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.