Our bedtime reading and snuggling time is one of the boys’ favorite times of day. (Picture by Ryan.)
After last year’s sort of pathetic day on Mt. Hood, I’d promised myself to get the kids up earlier in the season this year. Both boys had specifically requested another trip to the mountain this year; snow has not lost its appeal for them, and the taste we had here was a wonderful surprise but not sufficient. And I’m proud to say that this year I didn’t drag my feet nearly so much — I got us outfitted and up there by mid-January.
And there was snow. We actually ended up at a different snow park than last year, one geared more toward snow-shoeing and snowmobiling than toward kids. The one I’d been aiming for was probably only a missed turn and a few miles away, but by the time I realized that, the baby was steadily escalating in volume, so we stopped anyway. (An hour and half is about her limit for the car.) Anyway it didn’t seem to matter to the boys. There was snow!
I snapped a few pictures before we headed back into the trees. Not far, though. The kids weren’t interested in going for a walk — they wanted to play! And Mica was right along with them, but she needed frequent breaks to make it a good experience for her. So in the end most of our play occurred within sight of the parking lot, and Mica and I ducked into the car as needed. Several hours of snow play followed by searching out a restaurant (our first time at Calamity Jane’s!) and we came back happy.
It is an ongoing pleasure to me, by the way, and occasionally a surprise, that the boys are so easy to take places. I always feel a tad daunted heading out on a major excursion with three children to manage, but I think that’s only because some part of my brain is still hard-wired to the time when Nathan was four and Ryan two. In reality both boys are capable of really managing themselves well. They’re growing up so quickly…
It’s easy to become complacent about the boys, to believe that just because I’ve been around all their lives, I get them. It’s therefore always a bit of a wake-up when I discover that I’m totally wrong about something.
Most recently this was brought home to me by The Art Book For Children. I got this from the library partly on a whim, partly by a recommendation, and thought it might well be one of those library books which is hardly opened. I loved making art as a child, but I was never much interested in learning about art history. The boys, who show only minimal enthusiasm for drawing, I thought would be similarly uninterested.
Then again, I could have reminded myself that I don’t always make good predictions about their reading interests. Only a few weeks ago I was surprised when Ryan, for his bedtime reading, worked us all the way through a book on shells — one aimed at children years older than him, talking about things like layers of calcium carbonate and how the structure thereof differs between a snail shell and an egg shell. Then he started us re-reading it again immediately after having finished.
He was the same one who picked out the art book and brought it to me. And yes, it’s written in an engaging style, and skips around to various artists from various times, so it doesn’t read like an art history book so much as an eclectic introduction to the wide world of art. (It would probably be better categorized as “art appreciation.”) Ryan seems more interested than Nathan; on the second night we looked at it he took me back to the Botticelli page for a re-reading. They both spent some time examining the page of optical illusions, and they both wanted to skip the Picasso page.
This is yet another reminder to me that they are simply in a different place in their lives. My world is full of ideas or subjects that I’ve chosen to pursue or not to pursue — and if I’m not careful, that choosing has ossified into a knee-jerk reaction. I am interested in biology, pre-modern history, and fiber arts; I’m not interested in politics, sports, and art history. I sometimes forget that the world is vast and fascinating and I am still just a neophyte in it, and that in any case I am a vastly different person from who I was even a few years ago.
But the boys, with fewer preconceptions, engage differently. That doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of arbitrary snap judgments — when I try them on a new recipe I hold my breath. But they haven’t already written off art history as probably boring, so a book about art doesn’t generate the same automatic reaction in them as it does in me.
Thank goodness. Because I’m enjoying this book too.
For Christmas this year one of my gifts was an herb planter box, and last week, when I had some unexpected alone time with Ryan, he helped me plant it.
The coolest part of the experience was arguably the two little disks of compressed earth, which, when warm water was added, expanded into about twenty times their volume of rich black dirt, releasing the unmistakable scent of summer rainfall. And there is nothing like the tactile experience of having my hands in warm loamy earth. I put my hands in initially simply to mix it up and make sure the disks had completely expanded; and I kept stirring much longer than necessary because it sank me wrist-deep into the delicious sensation of summer gardening.
I let Ryan choose one of the seed packets to plant. He chose dill, arguably the one I’m least likely to use, but in the gardening euphoria of the moment I let it be. We worked together to “tuck in” the basil, cilantro, and dill seeds, and I explained that it would be several weeks before we saw anything, which he accepted with almost good grace.
Coincidentally, my Territorial Seed catalog just arrived. This is a dangerous combination. Sinking my hands into dirt just before looking at a seed catalog has the same psychological effect as sampling cookies just before walking into a kitchen store.
Some weeks ago I floated an idea that I’ve had on hold for a while: that of Family Game Night, one night a week where we get to take turns choosing games and all play together. Somewhat to my surprise, the response was immediately and universally in favor. I should have foreseen that, actually, for while I was thinking of board games, the boys naturally thought of their favorite computer games. They’ve loved the rare family gaming sessions we’ve had in the past, so much so that for Nathan’s birthday, our special treat for him was that we all played Minecraft together.
For Nathan’s and Ryan’s first turns, they both chose Garry’s Mod, a sandbox game I’d previously resisted installing on my computer. They took great delight in introducing me to some of its features and displaying their far superior skills. For my turn, I chose to open up a great big box we’ve had in the garage for years labeled “Games and Puzzles” and search through it to see what we’ve been missing. We ended up doing two jigsaw puzzles from my childhood together, and finished the evening by playing musical instruments together and then dancing to the Hamster Dance song.
Dave’s turn consisted of setting us up in a Minecraft world, in Survival mode, and trying to play as a team. This was actually a very fun kind of family bonding, where we had to work with the inclinations and limitations of each family member. Ryan, for example, would volunteer for/be tasked with gathering wood — but a quick glance at his screen a few minutes later would find him chasing down sheep. Dave preferred the methodical work of mining, while I liked working on building up our above-ground resources, and Nathan eventually added four more stories to our house.
We’ll see how things progress going forward. Personally I’d just as soon skip the Garry’s Mod — the motion of it makes me a little sick — but the deal is that we all play, even when the game isn’t what we’d prefer.
I’d forgotten to mention that our cookie house didn’t last all that long. The directions clearly stated that once a cookie or bit of frosting had been applied to the house, it should be considered decoration rather than a waiting snack. I read this to the boys and they nodded — there were still plenty of spare cookies lying around at that point.
But I couldn’t help but notice, over the next couple of days, that the house was becoming progressively less thickly frosted. It happened surprisingly quickly, and yet always when adults didn’t happen to be in the room.
And at the point that all pretense was abandoned and I found Ryan scraping frosting off with his teeth, I decided that thing had to go. I waited until they were distracted and took it out to the trash. By that point it was considerably lighter than I remembered, and fragile as well; its destruction was quick and painless.
Two days later when Ryan finally thought to ask about the house, I told him a sad tale of a minor earthquake, code violations, and the need to put the house down for its own good.