“If you could read my mind, love,
What a tale my thoughts could tell.
Just like an old time movie…”

Today felt like a scene from a movie.

An absolutely beautiful fall day—not a dark and stormy night. The four perambulatory kids from next door (the fifth is still a babe in arms) secured permission from their parents to go on a walk with me and my two big Labrador Retrievers (Polly and Casey). I strapped the dogs to a leash around my waist; the eight-year-old boy (we’ll call him 8), six-year-old girl (ditto, her, 6), and five-year-old boy (5) hopped on their bike, bike, and trike. 3 was in the house getting his shoes on. He came running down the sidewalk after us—vehicleless. Last time he rode a pedal-less two-wheeler; I paused for a moment thinking he might enjoy himself more on that. Then I thought, “Nah, we’ll get on better without it.” (Last time 5 and 3 kept close to me the whole time, usually holding my hands. It felt like walking in congestion—two big dogs, two kids, two bikes, and me in the center tethered to all of them.)

Our walk started out perfectly fine. What a good idea to leave the fourth cycle home. (I broke both my pinky toes—at different times—last year, so I’m overprotective of my feet.) Still congestive, but much toe-safer. 8, being so very old, can come and go at will, but he’s very social and rides in close from time to time. 6 is more independent; she mostly stays on her own. 5 and 3 stick close, which is great because we have to walk next to the mostly-not-busy street to get to the park which borders a very busy street on its west side.

Walking along, stepping on each other’s shadows and crying out as if in pain (sometimes crying out in real pain when a giant dog paw crushes your foot), chatting, picking up debris—all natural stuff like fallen leaves and half a walnut shell—and stashing them in 5’s trunk (situated on the back of his trike), stopping to untangle leashes, reassemble our hand holding, and marching off again in parade. What could be more delightful?

As we proceeded, 8 and 6 zipping off alone around the track, a little problem arose. 3’s trousers kept slipping down—according to him. I couldn’t see anything wrong. At first. I asked 8 to haul 3’s trousers up; I try to avoid too-personal contact with little kids (or anyone, for that matter). He didn’t do such a great job of it though. 3 kept stopping and mentioning his pants slippage. (This would not have been a trial had he been sitting on the seat of a bike.)

The longer we walked, the shorter they grew—from the top down. Eventually I had to suppress my scruples and redress the issue.

We were about halfway around the track when I noticed 6 off on her own. She had parked her bike and was walking around on the grass. This made me uneasy—very young girl alone, far from me, near the street.

This is where the movie scenario kicks in.

Scene: heretofore childless woman inherits tribe of dear, but human, young children; takes them for a walk in the park with two large dogs strapped to her waist. “No walk in the park” ensues ( or on-Sue-s).

Little girl 6 is alone, off her bike. Sue becomes alert-yet-calm. 6 is much closer to the street than her protector. Safe, safe neighborhood—but weren’t they all once. Sue turns 3, 5, and two dogs around, meaning to coax 6 back onto her bike.

6 has disappeared.

Sue: 8, where’s 6?

8 scouts around: She’s lying in the grass.

Sue: <sigh of relief> C’mon everyone.

But everyone is now minus one. 3 has wandered off the path alone, into the grass strip near the busy, busy street. Sue-leashed-to-dogs approaches him.

Sue: Oh, look, 3, you’ve found a leaf. Let’s go put it in 5’s trunk.

This time 3 goes willingly. (3 wanders off at least twice more, always into the grass nearest the loud and trafficy street.) 6 has joined the group briefly. Sue tries to unalarmingly explain why 6 should not be alone near the streets.

6: Sometimes I just like to go off alone and relax.

Sue: With 4 brothers, no one can blame her. That’s a good idea, but try to relax farther away from the street. <Gestures to area of park opposite where they are now.>

The mass of people and animals now approaches the homestretch, Sue adjusting 3’s pants every several steps (Why didn’t we bring the bike???). If she can get them from the southwest park entrance to the southeast, they can leave the park. But 3 has wandered off yet again. No, in fact, he’s running straight toward the busy street. Sue hurriedly doffs the dog leash, still knotted in the circle that was around her waist, calls 8 to take the dogs and runs after 3 (discovering that she is way heavier and slower than she used to be—in fact, she would not like to meet 3 in a foot race). 3, of course, loves this game. He hides in the center of a triangle of close-growing fir trees. Sue circles around the tree-umverate so she’s between 3 and the street. She still has the idea that it’s best to not grab the kid and haul him off if possible; he should be allowed to move of his own volition.

Typical madness ensues. All the children are now converging on the trees. They all want to hide there. Polly and Casey have dragged—literally dragged—8 across the grass on his stomach. (He has put the leash around his own vastly skinnier waist.) Sue gets hold of 3 and tries to convene a conference to explain why the children must stay together and away from the street. Polly and Casey want to join the conference, so they drag 8 across the grass again. He is holding the leash exactly like a cowboy in a Western does when he’s being dragged by wild horses. Sue is collapsed on the ground, nearly hysterical with laughter (and not a little frustration) at the sight of 8 and the dogs. She frees him. He and 5 run into the tree hideout while Sue tries to hold a conference with 3 and 6. Yeah, right.

By this time 3’s trousers have ended up around his ankles several times over. Sue manages to get everyone who was on wheels back on them, takes 3 firmly by the hand. Asks 8 to go home and get his dad to corral 3 (who shows signs of three-year-old stubbornness about being compelled to do what he wants to do anyway, which is go home and eat lunch—exacerbated by the fact that he can’t take three steps without losing his clothes).

Keeping a firm hold on 3, and telling him to keep a firm hold on his waist, taking 5 by the hand and towing him along on his trike, Sue manages to get the children-leashes-dogs-and-trike group heading home again. She even begins to feel a little chagrin at having had to call on Dad (but what if 3 had continued his obstinacy?). Dad takes 3 and 5. 6 and 8 have ridden off home by themselves.

Sue and the two dogs walk the rest of the way home—just the three of them. Only two dogs. Only two. So, so, so easy!

And just yesterday they had seemed a handful.

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