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.