What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Frogs and snails
And puppy-dogs’ tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.




Frogs in the Gloaming, October 2008

One warm evening in early fall I grabbed the Radio Flyer from the back yard. A rainstorm had just passed through, and everything was damp and fresh, sharp yellow leaves against a muted green background of lawn.

“Let’s get some nets and go find some frogs,” I said, pulling down some nets from where they hung on a nail in the garage.

“Okay,” Nate replied, and grabbed the biggest salmon net I owned, one three times his size with a green mesh portion big enough to hold his whole body.

The section of Barrington, Illinois in which we lived at the time had one and two acre lots, large green expanses fronting each house, tended to everyday by gardeners, mostly Mexican, who showed up at sunrise, cranked up the lawnmowers (or “mowlawners” as Monkey Boy called them) and heralded sunset with a barrage or leaf-blowers before pulling out for the night. The driveway to each house was probably forty or fifty yards away from the next, and each driveway had a large drainage pipe under it, maybe two feet in diameter. Water pooled at each end of these drainage pipes, sometimes a foot or so deep. Frogs gathered here by the hundreds. You could hear them at night, and sometimes when it rained, croaking, chirping and grunting in a desperate search for a mate, with a deep bass rumble from the odd bullfrog interrupting the lesser frog song. I think that’s why frogs make noise, right, so they can get laid?

So we headed down our own driveway, bundled up in rain coats and Nate in his rain pants.

“Let’s check for frogs here,” I said stopping at our drainage pipe.

Nate got out of the wagon, grabbed a net and slammed it against the rocks lining the tiny pool. Two small frogs immediately leaped into the puddle and swam for the safety of the drainage pipe.

“Get them, get them,” I yelled, a bit frantically.

Nate lunged with the net a second time, and fell on the rocks, slamming his hand and knee. He started crying. Okay, time for some remedial frog catching lessons. I rubbed his bruised knee and hand, kissed them, then told him to toughen up.

“Are you okay?” I asked. He nodded. “Hunters don’t cry,” I said. “Hunters are tough and quiet. You gotta’ sneak up on them. And you have to be really quiet.”

“Okay,” he said.

“Do you want to go back home?”

“No. I don’t want to go home. I want to catch frogs with you dada.”

We moved down the block to the next couple of houses. I showed him how to creep up to the drainage puddles, pretty much all the frog hunter lore I knew. “The next one is yours,” I said.

“Okay daddy, I want to catch one,” he said, clambering back in the wagon.

At the next house, Nate eased out of the Radio Flyer and crept up to the drainage ditch, net in hand. I peered over him. “No frogs here,” I said.

“No frogs?” he asked.

“Doesn’t look like it buddy. Let’s try the next puddle.”

The next couple of drains were similarly devoid of any frogs. “No frogs here,” Nathaniel said each time.

“You’re right buddy. No frogs here.”

We found a large pile of tiny leaves, each leaf no bigger than a baby’s pinkie, mounded up under an almost bare tree. I threw a handful of them at Nate. He shrieked and tried to jump out of the wagon. I helped him out and he immediately picked up tiny handfuls of leaves and showered me with them. We spent the next ten minutes having a leaf fight, showering each other with yellow and red confetti.

We loaded back up into the wagon. I heard a car behind us. I pulled way over onto the lawn. Nathaniel turned around.

“It’s mama,” he yelled. He picked up the net and waved it. “Mama, we’re catching frogs, we’re hunting for frogs.”

D eased up in her forest-green Honda Pilot SUV. Her window came down.

“Oh my god, you guys look cute,” she said. “What are you doing?”

“Looking for frogs,” I said.

“Wow, those are big nets. Is he wet? Are you guys actually covered in leaves?”

“Yeah a little,” I replied.

“Well, you should take him home if he’s wet. He is going to get cold.”

“He’s fine,” I said. “Are you cold buddy?”

“No,” he said, “I just want to hunt more frogs with you daddy.”