In my little town of Jefferson, the Recreation Department has a very comprehensive after-school program for kids. My granddaughters Maddie and Sarah, ages eight and five, spend weekday afternoons at “the Rec,” and they love it.
At the Rec, the kids are monitored in age groups. They play indoor and outdoor sports, go on field trips, do craft projects, have story time, and otherwise stay entertained until late in the day when family members begin trickling in to take them home.
The staff people are young and kid-friendly, and Maddie and Sarah seem happy and comfortable with them. (It’s easy to tell when that isn’t the case.) The staff members are called “Coach Mike” or “Coach Jessica” or whatever.
Normally, one parent or the other will pick up Maddie and Sarah on the way home from work, but sometimes, one of the grandparents is pressed into service. It happened to me last week.
At about 4 PM, the phone rang. It was my son Dustin, who was marooned at home after foot surgery, hobbling around on crutches, unable to drive.
“Dad,” he said, “Leslie is stuck in a meeting at work. Can you pick up the girls at the Rec?”
I’m always happy for a chance to see my girls.
An hour later at the Rec, I approached the fingerprint i.d. machine, placed my index finger on the glass, and — voilà — was granted permission to sign the girls out.
The device doesn’t always grant permission. Sometimes, you hold your finger wrong, and the machine rejects you and flashes red. All eyes turn in your direction, wondering if you might be a terrorist or a pervert. It’s quite intimidating.
But this time, the device lit up green, and a voice boomed out over the loudspeakers, “Maddie Smith and Sarah Smith to the office for checkout.”
Minutes later, the girls arrived, dressed in their school uniforms, weighted down with giant backpacks, brandishing assorted papers and artwork while dropping their lunchboxes and babbling non-stop.
Sarah was excited about her illustrated Christmas wish list. It consisted of small photos of stuff she wants, cut out of magazines and pasted onto a sheet of paper. The paste was still wet.
Simultaneously, Maddie was telling me an elaborate story about Coach Bob, who inadvertently took home a paper bag that contained Maddie’s candy, and, even after a string of promises, has neither returned the bag nor replaced the candy.
That story, I found as we walked to the car, was the preamble to a request.
Rocky, sometimes Mom and Dad let us stop at the CVS, because, you know, we pass it every day on the way home, and we ask them if we can please, please, stop and get something, and they say yes — not always, but a lot — and today, I have two dollars, and Coach Bob won’t bring back my candy, even though I keep asking him, and the candy is Xtremes Sour Candy, which is like a chewy flat plank, and it’s really good, and the flavor I like is Rainbow Berry, and that’s what Coach Bob took home accidentally — Rainbow Berry — and since I have two dollars and we’re gonna pass the CVS anyway –
Sarah then interrupted.
Rocky, I have two dollars, too! I have two dollars, so Rocky, can we stop at the CVS and get something? Pleeease, can we stop? I want to get Xtremes Rainbow Berry, too! Or maybe I’ll get a Juicy Drop Pop! The Berry Bomb kind like Maddie got once!
“Don’t get the Berry Bomb Juicy Drop Pop,” Maddie advised soberly. “The Berry Bomb flavor makes your lips blue.”
I managed to cut in. “Berry Bomb Juicy Drop Pop… Maddie, is that what you had last week, and it made your lips blue, and you didn’t want to go to school, and Dustin made you go anyway?”
“Yeah. It was embarrassing.”
“I don’t care if it makes my lips blue!” said Sarah. “Berry Bomb is the best flavor! I want that! Unless I change my mind and get Rainbow Berry Xtremes! That doesn’t make your lips blue, does it, Maddie?”
Maddie affirmed that Rainbow Berry Xtremes do not turn your lips blue.
“Well,” I said, “You’ve got your own money, and we’re not in a hurry, and CVS is on the way, so I guess we can stop.”
We loaded up, buckled up, and were off to CVS.
The CVS candy display is cleverly located at the checkout counter at the front of the store, which every customer passes twice, once when entering and once when exiting.
We, of course, never got beyond that point. The girls ran to the display and spent the next several minutes kneeling there, discussing the relative merits of the staggering, brightly-colored assortment of sugary goodies.
True to her word, Maddie chose a plank of Xtremes Sour Candy, Rainbow Berry flavor. Xtremes, I discovered, are fruit rolls with a sour taste. The slogan of Xtremes is “Devour the Sour.”
Sarah changed her mind numerous times, but eventually, blue lips be damned, settled on the Berry Bomb Juicy Drop Pop.
Juicy Drop Pops consist of a hard candy sucker at one end and a dropper at the other end that dispenses liquid candy. “Dare 2 Drop!” the label says, “Can You Handle It?” The drops in the Berry Bomb variety appear to be made of concentrated blue food coloring.
When the clerk rang up the two purchases and announced the cost, Maddie and Sarah stood silently, eyes downcast.
“So,” I inquired, “Who’s going to pay first?”
Maddie looked at me sheepishly. “I just remembered that my two dollars is actually Daddy’s money. It’s change I owe him.”
“Yeah, me, too,” Sarah chimed in. “I need to give Daddy his change.”
All three of them — Maddie, Sarah, and the clerk — waited quietly until I took out my wallet and paid for the candy.
Hustled. Bamboozled. Hoodwinked.