Games

The kids stayed home today, and so I stayed home. What to do on a day off? Simple — play games.

First, Sorry. I love how this game teaches patience: you get all your pieces moving around the board, making real progress, and suddenly someone draws an 11 and switches places with you, destroying the work of the last few moves in an instant. Or worse: your opponent draws a Sorry card — back to the beginning for you. Then there’s the opposite problem: you’re right at the entrance to your safety zone, and you draw a 12 card.

“Time to make another lap,” I told E when it happened to him. He was frustrated, but dealt with it well. (Yes, I see it. I choose not to acknowledge it.)

The real surprise for me these last few days has been our children’s desire to play chess with each other. I’ve been teaching the Boy to play chess, and since L already knew, she decided to take it upon herself to teach him the final pieces (king and queen) and start playing with him.

Naturally, she beats him as badly as I would beat her were I to play seriously against her, not pulling my punches, so to speak. Still, Magnus Carlsen began taking chess seriously at about E’s age because his older sister kept beating him and he didn’t like losing. Now he’s the world number one, with an astronomically high rating, and by and large seems unstoppable. Doubtful, but one never knows. The love of the game and the patient critical thinking it encourages are enough .

Evening

The kids are both at an age that they can find something to do all by themselves. The Boy less so, since he’s only five; the Girl more so, because she’s nearing her teens.

This evening, the Girl was researching prices for an electronic item she is saving up for. She’s saved for several items in the past: a Barbie camper, a Barbie bike, and others. Those items are long gone, as well as the dolls which they accessorized. I hadn’t thought about that, though, until I sat down to write this: it’s been so long since she’s played with Barbies that I’d forgotten, on some level, that she ever had. More evidence of that strange way we tend to fall into thinking that the way things are now is how they always have been. And always will be. Remember a Barbie camper reminds me that things change.

The Boy soon contented himself with drawing. I’m not sure where the urge came from, but he suddenly wanted to draw cupcakes.

“Okay, Google, show me cupcakes” he commanded our Chromebook. It’s become a favorite activity: “Okay, Google” activates the voice search, and off he goes. It’s a blessing and a curse: it allows him to research things he wouldn’t be able to investigate otherwise due to his still-blossoming literacy, but it could lead to a kind of laziness if not monitored as he learns to write.

After L made some decisions about which iPod was within her budget, she sat down at the piano and began picking through some songs. She stopped taking piano lessons at the end of the school year, but dear friends’ visit this weekend got her interested again, I think. At least on some level.

I’m a little torn on the whole issue: there’s an argument to be made for insisting that a child learn a musical instrument. But that whole argument is made moot by the fact that the Girl sings three hours a week in the church choir. Let her find her passion, a wiser voice says. Let her follow that.

Linguist

Coming home from soccer today (“I really tried to do what you told me!” the Boy declared when assessing his performance: he got into the fray of children running around the ball and pushed his way in. Didn’t go for the ball, just nudged people here and there.), the Boy asked, “Daddy, if the letter is ‘A’ why does it have an ‘E’ sound in it?” I said the letter aloud, noticing that it actually has a diphthong at the end: a long ‘E’ sound.

“I don’t know.”

“Why isn’t it just ‘a’?” he asked, making the short ‘A’ sound.

“I don’t know.”

First Day 2017

The Boy started kindergarten today. It was for him a big adventure, to say the least, but we really didn’t realize the extent of it until it was time to start getting ready for bed. The thought of going back to school tomorrow sent him into a tear-filled panic. We couldn’t figure out what it could be. At one point he talked about how long the day was. At another point, he explained that the teacher won’t let him run his hand along the wall as he walks down the hall.

“She said there might be staples sticking out!” he sobbed. “I like touching the wall.”

So all in all, I think it was just the overwhelming nature of starting a new school with new kids and a new teacher.

For the Girl, the change came after school. She’s a part of the school safety patrol, which is really a great honor for her because no one applies for the positions: it’s simply through teacher recommendation. Since she has chorus and news crew in the morning before school, she had to sign up for the afternoon crew. And anyone who’s ever worked in public education knows what dismissal looks like on that first day. My first day at my middle school over ten years ago now, dismissal lasted until five in the evening because of assorted bus problems. For the Girl, it wasn’t nearly so ridiculous: she was there for forty-five minutes. Still, it must have been tiring.

Tomorrow we do it all again, but everyone is so tired from this first day that I’m surprised anyone is still up.

Throwing Away

It’s much simpler to dump now and then sort later. Much later. That is what E has been doing with his toys — cars, action figures, blocks, and the like — for some time now, until all four of his main toy bins are hopelessly mixed. Last night, we decided that we had to get things under control, organized. I suggested it while putting the Boy to bed; he readily agreed.

This morning, then, we got to work by dumping all the bins into a pile.

“That sure is a lot of toys!” said the Boy.

“Perhaps too many,” I suggested.

“Yeah, maybe too many.”

We began sorting, making little piles of action figures, cars, train tracks, blocks, and more, and I suggested that we might want to get rid of some of the toys.

“Yeah, maybe the broken ones.”

He insisted on throwing them away himself.

We made a deal with the cars: for every one car he gets rid of, he gets to keep three cars. That of course means he cuts his cars by twenty-five percent, which would be significant. I didn’t think he’d agree. I thought he’d fuss about the suggestion, but instead, he went along with it quite willingly. He selected trailers for which there were no longer trucks, cars that were, in his words, for babies, and a few cars that just looked like they’d seen their best days. He was thoughtful as he culled his toys and surprisingly mature about the whole process.

Perhaps not so surprisingly: he’s always imitating L, K, or me, always trying to be older than he is, always talking so seriously about such things as he sees K and me discussing important matters. He wants to grow up. He wants to be a man. The worst insult I can give him is to suggest, when he’s fussing and crying over some trifle or other, that he’s acting like a baby.

“I’m not a baby!” he protests.

“Then why are you fussing like one?”

The answer is always the same: “I don’t know.”

In the end, we got rid of two bags of toys. Broken cars, trailers with cars missing, mysteries (What is that? And what did it go to?) all got dumped into the trash bin. The rest we took to Goodwill.

It was a proud little moment for K and me, to see our little man realizing that he’d outgrown some toys, that he had more than he really needed, that he could live without them.

Changing

The Girl has a love/hate attitude toward her hair. She loves it because, well, she just does. I say she hates it because she really doesn’t take care of it. On our days off, if K or I didn’t remind her to brush her hair, she wouldn’t. At all. And yet it literally took us years to talk her into cutting her hair the first time.

This time, she went even further — just to the shoulders. Her concern: can I still put it in a ponytail? Our concern? Will it be easier to brush out tangles?

The unexpected side effect: a hair style that almost perfectly reflects her personality: a bit silly, a lot of fun, and simply, sweetly alluring.

Too Big

Clover is a Border Collie, which means that chasing and herding are as instinctual to her as barking and tail wagging. That dog will herd anything as long as it’s only slightly bigger than she. She chases the Boy around the yard, nipping at his ankles, then crouching down in front of him as soon as he stops.

Apparently, it’s the same with basketballs and soccer balls.

Clover

It took them a while, but eventually they wore me down. I knew they would. When everyone in your family wants a dog but you, you realize that you can only resist for so long. I had one criterion: it must be a smart dog. A really smart dog. That, for me, ruled out mutts: there’s no telling what kind of genes they’ve got. So if you’re going to get a dog with the criterion of it being smart, why not just move to the top of the hierarchy and get a Border Collie?

K began the process while the kids and I were still in Poland. She looked about on Craig’s List for something, and while she was able to find Pit bulls by the dozen, BCs were almost non-existent. A colleague at work has BCs and put K in contact with the woman from whom she’d gotten her dogs.

“Do you happen to have a litter now?”

As a matter of fact, five puppies were available. Then four. Then three. So yesterday we drove three hours to meet the BC lady and her husband and picked out a lovely little girl with an asymmetrical strip down her face and the sweetest eyes ever seen on a dog.

Bringing her home was like bringing home E or L as a newborn: there was not a lot of sleeping in the house. Clover — and it’s a minor miracle we all agreed on a name — was traumatized, having lost her mother and all her siblings as well as her known, comfortable environment and owners in one instant. There was a lot of whimpering and cowering. But the sun eventually rose and we were soon all outside with the dog, laughing at her silliness.

The changes in the last twenty-four hours have been more significant than I would have ever expected. I, for one, have gone from being a lukewarm participant in the process to an enthusiastic dog owner willing to show off our little darling to whomever we can. The Girl got up at six on a Sunday morning in order to take Clover out.

And our house is developing the unmistakable scent of dog.