Being temporarily out of seven-year-olds, my wife and I borrowed one for a few weeks this summer. "A snail!" Larry would exclaim frequently during our dog walks with the enthusiasm an adult typically reserves for winning lottery tickets and unicorn sightings. Pretty great.
In addition to snails, Larry was also entranced by creepy-crawlies of every description: "An ant! Wow! A moth! Cool! A spider! Ick! A butterfly! WOW!!" Fortunately the South Florida summer was only too happy to oblige. Bugs everywhere.
In my dotage, I seem to have forgotten the meanings of the words "joy" and "discovery." The youngest of the children with whom we usually reside is now a self-reliant 17. I quickly remembered the meaning of the word "tired." I enjoy a third game of Parcheesi as much as the next man, but there were some nights when bedtime was a welcome endeavor. Will this child EVER run out of energy and go to bed? Perhaps. Possibly before I have to get up and go to work in the morning.
In addition to looking down for bugs, Larry also enjoyed looking up at the explosion of flowering trees. Poincianas are resplendent in summer. Their bright red and orange blossoms are unending fireworks.
The downside of Poinciana trees is that their roots are relentless. If the tree grows too close to the house, the roots can wreak havoc--destroying septic tanks, water mains, even concrete walls. Fortunately, when the trees are a foot high, they are no more difficult to dispose of than a big weed. One swift pull and they're gone. Even when the tree is three-feet tall, one snip with the clippers is all it takes. If the tree is ten feet, a chain saw and five minutes will solve the problem. But if the tree is 25-feet tall, $1250 and a three-person crew is needed. The Poinciana tree insidiously destroying the foundation of my house is 35-feet tall.
But I saw no reason to burden our seven-year-old guest with the unfortunate economics of horticulture, so we returned home from the dog-walk. Our new treasures of bugs and flowers were left outside. Langley curled up for a nap; Larry asked for his iPad; and I mentioned that we are a "no-screens" household. Larry was briefly puzzled by the phrase. Upon learning that a "no-screen household" meant that no screens would be used by seven-year-olds in our household, Larry had what we savvy child care professionals call a "come-apart." He threw himself face down on the couch. He wailed about the unfairness of life. He fussed and cried. If he had known any inappropriate words, he would doubtless have used them. He was thoroughly and totally annoyed. This unfortunate display went on for close to a full 60 seconds. After which Larry stopped crying and asked if we could go fishing. I agreed that fishing sounded like a great idea. So we grabbed a stick and some line and trotted out. Larry didn't ask about the screen for the remainder of his visit. Sixty seconds. Done. Nothing to see here. Move along.
With the Poinciana tree, I got it wrong. What should have been a one-minute no brainer has morphed into a two thousand dollar nightmare. With my seven-year-old houseguest, I got it right. And if you think a couple thousand dollars to take out a tree is a brutal, unnecessary expense, check out the fees for residential treatment centers for video game addiction. Because good luck telling your 17-year-old that he can't play video games anymore. Easier to push back the tide. Of course, not everyone who plays video games becomes addicted. Not everyone who drinks alcohol becomes an alcoholic. Duh. But everyone who does become an alcoholic started with one drink rather than several. And everyone who flunks out of college because he's playing video games 11 hours a day started by playing a little before he ended up playing a lot.
Here are two of my favorite expressions about kids: 1) "When they're little, they step on your feet; when they're big, they step on your heart." 2) "Little children, little worries." I'm going to pilfer a saying from another context: "Pay me now or pay me later." With Poinciana trees and video games, now is cheaper.