Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Leprechaun Trap

Last night I found myself in one of the classic dad-with-elementary-school-kids situations. My wife looked at me lovingly over the dinner table and said, “Honey, after dinner you need to help your son build a leprechaun trap for school. It’s due tomorrow.”

“It’s due tomorrow?!? Why am I just hearing about it now?”

“You’re not. I told you about it twice last week, and again two days ago. Would you like me to tell you the exact times, dates and locations when I told you, or exactly what you said each time I told you?”

“So, a leprechaun trap, huh son? I have some great ideas of what we’re going to build tonight!”

Luckily for me, I am not only trained as a mechanical engineer, but I also happened to have a good sized piece of cardboard, some metal coat hangers, and a roll of duct tape in my garage. Also luckily for me, I was an expert trapper in my youth. I never actually trapped anything, per se, but I did own one heck of a cool galvanized steel, two-door, tray-triggered animal trap when I was a kid.

I saved my money and bought it from a mail-order trap manufacturer whose ad I had been studying for months in the back of Outdoor Life magazine. It was easily the coolest thing I had ever purchased, and at ten years old, I had visions of wearing a coon-skin cap and running a lucrative trap line business, with a large knife on my hip and a rifle over my shoulder, just in case. As it turns out, the fields behind our house weren’t exactly a trapper’s paradise, and my mom wouldn’t let me walk around town with a rifle, so eventually the trap was retired to the rafters in the garage and my career aspirations took a new path. Looking back on it, I’m glad I never trapped anything, because it would most likely have been a skunk.

Anyway, I remembered exactly how the trap door mechanism worked on my old trap, and it was perfect for a leprechaun trap that needed to be built in a hurry, on (arguably) short-notice. Off to the garage we went after dinner, to start the often challenging, yet always rewarding process of building something with a 5-five-year-old. Being a semi-seasoned father of three boys, I was prepared for the logistical challenges ahead involving overanxious young helpers and sharp cutting implements. I was totally unprepared for, however, all the questions about leprechauns.

Apparently, St. Patrick’s Day is a pretty major holiday at the elementary school level, and apparently the existence of leprechauns is the overriding theme. Apparently, this time of year, preschools and elementary schools are overrun by mischievous leprechauns, who apparently invade the classrooms at nighttime, in search of gold and snacks. It is apparently the duty of every God-fearing American boy and girl, ages three through eight, to help attempt to trap these Irish varmint-sized marauders, and take their gold.  

“Dad, there must be lots of different kinds of leprechauns, right?”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because there are so many of them.”
“Why do you think there are so many of them?”
“Because there are a lot of schools, and they come to all the schools, right?”
“Sure they do.”
“Why do they come to schools, dad?”
“Pass me that blow torch, son. Have I ever shown you how to weld?”

I’m still trying to keep my story straight on Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. It’s hard enough to explain how and why they all know to come to your house, but now I have to try and explain why leprechauns sneak around, also?

“Once there was green leprechaun pee in the toilet at the pre-school. How did he use the toilet if they’re so small? What are they looking for at the schools? Why do they like glitter? What do leprechauns eat? What do we do with them if we catch one in the trap?”

How am I supposed to know? This is (arguably) the first time I’m hearing about this. I’m just trying to get through the already challenging task of building a working scale model of a trigger-door animal trap using cardboard and coat hangers, and now I’m fielding a bunch of questions and trying not to contradict the unknown-to-me answers that the teacher may or may not have already given.

To add an extra layer of difficulty, my design is being constantly monitored by a little kid who believes that his trap will actually need to snare and contain a small magical Irish elf, so I am needing to bend to some design constraints that wouldn’t otherwise be a concern, such as, not putting any of the connecting duct tape on the inside of the trap because, “the leprechaun would just tear it off and escape.”

On top of the mechanical, mental and mythical challenges the project presented, the other two boys added their own level of difficulty. As Son Number Two sat at the workbench and “helped” me, Sons Number One and Three tore around the garage playing Star Wars. So, as I tried to put the trap together and carefully answer and/or evade the leprechaun inquiries, I was constantly being hit in the legs with plastic light sabers and repeatedly shot with Nerf bullets. The evening reminded me of what astronaut training must be like. Doing complicated math problems while pulling four G’s in a spinning chair and getting Ping-Pong balls and jets of hot steam shot at you, just to see how you react to the chaos.

I am happy to report that I survived the space training exercise, and ended up with a pretty awesome leprechaun trap for my son. We couldn’t reproduce my old animal trap’s food tray door trigger, so we went with the tried-and-true “stick propping up the door” trick. 

“So, when he moves the stick, the door will fall, this latch will swing down into place to keep the door shut, and bam! You’ve got a leprechaun in your trap.”

“Why will he move the stick, dad?”

Why will he move the stick? It was my last mental exercise of the night. Why would he move the stick? The “stick” happened to be a piece of a Home Depot paint stir stick, so it was flat and had some room to write on it. A green Sharpie solved my last design hurdle of the evening.

“Dear Mr. Leprechaun, move this stick to get treats.”

That was perfectly logical in the mind of the five-year-old leprechaun hunter, and he went to bed satisfied that he had the best trap ever. I went to bed about three minutes after he did, completely mentally exhausted.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. Absolutely loved this post. I can just see you and your son with duct tape, coat hangers, and cardboard, playing 20 questions while you hurriedly designed this trap. I love the Why would he move the stick dad? lmao... Great job!!


  2. Thanks, Shauna. He came home from school a little dejected because his friend told him that leprechauns don't obey signs. I told him that only applied to signs like "keep out," and his "move this stick" sign would still work because leprechauns can't resist treats. That did the trick!
    Thanks for reading!