It was the day after Halloween, and a friend of mine had taken extra care to secure certain volatile, highly coveted materials.
Like a prudent outdoorsman sleeping rough in bear country, she had placed the troubling stuff in a plastic bag, twirled the neck of the bag tightly and had hung the resulting parcel on a hook in the kitchen too high for any critters to reach. Oh, they might prowl around hungrily underneath, she reckoned, but they wouldn't be so brazen as to make a grab at the thing in daylight.
Confident that her three young children wouldn't be able to jack themselves up any further on sugar -- they had come home from school giddy and glassy-eyed, their pockets full of empty candy wrappers -- she went upstairs to pack for a trip.
But like many a camper, she failed to take into account the ingenuity of bears.
My friend was halfway upstairs when the phone rang. She came back down and, during what turned into a long conversation with her sister, wandered to the back of the house. There she stood, phone to her ear, gazing out at the leaves strewn everywhere by Hurricane Sandy.
With their mother's attention elsewhere, the bear cubs struck. They were small, but they were crafty, and they had discovered that by combining their strength, they could maneuver a dining room chair into position, ever so quietly. The 7-year-old clambered up, reached as high as she could and -- got it! The cubs grabbed handfuls of the heavenly contraband, shoved the mostly empty bag behind some cookbooks and dragged the chair back into the dining room. Then, wisely, they scattered.
Some time later, my friend finished her phone call and went upstairs. In the hallway, she might have heard some scuffling, bear-cub sounds, but, if she did, she disregarded them. It was only when she pulled her suitcase from beneath her bed that she saw the first shocking signs of naughtiness.
With the suitcase came a couple of telltale "fun bite" wrappers. She sniffed them. They were fresh.
"Hey!" she yelled, half-crossly and half-laughing, "who is eating candy and putting wrappers under my bed?"
There was no reply. In his secret lair, the guilty party trembled -- or gobbled all the faster.
The woman chuckled to herself. She'd hunt down the culprit later; for now, she needed to focus on packing or she'd never get on the road. That phone call had delayed things. Speaking of calls, she thought vaguely, I think I hear Nature.
The door of the family's one bathroom was closed. My friend knocked on it.
"Someone in there?" she called.
"No!" said a little voice, "I mean, yes!"
"Honey, Mommy needs to go."
"You can't come in!" yelped the child.
"Sweetie, I really need -- "
"No, don't -- !"
But it was too late. The mother had pushed open the bathroom door to find one bear cub sitting, fully dressed, on the lavatory. Around the child lay strewn the gaily colored evidence of a clandestine post-Sandy Halloween hurricane. Her children had disobeyed her, which was wrong, the mother knew; still, it was nice to know they were smarter than the average bear.
Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.