Charlotte’s Web

I have at least twice in the past reported with glee that my kids had graduated to chapter books, and at least twice, somewhat later, failed to mention that it was short-lived. I don’t know what it is: chapter books have been hard to get our teeth into. Maybe the boys just haven’t been ready, or maybe I’ve tried the wrong books.

Some time ago I decided to optimistically put all our younger chapter books onto a shelf in the boys’ room. This was more to do with logistics and space issues, but I also thought that exposure to the books was a good thing — maybe Nathan, who reads plenty well, would pick one up one day and get hooked. And eventually he did start asking me to read the first chapters of various books during our bedtime reading, but he rarely asked for a second chapter the next day, and I was well aware that the length of my reading was the primary draw for him. Both boys seems like to keep me in their room as long as possible, even if they’re apparently ignoring me.

And then there was “Charlotte’s Web.”

We’d tried the first chapter before, but this time when I read it he seemed really interested. Within a few days he asked for the second chapter. Then the third. And every night for the last two weeks he’s wanted a chapter, sometimes wheedling a second one out of me. It’s sort of awesome, but I admit that from the very beginning I was a little worried about this choice. I love the story but there’s no getting around the fact that at the end of the book Charlotte dies.

Now granted, there are huge silver linings to the story, and of course death-is-part-of-life, and Charlotte’s babies would be hatching… But I couldn’t help but wonder how my guys would take her death. Then again, it isn’t like “Where the Red Fern Grows,” which I didn’t read until I was an adult and found absolutely heart-rending (and no, I don’t count the “well, your beloved dogs are dead, I guess you can go off to school” as a silver lining ending). “Charlotte’s Web” is really a very gentle tale, and I sometimes think that the more modern, ultra-sanitized stories we give kids are… let’s just say not very compelling.

One afternoon we sat outside in the spring sunshine and read the last three chapters. And it seemed to go well; Ryan was a little worried about Charlotte’s death, but he listened quietly and went to play afterwards without any discernible unhappiness. When the last word had been read, Nathan even remarked that he’d have to choose a new chapter book that night.

He didn’t; he chose to have tell our own stories to each other instead. We’ll see what comes next. Personally I’m voting for “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”

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Grandma

It has been a month full of fun and excitement in our household (well, within reason), but without a doubt the highlight of the month was a much-anticipated, week-long visit from Grandma. The entire week felt packed to me, but in a good way. At the Village Free School the boys gave their grandma a tour. At the pool they played with her while Mica got to spend some quality baby pool time in the shallows with me. Even the park was just more fun with Grandma along.

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We roasted marshmallows outside one evening. It is genuinely amazing how many marshmallows a small child can eat and still want more; I’m pretty well satisfied after one. We also answered the important scientific question: What happens when you give a warm and melty marshmallow to a baby? (“Sticky baby” is a reasonable answer, but experienced parents probably leapt right to “bathtime.”)

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I also took the opportunity of Linda’s visit to go on a morning excursion with her to Art a la Carte‘s Messy Madness, where babies are let loose en masse on a big sheet of paper with shaving cream, non-toxic paints, and brushes and toys of all kinds. Mica spent some time painting and lots of time watching, and still came home impressively decorated.

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And we started what I hope will be an ongoing tradition: the Pretend Birthday party. If Grandma doesn’t get to be around for the actual birthdays, why not celebrate them all while she is here? All it takes is cake and candles, but Linda also treated the boys to a special excursion to buy birthday gifts for them.

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No visit lasts forever. After we parted from his grandma at the airport, Ryan told me in a sad little voice that he’d gotten used to his grandma being there and wished she didn’t have to leave. Fortunately he is five and still easily distracted by an extra-special lunch of orange chicken.

Sleepover

The Village Free School does as All-School Sleepover each year, and this year’s is tonight. Our kids have never been on a sleepover; although the neighbor kids have multiple times brought up the idea, they’ve always wanted to stay at our house, and Dave and I vetoed. I think they imagine staying up really late and playing like crazy, but both Dave and I love our sleep and have little interest in making more (and later) work for ourselves.

Ryan was uninterested in the Village Free School sleepover — in fact, he steadfastly refused to consider it even with Nathan’s talking it up — but Nathan was excited. So tonight I dropped him off with sleeping gear and a bag full of snacks and stuffed animals. I stayed through the orientation (he was clearly a little nervous and wanted to be in my lap) but left immediately afterwards. They were already gathering for a trek to a park, and there was a massive game of hide-and-go-seek purported to happen later. He’ll be fine.

I drove back feeling weird and nostalgic and with sympathetic nerves. On the one hand I’m totally excited for him and proud of him, as whenever he embarks on an adventure. On the other hand this is the first time he’s ever slept away from us, and that feels weird. Wasn’t he just a little baby, Mica’s age, still snuggling into our bed at night? How did that change?

And when I got back, as I expected, Ryan was sad — he wished he’d gone too. Next year, love.

And The Other Pictures

Baby smiles are addictive, and one of the reasons is that they’re utterly pure. There’s no artifice in a baby’s expression, no filters between their brains and their little mobile faces. Getting a good baby portrait is a matter of timing: get the baby roughly in position, get them looking the right way, make them smile, push the button. It isn’t entirely easy to get those things to sync up, but it’s no harder than, say, pinball.

Older children, who have grown out of the animal stage of human development and developed true consciousness… they’re harder. “Take a picture of me with my eyes crossed!” “Ok, I’ll be Freddy — take one now!” (From Five Nights At Freddy’s, a video game, if you’re blessed with ignorance.) “Now I’m going to die… Ugh!” “Ok, this is my biggest smile!”

It does no good to explain the ideal of a natural smile; at least at seven and five, they don’t understand what that means. It does no good to harass them about it; the smiles only become more uncertain and more false. In short, the process is just like with a baby, except with their freaking intellect in the way, which means there are at least twelve additional stars to line up before everything works out.

All of which is to say that my original idea, of scheduling a reminder to take pictures like this every year… well, I’m wavering a bit on that. We’ll see.

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