Thursday, December 23, 2010

It's Something Special

Well, the shopping's done as of yesterday, December 22nd, a new early record for me!  I'm usually one of the schleps out there at 5 pm on Christmas Eve fighting over the last box of Legos that isn't a chocolate brown pirate ship (how did that get past the focus group?), but not this year thanks to the most helpful and timely Watchers of the Boy.  First, he spent 3 hours over lunch with 4-yr old Isaac and his saint of a mother, and then later spent the night at Grammy's.  The combination of these two solid blocks of time meant all the purchases were made and then wrapped on the same day. Whew!

Of course, it wouldn't be Christmas shopping without leaving a bag at the register of the first store we visited.  Not until I got home to take inventory of what needed to be wrapped did I realize we were missing a $35 gift.  How do you walk out of a store without a bag that size?  One might think that if one is only buying two items, it wouldn't be difficult to, oh I dunno, leave with both?  Mumbling unkind things at myself under my breath,  I got back in the car and headed back to the first store, which was of course the furthest store from home.  Luckily, register lady had recognized my lack of vigilance, and unable to get the attention of my oblivious self while driving away in the parking lot, had saved the paid-for gift under the front counter. 

As far as the Boy is concerned,  (like most 5-year old boys), Christmas. Cannot.  Arrive.  Fast.  Enough.  I'll admit I'm equally guilty of pestering Mom for an early opening. 

Can we open just one?  It is Christmas Eve Eve.  Just one?

But I'm not a child.  I actually have good reason to want to open presents.  Watching the Boy open presents is quite simply the highlight of any given year.  His animated narration, the look on his face, the anticipation as the paper is quickly torn away - all priceless.  He doesn't just open presents.  He OPENS PRESENTS!!!!!  This video, from Christmas 2009, explains better than I can:

If you took the 45 seconds or so to watch, then you understand why I'm looking forward to what this year holds -  probably more than he.

So, I'm off for a bit - going on the rounds to extended family Christmases on opposite ends of the state, bringing my 5-year old entertainment with me.  If Christmas is also your thing, I hope you have a grand one.

And, remember, those of you that are planners - there are only 367 shopping days left until next year.  Better get started...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pretty in Pink

For many college students, the week before break signifies Finals Week.  At least, it does at the college where my wife professes.  I remember from what seems like eons ago how stressful Finals Week was as a student - your schedule is all screwed up (why does the 7:30pm Tuesday night class have an 8:00am Thursday final?  Never understood that), your nerves are frayed, your eyelids propped with toothpicks and the coffee pot out on a Fair Wages strike.  Turns out, it isn't any different for the professors.  Yesterday, when my wife came home after another 12-hour grading marathon on campus, I shook her hand and introduced myself. 

As a Domestic Engineer, and with the Boy basically done schooling for 2010, weeks like this provide for  fun-filled days of Trying To Keep Child Alive and Entertained Until Mom Gets Home.  It's almost the season for Christmas shopping (usually it doesn't start until the December calendar is in the 20s), so to use up some of our time we ventured out to pick out some nice gifts for the 3 females in his life that he is required to shop for:  Emma the Babysitter, Carrie the Teacher, and Mom the Great.   As parents, my wife and I still do the rest - we pick up the tab for grandparents and aunts and cousins and uncles.  This is the first year we've asked him to make any gift selection decisions.

Buying presents for someone other than himself is indescribably torturous for this particular 5 year old.  To accomplish this feat among feats, it was going to take a highly effective, perhaps controversial, parenting method.  This was going to take sugar.

We headed out to Maplewood.  I used one Reese's Peanut Butter Christmas Bell to get him dressed, another to get his shoes and coat on, and a third to get him strapped into his booster.  Why Maplewood?  Well, you see, the Boy had only one thing in mind that he wanted to purchase for Carrie the Teacher.  He wanted to get her a new Grouptime Bell.  It looks like this:
Does Carrie need a new grouptime bell?  Is hers broken?

No, dad.  It's not broken.

Did she lose it?

No.  She just needs it.  She needs to have three.

Wait, what?  Did you say three?  You mean she already has two?


Why does she need three??

She just does.

This had gone on for two weeks whenever he wasn't pining after his birthday cake.  I gave up trying to change his mind towards perhaps a bookstore gift card or handmade something or other, but no - a dinner bell it will be.

After much online research (with search terms such as 'dinner bell', 'classroom bell', 'teacher bell', 'where do you buy those little hand bells that teachers use so they don't have to scream at young children?' etc), I eventually discovered they are called tea bells, (who knew?) and they had them in a store in Maplewood.  Off we go.

We picked up the bell from the small store in the stripmall, (On sale! Must be a hot item this year) and then headed over to Maplewood Mall next door.  The Boy was excited to be on such a grand adventure in a new mall, one he'd "never never seen before" (I didn't have the heart to enlighten him on the usage of double negatives, we still had two people to not not buy presents for after all).  This particular mall is amazing for pre-schoolers.  Amongst the more traditional coin-operated fancies, there's also a ginormous "double-stack" merry-go-round, and a train that provides overpriced rides around the first floor boulevard.   After the carousel, we headed towards the makeshift train station. 

The ride crawled at 5 mph past all the store fronts.  As we started out, a lightbulb went off in my $6 dollar poorer head as we climbed into the coal tender behind the $6 richer engineer: 

Hey, O - let's look at all the stores and see if we see something Mom will like!  Then after the trainride, we'll go to that store and get it!  Sound fun?

I knew he'd love the idea of shopping by train, and I was right!  He immediately went to work.

I should've probably waited until we weren't directly in front of Victoria's Secret's PG-13 display window, though.

I know what I want to get Mom!  She would love some new pretty pink underwears like hers! as he pointed to the scantily clad, Size Zero mannequin. 

She looked chilly.

I heard the 16 year old train engineer laugh out loud as she navigated through the kiosks and old people (it was Thursday morning, everyone else was presumably at work).  I broke into a cold sweat picturing myself walking into Vicki's lair with a big-eyed 5 year old trying to guess Mom's size.  Shudder. 

It took the entire train ride, and then some grape pop, to convince him to look elsewhere for Mom's present.  After 3 stores, we settled on a very nice gift and then headed to the food court.  More sugar later (Subway's chocolate milk instead of regular, cookie instead of yogurt), we headed out the door without finding anything for Emma the Babysitter.  We were both crashing - me from maneuvering the Boy away from the underwears store, and he from eating a pound and a half of sugar before midday.  I think maybe I'll just give her ten extra bucks.  Teenagers would rather have the cash anyway, right?

Parenting tip:  Mary Poppins is always right.  If she says that a spoonful of sugar will help than a spoonful of sugar will help.  Of course, she also has an unhealthy fondness for chimneys and their sweeps, and thinks her umbrella makes her fly.  Hmm.  I need to think a bit more on this one...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Almost Five no longer!

Those of you that are reading this in the Minneapolis area have recently endured one of the largest snow storms in metro history (top 5, I heard).  I am in the Minneapolis area.  I have an 873-foot long driveway (at least, it feels that long when snow-covered).  For this particular storm, the drifts were the size of 1970s Buicks. 

Ah, but it was the birthday weekend for The Boy (tm), who is now proudly Five, and with impeccable timing,  I finally caught a break when it comes to shoveling out.  We left Minneapolis last Friday, before a flake fell, arriving in Duluth, where it didn't snow all weekend.  By the time we returned to Minneapolis on Sunday, which had been fully engulfed by SnOMG facebook status updates and harrowing snippets of intestinal fortitude and understated Scandinavian pride ("yah, we got a bitta snow-a dare, eh?  Nuttin like '91 though-a, now dat was a storm, ya know-a" and "dis one is a cold snow-a,  Real powder like, can clean it wit a broom, ya know-a.  Nuttin like dat warm snow from '82"), the driveway was completely unburied by the tandem force of Neighbor+Grandpa.  Now, as much as I enjoy complaining with the rest of the martyred dads and granddads about my aching back and sore shoulders brought on by the arduous task of digging the minivan out for the Mrs., for this storm - which has been followed by Minus 5 on the dashboard thermo and gusty winds - I'll gladly stay indoors and admire the crisp, straight lines only a Toro PowerThrow can accomplish.  Me, 1.  Snow, 0.

So anyway, we are now back to a normal week schedule, with the birthday party and waterpark adventure behind us. 

Waterparks, I've learned, are the great equalizer when it comes to people's body image issues.  Nobody looks good at a waterpark, no matter how many ab crunches or tanning booth visits you make.  In a waterpark, you are either floating down a lazy river with your butt wedged in an innertube (it's never attractive to fold yourself in that fashion, I don't care if you're Brad Pitt), or careening down a 4-story tube with either one of the worst wedgies imaginable, or if turned backwards against your will, one of the worst plumber's cracks imaginable.  At the end of the ride, you get to be unceremoniously dumped, arms flailing, trying to regain a semblance of what turns out to be unattainable control, into a bath of overchlorinated Petri Dish bacteria culture.  I mean pool.   I found it thoughtful that they offered complimentary skimmer nets so you could gather up your trunks gracefully.

In short, Gravity wins at the waterpark; everybody sags.  Once I realized that everyone else looked at LEAST as ridiculous as me if not more, I stopped sucking in my built-in floating device and enjoyed myself.  The Boy (tm), still too young to be body-conscious, had an absolute blast from start to finish.  It really was a great trip,  all bulging and exposed flesh considered.   I would show you some pictures, but there was no way in H-E-double-hockey-sticks that I was going to allow a camera within 20 yards of me. 

I will share a cake picture though.  Recall from last post that I was nervously anticipating the  construction of the Police Car cake.  It turned out pretty nice in fact, if I do say so myself.  The bonus fun was the frosting.  All of The Boy's young cousins wore Goth Black lipstick home that night.  You're welcome, parents.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Have Cake, Eat Too

The 'almost' in the Boy's (almost) 5 years is (almost) here.  On Thursday this week, he finally turns (drumroll) five.  Three days away.   Lots to do in those three days.  Not for him, mind you.  His only focus this morning while getting shoes on to go to school?  Admiring the fact that there was so much 'cheek water' in his mouth after eating his daily chocolate from the Advent tree.  He hasn't learned the word saliva yet, but apparently, he has a firm grasp through observation of what sugar does to cheek water levels.  

As for me, I have a lot to prepare in the next 72 hours.

Most conversations over the last month on the way to school (other than counting school buses aloud, analyzing the underbelly of passing freight trailers and car carriers, announcing every degree change in the plummeting temperature on the dashboard thermometer, grumbling about how slow the bleeping traffic is moving - oh, wait, that one's me - asking if I have any snacks because he's starving, etc etc) have revolved around what his Birthday Cake will look like.  Since his world began, I have constructed, by hand, a wonderful cake for him, themed after whatever his current fascination was around the time of his annual gala. 

His first cake announcement this year came with the first snow, back in early/mid-November.  (Snow signifies the end of waiting for his birthday, in his anticipatory mind.  Once it snows, bring on the presents).

Dad, I want an engine cake for my birthday.

I smiled into the rearview mirror while waiting for Volvos to merge onto 694.  (why are there so many Volvos in Arden Hills?  And are they actually designed to move this slow, perhaps the boxy aerodynamics?  One would think that with all the touted safety features one boasts about one could manage to be a bit more bold in one's gas pedal usage, eh?  But anyway...)

That should be fun, son!  I can make you an engine cake.  Do you want a steam engine or a diesel engine?  They have pans for this, I could already picture them.

Silly me, assuming that by 'engine' he would mean train engine.  What ever would give me that impression, other than the 17 bazillion train engines he either owns or stares at in magazines? 

Not a TRAIN engine dad.  Just an engine.

An Engine?  You mean like a semi cab?  I could make a semi cab.

No dad.  Just the engine.  The part under the front roof.  A gray one.

O good gravy.   How in the world do you craft a cake - which in my mind ONLY comes in circles, rectangles or pre-purchasable molded pans like last year's tractor -  into an actual engine?  And gray?  Really?  I admit I changed the subject quickly that day (whoa, look how tall that radio tower is!!), but my mind was reeling. Over the course of the next two weeks, whenever the seemingly daily topic of birthday cake planning was broached, he insisted - assumed even - that he was getting an engine cake.  I didn't have the heart to tell him that I could not possibly figure out how to make an engine cake out of a 9x13.  This is it, I thought.  For the first time, my Boy was going to be utterly disappointed with Dad.  I had always figured I had until at least his 13th birthday. 

Thank heavens he is as fleeting as he is imaginative.  After two weeks of insisting on a gunmetal gray engine cake - complete with hoses, batteries, pipes, oil, gas, radiators, iron blocks and real working belts (to use his words) - he announced last Friday that he doesn't want an engine cake anymore he wants a Police Car Cake.  Hallelujah!  They make pans for that! 

After several Are you sure's over the weekend,  I'm now the proud owner of a $12 Cake Pan in the shape of a car.  I've read through all the pitfalls and instructions online for how to make a Police Car cake, I bought the candy accessories and frosting and food coloring and cake mix and Oreo wheels and plastic utensilry to feed the honored guests of Grands and Aunties and Uncles and Cousins.   I figure it's close enough to his birthday where he won't change his mind again, being that he was stuck on Engine Cake for over 2 weeks. 

I'll either eat Police Car cake this Thursday, or eat my words. 

And because I'm pretty dang proud of my efforts in making the Boy a nice cake for his birthday, I've added a picture from Birthday: The Cake,  season 4.  As you can see, I've set the bar rather high for myself.  This took four backbreaking hours to frost and an additional 30 seconds to slice into unrecognizability. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

(Bombs) Away in a manger

It's a shame when a missile takes out the Manger.

One of The Boy's mom's favorite things to do every year is prepare the house for Christmas.  The 2 largest Rubbermaid boxes come out from underneath the stairs (they are green with red lids, for visual effect and for easy finding for the hired muscle - me), containing 3.5 decades worth of memorabilia and tchotchkes from Christmases past.  Everything blue and silver and gold and red and green and plaster and snowflaked and tinsel is in there, but not the tree itself, which is purchased exactly the Friday after Thanksgiving.  A real live one which smells way better than the little things that hang from car mirrors or squirt out of a plastic aromatherapy jar.  Real trees are a Must for our house.

This year's tree adornments have a refreshing and novel scheme - the decorations reach all the way down to the bottom branches. Not since Year One in our house (that we've owned for 9 Christmases) have the bottom branches bore fruit.  Year Two introduced a beagle puppy, Year Four introduced a human puppy, and between eager jaws and eager opposable thumbs, the cherished glass bulbs and fine ribbons weren't allowed within reach.  It always reminded me of Donald Duck - wearing a shirt, but uncomfortably naked from the waist down.  

But this year, with the beagle in beagle heaven (where the rabbits are slow and forgetful and the chipmunks can't climb trees and the kitchen counters are conveniently slanted towards the linoleum and you're allowed to walk farther away from the curb than a leash would allow), and the Boy having matured enough not to squeeze the glass ornaments to "see what happens", we have a fully clothed tree. 

And, oh, was The Boy helpful.  He very carefully trimmed the branches with his favorites (the ones he called "the most beautifulest I've never seen"), and did an excellent job.  As for the rest of the house, I know that this is my wife's favorite.  She very peacefully walks around the various rooms and strategically places her prizes in purposeful spots, deciding which will be showcased this year and which will stay hidden for a future year.  She does a wonderful job each time, while I watch TV. (decorating the indoors for Christmas would give me an asthma attack if I had asthma, I'm convinced.  My hands shake just thinking about how many things would break if I ended up handling them).  Anyway, the stockings were hung, the bowls and hangings of Christmas-y things interspersed exactly as they should be.  Tis the season!

Ah, but that poor manger.  First, it's a lovely little wooden desktop manger, complete with barn animals, three very wise-looking men, angels, shepherds and of course, the Fam, haycrib included.  All less than 3 inches tall.  I'm almost positive it was a gift from GG Betty, a lovely gift.  This year, the manger got top billing - a spot on the entertainment center in the great room near the gazing ball (aka television).  It wasn't there an entire afternoon before this happened:

You see, (almost) 5 year old boys are notorious for staging disasters.  Car accidents are envied, tornadoes and exploding volcanoes wished for upon a star.  Not for anyone to get hurt, mind you, just to see what happens.  Turns out boys never outgrow this fascination.  We men define rubbernecking.  Look at how far that hood crumpled up, honey!, as we drive past at 10 miles an hour (and sometimes, when alone, circle back for another look at a different angle).  We stand on the patio during thunderstorms, staring at the clouds looking for funnels, we watch shows called "10 Greatest House Explosions of All Time" and "World's Deadliest Roads" and "Buildings That Crumbled" and "Dangers on High - the World's Largest Recorded Waves"....  Not for anyone to get hurt, mind you,  just to see.  Just to see. 

Nothing is safe from the destructive imagination of a pre-school boy, not when free range missiles are on the loose. Not even the manger.  Note the very relaxed looking cow on the top, acting like he's supposed to be there, and the baby J, teetering over the edge of the cliff.  I'm sure someone could write a novel on the symbolism, but I digress.

As for the manger, it has now been restaged on the mantle, 7 feet off the ground.  Maybe next year.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Go Fish

As with most nearly-5 year old boys, The Boy (tm) has a very difficult time losing.  Anything.  If we 'race' from the living room to the kitchen, a total of about 9 feet, and I win, he melts onto the floor in a pool of sorrow, wanting to start over with a head start of 7 of those feet.  This insatiable need for superiority has gone on for a while and is wearing old.

So began my conscious effort yesterday evening to teach this precious child what it means to be a Good Sport.  I decided to use Go Fish for this. 

Being a genius, he caught on to the rules and intricacies of the card game very quickly, and enjoyed making matches.  He even mastered fanning out his cards so he could see all the numbers and letters.  I employed the Jokers to be sure there was an uneven number of matches, meaning there would never be a tie - someone would win and someone would lose. 

The stage was set.

Being an adult, I was able to manipulate the first game to make sure he got more matches than me, simply by not asking him "do you have a 9" when I was pretty sure he had a 9, and so on.  He won as planned, 14 pairs to 13.  His victory lap around the living room proclaiming his triumph was actually very sweet, if not a little over the top.  I put on my best, most sincere "I'm so happy for you that you won because I'm a Good Sport song and dance" and asked if we should play again.  Oh, of course, Dad! 

I made sure he acknowledged that he saw that I was happy for him when he won.  He saw that I was happy that he was happy - sharing in his joyous, thundering celebration.  A Good Sport. 

And now according to my plan, Game Two would be my win, so he can practice being a Good Sport too.  After all, I just did a splendid job of modeling how to lose gracefully.  

He beat me 15 pairs to 12.  Wait, what? 

Once again, he bellowed his victory to the rafters, somersaulting off the couch into a Mary Katherine Gallagher Superstar pose.  His delight was exquisite.   After double-checking my count of the piles of pairs I conceded the victory once again and mentioned softly that I was delighted that he won with my best forced smile.  I quickly reshuffled and handed him 7 more starter cards. 

He fanned his cards for game three.  He had 3 pairs right at the start, and his 7th card was the Joker which was a silly looking horse (a whole 'nother level of excitement escaped his lungs).  Game three was eventually his, 16-11.  (insert wild arm flapping, hooting, yelling, and sprinting from room to room here, as well as my tight-lipped half smile and furrowed brow).  Doesn't he know this is supposed to be a life lesson?   Sheesh.

Game four would be mine.  I shuffled again, dealt again.  I had 2 matches at the start to his zero.  This was my game.  He saw that the game started in my favor, and doubled his focus.  I smiled a wicked smile, dug my toes into the rug and leaned forward, carefully asking him for strategic cards.  He seemed to do the same.  Go fish, go fish, go fish - the only answer I ever got from him.  He won game four 21 pairs to 6. 

I didn't even know that was possible.

What was wrong with this stupid deck of cards???  Has this little s* --  I mean, my beloved gifted son -- learned how to cheat at Go Fish in 4 games?  He couldn't possibly not have the cards I was asking for - but I was watching, he never lied about not having a card.  Impossible, yet here it was.  I was muttering under my breath and snapping the cards together in my reshuffle while he did fist pumps in the air and bounced like a rabbit off the couch cushions.

"Here's your cards.  We're playing again.  Sit.  Go."   I have to teach this kid how to lose gracefully.  Game 5, 6, 7 and 8 were all his.  In fact, it was never closer than 15-12.  I tried dealing myself first, tried taking the first turn, and I'm shamefully admitting that I even tried peaking at his cards that he was very careful to conceal, but I never beat him.  He went to bed last night without ever losing Go Fish.  It was undoubtedly one of the most glorious nights of his life while I, on the other hand, was sulking.  I had lost 8 rounds of a simple game to a 4 year old, and only one of them on purpose.  Talk about a knee to the specials.  All I wanted to do was teach him how to lose properly. 

Only after he was tucked into bed did I chuckle at the irony.   He wasn't a sore loser, an immature child that needed to be taught how to play well with others.  He was me, 1:5 scale. 

Parenting tip:  Stack the deck before the game starts, memorizing the card order, if you want to beat your gifted kid at Go Fish.  Seriously.  And don't be afraid to trip him from behind once in a while in a foot race.  It will help him develop a Good Sport attitude. 

Parenting tip after getting "the look" from The Boy's mom:  Don't worry so much about winning and losing, enjoy the game either way.  As an adult.  The kids are always watching, and they learn life by living it unstaged - so live it better and they will too.  And get a head start when you need a win. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Slow mornings

The Boy (tm) was having a slow Thanksgiving morning with his mom and me.  For those who don't know, a slow morning isn't as peaceful as it sounds in a household with a pre-schooler.  If you don't have young children, I imagine a slow morning means curling up in your beige snuggie with an $8 cup of coffee, reading a book written by a doctor about how to maximize the Feng Shui of your Pilates room.  Or, if you are feeling really energized by your full night's sleep, you'll wrap everyone's Christmas presents, right on the living room floor, that you finished buying two weeks ago.  You're probably watching the Jim Lehrer News Hour or This Week with George Stephanopoulos - heck even the local news - while wearing both socks (that match), and the string of your hoodie sweatshirt still sticks out of both collar holes.  

Or something like that.  I don't quite remember.

Add pre-schooler(s), and a slow morning is achieved if you are strangled by the sleeves of the beige snuggie at a rate of less than one noose per minute while holding a cup of Folgers over your head just out of slosh range.  The books within reach aren't by any doctor other than Dr. Seuss and your exercise routine consists of zigzagging from the living room to the kitchen to get paper towels for the spilled coffee without stepping on a matchbox car.  The holiday presents?  Ha!  They'll be purchased  three weeks into December, only to be removed from the locked car trunk and wrapped after Bedtime.  On Christmas Eve.   

And I'm not sure if I've seen an entire morning local newscast for (almost) five years.  This particular slow morning, we were watching a Transformers cartoon, mid-1980s version, that by some divine wonderfulness (or curse) is still on TV.  Between snuggie-smotherings, he was chattering about how much he loved transformers and how they had one at school, but he had to share, but it was okay, because sharing is Okay.

Naturally, this led to a conversation about a new student at the pre-school.  A little girl that I'll call Jane for her protection (or more likely, my own).  The Boy stated nonchalantly that Jane was in fact new and she looked like "Joe", another 4 year old,  because she had the same eyes.  What does that  mean, dear child?  I knew I shouldn't have asked as I was asking, because I didn't want to know the answer that I already knew, but before I could distract him or change the subject the answer to my impulsive query was already out of his mouth. 

"Her eye covers don't open all the way," he stated as he pointed at both eyelids.

Ah, crap. 

Where's the class picture from last fall honey? 

After a few minutes search it was found, and sure enough, Joe is Asian.  Jane, the new girl, is Asian.  Now, I will say it did lead to a noble attempt on my part to talk about people's differences and how we're all great and that everyone is beautiful in their own way and we're all unique and how Joe and Jane are Asian and isn't that wonderful and blah blah blah.  He took the impromptu Barney-esque lesson well, only slightly annoyed that I was talking during Transformers.

But alas, after the conversation I remain convinced and horrified that he's going to make sure to explain directly to the new girl that her eyes covers don't open all the way, and "Dad told me that's because yer aging,"  which will be his best effort at pronouncing Asian after several tries. 

So, other than my elastic waistband, the thing I'm most thankful for this Thanksgiving is that it's a long weekend, and that the Boy doesn't go back to school for 4 days.  Hopefully he'll forget to enlighten his class with the information he learned from Dad. 

Parenting tip:  Travel mugs, with sealable lids, are perfectly acceptable for morning coffee in your own living room.  

PS:  I know of a couple of you parents of young children that have somehow, and for some reason, already finished buying this year's Christmas presents. (I've even seen it as your boastful facebook status update).  That's a long time to hide wrapped things, good luck.  For the record - yes, they DO know where your hiding places are, and yes they WILL open them, play with them, and then repackage them.  Several times.  It only gets worse with aging.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Most important parenting tip of all time

So today I decided was THE day to make sure the Christmas lights are working on the exterior of the house.  Not the week before the foot-o-snow or the freezing rain.  Today, after aforementioned snow and rain.  I won't expand much here about why the Christmas lights are already hanging on the house and simply need to be checked instead of hung, or why they've actually been hanging for 7 years solid and have never come down.  I'll just say that I've convinced myself that they are Not That Noticeable for the 11 months that they never turn on.  Don't judge me.  So anyway, today was the day to check them.  I could've checked them in July, mind you.

Starting with the south driveway side of the house, yep - everything works.  Check.

On to the front eave, plugged into a dizzying array of extension cords winding to the back yard.  Yep.  Check.

Two for three.  Now, the difficult one, the top peak over the kitchen/dining room.  Highest point.   Ladder.  Ice.  Hmm.  Here's a snowy patch to secure the ladder.  Ah, good.  No problem.  Up we go!

Lights meet plug and.....nothing.  Jiggle and shake them, that always works and please please please please....nothing.  Unplug and replug and please please please please....Nothing.   Close your eyes and make a wish while squeeeeeeezing the plug and the lights together......................nothing.  Broken.  Lights bleepity bleeping broken.   Crap. 

But, wait!  Being a genius of sorts, I purchased replacement lights last January on uberclearance at Target, for exactly this scenario.   And, even more genius-like, I remembered a year later that I had bought them!  Up we go with replacement lights.  What I forgot, having only hung the lights one time 7 years ago, was how precarious it was to hang them on this, the highest point.  I know why I hung them in dry weather the first time: it was a  full body stretch from the top of the ladder.   My mind wandered to my life insurance policy (Did I pay that last premium? How much will she get again? I'm sure she'll meet a nice fella.  Sure will be nice for her to have this mortgage paid off) as I scaled the fully extended ladder.  One hook......two hooks.  I was doing fine, but sweating through my hoodie.  I flung my knit hat (a bit of ominous foreshadow:  the hat was one I received years ago gratis from a cemetery vault company called Weiser Doric - no kidding) to the ground and shimmied from the ladder onto the roof over the front entry.  I crawled trepidaciously (it's a word) to the peak, stretching the lights along the upper eave with utmost care and precision.  After connecting them to the draped power cord and sighing relief when they blinked on (succcessss!!!!), I looked down from the peak to the ladder rested against the first shingle, 8 miles below. 

Ok, not quite 8 miles.  Deep breath.  Almost done, although what I remembered now that I was at the top is that going UP a ladder and scaling UP a roof in the snow/ice/wet is the easy part, going down is the challenge.  Ah, unless of course you simply slide.

I wasn't planning on sliding, mind you, but slide I did.  I'm not proud of the language my mouth created without my mind's consent as I careened towards certain death.   The words flowed freely as my hands grasped at anything they could find.  They only found snow.  My slide was probably only six or seven feet, but wow does it seem to take a long time when you're trying not to do it.  Besides screaming profanity, I also thought of lots of things in those few seconds - how I was going to need an ambulance mostly.  Also, wondering if the front door was unlocked or would I have to go around through the garage to get to a phone, dragging my broken limbs behind me.  And, are the neighbors home, I wonder?  It is Monday morning after all, most of the world works for a living, buster.  Did I turn off the oven after making eggs?  Wouldn't want the house to burn, now that all the lights are working.  Was I supposed to pick up the Boy from school today?  Hope not.  I wonder what he's learning about.  Thanksgiving most likely.  Pre-schoolers always learn about Thanksgiving during the short week where the teachers are all giddy about their annual copy/paste lesson plans.  What are you thankful for, young angel?  My mom and my dad and my toys and my room and my birthday and cake and candy and my mom summore.  And after naptime he'll trace his hand and add googly eyeballs to his thumb, and then paint the fingers lots of colors and a gobble down the front out of red pipecleaners, and they'll call this atrocity a turkey, adding pencilstick legs to the bottom for him because he's four, and he'll want to hang it on the fridge I'm sure, next to the sunflower seed factory drawing.  Thoughts like these.

 If only he knew that his dad's last seconds on Earth were spent whooshing over the top of that fridge.  Although, if I do survive, he'll probably want to write his name on my leg casts, so I need to make sure to get a white one and not one of those fancy colored ones.   

Miraculously, my $2 garage-sale boots caught the lip of the ladder and the rain channel, bringing me to a quick halt before I plummeted to the front sidewalk.  Narrowly escaping becoming a chalk outline, I climbed down face-out from the house, not wanting to bother with the logistics of how to turn around.  And, being a completely normal person, I immediately put on the pretense of doing  the whole show on purpose. 

So, my parenting tip for today:  the absolutely most important part of being a good parent is staying alive.  The rest is just details.  Enjoy your turkey. (both on the fridge and in it)

And, for heaven's sake, please hang (or check) your Christmas lights in September.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


It was trainshowday today.  Trainshowday has been coming for the better part of the week.  How many days until trainshowday dad?  Four days, bud.  A half hour later:  How many days now?  Still four...  Today, trainshowday finally arrived.  The Boy (tm), ma, pa, g-pa and grammy met up to see the sights, to ride the real Thomas the Tank train (8 kids sardined in Clarabel and 8 more in Annie - you parents of toddlers know exactly who I'm talking about), to see the G-scale, N-scale, O-scale, HO-scale, and I'm sure other-scale masterpieces.    Hundreds of trains for sale, for touching, for no-touching, for prizes, for show.   The entire River Centre filled. 

The Boy (tm), with his limitless vocabulary and wit, of course narrated the entire visit. The countless scenes of exquisite detail, the working lights, the real steam, the moving crossing gates and the towering mountains, the cityscapes and tunnels, rivers and farms, the thousands of hours of poorly lit labor and hard earned dollars poured into the detailed recreations of yesteryear, all intricately explained by an (almost) 5 year old:

Dad!  dad!  Dad!  Daaaaaad!    Look right there!!!  A train!!!!  Dad!!!!!  A train!!!!

(repeat 684,000 times)

Thus concludes the narrated tour of trainshowday.  Oh, well.  Knowing how excited he was, I'm just glad he didn't pee on my neck.

Thanks grammy for also volunteering your shoulders for optimal viewing.   I need a nap in a dad-scale bed. 

For those needing a Sunday afternoon with their toddler in the cities, click Trainshowday and you can get a bigger idea of what you're in for.  Runs through 11.21.10 in St Paul.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

When in doubt, add crushers.

It's universal that small boys want their dads to draw them pictures.  Dad, draw me a rocket.  Dad, make me a racecar.  A spaceship, a horse, a fire engine, a rainbow.  A house, a police car, a train, a face.  Flowers, cake, bugs, or robot.  All very normal.  And drawable.  The Boy (tm) proves to me daily how unusual his mind works. 

He brought me the blue pen and the yellow legal pad.  His first question was "Dad, is it okay to draw on yellow paper?"  Once that was greenlighted, the request begins...

Can you draw me something that I want?

Sure.  What do you want?

I don't know.

How do I draw something for you if you can't tell me what it is?

Can you guess?

Um.  Ok.  A spaceship?


A horse?

No.  Not a horse.

A fire engine?


(see list above for my ideas...all unsuccessful)

I give up.  Do you know what you want me to draw?


(long pause)

Well, what is it?

I want you to draw me a sunflower seed factory.

A sunflower seed factory?


I don't know what they look like.

I do.

You do?


Then you draw it.

No, I want you to draw it, Dad.

But I don't know what it looks like.  What does it look like?

It looks like a factory where they make sunflower seeds.

Thanks for clearing that up.


Nothing.  Sigh, ok here goes...

I proceeded to make my best guess as to how a sunflower seed factory looks.  He was content to watch me masterfully construct the outside of the factory.  (I drew a rectangle).  He even approved of the small conveyor belt I worked up next. (I drew a line through the middle of the rectangle).  From there, my pen could not compete with his vision of a sunflower seed factory...

Dad, you're not doing it right.

I'm not?


What's wrong with it?

It needs more funnels.


Yes, funnels.

What are the funnels for?

To drop the sunflower seeds in after they're done baking in the oven.

Ah. Ok.   (drew a triangle under the line, slanted towards the bottom of the rectangle).  Like that?

Kinda like that.

Do you know what this factory should look like?

I told you that already, Dad.  Yes I do.

Why don't you draw the rest?

I want you to.

But I'm not doing it right.

Please finish.

It IS finished.  This is the factory, and the conveyor belt, and now the funnel.  It's minimalist.

What are these? (pointing at some swirly lines and confetti looking shapes I had doodled in the rectangle)

Those are.....embellishments.

'Em-blish-mens'?  What do they do?

Embellishments.  They make the factory look better, more believable.  They embellish. 

No, what do they do to the sunflower seeds?

Oh, that.  What do you want them to do?

Crush them.

Crush the seeds?

Yes, crush them so they fit through the funnel.

Ok, that's settled.  They are crusher embellishments. 

Cool!  I love crusher ambush-mens!  Thanks dad, it's beautiful! (runs off with his masterpiece to show Mom)

You are Most Welcome.

Parenting tip:  No matter what an (almost) 5 year old boy wants you to draw, add crushers.  You become the hero faster, and can go back to your paused TV show sooner.  Of course, you'll be wondering how to add crushers to a horse.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Puppies, the Santa myth, and Entrance #5.

The Boy (tm) and I went to the mall yesterday.  For someone who's only (almost) 5, he has an uncanny sense of direction.  He knows exactly where to go to find the toys, the rides, the ice cream, and the puppies (yes, friends, there is a creepy little pet store with puppies and kittens inside the local mall).  On this particular trip, I purposefully parked by entrance 5, a door we hadn't previously entered just to test his reaction.  My experiment didn't faze him, he knew exactly where to go first (the ice cream) and marched us straight there making all the right (and left) turns.  I, on the other hand, was completely turned around.  Good thing he was with, I mightn't have gotten out of there had I been alone.

Santa Claus was present, his fenced-off courtyard decked with trees and lights, music jingling and lap ready.  Being a Tuesday afternoon on a school day, and almost 6 weeks before freaking Christmas, there were no kids, so Santa was texting on his throne and the elves were chatting behind the ginormous cardboard sleigh.  The Boy pointed straight at him, and announced to me "Dad, I thought he wasn't real?  He's right there!"  After a moment's contemplation before I could respond, he added resignedly, "oh, nevermind, that's just a man in a Halloween costume.  Santa's not real."  I'm almost positive I heard Santa chuckle as he quickly tucked his smartphone under a leg, realizing there was a kid in the mall.  One of the helper elves on the other hand looked at me like I was the one that told an (almost) 5 year old that Santa wasn't real.  I stared back.  She looked down.  We walked toward the puppies.  

I'm dreading the letter from his pre-school teacher that asks us to stop The Boy from debunking Santa. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

So, who is this Boy?

For the last (almost) 5 years, I've watched with awe as a tiny, frail human life, born on a snowy day in December 2005, has slowly grown into himself; a lively, quirky, brilliant and funny young man.  He has so much to say about his surroundings and his daily life experiences.  His wit and charm know no bounds, he is quick to observe the minute details of his environment.  He isn't just smart.  He's terrifyingly intelligent.  He's handsome beyond measure - the girls already swoon in pre-school.  In all of his gloriousness, he's also heartbreakingly clumsy with bruises to match and excruciatingly honest in his observations of his widening world.  He's nearly oblivious to the plight of others, selectively hearing and not hearing, seeing and not seeing, as necessary to meet his whims and pursue his purpose.  He's my son.  He's The Boy (tm).

And he's me all over again.