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.

Afternoon at the Lake

I wouldn’t know about them but for the Olympics, which have put in us in front of the television more than usual lately, but State Farm has been apparently hiring known musicians to embed their “Like a good neighbor” in one of their stylized creations. Clever, I guess, but it’s a meaningless ad if you don’t have good neighbors. We have great neighbors, and we spent the afternoon at the lake with them today.

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E has been eyeing our neighbor’s boat for years, and Mr. F has been promising to take him out on the boat for ages. Today was the day. Mrs. P, who works at E’s preschool, told us that he’s been talking about today’s outing for the whole week. “Everyone knows he’s going out on the boat with Mr. F,” she laughed.

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When we arrived, everyone went straight into the water while Mr. F went to put the boat in the water. The plan was simple: swim, lunch, boat ride.

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The first part of it went fine. They even managed to slip a short boat ride in just before lunch.

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But then the rain began and intensified and it was fairly clear fairly quickly that we weren’t going on another boat ride. The thunder began and it became clear that we weren’t even going back into the water.

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So it’s a good thing the kids got the short boat ride in before lunch.

I was talking to the Boy about it, wondering how he’d take it. I tried to set things up to ease the reality of going home sooner than expected.

“But we’re big boys and not really upset about it, right?”

“Yep.”

“Because we can’t control the weather, right?”

“Nope, can’t control the weather.”

If only all disasters were so easily averted.

Spring Saturday

We feel this way every single spring, the relief that the winter is over, that the cold has passed, that bright sun is the norm. No matter the severity of the winter, we all feel this way, especially here in the South, where we’re not really sure what to do with cold weather anyway.

Today was the first warm — truly warm — Saturday we’ve had in the yard. Last weekend we had guests; next weekend is Palm Sunday. From here on out, weekends are not for working in the yard, so we made the most of this beautiful day.

We started with the shrubs in front of the house. The boxwoods are a distant memory, but some of the replacements have not fared well, especially the Indian Hawthorns. We did everything we could, even apparently resurrecting them one spring, but they are stubbornly fragile, so I pulled them out today. Literally — all it took was some rocking and tugging and out they came.

The Boy came out to help me, but the Girl was still in bed. E showed me how he walks in preschool when they have to be “super quiet.” I would imagine he has little trouble following those directions, though: he’s so concerned about following instructions that he gets upset now when he sees his schoolmates taking off their shoes. “It’s against fire code!” he fusses, echoing what his teachers told the class at the beginning of the year. Thinking of some of my own students’ disregard for rules and regulations, I was tempted when he first explained the fire code dilemma, to let him know that once he got to public school, it would become the ironic norm.

The Girl finally woke up, and it was straight to the driveway for racing. She never lets the Boy win, which frustrates him at times, but mostly he shrugs it off. It’s difficult to imagine her doing the same thing when faced with a seemingly-endless losing streak, but that’s one of the many differences that make them both precious to us.

Burnt Norton

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Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.

Everything I do in life teaches my children something. I try to remember that, but it’s not always in the forefront of my thoughts. Still, whether I remember it or not, such is the reality. How I treat K teaches L how a man should treat a woman, how a husband should treat a wife, and E learns the same lessons from the other perspective. How I respond to disasters, real and imagined, teaches them how they should respond in such situations. Their future, in other words, is contained in our present.

I, in turn, learned how to behave by watching my own parents, and they from theirs. Being human, we sometimes give good bad examples, but that’s part of the limitations of humanity — concupiscence, as the Catholic Church describes it:

In its widest acceptation, concupiscence is any yearning of the soul for good; in its strict and specific acceptation, a desire of the lower appetite contrary to reason. To understand how the sensuous and the rational appetite can be opposed, it should be borne in mind that their natural objects are altogether different. The object of the former is the gratification of the senses; the object of the latter is the good of the entire human nature and consists in the subordination of reason to God, its supreme good and ultimate end. But the lower appetite is of itself unrestrained, so as to pursue sensuous gratifications independently of the understanding and without regard to the good of the higher faculties. Hence desires contrary to the real good and order of reason may, and often do, rise in it, previous to the attention of the mind, and once risen, dispose the bodily organs to the pursuit and solicit the will to consent, while they more or less hinder reason from considering their lawfulness or unlawfulness.

A fancy way of saying our tendency toward the less refined appetites in life.

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And then there are the other lessons: teaching the kids how to raise kids. Playing with them is always critical, but sometimes those lower appetites get in the way, the selfish appetites, the desire to do one’s own thing because “I’m tired” or whatever silly excuse.

Incomplete thoughts on an incomplete evening…