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Column

Wimbiscus: Herding kids, letters and the dog

I finally figured out my true calling.

Cowboy.

Because, these days, I spend most of my time herding.

Every Monday and Friday, I embark on a 10-hour drive herding my granddaughters, first from the front door to the kitchen table for breakfast, then over to the TV chair to watch “Daniel Tiger,” then down to the basement to play, then up to the bathroom (double quick because one kid’s “gotta go right now grandpa!”), then over to the living room to bang on the piano, then upstairs to rifle through closets and dressers, then back to the bathroom (because now the other one’s gotta go right now), then back to the basement to finish playing, and then back to the kitchen table for lunch. And, now that the weather’s turned, I’ll also be herding them to the park.

It makes for a busy morning.

In the afternoon, we repeat the process, though around 2:30 p.m., I herd them upstairs for a nap. On good days, they’ll sleep until the chuckwagon is ready with supper. On bad days, they’re up early and then we’re back on the trail again.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I herd the girls from 7:30 to 9 a.m., when they’re dumped off at preschool. Then, in the afternoon, I’m off herding again, this time guiding a pack of grade-schoolers through the intricacies of chess.

Chess class runs about 10 weeks. First, I herd students through board setup, then through piece movement, then through check and checkmate, pawn promotion, castling, forks, pins and skewers. The older kids pick up the basic concepts after about three weeks. First-graders and kindergarteners take a little longer. Sometimes, a lot longer.

Classes involve no more than 15 minutes of teaching, followed by 45 minutes of playing. The herding, however, never stops. I’m constantly on the move, re-explaining rules, picking up any of 160 or so chess pieces that are constantly being dropped on the floor, guiding strays back into their seats, authorizing bathroom breaks and generally trying to maintain class discipline up to the moment of dismissal.

It’s not as easy as it sounds.

On Wednesdays, I take a break from humans, and spend a few hours herding letters into a newspaper column. Words, it turns out, are a lot harder to herd than kids. But at least you don’t have to clean up after them.

When I’m not busy herding children or letters, I spend my time herding dogs: in and out of the kitchen, off the rug, down from the couch, inside, outside, always somewhere else because, like children, they’re never content to stay where they are supposed to stay.

Herding is in my blood. Perhaps because its part of my national heritage, which is mostly Lithuanian. I don’t know of any Lithuanian cowboys, but I do know this: once, when I was about 9, I asked my grandfather what was the ethnic slur for Lithuanians. “Lugans,” he replied, “Though some people call us goose-herders.”

Goose-herder.

I guess that explains it. Now, 50 years later, I find myself herding something nearly every day. Though no geese. At least so far.

Last week, my herding skills were sorely challenged. I was about to take the girls out for a walk when our Yorkie, Bickle, suddenly bolted out the door without a leash. His first reaction in such situations is always the same: run like hell.

As he shot across the street, I waddled after him, calling his name, which only made him run away faster. I knew if I took my eyes off him for a second, I’d never see him again. After I got about two houses down, I realized I’d left a pair of 3-year-olds alone in the driveway.

“C’mon,” I screamed, “Help me catch Bickle!”

“We can’t!” they cried.”

“Why not?”

“Because you said we can’t cross the street without you!”

After retrieving the girls, I continued tracking Bickle, dragging them behind me. With a neighbor’s help, we finally managed to corral him just before he hit Midland Avenue traffic and certain death.

General George S. Patton once said, “We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people.”

Ultimately, I’d like to think I’m doing more leading than herding.

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