Here There Be Leprechauns

“Aye! Let’s capture us some wee little leprechauns!”

It’s the annual battle cry of my daughters in the days leading up to March 17.

While the rest of the country celebrates St. Patrick’s Day by drinking beer and wearing green, our family focuses on leprechauns and their unlikely association with the superhero-like saint who was held hostage by barbarians for six years. Though details of Patrick’s life circa 390 A.D. are murky, we’re enthralled by the impossible tale of him fleeing his captors, ridding Ireland of its snake population, and convincing the city of Chicago to dye its river green every year.

From the time my kids could talk, I’ve entertained them with all sorts of far-fetched anecdotes. My family has turned fantasy into an art form in which we all participate … except my husband. He’s a realist who doesn’t get why I like to amp up our daughters with my alleged visions of mermaids. He doesn’t participate in my insinuations that fairies fly rampant in the girls’ bedrooms while they’re at school. Nor does he approve my convictions to my kids and their trusting friends that I can move things, like pencils, with my mind (by way of a furtive puff of breath).

Instead, he rolls his eyes at my fantastical fables before diving into the serious news stories of the day. Though my proclivity for storytelling is more amplified since we had children, he and I have always been who we are. He’s the yin to my yang. The Ricky to my Lucy.

After a moment, he emerged holding a pillowcase filled with a squirming body.

A couple of years ago, the girls began taking over my leprechaun-catching tradition. When I’d forget to collect boxes for traps, they’d take it upon themselves to go through the closets and recycling bin, seeking materials to make their own renditions of miniature, iron maiden-like torture devices.

“Could you tone this fantasy stuff down?” my husband piped in last March. “I caught our youngest climbing the bookcase because she was convinced the tooth fairy was holding a little-people convention up there. This has to stop before somebody gets hurt.” I took his advice and began to keep the danger-leaning snares in check.

Before going to bed on the eve of last St. Patrick’s Day, the kids were setting their disappointingly spike-free shoebox traps outside their adjoining bedrooms. “We’re not going to catch anything with those wimpy things,” said our then-six-year-old, who proceeded to stomp off to brush her teeth.

“Yeah, snooze-a-lose, Mom,” chanted my oldest, who was eight at the time.

I caught my husband surveying the scene.

When the girls finished readying themselves for bed, they noticed something had stirred the bait. Thanks to my eager trigger finger, trails of glass beads led from the girls’ pillows to the overturned traps. Green footprints scaled the walls. It was more debauchery than I’d ever crafted before, and in so little time. I may have agreed to tone it down for my husband’s sake, but the truth was, I couldn’t help myself. I was having too much fun watching my kids’ imaginations soar. And boy, did they.

From there, my beguiled girls started finding things they thought had been displaced by the little men — things I hadn’t touched at all. I explained, in earnest, that they themselves had moved the objects in question the night before when they cleaned their rooms. But they were having nothing of my answers as to why dolls were in the correct bins and homework was properly stowed in their backpacks. They couldn’t remember having completed these chores on their own not an hour before. The leprechauns were even blamed for the routine toothpaste splatter in the sink that no one notices any other day of the year.

My trick had caused an uproar. The children’s impressionability was much greater than I could have anticipated. The girls were convinced they saw mischievous, green-clad figures running through our house and out the back door. Bedtime was going berserk. Our youngest, with tears in her eyes, exclaimed she wouldn’t go to sleep while the leprechauns were loose.

This scene had now captured my husband’s full attention.

He got down on one knee. “Girls,” he said in his serious tone, “you don’t have to worry. I am a secret leprechaun catcher.”

“Really?” the girls asked in tandem.

“Really?” I squeaked.

With great trepidation, we three watched as Daddy snuck toward the master bedroom. We held our breath. After a moment, he emerged holding a pillowcase filled with a squirming body. The three of us reared back in horror. What the hell had he caught in our bedroom?

He took the writhing object outside and deposited it into the dark backyard.

The girls cheered. My mouth dropped.

“Girls,” he said, in a Superman kind of way, “there are no other leprechauns in this house. I’m throwing these traps away. It is now safe to go to bed.”

And they did without further protest. After I tucked each girl into bed, I met my husband in our bedroom. He was curled up next to our cat Zoe, who was happy to be back in her favorite spot on our bed. “Thanks for making the sacrifice, old girl. Sorry about that, but Mommy took things too far … again,” he said to the cat, for my benefit.

“Thanks for being part of the family tradition,” I said to him. “But why’d you do it?” He stared at me with his serious, fatherly look before breaking into a smirk. “You find all this to be kind of fun, huh?”

“Maybe,” he replied. “But next year we’re doing what every other normal family does to pay tribute to good ol’ Patrick: drink beer and wear green.”

“You got it,” I said, fingers crossed behind my back. In my head, ideas were already forming in anticipation of Easter’s impending arrival. Then we had April Fools’ Day to plan.

Now that I have an accomplice, anything is possible.

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