Friday, December 17, 2010

Reading Deja Vu

Two boys, two years apart, same milestones. In 2008, we shared Helios' reading accomplishments as he suspensefully told us the story of a cat on a rug. (Was it a Dr. Seuss cat? A T.S. Eliot Jellicle cat? Perhaps the Cheshire cat? Who knows?!) Now, in late 2010, we can show Hesperos sharing in the same accomplishment.

Hesperos has been a tough nut to crack. Unlike Helios, he wasn't inclined to sit still long enough to make it through the initial lessons so we weren't able to start until several months after we'd hoped. Now, his reading lessons still include many bounces and hops, and they're rarely held without his monkey (Munk) in attendance. Munk can't read, but apparently he likes to listen.

But Hesperos is making progress and we're well on our way to having him be a good reader by the time kindergarten begins in September.

So here is Hesperos -- reading a different lesson from the same book about the same cat Helios told us about two years ago. The insightful analytical questions are asked by Mommy.

"A little cat can sit on a rug. She can run in the sand. She can lick a man. She will lick me."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Learning from Selling Raffle Tickets

Okay. In my world, there's really no joy in raffle ticket selling. But, because it's important for Helios' school, we do it. On behalf of his small private school, Helios sold raffle tickets for several weeks. We reached out to our family and friends, inviting them to participate and many have generously supported Helios' efforts. Helios, however, is competitive and he wants to sell more in hopes he'll be one of the top 10 sellers and win a prize. So, one afternoon we took advantage of an opportunity to sit outside a local grocery store to sell tickets.

My feelings are quite mixed when it comes to having our children sell things on behalf of the school. Although the most successful children do directly benefit through winning prizes, we would arguably rather pay higher tuition or do it ourselves rather than have the children do it. I'm not sure what is behind my prejudice except it probably is a combination of the way I was raised (my parents were dead set against children ever selling) and a preference that children spend know...learning. Not selling, in spite of how cute they may be behind a table.

That said, Helios wanted to sell so we helped create those opportunities for him. And I was quite inspired, to be honest. Here is a 6-year-old little boy who, without fear, boldly approaches strangers who barely acknowledge his existence and politely asks, "excuse me, may I tell you about my school's raffle?" No matter what response he receives, whether someone ignores him entirely or simply declines, Helios promptly replies with, "thank you for your time."

Sure, Helios was coached in how to be polite and what to say. We figure if he wants the prize, he's actually going to do the selling, not the parents. And we're not going to passively sell by sitting behind a table - we're going to actively sell by engaging with others. So Helios has received help -- but it's his touching observations, his inquisitiveness, and the good conversations we've had that really makes a somewhat unlikeable task worthwhile. His questions have ranged from "why won't people stop to listen to me?" to "why wouldn't they want these great prizes?" to "should they be going to a grocery store and spending money if they're telling me don't have money to buy tickets?" Each question carries with it the opportunity to impart a small lesson, a little value that hopefully will stick.

However, what's most rousing is his willingness to keep trying no matter how many "nos" he receives that truly makes the experience worthwhile. Although he's occasionally felt discouraged and had his head down, he will pop back up again and approach the next person, eventually getting a sale that allows him to ride on that success through all the "nos" until he gets another sale.

And that's where I find a learning experience in these raffle ticket sales - not because it's important to the school or because Helios will likely earn a prize that we could've purchased for him at significantly less than our time is worth. But because it has surprised me by providing an opportunity to help my son have a different perspective and watch him manage his own disappointments and insecurities. It's also been inspiring to me -- having a 6-yr-old be told "no" many times in an hour is so much harder for him than life's daily pitfalls are to me, and yet he keeps plugging away at it far better than I sometimes do.

That said, I still look forward to the next fundraiser -- a jog-a-thon!
Postscript: Thanks to the generosity of Helios' friends and family, not to mention his hard work, he was ranked #3 in overall sales, bringing in almost $700. (The first and second place sellers each brought in more than $1100.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010


This morning, Hesperos and Mommy were talking about helicopters. Mommy shared with Hesperos the bombshell that he has, in fact, taken a flight in a helicopter. Hesperos' 4-year-old world was shaken - he had no idea he had participated in such an exciting experience. He asked when and why he was in a helicopter.

Even though Hesperos was born almost fully baked and nearly nine pounds, his lungs were a little under-developed with fluid in them that turned rapidly into pneumonia. Consequently, when Hesperos was only a day old, he was air-vac'd from his hospital of birth to another hospital in the city that had a dedicated neo-natal ICU division for care.

As any parent can imagine, it was extremely stressful - at that point, we'd never had an unhealthy newborn anywhere in our immediate or extended family and losing your newborn to an incubator for two weeks (when you already have a toddler at home) is a difficult experience, to say the least.

Hesperos, with all the joy and simplicity of a 4-year-old, laughed when he was told about his NICU experience. "Mommy," he said chuckling, "of course I had problems breathing when I was a baby. I had a very little nose!"

And with that, the memory of two weeks of parental anxiety was wiped away.

Run, Boys, Run!

There are few things that come more naturally to children than running (unless it's depositing a thread of toilet paper still attached to the roll directly into the toilet, flushing the toilet, and watching it pull the toilet paper in...but that's another post). Genius was the (wo)man who invented the school jog-a-thon fundraiser where a child's energy can be put to good use (on a school day, no less!) and every lap around the track equals a little bit of money out of a hapless relative's wallet.

Living in the land of Nike and Adidas, running is the trans-generational activity for the trendy. Having seen 3.5 of my (somewhat sedentary) relatives convert into running enthusiasts, I am fairly sure that a pair of sneakers has an evangelical power second only to one of Jesus' disciples. Is it any wonder that given such an influence, combined with their own natural competitive enthusiasm and zeal for activity, that both boys would be good little runners?

May was jog-a-thon month for us (yes, this post is tardy) with events sponsored by each child's school. Helios' school featured a (standard?) 1/4-mile marked grass-track where the children ran during a full lunch hour. Mommy even took a break to join Helios for a bit, shedding flip-flops where necessary to run along. (Although flip-flops are an appropriate handicap for an adult racing with a 5-yr-old.) Helios completed his race at 3.25 miles or 13 laps, a distance we feel is very respectable for a child his age. We also learned that when Helios races, he immediately puts himself into the "Speed. I am speed." mentality of Lightning McQueen, complete with imagining his fellow contestants are other race cars trying to force him into the pit.

In that respect, Hesperos is not that different in that he, too, experiences delusions of being a Disney-fied dolled-up race car with non-functioning headlights. However, his motivation was more to either catch-up with or show off to the little 4-yr-old girl with the bouncy curls just a little ahead of him. Hesperos raked up an extremely ambitious 25 laps on a 1/8-mile course at a park...which just goes to show his generous relatives that before making a "per lap" pledge, first confirm the size of the course and check that against the anticipated energy of the child. Intelligent was the supporter who made a flat pledge, and generous was the supporter who didn't begrudge the per lap payment.

Impressively, the Saturday after their jog-a-thons, both boys ran with Mommy and Daddy in the local 10k. By "ran" we mean that Helios had to be cajoled, encouraged, blackmailed, and slightly threatened to make the last two miles of the ~6.25 mile run -- and Hesperos was carried on Daddy's shoulders alternating half miles. The chips reveal that Mommy and Judah came in fifth/sixth to last. But, given we beat Daddy/Hesperos (who came in second to last/last, preceded immediately by the man pushing his pregnant wife in a wheelchair and the other man running on a prosthetic), we felt pretty good.

All told, the boys managed to raise about $700 combined for their two schools. And they felt a great sense of accomplishment. We're feeling brave enough to have them both run with us for the Thanksgiving 10k fundraiser for the local food bank, although we'll probably park a car halfway just in case.

The Rice and Beans and Cheese and Chips Place

As I went through photographs tonight, seeking pictures of experiences that should've been blogged about but were not, I was struck by the number of photographs taken at ... of all places ... Chipotle.

At the risk of sounding like a corporate endorsement, there are few dining places that get the kids as excited as the "rice and beans and cheese" place. For the uninitiated, this magical place is Chipotle, mecca of affordable (albeit high sodium) customizable meals, the most important of which is the a la carte selection of rice, beans, cheese, and a little fresh tortilla. Preschooler heaven!

The trip to Chipotle proceeds like this:
- Run inside.
- Grab a few menus, preferably 3 or 4 per child. Mommy argues with children about how they're wasting paper.
- Children insist on being lifted high enough to order their own food.
- Children order their own food, may press noses or mouths against Plexiglas, leaving the Chipotle staff thankful for the health code requirement that placed the glass there. Parents' arms buckle under the weight of carrying children, employees politely indulgent even as parental ire increases.
- Mommy pays, children run away, Daddy chases them.
- Children play Goldilocks at the tables ("this one is too big, this one is too small, this one is just right"), Daddy chases after them, Mommy fills drinks, children shout orders from their table.
- Children shovel food in, liberally sprinkling rice over the floor like dandruff from a leper.
- Mommy tidies the area before the bus staff can get there (because she wouldn't want them to think her children are piglets).
- Children run to vehicle, clamber in, and immediately insist upon going there for lunch or dinner the next day.

We thought that (eventually) the children would grow tired of Chipotle (as we did so long ago). In a way, they have. They still want to go to Chipotle but now they insist we try new locations.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

What Are Little Boys Made of?

Something that really interests me is what children really think about. Every night at dinner I try to get a little sense of that not only by asking them what they did during the day but who their friends are, why they like them, what their favorite and least favorite moments were, and so forth. But when there is food to be eaten, toys to play with, and a sundry shiny things to distract them, it's hard to have much of a conversation with children of this age. It winds up sounding more like an interrogation than a dialogue.

So instead I try to take clues by observing what it is that they value (beyond the toys and books they prefer). What are some of the stand-out items that rank as their own little treasures?

Each boy has his own collection of treasures in the same relative location: on the dresser surface in their room. While individual items may change from time to time, in general the type of items remains pretty static unless an external force (generally parental-enforced clean-up) exerts influence.

For Helios, our older son, this is his current inventory of treasures:
  • An elephant humidifier (granted, this would be here whether he wanted it or not but he really likes it)
  • A box of tissue (ditto)
  • A book night-light (encased in a black zippered sleeve, upper left) that looks just like Mommy's and often is snuck under the covers
  • A Nemo flashlight to scare away the monsters and create hand shadow puppets
  • A white paper sack that was colored to look like a puppet; its name is Poppers 2 (Poppers 1 having been worn tissue thin)
  • A plastic iron-melt airplane made at after care
  • His harmonica, a gift from his paternal grandmother and grandfather just before a 10-hour flight across the country (yup, what you're thinking is exactly what we thought too)
  • A token for the Loof Carousel in Spokane, WA
  • A children's booklet of prayers, gift from school
  • A Junie B. Jones, First Grader book (his favorite series right now)
  • A Tigger wrist slap bracelet and purple airplane, both gifts from Aunt Elspeth
  • A "bug's eye" loop from after school 'Mad Science' class
  • A monkey head toy (how to describe this?) gifted from Uncle Thog
  • A Zhu Zhu pet, train, camera, and magnifying glass from Grandma Jane and Grandpa Mel
  • A Mickey Mouse playing soccer puzzle and Tic Tac Toe game, gifts from the Easter Bunny
  • Shrinky-dinks, products of a project with Daddy
  • Winnie the Pooh toys, harvested from Mommy's chest of treasures
  • A Valentine's fuzzy head sticker with heart antennae received from a kid he likes at school
  • An oyster shell given through the fence by the girl next door
Although with many similarities, Hesperos has his own array of treasures including:

  • A penguin humidifier and tissue box
  • Elmo slippers (Christmas gift from Santa two holidays ago and still fun to wear)
  • Half of a Christmas ornament that plays "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" to put him to sleep
  • His trophy from his first basketball season at the YMCA this year
  • A Thomas the Tank engine watch
  • The two current favorite books that he's working on memorizing: "Watch Out Mr. Rabbit!" and "Dr. Seuss's ABC"
  • His "explorer" hat
  • A thin version of Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit, retained from his Easter chocolate bunny
  • A flashlight to scare the monsters away
  • Various cars from Pixar's "Cars"
  • A Zhu Zhu pet and its car, gifted from Grandma Jane
  • A Winnie the Pooh slap it bracelet from Aunt Elspeth
  • Pieces of a game received from the Easter Bunny
  • Parts to a Lego construction vehicle, presumably stolen from his brother's closet and thus far unnoticed
  • A pine cone (behind Elmo) from a recent preschool field trip

Though the selection may change somewhat as new treasures are acquired and old ones retired, each one is appreciated separately with a story behind it...and always noticed if repositioned without prior consent.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Helios' Resolution

As may be recalled in an earlier post (see "Believe It or Not, They Really Do Listen (Sometimes)..."), Helios declared that he planned to eschew all cow dairy products. After a few weeks of resolve that wavered just a bit, particularly once he was informed that cheese is a cow is ice is whipped cream. However, he remains fairly firm in the "no cow milk" area, preferring rice milk whenever possible. He is also very receptive to vegan cheeses, sorbet instead of ice cream, or non-milk based desserts providing he doesn't have to delay consumption of dessert for a vegan alternative to be made available. (Patience is not one of Helios' strong suits.)

In Helios' backpack daily are the products of his hard work at kindergarten. In tonight's delivery was this little gem, conceived, authored, and illustrated, by Helios himself. This is from the last couple weeks from when during the religion session, the teacher facilitated a discussion of what it means to be resolved to doing something. The result is not only Helios' declaration but also an illustration of a smiling, red-stick figure with a disturbingly long torso, short legs, and pronged hands ignoring the cow milk (X'd out at left) and reaching for the "ris" milk at right. The text reads: "My resolution is not to drek [drink] cow milk so I can help the cows."

We will entertain any offers by Chik Fil-a to purchase this drawing for their "leave cows alone, eat chickens instead" advertising in exchange for paying for Helios' college tuition.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Train-Based Enthusiasm

It's no secret that the boys appreciate automotive and locomotive devices of all kinds. They role-play extensively and imaginatively, reenacting favorite scenes from books and movies at any opportunity, whether pretending to be race cars swerving around other shoppers at the grocery store or treating the dining room table like the nose of the Polar Express.

This video captures just a few minutes of Hesperos' active imagination as he aggressively guides the Polar Express through the ice, onto the tracks, that will take the train to the (trackless) North Pole. Although 7-minutes-long (!!), it is a relatively small sample of what it's like living with the boys for whom everyday experiences are simply opportunities to shape their environment into an imaginary adventure.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Believe It or Not, They Really Do Listen (Sometimes)...

"For the 10th time...pick. up. those. trains," I mutter through gritted teeth, pausing between each word and casting menacing looks at both boys. My parents have been together more than 40 years and I've been with Daddy for almost 14: there's nothing about selective hearing I don't know and it's expected with two little boys, ages 3 and 5. Understanding it doesn't lessen the irritation, though, when they blithely ignore requests to do things they would rather not do and seem to intentionally not remember a request 5 seconds later. It could make any person wonder if their kids are lacking intelligence, suffering from hearing or comprehension problems, or just plain stubborn.

This is why it makes me pause with surprise when they do listen, remember, regurgitate, and understand.

"Mommy, I have lots of problems speaking properly. I need special lessons."

Recently, we started taking Hesperos to a speech therapist for lessons so he can better articulate some sounds. Although it is undeniably cute to hear Hesperos enunciate some words as though he is the offspring of a Muppet and a sock puppet, we know he needs to work past that. After every lesson (which is more like structured playtime), Hesperos gets a prize to reward him for his hard work.

Helios wants one of those prizes. He wants it bad.

So he decided, craftily, to manufacture his own speech problem. After Hesperos's last lesson, Helios shared us that sometimes he forgets parts of works like the "f" in "food" or the "t" in "train." (Note: Helios was able to correctly intone the words when providing them as examples.)

I assure you that Helios has been able to accurately express his wants for "food" and "trains" upon exiting the womb. This was not his most convincing argument. When we reminded him that he normally speaks these words just fine, illustration notwithstanding, Helios became ingeniously threatening. "Well, I want to go where Hesperos goes for his lessons so I can get a prize, too. I'll find other words I can't say!"

Well, at least we know the score!
"The fortune cookie promised me vacation!"

A couple days ago, we were driving around, running errands, when Helios piped up from the back, "Mommy, it's cold and rainy here. When's our vacation going to be?"

Wistfully thinking of my own vacation dreams, I regretfully told him that we don't have any vacation planned for a while but maybe this summer.

"But, Mommy," Helios protested, "the fortune cookie at P.F. Chang's said that I will go on at vacation soon and I'm going to have a really good time. So when will we get to go on vacation like the fortune cookie said?"

(Since that fortune cookie was received more than two weeks earlier and comprised approximately 3 seconds of an excruciatingly long 90-minute dinner at a busy restaurant, we were quite surprised he remembered it at all!)
"I am not going to drink any more cow milk, just like you."

I've been a vegetarian since a child but Daddy is not. That's no biggie; I even cook the meat for him sometimes. But the kids notice the difference, especially when we give them "chick'n" and give Daddy the kind without apostrophes. We've had that talk about why Mommy and kids don't eat animals and Daddy does, which is difficult to do without implying Daddy is wrong (ahem) but we make it work and all's well.

Recently, I decided to become a vegan and Helios noticed that, too. So he asked me why and I honestly explained that it doesn't seem "nice" to drink milk from the cow because it is meant for the calf.

This conversation was two or three weeks ago. So imagine our surprise when Helios announced out of the blue a couple days ago that he's not drinking cow milk anymore because it's "not right." When younger brother Hesperos protested with "I like cow milk!", Helios took it upon himself to convert his baby brother with arguments based on sympathy. (Example: "Hesperos, how would you like it when you were a baby if someone took Mommy's milk from you and you had to eat grass?!") Never mind that those same abilities at sympathy don't extend to sharing toys, I still appreciated his 5-year-old mind trying to rationalize and persuade.
These anecdotes almost make me feel badly about the one time (okay, maybe more than one time) I told Helios that naughty children get returned to the hospital where they were born for a full refund.

But here's my theory: Kids will go to the therapist to sort out their problems they blame their parents for anyway. Might as well give 'em something good (and true) to talk about.