Monday, July 20, 2009

Impressions, Confusion, & Shattered Illusions

It was bad enough when I had to shatter his illusions regarding food and explain to him that we actually eat most of those cute barnyard-type animals whose names he spent all that time learning. But now I went and did the same thing for his cartoons. I didn't mean to. I didn't even think about it as the words came out of my mouth. It was like being in a car accident; you can see it all happening in slow motion, but by the time you realize what's happening it's far too late to do anything. I admit it. I effectively killed his favorite television character, Little Bear. I committed cartoonicide.

It all started harmlessly enough when we rented the movie Babar: King of the Elephants. We're sitting and watching this generally innocuous movie (well, accept for when the director decided it was necessary to shoot and kill Babar's mother while he was playfully riding on her back, but that's a whole other post). And then it happened.

Now, I've mentioned before that LR has a great ear. At the risk of sounding immodest, he gets that ear from me. No, not that cute little Mr Spock pointy thing I have going on (well, okay, that too), but an ear for recognizing sounds and, often, being able to reproduce them. For him, this means an ability to pick out correctly the softest of musical instruments in a composition, and the ability to correctly hear and then reproduce the most difficult foreign words (e.g., Chinese) or the most bizarre accents. (He does a "wicked good" impression of the average Bostonian).

For me, this ability is primarily limited to the rather useless ability to name the most esoteric actor that I might see on late night television that I previously saw only once before some twenty-odd years ago. I freely admit that my life is fairly uninteresting; I get an inordinate amount of pleasure from the most meaningless of accomplishments. In this case, I was extremely proud of the fact that I had correctly identified the woman who was doing the voice of "young Babar." It was the same woman who does the voice for Little Bear. Naturally, I felt compelled to share this earth-shattering achievement with my only son.

I said "I know that voice." He, of course, looked at me like I was nuts (which I was) and said "What voice?" It was at this point that I clearly saw the oncoming traffic and instinctively knew that there would soon be mangled cars lying at the side of the road. Unfortunately, I was going too fast to stop. "Babar's voice!" Not only couldn't I stop, I felt compelled to hit the accelerator. "Close your eyes and tell me who you hear talking," I said.

He obligingly did so and the next time Babar opened his mouth, he heard it. His little green eyes popped open and, for the first time, I saw someone's jaw actually hit the floor. "Why is he doing that?" he cried. "Doing what?" "Why is he talking like Little Bear?!"

I tried (unsuccessfully) to calm him down and then spent (I swear to God) the next thirty minutes trying to explain to him that Babar wasn't actually "doing" anything. "You see, there's this woman; no, we don't know her. And she's the one who's doing the talking. Yes, I know she sounds like Little Bear. That's because she does the voice for Little Bear, too. No, sweetheart, you're not really hearing Little Bear talk. Sweetheart, Little Bear is pretend; you know that, it's a made-up story." And it pretty much went downhill from there.

Little Bear, we hardly knew ye.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Bug Birthday

GrasshoppersWell, LR recently turned four. You know, no matter how many times I say that it still sounds impossible. Four? I would swear that we brought him home from the hospital just last week. And yet.

Not surprisingly, he likes dinosaurs, animals of all kinds, cars and trucks, and especially bugs. [Note: throughout this post I will be using the term "bugs" to refer to any and all arthropods; please do not email me to complain that butterflies, or whatever, are not "bugs"]. To be fair, he also likes letters, musical instruments, learning words in foreign languages and Dora the Explorer. But mostly, he likes creepy-crawlies. In general, if it has more than two legs, he likes it; if it has more than four legs, he loves it. My wife's general take on his interests, made after watching him at the local science museum? "He's such a boy."

It therefore comes as no surprise that this birthday will go down in our family annals as The Bug Birthday.Bug-vacuum Because that was the general theme of lots of his presents. Among other things, he got insect-themed flashcards, a variety of plastic/rubber bugs, and a butterfly pavilion. (The butterflies were great. Here's a review of the Butterfly Pavilion). He also got a bug-catcher; a small vacuum-powered device that allows you to temporarily and safely collect bugs, look at them under an attached magnifying lens, and then release them unharmed. Where were these toys when I was a kid? In any event, he didn't actually get a bug-catcher; he got two bug-catchers.

Why? Not only did we get him a bug-catcher, but so did a pair of twins in his class. (Luckily, we hadn't yet given him ours when he had his party for his friends; it was still upstairs in its very returnable box). We were pretty much floored by this gift. While it was obviously perfect, we were very surprised that another parent knew LR this well; while we're definitely friendly with the mother, we're not close.

There was, however, another possibility. About a month before LR's birthday, we went to the birthday party for these twins. As we often do, we asked LR what we should buy them for gifts figuring that he knows them much better than we do. This time, however, we were a bit concerned about his suggestion. Okay, it was more of a clamorous demand than a suggestion, but you get the idea. He had suggested that we get them both a Band in a Bucket. Not only would that gift clearly violate the Noisy Gift Rule, but one of the twins has a profound hearing loss and we were concerned about the propriety of such a gift without knowing the girl better than we did. LR was insistent, however, and we reluctantly gave in.

We therefore didn't know if the bug-catcher was a great gift, or if it was intended to be payback for our Noisy Gift violation. Having no shame, I decided to ask the mother directly. We ended up having a great laugh over the whole thing. LR was right (of course). Her daughter loves music; even when she can't hear it she can feel it and she loves to play. She also had no problem with the noise factor. When I asked how she knew about my son's love of bugs, she explained that she used the same method for buying presents that we do; she asks her kids. Both of her children had insisted that she buy LR something "bug-ish." In fact, they had wanted to get him a mechanical tarantula but she had put her foot down; she just couldn't do that to my wife.

Even though everything worked out so well, I still can't help wondering. Is this really what I want my son known for? Bugs? Really??

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Potty Wars, Part Deux

LR has somehow managed to make himself afraid of camp. It seems to have started about two weeks ago, during his first week of camp. That was also his second week of intensive potty training; we had kept him out of camp the week before for the specific purpose of helping him get adjusted to this new skill.

During that first week, he categorically refused to use the potty at school. At first, we thought it was largely a result of the fact that we had tried to play it safe by sending him in pull-ups; we had figured that if he was wearing pull-ups he wouldn't have to be embarrassed about wetting his pants in front of his friends. When he refused to use the potty there, after having such a good week using it here, we reached the conclusion that giving him this safety-net was simply giving him a good excuse to not bother using the potty. After all, camp is fun and who wants to stop having fun in order to go inside and use the potty if there's no negative consequences? (Remember, he's been in diapers and/or pull-ups his whole life; he's used to running around in a wet pull-up for a little while). But sending him in "big boy underwear" and forcing him to either use the potty or have an accident didn't help.

He was off from camp again last week (it was closed for The Fourth) and he made it very clear several times that while he was using the potty perfectly well at home and at Nana's (he's managed to stay dry every night for at least ten days, and he's only had one or two accidents during the day in the last three weeks) he wasn't going to use the potty at camp. In fact, he wasn't going to camp at all. Now, he loves camp. In point of fact, he's very comfortable there because "camp" is exactly the same as "school." The primary differences are it's in a different classroom, and the fact that much less of the time is "structured;" i.e., camp is more fun. Camp also features a younger, prettier teacher but I suspect that's mainly a drawing point for me. The main point is that camp is fun; he tells me so every day on the way home.

After many hours of arduous questioning, it finally came out that he didn't like the potties at school because they flushed by themselves. But this didn't make too much sense; in the past, whenever he'd gone to the bathroom with me and the potty had flushed by itself he'd thought it was pretty keen. My wife finally teased out the information that one of the potties at school had flushed while he was using it.

Aha! Success! This should be easy to fix. I simply reminded him about the potty up by the front door which was "just like the one at home," and told him that he didn't have to use the self-flushing ones; he could just use that one for right now. After much cajoling, he agreed to look at it. (I knew this was the best I was going to get, so I wisely shut up at this point).

Monday morning rolled around and, of course, I had to go through the cajoling all over again. I managed to get him into the car, into the building, into the "good potty," and - wonder of wonders! - I got him to agree that it was, in fact, "good." We went the last fifty feet to his room and he started all over again that he wasn't going to camp. At this point, I took the tack that I used when he first started preschool: I gave him to the teacher (sorry, counselor) and promptly left, secure in the knowledge that he was in good hands and that this too shall pass. Except, of course, that unlike preschool, it didn't. Pass, that is. It got worse.

Each day has been a bit worse than the last. This is despite the fact that he's used the "good potty" there at least once this week, he's had no potty accidents for his friends to see, he's admitted having a blast every day. The only reason the teacher was able to inveigle him into the class today was by having him help her get a Chihuahua puppy to show to the class. And he knew that today was a field trip where he got to ride on a train and on a carousel.

I have no clue if I'll be able to convince him to get into the car tomorrow, let alone into the classroom. And I have little stomach for coercing him into either one. I no longer have any idea if the alleged potty problem is, or ever was, the real problem and I certainly have no good ideas about what the problem might be if it isn't the potty. Frankly, I was half-hoping that writing everything out might help me better order my thoughts and perhaps give me some insight into the problem. No such luck.

Sigh. I guess I'll just have to settle for everyone collectively wishing me "Good luck!" Please wish me luck. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be needing it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Some Days I'd Rather Be A Woman

My son is very friendly, even for a four-year-old. In combination with his moss-green eyes and eyelashes so long that some women would be willing to buy a prescription in order to get them, this is going to serve him very well in life. I've been dreading the day that he discovers girls (although I'm also sure that there will be some typical male ego/pride "stuff" going on, especially given my own teenage mishaps in that department). In light of my poor past performance in judging how soon something in his life was likely to become a problem, I suppose I should have known that I was in for trouble long before he hit his teens.

I first realized that I might have a situation on my hands when our neighbor told us that she was going away for the weekend and asked if LR and I would like to take care of her animals for her while she was away. She probably knew that we were an easy mark because my son loves anything which moves while I'm not a big dog fan and my wife is badly allergic to cats and refuses to even discuss reptiles, amphibians, or anything with less than two or more than four legs as a potential pet. I believe that we're permitted to have fish but I suspect that the first time we found snails in the tank would also be the time that we found the tank in the trashcan. As no dogs were involved, I quickly agreed.

After our neighbor had left, LR began tugging harder and harder on my pants leg. I asked him what was up and he said "I have something to tell Miss Chrissy. I have to tell her something!" "Well, she's right there," and I pointed across the street. "Just go ahead." I then hear my darling son scream at the top of his lungs "Miss Chrissy! Will you come over to my house later? You can sleep in my bed!!" This was definitely one of those times when I wished that I was, in fact, a stay at home mother. I suspect that this is the kind of thing that two women can laugh off a lot more easily. After a moment or two of very uncomfortable silence, we both quickly turned it into a joke about keeping him away from her daughter.

Note: For anyone unfamiliar with the "Miss Chrissy" custom, it is apparently appropriate for a child living in "the South" to address any woman over the age of eighteen or so as Miss First-Name, regardless of marital status. It's basically a middle-ground between the highly formal Miss/Mrs./Ms. Last-Name and the highly familiar usage of just the adult's first name. Given that I am a Philly boy who arrived in North Carolina about two years ago by way of Boston, if you'd like to know the details of this custom or the precise areas in which it is used you are quite definitely asking the wrong person. I've adapted simply by having him call any and all female acquaintances Miss Whoever and hoping that I get it right more than half of the time.

Luckily for me "Miss Chrissy" is a good sport.

Then came the library incident. LR and I were having a grand old time picking up some books and videos. As we started to make our way to the door, I got into a rather odd conversation with a boy of about five or six who came over and asked me how old my son was. I suggested that perhaps he should simply ask him seeing as how he's been speaking for himself since he turned one. (In actuality I simply suggested that he ask for himself, I just wanted to say all of that). The boy gave me an odd look and tried again. "He told me he was six" he said, and this time he pointed at another young boy who had been next to me at the bookshelf. I politely explained that I had no idea how old that little boy was because he wasn't my son. At this point, I got a rather long look from the boy who then decided that he really didn't want to be talking to anyone who was this unhelpful and he walked away.

My son, however, wasn't finished. Apparently, he felt that he'd been bilked out of the chance to tell someone his age as he immediately began following the boy in a vain attempt to convince him that he had, in fact, recently turned four. For a minute, LR looked a bit nonplussed at the other child's complete indifference to his age but then decided to bravely plow ahead with someone that he considered a new friend. I didn't hear all of what he said, but what I did hear was along the lines of "Would you like to come over to my house and play?" I quickly scooped up my child and headed for the door while explaining to my son that "I'm very sorry but, no, the boy we don't know won't be coming over to play later. I promise I'll call one of your friends and try to set up a playdate."

Why was I in such a hurry? Simple, I'm a guy. What was I afraid of?

"Mommy! That man over there wants to know if I can play at his house. Can I go?!!"

I can hear the 911 call already.

Friday, June 26, 2009


About two weeks back, I wrote an entry about my son's latest foray into the wide world of telling jokes. Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse, it turns out that he's developed a new interest. I now proudly present My Son the Storyteller!

A while ago, our son had begun asking for (and then demanding) original stories made up on the spot. Despite any pretense I might have of one day being a fiction writer, making up stories out of whole cloth and without warning is simply not something I make any claim to being good at. My wife, however, while not really any better at it is always willing to give it a shot.

Up until recently, we've always had a number of cats sharing our home and they had all been rescued from either the street or from a shelter. This provided my wife with a fairly wide array of arguably interesting material from which to attempt to make up stories. Our son absolutely loves them, although I have no clue why, and is currently demanding that we tell him as many of these stories at bedtime as he thinks we'll put up with. At the risk of insulting my wife, these "cat stories" are without exception completely inane and insipid but they do keep our son happy. (I also readily admit that no matter how bad they might be, they are still better than the ones that I come up with).

Yesterday, however, I had a new treat. LR decided that it was time for him to begin telling his own "cat stories." As I explained with his joke telling: "I applaud his creativity. I do. But I also have to sit through them." I now present, for the first time anywhere, the story-stylings of my son. [Note: one of the cats we had was named Mishuganah (pronounced mi-SHUG-ana), which means "crazy" in Yiddish].

1) "Once upon a time, there was a cat. And there was also a crazy cat named Mishuganah. The End."

2) "Once upon a time, there was a cat. And there was another cat. And there was another cat. And there was another thing that was also a cat. And they lived happily ever after. The End."

It's going to be an even longer year than I thought.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

It's The Little Things

One of the things which LR's teachers brought to our attention was that he seemed to have some difficulty respecting other people's personal space; he tended to put his face very close to another child's face and then didn't understand when the other child got upset. While this is hardly the most dire problem a child could have, it's also not the best way to win friends.

Being a good father, I naturally blamed myself. I have severe myopia and if you look in the dictionary under "coke-bottle glasses" there's my picture. With my glasses off, I'm able to focus on things which are close up very well - okay, my focal point is about two inches in front of my face. Starting when LR was a baby, and continuing all the way up until last year, I used to take off my glasses and come in close to his face where I could see him clearly and kiss him and talk to him and generally be affectionate. I was convinced (and still am to a large extent) that this is why he has a problem understanding personal space; for as long as he can remember, he's been taught to associate having his face very close to someone else's as being affectionate.

Whatever the cause, we felt that this was something we could work on. As with everything else, the best approach to take with him was a verbal one. We began an intensive campaign of "LR, I love you but you're standing too close." We would then stretch out his arm as far as we could and explain "If you can touch me, then you're standing too close." Not perfect, and not true under all circumstances certainly, but overall it works as a pretty good rule of thumb; mostly, it's fairly easy to learn. Over time, he began to get the hang of it. We noticed that we had to tell him this less and less often. He may never truly understand why he needs to do this. But he doesn't have to understand, he just has to do it.

Yesterday, I slipped up a bit. I started to lean over to kiss him and without thinking, took off my glasses, leaned in really close, kissed him on the nose and then looked at him for about two seconds without backing up first.

"Daddy. You're too close!"

Wow. I never thought I would hear him say that.

Four-year-old: 1
Daddy: 0