On a recent family visit, my niece helped me make dinner. I was pleased to have time away from the maddening crowd to make pizza together. I set my niece to chopping pepperoni. We were cooking for 11, so it was a bit of a task for eight year old hands. Meanwhile, I made the dough, grated the cheese, and got together the other toppings.
“Ok,” I said. “Time to put everything together.”
“I think I better go wash my hands before I help again,” she said. “The dog got very excited and licked all my fingers after I finished cutting the pepperoni.”
“Good idea,” I said.
She left to wash her hands.
“Unless,” I tossed over my shoulder, “we want to make it our secret ingredient. What if everyone thought this was the best pizza ever and then it turns out that our secret ingredient was dog slobber?”
My niece laughed because she knew I was joking. She disappeared to wash her hands for a few minutes, also because she knew I was joking.
Fifteen minutes later, pizzas in the oven, table set, and doing up the dishes, my niece had a question.
“When can we tell them?” she wanted to know.
“Tell them what?” I said.
“About the secret ingredient,” she said.
“There is no secret ingredient. You washed your hands, remember?” I said.
“No, I didn’t,” she said.
“You didn’t?” I said.
“No,” she said happy and oblivious to my horror. “So when do I get to tell them?”
I quizzed her carefully but she wasn’t joking. I made her swear a vow of eternal silence on the matter of dog slobber (mostly, but I didn’t say so, on account of Boy one’s fragile emotional capacities in matters surrounding his food). Niece was profoundly disappointed but complied. Nothing else profound in the tale here today except the lesson that you make your own bed before you lie in it, and sometimes innocent looking little blond eight year old’s find mild wickedness compelling and delightful.
On Friday, the boys arrive in the house triumphant, almost dizzy with joy.
“We’re going to tell you a secret,” declares boy two to the girls.
“After dinner,” says boy one.
“But you’re never to tell.”
“Best fort in the whole world. Ever.”
“But no grownups allowed to know about it.”
These pronouncements are met with vows of everlasting fidelity from younger sisters. The fact that I am standing three feet away is part of their fun. They want me to know that their secret is so good, they can’t possibly tell me.
Detective mom is now on high alert. The case of the secret fort has begun.
“Sounds great,” I say as if I’m hardly listening.
“No adult can ever, ever go there.” Boy two can’t stop moving, he’s so happy.
“No, never.” Boy one sighs content.
It has been pouring rain all day. Their lack of appropriate soakage despite their absence is working against them. Detective mom considers the implications.
“If your fort is outside, no problem. If the fort is located in a building that we own, and Dad or I accidentally find your fort some day, there are no guarantees about privacy. The buildings get used for farm needs.”
“You will never accidentally go into our fort,” says boy one. They want to tell me so badly I think their chests might burst from the pressure of holding it in. But neither wants to be the one that told if the telling goes badly.
I am satisfied. Petrified. Horrified. But the case is solved. They are pleased when I guess the location but I say little. I can’t bear saying yes or no.
As my brother would say, here is what you need to know:
The fort is roughly 6 x 10 feet, with walls and a roof. There is a decent size window to let in light. Currently, there is precisely one entrance” to the fort. I am guessing it to be 12 x 18 inches at the most. An easy fit for the younger three. The oldest says he has to wedge his shoulders through on the diagonal and shove. The entrance was not designed for humans. Until recently, it was heavily trafficked by 30 chickens. The fort was their coop, the entrance, their access to their outside run.
Normally, the second coop is accessed by going through the main coop, using a very people size door. With the meat chickens gone, and winter coming, an insulated wall has gone up between the two coops. This keeps our egg layers cozy. We had fancied the second coop inaccessible until the wall came down.
Saturday they bring out speakers and music. Apparently hooks were put up. They come back cold, filthy, wet, and very pleased about the indoor snowball fight they have managed with bits of hail and snow scrapings.
I say, strip off those clothes and get in the shower. I add bleach to the wash. I never say yes, I just can’t quite manage to get no out of my mouth.