Infinity

Driving home from Mass today, the Boy and I somehow got into a discussion about infinity. I can’t remember how it came up or even who brought it up, but there we were, discussing one of the great paradoxes of life and math.

To try to explain it to him, I talked about numbers: “You can count on and on and on and on,” I said. But this didn’t seem to support what I said earlier, about infinity having no beginning or ending.

“But it does have a beginning,” he protested from the back. “When I count, I say, ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5.’ You start at one.”

I tried dipping into the topic of negative numbers to show him that we really could start anywhere.

“Negative numbers? Like 5, 4, 3, 2, 1?”

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.

Support

They say there are no atheists in foxholes, but more obvious is the fact that there are no strangers in foxholes. I’ve read that in high tension battle situations, soldiers are not fighting for any sort of grand patriotic notion but simple to protect the men beside them. Challenges bring people together, in short.

I saw that myself a week or so ago when L and I together went through the toughest course at the local line park. We bonded in a way we hadn’t ever really done before.

Today, though, instead of experiencing it, I witnessed it. We went back to the line park with S, L’s and K’s cousin, who was a little hesitant at first about the whole idea. S is not really like L, who will dive into some things without thinking. S is a bit more hesitant. So when I suggested this morning that we might go to a line park after lunch — if it stopped raining — her first reaction, other than, “What’s a line park,” was hesitant. When L and I explained what it was, her reached changed just a little — up went the eyebrows.

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“Maybe…” was all we got.

In the end, she agreed, and in the end, she loved it. And in the final count of things, shen agreed that it would be fun to try it again.

The Boy, though, is not big enough to go on any of the courses except the “Junior Course.”

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But there were a couple of things that everyone was eligible to do.

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Lazy Sunday

First, the Boy decided he wanted to help Babcia with the rosol. After making the broth of chicken, duck, and beef, she adds vegetables, and the Boy always loves helping in the kitchen.

“Babcia, do you have a cutting board?” he asked, and before she knew it, he was carefully cutting the bits of rejected cabbage and other veggies.

Afterwards came the walk — but first, the Boy had to open Babcia’s tricky back gate.

Out on the walk, I decided we needed to change things up. Instead of heading straight to the river, we turned left where we normally continue straight. I had a feeling we would end up on the other side of the river, but E was lost. Until we saw the river a little bit later. Then crossed a bridge over the river. Then saw the spot at the river we normally visit — only from the other side.

The dog of course enjoyed all the puddles

Life at Babcia’s

A clothes drier is a standard item in the States. I don’t know anyone who, having a washing machine, doesn’t have a drier. That’s simple enough to understand: electricity and gas are both cheap in the States, and driers are almost always packaged with washers. In Poland, though, it’s a different story. In much of rural Poland, gas lines simple don’t exist: all gas products use propane tanks. And as far as electricity goes — forget it. It’s ridiculously expensive compared to what we pay in the States. Bottom line: Babcia doesn’t has a drier, and that means one thing — there’s a lot more ironing going on in Babcia’s house than in our house. Everything — jeans, tee-shirts, underwear (and I’m not joking here; some people do iron their underwear), bed clothes, everything — gets ironed.

With all the additional clothes, that would be a ridiculous amount if work, so we try to iron as much as we can. (I say “try” because Babcia is liable sometimes to pull everything off the lines and iron it all while we’re out hiking or some similar silliness.)

Today, E learned to iron. L insisted that she knew how to already, and when she began ironing her own clothes, it seemed that she did indeed know how to. The Boy, though, needed lots of instruction. They both need a lot of work with folding, though.

The outcome: after a few minutes, they were fussing and arguing over who got to iron.

Ten Miles

I’ve often mentioned how we tend to repeat things during our visits to Poland. The island in Slovakia that we visited yesterday–countless times. The castle we might head to tomorrow if weather turns bad–many, many visits. The line park in Zubrzyca Gorna–who knows! In some cases, like the line park, it’s just because we like it. Or rather, our kids like it. Sometimes it’s because of taking various visitors to certain sites. And sometimes, it’s just because we think it might be good for our kids to experience it once again at an older age.

Today’s adventures included all the above.

We went back to Dolina Chochołowska, a valley that runs through the Polish Tatras just at the border of Slovakia. It’s a place where you can see some incredible views, soak your feet in some frigid mountain water, and get enough exercise to exhaust almost anyone.

In short, we did ten miles today. The “we” consisted of two grown men, two five-year-olds, an eight-year-old, and a ten-year-old. The two youngest trekkers made the vast majority of the trip on their own. E rode one my shoulders for perhaps half a mile, maybe a little less, perhaps a bit more. But the vast majority of it, his little five-year-old, short legs carried him. Willingly. Without fussing.

The Girl was a fussing mess the last time we hiked Dolina Chochołowska four years ago. Today, the only worries came when, during a break, she slipped off the rocks where she was playing and got her shoes wet. But even that was only a momentary set-back. She took her socks off and continued the rest of the way (probably four more miles) in wet sneakers with very little complaining.

As usual, click on the pictures for a larger version:

Rematch

The Girl didn’t make it the first time around. She reached the penultimate obstacle — an incredibly long zip line — and she quit. Did she reach her limit or did she give up? I don’t really know, given today.

This afternoon, we headed back to the same location, and I put on my tennis shoes and tackled the same course with her.

I think it’s the most fun I’ve had with my daughter in years.

To begin with, she was incredibly helpful. With each obstacle, she explained what was challenging about it and how things went the last time.

“Daddy, this one is really hard — you might want to use the zip line like I do.” I refused, and within a few moments, thought, “That young lady had a good idea after all.” The two obstacles that she suggested this for were so muscle-screamingly exhausting that I realized if there were more like that, I might not make it myself.

At the end of each obstacle, she was there to offer a hand.

“I’ll hold this last one for you, Daddy, to keep it still.”

More importantly, though, she was a different young lady. I don’t know if it was my presence or the fact that she was tackling the course for the second time, but she was incredibly confident. The portions of the course that gave her so much pause last time warranted only a quick caution and explanation.

A few hugs along the way helped as well, I’m sure.

No photos — for the first time, the camera stayed in the car the whole afternoon — but a friend shot some footage for later use.

What did I use the camera for, though? The jarmark, of course.

Zab 2017

It must be a late-June/early-July weather acclimation thing. Or maybe it’s halny. Or maybe — likely — it’s just coincidence. At any rate, it’s late June, and we’re in Poland, so that means we head to Babcia’s ancestral village, Zab.

In 2008, it was July 9.

Tooth

In 2010, it was June 28.

Z?b

In 2013, it was July 1.

Visiting Z?b

In 2015, it was June 28.

Z?b 2015

And in 2017, it was Jue 29.

Out of our five visits, then, there’s one outlier, and only by a week. Whatever the coincidence, it’s always an enjoyable highlight of the visit to Poland. But the day didn’t quite start out as auspiciously as it ended. It began like you might expect a day in the village to begin: with a lot of work.

When we arrived last night, we discovered that Babcia had taken delivery of enough kindling for, as she explained, three or four years. And at least a quarter of it was lying in the road because the tractor that delivered it couldn’t manuever any closer. So we got to work segregating and hauling various pieces of wood from a woodworking shop, wood of so many sizes and shapes that it was almost overwhelming. This morning, we got to work cleaning up the final bits.

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We all pitched in. E was in heaven, for he loves doing anything work related. L has always been less excited about work, but she helped like the rest of us with no fussing, no concerns but one: “What will Babcia the next time she gets wood and we’re not here?” Growing up in more ways than one, that girl.

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The trip to Zab itself was as it always is. We stop by the most beautiful cemetery in the world to clean up Babcia’s mother’s and father’s grave and pay our respect, head to her sister’s house for incredible cooking and even more amazing conversation, walk across the street to her brother’s house for a second helping of everything, and end at Furmanowa, where one can undoubtedly find the best views in Poland.

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There’s nothing more to say because I’ve already said it several times over, and therein lies the perfection.

Overcoming

“I did give up.”

The Girl was upset with ourself for not having completed the line course she had begged — absolutely begged — to complete. The longest. The most challenging.

K tried to talk her out of it, and the whole time the Girl was on the course, she was like this:

Of course there was no real risk: tourists are secured at all times on a security line with not one but two safety ropes. Still, both the Girl and her mother were somewhat frightened by the whole thing. And then there was the exhaustion: K tried this course some years ago and was unable to complete it. Her arms and hands gave out. She was hesitant to continue after the first obstacle, but went on anyway. L had exactly the same experience. Then came an especially challenging rope section, and K’s arms just gave out. But L kept on going, with much encouragement.

The last two obstacles seemed hardly to be obstacles to me: two long zip lines. And it was there that the Girl just gave out.

Afterward, the conversation: I tried to express how proud I was of her, how proud she should be of herself, that she completed so much of the course.

“You wanted to stop, but you didn’t. You kept going, when you were tired, when you were scared. You didn’t give up.”

“I did give up.”

Can you give up and not give up at the same time? I think so. Somehow the Girl exposed a truth about giving up and going on. It’s a step-by-step basis. It’s a step-by-step battle. And every step that overcomes fear or exhaustion is itself a victory.

The Boy had his own adventures.

Huntington Beach 2017

We put it off several times: once, because someone was sick; a second time, because the timing was no longer convenient. Did we put it off a third time? I can’t remember. But this weekend has been a long time in the making. We were originally going to spend last Labor Day weekend at Huntington Beach, but we ended up spending Memorial Day — that seems appropriate, timing-wise, as they two three-day weekends bookend the school year.

We first went about six years ago.

Huntington 1

We fell in love immediately. We went back again at some point, but none of us can remember when exactly. It was pre-E, for sure, but that’s about all we can remember. Perhaps the link above is to our second visit? it all gets smeared in the memory. I reread the entry and find this:

Her first beach experience, some two years ago, was moderately traumatic for her. The sound of the waves terrified her, and the waves were forever chasing her form the water’s edge when she finally got the nerve to approach.

This year was different.

That first time at the ocean was at Edisto, so this must be have been our first time at Huntington. Still, it’s only a year before the Boy’s birth: when did we go again, pre-E? Again, smeared it the memory.

So I want to set about to to write down all the details of this experience I can remember, knowing that if I don’t, I won’t remember it. But I set out doing so with the understanding that I will only pick and choose, letting the pictures do the rest.

The first day we arrived and, after setting up camp, headed out to the beach. The Girl took her boogie board out to test the waves; the Boy, after a few minutes, turned to the gigantic sand box that lay all around him. Then they switched. That pretty much sums up the entire weekend: playing in the sand, playing in the waves. After all, what else can you do at the beach?

But there were the subtle changes. L, no longer afraid of the water, gradually found the courage to go out with me a little further than before, looking for more boggie-board-able waves. The Boy was at first reticent to go far beyond the last little crests and bubbles of waves that had been churning inland for some tens of feet. He finally found the courage, with a little help from K and me, to go out further, and to require less of a reassuring hand while doing so.

Day two started at Brookgreen Gardens. “We’ve been here three times now — we have to go,” declared K. It is famous for its sculptures, a fact interested me and bored L — until she started seeing statues from Greek mythology, her current obsession thanks to the Percy Jackson series.

The final day — another morning on the beach.

A perfect weekend, over all.

Fishing

“Do you think I’ll catch a Clownfish?”

We were eating breakfast when this question came up. A typical Sunday morning: breakfast around half-past eight. The Girl off to choir practice at quarter past nine. The boys off to Mass about an hour later. That morning promised to be our normal, comfortable ritual. The afternoon, though, promised adventure.

“No, son. Clownfish live in the ocean. They’re salt water fish.”

“Plus,” added L, “they live in reefs.”

It only took him a few minutes to get the hang of it, and for a while, he was casting beside the Girl as she practiced with her new archery set.

A few bites later, he had another thought. “What if I catch a shark? I’ll have to be strong if I catch a shark.”

“I don’t think you’ll catch a shark.”

“Oh, right. It lives in the ocean.” He thought about things for a few more moments, then added, “All the fish I know are salt water fish.”

Playing in the water

Planning for the afternoon fishing trip really began on Christmas Eve, when our children following Polish tradition were opening their presents. Our neighbor, who goes fishing often, had bought the Boy a beginner’s rod and reel set, complete with a small tackle box. He was thrilled, and he was even more excited when I found a casting weight in my old tackle box downstairs and explained that he’d be able to practice casting in the backyard.

A few days ago, when our neighbor was packing up his gear and hitching his boat to the truck for a morning fishing trip, the Boy informed K that his rod and reel were, in fact, for nothing. “They’re not for decoration,” he explained. And so she told me when I got back home that afternoon, “You must take him fishing this weekend.”

I haven’t been fishing in probably close to thirty years. I can’t remember ever going fishing with my father — not because I asked and he refused. Fishing was simply not something we did in my family. My mother’s brother was very much a fisherman, and during one visit, he gave me a handmade graphite rod with a very sturdy reel with a tackle box filled with every imaginable worm-like, grub-like, and fish-like lure one could imagine. I was twelve, I think. I probably used it no more than half a dozen times, if that many.

Learning to untangle

In thinking about taking my own son fishing, I had a whole list of concerns. Some were reasonable: what’s the best type of bait to use at this lake when fishing from the shore. Some weren’t: what if I can’t remember how to tie a hook? But with muscle memory, that latter worry disappeared. But the bait? When I saw the lake, I realized that it really didn’t matter: we weren’t going to go onto one of the fishing piers because the Boy, having no practice casting with an actual hook, might cause disaster. (In fact, he caught my shirt once, but fortunately only my shirt.) Since the lake was so shallow with a gentle slope out to the deeper water, I knew he’d never cast far enough from the short to catch anything, so we tried a number of lures.

He caught nothing but my shirt. But he begged to go back tomorrow after school.

Sunday Vignettes

One: Alone Together

The Boy wanted to get into the Girl’s room; the Girl wanted some “alone time,” which we all do from time to time. With the two of them, that conflict is a frequent occurrence. As parents, K and I must balance the two opposing factors:

  1. The Girl needs to learn that she can’t be by herself all the time. She needs to have a relationship with her brother.
  2. The Boy needs to learn that he can’t play with L all the time, that she needs some privacy.

I feel like we need to be keeping score of the whole thing: one time forcing L to let the Boy in her room; one time getting the Boy to understand that the Girl needs some privacy from time to time.

Two: Countering

The Boy was looking for his Bugatti (toy, of course).

“I last saw it on the counter downstairs,” I tell him.

He thumps his way downstairs, wanders around a while. Then I hear him ask K, “Mommy, what’s a counter?”

Three: Special Music

During the announcements at the close of Mass, Fr. Longenecker pointed out the fact that the text of the communion hymn dates from the twelfth century and the music from the sixteenth. At that moment, several thoughts that had been swirling randomly in Mass coalesced.

First, at one point, I was thinking about how different a Roman Catholic Mass is from the church services I attended in my youth. All the smells and the bells have no correlation with the staid services we had. And yet there was a certain similarity: each service was identical in its format just as each Mass is identical in its order of liturgy. I suppose that’s true of all churches.

Still, our church being Protestant (though its members then would have begged to differ most vociferously), liked to suggest that if it wasn’t in the Bible, we didn’t do it. I found myself in Mass briefly wondering about the liturgy (for lack of a better term) the church followed: it’s no where in the Bible. I believe the pastor would have suggested it’s one of the traditions mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2.15: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold to the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle.”

Thinking about it further, I remembered the little distinctives of our service. We had a short warm-up message called a sermonette. Google shows that other denominations use the sermonette format, but it’s certainly not a common feature. After the sermonette were announcements, followed by something called special music, then the sermon.

The special music was always some kind of choir performance or solo piano performance. Choral numbers were always selections from sacred music (but we had to be careful about that text!), but instrumental music was often some kind of classical composition. I choked down a laugh in Mass thinking about that, wondering if it was “special” music if it appeared every week.

Four: Divine Mercy

The first Sunday after Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday. Since this particular celebration began in Poland, it’s a pretty big thing for the Polish community. At our church, we have a newly-consecrated shrine to the Divine Mercy with relics of St. Faustina and St. Pope John Paul II.

Not bad for a little Catholic church in Greenville, SC, home of Bob Jones University — probably the most virulently anti-Catholic school in the States.