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The very messy bunny

I really should have known this already: if Charlie visits a household with other children, he's going to need a new set of clothes by the time he comes back. Julie has been taking a short break from our vacation, and before heading for Oregon I decided we should visit a few friends from my dashing bicoastal days. First up, D., whom I've known since college, now with a 6-year-old, a 3-year-old and the first dog Charlie hasn't absolutely loved on sight (he must have been jetlagged).

And a sandbox. Throwing sand up in the air is apparently the funniest thing a 20-month-old can do, handily edging out peekaboo with someone almost his own size, and well ahead of trying to uproot ornamental plants. Charlie's clothes looked right out of Lawrence of Arabia by the time he was done (only with festive polka dots), and it took close on half an hour to rinse most of the grains out of his hair. He came home in a fetching ensemble of nearly-new overalls and tee shirt.

My other friends have no sandbox, only gazillions of wooden blocks -- including some from G.'s childhood -- a bunch of plastic dinosaurs and a bowl of cherries on the kitchen table. So far, so good. And Charlie is remembering the names of both of their boys. He's walking half a dozen steps at a time. I'm basking in the compliments and holding an almost adult conversation about robots and integrated circuits. Maybe I'll get Charlie out of this with only a few fruit stains.

Then he spots the watering can out on the deck. "Wuh!" he cries imperiously. (Sometimes I think his language skills could be a little less advanced, thank you, especially when I take him down from a nice long ride on my shoulders and he immediately responds, "Up! Sho'!") Anyway, there is nothing for it but to start filling watering cans and watch him pour them on himself. With occasional breaks to mix up some mud and rub his pants into it.

"Oh, I can just wring his clothes out," I say bravely. But no, upstairs is apparently a trove of cardboard boxes labeled by child and year. Out come pants, a shirt, a windbreaker, a cap that turns out to be just a little too small, more overalls... "Please! take them," says my friend B. I do, and better yet, this time I even remember to collect all of his cups, plates and utensils before taking him out to the car.

On the way back to the hotel, Charlie hugs his hand-me-down rabbit while demanding crackers at every traffic light. Then he stands proudly on the sofa so that he can smile, growl, wave his hand and play peekaboo with the baby in the mirror. And I bless the luck that has put our room directly across the hall from the laundry. And given me friends who put up with me even as they welcome Charlie.