Posted in family life, musings

learning together

Rondel and Limerick are near-constant playmates these days, and the presence of another child to play with is doing amazing things for each of their social play skills! Every day I see them create and play elaborate games together, both physical games or pretend games, with agreed-upon and negotiated setup and rules; I hear them get into arguments and fights and resolve conflicts independently of adult input; I watch them learn to observe and take into consideration the things that are important to and enjoyed by each other even if their own inclinations are different; and I see them choosing freely to share their toys and cups and take turns with coveted items. (It’s pretty adorable to hear your 2.5 year old ask his brother to “please move Rondel”, and even nicer to see said big brother make room for the little one – and best of all to see both of them accepting “no” as an answer and offering other options in the attempt to find a solution that leaves everyone happy.)

I don’t force them to share and take turns. If they seem stuck I might suggest those as possible solutions, but unless they’re overtired and getting physical about their conflict, they usually do better without my input, and can come up with solutions that seem “unfair” to me but result in them playing happily together – successful in resolving their short-term conflict with the added benefit of gaining diplomatic skills and confidence for the long run. Honestly, my interference can often make things worse, it seems!

I also don’t try to make them play together. When they want to, they can play alone; but they almost always choose to play in the same room even when they are doing independent activities, for the shear pleasure of showing each other their creations and telling each other their ideas and plans.

In short, they are friends, and they are learning the skills by which friendships are strengthened and maintained.

If they can learn these social skills so well just from each other, with minimum parental guidance for safety and advisory purposes, simply because they are intrinsically motivated to maximize their mutual environment, what else might they learn through that same motivating power? Forcing them to memorize and drill phonics or addition would be as effective as enforcing my ideas of fair play on their interaction: in other words, it would likely lead to resentment and poor skill acquisition. But when they are ready to learn, motivated because they are interested, caught by the beauty or use of a thing, they will learn with the speed and power of a wildfire in drought.

Posted in family life, musings

summer!

Summer has finally hit us full force.

That’s right, we reached an official high of over 120 degrees this week. The worst few weeks of the year are here, until the monsoons come with some much-needed relief. Even nights are hot; the lows are technically in the 80s but most of the night is spent in the 90s, until just before dawn.

I am still biking to work and back, like an obstinate fool. I mean, I’m somewhat acclimated since I’ve been biking regularly as the temperatures have been climbing, but I can definitely feel the difference between 105 and 120. Even hell has different levels of heat, I suppose… around 100-105 I can still ride six miles without needing to carry water, but at 115-120 not only do I need water to drink, but also to pour over my head once or twice along the way.

For the kids, it’s similar. If they’re going to be outside, they need to be in the water. Water is the Southwestern equivalent of a snowsuit in winter in Michigan – essential for outdoor play! My husband has been taking the boys to the community pool most afternoons once I get home from work, we’ve been setting up the sprinkler in the back yard, and I lugged the kiddie pool out of the garage for the season as well. (The first time I put Aubade in it, her eyes opened wide for one second in complete surprise, and then her mouth opened even wider in a grin of pure delight. It was like she couldn’t imagine something so wonderful existed! Pools are good – but here was a pool she could move around in without needing to be held!) Splash pads are of course also nice, but honestly they’re only usable in the mornings at this point because of the sheer ferocity of the blazing afternoon sun.

(some rare pictures of my husband and me here, along with the kids!)

But still, we’re having a good time. It’s summer! My husband doesn’t have classes, we’re taking a family vacation in a week, Aubade is learning how to crawl and stand and climb and laughs more every day, and the boys keep on growing and learning and maturing in ways that never fail to amaze me. Despite the heat, I’m so thankful to be living here, with this job and this family and a new home to move into next month. We’ll survive the worst summer can throw at us and eventually the fall will come again.

Posted in family life

to my dad

A father is important, a critical player in the development of a child, a power that influences lives for better or for worse. A good father is a precious thing. The gift of a great father can hardly be expressed.

Mine was one of the good ones. I’ll go so far as to say he was one of the great ones.

From my earliest memories, he was always willing to enter the world of our interests and activities, crowning them with the gift of his presence, of a companion in play or a fellow researcher in pursuit of some deeper understanding. He was – and still is – one of the best sounding boards I know for any idea, because he can think seriously and engage intelligently about almost any topic. He was – and still is – one of the best people to share something beautiful, profound, or exciting with because he will instantly seek to be and feel with you in the power of that emotion. 

As an example of the small everyday things he does that mean the world, just this week I was listening to Holst’s Planets suite and on the second time through found myself so swept away by Jupiter that I couldn’t focus on my work. So I sent my dad a quick text about how awesome it was, remembering that we’d seen it once together in concert – and he wrote back right away saying he was listening to it now too, and spent a few minutes analyzing the moods of the different planets with me. It’s not objectively a huge thing, but his eagerness to share in my interests, just because I’m his child, is one of the things I am most grateful for in life.

So Dad, I hope you have a wonderful Father’s Day! You are the best dad ever, in my admittedly biased opinion, and I’m so thankful for your encouragement and support through all the years of my life.

Posted in family life, musings

a bedtime routine

Lights turn off for bedtime. The small flashlight flickers on but it’s not enough to play by, not enough to hide the scary shadows of a child’s imagination. I don’t stop to argue, don’t invite the protests, tonight. The baby is fed and warm in her daddy’s arms so I linger with the big boys, so tough and independent in the bright daytime light, all full of fears and doubts and unnamed dreads in the dark. I lie down on the bottom bunk and feel the lithe warm body of a little boy press against my back, strong and wiry and small and vulnerable in the drowsiness of just-before-sleep.

Softly, in the dark, I hear the gentle murmur of a snore, and I peek over my shoulder to see him lying there asleep, empty sippy cup tucked in against his elbow, Grandma’s handmade quilt pulled up over his belly, legs poking out the side with the knees up and the feet tucked under my hip. I sneak out of the room. I am eager to have some time with my own thoughts, to create, to be, without any demands or expectations on my time.

But there is still the food from dinner to be put away; the dishes are done but the food, too hot before, was waiting until after the bedtime rush, and as I scoop the leftovers into Tupperware, mindlessly, inefficiently, trying to read a book at the same time, I hear the baby crying, waking up for a last feed before settling into the deep sleep of nighttime.

I pick her up, lay her next to me on the bed, and she curls into me, little hands reaching for me, little feet tucking themselves into the curve of my belly, little mouth open and eager, little tear-stained eyes sleep-heavy and drooping closed. Her frantic energy lessens, breathing calmed, until at last I roll her back over to her crib. For a moment her whole body drapes across mine and I feel that soft cheek pressed up against me, the total trust and relentless love of an infant for their mother, and I’m the mother, and it hardly seems real, scarcely seems believable, like the whole crazy world is just too beautiful to be possible.

Most nights I stay here, worn out myself, caught up in the sweet beauty of the love a mother receives from sleepy children in need of snuggles and presence, unable to stop watching a baby or a toddler or a preschooler still and peaceful at long last, barely daring to breathe lest it all fall apart, amazed that such a life could be mine. But tonight I pull myself up. There are words to write, pictures to curate, cookies and milk to be eaten, and thoughts to be wrung out from ethereal unformed space to concrete actuality on the screen of my computer.

Posted in art, family life, links, quotes

lunarbaboon

I have discovered a new favorite webcomic, Lunarbaboon. They seem to exist on the intersection of parenting, mental illness, and nerdiness, so I identify with and heartily enjoy almost all of them. One from January, titled “Enemy”, caught my attention as a particularly apt description of what it is like to be functional despite depression:

comiceveryday

The techniques taught in therapy are designed to help us ignore that inner enemy with more and more success – to make it harder for him to tear us apart each day. That’s why I’m so thankful for them, for the pills that give me the energy and positivity to keep fighting, and for the family and faith that give me a reason to fight and a hope for the future.

Posted in family life

blossoming creativity: Rondel at almost-four

I have decided that Rondel’s current age (almost four) must be one of my favorites.

His energy levels are becoming more consistent even if he doesn’t nap; his clingy, angry, defiant moods are decreasing; his silliness is developing some sophistication; his conversation and presence are more often than not interesting and enjoyable; and, most of all, his imagination has exploded like a firework. This, I keep thinking, is how I imagined parenting a young child to be.

Pretty much anything can be a source of inspiration to him, but the books he reads have a large influence on his play. After reading The Magic School Bus In the Time of The Dinosaurs, he built a mother and baby Maiasaura (and deviated from the biological reality by having the baby nurse… what can I say, he’s used to mammalian norms 🙂 ). After reading The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body, he invented a game (the Body Game) where we move through the house between spaces that represent different parts of the human body – a blood vessel underneath a red blanket on the bunk bed, for instance, or the stomach under another blanket on the floor so we can have it mush us up like food. Then, of course, because he’s a three-year-old, we always have to end up getting pooped out into a potty with all the pillows and stuffies that are the “actual” poop.

Play that began as constructing a slide down the stairs with all the pillows from the beds turns into slides that bury people and then become mountains to climb back up. What started as the realization that Aubade’s crocheted blanket could be hooked onto the handle of the armoire door becomes a blanket bridge stretching from the armoire door (behind which is Grandma’s house) to the bedroom door, across which a monster truck carries our family from our house to Grandma’s house and back again, and into which is randomly stuck a bright orange toothbrush. Cups stacked up in the sink are rearranged to spray the water out in jets at various angles and the whole thing is proclaimed a volcano. Rondel bursting forth from beneath a blanket (after much preliminary rolling around) is also deemed the eruption of a volcano.

And every time we read Where the Wild Things Are, he has to have a monster at hand ready to read the story with us. Not wanting to shut down his imagination despite the onset of bedtime a few nights ago, I allowed him to build his monster to his complete satisfaction, helping him scour the house for the parts he needed.

IMG_7126

The folded front of the box is its mouth, and the links are legs connecting the feet (my shoes) to the head (the box). You can’t see, but inside the box more links are holding up a Slinky which is the digestive system of said monster 🙂 He was so proud of himself for designing and building it all by himself!

I absolutely love this creativity.