caretakers of wonder and assorted scritching and scratching…

by bam

one by one, we’re watching the cabs and shiny black cars pull away from the curbs, house after house utterly emptied. shades drawn, garbage cans shlepped to the alley. everyone’s itching, it seems, to trade in their snow boots for great swirls of sunblock, down on the sands of faraway beaches.

any minute now, we’ll have the grocery aisles all to ourselves.

it’s that annual stretch of the year when the town empties out, leaves us home alone to take care of the village. we haul in the mail, up and down the block. we feed the cats and the fish, remember to turn off the lights, click on the radios. every house, its own prescription.

and since tomorrow we wave bye-bye to two of our own here in this old house, the little one and i invited in house guests (see peephole above).

the little one couldn’t be more thrilled. predicted last night–and again this noon, as we ferried them home–that hosting the guinea pigs would make us one popular outpost over these glory days of sleeping late, and staying up later.

first, though, we had to fill out a request form, grownup had to sign it, ink in the permission. (teachers somewhere along the way must have realized that to send home, unannounced, two furry balls with big teeth and noise-making habits, is not to do much for the guaranteed welfare of said rodents.)

apparently, there was a rather grand lottery in third grade the other day. turns out, my boy was the winner. which means, so was i. a fact pounded home by the note sent by the teacher, the one headlined, LUCKY YOU!

the little one’s been talking about his great good fortune ever since. far as he cares, there’s not a beach in the world as grand as hosting these pigs.

why, he’s mapped out their day-to-day itinerary here at the pig hotel. even sketched out a plan for morning recreation, in which aforementioned furballs run free locked in the bathroom, long as we’re sure to plunk down the lid of the toilet, lest the pigs go for an unsupervised swim.

at three hours and counting, i can post this status report: so far, so good. managed to get the wire room (they called it a cage, but anything the size of a bathtub, i say is a room) into the house without scratching the walls or cracking the panes of glass in the door.

the little one set the pigs up with plenty of hay, a sprinkling of carrots, and what had been the apple i sliced up for his lunch.

then the cat came on the scene: egad, high drama.

well, that’s what we feared when the four of us stopped breathing–me, the little one, and the two pigs. but all the old striped cat did was sit there and sniff.

sniffed so long and so hard it took half an hour for our wee little house guests to come out of hiding, there in the woodland get-a-way, or however it’s hyphenated.

in case you were curious–and why wouldn’t you be–they do have names, guest 1 and guest 2. (remember here, it’s third graders doing the naming, so don’t expect french literature or anything.) so, the all-white one, that’s snowflake. and the one with black splotches on top of his creamy white hairs–that’s oreo.

for the next 10 days, their life is on my line. last time we ponied up for pet patrol, back in nursery school when we took in a tortoise that barely moved for two weeks, i couldn’t have sighed a deeper sigh of relief, the day i drove that hard-shell back to school and waved b-bye.

all i’d needed was for that shell to take one breath–inhale or exhale, it didn’t much matter–there in the classroom, and then i could swear on a bible he hadn’t expired, at least not on my watch.

why, i’ve heard tales of mice getting flushed down the toilets, and mamas scrambling under cloak of darkness to find a replacement with similar markings. by the end of that rat race (“no, no can’t go with that one, sir, i need a mouse with stripes on its tail and a Z–not an Y–on its ear”) i’ll bet those mamas will take any old mouse, so long as it’s stirring.

worst i think i ever heard was the hedgehog who heaved. up and died, that prickly thing did. far as i can figure, you can’t just run out to the walgreen’s, come home with replacement hedgehog.

those are the worries that will likely keep me up long chunks of the night, one ear cocked for scritchings and scratchings, the other alert for the fumblings of one hungry cat intent on unlocking the latch of the pig pen.

and so it goes here in the house of the caretakers of wonder. we’ve got a whole spring break ahead of us, and nowhere to go, nothing to worry about. nothing that is, but the lives of two furry balls that a whole class considers full-fledged citizens of the kingdom.

as predicted, already the house is filling with a handful of those very classmates. so declared the chief caretaker blithely last night: “guess i’ll be popular starting tomorrow. everyone wants to play with whoever has the guinea pigs.”

and so it seems to be unfolding, the phone keeps ringing. piles of shoes are strewn at the door.

maybe at long last, thanks to the draw of the pigs, i’ll be the mama sliding the trays of chocolate-chop cookies out of the oven, gobs full of little-boy hands tugging them straight off the baking sheet.

that indeed would make me a caretaker most full of wonder.

this ol meander is strictly preamble. tomorrow i do believe i’ll be posting a saturday special. at the crack of dawn, the little one and i put on our taxi driver caps and steer the big boys–the one looking for just the right college, and his papa–to the airport. they’re heading off for a sweeping arc of the east coast, and a slew of its ivy-covered colleges. that is a trip that will spur me to writing. so watch this space for that heartfelt meander. till then, i’ve apples to slice and carrots to scatter.