Family / Parenting

The Lesson of the Leprechaun Trap

B is in tears, his face reddened with intensity, his head bobbling ever so slightly side-to-side as it does when he’s about to panic, because he can’t remember how his leprechaun trap is supposed to work!

Leprechaun traps became tradition in our family seven years ago. While on vacation in Ireland, two-year-old B and his cousins decorated boxes and left them outside the bed and breakfast where we were staying, hoping to catch the mythical creatures we parents (okay, mostly me) had been spinning tales about throughout our trip.

Since then, each year B and (eventually) little brother K have created traps to set out on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day. And each year the problem-solving this project involves has become increasingly more complex, including long discussions about Leprechaun psychology, rudimentary physics, engineering strategies and the frustrating gap between the kids’ imaginations and the limitations of our building abilities.

The planning stages of Operation Leprechaun Trap 2014 had started plenty early. K designed and executed his plan in less than an hour – a record for him. B, not so much. He chose the box. He wrote messages all over it, warning leprechauns away (because reverse psychology works with leprechauns). He taped it shut and cut a small hole in the top for the leprechauns to fall through. He finished all that last Thursday afternoon, and then he decided to leave the final touches until later.

And then he forgot.

And then I forgot.

And then we went away for the weekend.

And now it’s 7:50 on Sunday night, a.k.a. bedtime in our house, and tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, and ohmygod the leprechaun trap!

Leprechaun traps, homemade science experiments, lemonade stands, vehicles made out of cardboard boxes – I used to love this stuff. Over the past nine years, I’ve amassed volumes of photos of the kids getting crafty, smiling in their paint-covered smocks. But lately, I’m just not that into it.

What happened to that undeniable urge to spark and/or follow my kids’ imaginations? When did all that DIY goodness begin to feel like a chore? Where has it gone, the joyful call and response of “Mom, may I make a [fill in the blank]?” and “Sure! What materials do you need?”

I want to blame school – all that “follow your bliss” time we used to have has been eaten up by six classroom hours a day, plus homework. I want to blame organized extracurriculars – baseball, hip-hop, music lessons – clogging up our afternoon time. I want to blame parenthood – it’s a long gig, one’s bound to get bored eventually, right?

I mean, how many leprechaun traps can a parent help make before the thrill wears off?

Fifteen. (I just counted on my fingers.)

So here we are: a nine-year-old kid in tears and an exhausted parent, staring at an unfinished leprechaun trap, both of us hating the damn thing for different reasons.

So many wrong words want to fall out of my mouth right now:

“C’mon, dude, you yourself told me last week that you don’t believe in leprechauns, now suddenly you’re believing so hard you’re crying? How about I just give you the five bucks that we both know I’m going to stick in that trap after you go to bed, and we call it a day?”

But I can’t do that. To either of us. This guy who has been chomping at the bit to grow up before his time – begging to ride in the front seat of the car, shrugging off my hugs, rolling his eyes at, well, pretty much anything that used to delight him – in this moment, he’s holding so fiercely to this still-beloved tradition that I know I need to jump in with him and hold on, too.

So I take a deep breath and ask, “Okay, what materials do you need?”

You know that thing people say to parents who have reached their limit: enjoy every minute; it goes by too fast? I hate it when people say that. It’s the most obnoxious kind of advice: annoyingly upbeat, perpetually ill-timed and maddeningly true.Well, at least the second part: yes, his childhood is sailing by way too fast. While I’ve given up expecting myself to enjoy every minute, I’m sure as hell not going to help speed it up.

Leprechaun Trap #15 (Not that I'm counting.)

Leprechaun Trap #15 (Not that I’m counting.)


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