Monthly Archives: January 2011

what makes your eyes twinkle

Certainly the best performers can fabricate the starry eyed excitement we see generated when someone is genuinely enchanted with something.  Part of the beauty of kids is that any time Starry Eyes appears, you know it’s for real.  Their insides are *actually* jumping around inside of them and, as it is impossible to contain, they resort to running around the room like an inflated balloon released before it’s end has been tied.  Mmmm….good stuff.

Welcome to Friday morning at our house.  Fingers in the ears and wiggles all over breakfast.

Pancakes and Papa are a major highlight of our week and a consistent source of twinkling eyes and wiggly boys.  This Friday night deviated from the norm though.  Over for dinner and shortly before bedtime, Papa mentions that he’s been to a local store and has stumbled upon their remote control (RC) race tracks.  He reports that these race tracks fill at least half of their store space *and* you can rent an RC car if you don’t have one.  So, forty minutes before bedtime, we go “just to check it out quick.”  From the moment he entered, Little Boy’s eyes began to dance.

Like stepping onto the set of Disney’s movie, Cars, cars were whizzing by.  Remote Control cars went flying off ramps into the air, suspended for moments like magic before gravity remembered itself and yanked them back to the track.  Careening around corners, cars would crash into the 2×4 bumpers and go rolling, promptly getting smashed at high-speed by the next car coming around.  Cars flying, crashing, rolling, breaking.  Whoa.  sparkle sparkle.  twinkle twinkle.  Little Boy became a mouth-breather taking it all in.

Then my little car junkie entered an inner circle of his own heaven.  He and Papa rented a car to join the fray.  Taking it to the kids/beginner track, they sent the car careening over the edge of ramps, high-centering it on medians, plowing into the corners and hopping tracks…he was fully engaged.

Taking care of the immobilized cars are kids and adults, drifting in and across the tracks as they’re inclined, offering their services in crash-remediation.  Cars stuck on the bumpers, on each other, or on their own roof are attended to.  Most of them kids, they run across the track dodging cars, staying quite busy coming to the rescue of the stranded.

Finally our rental’s front wheel snapped loose and it was time to move on, but not without first showing me how really fun this was.

Now here is where Mom usually comes and puts the boring kibosh on staying up even later, doing more fun things, since we are now past bedtime and in my world, late nights = miserable crabby kids.   But…

no-can-do.  By the time we got to the slot cars, Little Boy’s voice was cracking and turning deep.  His little eyes were red with circles under them…but he *needed* to stay.  In his sweet voice, marred by the frogginess creeping in,  he asks at the wall of slot cars, “Papa!  Doesn’t this one look so interesting?  Look Papa, it’s red!”

A red Ferrari.  And he raced, and smiled, and raced, and smiled.    Eventually the Audi joined the track and the race was on.  A boy and his Papa pushing the magic buttons to make the cars go.

Late that night, getting ready for bed and half asleep, he tucked in with his usual…a car…only tonight he informed me they were his “remote control cars.”

And I admit that while watching this all unfold, in addition to reveling in the wonder and joy found as he and his Papa discovered this new world, I felt my own sense of wonder and also relief.  So often you hear of others’ children enjoying themselves in dance, swim, gymnastics, music and other classes.  While so valuable for many, none of these have been what Little Boy wanted or was interested in.  In the future he might find great joy in them, but I am here in today.  Today, I realized that my Little Boy doesn’t just like cars.  He is passionate about them.  Cars are what make his eyes sparkle, what make his tummy flip flop in excitement.  Who knows what that means down the road, but for now it means enough.  This is my queue to create opportunity where there is great interest.

I have a feeling we’ll be back.

Check out where we went!  We met Larry, so knowledgeable and friendly.  He’s doing great things here.


one more good reason…

Growing up I recall being interested in the things my brothers were interested by mere default that I had access to something I otherwise cared nothing about, but they sure did and that made the subject interesting.  Falling into this category were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Sir MixaLot, computer games, guitar playing, jumping off cliffs into the water, bike riding, tree climbing, melting cheese on the glass fireplace screen…many enriching activities I’d never have come up with on my own.

It also seems to have a trickle down effect.  A kid’s drive to be bigger, be stronger and do what the bigger kids are doing is built in.  Watching an older brother and teaching a younger brother are dynamics I never thought about until this week watching my own kids.  Watching the Littlest sling a baby-doll while his brother patiently explained facial anatomy, and then Little Boy teaching the baby how to operate trains and “properly” play with them got me thinking.

Typically, a child at 14 months does not have a worldly stash of Cars characters, helicopters, battery operated trains, Lincoln Logs, or otherwise “Not suitable for children under 3” toys at home unless they have been born a younger sibling.   And likewise, the toys that were written off as uninteresting or unsuitable for play by the first take on new life with a siblings new interest.

The thing that struck me as simple but profound today was that the reciprocity really means something to our kids.  I have fond memories of Rafael (TMNT) being my favorite, and the singular feeling of free fall before hitting the water is awesome if not also terrifying at the same time.  Never would I have those if not for my brothers.

If let to his own devices, Little Boy would be content with a stunning collection of cars, augmented with an occasional plane or train, a box of blocks, rocks, and his bike.  Everything else is entertaining in small, fleeting bits and only when brought out of the closet once every couple of months.  It’s a shift as a parent to have a vision of building this wonderfully rich environment for my child to discover but then realizing that he really only wants to discover…another car.

This means that the motivation as a parent to spend money on any item that falls into the not-a-car category, because it is met with ten minutes of interest every four months when it gets drug out, is low.  This also means we have many cars, trains and planes.  But we’re busting the stash of animals and puzzles out of the closet.

Because toss a brother into the mix and suddenly the interest base expands!  Now the puzzles, dolls, stuffed animals and bristle blocks are getting drug around the house, prompting a new slew of teaching and creation.  The boy who scoffs at dolls now wants to wear one when he sees his brother doing it.  And, he even gets the feel-good experience of teaching an eager student.  And who are we kidding, aren’t most people eager to talk about things that they are knowledgeable about and find interesting?  I know the Littlest eats up his “lessons” too.

“Hey Gabe, hey Gabe!  Look Gabe, look, the baaaaby has an eeear….

…and Gaaaaabe has an eeear!  Yeah, Gabe!  Yeah!  That’s your ear.  You have one too!”

And….back to the cars.

questions boys ask about nursing

While passing through the living room, I was stopped by a little face looking as though….well, looking as though his wee winkie was squished in a book and he didn’t quite know what was happening or how to fix it.  His little brow furrowed and breath sucked in, waiting for rescue.

Upon rescuing his small appendage, he looked down to study himself.  He then looked up at me with questioning eyes and signed “nurse?”  “You want to nurse?” I ask, thinking the obvious…that he was asking to nurse.  He then points back to himself while looking at me and signs “nurse” again.  Oh.

So today I had to break it to my son that his penis was not for nursing.  He did ask again several minutes later.  I posed it as a question since reflection is something mothers *do*, “Are you asking ‘Can you nurse your penis?'”   He instantly bent into an awkward position, hindered only by his bipedal bone structure, to attempt the impossible with his little mouth agape.  He looked back at me with a confused, sad look.

Oh my.  Nope.  Not now, not ever.  Sorry bud.

Some days, you never know what even the littlest of boys will throw your way.

puzzle me this

Funny to say it, but *years* ago (all 3 of them) I was enamored with finding peg puzzles and wooden puzzles of any sort, along with the much-coveted (amongst us puzzle hunters) puzzle organizer you could only get at the Mom 2 Mom sales if you were an actual vendor, with the privilege of scoping out the goods before anyone else arrived.  Between generous grandparents, appreciated hand-me-downs, Salvation Army, and garage sale-type venues like the Mom 2 Mom sales, I aquired a wonderful collection of wooden puzzles perfect for little hands.

Never having done this whole “raising a kid” thing before, as I collected these puzzles with my infant in my arms I had an idyllic vision.  It involved a full puzzle rack and a content toddler carefully exchanging the farm puzzle for the furry-animal puzzle, then the rescue vehicles puzzle, all done with care and wonder, patient twisting and satisfying clicks as pieces found their mark.  I had the fulfilling impression that I was offering my child a rich tactile and mentally stimulating environment by offering opportunities like these.  **REALITY CHECK**  Little Boy didn’t care for puzzles as a toddler.  They were irritating, frustrating bits bent on thwarting his short fuse for things that almost make sense but don’t quite because it’s upside-down, causing him to feel agitated and angry, and more trouble than they were worth.  Oh.  Into the closet they go.

Take two.  I have cautiously pulled a puzzle out here and there for the Littlest, uncertain as to whether the reaction I was accustomed to was ordinary.  Surely peg puzzles would not be so popular though if they were a despised plaything by many children though as they were with my first?  Tentatively I have watched my Littlest engross himself for extended periods of time, with great care and patience, twisting and turning pieces until the ducks fit just so, and the cow joins it’s black-and-white cow counterpart on the puzzle board.  His delight in quacking like the ducks and blowing air through his lips like a horse while playing with the pieces has me amazed, as it’s such a fresh take on the puzzle collection.

And so today it finally hit home how, in addition to being different in almost every way, the Littlest *gets* puzzles.  Engrossed in potato chopping, the silence from the living room becomes suspicious.  Fearing another art show is being created on the drywall, I stop to check in with kids for a moment.  Turning the corner I  instead see my Littlest boy, not even a year and a half yet, patiently and diligently building a train track.  The trains go together like puzzle pieces, and they require great patience from little hands to put that peg in it’s hole just so.  The pieces were calmly placed, each taking some time to attach, but he persisted and knew exactly what he was trying to create.  He completed his little oval with just a couple of placement suggestions, clapped for himself, and started filling the bridge with blocks and driving a little engine around…so calm, so unflappable.

So I’m letting go of my puzzle-related anxiety stemming from too many negative experiences.  I think I’ll go ahead and let one boy’s frustration be his own, and another boy’s calm pacing satisfy him.  And I’ll get back to making dinner.  And in the mean time, today was one more reminder that though they may fall from the same gene pool, nothing can prepare you for who they show themselves to be as they grow.

Discovering what makes your kid tick is like opening a present that you hadn’t a clue what might be inside.

What fun!


a date with the car show

Great plans were in store for Little Boy this morning, for today was the day he and Papa had a date planned.  They would be visiting the Detroit Auto Show!  Though only 2 1/2 when he went last year, he vividly remembers wearing his Papa-hat, a little herringbone stitch cap identical to his Papa’s, and the upside-down truck that looked like it had driven right up onto the ceiling.

The catch though is that things don’t always work out as planned.   The age of three has had me smitten and exasperated to equally great degrees, and this morning started out as a doozy.  I do know that many fine adults are remembered as being incredibly challenging at three and draw great comfort from that, as well as the knowledge that my boy has it in him to be charming, engaging, attentive, and other warm fuzzies.  But, I guess like any other child of three, he also possesses the great skill of working the family system.  So, I’m sure in the future I’ll be elaborating on how the strategy suggested by many of ignoring pouting isn’t going to cut it for the long-term here.  I’m knee-deep in books trying to determine my next strategy.  But, I digress!

The short story of the morning’s excitement was that the Littlest had a chance to go on his first date with Papa, just himself, and thoroughly enjoyed orange juice, eggs, and his beloved Papa’s company.  When they returned, the adventure to the car show was given a fresh chance and Little Boy was very excited to report about Lightning McQueens (corvettes) that were yellow and blue, shiny jeeps, and BMWs. 

Upon returning, Little Boy mumbled contentedly while arranging his lincoln log train, “Mom, I can’t wait to see Papa again.”  Oh yeah? I ask…What do you like to do with Papa?  “I can’t wait to go to the car show again with Papa.”

As his peaceful humming became the soundtrack of our moment, his busy little hands purposefully and importantly placing track pieces here and loading up logs there, I was struck by how much goes on inside him that I don’t see.  Followed immediately by the overwhelming feeling of gratefulness for grandparents who choose to spend time with him and love him, even when he has  moments where “cute as a button” is a recollection to remind us to keep at it…that it’s worth it in the end.

all we want for christmas is daddy

So, as many of you know, over the holidays Daddy came home!  He’d left for his job in January 2010 and had come home once for ten days in March.  From then until Christmas, it was just us three making the space our own.

In his absence, his man-cave was reclaimed as a garage and all the belongings it had held were transferred to the dungeon (the basement).  We had come up with a rhythm for our day and existence without him but we had great expectations of how our visit would go with our family complete for the holidays.

Shortly after arriving, Daddy laid down to rest after the early flight and was promptly curled up into by a small boy who’d missed him dearly.

But there is where our expectations digressed from reality.  Shortly thereafter Daddy was laid up by tooth pain.  As that subsided, the flu took hold and kept him down and miserable for about a week without ever releasing him from it completely.  He’s still working it out of his system.   With our plans and hopes so abruptly changed and no room for fault, we solemnly went about our trips to the library and household chores trying to stay busy and chipper, hoping that maybe tomorrow would be a day together.

Gratefully by Christmas Day, we could all be together, including Gee in from Dallas, around the tree early in the morning.  This was my first storybook Christmas…at home, with the family, waking up and running downstairs to see the tree and presents, excitedly passing packages around.  Watching our presents being unwrapped by loved ones, and not realizing our breath is sucked in waiting to see how they’ll be received.

Indeed.  Surprisingly, it was the smallest, last-minute gift Daddy went out to get “from the Littlest” that gave us this moment.  But somehow for the kids, the magic culminated in this moment that had been given through the wonder, the months of songs we’d sung, watching Frosty the Snowman until we knew it by heart, the presence of our whole family again in our home, the anticipation.

And as Daddy began to join us again, it took hard work I hadn’t known we’d need.  People often tell me they have no idea how they’d stay sane parenting their children without their partner.  For reasons I’ve mentioned before I choose to maintain a positive and can-do attitude at my best, but the by-product of doing so is that I am in charge of my universe here, and he is in charge of his far away.  Going from vision-developing speed to toddler speed is a major adjustment.  Going from having the run of the house to tip-toeing around a sick Daddy who you want to be near so badly it distracts your entire day is a major adjustment.

We worked hard on it.  It was emotionally exhausting and far more challenging than I thought it would be.  In a week, we had to completely re-learn how to be a family again.

But, we made it.  With four days to go, we cleared through the final foggy patch and the sailing was blissful.

The kids melted into our new-found rhythm, soaking up all the good energy and settling into peace.

With a bit of determination, we get there.

It’s odd to consider that with enough practice and necessity we get to a point where life functions without the whole.  Doing this out of necessity for a long time eventually fades the memory of fully remembering how much you truly miss and love someone, how much their presence brings joy and fullness to your life…until you get to have them back and have to watch them go again…

camera shy

Oh!  So much to catch up on.  I feel like I’ve been gone forever.  I’ve missed you all!

Well, we’ll start with something today, though there are many thoughts swirling around in reflection of having Daddy home for two weeks over the holidays.  Selecting the right words and photos from that trip will come.  Today, at least, was wonderful.

Though the snow was flying, our day was sunshine.  For months we’ve played musical illness here in the family, and has anyone else noticed this year’s bugs seem to linger far longer than usual?  It feels like it’s been months since I’ve had a clear-headed purpose-driven joy-filled day just because the sun came up.   I forgot how great that feels!

Today I did do something different though.  I started my day with a list of seven goals to accomplish.

Nothing on the list was earth shattering…things like eat breakfast together (rather than dancing like gypsies around their oatmeal while I make my shake), spend 1+ hour outside, have a green smoothie for breakfast, giant salad for lunch and make carob freezer balls, make sweet potato soup for dinner (even if I will be the only one eating it), make play-dough bread with the boys, make a computer to-do list, stick to it, then GET OFF (since, you know, checking one.more.time. can eat up more time than you think).  Mom has been working the 100 Day Challenge and I credit her with the encouragement to get back out of the sick fog we’ve been in and reclaim our day.  Sometimes you get out of the groove and it takes some help rediscovering it.

Amidst the pleasure of poking sticky play-dough bread, the cooperation required of two boys and one slide in the house, and a mid-day bath to try out the new flat-bottomed milk carton boat, I noticed Little Boy retreating from the camera ever so slightly.  By the time we were out in the snow, my need to capture snowflakes on eyelashes overcame me and I ran to get the camera.  This seemed to be the last straw of irritation at the candid snapshots for our otherwise wonderful day.

Shortly after I returned with the camera, a cool distance crept in and irritation oozed out of the little hood.  It was as though he felt like his fun, interactive partner in catching snowflakes had been traded in for the soulless paparazzi, out to only get the perfect shot.

I get that too.  Like cell phone etiquette, sometimes the moment is stolen by the technology.  How quickly spontaneity is snatched when the joy of having a fun audience disappears the second you look over to laugh together and realize their focus has lasered in on a little box and you’re now laughing with a lens.  Right at the peak of connection we turn to the camera in the hopes we can capture our joy forever.  Something is definitely lost on the other end.

So later, we had a chat.  I asked him why he thought I was taking the pictures.  He didn’t know and became sullen again.

In a quiet voice, I explained why I take pictures.  I told him that I try and capture the sparkle I see in his eyes and the moments that fill me up with love…so I can remember.  I told him that someday he’ll be all grown up with a family of his own and living in his own house, and I’ll be an old lady remembering the time I went out with my boys in the snow and we caught snowflakes on our tongues.    I take pictures so that someday, when he’s all grown up, I can look through them and be filled up all over again with love for my sweet boys, and be instantly taken back to the moment that filled my heart up.  Every time I see them I will be reminded of how special he is to me and how much fun we had.

He thought about this for a while and the little black cloud started to dissipate.  Tonight, during our story of the day, the reason why pictures of him are so special to me was the highlight he needed to process.

He also gave me permission to take pictures of him, knowing how much they’ll mean to me someday.

And oh, how they will.