My four-year-old daughter came into the kitchen where my husband and I were cleaning up. "Can I have another piece of candy?" she asked.
I turned to her and said indignantly, "Of course not! Dinner's in half an hour!" But then my husband looked at me with both pity and censure and said, "They've already eaten all theirs." That would be my nine-year-old son and his best friend who had, unbeknownst to me, eaten all their candy while playing cards in the other room. Turning to our daughter, my husband gently said, "Yes, honey, you can have another piece, but only one."
At first I was ready to march in there and let the boys have it for eating all that sugar. Then, realizing I was on tenuous moral ground, I shrugged and turned back to the dishes. What did I expect after buying them candy and gum cigars, then setting them up with chips and cards for a nice, cozy afternoon of poker?
I blame it on Mother Nature.
Fall in New England is the ne plus ultra when it comes to old-fashioned Yankee fun. Look to your left and see 100-year-old agricultural fairs. Look to your right and there are more apple picking festivals than you can count. Look ahead and see fairs, parties and cookouts. And everywhere, like weeds in a garden: pumpkins, scarecrows, gourds.
This year, much to the entire region's dismay, it rained for most of the fall. And so, as we often do when under duress, we resorted to the lowest common denominator; on this day, that meant coffee, candy and poker. Have we become the people you fear your own kids will befriend? I wondered about this when our son’s friend emotionally said, "I only really live when I'm with you." It could have been love, but then again, it could have been the caffeine speaking.
Friends know that I lie to my own kids, but I seem to have taken a turn for the worse by starting to urge other people's children to lie as well. When this sweet boy happily exclaimed, "I had coffee today for the first time!" I nervously replied, "Let's keep that our little secret, okay, buddy?" Then I hastened to add a jocular, "Just kidding!" But I wasn't. We adore this kid. When we have him for the day, life is better. Never mind that his vegetarian parents who both work for nonprofits don't even let him watch TV. We must have access to him, even if it involves a little bait and switch.
Here were my thoughts: So he’d had had a little coffee and a bit too much candy before dinner. So he'd learned how to gamble at our house. That was hours before drop-off. I came up with a plan to erase all unsavory memories from his mind: the most wholesome vegetarian dinner in the world. Homemade vegetable soup with homemade sourdough rolls. Chocolate milk from a local dairy. And hot-from-the-oven fruit crisp, using apples we'd picked at a farm. Our strategy was, when we took him home and told his parents about the day: focus on dinner.
A couple of months later, I was starting to get nervous - we hadn't seen this friend since the Day of Coffee and Gambling. Maybe my plan hadn't worked after all. But finally, I heard from his dad - inviting my son and me to play pool with them. By the time the other kids were expertly chalking up their cues and asking who wanted to break, I knew we were home free.