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Clair McFarland

Clair McFarland: Fear The Biker Gangs!

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Biker gangs are scary.  

The bikers rattle up the hill in a cloud of dust, baring their remaining teeth, hunkering their heads between their shoulders and whooping savagely at the indifferent sun.  

The livestock whine, roadside saplings quake at the thundering chains and whirring spokes. Blue-bellied lizards scatter before the bikers’ crunching tires. 

I can see them from here: 

Six bikers, four of them caused by me. Two of them donated by neighbors.
A bicycle for each.
12 sneakers, shoelaces flapping.
Average speed: also 12.
Average age: 9.
Wrecks today: three.

Lemonade stands held at gunpoint: none so far, but there’s NERF ammo in the house.  

As I check the cupboard to make sure I’ve got enough Gatorade to slake their furious thirst, I cram the last of the peanut butter into my mouth so they can’t steal it.  

“Mom!” yells a biker gang member, “We’ve got a hunger!” 

I set out six cups of trail mix, smile nervously and hide behind the bar – er, the counter.  

The bikers slam the trail mix like a fluid.  

“Golly,” curses their second-in-command, red with exertion and heat, “I am one roasted marshmallow.”  

“YOU might be,” bellows the kingpin, also red-hot, “but I’M a baked potato.”  

They waddle bow-legged back out to their trusty old hogs, nod at one another and peel out of my driveway, their skinny legs plastered with dried blood and Pikachu band-aids.  

Window curtains snap shut throughout the neighborhood.  

Will the reign of terror never end? 

The longer the gang rambles down the road, the more members it snags. And you can’t just join a gang with no questions asked. You’ve got to prove yourself.  

“OK. You gotta sing ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno,’” says Kingpin.  

“Nah,” counters a biker. “Make him do a headstand.”  

Then the dreadful chanting begins: those with 24-inch wheels bellowing “BRU-NO! BRU-NO!” and those with 20-inch wheels barking “HEAD-STAND! HEAD-STAND!” Finally, they let the initiate join their gang after one “Bruno” chorus, then they careen down the canal road. 

If they sing out in one continuous monotone, the bikers realize, the ruts on the road will translate their droning into operatic vibrato: 

“Uh-yayayayayayayayaaaaa.” 

Once they’re out of sight, I try to work off the trauma by gardening, even though I never manage to grow anything in this atmosphere of terror.  

Still, I plant raspberry roots. They remind me of the warm evenings of my childhood, when I would ease ripe berries from the vine with a gentle tug while the light around me dampened and brimmed with pollen.  

A car rushes up my driveway.  

“Hey we found your little guy,” says a neighbor in a panic, “and he’s just about in tears down the road. Something happened to his bike.”  

Different scenarios crash through my brain at once, and they’re all scary.  

Was he hit by a car? Did the bikers get into a rumble?  

The neighbor and her husband gesture for me to get into their car, and we trundle over the bridge to where a stranded biker – the little, feisty twin – mourns his useless set of wheels, his poor judgment and whatever foolish impulse drove him to be in this gang in the first place.  

Thanking the neighbor, I run to my biker and cradle his soft brown face in my hands. He tries not to cry.  

The moments just before a child weeps are sacred. His trembling composure lasts only until he realizes he’s safe and loved; then he loses it. His roguish independence crumbles in the arms of the person eager to absorb his tears and shoulder his woes.   

“He wrecked,” explains the kingpin, his eyes still wide with shock and awe. “He tried to go BETWEEN the dumpsters.”  

Little-Feisty’s brakes are so cinched up, the bike will neither ride nor coast, and I have to carry it up the dirt road. Little-Feisty trudges along next to me, vowing never to join a biker gang again.  

But later that evening, The Husband fixes the brakes and offers the cruiser back to the boy.  

Little-Feisty straddles his bike and sets off, timidly at first. He hovers above the seat and presses the pedals down in slow syncopated arcs, until the momentum sweeps his legs back into the circular whirl of fearless bikers everywhere.   

The other boys join him, easing gently down the road as the light around them dampens and brims with pollen.   

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Clair McFarland: I’m Too Scared To Cut My Kid’s Hair

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

At this point, I’m too scared to cut my kid’s hair.  

It’s been months since my middle-born son had a haircut because he says he can feel his hairs crying when the clippers chop them.  

Middleborn’s bronze and copper quills plume like a nuke cloud and cascade down his skull, twisting into columnar ringlets behind his ears and dusting his shoulders with curled tendrils.   

There could be anything in there: A chocolate. A LEGO. Slingshot ammo.  

My firstborn son and young twins got haircuts last week. Each boy in his turn teased the bathroom mirror while I sheared their aesthetic rebellion away thatch by thatch.  

As the fringe hit the floor, untanned horizons broadened along their hairlines. Their eyes widened with the stretched periphery. Their happy scalps exhaled scents of leather and rain.  

Middleborn hid in an elm tree until the haircuts were over.  

“Man!” said Firstborn, sporting a military crop. “You’re starting to look like John Lennon.”  

Middleborn frowned.  

“Nuh-UH,” snapped he. “I look like one of the Beatles.” 

Firstborn tried to stifle a laugh but failed.  

I think Middleborn looks like a tough misunderstood teenager in an ‘80s movie. The twins think he looks like a Polish rooster.  

Middleborn has developed tics to deal with his hair. He flicks his head up and left to rattle the quills out of his eyes. He’s constantly smoothing, plastering, twisting his hair behind his ears. His eyes roll in their sockets when the strands tickle his nose.  

With his one exposed eye he guards the red comb no one else is allowed to use.  

His tics drive me crazy.  

“We’ve gotta cut it,” I blurt at bedtime.  

The copper mop shakes a “no.”  

“Why not?” 

“Because,” says the mop, “it looks cool. And it feels cool. And it’s fluffy.” 

I wonder if “fluffy” is a synonym for “explosive.”  

“And I NEVER have bad hair days,” Middleborn continues. “Except when the poof sticks up.”  

Ah, the poof. The bane of every 10-year-old boy who ever went vogueing down pastel elementary school hallways while pretending not to notice girls.  

Even though it annoys me, I can’t bring myself to cut his hair. It reminds me of Middleborn’s refusal to domesticate wild things; which is one of the traits he got from me.  

See, we aren’t just living one life. Heroes and savages hide in us all, vying against each other for the chance to blaze forth against the survivalist instincts that shackle us into lockstep conformity.   

And the longer Middleborn’s hair gets, the brighter his inner legends blaze.  

He stalks up and down the soccer field like a lion, tracking the ball with his one uncovered eye, lunging for it with bared teeth. 

On the ride home he’s a bonfire. Middleborn sticks his head out the open car window and lets the wind flow through his mane. The bright tails flutter into pointed flames. His exposed forehead welcomes the rushing air like a secret.  

At home he’s a hermit meditating in his own shade. He builds a LEGO battle scene of long-haired warriors with black helmets, pitted against naïve and doomed helicopter pilots who, incidentally, have no hair. When he leans forward his hair flows down like autumn willow limbs, hiding the lip-biting, squinting intensity of a boy at work.  

Middleborn’s imagination grows with his hair. And watching him shift from rogue to legend with each new adventure makes me long to see the world through his one uncovered eye, and live the many tales that make up his one-of-a-kind soul.  

Well, I can’t do that. But I can bury my nose in his poofy mane and let him go a few more days without a haircut.  

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Lander’s ‘Death Doula’ Helps Prepare People For The End

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Sometimes we must walk each other to life’s end.  

That’s the philosophy of Liz Lightner, of Lander, an end-of-life “doula” since 2020, who helps the terminally ill prepare for death.  

“I try to reframe the entire experience people have, sometimes, toward the end of life, from a ‘scared’ experience to a ‘sacred’ experience,” said Lightner.  

A doula is usually defined as a woman who provides guidance and support to a pregnant woman during labor. 

Lightner’s job is similar, but on the opposite end of life’s spectrum.

A hospice volunteer for nearly a decade, Lightner encounters death often. She knows how to hold a hand, sense a need, and interact gently with someone whose faculties are slowly shutting down.  

While hospice-style care is part of being an end-of-life, or “death” doula, a longer, more active phase of Lightner’s work is helping others plan for death while they still can.     

“You’re working, ideally ahead of time, to figure out what people’s wishes are,” she said. 

That includes helping people have needed conversations with doctors, family members, and with themselves early on, so the act of dying itself is less hectic.     

“And when you talk about it, you enjoy life a little more,” she said. “You realize, we have a finite period here. What are we doing with it?” 

‘So You’re Not Left With Guessing’ 

Most end-of-life preparations aren’t things people think about during their normal routines, Lightner said. And they range from trivial to crucial.  

Choose a healthcare proxy, or decision-maker.  

Designate a legacy contact to memorialize your Facebook page after you’re gone, or arrange to have the page deleted. 

“We have a digital life,” said Lightner. “Each of us probably has at least 20 log-ins and passwords” to accounts that, without some planning, won’t be allowed to pass away when their owner does.   

Confer the knowledge of a house’s secret workings – gun safe combinations, gas and water shutoffs, small maintenance habits – onto a spouse who’s staying behind.  

Make farewell videos, legacy recordings. Get your “legal ducks in a row,” Lightner said.   

Decide whether, facing an irreversible vegetative state, you’d like to be kept on life support or pulled from it.  

Document your burial wishes. Plan your ideal funeral.  

“Have those conversations you want to have – need to have,” said Lightner. “Sometimes the question is, ‘is there someone you’d like to talk to before you die?’ Talk to them.”  

Lightner said empowering others is a large part of her role as doula. “I empower people to have those discussions… so you’re not left with guessing.”  

A Funeral Someone Might Not Even Want 

The average traditional funeral costs between $7,000 and $10,000. 

And these are funerals that a loved one who has died “might not even want,” said Lightner, emphasizing the value of planning ahead of time.  

“We’re thinking ‘well, we want to do what’s the best,’” she said. “And maybe there’s some guilt associated with it,” prompting survivors to buy the best casket or the best tombstone.  

“Whereas, maybe if the person was asked, they’d just say ‘cremate me and put me in the Popo Agie River,’” she said. 

There are “all types of body disposition” from which to choose, said Lightner, including casket burials, aqueous or flame cremations, and green burials. 

In a green burial, the deceased is not embalmed and entombed, but simply, “put in a shroud and laid in the ground.”  

Death Is ‘Not a Medical Emergency’ 

After the planning part comes the dying part.  

Lightner said the three stages following a terminal diagnosis are the “shock phase” of initial surprise and reconciliation, the “stabilization phase” of cognizant planning, and the “transition phase,” which is the act of dying. 

As a longtime acquaintance with death, the doula is meant during the transition phase to be a calm and comforting presence for both the person dying and the grieving family. 

Lightner strives to educate the family on “what’s normal,” she said. “Breathing changes, skin color changes; temperature changes,” she said.

All the things that would shock onlookers if they weren’t already expecting a mortal parting.  

“There are some family members that don’t want to let go – and there are some dying people that don’t want to let go,” said Lightner. “How can we make that more peaceful?” 

One way is with visualization. Hearing is the last sense to leave us in death, Lightner noted, which allows her to “take people places” – by recreating their favorite experiences.  

When sitting on a bedside with a person who longed for one last hike, Lightner described blue skies with puffy clouds scudding along, the scents of juniper and sage, the feel of the rocky terrain underfoot and the bracing stroke of mountain wind.  

Though the practice is called “visualization,” it evokes all senses; the many scents, colors, sounds and textures of a journey worth dying on.  

“It brings people back,” said Lightner, even as they forge ahead.  

Though intended for those leaving us, visualization can be a gift for the living, Lightner added.  

“I think it’s a lesson to all of us,” she said “to look around. Remember it.”   

Beginnings and Endings 

Much of Lightner’s care toward others is informed by her own experience with death and birth.  

She joined the Peace Corps in the late 1990s in Togo, West Africa, giving maternal care and education and overseeing children’s activities.  

“I miss the children and the simplicity of it all,” said Lightner. “And the respect for elders and family. 

“(There’s) a pass-down of generation to generation that we’re losing here (in America), I feel like.”  

Some of the disconnect between generations, Lightner theorized, has come about because American families can move hundreds of miles apart with ease, and don’t depend on each other as much to raise children and bring in food. 

In poverty-stricken areas where communities bond together over every challenge and major life event, we are reminded that “it takes a village to raise a child,” said Lightner. 

“It takes a village to help someone die, too.”  

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Clair McFarland: Lessons About Life – And Death – In The Kitten Maternity Ward

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

We’ve been expecting.

Kittens, at least. We’ve been expecting newborn kittens since we noticed the yearling cat, Leia, toting around a beer belly, though none of us could recall giving her beer.

“Oh my golly!” I squealed. “Are you gonna be a MAMA?”

Leia purred, fanning her black-tufted toes.

My twin sons’ identical foreheads wrinkled.

“But where did she GET the babies?” asked the little, feisty twin.

I faltered. “Ummm….”

“Amazon,” said my firstborn son.

Just then, Leia sprinted across the deck, angled her head into a gap between the railing slats as if to vault across the prairie, and… she got stuck. The keg beneath her ribs would let her go no farther.

Humiliated, she backed out of the gap and slunk down the deck stairs.

I giggled. Our older cat narrowed her eyes in disgust.

It takes three cats roving this country home to keep the mice away, which in turn keeps the rattlesnakes away. Which deprives us of some savory reptilian dinners but prevents me from having to teach 8-year-olds how to hunt rattlesnakes. That’s a skill that even I don’t have, though I’ll tell you otherwise if you ever find me wearing my greasy old hat and listening to “El Paso.”

The oldest cat is a gaunt beast descended from Himalayan snow leopards, standing knee-high and pushing 30 years of age. Her coat’s a sludgy grey, her eyes glow like algae. Her lips are black from disemboweling jackrabbits in mid-air.

My sons named her “Mittens.”

Then there’s Luna, a sleek indoor cat. She’s a princess, a Russian ballerina, a Jane Austen character forever waiting to go to the ball.

But back to Leia. She’s a tiger-striped yearling whose arrival attracted a certain white tomcat.

“Out in the west Texas town of El Paso,” sang I, to the tomcat. “I fell in love with a Mexican girl.”

“Mom, you’re scaring him,” said Firstborn.

“Nuh-uh,” I said. “I’m TEASING him.”

Leia’s prance slowed with pregnancy. This month she swayed into a pendulum waddle.

One spring Thursday Leia trotted to my car after I brought the boys home from school, looked up at me and meowed, earnestly.

Her belly was empty. Her back legs were drenched and bloody. But I could see no kittens, anywhere.

It was my middleborn son who found them, soaking wet and next to a slain robin under the bottom deck stair.

The Husband (who had come home to celebrate) held a towel-lined box out to me while I shinnied under the stairs and, with my hands gloved, transplanted the kittens.

There were five, including one odd grey fellow whom I found separate and cold. The other four were still tied to their purple placenta, which Leia ate later when I wasn’t looking.

“That’s disgusting,” spat Middleborn.

“That’s nature,” I sighed.

“Did you eat MY placenta?”

“No, but I ate a whole box of Nutter Butters.”

Middleborn shook his head. “Not the same, Mom.”

Leia mooned over four of the kittens but completely ignored the grey one. He was icy to the touch.

“He’s dying,” I said. “What do we do?”

“We save it,” said The Husband.

Middleborn fretted. The Husband brought Grey into the house, warmed him by the fire and fed him with an eye-dropper.

Grey faded anyway.

One day later, on a blanket near the fire, Grey went cold for the final time. Middleborn begged me to do something, anything, to revive him. Feed him, massage his little cold body – just DO something.

But the time for doing things was over.

It took Middleborn a long while to admit that Grey was dead. At last, Middleborn zipped his black hoodie up to his nose, trudged outside, grabbed a shovel, lumbered up a prickly hill and dug a grave – kitten-sized.

I carried the tiny bundle up the hill to meet him. My other three sons marched up after me, sniffling in the cold wind.

This was the boys’ first experience with birth:

An invisible fusion severed into five distinct identities, who grew, fed by a plump bloody envelope under a beating heart, then left their dark haven for a world too big for their minds to comprehend.

It was also my sons’ first visual experience of death:

The irreversible parting. All the what-ifs fallen away. And the hard lesson that, however clever or strong or capable you are, you cannot gather that fleeing life essence into your hands and push it back into the shell it just left – because it’s not yours.

Middleborn closed his eyes and leaned his forehead on the shovel handle.

Later that evening, he sat on an overturned bucket and watched Leia feed four fluffy kittens. A sigh poured out of him, made of four parts life, one part death.

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Clair McFarland: The Joys Of Cooking By Committee

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Do not enter this kitchen.   

It all started when I decided to quadruple a cookie recipe to feed my four sons. Their eyes shone from across the countertop like full moons cresting an alien horizon.  

I wiped down the countertop; it was the only furniture keeping them from mauling me.  

“Can I lick the spoon?” asked my firstborn son.  

I looked at the wooden spoon. “But – this only has butter on it.”  

He grinned and nodded.  

I shook my head and dumped in all the brown sugar we’d been saving for the apocalypse.  

“Now can I lick the spoon?” Firstborn asked.  

“It’s not even dough until it has flour in it,” I said.  

My middle child thought this was a great time to sneak into the pantry, shinny up the shelves and cram some Doritos into his mouth.  

“OWWWW!” wailed Middleborn from inside the pantry.  

I rushed to him. “What, sweetie? What hurt you?” 

“I cut myself!” 

“On what?” A misplaced knife? Some fishing gear? A stray nail? 

“A chip.”  

So this is how it ends. When Child Protective Services comes to take my children, they’ll say “Sorry, Mrs. McFarland, but this is our third deadly-chip alert from this location.” 

I dusted Middleborn’s face off and shooed him out from my pantry. Then I cracked eggs.  

“Oooh, can I crack an egg?” asked the big, sweet twin.  

“Sure!”  

Big-Sweet tapped the egg lightly on the countertop. Nothing happened. He tapped it a little harder. Nothing happened, so he smashed it onto the countertop, grimaced at his yolky fingers and flapped his hand so fast it blurred in the air, flinging egg on the ceiling and walls.   

I smothered his eggy little hand with a dishrag and tidied up the mess.  

“Mom, are you stressed?” asked Middleborn.  

“Not at all,” answered I, through gritted teeth.  

“You’re breathing heavy,” he said.  

“Am not.”  

“Are too.”  

“Can I crack another egg?” asked Big-Sweet.  

“No, thank you.”  

“But I’m an expert at it.”  

“That’s nice, dear.”  

The little, feisty twin zoomed into the kitchen on a hoverboard from absolutely nowhere, yelling “Yeeeehawww!” 

Big-Sweet sighed. “He thinks he’s a Tex-edo.”  

I raised an eyebrow. “A tuxedo?” 

“A TEXedo.” Big-Sweet rolled his eyes. “A guy from Texas.”  

Ohhhh. “We all think we’re from Texas, because here in Wyoming, many of our ancestors were Texas cow-herders who – “ 

“I’M more of a Texedo than HE is,” said Big-Sweet.  

Little-Feisty careened through the kitchen again. His brothers whipped him with dish towels, so he yelled “GET BACK OR I’LL SHOOT!”  

From his hip, Little-Feisty drew a ketchup pistol.  

See, a few years ago The Husband bought a plastic pistol, with a trigger, designed to shoot ketchup. The Husband thinks stuff like this will end well.  

“Get BACK I said!” bellowed Little-Feisty. 

I used my de-escalation voice. “Buddy…. You don’t have to shoot that.”  

The air stiffened in a tense silence. 

Middleborn lunged. Little-Feisty fired!  

Some clear runny fluid shot from the gun, and it took me a full three seconds to realize it was only water, because I was expecting battery acid or homemade sauerkraut.  

“That’s IT!” I shouted. “Everyone get OUT of my kitchen.”  

Their eyes widened.  

“But… why Mom?” asked Big-Sweet.  

“Because she wants to be alone while she listens to yodel music, DUH,” said Middleborn.  

“Nuh-UH,” argued Firstborn. “It’s because she’s gonna eat the butter when we’re not looking.”  

“Hey Mom,” said Big-Sweet. “Can I crack another egg?” 

My powers of speech left me. “Go – not – kitchen.” 

The boys looked at each other in confusion and horror, wondering which of them had written down the CPS phone number.  

“You – kitchen out,” I continued. “Mom make cookie lone self.”  

They backed away slowly. Little-Feisty laid the pistol on the countertop with its barrel pointed at the wall, opened his hand wide and raised it from the pistol grip in hushed surrender.  

Ten minutes later, I pulled a dozen cookies from the oven and invited all four boys back into my kitchen for a treat.  

Even though they’re Texedos. 

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Clair McFarland: First Rule Of The Fight Club — Don’t Let Mom Know

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

The first rule of Fight Club is: don’t let Mom find out about it.  

It all started on a sunny afternoon when I cuddled my four sons before going to work.  

The boys are getting old and sturdy now, but I still see them as plump babies grasping blindly for human warmth.  

I listened to their tales. I inhaled the spring breezes caught in their hair, watched the light glance off the smooth sandy crescents joining their temples to their cheeks; followed the rise and fall of their sharp black lashes.  

“Welp,” I finally said, “I’ve got to get a little work done.” 

“Aww-ww,” pouted a twin. “But I’m hungry.”  

The poor helpless dear, I thought to myself.  

“I’ll fix you a snack when I’m done,” I said, and slipped into my home office for some last-minute writing, sighing gratefully over my four sweet cherubs.  

The profession of writing swallows you whole into its churning sea of demands, and blocks out the linear reality that claims to have birthed all that language in the first place.  

I got so absorbed in my work, I didn’t check on the boys for a while. When I backed away from the desk and stood myself up on solid ground, I realized they were shrieking.  

Naturally, I assumed the house was under attack and the boys were crying for me with their final breaths. I rushed down the hallway, through the dining room and into the family room, only to discover… 

Mayhem.  

Two boys were locked in full physical combat. Another boy dry-heaved in a corner as pink handprints took shape on his shirtless back. A fourth boy, scowling, counted off push-ups on the rug.   

Their shirts lay scattered and flung on the furniture; one of the shirts rotated slowly on a ceiling fan blade. In denim jeans and red bandanas, the boys punched, kicked, shoved and tackled one another with their strong, sapling arms.  

I couldn’t take it.  

“Stop it! Stop it!” I wailed.  

No one heard me.  

“Boys! Boys, please!”  

My world collapsed. Weren’t these my babies? Aren’t they meant to babble, coo, and beg for snacks? How is it they became so violent, muscular, and smelly? I covered my eyes with my hands.  

Astonished, they paused the fight and watched their mother groan into her palms.  

“Whaaat?” asked my first-born, who is now 12.  

“Why,” I whimpered, “Why are you – HURTING each other? What HAPPENED?”  

He cocked his head to one side. “Nothin’, Mom. It’s ninja training.” 

Ninja training. I hate it.  

I leaned against the doorway for support.  

“Hey Mom, you’re blocking the bomb exit.” 

I schlepped onto the rug, near the twin who had now switched from push-ups to sit-ups.  

“Oh NO!” squealed my middle-born child. “Mom’s in the LAVA!” 

Four boys sprinted wildly then snatched up their shirts and plastered them onto my face, to extinguish me.  

“Get ‘er to safety!” 

And then those boys – those squishy cherubs who squirmed out of my body a decade ago and drooled iridescent bubbles from their heavy little faces onto their helpless bodies – they lifted me. Those boys lifted me out of the “lava” and dumped me in the “base.”  

And then they, um, beat each other up.  

“I’m going psychooooo!” yelled a ninja. He charged his foe and kicked him in the gut. The foe snatched the ninja’s foot and hoisted it. The ninja thudded to the floor, where the pair wrestled bitterly.  

I jumped up to help, scouring the nether layers of my brain for first aid techniques.  

“It’s OK boys, I’m right here – “ 

But when I got to that brutal nucleus, their laughter reached me.   

Locked in each other’s arms and smudged with fresh bruises on the hard floor of this lava-ringed battle zone, my babies grew, into something more like men – and laughed about it.  

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Clair McFarland: Driving Lessons With A 9-Year-Old

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Sometimes I let the kid drive.  

First, I pick up the boys from school. My 9-year-old flumps into the front passenger seat.  

My 8-year-old twins careen giggling into the back seat of our little Honda, where they argue about which of the “Madagascar” penguins they’d each be.  

(My 11-year-old is at swimming practice so he’ll have to sit this episode out.) 

“I think I’d be Skipper,” says the big, sweet twin.  

“Nuh-UH. I’d be Skipper. You’d be Private,” retorts the little, feisty twin.  

“Nahh. I’ll be Rico,” says Big-Sweet. Private is a real wuss, even for a penguin.  

The 9-year-old swivels around, knits his copper eyebrows together and snaps “SHHH! Don’t stress Mom out.” 

“What penguin do you think you’d be?” replies Big-Sweet, who is oblivious to rebuke.  

“Doesn’t matter. Now stop arguing, so Mom will let me drive.” 

For a 9-year-old to be given a Honda Accord, the interior conditions must be perfect: brotherly harmony, mild heating, minimal flatulence.  

“I think you’re Kowalski,” continues the twin.  

The 9-year-old slaps his own pearly forehead with his pink-knuckled hand.  

Exterior conditions also decide whether a 9-year-old gets to drive. The day must be dry, clear, not too trafficky. The national headlines can’t be too disturbing. It also helps if no one went to Walmart or heard country rap that day.  

I turn onto Main Street.  

“Now?” asks the hopeful driver.  

“Goodness no,” I say. “We’re still in town.  

The boy chews his lip and cranes his neck. He’s watching me flick the turn signal. He’s judging other drivers.   

“Now?” he asks again.  

“Not yet,” I answer. “We’re in a school zone.”  

He nods under the thick copper mop I should have cut last week.   

We clear the school zone and head north. The sidewalk falls away, leaving sheer weedy barrows and sassy little prairie dogs.   

“Now?!” 

“Yes, honey. Now.” 

My seat whines as I power it backward to make room for him. He scrambles over the center console and drops his full weight onto my lap, then grips the steering wheel in both hands. His left foot rests on my right foot, which is poised just next to the brake pedal in case I have to make an intervening “urch.”  

He accelerates.  

“It’s only a 35 zone here,” I warn.  

“Dad says you can go four miles over the speed limit and not get in trouble.” 

“Dad’s not 9.”  

That’s fair: he slows down.  

Sunlight catches in the fuzz of his arms, revealing innumerable soft bristles. His back straightens; his arms tense into the angular hold of every man who ever steered any vessel, anywhere.  

And he’s happy. Gone is the surly boy who won’t sit for pictures. Gone is the bossy brother; the prankster, the vegetable-hater. When my boy drives, he’s just a soul under the sun, forever accelerating on a road that belongs only to him – and that road’s end will evade him until he’s run out of places to go.  

But he can’t simply drive straight. For him, “straight” is a constant quiver from left to right.  

I try not to get involved. 

See, the trick of the good driving-coach parent is calmness. One must be so chill, so relaxed, so –  

“DON’T HIT THAT TRUCK!” 

He swerves right. I grab the wheel to get us back on course. He jiggles his soft cheeks in shock.   

“I wonder who was in that truck anyway.”  

I wince. “Ummmm, the county sheriff.”  

Big-Sweet decides to have an existential crisis.  

“Uh…. Mom?” he asks.  

“Yeah?” 

“Are we OK?” 

“Of course we’re OK. Your brother’s a great driver. That’s the first time he’s ever almost hit the sheriff.”  

“But what if we die?” 

“We’re not gonna die.” 

But the twin is not convinced. Secretly he wonders if he’ll ever have another pickle quesadilla. If he’ll ever break his jump rope record. If he’ll get home in time to –  

“I gotta go potty.” 

“What?”  

The driver speeds up. 

“I gotta go potty right now!” bellows Big-Sweet.  

Little-Feisty encourages his twin with some spontaneous singing. “OHHHH, WE’RE HALF-WAY THERRE!” 

We race onto a bridge.  

“WO-OHH! LIVIN’ ON A PRAY-ER!” 

We drift around a sharp bend.  

“Not the ditch, not the ditch,” I plead. 

The driver straightens the wheel; we miss the ditch by a few song lyrics.  Big-Sweet dances in the back seat. Not from the music, but from the same burning urgency that powers my car.  

The house whips into sight. We barrel down the long driveway, swerve around the elm tree, skid to a halt at the garage, throw the car in park and let everybody out.  

Big-Sweet trots to the bushes. Little-Feisty skips to the house, still singing.  

The driver turns his large green eyes on me. “Thanks, Mom.” 

“You bet, buddy.” 

He pulls my key from the ignition and carries it to the house like a trophy, imagining himself the all-time NASCAR champion, striding through a rain of tossed roses as his heart downshifts in his chest.  

See – it’s just that easy to let a kid drive.  

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Clair McFarland: Peaceful Family Moments Are The Real Magic

in Clair McFarland/Column
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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

We needed a miracle.  

“For my first trick,” began the 8-year-old magician, “I will turn this LEGO into a coin.”  

I had some doubts.  

But the boy had built his magic stage out of boxes and cushions, whittled a wand, donned a cape and demanded attention. An enchanting silver glow diffused through the window.  

There was just one thing missing.  

“Where’s my lovely assistant?” called the magician.  

Silence.  

The magician cleared his throat.  

“Oh lovely assistant…!”  

The magician’s twin brother trudged onstage, his stout frame wrapped in red Spider-man jammies.  

“I don’t see why I have to be the lovely muh-sistant,” pouted the duplicate.  

“Because it’s my turn with the wand! Now, get your booty over here.” 

The lovely assistant complied.  

“And now – “ said the magician “ – behold this penny. It’s got Abraham Lincoln on it, which is the real miracle here, because he was definitely worth more than a penny…” 

The assistant nudged the magician.  

“Oh, right. I shall, before your very eyes, slide this penny into this sock.” Though he’s long past toddlerhood, this louder twin still pronounces the word “sock” with the weighted “o” of the Bronx New Yorker.  

“Be-fore your ver-y eyes,” echoed the assistant, reluctantly.  

“And turn it into a LEGO brick!” added the magician. He slid the penny into the sock, turned to his assistant and whispered “psst. I need some magic.”  

The assistant lowered his head.  

Whack! The magician swatted his assistant’s head with the homemade wand.  

“There! Now I’ve got some magic. Ahem.” And, gripping the sock’s frayed toe in his finger and thumb, he turned it upside-down, making it drop a LEGO onto his other, open hand.  

“Hoorayyy!” I cheered.  

From the shadows emerged a 9-year-old boy.  

“I know how he did that,” said the boy.  

I frowned. “Don’t – “ 

“But I do!” 

“House. Rule,” I growled. The house rule is, there shall be no theorizing, guessing or spoiling miracles. Just let them be what they are.  

The loud twin reckoned it was the quiet twin’s turn to be the magician.  

“Now you do a trick, and I’ll assist you,” he chirped.  

The quiet twin nodded. His eyes were two pools of grave innocence as he took a deep breath, and said “Please watch this cup.”  

“Pre-PARE to be a-MAZED!” bellowed the loud twin, who was now the lovely assistant.  

“I’m going to put this gum ball in it,” continued the quiet twin. Little did he know, it was not a gum ball, but a white marble. But I knew it – and so did my teeth.  

He plopped the marble into the cup.  

“But it’s an anti-gravity gumball,” he said.  

Yeah, I thought, or an anti-cavity marble.  

The quiet twin turned the cup upside-down… and nothing fell out.  

“Dun-da-da-DUNNN!” called the loud twin.  

I clapped and cheered. The two performers switched roles again: the loud twin would play magician, the quiet twin was stuck being lovely assistant. Again.  

“I’m gonna shoot a coin from this rope,” the loud twin shouted. “Yeeeeeeee-HAWWWWWW!”  

He circled the rope’s end above his head, flung it over the audience; it whipped the couch and spat Abraham Lincoln onto the window sill.  

“Ta-DAA!” 

I applauded. My 11-year-old son whooped. My 9-year-old nodded darkly, as if accepting a dubious new gang member.  

The magician and his lovely assistant both bowed: the show was a hit.  

In this frantic world full of math problems, itchy jeans, and health food, four young boys shared a moment of warm regard.  

And that, is a miracle.

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