Long Saturday

Saturdays these days start with soccer at 9:30. Today, it was tough to get him out the door. K had surprised him the night before with a bunch of Star Wars toys from my childhood that Nana and Papa had saved. He complained about his busy schedule, about his inability to have any time “just to relax.” He just wanted to have some time to rest and play with his new toys. And it grew to a fuss-fit. So I gave him a simple option: “You don’t have to go play soccer today. We can spend the time packing up all these Star Wars toys and taking them back downstairs.”

Needless to say, he was very willing to go after that.

Soccer was fairly typical: after a twenty-minute practice session, the kids played a game. And the Boy played as he usually does, drifting around the periphery, watching, not quite sure whether he wants to engage with the other players. That’s a fairly accurate description of many of the players, to be sure, but for me, knowing him as a parent, it’s a natural outgrowth of his personality.

It’s not something I’m really interested in trying to change. It’s part of his personality. While I think a little more assertiveness might be beneficial later in life, it’s not something I’m terribly worried about for a five year old.

Besides, there were certainly enough assertive players out there today, enough that E’s team won 4-1 (though one goal wasn’t counted, I believe). Again, I don’t care whether his team wins or loses — and E even less so — but I find it ironic that, given all that, his team is so far undefeated.

When we got home, though, the real fun began.

And in the evening, a rarity. The Boy wanted to play instead of reading — nothing really new there. What was surprising was that the Girl wanted to play.

“I thought you hated Star Wars,” I asked.

“I do. But the toys are great.”

So the three of us played for a little while.

“Daddy, is this a good guy or a bad guy?” was a common question. We didn’t really worry about it. Han Solo battled Luke and the Empire collapsed on itself in a grand civil war.

Thursday Evening

We get our shoes on and head down to the swing. Mama has kicked us out: she can only do two things at a time, and she’s currently baking and helping L with something, so we’re on our own.

We play around a bit, here and there, but a hard-workin’ fella can play only so long before he grows restless. He’ll pick up any sort of tool he can find and get to work, because what’s the point of doing otherwise?

You might protest and suggest, “You’re just a kid. Take it easy!” But you’ll get a protest in return.

Eventually, I manage to get the hard worker to take a break and play a little bit. We go exploring, looking for more honeysuckle. It’s all dried up. We head to our favorite spot in the creek. But nothing’s really satisfying.

We head to our hideout to spy on our neighbors, but they leave soon and we sit there.

“What do you want to do?” I ask.

“I don’t know. What do you want to do?” he responds.

“Whatever you want to do. I just want you to be happy.”

“I just want you to be happy.”

What makes us both happy for a time is to carry on with such silliness, but it’s getting late, and soon, the Boy will need a bath. Tugging off his shoes, he notices how dirty his ankles are at the sock line. Smiling, he repeats his favorite saying: “It was a good day.”

K is still baking when we get back in the house. The cake didn’t turn out as she wished, so she’s doing it again. She’s like that. A perfectionist. I’d probably just go buy something, but not our K.

In the house, the Girl is being silly. I take the camera and snap some closeups. Instantly, the silly faces appear.

A satisfying Thursday evening.

Rain

It’s been raining since Saturday night. It’s rained so much that our sump pump, installed well over a year ago and never actually in use, got a chance to kick in. Granted, that’s because there was a bit of water in the basin, though not enough to raise the float and trip the switch, and so I manually pulled the float and it hummed on.

I’d thought about it on and off today, wondering how it might work after so long of just sitting there. While doing our kitchen remodel, I added an outlet for the sump pump on its own dedicated breaker for extra security. The last thing I wanted was for it to happen to throw the breaker and flood the crawl space again.

When I got home from work, I knew the Boy would want only one thing: time in the puddles. Much to my surprise, he wanted first to take a bunch of random pictures with my phone.

He’s asked for a camera a couple of times, and this of course thrills K and me endlessly. I’d like to let him use one of our digital cameras, but unfortunately, they’re a bit on the too-expensive-to-let-a-kid-touch-without-immediate-adult-supervision side.

But some things are free and unbreakable, like puddles.

We first headed to our backyard theoretically to check on the level of water in the creek, but in reality, to explore for puddles.

I still don’t get what’s some much fun about splashing about in gum boots in dirty rain water. I’m sure at some point in my life I loved it too, but I watch E and think only one thing: “I’d hate to have my pants partially wet like that.”

We also headed over to the low point of the creek behind our neighbors’ house to see how it was flowing. It’s at this point that it first jumps the banks when it’s a real flash-flood-inducing deluge like it did a year and a half ago and three years ago and four years ago. By then it was already subsiding, though, and with the rain supposed to stop before the evening’s out, it looks like we won’t have to worry about a serious flood.

That didn’t keep us from checking the neighborhood to make sure, though. E armed himself with his plastic assault rifle and out we went, searching for puddles for him to walk through.

Toward the end of the adventure, he found a stick at the edge of a puddle and stomped on it to break it. Water went everywhere.

“We have to go in now,” I explained.

“Why?”

“Because I told you not to stomp in the water, and you just did. You disobeyed, and what’s more, you’re wet now.”

We began walking back up to the house, and he said, “That was a good idea.”

“No,” I corrected, “that was not a good idea.”

“No, I mean the idea I just thought of.”

“What was that?”

“I should have taken it out before I stomped it.”

“That was a good idea.”

Sunday

It’s been in the seventies for a couple of weeks now. The blueberries are covered in blossoms, and various trees are sending out leaves. So of course it makes sense for winter to get one last dig in before giving up for the year.

We were supposed to have a three-day week this week but because of two snow days earlier in the year, we lost them. My worry, hearing about the potential for snow, was that we’d lose our third and final make-up day, which is the Monday after Easter. Sure, having a snow day Monday would be nice in a sense, but at what price?

So the small amount of snow that dusted the grass — areas in the backyard that had nothing but soil melted the snow immediately — seemed a little threat. Only one thing to do: put the new police uniform on and spend the day chasing bad guys.

And play some games.

Risks

Part of growing up is learning to take risks and learning not to take them. It all depends on the child, I guess. For us, it’s both: the Girl dives into almost everything without much thought of the consequences sometimes, and it’s something that’s always worried us; the Boy on the other hand watches, thinks, calculates, and sometimes — often — walks away from a given situation that he evaluates to be too risky. Between the two of them, the perfect mean.

Parenting is about risk as well. At the most basic level, there’s the risk of some kind of congenital defect in our children that provides them with challenges that might seem or simply be unfair, overwhelming, disheartening. Some folks are reluctant to have children for that reason. “What if our kid is born without certain wiring working and grows to be a sociopath?” is the extreme of this worrying. It’s never really been a worry of mine, though. It’s out of my control, so why worry about it.

That fear aside, we all want our kids to grow into these super-beings that fear nothing that needs not be feared, that boldly takes risks that matter, that stand up to bullies and make perfect grades. Of course all those things have differing priorities and can all be subsumed under the general idea of “well-rounded person” in the risk department. To that end, we teach, train, and so on. But there’s only so much as parents we can do about our kids’ personalities and outlooks on life. Nurture takes you only so far; nature gives some pretty strong dispositions.

The Boy, as a four-year-old, has certain risks that he decides to take that are appropriately sized. He’s begun to turn his back on his little Baby Bjorn potty and head straight for the toilet. He’s begun standing instead of always sitting. And that involves risks. Today he went upstairs to go to the restroom wearing one pair of pants and came back down wearing shorts. “I siu-siu‘ed on my pants,” he explained, using his typical Polish-English combination: a Polish base with the English past-tense inflection.

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A few minutes later, he trotted back upstairs to clean up the mess, illustrating another parenting risk: lack of proper instruction on how to clean up potty messes leads to testing the absorbency of the bathroom rug.

The Girl’s risk-taking is appropriately sized as well. She’ll swing like a maniac, but today she realized she was going a little too high and decided to stop pumping her legs. That kind of self-awareness has been a long time coming.

Still, she does things on our newest tree swing that make me just cringe. She likes to drop back and hang from her knees as she swings. She never does it when she’s swinging high, and she always holds on with both hands (unlike the picture below, taken before she actually started swinging). At some point, she’s going to decide that her gymnastics training, meager as it is, is sufficient to begin turning backflips out of the swing like the girl in elementary school who could do that, stopping students’ and teachers’ hearts alike. That will be a risk I don’t want her to take, but it’s a risk I’m also not sure she would take. As we approach her birthday — a little over two weeks to go — I know we’re edging ever closer to the risk-taking that makes all fathers nervous: love. Sure, it’s still a long way off, I tell myself, but those first stirrings will begin in the next couple of years or so, and she’ll begin offering her heart to boys. And we all know what that means.

Their risks are my risks, so for now I’m happy to face the little risks with the Boy and smile as the Girl pulls back a little from her ridiculously high arc.

Late October Sunday

With it being the last Sunday of the month, our family had a lazy morning that included a bit of television, a bit of computer, a bit of baklava, and a bit of exploring, all before lunch. The Boy and I went to our normal haunts, though we decided this time to go a bit deeper into the “woods” that consist of vines and bushes on the property behind ours, the house abandoned now for several years. We went deep enough that I had to crawl for a moment. Afterward, there was the usual: swinging, exploring the creek (where we found our lost ball behind our neighbors’ house), and lounging in the hammock. We were there when K came out onto the back deck to call us in for lunch.

“We’re being lazy on the hammock,” the Boy responded.

In the evening, Nana and Papa came by for dinner — another adventure in “we’re no longer worrying about whether our kids will eat what we cook because they can survive skipping one meal from hunger.” Of course that won’t really happen with the Boy: first, he’s too adventurous with his eating for that to happen, and second, when push comes to plate, he quickly reaches a point at which the stubbornness gives way to the hunger.

The Girl, of course, is an entirely different story, and I still wonder whether or not we’re doing the right thing by her. That’s the eternal worry of parenting, I guess, but I try to keep things in a more global perspective: hungry kids in Africa and all of that. Tonight was not all that much of a battle because it was tortellini: she likes pasta, though she predictably didn’t like the fact that it was pasta stuffed with something. Despite the fact that she likes pierogi, which are essentially the same thing.

Sometime later this week, we’re planning Indian — dal with palak paneer. That should be a really interesting night…

The Boys on the Trampoline

I sat in the Girl’s bedroom, helping her prepare for an English test tomorrow. Cobbler’s kids and all. We were going over how to remember the difference between interrogative sentences and imperative sentences when the Boy came in. We chatted for a while, and I encouraged him to leave us a lone so we could finish up the Girl’s test preparation.

“Okay,” he chirped and headed out, stopping at the door to ask me if we could spend a little time together after dinner.

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Dinner complete, the Boy and I headed down to the trampoline as L and K went through the day’s Polish lessons. As we jumped, we found ourselves eventually lying on our backs staring up at the trees above us. For several weeks this summer, he was afraid that, as the wind blew, the trees could very easily come toppling down on us. Today, we just lay there watching the sun slowly disappear and the glow of the leaves slowly dissipate.

Soccer

We chatted about practice during breakfast. He was excited about the prospect of doing what we did yesterday with a lot of kids. All the running and kicking yesterday resulted in a lot of laughing, and that undoubtedly fueled his enthusiasm for today. I was a little worried that, as he’s done other times, the Boy might start having second thoughts as the moment approached, but there was none of that. We put his shoes on sans shin guards, which were too small we decided, and headed to the field.

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We met the coach, and E began following the other children’s example and kicking goals. His first shots were comparatively strong, hard shots. The coach’s daughter, who was a couple of years older than the players, was standing in as goalie and E’s shot flew right by her into the back of the net. I remembered how relatively tentatively L would shoot goals at the beginning and thought this might be a good sign.

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Practice shifted and the coach explained to the little ones what dribbling is and set them off toward the mid-field. Some children set off at a light jog, kicking the ball a few feet in front of them and running to catch up. Others kicked it with all their might and ran to the ball. E and a few others delicately pushed the ball with each foot as he stepped forward, a slow and deliberate journey to the mid-field. Yesterday, it was the opposite: wild abandon, kicking the ball and running as fast as he could. Such a change today. “He’s not doing it like we practiced yesterday,” I thought, wondering why he was being so very careful. It might have been tempting to compare his journey to other children’s, but to what end? He is who he is, and he was doing the exercise the way he felt comfortable doing it. I was thankful for that.

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The Girl spent the first half of practice reading. She finished her book and began again with a shrug. She’s got some books that she’s read so many times that she must have them virtually memorized. The second half of practice she headed to a playground down at the edge of the fields and made a few new friends with other older sisters. What did they talk about? I so rarely see E with other girls — our neighborhood is simply filled with boys — that I can’t imagine. That shift must slowly be starting, mustn’t it? Surely they’re not talking about which Barbies they have (L hasn’t had any in years) and similar topics. Fingernail polish? School?

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While I wasn’t able to watch and listen to the Girl’s interactions with her new friends, I was able watch the Boy interact with adults without my mediation. He listened well, remember later in practice the earlier instruction to stand with one foot on the ball when the coach is teaching a new skill. He did the best he could, but as a four-year-old will always do, he regularly checked to see where I was, making sure I was still on the sideline. The Girl became so absorbed in her activities that we could have easily left her behind — she never would have noticed until the other girls left.

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That independence is growing and will only increase, I know. Are we ready for it? Ready or not, it’s coming.