Just add kids and dirt

The sky is blue, the sun is blazing and the aroma of SPF 60 sunscreen permeates the air.

The husband was up early wearing his bright orange hearing protectors inflating the large pool that came in a box picturing clean-scrubbed, happy children at play. Inflated and filled, clear water in the pool shimmers in the dazzling rays of morning sun.

The whole crew is here today—11 clean-scrubbed, happy grands just like the children on the box. Make that 11 plus one. A sweet 6-year-old neighbor boy from around the corner has joined the pack, making it a full dozen.

The kids are unleashed, running and jumping, splashing and screaming, younger ones taking time to wipe water from their eyes on fluffy clean towels.

Soon, two adorable little ones are using butterfly nets to strain bits of grass from the glistening pool water.

An hour later, it appears my colander is being used to strain even more grass and bits of thatch from the pool.

By 11 o’clock, the sun is nearly overhead, and the water is turning cloudy.

A 4-year-old whispers to her mother that she likes the neighbor boy. I considered sending the neighbor boy home.

By noon, the water is markedly murky and the 4-year-old is giving the neighbor boy rides on the back of a tricycle as she circles the patio.

Grass and thatch cling to all their legs and arms but not a one of them cares. The children on the box would care.

The once clean towels are now soaked, matted and trampled. A 3-year-old runs by with a dried reed stuck to her back.

A 1-year-old, who only recently learned to walk, totters over with a water shooter in each hand. You have to wonder who she’ll take aim at—her older cousins or the grandma who just cut off her supply of Cheerios.

After a lunch of PBJ and apples the wild things dutifully line up for another application of sunscreen because it aint over ‘til it’s over. The once beautiful lawn encircling the pool is an ever-widening mud slick. A tear glistens in the husband’s eye.

By 2 o’clock, the pool water is a muddy brown. If kids who had not been here since morning  came over and someone said, “Get in the pool,” the kids would recoil in horror and run screaming.

By 3 o’clock the pool water appears to be morphing from a liquid to a solid. The grandchildren are officially swamp people.

Cushions on the patio chairs bear mud prints and the beach towels are likely history. T-shirts and cover-ups that were once white are now the color of dirt.

At 5 o’clock, the neighbor boy’s teenage sister arrives to pick him up. He culls through piles of flip flops and pool toys scattered throughout the yard searching for his tennis shoes and mud-colored T-shirt. On his way out the door, he politely asks my daughter, “Was this play or a party?”

“It was play,” she says.

“Oh,” he said, “I thought there might be a party bag.”

“No, this was just play. You should see them when they party.”

This baby owl is a hoot

Looking back, burping the owl was the first mistake.

Cueing the barking dogs was the second, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

We planted strawberries in the raised beds this spring. Those would be the raised beds that we keep raising a little higher each year to deter critters. In a few more years, the raised beds will be raised so high, we’ll need ladders to pull weeds.

Or we can just ask the rabbits to pull the weeds for us.

Last year, one of the little ones asked if we could buy a strawberry plant. We did, fully expecting it would die and we would have thrown good money out the window, but the kid was asking for a strawberry plant, not a pony or a video-game console, so we bought It.

We threw the plant in the garden, turned our backs and lo and behold, it shot out a runner and grew another plant. And that plant shot out a runner and it grew another plant, and that plant shot out a runner, and on and on until the strawberries were multiplying like germs in flu season.

The plants produced berry after berry, all of which were bright red and beautiful, and none of which we tasted. But the rabbits did. Every single one of them. Those would be the same rabbits that steal our lettuce and cherry tomatoes after dark and make lovely salads of mixed greens with a light vinegar and oil dressing while we sleep.

We were going to beat the rabbits at their game this year. The berries would be ours. We bought a large plastic owl and positioned it by the strawberries. The owl is ferocious looking with beady eyes and steely glare. The theory is that owls are predators that frighten rabbits. But you know how theories work.

We never had a chance to test the theory as one of the grands picked up the plastic owl, began carrying it about, patting its back and trying to burp it.

“Put that down! That’s not a baby doll, that’s a ferocious predator!”

She started calling it, “Baby Owl.”

Any predator loses a modicum of ferocity when its first name is Baby. A predator is even less fearsome when it wears a sun hat with a ruffle. And, once an owl has been seated in a little chair for milk and cookies in the playhouse, it becomes a laughingstock. Rabbits jumped out of hiding smirking from ear to ear and guffawed so hard their tails shook.

My second line of defense was to play an audio clip of barking dogs. Talk about ferocious. I hit play and cranked the volume. The rabbits were startled.

We had them now. Or did we?

They moved closer and closer. Two of them parked beneath a bush and appeared to enjoy the canine chorus.

I halfway wondered if they were waiting for shortcake and whipped cream to go with the strawberries.

Wait all you want, rabbits, it’s not berry likely.