Tuesday, August 21, 2007

No, It's Not Really Helios and Hesperos

Every once in a while I have someone who is just now turning their dial to 99.9 Baby Blog FM and, after reading a few posts, invariably e-mails something like this:

"What do Helios and Hesperos mean?" (curiosity thinly veiling their abject horror that my children are named something so dreadful)

"You named your kids what?!?!" (not so thinly veiled disbelief)

"So, are those family names?" (polite inquiry, often also coupled with a question like "are they Spanish/Latin names"?)

Rest assured, faithful reader or random passer-by, Helios and Hesperos are not their real names. This was mentioned in the very first blog post, but there's no reason for you to have read that.

In fact, almost no one's name is real. Helios and Hesperos have Greek significance: Helios was the god of sun and Hesperos was the brightest star in the heavens. For everyone else quasi-named here, the names have no such lofty intent. Pseudonyms simply have the same gender affiliation and number of characters as the person's real name.

The only real names here are Mommy and Daddy. :)

We Are George and Hazel Bergeron

(Advance notice: The pictures have no bearing on this post. It's simply an opportunity to gratuitiously post more photos. The picture of Helios and Daddy is from October 2006 and the one of Hesperos is from February 2007.)

The short story, Harrison Bergeron, by Kurt Vonnegut, tells of a time in 2081 when government-enforced egaliatarianism is so over-reaching that it has created a dystopia. George and Hazel Bergeron are a couple (parents of Harrison Bergeron) who have extremely short bursts of thought and possess a limited attention span. Hazel's are short because her level of intelligence is such that she can only carry on internal thought processes for a period of time. George's are short because (in order to make him of equal capacity with the societal average), bells ring loudly in his head every 30 seconds or so, thereby disrupting his thought processes.

What possible bearing does this story have on the children's blog?

Imagine that George Bergeron's bells are the voices of the children, sitting in the backseat of the car. Now, read the dialogue below. This is Daddy and Mommy trying to have just an ordinary conversation on any given day.

Daddy: What would (one fish two fish) you like to do about (Daddy, make the radio louder!) dinner (louder, Daddy, louder!) tonight?

Mommy: I'm not (la la la pffffffffht wwaaaaaaah la la la splutter) sure. It's getting late so we could (music playing) stop some place (head, shoulders, knees, and toes, knees, and toes!) on the (no, Hesperos, only *I* sing head, shoulders, knees, and toes) way home (pffffffffht splutter raspberry sounds) if the wait isn't (NO, HESPEROS, ONLY I SING IT!) long (giggle). Or we could go (This is the song, la la la la, Elmo's song) grocery shopping (la la la la, la la la la, Elmo's song) and I could cook (LA LA LA, LA LA LA, LAAAAA LAH) but we'd need to get the boys something before then (make the radio louder, Daddy!).

Helios, say please! (Please, Daddy, make the radio louder.)

Daddy: If we go (thank you, Daddy) out to eat, where (giggle pffffffffht piercing scream) would you want to go?

Mommy: Helios, don't take toys away from your baby brother. Uh, I'm not sure, (WAAAAAAAAAAAAH) uhm. We could go to...uhm (whimper whine). I'm sorry (Mommy, he was eating my toy!), what was the question?

Daddy: Where (in the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room, in the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room) would you want to eat?

Mommy: Well, there's (all the birds sing words and the flowers croon) that pizza place off McKenzie and 12th, (in the Tiki TIki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room) or we could go to the new restaurant a few miles to the other side (again, Mommy, again! I want Tiki Room again!!) of the -- okay, Helios, say please -- highway. (Please, Mommy) Or we could go to the pizza place off McKenzie and 12th.

Daddy: So you want pizza?

Mommy: (Pizza, I want pizza, I want yummy yummy cheese pizza!) I don't care, do you?

Daddy: Well, you named (Mommy, I want pizza for dinner! I'm sooooo hungry!) the pizza place twice so I figured you wanted (Hesperos wants pizza for dinner, too, Mommy!) pizza.

Mommy: Oh, did I? I don't (I want cheese pizza and broccoli...) remember. What (rar rar la la pffffht rar rar) were we talking about (...and fruit and canteloupe and strawberries...)?

Daddy: Where we want (...and pizza and Mommy's special cheesy biscuits and chocolate!) to go to eat.

Mommy: I don't care, whatever is easiest. Sure, pizza is fine. (YAAAAAAAAY! PIZZA!) (giggle pfffffhhhhht)

If that hurt to read, imagine what it was like to experience.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Kings of the Jungle

During Daddy Jane's most recent visit to the area, we all made a trip to the zoo. While one might think that this was a fun family occasion where we could spend time together bonding, it was really just another excuse for Helios to gape at the retired steam engine that graces the zoo's outer park area. Apparently, this train looks very similar to the "big, fat, mean steam engine" who said, "I? Pull the likes of you? Indeed not!" from The Little Engine that Could. ("Indeed not" is one of Helios' favorite lines now and more emphatic ways to say "no.") Apparently the engine's ill reputation didn't keep Helios from having a near slavish infatuation with it as he caressed its black lacquered sides and shiny cow catcher in a manner reminiscent of Gollum from Lord of the Rings. All that was missing were the slitted eyes and raspy hisses of "My precious."

Upon entering the zoo, Mommy carefully ensured we skirted the entry area where strollers and, more importantly, wagons are rented and we walked down, down, down into the grizzly bear area. Notice the sign that encourages zoo visitors to "move slowly and quietly so you don't startle the animals." Methinks that the author of this sign was a bit out of touch with at least half of the zoo's customers, who seem to be rowdy children under 15, few of whom are directly supervised by their elders and none of whom move quietly.

Once we walked far enough that we were equidistant to all restrooms (meaning also that they were equally inconvenient), Helios chose that moment to express his need to go potty. So, we (meaning Mommy and Helios, leaving Daddy Jane and Hesperos to lounge in the manufactured rain forest) rush back to the front of the zoo past the wagon rental area. SCREECH!

"Mommy, we need a wagon! We need a BLUE wagon!"

"Helios, we'll talk after we go potty. Let's run."

"No, Mommy!" demands Veruca Salt ... I mean, Helios. "I want a blue wagon now!"

"Helios, there is no wagon if you don't go potty. Let's go!"

Whether it was my persuasive skill or his deference to my motherly judgement (ha ha!) or due to the increasing bladder pressure, Helios breaks into a run and we make the potty ... just in time. But now we still need to run the gauntlet of the wagon rental stand one more time.

"Mommy, my baby brother wants a wagon!" (See how the persuasion tactics so rapidly change from the older brother wanting a wagon for himself to his less selfish desire for the baby to have a wagon?)

"Helios, Hesperos is too little for a wagon."

"No, he's a big boy. I'll share it with him." (My goodness, he's becoming a sly negotiator. Now he's not only selfless but willing to share, too!)

"Okay, we'll get a wagon," I capitulate. "But remember, it's not ours. It belongs to the zoo."

"I want a wagon for my birthday," Helios proclaims.

"For your birthday?" I ask. "How old will you be then?"

"Ooooooooh! I'll be three and I want a wagon for my birthday!"

"We'll see," I say.

So we rent the wagon. Apparently riding in a wagon denotes increased age to a pre-schooler, as a driver's license does to an adolescent because once is in it, he declares, "See, Mommy, I'm in a wagon now! I'm three years old!"

Fortunately, unlike driver's licenses, there is no requirement that one be three to drive, which allowed little Hesperos the opportunity to give it a whirl, too.

And, by the way, for anyone curious, pulling a wagon filled with approximately 65 pounds of children up a hill is no small workout.

A Birthday Block Party

Not-so-little Hesperos finally celebrated his first birthday with family in attendance this past weekend. The delay was partially due to various events, visitors, and family being away ... and partially due to Mommy's inability to get the invitations out in a timely fashion. But, as Aunt Magda has said before, late birthdays just mean longer celebrations, so it was all good.

The theme for Hesperos' special day was a "block" party, where "block" was done up in baby block letters. Since Hesperos' nickname is "monkey," a little monkey graced the inside of the invitation for good measure. Besides, who can be against a little gratuitous clip-art? Certainly not Mommy.

In keeping with the baby theme, party favors for the guests included candles made by Mommy using Hesperos' old (and thoroughly cleaned) baby food jars. We figure this was recycling at it's best, plus it's always fun to send other people's children home with implements that can be used for unattended flames. (Maybe we should've included a business card for a home insurance agent, just in case.)

Unfortunately, Hesperos was feeling a bit under the weather with yet another chest cold so he wasn't at his cheerful best. He did have a great time with the many balloons, though, enjoying batting them away (which made him laugh) just so they could hit something and bounce back hitting his face (which made him laugh).

Not to be forgotten during this happy event were the other guests. Cousin Jasmine rapidly got on a first-name level of intimacy with the black olives (I hope they traded first names ... that is standard courtesy, I believe, before you stick your fingers in dark spaces) and Helios managed to rope another victim...I mean, relative...into reading him stories. This time around, it was recently relocated Aunt Elspeth who had the dubious pleasure of reading story-after-story to Helios about none other than trains...sometimes about The Little Engine that Could, sometimes about Thomas and the Big, Big Bridge, and sometimes about Thomas and the Crack in the Track. The one constant was, naturally, the train.

Then it was cake time. Mommy tried to keep with the block theme by making a cake shaped into a cube and decorating it accordingly, but realized that it was entirely outside of her first-time-frosting capabilities. So, Mommy tried to explain it away by saying that good cakes are all about taste rather than appearance (let's just forget the whole maxim about how people eat first with their eyes). Regardless, Hesperos was not feeling well so he declined both the "best-ever chocolate pound cake" and "Italian wedding cream cake", instead preferring graham crackers. Harrumph.

Being that it was his first birthday, Hesperos didn't quite have down the concept of blowing out his own candles. Fortunately, there was a gaggle of other children around who were thoroughly capable of sloppily blowing saliva-speckled puffs of air instead, so the candle did get blown out. Hesperos giggled regardless, none the worse for not having blown it out himself.

Afterward, gifts were opened to relative peace with minimal blood being spilt over who got to open what and when.

No ice packs were needed and no band-aids were issued. Hesperos had some cold medicine and went to sleep early, along with Helios who apparently was conked out due to no nap and all that story-reading. That's what we call a successful birthday.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

An Even Fourteen

We often joke about what we affectionately call Helios' nightly "dinner show." This event occurs at almost any meal time (although we're generally all together only at dinner) and consists of Helios, in the middle of dinner (mouth full of food or not, it does not matter) breaking into song spontaneously. For all those who mock Broadway musicals as being unrealistic because no one starts singing when walking down a rainy street or in front of a Navy ship, please pause and consider our son, Mr. Musical.

Often, these dinner shows come complete with what I like to call "interpretative hand dance." That includes the wiggly fingers when singing "Itsy Bitsy Spider," rolling the arms during "The Wheels on the Bus," and foot stomping and shouts of "Hooray" during "If You're Happy and You Know It..." All of this is generally fine when we're at home, but when we're out at a restaurant, it's probably a bit disconcerting to our neighbors to have their pleasant conversation interrupted with a child faithfully reciting the names of Thomas' Friends in tuneful belting at top-notch decibels.

So, thought we, why not use Helios' apparently endless command of music for "good" and make it into an aid to teach him how to spell? It is definitely Helios' ability to retain information musically that helped him learn his alphabet and count to 100, so why not words?

It's worked magnificently. To the tune of "B-I-N-G-O", Helios has now learned at least fourteen words that he can spell accurately consistently. Naturally, his first word spelled was "train", which he learned by singing to the tune of BINGO, "Helios went to the zoo and there he saw a train. T-R-A-I-N (repeated twice more), and there he saw a train." He now can spell and read Mama, Dada, train, his first name, his last name, his brother's name, worm, train, monkey, giraffe, house, stop, bus, hippo, and the state where he lives.

Over the coming weeks, we'll probably to continue to work on animals and means of transportation, both of great interest to him. The hardest part is not in adding new words but in making sure we continue to practice our old ones.

By the way, lest you think that Helios is all work and no play, fear not. As you can see in this picture, not only does Helios enjoy playing, but he and his little brother share the same tastes in bathtub seafood, enjoying the squishy chewiness of fishy bathtime toys. Yum!