Friday, September 13, 2002
This is the first column by Penny Zezima, who began writing about
her family in "Country Lines" in April, 1989. It is reprinted
as The Mosquito celebrates its 30th anniversary.
I spent most of a recent Friday afternoon listening to my children bicker bicker over a video game, bicker while we rode in the car, bicker on the checkout line at Star Market where everyone could hear them. They don't seem to talk to each other anymore they just bicker. By the end of the afternoon, I couldn't even remember a time when they had gotten along. So I resorted to one of my standby solutions for bad days. I took them for a walk. They suggested hiking through Punkatasset, off Monument Street in Concord, and even though I was dressed in a skirt, I drove there like a shot. It was the first thing they'd agreed upon all day.
We started off down the trail slowly, taking our time to find the right-sized, walking sticks (or "weapons," as my son Matt prefers to call them.) We stood quietly listening to the geese on the pond and the peepers in the swamp. We took turns choosing which trails to take. As I walked along behind Matt and Sarah, I mentally patted myself on the back. This was "quality time," I thought.
"Quality time" lasted all of about ten minutes. We had brought Punch, our Boston Terrier, with us, and up ahead of me I suddenly heard, "Leave her alone. She's walking with me!"
"No, she's walking with me. You scare her!"
Punch, who's no dummy, had by now disappeared into the woods. "The Bickersons" were back. I finally had to make one child walk ahead of me while the other brought up the rear. For a time, peace returned, but when we got to the next fork in the trail, they got into another heated debate over which way to go. Since I couldn't remember whose turn it was to decide, I settled it in true exasperated-mother-fashion: I chose the trail.
This might have seemed the only sensible solution except for one thing I'm no Sacagawea. My sense of direction is lousy and I tend to choose the road "less traveled by," blithely believing that all trails eventually lead to where I want to go. They rarely do, and after a while, I had to admit that we were lost.
By the time I finally realized that I had no idea of where we were, we had been walking for an hour and a half. We were now faced with retracing our steps with less than an hour of daylight left. As we turned back, I explained to Matt and Sarah that we would have to hike very fast and not stop for any reason. Some of my concern must have found its way into my voice, for they grew very quiet. Here it comes, I thought, as we hurried along the trail; here's something concrete for them to bicker about.
"Your fault!" "No, your fault!" "No, Mom's fault!"
I prepared a quick lecture in my head, one that could be said with very little breath as we pounded up hills. But it proved unnecessary. Instead, I watched as my son turned to help his sister cross the rocks each time we forded a stream. To my amazement, Sarah offered to carry Matt's "weapons" when he decided they were slowing him down. For half an hour, as we hiked double-time back through the dimming woods, my children cooperated and cared for each other in a way that made me suspect that they were changelings. Despite my fear that we might be spending the night in the woods, a part of me felt immeasurably encouraged by the transformation.
Dusk was deepening into full night when we saw the glow of lights from houses we had passed halfway along the trail. We crashed our way through the undergrowth that bordered one of the lawns and, bedraggled, we presented ourselves at someone's front door to ask for directions. We must have looked pitiful standing there. Matt's face was scratched; Sarah was holding a shivering Boston Terrier, and my stockings had a gaping hole in one knee from a tumble I had taken back in the woods. The woman who opened the door took one look at us and insisted that she drive us back to where we'd parked our car. As I slid gratefully into the front seat of her car, I noticed Matt was helping his sister buckle the strange seat belt. "Here, Matt," said Sarah, "you can hold Punch. She'll feel warmer with you." Praise be, I thought, casting my eyes upward, there was hope for peaceful coexistence.
Of course, you know how this ends. This experiment in cooperative living lasted until we reached our car and were heading home. Then they got into an argument over whose legs were more tired. They did, however, agree on one more thing that night. "Mom, you sure looked goofy when you fell down in the woods."
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito