I love graveyards. I always have. I remember being 6 and visiting the graveyard in Bonners Ferry and thinking how pretty it was, and if I died soon I hoped they’d bury me there. I used to go hang out in the Mineral Cemetery to watch the stars on bright, clear nights. My husband proposed to me in the tiny graveyard we’d walked to on the night we met. I walked around the Wyoming Cemetery in Melrose the night I was in labor with Grey, and through Stoneham’s Lindenwood Cemetery the night I gave birth to Thane. I am often in graveyards, when I play taps for veterans funerals. I find graveyards lovely, peaceful, thought-provoking and restful.
On Saturday, we arranged with Coelynn McIninch to do our every-four-years formal family portraits. Coe had taken the Camp Gramp portraits two years ago, and I’d liked her work a lot, so it was logical to ask her to come and shoot us. But it was 4 pm on a Saturday afternoon in September, with fast-fading light. It was overcast, and a bit chilly. I’d _planned_ on going to the Middlesex Fells for the pictures, but suddenly that seemed a long way away. “Why don’t we just go to the graveyard?” my husband inquired, reading my mind. And so we went.
I should also mention that we are very respectful of graves, and we teach our sons to be as well. I never forget that a place of peace of me is a place of sorrow for others.*
Folks, the pictures are AMAZING. It was very, very difficult (nigh impossible!) to keep Thane looking forward and smiling, but she did it. Grey is adorably snaggle-toothed… I’m shocked that the front tooth has held on another few days! There were some pictures of us getting wiggles out, or being silly, or just being a family with a six year old and three year old (for a few more days!) I’m super pleased with all of them – both silly** and serious – and the hard part will be to decide which ones make it on the wall and in our Christmas cards!
That’s right, folks. The last game of the regular season is on the radio, so it is clearly time to think of Christmas cards!
I’m tempted not to share, if only so those of you who actually get Christmas cards from me are surprised, but that seems too mean.
*There was a guy there who was learning how to drive a clutch on the cemetery hills – loudly – and someone must have called the police because two cruisers pulled in just as we pulled out. I admit to being rather glad we were safely off by then!
**The ones where the boys are being zombies and eating Adam’s brains are AWESOME. I love the “Tomb of the Living Dead” some teenager scrawled on that wall years ago.
I think that when you have two children, they end up being a sort of behavioral teeter-totter. Is one of them being angelically delightful? Prepare for the other one to be in one of those phases.
Grey is being angelically delightful. I think you know what that means.
But first, let’s talk about that delight. It’s really amazing to watch your infant become a little person. The astonishing thing to me is how long a path it is to being a completely independent person (or having your mom able to see you as such). Let’s see, some of the awesome things Grey’s been doing include:
Feeding the cats without being asked. I know, if you have larger people that doesn’t sound like a huge chore. But for a four year old to remember his job and do it correctly without nagging is pretty fantastic.
Telling knock knock jokes. Really, really, really bad knock knock jokes. Here’s an example of a Grey knock knock joke. Knock knock.
Banana cow eating milk
Banana cow eating milk who?
Banana cow eating milk with bread and jam in its nose (riotious laughing)
I’m trying to teach him to say “Non-sequitur cow” for the who’s there bit, because it would make his truly da-da-esque punchlines actually funny.
Being polite. There are pleases and thank yous. He often does what he’s asked cheerfully. I can’t tell you how awesome polite is, when your child has trained you for epic pouting tantrums. It’s just so…. nice.
Learning how to play the game. Both literally and figuratively. He’s been playing a lot of games lately (thank you, oh long-suffering Corey), and he’s starting to do cool things like follow the rules. Next up is losing gracefully.
Asking us questions about our day. Yesterday as we sat down for dinner, Grey said, “So, daddy, how was your day at work?” and listened to the answer. So cool.
Not throwing fits. For example, every day twice a day (on work days) it is time for him to turn off his DS and give it to me (since he only gets it in the car). I was figuring we’d spend several weeks where he’d lose his DS every other day as he discovered that pitching a fit about turning over the DS = not getting it next car trip. But instead, I’ve had to do that about twice. He often turns it off of his own volition as we turn onto the correct street and says “Here mom!” in a cheerful voice. The MIND BOGGLES. Moreover, I will have you know that he defeated the big Penguin in Kirby. FYI.
Having opinions about his clothes. The other day he declared the blue striped shirt I presented him with as insufficiently awesome. He emerged from his room wearing:
-Red Spiderman socks
-Blue sweatpants with a red stripe
-A yellow Spongebob shirt where Spongebob is has Groucho glasses on that says “Incognito”.
He declared himself awesomely attired for the day.
Loving his brother. He loves to give Thane hugs. He asks to please play with Thane. He often manages to find a way to redirect Thane’s attention when the same toy is desired. He watches to make sure that Thane isn’t doing something forbidden. When Thane is fussy (see also: all the damn time lately), he will dance around and make silly faces and play peekaboo to try to make him laugh instead. What a joy to watch
So Grey is largely awesome.
And then Thane. Oh Thane. Oh my sweet son, my joy and my delight. I hope we all survive this stage. I remember this stage. This is the stage I hate. With passion. And prejudice. This is the throwing food and screaming phase, the I-want-to-open-the-kitchen-cabinets phase, the everything-goes-straight-in-the-mouth phase.
First, the good. After a month-long pause, Thane is acquiring and using new words again. I think I’ve figured out why I’m having such trouble tracking his language (well, other than the other person talking non-stop about “Banana cows with milk in their noses”). When Grey was this age, I’d get down at eye-height and say, “Grey, can you say nose? Nose? Can you say nose?” and Grey obliging would say “no”. Thane, on the other hand, is having none of that. I’ll get down and point at his protuberance and say, “Thane, can you say nose? Nose? Can you say nose?” Thane will give me a look of utter disgust, attempt to wrench my mouth open with his fingers so he can find out what’s in there, and say very distinctly and clearly, “Ma ma”. I don’t know how to interpret this. Does he not know what a nose is? Is he confused about the difference between HIS nose and MY nose? Or does he totally know what a nose is and how to say it, but lacks the dramatic motivation to deliver his line? Or is “ma ma” his way of telling me, uh, something? Anyway, the key is to listen in context for appropriate words. I have several witnesses who will vouch to the fact that when they gave Thane something (like a bit of turkey), he clearly said “Thank you”. (Or, you know, “day do” which is practically the same thing in 12 month old).
But language and lack there-of plays a huge role in why he’s so frustrating. He can’t tell me what he wants. It’s much harder for him to grab my full attention, in competition with his brother, when one person is saying something fascinating about “Banana cows moo coffee” and the other one is simply screeching unpleasantly. I have a sneaking suspicion that the solution to this might be baby sign, but I’m not really sure when we’d have time to teach it to him. It might be faster just to wait until he starts talking more.
The hard part about this stage is the screeching. He’s on the floor and screeching because he wants to be picked up. He’s happily conducting investigations into the pot cupboard and screeching because I remove him. He’s bored with Cheerios and screeching as he flings them with great prejudice to the floor. (This is the stage where having a dog is awfully handy!) He’s still hungry and screeching for some as-yet unknown desired food, which he then proceeds to discover has an interesting texture and squishes in his hand before flinging to join the cheerios. In his car seat, he flings aside his toys and screeches protest at his confinement. In my arms being held, he screeches and flings himself down with his considerable weight because he sees something he wants to play with. He hits my face, and screeches when I correct him. He sees his brother playing with something cool and screeches with desire. Changing his diaper or attempting to put clothes on him is a complete nightmare. He twists and writhes without ceasing. He’s REALLY STRONG and you have to apply considerable force if you’re going to physically control him. And he’s 12 months old, which means there’s no way to verbally control him. And he’s very focused, which means distraction techniques are not particularly effective with him. He turns and turns and turns (and screeches) as you try to strap him into his car seat. It’s completely exhausting.
By the time I hand him over to Rubertina in the morning (his new favorite thing is closing the door on my face because he loooooooves Abuela), I’m not particularly sad to be parting.
The worst part is that his investigative and easily frustrated current stage make it very difficult to do things. Invite to a friend’s house? Grey will be lovely and behaved, but Thane is a small, destructive tornado. Trip to a museum? How will we deal with Thane? Playdate? Grey can go but I won’t inflict Thane on anyone. For example, I’d like to take Grey to the grocery store to buy the things our church is providing for the Thanksgiving food baskets. But I lack the courage and energy to take Thane too. This might mean it doesn’t happen.
When I was in labor with Thane, I found that prior experience was actually a hindrance. As I went into transition, I knew how much hurt and hard work was ahead of me, instead of simply going with the flow and taking each moment as it comes. I suspect I’m doing a similar thing now. If I recall, this difficult pre-verbal stage lasts nearly a year. Grey started getting awesome to do things with about the time of his third birthday. That’s two years from now. So instead of taking Thane as he is, I keep looking ahead to post-screeching phases. I think that doesn’t help me be a great parent to him now.
Writing this all out, I’m starting to think that we need to provide Thane with some more physical activities. Maybe that screeching is just excess energy that doesn’t have a good direction. The other thing is that maybe I SHOULD work with him with sign. I know a lot of people who have sworn by the calming effects of giving a child a way to communicate before they can coordinate their lips and tongue to the efforts. At worst, it might give us some one on one time that can be hard for him to acquire.
I love my curly-haired, crinkly-nosed Thane-boy. I’d like to enjoy spending time with him. One of my delights is when he’s both loving and playing. He’ll play with a toy, come over for a hug leaning his curly head into my chest, and then after a calm moment go back to his play. What a joy!
Well, now that you’ve gotten through all this (ah, how you wish I had an editor!), I have a reward for you. Here are some pictures of our family this Fall!