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.

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.