It’s All Physical

I’ve been having an ongoing discussion with Nathan about 6’s and 9’s. In retrospect it isn’t surprising that there was some confusion here. When Nathan and I “draw” together, we both use the same notebook, and my scribbles can easily be upside-down to him. So it isn’t too surprising that I would occasionally draw and identify a 9 without realizing that to Nathan it would read as a 6.

With this confusion established, it was hard to clear it up. Several times I tried to draw the numbers side by side for him in order to show the difference, but it just didn’t take.

Then, just recently, we got a set of foam letters and numbers that my brother’s kids had outgrown. And when Nathan picked up the 6 one day, opportunity presented itself.

“Can I show you something?” I asked, and when he handed me the number: “See, if you hold it this way, it’s a six. If you turn it upside down, it’s a nine!” I demonstrated once more and then handed it back.

“Six!” Nathan said, and then rotated the number. “Nine!”

And that was all it took. This simple, tactile demonstration impressed him as nothing else had. Furthermore, he appeared to love the dichotomy presented by this unassuming piece of foam. For days afterwards, whenever he found the 6, he would rotate it back and forth, informing me as to whether it was currently a 6 or a 9.

I’m coming to believe that for Nathan, at this age, life is all physical. Only the rudiments of abstraction are present for him. Yes, he’ll look at books with me for a while, but mostly he wants to play with the dough, dig in the gravel, crawl around pretending to be a dog.

He wants to hold the numbers in his hand.



My husband made us a fly swatter a while back. Every once in a while something like that comes up, and rather than putting it on the list to buy, my husband looks around and sees paper, resin, and scrap wood, and sets to work.

The fly swatter is one of the great toys of the household, on par with the LED flashlight and the dustpan. For a while Nathan could frequently be seen running around the household swatting at… well, everything. Presumably flies.

And the other night Ryan was introduced to the action. I heard a “SNAP!” sound, and then a shriek of laughter from both kids. I looked into the sun room to see Dave with the baby in one arm, the fly swatter in the other hand, and Nathan bobbing around him like a cork on a string. “WHACK!” went the fly swatter again, and Ryan threw his little head back and laughed like he would pop out of Dave’s arm, and Nathan followed suit.

We think that some of Ryan’s enjoyment of things being whacked comes from a feedback loop he has going with Nathan. Nathan is just as susceptible as we are to the fun of entertaining a baby, and experiments with a wider variety of stimuli than we do. Occasionally we find ourselves in a difficult situation, where we’re asking Nathan to please not throw the blocks against the window, thank you, but we can understand why he keeps doing it — Ryan goes into hysterical, topple-over baby laughter with every impact. Our words have a tough time competing with that kind of positive reinforcement.

To be honest, the other day I found myself swatting at the floor experimentally, to see if I could get the same reaction from Ryan. Baby laughter is highly addictive.

We have gleaned one other important observation from the family fly-swatting sessions: Never let the baby hold the fly swatter.

The Anti-Clothing Faction

Building the tree beds in the front yard was a big project. (Not that setting the posts will be a small one, mind you.) Although my husband did most of it, the whole family pitched in according to their ability. I was used occasionally as an extra pair of hands, and to help sight and place the beds. Ryan watched a lot and ate some dirt. Nathan assisted in the digging.

If it looks like our two-year-old is au natural in that picture, that’s because he is. Unless we’re going for a walk or getting into the car, Nathan currently refuses to wear clothes. And since he knows how to take them off, he really has a lot of control over this choice.

Now, I am pretty laid back when it comes to such things. And when it’s sunny out, or at least 60 degrees, I have no problem at all with him running around naked. There’s such a brief, golden time when nobody looks askance at you for wearing your birthday suit, and then before you know it, people have this entirely unreasonable expectation that you’ll be clothed all the time.

And let’s face it — little guys running around naked are so darn cute. One of the side reasons that I’m glad we practice EC is that Ryan spends a lot of time naked-bottom (although he is still small enough that I can wrestle him into a shirt, so he doesn’t get to go full naked like Nathan), and that plump little baby bottom heading down the hall at speed makes me laugh every time.

I was lucky enough to grow up out in the country a bit. I still remember when I was little, maybe four, and for some reason there was a big mud patch in our garden. My dad let my cousin and me strip down and wallow in it. How cool is that? And when I was older and other family members were out, I would sometimes step out onto our front yard (which was blissfully outside of anyone else’s possible view) and dry off in the sunshine after a shower. That, I tell you, is living well.

So I am not generally uptight about wearing clothes. But there have been days lately where Nathan has stepped outside to see what his father is up to, and his little body has instantly hunched into a C shape. Yet he runs off down the back path anyway. “Do you want a shirt?” I ask him. “No.” I wait a few minutes, giving him a chance to really feel the cold (which granted is not frigid, but even 50 degrees can be pretty chilly with a little wind and rain). “Are you sure you don’t want a shirt?” “No.”

We have generally believed that our kids would be capable of noticing physical discomfort on their own. When Nathan (and now Ryan) was fine with walking barefoot out on the asphalt as a baby, we figured they knew best what their feet were feeling. Case in point: when the asphalt started getting hot last summer, Nathan started requesting shoes. But I have to admit that sometimes I have to fight the urge to crack down on this no-shirt policy. At least until the weather really warms up.

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Ok, before you read the rest, guess what this is a picture of:

I’ll give you a hint: it’s wood. Cedar, to be precise.

Also it isn’t finished. It’s a work in progress.

Give up?

Maybe this picture will help:

That’s right, they’re parts of the cedar edging that we put around our tree beds. All eight of our front yard tree beds are in the ground, and Dave has started work on getting the posts in to support the espaliers. Once the posts are set, I can plant the trees, topdress the soil with some well-digested compost, and underplant the trees with strawberry plants (currently chilling in our fridge).

We only broke ground on the first four beds at the beginning of the month. I ought to know better by now, but I don’t. I’m always surprised by how quickly something happens when my sweet husband takes it in hand.

That isn’t the way I work. My projects seem to take a long time and be spread out over days and weeks and months. Even before having kids, I’ve always had so many things going on that only a looming deadline really forces me to put concentrated work in on one thing. And now, of course, “concentrated work” is a thing of the past. I’m lucky if I can get the dishes done in one go, much less an actual project.

Which is why it’s a good thing that Dave is taking the lead on these tree beds. We’ve heeled in our bundle of fruit trees in the meantime, but buds are a-bursting on them already. They want to grow. And soon, soon, their home will be ready…


Hi all (I know there are at least three of you!) – I’m taking a break for a while to focus on a couple pressing things. Ill be back eventually…

Meantime here’s a recent photo that I like to think of as “Nathan’s coffee break.” Note the dustpan, a toy currently in high demand around here.

Small Steps – Shop Cleaning

“A place for everything and everything in its place.” — said by probably someone famous, but much more recently, my dad

In January we started, finally, cleaning our shop. It had served as a repository of Stuff ever since we moved into the house, which, while it had the useful function of keeping the house fairly decluttered, was not what we ultimately hoped for from the space. We are both project-y kind of people, so having such a huge and beautiful space used mostly as storage seemed like such a waste. Also it was harder than normal to find tools when we needed them.

We spent about a month and a half going out there every day, for roughly hour-long stints (as long as the kids could take). We divided the task into phases: an initial go-through-everything-and-segregate phase, followed by multiple passes for dealing with some specific category of items. The “tools” pass was the first one we did, and the one that has most significantly impacted our lives. Being able to go out and actually find the pair of pliers, or the hammer, or #8 screws, is unbelievably liberating.

We got through two more passes before breaking to do some spring gardening work: an office supply pass (yes, we had an entire pass for this; I expect us never to buy #10 envelopes again), and a paperwork pass. Much more remains to be done. But every time I need a screwdriver, and go out to pull the appropriate one off the pegboard, I feel a small moment of wonder. It took us a month and a half to get this far. A month and a half of one-hour sessions, kids bundled up against the cold, sifting through boxes, sorting out junk, pegging up tools. In each session we made very little progress, but the simple fact that I was able to pull out and use the table saw the other day is testament to our overall effectiveness.

Small steps…

Testing The Waters

After we finished the MS Walk Saturday, I discovered that I had a chilly toddler on my hands. I use a stroller so rarely that I forget sometimes how different it is for him to be sitting in a rolling chair rather than snuggled up against a parent in one of our carriers. So I only thought to put a blanket over him halfway through the walk, and even with that his hands were still icy at the finish line.

After an hour of patiently zoning out while we walked through the city, I thought Nathan deserved a bit of a break anyway. Fortunately the walk ended at a park with a big play area.

When we got there Ryan was raring to go, but what interested me was watching Nathan. For perhaps ten minutes he sat in the stroller while I walked Ryan around, watching the activity on the jungle gym (a very large and varied one). Every once in a while he made a comment to the effect that there were a lot of kids there. When he did climb out of the stroller, he still worked through a gradual warm-up process. He hung out with Ryan and me while I let Ryan explore. He walked around on the less populated structures. Eventually he gravitated toward the larger, more crowded jungle gym and began to explore, without me right there but with frequent checks to see where I was. Several times I would see him start to explore some particular area, then draw back, only to approach it again later. And finally he began to play with rapidly growing confidence, running around with obvious enjoyment and leaving me to keep track of him rather than the other way around.

It was fun to watch. It always is; I’ve seen him go through this process before. But what struck me this time was that I was watching myself. This is exactly what I do (or would like to do, at least) when I get into a new situation, especially one that involves a lot of people. I watch for a while, I test, I retreat, test again…

I grew up with the vague worry that this was somehow wrong — confident people were supposed to just stride in and engage an activity immediately. Fortunately I no longer see the world that way. Perhaps that’s why it gives me such pleasure to let Nathan proceed at his own pace, to offer a hand or my presence if it seems helpful but not to push him into anything. A couple of times, early in my parenting career, I heard myself say by rote “Don’t you want to..?” and then realized how silly that question was. If he wanted to, he would.

Instead now I enjoy watching him work through his process. He explores the social structure of the situation he’s in just as, when he’s ready, he explores the physical structure of the jungle gym.