First Day 2015

“Let’s go to the airplane park!” There’s a small airport near downtown Greenville which has an aviation-themed park next to it. The far end of the park abuts the runway, and it’s a favorite for the kids: you can play on a fantastic playground, ride your bike around the paved oval circling the whole playground, and watch small airplanes land and take-off.

At the far end of the track, next to the runway, there is a significantly steep slope — significantly steep for a toddler, that is — and it should be a heart-stopping moment every time the Boy roars down the slope. But he does it so carefully, first going down only half the slope, then a bit more, a bit more, until he’s going down the whole thing. He’s so cautious that it takes some of the worry from both K and me. But every time we’re there without a helmet for him, I think, “Drat — should have brought that helmet.”

After dinner, it’s play time. First some family play with E’s fishing game he got for Christmas. We try to teach the Boy how to let the swinging magnet slow so that he can lower it to the fish to “catch” it, but he has a more effective way: simply grab the magnet in one hand while holding the rod in the other. Simple. But eventually we convince him.

Afterward, we split up to have some more interest-specific play. The Boy and I head up to his room to play with his cars. Although we only have the sheriff character from Cars, we choose a car to be Lightning McQueen and another to be Mater and go tractor tipping, just like in the film.


The ladies, in the meantime, play Ticket to Ride, a train-based strategy game that enthralls the Boy — trains, so of course! — but is obviously too much for his young mind to comprehend.



The Girl has learned how to play dominoes — at least, a version of Mexican Train from a set with missing pieces. She generally tends to place her tiles on the table face up because, as she explains, she needs help. I tell her that perhaps it’s best if I don’t see what she has because it’s tempting to make decisions based on that knowledge.


“Good luck, sis!”

Still, she does need the help. She often overlooks playable tiles and tends to draw without really thinking. And then there’s her tendency to get ahead of herself — a less magnanimous father would say “cheat” — and slip another tile down before I play.


“Um, I might have gone a different direction, Tata.”

In the end, the Girl wins, semi-fair-and-square. I’m fairly sure there were a couple of times she played twice while I was wrestling the Boy. Then again, I know of at least one time she missed a tile and I said nothing. Perhaps I was desperate to make a decent showing.


Three consecutive doubles: 10, 11, and 12.

Then again, when I draw these three tiles toward the end of the game, one can hardly fault me, I think.

The Battle

The warrior comes, a vicious flanking surprise attack with that most feared weapon: the broom.


A fierce battle ensues: experience versus speed, Swiffer Sweeper versus broom.


If only all of our battles were so fun.


And surely, I’ll look back at the epic bedtime battles, the fussy mornings, the frustrated afternoons, and I’ll wish our current battles could return.



We’ve been struggling to get the Girl speaking Polish on a regular basis. She’s resisted consistently until a recent trip to Poland: two weeks with Babcia, including a week with cousin S, and suddenly, she’s speaking Polish spontaneously — to her toys when she’s playing alone.


And so we’ve reached a point at which the Girl can play Polish games, like Scrabble. We play a modified version: a small marker indicates both where to start and what word to spell. We work through hulajnoga (scooter), kot (cat), dom (house/home), and of course mama (mom).

It might be no surprise that the Girl won the majority of the rounds: it’s tempting sometimes to let her win to keep her interest up. (And it’s equally tempting occasionally to arrange a loss or two in order to help her learn how to lose gracefully.) This evening, though, she wins fair and square.

Stacking the Deck, Redux

L and I are playing Candy Land. It’s a dry, boring game, to be honest, but I’m not doing it for my own entertainment: that comes from watching her.

Still, I’ve been trying lately to make it a learning experience, as a way to help her deal with her frustration. It’s a simple premise: stack the deck occasionally, placing the Candy Cane Forest card for the next drawing when she’s seventy-five percent complete.

“Oh, rats!” she declares, retreating almost to the beginning of the game board.

I try to make it a little more frustrating, dropping the ice cream cone card into place for my next drawing. Will she get frustrated that she “obviously” has no chance to win? Will she want to stop? Will she complain?

No — nothing but a laugh.

There’s only one thing left to do: make sure she gets a few doubles to catch up — not win, but catch up.

The game takes longer than it would have if we’d just drawn and let chance decide the winner. But the girl has uncanny luck and wins more often than not. A loss or two does the spirit good.

Fall Sunday

Living this far south has its advantages: we’re still getting tomatoes from our backyard vines. More importantly, it makes getting out as a family easier, and the usual field trips continue.

Today, it is a trip to the zoo. L has been so many times that she has the sequence of animals memorized. The elephants get everything started — appropriate, because “they’re my favorite,” L declares.

The monkeys are next, followed by the reptiles. Usually L breezes through, barely glancing at the cold-blooded, slow-moving creatures. Today, though, they were unusually active, especially the rattlesnakes.


Once we get to the giraffes (who are right after the reptiles), though, L decides she’s had enough. “I want to go to the big playground,” she says, and we rush to the playground, stopping only long enough to get a picture with Bear.


The playground also has its routine. Swings are always first. Afterward, perhaps the slides, or maybe the huge jungle gym complete with music stations.


With the bright sun and warmth, we’re hardly the only ones out today. Everyone seems to realize that this could be the last truly warm weekend.


Then again, who would any of us be kidding?


Christmas could be almost this warm.


The problem is that the warmth is unpredictable. Planning birthday parties at the park — we’d love to have L’s at the park — becomes impractical because it might just turn cold that weekend. For this birthday group, though, the weather was on their side.


As we’re leaving, L surprises us by wanting to try a few new stations. This park has some truly innovated toys, though the first one L wants is a new twist on an old torture.


Nearby, though, is a track-based activity that is almost always broken: it seems to attract everyone, even teenagers who are much too heavy for it. Luckily, L’s interest coincides with a period of functionality. Next week it will almost certainly be broken again.


We return home and finish the day with a game of Candy Land. L quickly grasps the idea behind the game, but the multiple colors combined with the element of chance are too much for her. The fact that she might not get her favorite color — blue — is overwhelming, and so we make a new rule: L gets a blue card to begin with. Period.


With blue in hand, L happily goes along with just about anything.