Posts By: Esther Baird

The Good, the Bad and the Tasty

By Esther C. Baird/Tri-Town Transcript columnist
First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript October 21, 2013

Well, it’s Fair week here in Tri-Town land. And at Casa Baird we are creatures of habit. We always park in Lot E because there is generally less traffic, and we always begin our visit by getting the worst part over with. So obviously, we start on the Midway.

Something wicked this way comes, indeed….
Read More

Failing at Grocery Store 101

By Esther C. Baird/Tri-Town Columist
First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript September 12, 2013

I’m a Stop-N-Shop girl. I know every aisle and shelf of our local Danvers store. I know the clerks and they know me. I’ve considered having my mail forwarded there — I’d get it faster. In fact, I know the store so well, that I recently trusted my nine-yearold daughter to go in by herself and buy a jar of popcorn kernels.

“Center aisle, in the back, on the left, lowest shelf. Grab the jar, pay, and leave.” I instructed her. It was a surgical strike and I knew she could execute it.

My younger daughter and I sat curbside in the Giant Sparkle, living out this latest milestone in child independence.
And then ten minutes went by. Then eleven, twelve . . . something was going awry. Just as I was about to go in, she emerged with a suspicious smile. She opened the grocery bag and showed me the loot she’d ‘found along the way’ including brightly colored snacks and candy for everyone in our family.

She’d been bamboozled the way that every food marketing campaign in America dreamed of. In her defense, she’s a kid. She hasn’t learned to ignore the colors and the hollow promises of health and happiness via labels.

She’d learn.

For example, I recently decided to visit the new Whole Foods in Lynnfield. I needed milk and heard that the Starbucks next door was large and lovely. So I zipped a few exits south and entered the new Market Street Mall playground for grown ups.

I wandered into the hipster, muted toned, other-country land of Whole Foods and was instantly overcome by the cumin and cardamon smells, the glittering wine bottles, and the counters where they wanted to make me smoothies and lunch out of grass clippings. I felt off kilter. Dizzy, and simultaneously like I wanted to do yoga. I meandered a bit until I found myself in the gluten free section . . . wasn’t my babysitter gluten free? Dairy free?

A perky young sales clerk came skipping down the aisle and saw my perplexed look.
“Would you like to try something?” she asked.
“Well, my babysitter eats this stuff.”
She beamed. “Of course she does!! I love these banana chocolate muffins! And these, over here, are made with kale. Sooo yummy.”
I stared. Didn’t chocolate have dairy in it? Weren’t muffins made with wheat
The clerk threw open the freezer and ripped into the kale muffin box. “Let’s try one!”
I was impressed with her can-do attitude, so I didn’t bother pointing out the frozen component would stymie our tasting adventure.
She yanked out the rock hard lump. “Hmm. Well, just take it home! Throw it in your purse!”
Like shoplifting? Was I hallucinating?
I pulled out the box of the banana chocolate muffins and put it in my cart. “I’ll just take these
She shoved the kale rock at me. “Take it, tell them Jennee said it was ok!!”


I kept moving.

I had come in there for something . . . something I couldn’t forget to buy. Oooh but look, an entire case of energy drinks that, just maybe, had perfected cold fusion in a beverage and forgotten to alert the local scientific media. And over there was a whole aisle of potato chips with no potatoes in them – – at all.

I stumbled to the register with two bags of food that, best I could tell, was healthy and . . . weird. Finally, I left and real air hit me. The sound of traffic and cawing crows woke me from my daze

I had forgotten the milk.

Maybe they didn’t sell real milk anyway with all that, you know, milk in it. I hustled over to Starbucks and collapsed with a coffee that had real cream and toxic sweeteners in it.

My daughter might learn about the dangers of grocery product placement, but she wouldn’t be learning it from me.

The Sum of a Summer’s Endless Days

By Esther C. Baird/Tri-Town Columist
First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript September 9, 2013

I’ve been at this parenting thing for almost a decade now. And generally speaking I’ve found summer to be a parenting hurdle. To be sure, I greatly prefer the summer sunshine and warmth, it’s the ‘endless days’ that presented the challenge.

When our two girls were babies, summers meant gallons of pasty, thick sunscreen that they’d try to eat, hats they’d try to rip off, and a constant state of stickiness that made all of us unhappy. Obviously I won’t even touch upon the horrors of introducing sand to that age bracket.

During the early walking years, summers meant living in a constant state of high alert in case newly minted legs might carry their owners into dangerous pools, oceans, lakes or marshes. Drowning anxieties kept me on edge at locations meant for relaxation.

Then there were the rides with height restrictions, the nap schedules to juggle, the inability to read, and hours and hours and even more hours (since summer days last so long) to fill with something fun and creative and educational and nurturing. PBS Kids could only account for so much of that time.

I was the mom who begged for Preschool to start. The one who considered camping out at school the night before Kindergarten began.

And then our girls turned six and nine.

The sunscreen, bug spray clumps in the creases of chubby toddler legs are long gone. The hats have given up the ghost, and fears of drowning have disappeared into the land of a strong front crawl and an endless ability to tread water.
This year summer was . . . fun. So fun that here, during this first week of school, I’m in a funk. I resent the brightly colored lunch boxes and fall colored plaid skirts. Me! What happened??

Is there a formula for such a summer?

Was the four road trips down the east coast to Pennsylvania and New Jersey — two which were spontaneous to meet new babies? Was it the day trips into Boston to walk the Freedom Trail, or huff up the 294 steps of the Bunker Hill monument? Was it the five days of Vacation Bible School learning about the Apostle Paul and how to jump into a slip-n-slide fully clothed? Or possibly the daily morning walks with Blue Ears around Boxford (ignoring, for this column, the approximately 500 deerfly bites). Was it the soccer camp? The tennis camp? The crazy half-day YMCA camp where the girls played shaving cream whiffle ball and won bead bracelets for demonstrating honesty, responsibility, respect, and caring?

It might have been the two teeth lost, or the one million scoops of ice cream and frozen yoghurt, or, quite possibly, the seasonally appropriate number of summer cocktails around fire pits and pools. Was it the BTA/BOLT horse show or the many, many lazy afternoons at Stiles Pond, (“Girls, go get another slushy!”).

It definitely had to do with the five (ok maybe ten) visits to Maggie’s Farm in Middleton where we ordered our favorite spicy calamari with extra peppers. It was certainly related to the weekly trips to the library and the countless books read this summer. My six-year-old’s favorite book was, “Judy Moody and a Little Monkey Business”, my nine-year-old’s favorite was, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”, my favorite was a streak of Vince Flynn books read in memoriam to a great and prescient thriller writer gone too soon.

The three different beaches in three different states, and two different trips to Lake George in the Adirondacks, with multiple Stand Up Paddle opportunities at each destination, all played a part as well.

We did everything. Perhaps more importantly, when we did nothing, we were good at it. We were relaxed, we were sun-kissed, we were girls of the summer.

It all added up so that for the first time, the sum of this summer was that I was not ready for it to end.

The Tooth Fairy Goes FroYo

By Esther Baird/Tri-Town Transcript
First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript August 22, 2013

I guess I never realized, pre-children, how hard it is to be the tooth fairy.  I mean every child, ever born, loses not one but like a zillion (or 20) teeth in their life.  It makes Santa look downright lazy with his one night of work each year.   Which is why, as I explained to my older daughter, the tooth fairy didn’t always make it in a timely manner. 
Except for the first tooth.

The tooth fairy might get delayed, (one time she was late by days to my daughter’s pillow because of a courageous mission involving a rhinoceros with an infected tusk), but she never misses a first tooth. 

Our older daughter received two crisp dollar bills upon her first loss.  I’ve heard of children who received twenty dollar bills, but at Casa Baird, the tooth fairy set expectations right out of the gate.  A dollar is seventy five cents more than I ever got, and two dollars made it special but not ridiculous. 

Regular Readers may recall that she jimmied her first tooth out with a homemade lever she designed from a Chick-Fil-A kid’s meal toy.  She performed this minor surgery upon herself so as not to be the only kid in her class who hadn’t lost a tooth.

But our younger daughter, who swoons over a paper cut, was not as enthusiastic.  Sure, the idea of the tooth fairy was enticing, but the removal process seemed . . . ominous.  There might be blood.  She might explode into a million little grossed out, quivering pieces.  As a result, her first tooth had been wiggly for weeks.  Weeks!  Sometimes she would gently nudge it, but mostly she left it alone and avoided chewy foods. 

It made the rest of us crazy. 

Finally, I was afraid she’d swallow it and my husband demanded to pull it out with his always handy pliers.  It was hanging by the merest of threads and so, though she balled her fists and squeezed her eyes, she didn’t even know when he yanked it out. 

There it was! Her first tooth! 

There was much excitement and only a few full-body shudders about the trace bits of blood. The tooth went into the special tooth-fairy-pouch by her pillow, and she went to bed with giddy anticipation (and a tissue in case she spontaneously bled out). 

That’s when I realized there was no cash in the house.  I’d be lying if I said there was not a moment of panic.  It was a first tooth after all.  The fairy had to show up.

And she did . . . with printed picture of an Orange Leaf frozen yoghurt with the words written (in all caps) “One Free Cup!!”


My daughter woke up and was amazed.  “Mommy!!  I got a FREE Orange Leaf coupon from the tooth fairy!!!” 
I gasped.  “No way!!”
She stared at the written words. “Mommy, is this your handwriting?” 
I stared back at her.  “What?” 
There was a pause and then I grabbed her hands and started jumping. “Yay!!!  Orange Leaf!!” I made squeaky, happy sounds with her and then just kept jumping out of the room.  Fast.

Later that week we made our way to Orange Leaf in Danvers.  While my husband and daughters had the requisite fifty or so sample tastes, I meandered to the register to have a brief chat.

When my daughter presented her printed photo, the clerk, a dude with crazy hair that would make a Muppet jealous, smiled wide, “Cool!  My sister’s friend just got one of those from the tooth fairy.”

My daughter’s eyes widened, this was so, totally, legit! 

After I, um, did some stuff at the register, I joined my family.  My younger daughter had four different flavors with six different gummy, cookie, brownie toppings. 

She smiled her newly gapped smile.  “Mommy, this must be a new thing for the tooth fairy.  I wonder where else she gives certificates to?”

I wonder too. 

Fueled by Fluff and Sunshine

Fueled by Fluff and Sunshine
By Esther C. Baird/
First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript August 8, 2013

I recently spent two weeks over on Lake George in the Adirondacks where, Regular Readers may recall, we have a family camp.  It’s rustic and falling apart in many places and often buggy in a way that gives Boxford a run for its money, but there is no place I’d rather be.  Especially when I’m out in the middle of the lake where the waters are deep and clear and far from . . . everything. 

But to experience that you need a boat. 

My parents have a motorboat that’s on its last, um, paneling.  Their mechanic instructed them not to worry, because when it sank, it would do so in a slow, controlled manner.  Reassuring, and yet, not for me.   Anyway, I favor the pontoon boat.  They are stable and comfortable — like a floating couch set might be.  So I rented one for a few days.
The main stress when renting a boat is the clause about the propeller, (or prop).  You can burn the boat to bits, or loose a skunk onboard, and the marina might frown, but if you so much as think about dinging the prop you will be bankrupt within seconds. 

So while my rental agent reviewed the standard info with me, I was mentally cataloging the large rocks near our swimming area and the possible prop problems.  

At some point he said, “Now, this is a new boat but fuel gauges on boats are always somewhat unreliable.”
I nodded and went back to my precautionary prop plan.

After a day of easy mooring, I relaxed about the prop, especially because we mostly floated around out in the middle.  Occasionally we motored to a particularly good view, but mostly we bobbed about and thought happy thoughts, or ate Fluffer Nutter sandwiches.  Sometimes we did both. 


On our last day, I packed up for a final afternoon on the water.  My parents and husband had left so I was alone with our two girls.  It was sunny, it was hot, we were off!

We were off when suddenly, lurch, lurch.  We were lurching.  We were . . . stopping.

Naturally my first thought was the prop.  We were in over a hundred feet of water, but still I gave it a look. Nothing.  I turned the key and we powered on and, lurched off. 

“Girls,” I said calmly,  “I think we are stuck.”

Actually we were gently drifting south.  I eyed the islands to our east.  We were on track to float past them, but if we began to veer, I needed a plan to keep from crashing into them and damaging the non-turning, increasingly annoying, prop.

I called the marina, (momentarily thankful that the region had recently installed cell phone towers), and we walked through the various protocols.
“And what about your fuel gauge?”  The lady asked.
“Well it shows a full tank…super full.”  I replied.
“Well it sounds like you at least have some gas then.” She agreed. 

They said they’d send a guy, and I prepared my anchor just in case the wind shifted us into prop-problem land. Then the girls and I settled in with our fluffernutters and drifted.  The view was still stunning, the sun still bright.

When the guy arrived he checked the fuel gauge. 
“Says full,” he confirmed.
He then checked the gas tank, which was . . . bone dry.

(Note to self:  ‘unreliable fuel gauge’ means ‘gauge has no bearing on reality as we know it in this universe’.) 

The marina guy hauled off again to procure gas and the girls and I kept up our hard work of floating ever south (Lake George is 32 miles long) while occasionally straining to dip into our stash of Oreos. 

Once we finally received our rescue fuel we took off one last time.  Props and gauges forgotten we cruised the blue waters with traces of cookie crumbs stuck to the Fluff on our chins. 


Modern Mommying Goes to Camp

First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript

Boxford Topsfield Middleton —
The Baird Facts
By Esther C. Baird
Regular Readers may recall that last summer we allowed our then eight-year-old daughter to attend her first overnight camp.  It was only four nights, and it was run by our church. Further, one of my friends was the director and she sent me reassuring text messages and photos throughout the week – mostly of my daughter eating candy – but a candy-eating child is a happy child. 
So this year, we allowed her to attend a full week of camp on Lake Winnipesaukee.  This camp had hundreds of kids of all ages, acres of land, bonfires, islands, horses, motor boats, hiking, a mess hall, a camp store and . . . no good friend on staff who’d send me updates.
But I was cool with that. My daughter was ready, I was ready. 
So we drove her up, made her bed, helped her organize her clothes and books and pre-addressed, pre-stamped letters, and then we took a tour.  The lake waters were pristine and the views were incredible. 
We knew a few other campers and, as we meandered around, my one friend whose son was back for a second year said, “See that boat house?” 
She pointed to a building at one end of the beach. “That’s where the webcam streams from.  You can catch glimpses of your kids when they swim.”
I smiled politely.  “You mean when you stare at your computer watching your son paddle around when you should be relaxing in your parental freedom??”
(She had previously admitted to such shenanigans when her son had camped before.)
She smiled back at me, unapologetic.  “Yep.”
Whatever. I had been sending my girls to grandparents and babysitters and day camps since they’d been born. I’d miss them, and I might even fret a bit, but a webcam?  I’d be surprised if I remembered to glance at it, let alone figure out when our daughter was actually swimming.
She swam at 3 p.m. 
I know this because, that first day back in Boxford, I managed to watch some other girl who was not my daughter swim for about 20 minutes only to finally see my own daughter and friends appear.
I texted my fellow camp-moms.  “They’re on the cam!”  It was like the Olympics and our children were competing . . . as kids at camp. 
I grabbed my iPhone and took pictures of my laptop screen that was streaming our children and began sending the blurry photos to grandparents and my husband.  “They’re swimming!” 
My mother texted me back, “I can see her!  Is her bathing suit new?”
My one friend grabbed a screen shot of our girls and labeled it with their names and put it up on Facebook, while my other friend replied frantically, “I’m at work!!  I’m at work!! I can’t see them.”
I texted back, “Get the app!! Watch them on your iPhone!”
It was as if they’d invented cold fusion.  The whole world hung in the balance while our nine-year-old daughters did what nine-year-old girls do on any given day, at any given camp, during any given summer. They swam. 
Later that week we saw lights from the fireworks display and flicker of the evening bonfire. One afternoon I watched a riveting game of duck, duck, goose.  Really, you should have seen how fast this one girl ran when she was the goose . . .
Ok, I get it, Modern Mommying . . . eye roll.  But I loved the peeks I got of my daughter, still alive, still healthy, and clearly happy.  I loved it so much that, on the pick up day, I marched down to the beach with my daughter and we watched ourselves, on my iPhone, appear in the beach cam, then I took a picture waving at . . . myself. 
I guess some of you might accuse me of not relaxing, of being quasi obsessive.  Let me know when your kid goes to camp with a webcam. 
Until then, I’ll just smile and reply, “Yep.”

Let Me Chew On That

By Esther C. Baird
First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript

Boxford —
I think addiction is a strong word.  I mean, I have some friends who vacuum every day.
I have other friends who can’t sleep unless their kitchen counter is clear of debris.  One girlfriend is obsessed with the Olive Garden — that can’t be normal, right? 
My chewing an entire pack of Trident gum every day is no different.  Strawberry Twist and Tropical Fruit are my two favorite flavors.  The splashier and brighter and zanier the package, the better.  Plus it’s sugar free, which I’m pretty sure means it’s practically a vegetable.  
Why gum you ask?  Let’s see . . .
Road trip often?  Yes I do.  What better way to endure the I-95 torture corridor while listening to the Sound of Music for the billionth time, than to chew it out.  
Dance shows, school concerts and piano recitals to smile at?  Plenty.  And when the third grade recorder program threatens to undo the very fabric of my soul, what better release then a refreshing Tropical Twist of happiness? 
Dinner for the Rest Of My Known Life that needs to be freshly and lovingly prepared? 
Roger that!  But I can wile away the chicken chopping, pepper prepping hours with a bit of Watermelon Bliss.
So, yes, gum.  I have my reasons. 
Which was all well and good until I dislocated my jaw a month ago.  Now, I’ll have you know that I’ve always had a loose, clicky and somewhat troublesome jaw. But this time was different.  It went out and stayed out for a good 24 hours and when it went back in, my teeth didn’t really connect anymore. 
I bit the gum-flavored bullet and saw my dentist.  He prodded and pulled and asked me things like, “When I push here,” big squeeze to my highly inflamed jaw muscle, “would you say that’s a little or a lot of pain?”
A lot.
Then he looked at me and then said.
“Would you like a stick of gum?”
Ha ha.  A regular comedian.  
“I realize,” I said in what I hoped was a calm and measured tone, “that perhaps the gum isn’t helping.  But I’m not sure,” my voice might have wavered a bit, “if you fully understand my gum, uh, habit.”
He laughed politely and smiled and then his face turned immediately grave. 
“But seriously, all kidding aside . . .”
I was not going to hear what he said.  I saw road trips and long, grey, snow days, and swim lessons flash before my eyes.  I saw the next two decades of lunch making and dinner prepping swirl in front of me.  I saw it without gum and I shrank into the dentist chair. 
“ . . . .you really need to give up gum.”
It was too much to bear.  I hadn’t been able to properly eat a solid piece of food in weeks, but all I could imagine was the drive home without gum to chew while I pondered my sad, sad, state.
Obviously, I needed help.  So I did what anyone in my shoes would do, I polled my Facebook friends.  I explained that I needed a new gum substitute.  Immediately. 
I received back a long and creative list, but really only cigarettes, chewing tobacco and a snuff-like packet that contained coffee grinds allowing you to ‘brew a cup of coffee in your own mouth’ fit the bill.
I’m not totally crazy, so cigarettes and dip were clearly and obviously out.  And I’m already highly caffeinated, so to brew any more coffee, in my mouth or otherwise, would probably make me explode. So I went cold turkey.  No gum at all.  And my jaw felt so, so great.   It was wonderful to eat chicken again without nibbling it like a squirrel.
So there you go.  Easy to quit.  And if you’re a happy-ending Regular Reader now is your cue to say farewell.  See you next column!!  (I’ll just go and discreetly spit out this piece of gum while you say your goodbyes.)

A River Runs Nowhere

By Esther C. Baird
First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript

Boxford —
For my birthday this past March my husband gave me a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP).  I’d been renting them the past few summers over in the Adirondacks, so I was thrilled to own one I could use here on the North Shore. SUPs are magical mini-islands, the perfect escape when terra firma grows tedious with snack requests, dinner needs and trips to Costco. 
I couldn’t wait to use mine . . . so I didn’t.
The weekend after my birthday, when the snow was mostly (but not totally) gone, and the marsh in our back yard was mostly (but not totally) unfrozen, I geared up in my Wellies and hip length winter coat and propelled myself out onto the water.  I had to break ice to get anywhere, so it was a short ride, but it was still wonderful.   Not a single frozen reed asked me for the iPad or to find its shoes. I couldn’t wait for summer.
This past Saturday I finally got my chance, and, since I drive along the Ipswich River 10,0000 times a day I decided it was ideal for my inaugural Tri-Town SUP outing.  I studied a river map full of cheerful symbols indicating landmarks, bird sanctuaries and bridges with comments that promised a well traveled, easy, river.  I decided to paddle the two mile stretch between Thunder Bridge on 62 in Middleton, and the Salem Road Bridge in Topsfield. 
My husband and daughters dropped me off at the Salem Road Bridge and watched me muck my way through the wet, grassy bank and take off.  I had a backpack with a bottle of water and my phone, safely ensconced in two zippy bags, just in case.   I waved at them and paddled away into serenity.
Right away my serenity was interrupted by water bushes, submerged logs and trees that cropped up with low hanging branches every few feet.  I paddled around bush after bush while scanning ahead for the break where, surely, the river cleared out.   Where was the map symbol for ‘extremely annoying spot on river’?  Further, where was the symbol for, ‘here there be spiders,’ because as I trawled through the watery jungle they skittered across my board, crawled up my legs and fell onto me from the tree branches.  That wasn’t normal, was it!?
How had I go from New England river to Louisiana bayou?  What on earth was going on?  Better yet, where on earth!?  After about twenty minutes of paddle-based, bush whackery, I pulled out my phone from its zipped layers and called my husband. 
“I can’t find the river.” I announced.
“What?” he said trying to make sense of my statement given he had left me  . . . on the river.
“I’m paddling through shrubbery.” I flicked a giant brown spider off my shoulder. “There is something really wrong with this river.”
We agreed that I’d return to the Salem bridge, if I could find it, and hung up.   I next flicked open my Google maps to sort out where I was in relationship to, well, just anywhere normal.

At last, clarity. 

It turned out, I was SUPing in a field, mayhap a meadow, somewhere in Topsfield. I know some of you hearty, outdoorsy, Regular Readers may be rolling your eyes at this point (to which I say:  this is print, roll as much as you’d like).  Obviously you know that sometimes after historic rainfalls (like the one we had the day before my paddling adventure) the river floods into nearby fields.  I, and about twenty million stranded spiders, did not know that.

Now I do.

When I finally made my way back to the launch bridge, and found the real river, it was, of course, lovely, fast and wide.  It was spider free, and full of happy people meandering along.  I waved and pretended I hadn’t just paddled through a cow pasture, and in return, they didn’t ask me for a snack.   I think I’m ready for summer!

Winning at Field Day

By Esther C. Baird
First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript

Boxford —
When I was a kid I didn’t play sports or even understand them. My athletic abilities were honed in the woods and fields and lakes of the outdoors. This paid off exactly one day a year when my rule-following, team-playing, uniform-wearing friends simply couldn’t keep up.  I refer, of course, to Field Day.
I won at Field Day . . . a lot.   And when I won, I got a ribbon that said first place, because that’s what happened when you won.  Field Day was made for children like me — it was a series of physical events not tied to a coach’s whimsy or the ability to know where some nebulous place called ‘off-sides’ was, but instead tied to a child’s innate ability to jump, throw and dash. 
I loved Field Day.  Let me clarify, I loved winning on Field Day.
So this year I volunteered for Field Day at our daughter’s school and was assigned to the Broad Jump.  In this event, students stood with their feet together and jumped as far as they could — perfect for the child who often leapt across streams or, here in the Tri-Towns, slushy, wet puddles.
As each child jumped, my event partner and I measured the length, called out their distance to be recorded and . . . filed it away until next year.  No winners.  No prizes. 
What was a former Field Day champion to do??
I know, I know, society frowns upon pushy parents at sporting events.  And I knew it wasn’t about who could jump the furthest, but whether they tried their best.  Yawn.   What I really knew was that a little competition would push them to jump further.   
I began to show the kids how far they had to jump to create a new record. I cheered, I waved my arms, I whooped and I encouraged them to jump like they’d never jumped before.
At one point two fourth grade boys were neck and neck.  The one would out-jump the other on each of their three turns. 
72 inches. 
73.5 inches. 
And  then . . . the final jump.
I placed my sneaker at the record holder’s mark. 
“You have to jump past my shoe to hold the new record.” I said in a firm voice.    
The class held its breath while the boy with the current long distance paced on the side.   The boy sprung up and . . . 
“74 inches!!” I hollered.
They kids went wild.  The children to whom God gave a pass on jumping skills weren’t crushed, they didn’t feel badly for themselves, they were genuinely thrilled to watch their classmate soar through the air.  The boy whose distance was beat, laughed and was a good sport and clearly planned to come back next year and tromp the record. 
I was proud of my jumpers, and it was with this attitude that I grabbed a fellow mom and entered us in the grown-up’s Three Legged Race. 
“Ok,” I said as I tied the white cord around our legs . . . “We’re winning this!”
We lined up with other moms and teachers.  And . . . we were off. 
The white cord immediately dug into my ankle and I gritted my teeth.  No pain, no three-legged race gain.  We were in total sync, we were tearing down the field, the finish line was in sight and then . . .  our rhythm failed.  I went down in three-legged tangle.  Down, but not out.  I clawed at the ground while my friend dragged me by the arm through the goose-poo strewn grass, and we crossed the line.
I might have fist pumped into the air screaming like I’d won Olympic Gold while my friend lifted me with her arms.  There might be photographic evidence of me going slightly crazy.  It’s possible that this is why parents and sports (let alone Field Day) are not a great mix. 
But I’ll leave that to the experts to sort out.  I’m already practicing for next year.

Maybe the Horse Fairies Took Your Baby

By Esther C. Baird
First Published in the Tri-Town Transcript

Boxford Topsfield Middleton —
It all began in Costa Rica.  We were there two summers ago on a family vacation and spent one day with a guide navigating waterways by boat, and jungle paths by foot, in order to visit a secluded beach.  Apparently though, there was a short cut to the beach, because that afternoon a man emerged from the dense foliage with a large horse tied to a rope.  It had no saddle, no blanket, no reins.  But the man looked at our two girls, then ages five and three, and communicated that for a few dollars he’d give them a ride. 
I figured this was a clear ‘no’.  Neither daughter had any experience with horses and our older daughter was nervous around anything large and alive.  It was one of the reasons we had gotten Blue Ears who, at the time of the trip, was only a puppy but held the promise of being gigantic.
So it was a total surprise when our eldest sat up and said, “I’ll ride.”  The man nodded, lifted her onto the bare back of the horse, and led her off down the beach. 
Both my husband and I saw it immediately.  She is not a laid back child.  She is the firstborn of two Type A parents — you do the math.   But sitting on that horse, her entire demeanor changed.  She looked relaxed, peaceful, confident.  She’d never even touched a horse before and there she was riding one in a strange country led by a strange man.  Who had taken our daughter?? 
The horse fairies had, and, I could see that we were in deep, deep, trouble. 
We held off for over a year.  I kept hoping our daughter would find that same sense of peace and confidence say . . . painting watercolors or you know, weaving; some hobby with a few less dollar signs attached to it.
But no.  And living in Boxford it’s not exactly easy to avoid horses.   Every time she saw one she’d ask, “When can I ride a horse again?”
So we finally signed her up for lessons at Gaston Farms.  I can take horses or leave them.  And by ‘take’ I mean I don’t mind their general existence.  But our daughter loved the whole process — getting the horse ready (“It’s called tacking up, Mommy”), learning how to ride, and cleaning the horse when done.  After each lesson she beamed, “Can I have my own horse?”
Uh, no.
But she could keep taking lessons.  It just seemed to work for her.
And then a few weeks ago my husband and I were out of town and my mother-in-law was staying with the girls.  My mother-in-law loves horses so I scheduled my daughter’s lesson while she was here.
That evening, many states away, as I was getting ready to go out to dinner, I got the text:  “Took a fall.  Was thrown when horse spooked.  Sore but fine.” 
A million things went through my mind as I quickly called home.  But most of all, I found myself saying, after I had ascertained that our daughter was really, truly ok, “I hope she got back on.”
What was I doing!?  This was my easy out!   She had been thrown off the horse, who could blame her for never riding again?  But oh, the irony.  Her fall ensured that I couldn’t let her quit. If I had to fly home that night and stick her on a horse myself, I would.  Forget watercolors or weaving, my daughter rode horses.  Period.
My mother-in-law confirmed that she had gotten back on and was now a member of the ‘Eat Dirt Club’ at the farm.  She’d been nervous but she’d done it, and with a little Advil and rest she’d be good to go for her next lesson.
I was so proud of her and so stuck with horses. The horse fairies had won.