Saturday, February 21, 2009

From a snow day back in January...

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Uncle Chad and the Monkey...in concert

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Progress...!...?

Today the QB was trying to get both boys in the car to go to the Museum and she set the Monkey in his car seat and ran back into the house to get something (I was at school while all this happened). While she was gone inside Mr. Baseball buckled his little brother in and closed his door,opened the driver's side door for Mom, walked around the car, climbed into his own seat, buckled himself in, closed his own door, and waited smiling for the QB to come outside.

Later that day...

Mr. Baseball was asked to pick up a living-room-floor-full of toys by himself because he'd failed to pick them up earlier and as the QB and I left the room the monkey said "I help brother" and began picking up a pile of Lincoln logs. Mr. Baseball, who was not very happy about having to clean up all the toys was, nonetheless, apparently not interested in having any help from his do-gooder little brother.

"I'm supposed to clean it up by myself," said Mr. Baseball, irritated. And then, for emphasis, added "You idiot!"

I overheard him from the other room and couldn't believe my ears. Its funny what goes through my mind when Mr. Baseball says something like this: 'Why would he talk to his brother that way? Does he talk to people at school that way? I hope he doesn't talk to anyone anywhere that way. I have to make sure he doesn't ever talk to anyone anywhere that way?'

I came back in the room and gently asked him to join me on the stairs for a moment. We have been having lots of talks lately in the quiet of our stairwell and they've been going fairly well. The question is always this: How do I convey my disapproval in a loving way so that he understands not merely that I am disappointed, but why what he said/did was hurtful to his brother.

The thing is, Mr. Baseball is a good kid, a nice, kiss you on the cheek and hug your leg kind of kid whose biggest desire in the world is to playreadwrestledrawtalkbuildafort with you. He knows that words like that are hurtful, and he knows he shouldn't say them. It's difficult to know how much correction he needs. Sometimes I think we overshoot ("No TV for a week") and sometimes I think we're too lenient ("Next time please don't throw a stick at that man's face...now run along and play"). I don't want to merely give him a guilt trip, but rather I want to show him the results of his words and actions so that he can make decisions based on that knowledge.

What's really going on here at the most basic level is a recognition that Mr. Baseball struggles with a lot of the same problems that I do. He has the same short temper and easily bruised personality that resists authority and wants recognition for the good things he is doing without having to hear about the mistakes he occasionally makes. And also a recognition that when he calls his little brother and idiot, I fear that somehow he picked up the mind set (if not the word) from me, or when he throws a tantrum, or sneaks a candy or tells a lie or lashes out in some way that he is merely doing a five-year-old's impersonation of me at my worst.

One thing this recognition is doing for me at least is helping me notice how I tend to react to his negative behavior so that I can step back a little and allow a little objective distance between us when things get rough. It's also forcing me to acknowledge that in so many ways we are similar, and in so many ways we are different and that that difference is okay. It's worked well the past few weeks. I guess we'll just have to see what happens in the future.

A night at gymnastics

Mr. Baseball has gymnastics “practice” every Thursday night in the old auditorium of the now defunct Nelsonville High School. The building—something between a Nightmare on Elm Street set and a historical restoration project waiting to happen—sits behind the Nelsonville McDonald's on a quiet street otherwise lined with world-war-II era bungalows and one unsightly triplex with a pitted, uneven parking lot at the end of the block. Besides the auditorium, which has been partially cleared of its seating to make room for un-even and parallel bars, and the stage, which provides space for two balance beams and a large tumbling mat, the entire school (the size of the whole block) is empty, derelict, and scary.

This is where we come every Thursday night. Mr. Baseball and his classmates rotate from station to station, bouncing on the trampoline, walking the balance beam, hanging from the bars, rolling somersaults, and flinging themselves down the springboard runway. There are twenty-one students in the auditorium tonight, almost all girls except Mr. Baseball and his two classmates, and in small groups they are all engrossed in balancing, twisting, bending, and jumping. The coaches (teenage members of the actual team?) shout instructions that echo off the old plaster, and a half-dozen parents and a few siblings wait in what’s left of the auditorium seating.

One of these siblings looks about seven or eight years old and he’s been playing on the sloped aisle of the auditorium’s seating area with two other small children. One of the smaller children, a young girl, ran up to him and was trying to get him to run down the ramp with him and he said, “I promised my mom I wouldn’t be crazy.” He said it with such a matter-of-fact tone that I knew “being crazy” was a common topic of conversation at their home, and that he had learned the effect of his craziness on his parents and other people.

It is good, I have decided, to hear other children say things like this, because it reassures me that Mr. Baseball is not unique in his flamboyance. His energy level registers somewhere between Tasmanian Devils and NBA mascots at a playoff game and though the QB and I have gotten much better and grinning and bearing it, Mr. Baseball’s vivacity can be challenging. To his credit, he is everyday becoming more self-aware of how his noise level and body movements can effect those around him and I can’t help but think this is all karma because I find myself echoing myself echoing my parents who for the first 13 or 14 years of life had to constantly remind me to use my “inside voice.” So if my history is any indication, Mr. Baseball should grow out of all this in just a hair under nine years…just in time for puberty to hit full tilt. And so it goes.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

So much Ice

"When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and
avalanching on the snow-crust--
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen."


-Robert Frost, from "Birches"
A few weeks ago we had so much ice outside that power went out across the city and police were giving tickets to people desperate enough to drive on the roads. It started out as snow on Monday and Tuesday and I shoveled the walks. Then, Wednesday night the ice came. A half inch of it, coating the trees, the roads, and walks--the worst storm in years, apparently. The roads became impassable almost everywhere and power rolled on and off around the city the entire day. That afternoon, after hours in a dark house with our two stir-crazy boys we decided to chip the ice off the car and go see if we could find a store open. We needed batteries, a propane canister for our lantern, some food that didn't require cooking, and a treat of some kind to hold us over.

Our entire neighborhood was without power but on the other side of the freeway the lights were hit and miss. Applebee's and CVS had power, but the community center and the car dealerships did not. Neither did Donato's Pizza, Little Caesar's, or Walmart. We saw that Kroger had emergency power so we stopped there and bought some granola bars and instant oatmeal and some propane and a bag of mint cream Oreos. Just as we were leaving the power came back on in Kroger. The entire store let out a spontaneous sigh of relief.

Across the street Big Lots had full power so we stopped and bought some batteries. Before we pulled out of the parking lot, the power went out there and the store windows went black. On our way home Applebee's and CVS still had power, and so did our neighborhood.

Thanks to the snow and ice Mr. Baseball missed more than a half-a-month of school since returning after the winter break (because he only goes half-day he stays at home for good even if there's just a two-hour delay) and even OU had a snow day on Wednesday--their first since 1999.

The day before the storm, a friends barn burned down, and they had to clean up in heavy snow. Funny that after a weeks of relatively warm weather I'm already forgetting how miserably cold it was. Ground hog's shadow or no, we are definitely ready for spring.

Mr. Baseball and I tried to play baseball after a full day of warm weather and rain that melted the last of the ice off the parking lot. It was cold, but not bitterly cold, and it was dark, but not completely dark so we played catch in the seldom used corner of the parking lot. He likes to catch grounders and he likes to try to catch pop flies and he likes to pitch to me and throw me grounders. The monkey came out to, but he doesn't really have a feel for the game like Mr. Baseball does. he puts on his glove, but then puts the ball into it and tries to throw it from his gloved hand, and he hasn't really figured out batting yet (which is funny because at his age Mr. Baseball was already swinging at pitches in the tatami room of our house in Japan)

The Monkey's real love is basketball, or maybe football, or maybe his doggy, or maybe raisins or drawing tiny circles on pieces of scratch paper. I think because Mr. Baseball latched on to baseball so quickly (without any real urging from us) I keep waiting for the Monkey to get passionate about something, but unless you count his passion for candy or the dump tuck movie or wrestling with me, he seems to enjoy everything equally. Which is just fine with me. He is, after all, only two years old. No rush to get a passion for anything but life in general burning in his chest.

"Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
is also great."
--Robert Frost, "Fire and Ice"

Hmmm...passion...lately the Monkey has been passionate about one thing--saying prayer. We have been on a rotating prayer schedule, starting with the Monkey (the youngest) and working our way up to me. That way in the morning, or at meals, or before bed, we just figure out who prayed last and then we know whose next. The QB and I thought this would eliminate occasional grumbles from Mr. Baseball about thinking it wasn't "his turn" to pray. It worked, for him. The monkey however has it in his mind that its always "his turn" and we have to convince him that he prayed last time, or the time before, or that he'll pray next time. He bows his head, and I swear I could almost here him grumbling to himself. I guess there are worse things than wanting to pray.

"You've got to Pray
just to make it today."
--MC Hammer