Today’s Best Toy

A big dirt pile.

Actually, this has been around for a while, and is worth its weight in gold. It’s destined for various places in the garden, of course, but I’m seriously considering getting another load after this one is gone. Not with any particular gardening purpose in mind… Just to have…

Slave Labor

There is a darker side to visiting our house. I imagine that this time it crept up quietly on our nephews, like the proverbial grue. We spent a day settling in at the beginning of their trip, and then several days at the coast, and then, returned to our house for a good long break before the next trip, they were suddenly drafted into a Non-Optional trip to Home Depot. And sure, that part wasn’t too painful (who doesn’t like to see a forklift load a pallet of cinder blocks into a truck?) but the next part, unloading the cinder blocks back at the house, was also Non-Optional. Complaints, argument, and even tears failed to free them from that task. Without warning, they had been caught in the tenacious maw of a Work Project.

And the torment didn’t end there. They were required to dig trenches in the dirt behind our shop, to help fill those trenches with sand, and even to help set some of the blocks. (Although to be fair, they didn’t have to set many of them; the meticulous work of correctly positioning and leveling the cinder blocks in order to get a good dry-stacked structure was a bit too much for them. “It took like fifteen minutes to set one block!” they told me later. Eventually Dave decided to do that part alone.) And in moments when their hands were, for one reason or another, legitimately idle, were they invited back into the air-conditioned house, to get themselves a cool drink and spend some time relaxing with their video games? No, they were not! Instead they were sent over the garden to help rejuvenate the strawberry bed.

Contrary to what they probably believe, we don’t do this to torture them. It’s just that we have a long list of projects that we’d like to do around the house, and many of these projects are difficult to get to, what with things like Dave’s job and our kids getting in the way. Having four consecutive days with Dave at home is just too fantastic of an opportunity for us to pass up. Having two extra pairs of hands available is just a bonus.

And so, despite much wailing and gnashing of teeth, our nephews helped us to build our long-awaited compost bins. Our compost now has an official container, and has been moved out of the rather untidy (and highly baby-accessible) heap near the back fence. This is tremendously exciting for me. And I’m sure that somewhere deep down, Jason and Justin feel very satisfied with having made such a difference in our lives. Somewhere very, very deep down.

Challenges

One of the best things about having kids is seeing them challenge themselves. We see this constantly with our little ones. After all, Ryan didn’t start walking because we were giving him lots of praise for it, or putting gold stars on a special walking chart. And Nathan is constantly pushing the limits of what he can climb. Sometimes he wants some spotting (other times I want him to be spotted), but he still wants to push himself.

And while our nephews were here it was really fun to see how older kids challenge themselves. For example, when we visited a waterfall in the mountains, both of them (one more intentionally than the other) ended up very wet indeed. And that water is cold.

Sure, the term “hypothermia” got bandied about on the way back to the car, but they were far too boisterous for us to take them seriously. Dave and I told them that the real reason we’d brought them out to the wood was so that they could do a vision quest, and we’d be back in a week, but for some reason they didn’t seem excited by that notion.

A challenge of a slightly different sort came when we went into Ape Cave, taking a 3/4 mile trek down into a lava tube. This was awesome. The tube constantly twists and turns, so that even though there were plenty of other people in there with us, we often felt completely alone. I have never experienced darkness like this before. My only regret is that we didn’t take a moment to turn off all of our flashlights and lanterns and just sit in the silence of the cave.

Not content to simply hike the cave, Jason and Justin did their best to freak themselves out: talking about horror movies, detailing what type of monster would eat them, and sending catcalls into the darkness. And I would just like to state for the record that this was all them; Dave and I contributed almost nothing to the atmosphere. Well, Dave did go off ahead at one point and turn his flashlight off and hide behind a rock. And ok, I worked hard to come up with a good, spooky song to sing. But really, they were the primary instigators of the spookiness, challenging their own fears of the dark.

Oregon Coast Aquarium

Day 2 of our coast trip. Pictures will probably mostly suffice on this one…

There is also a touching pool, where you can reach in and touch various animals that would normally be found in tidepools. Unfortunately by the time we got there Nathan was pretty tired and hungry, and he absolutely refused to reach into the pool. It was hard for me to let the idea go (how could he not want to touch a starfish?!) but eventually I was able to go with the flow. There will be other chances. Living with kids is a constant, unremitting lesson in being flexible.

The Beach

We planned a couple of small trips to do with our nephews, and the first was to the Oregon Coast. Armed with Oregon Coast Magazine, I’d tried to put together a trip that would be fun for the adults, older kids, and younger kids alike. This was not a particularly easy job, but on the first day we totally scored: we ended up on the beach outside of Manzanita for hours of digging and splashing. Our nephews even went swimming. Now, growing up as I did on Puget Sound (nominally part of the ocean, although a very tame part), I knew that swimming in the ocean is insane. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I immersed myself in the Sound; swimming was something that one did in lakes, as far as I was concerned. But Jason and Justin were not to be deterred. “I can’t feel anything from my waist down!” they would tell me, grinning, after coming out. A few minutes later I’d see them heading back in.

The younger kids seemed content with playing in The Biggest Sandbox In The World, and with splashing in the soft trailing edges of the waves. Ryan in particular was very worried about the water rising above his knees, which to be fair was much easier for him than for the rest of us. Nathan was ok with going a little deeper, but his enthusiasm was curbed at the point he fell and got soaked to the shoulders. Both kids took a little sand break at that point.

Both also divested themselves of clothing over the course of the afternoon, so that by the time we were all digging a big hole at the water’s edge as the sun set, Nathan was down to his skin. I cannot tell you how envious I was to see him snuggle his little naked body into the warm, dry sand higher on the beach. None of us wanted to leave, with the result that around 8:00 we were searching along the highway for a restaurant that was still open. All in all, a day that was very well seized.

Spoon Magic

For a while now Ryan has been intrigued with a particular magic that we practice in our household: Spoon Magic. It works like this: We have a bowl or plate filled with something extremely tasty. We dip a utensil (for simplicity when he’s the recipient, usually a spoon) into the tasty substance. We move the spoon to his mouth. Voila! Wonderful sensations occur on his tongue!

How does this happen? It’s vitally important that he understand how to make this magic, so that he can cause wonderful tongue sensations for himself. He has been experimenting with the utmost diligence. Simply putting a spoon into his mouth doesn’t necessarily get him the result he’s looking for; apparently the part about dipping the spoon into the food really is important. And even then, he isn’t guaranteed results. Soup, for example, has proven to be very tricky. Thicker things like chili and yogurt are easier for some reason.

Sometimes research goes out the window in the face of his desire for the tasty item in question. So for example, the other night I made both boys some yogurt with a Blueberry Syrup made from blueberries that our awesome neighbors generously allowed us to pick off of their bushes. (Over four quarts in one picking! And by the way, out of some kind of mothering madness I chose to try to make the yogurt at the table with the little ones. This involved nothing more than mixing plain yogurt with syrup, so it should be ok, right? No. Do not do this. I think Nathan managed to drink half a cup of the syrup straight. He was pretty incensed when I insisted of contaminating his next bowl-full with yogurt.)

Anyway… Ryan experimented with a variety of techniques to get the yogurt out, but the one he kept coming back to was to tip the bowl up and drink it. Yogurt, even yogurt that has been diluted with Blueberry Syrup, does not flow well; nevertheless, it must have been working for him, because he kept tipping the bowl. Needless to say, this was one of those “straight from table to tub” meals.

You vs. Me

I am Me. This is not a philosophical musing, but rather an explanation of the monikers used in our home. Early on in my first pregnancy I remember reading the advice to not use things like pronouns when speaking to babies/toddlers, since they wouldn’t understand. “That’s stupid!” I remember telling my husband. “They don’t understand any language!”

I still stand by that philosophy. But I have observed that frequent use of phrases like “Do you want me to do it?” and “Give that to me, please.” have indeed resulted in some interesting patterns in Nathan’s speech. I am Me, he is You, his bedroom is Your Room, etc. For a while if he was trying to find me, I would hear him running around the house calling “Me!”

But things with kids always change. Right now Nathan’s speech is a confusing blend between this older pattern and the recent glimmers of understanding that he’s gained into the nature of pronouns. When he says something like “like your plum” it can take a lot of context and a bit of guesswork to know whose plum he’s talking about, and whether he’s about to engage in some fruit thievery.

He has also shifted to calling me Mommy. This may not seem particularly novel, but what’s interesting is that I’m almost positive that he constructed the word from “Ma” (short for “the mother,” and the parallel of “Fa” which is what he calls Dave) and the “Me” moniker that he was using. I think this in part because when he started using Mommy, he said it as though it was two words: “Ma-Me,” with a definite break in between the two syllables. Also we’ve never used the term Mommy for me, although he’s undoubtedly heard it elsewhere.

In any case, it amuses me every time he says it. Back when we were doing baby swimming lessons with him, I remember one time the instructor tried to get him to look at me by saying “Where’s Mommy?” He just stared blankly at her until I suggested she try “the mother,” to which Nathan responded immediately. This then caused the instructor to stare blankly at me. “Seriously?” I remember her saying. “Why ‘the mother’?” Well, because we thought it was funny, and then it just kind of stuck.

But not anymore. Now I’m Mommy.

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