Just A Picture

Cell Phones

I’ve been quite happy with our decision not to have cell phones. I know we’ll get them eventually, but I feel no rush. I’m not saying there aren’t moments when instant communication wouldn’t be handy — there are — but we live a pretty predictable life and those moments are few.

So I had ambivalent feelings about Dave’s idea, about a week ago, to get a couple of ten-dollar, on-clearance smart phones for the kids to play around with. We wouldn’t be getting a plan to go with them; they’d be used purely to connect to our wifi, and the kids could download free games for them. On the plus side, this would (hopefully) quell their insistent desires for cell phones, a topic that arises roughly once a week in our house. On the negative side, they would suddenly have portable screens.

But I have a long-standing policy of not arguing with Dave over technology — it’s probably useless to do so anyway — and so shortly we had cell phones in the house.

And I must admit that, once the initial euphoria passed, the cell phones became less of a big deal. Occasionally one of the boys remembers to take one in the car, in order to while away our long commutes to Village Free School, but they’re little used at home. There is a limit to the entertainment value that can be found, for our game-experienced sons, in the sorts of games you can get for free.

For Mica, though, this is less true. The cell phones are actually very well geared toward a two-year-old. The interface is a touch screen, which is helpful to her since she is still a bit sketchy with a mouse. And the free games that can’t hold a seven-year-old’s attention are actually about right for her.

In particular she likes Pou. Pou is a little blobby creature that lives on the phone, and who needs occasional feeding, sleep, medicine, etc. There are also tiny sub-games involving Pou that mostly involve tapping the screen at the right time. Mica is terrible at this but still goes back to try roughly once a day. “Aw, I died!” I heard her little voice say from the other room today, followed by, “Dammit!” (I’ve needed to have multiple conversations with the boys about not passing on taboo language to their sister.)

So I still have ambivalent feelings about this endeavor. But I comfort myself with the knowledge that, if it becomes necessary, any toy can conveniently “break.”


When the boys were little, I considered getting a balance bike — and didn’t. I’ve since regretted that. For whatever reason, they’ve never really gotten into riding a bike, and in particular have never been enamored of the idea of taking the training wheels off.

To be fair, I don’t know for certain that a balance bike would have made a difference. Sure, many people swear by them, but there could be an equal number of less vocal but disappointed owners out there. But I’ve always wondered if it would have helped them learn to ride. So with Mica I decided to run the experiment.

Her interest in the bike has been sporadic, and so far I’ve seen only seen her “walk” it, not really glide and balance. But I have hope. She made me tape a bag to the front of it so she could carry a toy along with her. Given time (and some better weather), she might still make that leap.

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An Accidental Child Development Test

Long, long ago, when we had only one small child, Dave and I discovered that it was possible to accidentally delve into that child’s development. It started when Nathan was just a crawling baby, and Dave tried to play a game with him by hiding an object somewhere (for example, under a pillow), with Nathan watching his do it, and then seeing if Nathan could find the object. It turned out that this sort of test gets at a developmental step called “object permanence,” which is when the child begins to realize that just because they can’t see an object, it still exists. It was cool to watch Nathan make this cognitive leap. (It was also a bit inconvenient when he would no longer forget he wanted something just because it wasn’t visible.)

The other day Dave discovered a new such test. We have a long-standing Spider Game, where we make our hands into spiders, and Mica in particular has enjoyed making her hands into baby spiders to interact with our big spiders. Dave recently tried a variation. First he made two spiders from his hands. One of them said, in a deep, growly, angry voice, “Hi Mica. I am your friend. I will protect you.” The other said, in a sweet, nice voice, “Hi Mica. I am your enemy. I will attack and bite you.”

Mica would then kill the growly friendly spider. Every time. And when the sweet-spoken enemy spider would make good on its promise to attack her, she would sometimes protest. “Be my friend!” she would say, and the enemy spider would explain, sweetly, that it was not a friend and was doing exactly what it had promised. Then they would play through the scenario again, and Mica would make the exact same choice.

When Ryan was presented with the same situation, in contrast, he immediately killed the enemy spider. But even after watching that, when it was Mica’s turn again, she killed the friendly spider.

I think we’ll have to replay this test every few months for a while, to see when she figures it out.

Cake: Expectations And Reality


For ages now Ryan has been asking to make a Minecraft cake. And I’ve been on board with the idea, but let’s be honest – doing a really good Minecraft cake would definitely take some serious prep work. I was picturing one sheet cake laid on a piece of tinfoil, with blue frosting on the tinfoil for water, green on the cake for grass, and then blocks of another sheet cake piled up to create the landscape. Then we’d need to figure out trees and grass and flowers and maybe a crafting table…

I don’t think that Ryan was imagining anything so complex. It was hard to tell, because while he’s extremely voluble, he’s still working on the life skill of clear communication. In any case, I gradually downgraded my ideas for the project, and was ready to try something much simpler last Monday.

First step: bake a cake. No problem. Second step: make frosting. Done.

At this point Ryan told me he’d changed his mind. He wanted a Portal 2 cake instead. He began looking up designs that he wanted on the cake, and it became clear to me that what he was imagining was the sort of cake he’s seen in bakeries, with a photorealistic image on top. He saw no reason that I shouldn’t be able to reproduce the Aperture Science logo on the top of the cake.

This led to a semi-long conversation about the limits of my technical skill with sprinkles, and that in turn led to him downgrading his desires to a face from Geometry Dash, which I executed inexpertly. It also led to him admitting that mostly what he wanted was cake; the decoration was more of a nice-to-have.

Finally we understood each other. And he was happy.


Big Brother

Mica has different relationships with her two brothers. She and Ryan and just close enough that they sometimes conflict; Ryan is not quite mature enough to deal calmly with Mica trying to steal a toy, for example. They play intensely together at times, and show each other wonderful moments of sweetness. Other times there is considerable whacking going on.


Nathan, on the other hand, hardly ever conflicts with Mica. (Nathan seems more baby-oriented in general; he’ll frequently point out other babies to me when we’re out.) He’s spent some time trying to teach her to play Minecraft. She is not quite there yet; she can use a mouse and push a couple of keys, but she can’t manage to keep everything straight well enough to really move around in the environment. It doesn’t bother her all that much; she likes digging straight down. (For non-Mincrafters out there, this is a classic beginner error.)


But what she really likes is playing games off the computer, mostly of the chase-me or let’s-jump-on-things variety. And recently she and Nathan became interested in a sort of Minecraft baby step: playing with the Minecraft legos. For several days she dragged the little lego set all over the house, shedding pieces as she went, and making the cow and sheep talk to each other.

Just A Picture

Father and son, programming together…