Bedtime

“Daddy, will you come lie with me?”

The Boy is having trouble falling asleep, and when this happens, there’s only one real solution: to climb into the bed with him and let him fall asleep curled in one’s arms.

I’ll admit that there was a time that I was growing tired of this. It was an almost nightly ritual, and with so many things I needed and wanted to do in the evening once the kids were asleep, I just wanted him to drift off as quickly as possible.

But over the last couple of years, another change has happened, which has altered my outlook on stretching out with the Boy in the evening. The Girl, now almost eleven, requires little to no bedtime assistance, and some nights, I have simply kissed her goodnight and turned out her light. She’s growing up, and in doing so, she’s developing her own evening routines and rhythms, and unlike the Boy, she no longer gets scared as she’s going to bed.

It struck me, then, that E will be following suit soon. No, not really all that soon, but soon enough. A few years and the whole bedtime ritual in the house will look entirely different than it does now. A few more years and neither one will really want K or me to lie in the bed with them, stroking their hair, whispering to them to lie still and go to sleep. And I will look back on this time when I could have done it with a tinge of regret that I didn’t do it more often.

Which is why, when the Boy asked if I would lie down with him, I did so without hesitation.

Lost Stars

E and I were lying on the bed in the master bedroom, reading. He always gets a book from school for his daily reading log, and often the book is leveled just right for reading with a parent: a few words he knows, enough short words that he can sound out, and a few words that he needs a lot of help with. Always a refrain of sorts, something easily remembered that he can just repeat.

Today’s book: My Dad and I.

We made it through the book, which was about all the things the narrator’s dad teaches him to do and all the things he teaches his dad to do, and E began teaching me about his star behavior system in school. Of course I knew all about it: I just had a conference with his teacher a few weeks ago, and we get a daily report about how many stars he ended the day with. But of course I let him explain it.

“We start with three stars, and if we do something wrong, we lose a star.” He paused, then added, “I haven’t lost a star yet this year.”

What will he do when he loses a star?

Camping with the Scouts

Camping is almost synonymous with Boy Scouts. To think of one without the other seems almost impossible. Whenever we’ve gone camping, it seems we almost always see some scouting group or another pitching their tents. We encouraged the Boy to join Cub Scouts by, in part, telling him about camping trips.

This weekend we had our first trip, and as I might have expected, he was terribly excited about it until Friday. “I don’t want to go camping,” became the day’s refrain. In the evening, though, I sold it to him by suggesting we might just need to have a men’s weekend. That did it, and so we did.

We packed our gear, kissed the girls goodbye, and headed to our first scout camping trip.

At first, the Boy was hesitant, careful. Shy. He ventured onto a playground after lunch (we arrived just after lunch because of the soccer game — one goal this weekend) and played around a bit, but he seemed to be playing apart from the other boys despite being in their very midst. He kept coming back to check on where I was, to make sure I was still around, and then to ask me if we could go.

“No, we’ve committed ourselves. We’ll be staying till tomorrow.”

“Okay.” No fussing, just resignation.

By dinner time, he’d made friends and disappeared in the storm of boys that raged around the camp. When the evening came and the pack leader began the scout meeting, he was only vaguely aware or worried about where I was.

By the time the sun had set and the pack leader had transitioned into the flag retirement ceremony, he wasn’t even paying attention to where I was.

But he was paying attention to what was going on. Sort of.

The leader discussed the proper way to handle a flag, the proper way to show respect, and then explained how to retire a flag. It involves fire, which is ironic considering all the controversy over the years regarding burning flags. Yet the pack leader explained that the flag is first cut into four pieces, three pieces with stripes and the star field left whole to signify the unity of the country, and at that point, it is no longer a flag.

“We burn the cloth,” he concluded, “then respectfully gather and bury the ashes.”

During evening prayers, he suggested we pray for the flag.

“What do you mean?”

“So that they never burn it like that again.”

Apparently, he’d misunderstood what was going on, and I suppose he’d simply sat and watched, somewhat horrified, as his pack leader instructed scouts to burn flags. I explained what had happened, and he seemed okay with it, but still a little disturbed.

In the morning, he was ready for more running, yelling, and falling with the boys. It was as if he’d forgotten all about it. I suppose he has, but we’ll see next year when we go again.

Stabat Mater

The Girl has been singing in the youth choir for about a year now, and she was recently chosen to participate in a small ensemble to learn some more challenging pieces. Last night, she and the other seven members (ages 10-16) sang “Stabat Mater,” an a cappella, three-voice piece in Latin.

Hat Trick

The Boy has spent this autumnal soccer season running around the edges of the action. Last week, before the game, he insisted that he was going to push his way in like I’d told him to do. “Just go in there and get the ball.” And he did. Sort of. But he was still mostly just running around the periphery.

Today, K and the Girl joined us — next week is the final game — and E assured me as we all got into the car, “Today, I’m going to get in there like you told me.

During the pre-game practice/warm-up, things were just as they always are: the Boy at times seemed lost in all the distractions of other teams getting read, still other teams playing, adults moving here and there, and there are times when he was intensely focused on what the Coach Kevin told them to do.

The game began, and it looked like it would be a tough game for the opposing team: every single child was smaller than most of our team. As a child, you just want to win, to obliterate the other team; as an adult, you want your kid’s team to do well, but you want to see the other team do well also. Today seemed like that would be tough, and indeed, it was.

The Boy from the start seemed a little different. He was more aware of what was going on, and he even made some defensive plays that were impressive. At one point, a player from the other team made a break-away and was heading down the field to a certain goal, but the Boy chased him down and kicked the ball away from him at the last moment.

And then the moment — the moment, I thought. The Boy managed to take the ball at the baseline of the opposing team’s side, and navigated toward the goal, seemingly unopposed. But someone knocked the ball out at the last minute, and as it shot out of the bunch of kids, I thought, “Well, there goes his chance of scoring this year.”

Yet a few minutes later, the same thing happened, and he scored — his first goal. He came running across the field to tell us. “Mommy! Daddy! I scored a goal!” High fives from the coach; high fives from the family. It was just a bit magical for the Boy. But he wasn’t done.

He took a break — the kids don’t play halves but quarters, and most kinds play alternating quarters — and explained some of the finer points of scoring, as if he were Robert Lewandowski, the Polish soccer player who, with a hat-trick this week, became the all-time leading scorer for the Polish national team.

But when he went back in, he backed up his explanations with another goal, a beautiful break-away that he ended burning up the back of the goal. (Never mind that this week, like last week, the teams decided to play without goalies. That’s just a technicality.) Shortly after his second goal, he managed another escape, only to shot wide to the left.

“Too bad,” I thought. “It would be nice to get a hat-trick like Lewandowski.” And just as I was thinking such silliness, the Boy managed his third goal.

On the way back to the car, the Boy summed up the day perfectly: “I really went hard on those guys today.”

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.”

The Choice

She didn’t want to go to the park to take the dog for a walk. At one point, she adamantly refused. Not at one point. Immediately. Had she not done so, I might — might — have considered letting her stay behind, considering what she wanted to do instead, but that immediate refusal made that impossible. K and I pointed out a few simple facts: she hadn’t gotten much exercise today; she was dying for a dog and now not willing to help; there was time for that other activity when we got back; and so on. So she went on the walk with the Boy and me, with Clover leading the way. (Next training task: get her to stop pulling on the lead.) And it’s safe to say she enjoyed it. We laughed a bit, chatted a bit, and she danced down the trail a bit — all typical. And in the car on the way, she did what she wanted to stay behind to do: she read one of the mountain of books she checked out of the library yesterday.

She wanted to stay behind to read.

I can’t get some of my students to read a paragraph without griping, but she wanted to read. She’s chewed through an unbelievable 2,700 pages so far this school year, and she’s gotten hooked on a new series, which I’m ashamed to say I can’t even identify. Given her year-long obsession with mythology, it’s not hard to guess about the subject matter. But that number, which she shared during breakfast today — 2,700. That’s just impressive. I’ve read 39 books in 2017 so far. That’s probably a touch over 3,000 pages, but that’s over the course of almost nine months. She’s read almost a third of that in a ninth of the time.

So the choice was this: force her to get some exercise and share in the companionship of a walk or let her read. Had she not forced my hand with her fussing obstinacy, I’m not sure what was the right choice.

Today’s Picture

I was too lazy to import and work on the handful of pictures I took of the morning light in our backyard, so here’s one of a fruit and vegetable vendor in Warsaw over the summer getting ticketed for not having the proper paperwork.

Note

Where’d I get that 3,000 pages? I was tired. Somehow I did the math in my head so incredibly incorrectly that it’s laughable, but now that I realize that, I’m too tired to go back and rewrite it. L’s better at math than I am, too.

Busy, Long Saturday

The Game

He runs around the pack of children that are kicking wildly for the ball, circling the periphery without ever penetrating. At one point, the ball comes right to him. He looks at it and then glances around, his expression saying, “Well, I’m not really sure if this is mine or not, and I don’t really want to take it from anyone unfairly.”

I’ve told him several times that he has to penetrate that group, force his way in, push people out of the way if necessary.

“I try,” he insists, but I’m not convinced he even realizes what he’s doing. I try to take a video of it, but the sun is shining right into the phone, making dark silhouettes of all the players.

Even in the best of conditions, I’m not sure he would see the issue. When he runs, he does so with such intensity, such ferocity — his arms pumping wildly as he runs as fast as he can — that you would be forgiven for thinking he’s running down a challenge of existential significance. He sprints towards the ball, then slows and resumes his position as an outsider, a virtual on-looker.

On the way back to the car, he shows once again that it’s all irrelevant, that there are more important things to be concerned with, both as a child and a parent. Particularly the latter. Holding his Gatorade that he got as an after-game snack — most parents just bring juice boxes, but someone went all out, I guess — he declared, “I’m only going to drink half of this. L likes Gatorade, too.”

Maintenance

I’ve never been good about tool maintenance. Other things are a different. The bike I ride to school looks and rides like it’s brand new. My chain is always glistening; my cables are always in tip-top shape; my bottom bracket spins like there’s no tomorrow.

But tools? I let perfectly good things wear out. Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do? But when we retired our lawn mower a few months ago and bought a new, shiny Honda after a fair amount of research, I decided things would change with that mower. I began hosing it off thoroughly after each job, even the underside of the mower deck. (Having a fuel shut-off valve helped a lot.) Today, I took it a step further: I dug out an old brush and actually brushed off the stains forming on the underside of the deck.

“If you could only get that way about our cars,” K is surely saying to herself.

The Walk

We usually are going counter-clockwise, Clover and I. When we reach the yard — that yard — we approach it blindly. I know it’s there, but a stand of trees hides that fact. Clover knows soon enough when we’ve reached that spot, though: the two dogs come tearing at her, barking madly, stopped only by the fence. She pulls and pulls the opposite way, but I pull her in close to me, pet her and reassure her.

“It’s okay, Clover. They won’t touch you.”

Eventually we make it past the house, but she’s positively terrified.

That’s been the reality for a while. Today, we went the opposite way. When we approached the road from up the street, she recognized the house almost immediately, hesitated, then walked on. The dogs came out; the dogs barked; Clover kept walking.

The Swings

What I Learned

Today, at E’s first soccer game of the season, a certain little boy managed to break from the pack of children that attempt to herd the ball in one direction or another, and he dribbled the ball down half the field and blasted a devastating shot at the opposing team’s unprepared goalie. A few moments late, in a move reminiscent of German’s complete destruction of Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semi-finals,

broke away again and scored a second time in as many minutes. That little boy was a hero all around. That little boy was not the Boy. He spent most of his time lingering around at the edges of the hive of children always swirling around the ball, never charging in and begin aggressive as he does here. He almost shot a goal, but truth be told, it was because he just happened to be where a deflected ball just happened to land. Yet he was so very proud of that.

“I’m going to tell Mommy I almost got a goal,” he told me several times on the way home, as if to make sure I understood that he was going to tell her. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I’ve mentioned before that the Boy is not overly aggressive, and I even mentioned it in the context of soccer.

First Game

I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t have a problem with him shooting an own-goal (as he did last year) or only barely missing a goal because an ironic combination of luck and misfortune. I don’t have a problem with him wandering around the edges of anything, looking in, unsure and unwilling to commit himself until he is. I don’t have a problem with him giving up on any and all sports.

That is what I learned about myself and my son today.

What I learned about my daughter will have to wait until I have to fix what I learned about myself at the same time.

Sunday

It’s been a week of firsts and almost-firsts for the Boy. Yesterday, it was soccer. He did not want to play, pure and simple. He was fine with the races, the drills, the silly games. But when it was time to scrimmage, he panicked. Eventually, he got up his courage and went into the game, but there was a long period of waiting, watching, and fussing — just a bit.

Today, it was Cub Scouts. “We’ll start by making some slime while we wait for everyone to get here and settle in,” the den leader said. No go. He absolutely did not want to do anything but bury his face in my belly. He finally joined in, but as with soccer, there was a moment of hesitation.

Back home, we were in the familiar territory — swinging, bouncing on the trampoline, playing with the dog.

A spendid Sunday, like so many others.

Polish Mass Sunday

Sunday

Sunday

Sunday Lazy Sunday

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.

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.