one more in, well, forget it. I was reminded of the days of Taryn, Kate’s playmate in the years 4 and 5, who would openly speculate that they could probably throw themselves in front of passing cars without bodily harm, because they could hang onto the bumper whooping down the street, the way the characters in Warner Brothers cartoons do. I gave each of the girls $5 and told them to go hit the sales until they’d spent it all. Moments later, Kate appeared in tears — she’d lost her fiver “and now Sophia will get all the stuff.” This was only the first eruption in what would become a long, hot day, made more so by the passing parade of crap-seekers.
Oh, look, here’s one: My age, minivan with bad muffler, teenager in the passenger seat. She chooses three clothing items thisclose to the rag bag, then goes back to the van to get her 75 cents. I follow her, to save her a return trip. The back of the van is a forest of car seats. “Wow,” I say. “How many you packin’ there?”
“Five,” she says. I ask if she’s providing daycare. Nope, that’s her grand-nephew, grand-niece, grandchild, two-year-old and I forget who the other kid was — maybe the fifth was the teen. Just another action-packed life in the Hoosier state.
Things improved, though, and we saw “Shrek 2” and got ice cream and doughnuts and ended up at the lake, where my first paddle back to the Puddle — a sub-basin cut off from most boat traffic by its narrow channel — was a veritable Marlon Perkins special. Sighted: A beaver (“Keep up the good work narrowing that channel!”), enough enormous leatherback turtles to cast a disaster movie, snakes, a pair of swans with one on the nest and tons of red-winged blackbirds. I got close enough to flush some nesting females, and saw their nests, which appear to be wispy grass cups held in the tenuous grasp of waving cattails. So much of nature seems to have such a tenous grasp in the world, it’s a miracle any reproduction gets done. Nevertheless, the blackbirds defended their nests as valiantly as the swans.
If you want to see action, you can go to a garage sale, or a swamp, two habitats with a wealth of observable behavior.