Sunday, September 14, 2008


It can be difficult to diagnose mental or emotional instability. Where is the line that separates a normal and healthy dislike of dirt from germophobia? How does one know when someone is just an introvert or an agoraphobic? It is normal to be so afraid of zombies that one risks soiling one's own pants? If you're Uncle Elmo, perhaps so. Who are we to judge (or diagnose)?

Helios appears to be normal in almost all ways. Grows normally, normal intelligence, normal aptitudes, normal shyness, slightly on the higher end of normal interest in trains, but still...pretty normal. Except for one thing:

Helios must have the large ice chest in the back of our mini-SUV.

For several weeks, Mommy and Daddy exasperatingly asked the other why the cooler was in the back of the car. Both denied putting it there, neither believed the other. We doubted each other's sanity, each other's honesty. We knew it got there, and, failing gremlins, spirits, or a pathological liar for a spouse, we were unsure how.

Then one day, we observed Helios. Like a puppet on strings, he was drawn to the large blue ice chest in the garage. Without asking, without saying a thing, he'd pick it up and carry it to the car, put it down, open the door, place the ice chest inside, and close the door. Then, Helios would be off to whatever his activities were, without missing a beat.

If we removed the ice chest from the back of the car, the entire scene would repeat itself, unfailingly identical.

When we finally asked Helios, "why is the ice chest in the back of the car?", he'd look at us as though we're dimwitted and say, very patiently, "because it needs to stay cold in the back of the car for all the food we're going to get." "But," we'd say, "we're not going to the grocery!" Helios then did the 3-year-old equivalent of an eye roll and said, "But we go to the store sometimes!"

Obsessive disorder or ready-made Boy Scout-preparedness? You decide.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

End of Summer Report (or Helios Is Reading ... sorta)

At the start of the summer, the boys and Mommy started with a couple of goals:
  1. Hesperos should be potty-trained.
  2. Helios should know how to read.

It's early September and the overnight chill makes it clear that summer is over. Hesperos is definitely not potty trained and Helios is only about 25% through his reading program. Perhaps the summertime goal should've been "Mommy should get some coaching on how to procrastinate less!"

Yet, in spite of Mommy's lackadaisical efforts, we're making headway. Hesperos' potty's lid is bedecked with stickers, testifying to his numerous successes. (We also offer stickers to visitors, particularly male, who consistently hit the target -- but no one has taken us up on it yet.) And Helios is definitely showing signs of progress.

Offered for your viewing pleasure is a 3-minute video of Helios reading. It's admittedly a tiny bit nerve-wracking to watch a barely 4-year-old sound out little words, requiring patience from all of us (yet another talent Mommy doesn't have). But he's made a lot of progress for only a month into his program.

The short story is: "A cat sat on a little rug. The cat got mud on that rug. Mom got mad at the cat."

Since our goal is for him to be reading well before he enters kindergarten, and we have a year to go still, we think he will be an accomplished little reader by then. After all, a year is long enough for even Mommy to get something done!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Summer Splashing with Cousins

This past summer, the boys made one of their regular visits to visit Grandma Joan and Grandpa Wil's home in Kumquatville. Mommy likes these trips because they provide opportunities for her to visit old home haunts plus they let the kids to play with animals that she knows will never come home with her (a variation on the trick that men who don't want kids use on their wives/girlfriends -- give them a baby to play with but make sure it goes back to the parents).

The boys like these trips because they get to play with their cousins Lucky and Gordon. Grandma and Grandpa like these trips because they can get some slave computer-tech labor from Daddy, plus some log-splitting exertion from both Mommy and Daddy. Now, you might've noticed that we haven't said what Daddy gets out of it. We're still trying to figure that out! But he's a good sport.

During one of our recent trips, the weather was beautifully warm and cloud-free for one of the days, so we took the boys to a local park with water features and turtles for jumping. Cousins Lucky and Gordon joined us for frolicking, while Grandma Joan and Aunt Elspeth watched from the sidelines.

The boys have always been a bit finicky about getting wet. When it comes to bathtub time or a hose, they're all about staying in the water but when it comes to sprinklers, jets of water from the ground, or swimming pools, they're pretty hesitant. So, it took some coaxing to get Helios to play in the water. Once he was there, he hemmed and hawed in the sidelines before being tricked into following Mommy through the "water rings," something he regretted almost immediately afterward.

Helios went running over to his latest mistress of his heart, Aunt Elspeth, where he griped about his wet clothes...and decided to try and take them off in the park. Aunt Elspeth is pretty cool under pressure but was unprepared to deal with a naked 4-year-old. She's getting her master's degree in negotiation and conflict resolution...and is trying her skills of persuasion in this picture, trying to talk Helios into keeping his clothes on. He was having none of it. Fortunately, Mommy intervened, leaving Aunt Elspeth an opportunity another day to try her negotiation skills after she's had a bit more training.

Meanwhile, Hesperos had become a statue over under the water spouts. Once he was placed over there, he just stood under the mist, occasionally moving an inch or two deeper into the water, and then hopping back three or four steps. At one point, some of the local bikini-clad bathing beauties flounced over to enjoy the cool water themselves. Hesperos was in seventh heaven as he stood surrounded by pretty girls ranging from 8 to 18, awash in not only the cool water but with opportunities galore.

After water play, we all went back to Grandma's and Grandpa's home where the rest of the evening followed a predictable pattern. The boys passed out, exhausted, and Mommy and Aunt Elspbeth beat Grandpa Wil in a few hands of gin rummy...while Daddy labored on the computers. (This is actually characteristic of Daddy's experiences wherever he goes - there's no such thing as a vacation for him as long as a relative needs help on a computer.)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Helios' Ticket to Birthday Fun

A much-anticipated month after Hesperos' birthday, Helios finally had his turn at birthday fun with nothing less than (of course!) a train-themed celebration with his friends and family. Anticipation started the day before the actual party when Helios went shopping with Mommy to pick up the cake pan. Upon seeing that it was going to be train-shaped cakes, Helios became intensely helpful, insisting that he would "help carry the bag so you can take care of Hesperos - does that sound like a good idea, Mommy, if I carry the cake pan bag?"

That night, Mommy baked the cakes and then set to decorating them the next morning before the boys woke up. When they came downstairs for breakfast, Helios and Hesperos both had one of those stop-in-their-tracks moments when they simply stared agog at the train cakes, unable to believe their eyes.

After a very distracted breakfast, Mommy finished decorating the cakes and we trundled off to the party, which was held at a local Kindermusik school. Party activities consisted of the children singing train songs and playing with instruments, followed by wild, uncontrolled running around and screaming at the school's playground.

Fortunately for the children, train cake decorated with candies and add-more-on-yourself frosting opportunities awaited them -- all the better to replenish their energy! Added onto this were the party favors of train cups and wooden train whistles that they got to not only toot at the party, but also in the car all the way home. We're pretty sure the un-napped children were ecstatic (and that it'll take a year before the parents will let them come over again for another party).

Following the party, the birthday boy and his trusty gift unwrapping assistant, Hesperos, took a nap before the paper-ripping frenzy began. And what a frenzy it was! Cars, trucks, trains, Play-Doh, books, and then more cars, trucks, trains, and books! Every gift was an opportunity for Helios to show off an ear-to-ear toothy grin. Hesperos was smirking like a mischievous chimp too because he knew that Helios couldn't play with all those toys at once -- although they're trying!

Happy 4th Birthday, Bug!

Blazing a Trail with Basketball

After an autumn of playing soccer (much of which was spent hiding under Daddy's arm), Helios decided he was game for another team sport and to try his hand at basketball this past spring.

Helios was in the 3-to-5-year-old class but was probably the youngest person in the group. Consequently, although he 'got' the concept of basketball (e.g. that they needed to bounce the ball and not kick it as they had in soccer), Helios playing basketball was pretty much an exercise in futility. When he had the basketball, he ran amok, terrified that the "big kids" were chasing him (they were). When the other kids had the basketball, Helios chased after them thinking it was a game of tag and forgot entirely about the ball. He never really got into the game, although he often begged to go to the gym just because it's one of those few places where a child can run around crazy without getting wet out here in the winter.

For sure, Helios' favorite part of playing basketball was the post-game treats (generally Saturday morning donuts, juice boxes, and cupcakes). At the last game, Coach Brian and Assistant Coach Daddy awarded prizes and trophies to the players. With each prize, Coach Brian shared something special about each child. For Helios, he said, "I was never too sure if Helios liked playing basketball, but I always knew that he wanted to be at the gym!" Afterward, Helios took his trophy home ... and tucked it into bed with him for nap time. Apparently they're very cuddly.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

But It's So Cozy in Here...

Children, simply through their process of existing, are no strangers to small spaces. By the time they're fully cooked and ready to leave the mommy oven, they're pretty pleased to be out into the world.

In spite of their narrow escape from claustrophobic conditions, however, kids seem strangely willing to crawl back into small areas as soon as they can. Example, when Helios was learning to crawl (he was a back-crawler for weeks before he figured out how to do it on his knees), he adored crawling under the ottoman (where he'd promptly get stuck). More recently, Helios has discovered the odd and comforting delights of climbing into the dryer, which he particularly enjoys right after a load of laundry has finished so he can enjoy the warmth of the cylinder.

Hesperos seems to have adopted his brother's proclivities for small places. During a recent hotel stay, we were watching TV before bed and looked around realizing that Hesperos was no where to be found. Why? Because he had tucked himself away into the bottom drawer of the hotel dresser. Wouldn't that have been an unhappy surprise for the maid the next morning?

Tricksy Hesperos

Among Hesperos' birthday loot was a musical Mickey Mouse airplane ride-on toy. The propeller lights up and spins and it plays songs that no doubt sound dulcet to a child but grating to an adult. Shaped blocks can be fit through the holes on either side and the seat lifts up for easy block removal. Hesperos spent the first month terrified of it, which was fortuitous for Helios since that gave him the opportunity to pirate his brother's birthday booty and demonically chase his petrified two-year-old brother around the house.

Now, however, the tables have turned. Hesperos has gotten accustomed to Mickey the Aviator and finally has an opportunity to enjoy it now that Helios' attention has been consumed by his own birthday gifts.

In fact, Hesperos has learned to appreciate the finer points of the airplane. For example, all those Hot Wheels that Helios got for his recent birthday? Well, they fit perfectly under the airplane seat. Hesperos wrests the cars away from Helios, runs away cackling, speedily puts them under the airplane seat, sits down, and then wheels away, giggling all the way.

Take away the aristocratic background and we think Hesperos is a Red Baron in the making.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Most Happy: Hesperos' Ducky Birthday

It dawned neither bright nor sunny, but Hesperos was all aglow last weekend when we celebrated his second birthday.

Beginning the day with a mighty tear, gifts received from the eastern part of the family were ravaged under Daddy's watchful eye and Helios' encouragement. In the paradoxical way of children everywhere, Hesperos was equally delighted by his small box of Thomas the Tank Engine bandages and birthday card as he was his book, train, airplane, and other toys received. The bandages and card alone occupied Hesperos for a full twenty minutes while Mommy was left to decorate the cake. Licking the frosting off the spatula kept Helios occupied.

Afterward, boys and parents went to the site of Hesperos' birthday celebration, a local farm about three miles away. In keeping with the location, everything was farm-themed from the snacks (chocolate haystacks, rabbit food [carrots and celery sticks], fruits of labor [fruit], piglets in blankets, and juice boxes wrapped in cow print) to the party favors (horse heads on sticks with feed pails containing lollipops).

Although without a nap, Hesperos was in great form, running around on the play structure, slathering his face with chocolate haystack, and posing for a few snapshots with his friends from preschool. Thanks to gift-unwrapping practice earlier in the day, Hesperos was able to rip open gifts with aptitude, aided by his brother and friends. Among the offerings to Hesperos' two-year-old greatness, there were a couple gifts of note such as a Fisher-Price drum thoughtfully provided by Aunt Sully and Uncle Elmo, as well as a truck that plays "Old McDonald" at morning-rooster level decibels, thanks to Aunt Tiffany and Uncle Igor. Dee-light-ful...was not the first thought that came to mind.

Following gifts and cake (Hesperos now will sing happy birthday to himself just for the pleasure of pretending to blow out candles), the festivities ended with a tractor ride on Daddy's lap, and berry picking for all. (The farm we visit only requires weighing the berry container on the way out -- a poor business model, in our opinion. They should be weighing the child!)

The day ended with everyone exhausted...except for Helios, who reminds us daily that his birthday is next!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Grillin' Bubbles

Whereas some avid grilling enthusiasts pull out the steaks and corn ears, Helios and Hesperos celebrate the summer outdoor cooking season with a bubble grill, thanks to Grandma Jane and Grandpa Mel. Having not yet mastered the ability to blow bubbles (excluding the saliva kind that are particularly abundant at the most inopportune times), Helios and Hesperos often have to resort to creative antics to coax fragile and elusive iridescent orbs from their tiny wands. These antics include running jerkily at high speeds to generate enough of a wind tunnel to create bubbles (and more often resulting in running into a tree or wall) and standing in front of Mommy and Daddy and demanding repetitively to "blow bubbles, blow bubbles!"

Thanks, though, to the generosity of Grandma Jane and Grandpa Mel, torture of parents and aggressive boy-swatting trees are a thing of the past. Our home was recently graced with a gift that only the Home Shopping Network (and Grandpa Mel's speedy dialing fingers) could give them -- a bubble grill! With a built in fan, the boys can now generate not only the humdrum, pedestrian orbs of old, but also bubbles ostensibly in the shape of tomato slices (circles), pickle slices (circles), burgers (circles), and onions (circles). In short, regardless of the utensil used to create the bubbles, the end result is still ... an orb. (Did the toy designers at Gazillion take any kind of physics classes...ever?)

Creative marketing and packaging aside, it is a great toy that, along with the super concentrated bubble liquid that requires 30-minute long baths to scrub off, is much enjoyed by these little soapy chefs.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Crowd Goes Wild for Hesperos' Debut Singing Performance

For Christmas, Santa Claus brought Hesperos a cat electronic piano with keys for teeth, making it appear that the cat is grinning in creepy Cheshire style. It not only has a two-octave range, but it has several stored songs and background instrumentals. Have you ever wanted to hear "Mary Had a Little Lamb" as sung by a cat? How about as sung by a meowing cat? Wait, now...just wait... Have you ever wanted to hear "Mary Had a Little Lamb" as sung by a meowing cat pitched four octaves below its normal 'singing' voice? Well, with this toy, you can! Not only does the musically-inclined child have control over which motley assortment of 18 songs it can play, but the child can listen to the song with either words or "meow, meow, meow" at every note. If that weren't enough, the pace of the song can be increased or decreased with the resulting change in pitch. Have you ever wondered what Satan's cat sounds like singing "Mary Had a Little Lamb?" Come over to our home for your chance!

The cat keyboard also comes with a microphone, allowing for baby-style karaoke. It is conveniently shaped like an ice cream cone, which encourages Hesperos to occasionally lick it, but more often shove it in his mouth while singing. We wonder if Steve Tyler or Mick Jagger started out this way.

Without further ado, we bring to you, direct from our home, Hesperos singing his own lyrics to the cat keyboard version of La Cucaracha.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

We Love Pillows

Generally, when we take weekend trips involving a hotel, we get a room with two queen beds, figuring that each parent can share a bed with a child. This was really more of a necessity when the boys were younger because it helped ensure they would be less likely to roll out of bed and we don't tend to trust hotel rental cribs. It's minimal inconvenience to us. After all, they're small and the beds are large. It's just for a couple nights, and really no biggie.

However, now they're older and that's less likely to happen. And we're beginning to think that it's time that the boys sleep with each other. For one thing, we don't want them to get used to sleeping with Mommy or Daddy.

For another, we're tired of trying to catch our zzzz's with Mr. Bed Hog and his brother Mr. Bed Piglet who enjoy lolling amongst pillowed splendor in what has become their queen-sized beds.

Recent Developments

Often, as little people grow up, changes are so gradual that they escape notice until one pauses to look back on pictures of last year, or even a month or two previous, and realizes the changes.

Then, there are the milestone accomplishments that tend to be pretty memorable -- taking a first crawl, first word, first meal, etc. These require little to bring them to mind...unless you have multiple kids, which may result in one child's feats blending into the next child's. (It's not too hard to understand...both boys are blonde and light-eyed, a bit on the stocky side, and love to fling food...who can remember which child is underneath all that pureed sweet potato?)

Helios and Hesperos have had a few recent developments, none on the scale of first laugh or first step quality, but still pretty cute.

Doo-dah. Hesperos has started referencing Helios consistently as Doo-dah (which is a bit closer to his name than Helios calling Hesperos "Poo-haf" when Helios was two). Hesperos will walk around, calling for his brother and best bud, saying "Doo-dah, doo-dah" in a sing-song voice that always sounds like the minor third of a doorbell ring.

I weigh 40 pounds! Lately, Helios has become obsessed with the scale in the downstairs utility room, climbing on top after he uses the potty. He doesn't really weigh 40 lbs. The scale gives too low a reading so it's been adjusted upward. Helios will jump on the scale and shout out, "I still weigh 40 pounds, Mommy!" followed rapidly with questions like, "How much does Daddy weigh?" and, my favorite, "How much do you weigh, Mommy?" Uh, yeah.

Wack, wack, wack, ribbit. Hesperos has become unashamedly obsessed with ducks and frogs. His nightly bath has about a dozen little pond-life creatures in it. We don't begrudge Hesperos his ducks and frogs. We're happy for the momentary reprieve from obsession train adoration. Also new is Hesperos' obsession with Elmo and his blue cousin, Cookie Monster. What is it about fluffy hand puppets who talk about themselves in the third person that appeals so much to toddlers? It's a mystery that only the genius of Jim Henson could understand.

Mommy, I don't want to be big. On the "awwww, how sad!" side of things, there's Helios' recent concern about growing up and becoming a big boy. Apparently, he doesn't want to do that any more. Okay, okay, that could be due to Mommy once saying how sad it makes her to see her boys getting bigger. That appears to have really upset Helios. Most recently, he went into Mommy's room, gave her a hug and said, "Mommy, I don't want to grow up because then I wouldn't be your little boy any more and I'd have to move away from home and not live with you any more." Yes, that was heart-wrenching and sad. But at the thought of a 28-year-old Helios living with Mommy and Daddy some day, Mommy suddenly got over any wistfulness about babies growing up. We know that Helios will always be the little boy who risked life and limb on a train track just to pick Mommy a flower.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Happy Father's Day!

Father's Day and Mother's Day are working holidays, if ever there were any. Since there's never a day off from parenthood, the best a parent can hope for is at least a warm breakfast, a little extra dose of obedience from the children, and a handmade card or two.

Daddy lucked out on two of those three things this Father's Day. Guess what was missing? Yes, the obedience! Father's Day dawned a bit cloudy but the dreary weather didn't deter the boys' spirits as they propelled themselves on top of Daddy. In spite of Daddy's shouts and groans of "no, no, no" and Mommy's comparatively weak and disinterested pleas to the same, children ran amok on our bed early yesterday morning with little limbs poking in places that assure Helios and Hesperos that they will be the only children in our small family.

Afterward, we trundled into the car to enjoy a Sunday brunch off the lake at a local restaurant. Hesperos was particularly fond of the waffles (missing is the photo of Hesperos and the chocolate chips, wherein we see the remnants of the great Chocolate Chip Monster that Hesperos roundly defeated by eating a glorious finish!).

Contrary to how it may appear in this photo, Helios also enjoyed himself at brunch -- the still position and pained smile was the price he paid for being allowed to cut his own waffle with a knife.

Following the brunch festivities, there was a little bit of shopping, a little bit of undisciplined behavior on the part of little children, a nice long nap that corrected much of it, and then early evening entertainment featuring Helios' very own composition, "An Ode to Grandpas on Father's Day."

Happy Father's Day to Daddy, Grandpa Wil, and Grandpa Mel!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"Mommy, I'm Sick."

Earlier last month, Helios climbed into bed with Mommy and Daddy. While Mommy appreciated the extra warmth (it's now June and she's still waiting for summer), Helios was clearly burning up. With a plaintive little cry he whimpered, "Mommy, I'm sick."

When these little boys are sick, it is extremely difficult for Mommy and Daddy to tell. They rarely run fevers and even less tell-tale physical signs like red ears and skin splotches are noticeably missing. If they appear even the slightest bit cranky, generally a train or some popcorn does the trick and they're happy as clams. (Why are clams so happy? Are they even sentient beings? Don't they know they're going to be eaten?) In fact, they often can have raging ear or sinus infections and we won't know until they are thoroughly miserable, days after the infection has set in. There are few early warning signs. So, when Helios came in pleading illness, we figured it was legit.

Mommy took Helios to the doctor that day and imagine her surprise when, a couple of x-rays later, we learned he had bacterial pneumonia! Oops. We missed that one. So, Helios came home and, for the next few days, in between spurts of energetic activity, he rested on the couch with two fleece blankets, both made by Grandma Jane, and a heating pad while watching episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine and Signing Time. The rest (plus the heavy-duty anti-biotic) must have done the trick -- within three days, he was torturing Hesperos again and arguing over who got to play with the trains.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Even Sheets Are Fun When You're Little

A few months ago, Mommy and Daddy were working on painting the ceilings and had the floors covered accordingly with canvas drapes. For some reason, the novelty of having canvas drapes on the floor was excitement itself for the boys. Without needing any prompting or encouragement at all, they took the opportunity to run in circles on the drape while shouting "whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa." We don't understand it, we don't know why. But if a canvas drape is good for 30 minutes of mindless exercise and entertainment, who needs preschool and toys?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

Some celebrate with chocolate, some with flowers, some with romantic evenings. The people who celebrate Valentine's day that way either don't have little people or are better endowed with babysitters.

For our family, Valentine's day is more of a family affair reminiscent of Easter but without an egg-depositing fluffy bunny. This is thanks to Mommy and her attempts to game the system when she was a little person herself. When Mommy figured out that Grandma Joan and Grandpa Wil were indispensable helpers to Santa and the Easter Bunny, she slyly decided that they could provide the same level of support to the Great Valentine and the Sparkly Firecracker, two B-list holiday celebrities....that she invented...right at that moment.

Since then, Valentine's Day has been more than just an opportunity to trade cards with classmates -- it's also a bagged gift affair replete with small wrapped toys, balloons, and bags of popcorn from Aunt Sully. But the best part was the Valentine's chocolate brownies, heart-shaped and eaten with love.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

First Dentist Visit

February was the month of sweets, the month of love, and the month when the boys went to the dentist to atone for their love of sweets (notably homemade cookies and chocolate chips).

This was Hesperos' first visit. The dentist checked out his chompers, doing a quick count by sweeping his gloved finger through the drool-slaked mouth. (The dentist only had to ask to see the bite-shaped imprint on Mommy's shoulder to know how many teeth Hesperos had, without ever looking inside.) After being given a clean bill of toothy health and a new Crayola toothbrush, the doctor let Hesperos go, resulting in him making a dash out the door and a shaky diaper-bottomed hustle to the box of chewy rubber duckies around the corner. I don't know if a rubber duck was included in our baby dentist visit, but I think it's something the dental office staff and insurance company can figure out without my helpful suggestions.

This was Helios' second visit, and came complete with his first cleaning. Initially distrustful of the hygienist, Helios was wooed by her grandmotherly charm, winning smile, and her invitation to let him ride up and down in her "space chair." That's right, folks -- no matter what the age, boys love toys.

However, toy love lasted only until the hygienist wanted to put the cleaning tool into Helios' mouth. He protested mightily and with much suspicion (just wait until Helios visits the proctologist for the first time...I wonder if the doc will have a cool chair?). But, the hygienist, with that same comforting voice (she managed to make Helios feel like a big boy while telling us that he was one of the easiest children she's worked with), invited Helios to choose his flavor of tooth polish. "Mint, orange, chocolate, strawberry banana, latte, fruit punch..." she rattled off, but Helios had stopped listening. "CHOC-O-LATE!" he exclaimed. Big surprise there. As she polished his teeth with chocolate fluoride paste, Helios would occasionally come up for air with Mommy-like insights and interjections. "Mommy, why don't we have chocolate toothpaste at home?" and "At home I have to brush my teeth after chocolate but at the dentist office I brush my teeth with chocolate. Can I brush my teeth with chocolate at home?" And then, my favorite, "I want chocolate teeth all the time!"

Of course he does.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Boys and Their Bears

Some children suck their thumbs, some have pacifiers, some have a favorite bottle or sippy cup or blanket. Our boys have never had any of these habits ... but lately, they've both been all about the bears.

It started with Hesperos, the baby, and Helios followed shortly afterward (no doubt partially motivated by the attention we gave Hesperos). During a recent closet-cleaning event, Mommy found, still in its original Build-a-Bear cardboard box, the stuffed bear that Hesperos was given by Aunt Sully, Uncle Elmo, and cousins Oscar, Rose, and Jasmine on the day he was born.

Soft and squishy, the unnamed bear plays Brahm's lullaby at breakneck speed and is now Hesperos' favorite pillow. Every night and nap time, Hesperos rushes into his room, grabs his bear off his mattress, and hugs it bottom side up (apparently the bear's bare bottom is an excellent baby chin resting place). When Hesperos lies down on his mattress, he scrunches the bear into about 1/3 of its size so it can fit entirely under Hesperos' chin and cheeks. Between lying-down-time and falling-asleep-time, there may be some drooling and ear gnawing, demonstrating that the bear serves the multiple functions of friend, pillow, and tasty nighttime snack. (If we can't figure out how to wash that bear soon, it'll also add a fourth function to its repertory, that of germ-infested repository of bacteria.)

On those rare mornings when Hesperos awakens before Mommy and Daddy, he climbs off his mattress, bear in hand, and waddles through the upstairs, on his mission to awaken others. If unsuccessful, his second ambition is to get in some cuddling time. Most of these mornings begin with a slightly slimy, quite drool-damp bear being tossed onto Mommy's and Daddy's bed (often hitting one of us in the face, an unwelcome good morning present), followed by entreating hands and some baby-like whimpers that seem to mean "you already have the bear, now get me, too!"

Helios isn't as much of a ham (at least not in this one instance). His bear attraction is relegated strictly to classic Pooh, the stuffed toy Mommy and Daddy got for him even before he was born. Pooh is ultra-soft and furry ... and, although he doesn't play a lullaby, comes replete with stories, songs, and friends.

Bedtime with Helios now involves being tucked in with night-nights (he says night-night to all of his family members which, given the number, results in a War-and-Peace style epic every evening). After saying 'good night' to everyone, he gets treated to Mommy singing him the "Winnie the Pooh" song with Pooh bouncing on Helios' belly. Helios chortles and chuckles a bit, followed by the normal requests for "again, again, AGAIN!" Once Mommy has sang herself into croaks, Helios finally goes to sleep. But, as soon as he wakes up in the morning, he's ready to hop into the car to listen to the CD of Winnie-the-Pooh (and Tigger, and Rabbit, and ...) music. We listen to Pooh music so much that the last couple of nights, Mommy has dreamed of the Hundred Akre Wood and started humming "Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh, chubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff, he's Winnie the Pooh..." immediately after awakening.

Oh, well. At least it's a change from trains.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Tale of the Terrifying Tube

Santa Claus surprised the boys this year with a couple of gifts handmade by some Swedish elves and made available for pickup at the local Ikea store. One of those gifts is a six-foot-long, light blue, nylon slinky tube through which children and people not suffering from claustrophobia can slither through.

A new purpose to this toy was discovered, however, when Aunt Elspeth's super-skinny boyfriend, Gonzo, demonstrated how he could sheathe himself entirely within the tube and then lurk in wait for hapless children to walk by. All this, of course, to scare them into using their diapers (even if they're not wearing diapers any more).

Daddy, thus inspired by Boyfriend Gonzo, adopted the practice of cramming himself in the tube and trying to scare the children, even taking it to the point of wearing the tube and chasing them around the house like some creepy worm from a horrific Tim Burton movie. But, it delights the children (although Mommy suspects that some psychological care will be needed at some not-to-distant point in the future).

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What Do the Boys Like to Watch?

Like all well-intentioned parents, we try to minimize the amount of time the kids are in front of the boob tube, as well as protect them from the Internet. But, there are times (like when painting, handling hot things on the stove, or wrapping gifts) when the temptation of having an electronic babysitter is too great for a parent to resist.

At these times, we take advantage of playlists on YouTube where we've found many of the clips and skits we loved in childhood that we've been able to share with the kids in an on-demand way. We've also found a few new things, entirely at random. So what are the kids' favorites?
  1. Sesame Street: "Orange Sings Carmen"

  2. Sesame Street: "Manahmana"

  3. Song: "The Rhino Song"

  4. Muppet Show: "Never Smile at a Crocodile"

  5. Book: "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom"

The order of favorites changes somewhat, but that off-key operatic orange has been top-listed for several weeks now. Looking for a few puppet or animated classics (operatic or otherwise) to enjoy? You can find the full list of favorites online.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Power of Personal Magnetism

This past week, Mommy had the experience of being the one to drop off and pick up the boys from preschool every day (a job that normally falls to Daddy by virtue of their preschool being closer to his employer). This afforded Mommy the rare opportunity to watch the boys in action, interacting with their teachers and classmates, and their reactions to the daily activities. What Mommy wasn't prepared for was the sheer adulation that greeted the boys upon their arrival.

When we walked into Helios' room, one little girl (remembered dimly from a birthday party as Anna) rushed up to me and said haltingly, "are you Helios' mommy?" After I said yes, she replied with, "oh, wait right there! I've been coloring pictures for him all morning!" (All 45 minutes of it?) So while Picasso-in-training rushes off to collect her offerings to my son's pyre, a little boy comes up and says, "I made this clay truck for Helios. Will you take it home for him?" Sure, why not? Meanwhile, Helios is hanging up his jacket only to be besieged with adoring fans pestering their preschool Messiah with requests: "Helios, come play puzzles with me!" "No, Helios, come over here and let's jump!" "Ohhh, Heeeeeelios! I'm painting over here!" "He's my best friend! He comes with me!"

Apparently, my son is something of a demigod to this clamoring clan of kidlets. I speculate that some time around Easter, they'll sacrilegiously greet him with some palm fronds and a white ass.

A few doors down, Hesperos was getting some star treatment of his own. Whereas he initially clutched onto me with a surprising grip (not just due to strength but also because he's a known Daddy's boy so rarely does he plaster himself to my body), Hesperos managed to somehow with bizarre homing acuity use my body as a launch pad. He flew the short distance to the closest, prettiest, and bustiest preschool teacher, wearing a little smirk on his plump cheeks. While she held him, the other rug rats gathered around her shins. Their arms were raised beseechingly, like they were hungry zombies caught in quicksand, making little baby grunts and whimpers. When the teacher lowered Hesperos to the floor, they encircled him with their pudgy arms, enfolding him in the 2-year-old equivalent of a group hug, every child patting the back of the other. (Some day, when these children are in adult self-help groups, they'll already have some of the requisite skills learned from these early days.)

Where do my sons come by this powerful magnetism? While I have some charm, it's definitely well-hidden under a polished layer of off-putting sardonic humor ... and to even experience that humor, you'd need to get past my very large bubble (whatever you do, please don't hug me). Daddy has charm of his own, but he's not a big-toothed Tony Robbins who's going to win friends and influence people through the sheer force of his charisma. Yet our sons are adored, beloved, cosseted, revered by others through the beauty of their personalities.

We don't know what it is that they have...but we hope it lasts at least long enough until those children have some "toys" of substance to offer up to Helios and Hesperos (I'm thinking Lamborghinis, ear drum destroying stereo systems, extra homes off the ocean, etc.).

Monday, February 4, 2008

From the Archives...

Today Mommy was helping Aunt Elspeth put together a project of photographs and family information for Grandma Joan's upcoming birthday. She asked, reasonably enough, if there was a picture of all four of us together (there's not) or a picture of just Mommy with the kids (negative, cap'n). However, Mommy was able to share with her this one snapshot, found in the archives of late 2006.

This could be Mommy's favorite picture to date of the family. First of all, Mommy is absent, which is a wonderful thing since she's extremely camera averse. Second, all three of the highly photogenic life forms in the photo are staring at the camera for once, and at the same time. This is rare onto itself, although in Helios' case, that result was gained only by placating him with an oatmeal cookie. Third, this picture is from the time when Hesperos didn't know how to walk yet, meaning that he couldn't get into things. Anyone who's spent time with Mr. Sneaky recently would know how truly wonderful a thing that is.

Fourth, and finally, this picture was taken the night we got new carpet installed in the master bedroom, meaning that it gave Mommy a free ride from vacuuming for about a week. (Hey, Mommy is very practical!)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Perfectly Picturesque Pumpkin Picking

Among the treasure trove of half-written-and-as-yet-unpublished posts was this one from October regarding pumpkin picking with the boys.

One of the benefits of living in this area in the autumn is the abundance of farms where pumpkin picking opportunities are plentiful and the kettle corn is crunchy. Although we've never yet carved a pumpkin with the children, we've had a great time doing everything else up to that final, dirty deed.

While we had gone pumpkin picking last year, it didn't really click with Helios what the whole activity was about, and Hesperos was bundled up like a little human burrito. This year, though, Helios was all about Halloween, picking pumpkins, and the wagon rides. (Side story: While traipsing through the fields, Helios astounded us as he shared his memories of last Halloween, trick-or-treating with Hesperos dressed up like a pumpkin, in their double stroller. Talk about a good memory! It was a reminder to us parents to not try and pull a fast one over him...Helios is apparently old enough to now keep us accountable!)

Even better than the hay rides were the opportunities to imagine what life would be like as a farm animal. Helios got confused a few times which way he was supposed to look through the cardboard cutouts, as well as a little bewildered about why his little brother's head was poking out of a cow's body. But, all types of animal-corpus angst was forgotten once the boys were safely seated in their trusty, not-so-rusty Red Flyer two-seater wagon that carried them in seated comfort across the pumpkin patch, allowing them to gaze across the fields with lordly authority as they munched on kettle corn.

After picking the perfect pumpkins (and after Helios tried sitting on one, before jumping up and exclaiming "the pumpkin was poking me!" while Mommy tried to stifle laughter and vaguely adult commentary), we loaded pumpkins and children into the handy-dandy nearby wheelbarrow and carted them home. Uncarved, the pumpkins enjoyed a place of decorative prominence on our front doorstep before entering our compost bin to become mulch for our spring gardening attempts.