The soil is hard, like our heads

Yesterday Otto got a wild hair—and by “wild hair” I of course mean that he set out to do EXACTLY what he’d been telling me for two months he was going to do, but I was just sort of hoping ignoring him and practicing denial might stave off the inevitable—and declared it an Outside Work day.

We have a couple of acres, here, and the best part about it is that most of it is WOODS. Woods are awesome, because they’re shady, and they present lots of opportunities for your children to go out and muck around and turn over logs and find gross bugs, but BEST OF ALL, woods do not require mowing, digging, pruning, or other maintenance. They just sort of stand there.

Unfortunately, we also have a rather large garden plot across the front of the house, and then that whole area inside the fence back around the pool, and both areas are not unlike Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. There could totally be bobcats hiding in there, is all I’m saying.

We decided on two goals for yesterday: Clean up the front garden, and open the pool.

You may recall from our adventures in learning just how stupid we actually are LAST summer, that as new pool owners we were pretty much a classic case of the blind leading the blind. Taking care of a pool is complicated and we had a lot to learn. (Mostly Otto learned it, while I provided useful auxiliary support in the form of shopping for pool toys.) Once everything was straightened out and we’d spent all of our money on pool chemicals, though, HOOBOY, we did come to love the joys of pool ownership. I mean, if you have to live somewhere that the temperature regularly spikes over 100 degrees, I believe having a pool is pretty much the only way to survive.

When the season ended last year, Otto followed the pool-closing instructions to the letter, prepping the water for its hibernation, and then we dragged the pool cover over the top and secured it with bricks. Perfect!

Except, of course, that the pool cover had a tear. We didn’t know it, of course. Not immediately, anyway. After the first big rain, Otto went out to vacuum the excess water off the cover, and he returned looking grim because the more he’d pumped, the more there was! Like magic! Except this kind of magic causes algae growth!

So yesterday we wrestled the cover off of the pool to reveal our classy new swamp. The children were horrified. We had to explain that the water won’t be ready for about a week, maybe two. In the meantime, I feel that the swirling green foam lends an air of mystery to the backyard. The pool pump and filter seem to agree, as they find it SO MYSTERIOUS that we have to monitor the mechanism closely for overload as it struggles to filter out the new ecosystem we created over the winter. Lovely.

After unveiling the pool, we turned our attention to the front garden. It seems to me that Otto tore out and hauled away all kinds of plants from there this fall, but somehow there was still plenty of stuff growing. Otto wanted to dig up the entire thing and essentially start over, and I wailed and gnashed my teeth because LOOK! There are lilies in there! And daffodils! And also I am far too lazy to dig all of this up!

As it turns out, I’m such a delicate flower, myself, I needn’t have worried.

Otto grabbed a shovel and would spear the tip of it into the ground, then jump on the back of it to drive it the rest of the way down. Then he’d pull down on the handle, levering the chunk of earth to the surface for removal.

I grabbed a shovel and needed four tries to even get it to break the surface of the ground at all. Jumping on the back of it didn’t cause it to budge one bit. Lest you think me as wispy as a handful of feathers, let me assure you that Georgia clay is really, really, REALLY hard. Also, all of me except my ass is as wispy as a handful of feathers, and it’s really hard to use your ass for shovel leverage.

So Otto dug up the entire garden, except for one small plot he set the kids on with little hand spades, where they dutifully ripped the tops off of all the weeds. Very helpful.

I did get to participate in deciding what to toss and what to keep, and we both felt a little bit of glee as he disposed of the gargantuan trumpet flower at the corner of the driveway. When we moved in to this house, one of the neighbors came over and went on and on about how that plant was an heirloom and passed down in the previous owner’s family for generations and they’d not had enough time to transplant it and it’s extremely rare and blah blah blah blah. She asked us if she could dig it up to send to the previous owners and we said sure. She never dug it up and what we discovered as it grew and bloomed and them made a mess everywhere is that yes, it’s rare, and yes, it smells pretty nice, but it’s HUGE and sort of UGLY.

Now I guess we can brag on our heirloom compost pile, at least.

Otto dug up the daffodils and moved them around and we transplanted some weird bush grass that we have edging the front beds intermittently and of course he moved the hostas around, making them actually look organized and pretty, because that way the deer can have a more pleasant dining experience when they come up the house to devour them.

Otto worked really hard all day, and I corralled the kids and did laundry and cleaned the kitchen and backwashed the pool filter periodically and trimmed back some hedges and ran wheelbarrow loads of displaced vegetation out to the compost pile. By the time the kids were getting ready for bed, the front garden had been transformed into a freshly-turned blank canvas.

(And the pool was still green and foamy, but you can’t have everything.)

While on my way to tuck Monkey into bed, I picked up a few things in the kids’ playroom upstairs. In doing so I picked up a sofa cushion, under which I found several long, half-pipe-shaped pieces of paint. I stared at them for a moment. Then I slowly forced my eyes upward to the nearby corner of wall, where I was faced with a long edge of exposed metal. Where the paint had been meticulously peeled off.

I. Lost. My. Shit.

I called both children into the room and showed them the paint peelings, and the naked corner of the wall, and asked who was responsible. I may have also asked on what planet it is appropriate to peel paint off of a perfectly good wall.

Neither child fessed up. Both, in fact, claimed TOTAL IGNORANCE. As in, “What now? I don’t understand. What? Where? I would never do that. I don’t know what you’re talking about, really. Who are you, again?”

My original suspicions lay with Chickadee, both because she tends to be more destructive and because Monkey is a lousy liar. But as the inquisition wore on, I began to see how this was possibly a joint endeavor. Still, no one knew anything.

I was sweaty and tired and cranky and I’d had it.

“OKAY THEN!” I announced, pocketing the paint curls. “Fine, it wasn’t either one of you. Okay. Well, see, the problem here is that I need to know who did this. But that’s fine, you don’t need to tell me. I, however, need to tell YOU that until someone comes forth to tell me what happened here, NEITHER of you are going swimming. There will be no children in that pool until this mystery is solved. So think about it.”

Monkey burst into tears and I felt like the biggest asshole on the planet, while Chickadee merely shrugged and muttered something about how the pool was completely disgusting, anyway.

“Well I’m sorry, kids, but that’s how it’s going to be. The pool will be ready in a week, and if someone tells me the truth before then, well, that’s great. Otherwise, no swimming. The choice is yours.” I started to leave the room.

“But what if it WASN’T either of us!” Chickadee burst out. “It could’ve been SOMEONE ELSE! That’s NOT FAIR!”

“Yeah!” agreed Monkey, snuffling behind her.

“Well you two are the only ones who’ve been up here, so if it wasn’t either of YOU, then we have a nasty case of GOBLINS! In which case I hardly think it’ll be safe to go swimming. So.”

I turned and left, heading downstairs and praying hard that no one would ask me to clarify the goblins-swimming connection. Are goblins known for drowning people? I had no idea what I’d meant by that comment. I was just really pissed off about the corner of the wall.

No one wanted to talk about the paint chips this morning, but both children were quick to tell me that the pool still looks “totally disgusting.”

Hey, at least the front garden looks nice.


  1. Mandee

    My most handy gardening tool? A pick ax. My parents moved north of the gnat line (Macon) after I graduated from college. South Georgia soil is a fertile wonderland. The first time my dad (the former nursery owner) tried to plunge his shovel into the ground up here, it was like a cartoon–DOINNNNNNNNG!

    Good luck with those goblins!

  2. ccr in MA

    I love the idea that it’s not safe to swim if there are goblins around, and I don’t think you should even try to explain why. Everyone knows not to go swimming when goblins are around, right? I’m sure I don’t have to tell you why!

  3. All Adither

    You might also want to consider telling them that they have to help repaint. Both of them. Unless one of them rats out the other, then that person can go free. But then, who am I to give parenting advice. I look to YOU for inspiration.

  4. Leandra

    I hereby vote for a pool boy. I will never have another pool without one.

  5. Jenny

    I mean, have you considered the possibility that the paint peeled itself and then tucked itself neatly under the cushions? Because that could totally happen.

    I wish I had a pool.

  6. melinda

    Be sure to let us know when your neighbor shows up to claim the trumpet flower. Now that it’s gone you know she will show up, right?

  7. Erin

    I’m with All Adither on this one. Police use this technique all of the time! They look at the parole violator, who obviously is going to be in big trouble, and they say to him, “You can go back to prison for violating your parole, or you can be an informant for us and we won’t send you back to jail.”

    Sure, the police leave out the part where someone finds out that the informant is narking on them to the police and they take him out back, kill him, and then put his feet in cement… But your kids don’t know how to mix cement, do they? If not, I think you’re totally safe turning them on one another. It is what having a sibling is all about!

  8. juliness

    Well, duh. I thought everyone knew about the swimming goblins. Did you also explain that those aquatic goblins only go after lying, paint-peeling kids?

  9. Otto

    Dude, there’s so much shock and chlorine in that pool the goblins will have been bleached white by now. Ghost goblins.

    Though I wish I’d know of this decree earlier – I lived here for two years without a pool and would much rather turn it into a coy pond. Way cheaper, and the fish are friendlier than goblins, I’m sure.


  10. Damsel

    Literally LOL @ “all of me except my ass is as wispy as a handful of feathers, and it’s really hard to use your ass for shovel leverage.” and “…praying hard that no one would ask me to clarify the goblins-swimming connection”

    Dear heavens, woman, but you crack me up. If you are like this at 9 a.m., I’m positively DYING to see you with a few margaritas in you.

  11. Kim

    I got tired of trying to balance my own chemicals and haul them around and try not to get the chlorine on my trucks carpeting, so I spend less money each month paying someone else to take care of my pool:o)

  12. Astrogirl426

    LOL Oh, there’s nothing better than chuckling along with (with! Not at! Really!) someone as they talk about their gardening challenges – MUCH better than actually tackling the desert wasteland that is my own yard (what? gardening? in my yard? what – plant flowers? I’m sorry, you really mustn’t mumble, I can’t understand a THING you’re saying!). Oy. It ain’t pretty.

    Ah, see now, every time I get the urge to have another lil one, you know, to keep Bunker Monkey company, I remember that if I do, these are the conversations I will be having in a few years. I’ve got it easy now – we ALL know the answer to the question, “who ripped all the leaves off mommy’s houseplants?”.

    At least, until he discovers the wonderful world of imaginary friends (“it wasn’t me, mommy – Invisible Johnny did it!”). Oy again.

    Oh, and the only thing that could compete with Georgia clay is Denver clay – or as I like to call it, Denver concrete. Excellent idea on the pickaxe – that’s how we dug our flower garden back when we lived in Colorado. That’s also why I moved back to the Northeast, and why 99.99% of our 22 acres is woods (yay, woods!).

  13. Aimee

    Weren’t there swimming goblins in that crappy M. Night Shyamalan movie? Or no, not a goblin — a naked chick. The goblins were all AROUND though.

    Whatever. I think there are totally goblins.

  14. MomCat

    From the viewpoint of the big sister, don’t ask the kids to rat each other out. Just make them both repaint it. My younger sister accused me of stuff that she did all the time. She has a cuter face. My mom: “She couldn’t have done it – she’s only and if she did it, she learned it from YOU, because you’re older.”

    But I’m not bitter…*sniff*

  15. MomCat

    Oops, my comment got messed up. Oh well. Should be “She’s only (insert age that is six years younger than I)…” I guess the computer took that as weird html code.

  16. Jennifer

    Otto may have appeared busy hacking away at your cement dirt, but are you completely certain he does not peel paint to relax in his spare time? Because it was obviously not the children. They said so.

  17. jennielynn

    I’m laughing too hard to from a coherent comment.

    But I agree with Leandra. I wanted a young, muscular man named Carlito, or perhaps Sven, who would come every week to skim the pool, clean the filter and adjust the chemicals, preferably without his shirt on. Mr Clairol wanted the same thing, except a young, busty, bikini-clad woman named Carmen or maybe Nikki. We settled on a short, middle-aged guy named Dave who does the chemicals once a week for $40 a month. I skim the pool, he cleans the filter. Yep, I totally make him do it shirtless.

    See? I was coherent after all!

  18. Headless Mom

    We get the goblins around here, too. I hate them.

    But, Ooh! Daffodils!

  19. Kate

    Don’t let them repaint. It’s even more work for you, and besides, painting is fun for kids. I would have them dust every wall in the house. That’s my punishment of choice. What could be more boring than that?

  20. Crisanne

    I’m with melinda on the neighbor showing up. But then, I’m a firm believer in Murphey’s Law.

    As for the paint issue, I’m really not looking forward to these sorts of standoffs with the kids. We haven’t had these sorts of issues yet, but they’re still young!

  21. Tonja

    Last year, my 4-year-old was watching as we cleaned the pool. I turned around to see him using the skimmer pole as a spear and was happily poking holes in my freakin pool liner. A few hundos later and a lot of work and we had a shiny new pool. Ugh.

  22. Sue

    You inspired me to go out and rip stuff out of my garden that I hate. But then my kids started hitting each other with shovels, so that was the end of that. At least they weren’t peeling paint off the walls :-)

  23. meghann

    I would have kept the trumpet flower. It’s a hallucinogen you know. Would have totally helped after the paint peeling find.

  24. catnip

    Just wait until they see the pool when it’s crystal clear – then they’ll fess up!

  25. elizabeth

    ah yes, GA red cement. I think there are only 3 days a year when anyone is allowed to dig and it has to be immediately after a good rain. I recently moved six small azaleas but couldn’t put them in my first choice of location because I couldn’t get my shovel in the dirt. oh well. they are where they are now and seem happy. yard work is very s.l.o.w at my house.

    btw – you are a little wisp of a thing. ass and all. and really, isn’t it better to direct?

  26. Megan

    My mother used to recite a foul poem to us all about Mr. Nobody and how he did all the destructive things around the house. But then she also recited poems for buying shoes (New shoes, new shoes red and pink and blue shoes…) and various other activities. Which was preferable to the folk-song singing actually. I do my best to fight this heritage but I still find myself muttering, “I know a funny little man, as quiet as a mouse…” now and then.

  27. Jen

    ugh… sounds like my fourth child, “Not Me”, has made his/her way to your home! “Not Me” is responsible for a LOT of the stuff that happens around here! Sorry he/she has made his/her way to Georgia!

  28. Flea

    Ooo! I’m liking the chores till someone confesses idea. Dusting is good! So is scrubbing grout with toothbrushes. The downside – for me – is that I have one child who will confess to anything to get out of the work.

  29. GardenerGirl

    Gypsum. Bags of it. From the nursery. Transforms clay to ambrosia. Trust me. Sprinkle gypsum, water, wait. Add compost and till and you’ll have a garden to make you swoon. Well, I would swoon over it.

  30. tori

    We have a wall in our basement that my 4 year old peeled the pain off of. He freely admitted it and said he did it because he wanted the walls to be green. Damn him because I had been planning to paint the walls green and now I CAN’T because he would then learn that he could get his way. For now, we will live with a wall with peeled off paint hole things. I call it art and mostly try not to look at it.

    Good luck solving your mystery. I love the part about you not even knowing what you meant by the goblins. I do that too, and it is nice to read someone else has gotten to that point (although I’m sad you felt that way…know what I mean?)

  31. Heather

    That’s why I don’t dig down into the ground here unless it’s after a good rain.

    As for the peeled paint, I think you handled it as well as you could. My head would have exploded right then and there. Aighie!

  32. Leanne

    Probably a good thing you got rid of that plant. If it’s a datura (which I suspect it was) it’s extremely toxic. Daturas also have a reputation as a halucinogen – which, yeah, sure you hallucinate, because you’re CLOSE TO DEATH – and so are very attractive to adventurous teens. Not something that you want to take a chance with.

  33. Dani

    Your post gives me excuse #347 in regards to why we will NEVER have a pool. I just encourage my children to be friends with other children who have pools. ;) KIDDING! (Well, maybe I’m HALF kidding…)

    While you’re out shopping for a new grill, check out the Garden Claw. I think it works quite well.

    As for interrogation techniques; I find that interviewing the children separately with me acting eerily clam works like a charm. They get this false sense of “she’s not really mad but just really needs to know what happened” and they spill their guts. My husband is a cop and my method even impresses HIM. :)

  34. The Other Other Dawn

    If it were possible to use your ass for shovel leverage I would be the best-equipped gardener in the world. In.The.World.

  35. susan

    Perhaps the deer peeled the paint while you were moving their hostas around?

  36. jp

    Holy Crap, my Pool Boy is 50 Bucks a week and thats cheap!
    SHEESH………he is very cute, except he calls me the WRONG name everytime I see him!

    As far as gardening w/ your husband goes, I find it’s much better for all concerned if I am the one who goes to the gardern center or hardware store or the Deli as opposed to being the ‘helper’, my Husband is a turf guy and a perfectionist………….nuff said!

    The Kids will crack as soon as you and Otto go swimming!!!

    Good Luck!

  37. Daisy

    Deer eat your hostas? The neighborhood rabbits ate my mom’s — left her with one, yes one, leaf on one hosta.
    They never eat mine. I have good rabbit karma.

  38. Lala

    Did you look at their nails to see if there was paint?

  39. Madge

    Just wait until they learn to write each others’ names on the walls (or carve them into the piano) instead of their own…then you’ll really never know who did it.

  40. steve

    Check with Otto… he used to have a penchant for eating paint. Thhhhpt! Good luck with the swamp :)

  41. Tammy

    I had my own Grill Incident last night. I turned on the grill to let it heat up & burn off the grates. Well, it turned out that I let it heat up a *little* too long. I came back to find the thermometer needle off the scope and smoke coming from under the cover. When I opened the grill (using long oven mits and tongs), the bottom of the grill was all in flames & the coating inside the cover was bubbling. So, a new grill has gone from the “want” category to the “need” category!

  42. Deb

    Yes, we are garden-challenged too. The previous owners had 15….yes…15 gardens in our yard. I don’t think they had a life! We just had 5 removed this year (WAHOO) and now we are waiting for the grass to grow. But of course, nothing. I am amazed we have kept our kid growing for 7 years ;-) Great goblin story too!

  43. Jenny

    Am I the only one to be vaguely disappointed that I didn’t know those trumpet flowers were a powerful hallucinogen when I *was* an adventurous teen?

  44. Shannon

    Oh wow, I love the goblin threat, that is awesome.

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