Tonight Adam and I snuck in a run in the very last of the after-work light. About a mile in, my phone rang with an unknown number. It rang again. Then I saw a text. “Mom?” It said. I answered on the third ring. “Mom,” said a no-nonsense voice on the other end. “What oil do I use to grease a cake pan? Is it olive oil? I’m making you a cake for your birthday because I feel bad we didn’t do it earlier.”
I explained the wonders of Pam to him.
Half a mile later, I got a Google video call. “Mom” with the camera pointed to the mixer, “How do I hook up the beater to the mixer?”
When we got home, the batter was mixed (ok – he did use the bread hook instead of the beater). He followed the recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook. All by himself. “I’m sorry for the mess. I am still learning how to do all this.” The best birthday gift a mom could ask for cools on the stove.
Tonight marks the last night when my son can answer the question “how old are you” with only his fingers. Of course, being a pre-teen, he’d be highly unlikely to answer that question using his fingers anyway. For us, this milestone birthday finds us starting Middle School. There’s homework (lots of it, and hard). There are after school clubs (Ultimate Frisbee and drama are his top two choices – with a conflict that means he can’t do extra band practice). There’s the independence that comes when your primary mode of transportation is your own two feet, and you’re on your own recognizance to get between all the places you go in a day. (I recently bought him a backpack cover, because he’s expected to walk in all weathers.) There is the beginning of making choices that are different than the ones your parents would make for you (see also: Ultimate Frisbee instead of band). We are entering a new stage of life together.
Grey is still incredibly fun to be a family with. He has a cunning wit, and keen sense of humor and wordplay. He reads comic books over and over compulsively (just like I did – he stole all of mine). He prefers realistic fiction in his reading materials, and is becoming entranced by manga. (I got a giant box of manga for him for his birthday. We might not see much of him this week.) Like so many boys of his generation his favorite things have screens on them (to my dismay). He loves watching these obnoxious Youtube videos, and playing those freemium games that are the bane of the internet. His birthday party includes a very small collection of friends – just enough to match the number of simultaneous Xbox players.
When forced to be away from his computer, Grey loves to be with people. He loves role playing games, both as a player at his father’s table and as a GM with his peers. There are wide-ranging neighborhood adventures, and a pack of children who move around together. He plays soccer (and is vastly improved), although he doesn’t love it. He’s a great lover of variety, in food and entertainment. Grey is a sucker for the cozy. He’s at his happiest curled up over the heating vent in PJs eating sunflower seeds (there are seeds EVERYWHERE in this house), listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Kathy’s Song” and reading a comic book while the rain falls outside. Grey adores things that are cute. Like cats. He loves cats. And little kids. He’s really good with the younger set, which is a good thing because as one of the oldest kids in the set, there are lots of little kids.
Of course, Grey’s not perfect. But over the decade plus I’ve known him, I’ve watched his faults diminish and his gifts flourish. I can only hope that trend continues unabated through (gulp) puberty and beyond.
Milestone birthday don’t come much bigger than 10. There are only two times in life you can change the number of digits in your age – and the second is hardly guaranteed. On Tuesday, Grey experienced that first one. He took it well in stride.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my eldest son lately. (As opposed to normally, where I think about my kids all the time…) The who of him is coming through clearer and clearer. At the same time, I’m seeing growth and changes in some of the ways I’ve most deeply hoped. He’s an incredibly complicated kid, with a richness of personality that he will spend a lifetime uncovering and revealing to those he loves.
And therein lies the rub. As I sit in front of the keyboard wanting to tell you, his fan club since the day he was born, who he is I find myself constrained. Because increasingly it is his story to tell, and not mine. A mother is a terrible point of view character in the hero’s story, and he’s becoming ready to be the narrator in his own adventures. So I’ll run all this past him first. Still, here are a few observations on my first-born.
1) He’s deepening his ability for hard work
This has always been an area where Grey has had work. Early on, we ran into challenges with things that were hard: guitar, soccer, homework, chores. In the last year or so, I’ve watched a profound change in Grey where he’s started to be able to shoulder his load without complaint. He has played hard at every soccer game and soccer practice. Not once this year has he stomped off the field because he’s too tired or worn out. I think his body is stronger, but his mind is much stronger too. He has taken on trumpet and is fighting the heaviness of the horn, the relentlessness of practice and the hardness of doing something you’re bad at. And he’s embraced it. His homework this year has gotten for real. He has 7 different things he needs to do every school night, and they take over an hour. Understand we don’t get home until 6 pm. Dinner isn’t ready until 7. Bedtime is at 8:30. Have over an hour of homework in that span means he gets very little “downtime” at home. But he is doing what needs to be done, often with grace.
2) He has some great friends
Friends are one of the great protective elements in life. In my life, the friends who surround my days are peace of mind, fun, and a warm sense of belonging all wrapped into one. Grey has some deep and powerful friendships (even if listening to them you become convinced that 90% of the 4th grade brain power is Pokemon-centric). And I must say that the friends he’s picked for himself are exactly the friends I would pick for him. They’re kind, low-drama, fun, cooperative, smart and well behaved. Mostly. I watch them walk together and see how their shoulders just casually bump into each other, and see a group of boys who have each other’s backs. That’s what I would wish for my son.
3) Grey is incredibly emotionally astute
I might spend my time observing him and coming to poetic observations. But the truth is that he does the same to me. The richness of his emotional vocabulary is astounding – and kind of scary. I wonder how someone who feels as deeply and powerfully as he already does at 10 will deal with his first heart break. And he is knocking at the door of the next stage of his life, when we feel most deeply. But at this moment, I am just in awe of his empathetic understanding.
4) I really like my kid
Of course we love our children. But it’s an extra special bonus to like our children. I really enjoy spending time with Grey. He’s funny and thoughtful and kind. He knows things I don’t know. (When does that start?) Sometimes I find it hard to put him to bed because I’m enjoying spending time with him. (Also because bed time is hard right now – he’s having trouble falling asleep which leads to a tired kid and a cranky mom.) He can beat me at board games. Grey is simply good company, and I love spending time with him.
Grey has 7 teeth (seven!) and is doing very well eating solids. His parents are perhaps doing less well in figuring out what solids are kid-friendly, nutritious and easy to make. Grey can now hold his own sippy cup to drink water.
Wait, what’s that you say? My son is not nine months old, but nine years?! Impossible! Irrational! Unbelievable! Why, nine years old is practically a grownup! A real person! I was in Mr. White’s class when I was nine, learning about the Civil War and charting weather patterns based on newspapers. My son can’t be nine, can he?
He can be, and he is.
Writing about Grey has gotten harder. He dislikes it when I’ve posted some cute picture or story on Facebook, and he hears about it Sunday from the wonderful, caring grownups there. He’s asked – fairly – that I get his permission before I post stories or pictures about him. The editing makes perfect sense from his point of view, but I miss getting to tell you everything. He’ll read, and approve, this story before I publish it. (This is my excuse for why it’s late.) Only he and I know which lines got crossed out. He would like me to tell you, though, that he’s got his oft-neglected blog Wacky Wonder Comics.
The most notable difference about Grey is his steadiness. He will always be a person who feels life deeply, with meteoric highs and abysmal lows. First grade, in particular, roiled for us, with far too much time spent in subterranean unhappiness. But second grade, with a beloved teacher, went much better. This summer was profoundly marked by his adventures in Camp Wilmot. He came back a bit more centered, confident, quieter and capable. Since then, there have been small but profound changes. For example, he now does his chores quickly and without delay or whining right when he gets home. He seems to rebound faster from disappointments. He is trying harder – he has picked himself up from the dirt of the soccer field and taken off running. I didn’t see that from him even this spring. His grit is catching up to his smarts.
Grey only wanted one thing for his birthday: a Chromebook. He, like his parents, loves video games. Although we have taught him how to live in a world without screens, there’s no denying that given his druthers he be online and connected. His homework has gotten more serious about online work lately, with some great math, typing and science programs. So… for his birthday he got a Chromebook. I loaded the bookmarks with the best of the internet. I set him up with a Khan Academy account. I put algebra games into his app store.
He figured out where to find the best online games, changed the background, and commented on a G+ picture I posted.
For the first time, today, he and I had an email exchange that I had not had to choreograph. The internet has been a wonderful thing for me, but I still have trepidation on seeing his first steps onto the road of the larger digital world, where the best and the worst of humanity and human history lurk mere clicks away from each other.
Grey is growing in every way. He’s watching M*A*S*H with me at night. He’s arguing that he’s too big for his booster seat. He’s three inches away from being right, at four and a half feet. He has a sense of style and a clothing preference. When he draws comics, he includes guidelines so the boxes are square. He loves cats, my chili and comic books. When he and his friends play Minecraft together, every other word is “Dude”. He asked me the other day if he’d always be my baby. I told him that no doubt, he’d always be my baby. But with the quickly passing years, he is also now my boy, quickly growing to be my young man. I love him, and I’m proud of him.
Last night, I kissed my seven year old goodnight. This morning, I wished a cheery good morning to an eight year old. Yes, Grey is now eight. As in, halfway to a driver’s license.
For Grey’s 8th birthday, I took him and two of his friends to Canobie Lake Park – a regional amusement park of reasonable proportions. Together, they added up to one 21 year old. It was actually an awesome age to bring the kids to an amusement park. They were old enough to go on real rides with, and old enough that I wasn’t worried about them bolting/getting lost/needing help in the bathroom… but they were young enough that very often I would find a hand still trustingly holding mine – often not my son’s. Old enough to go, young enough to still want me to be there. I am enjoying every minute of that, I assure you.
I’ve written a lot about Grey, lately. I’ve told you about his art work, his humor, his cats. The changes are very incremental at this age, and hard for even the very close to tell much about. Grey is doing really well these days. He seems very happy. He likes second grade. He (mostly) likes after school. He has enjoyed music lately, focusing on some favorite songs. He loves math, Legos, comic books, Phineas and Ferb and mystery novels. He loves video games, and shows the appalling facility with them so common among boys of a certain age. He has made and kept really good friends, with whom he spends as much time as he can finagle. He vacillates between self-absorbed and considerate, but is making progress towards spending more time in considerate side of the spectrum. He’s playing soccer on Team Greece (which is a very good team!) and likes hanging out on the porch reading – which is what he’s doing at this very moment, listening to music on his new MP3 player (the cheap version).
He’s developing amazing independence. He can do things like change batteries in a device that needs a screwdriver to open (including the finding a screwdriver part). He has been walking by himself to nearby places: the used book store, the library, the post office, the park. He remembers to do things I don’t know about, like wear the right shirt on Red Sox day.
I remember when Grey was three months old, Adam and I lamented he would ever grow since he was ideal at the phase he was and we wanted nothing more than to just pause him in time and keep him there. I am glad I didn’t… eight year old Grey is too good to miss out on!
It has come to my attention that a certain young man of my acquaintance turned seven today. Seven. Do you remember when I announced I was pregnant? (And that brilliant April Fools Day joke when I announced he was a twin – one of my finest moments!) Do you remember that infant? That burbling, drooly baby? That pudgy toddler? That captivating preschooler? That wide-eyed Kindergartner? They have all faded into memory, history, and the pictures I still intend to scrapbook. Maybe. Someday. And in their place stands a shoulder-high, clear-headed, compassionate child: closer to puberty than birth.
Oh, my son Grey. My brilliant and beloved child. How to capture at this point in time who you are? You can play complex games using strategy. You go totally emo whenever you’re tired or thwarted. Today you did not blow out all the candles on your birthday cake. You left one for each other child who came to the party – so they could blow some out too. You let your brother open your birthday presents because he is three. Every day when we pick you up, you say in a sing-song voice, “What’s for DIN-er?” And, tired from a hard day and hard learning, you will melt down into complete grumpitude if the answer is not to your liking. You listen to Kiss 108 whenever you can, and know all the words to all the top 20 hits. At night, when I ask you what you want to ask God for, you answer, “Peace, no war, kindness, compassion, responsibility, respect and citizenship.” You eat all the marshmallows out of Lucky Charms and eat none of the charms. You love to read Order of the Stick and Calvin and Hobbes. You try to do your homework fast instead of well. You wept bitter, wracking tears when your cat died. You always try to talk me into staying in your room and snuggling you when I put you to bed. Often you are successful by opening up the black box of your day and telling me about the rich, complex life you live at school and afterschool. You label anyone who wrongs you a bully. You love your brother and help and tolerate him far more than an older sibling should be expected to – even when he steps on your toys and bothers the bejeesus out of you.
And man, do you love Legos. Screens are losing their hold on you (kind of) as Legos and books take more of your mindshare. All you wanted for this birthday, with your allowance, in general was Legos and more Legos. You are – without a doubt – better at assembling Legos than I am. One of the key ways you’ve been getting in trouble lately is by bringing Legos to school because you are desperate to share with your fellow afficionados. Today, you made one small Lego set in twenty minutes. Right now you are in your room doing a massive set intended for kids twice your age. It was the set you picked out. After long and careful thought, you did not choose Lego Monster, or Lego Star Wars, or Lego Castle, or Lego Super Heroes (which your brother did pick), or Lego Ninjago (which I thought you would), or even Lego City. You picked
You said it was because it had girl mini-figs and you didn’t have any girl mini-figs. It’s hard to tell a story without girls in it. I never, in all the things in the store, never would have guessed that you wanted this one.
Oh, my Grey. You are full of surprises. You’re no perfect child – by any means. But the goodness and kindness of your heart make me the proudest parent I could be. The keenness of your mind and your surprising emotional insights make you an interesting person to be around, even at seven. I love you. I can’t wait to see who you grow to be, my Grey.
Part of me thinks that I should “hold on” to good, milestone posts about my kids until they hit a good milestone. I mean, Grey is only a month away from his fifth birthday! He’s not going to change so much in the intervening month, so I’ll either miss a milestone update, repeat myself, or have to make stuff up. But the part of me that is a middle-aged and more experienced writer whispers “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a’flyin.” Which translates as “Write your blog posts when you’re thinking about them, idiot.”
So, Grey. Grey is almost five. If you ask him when his birthday is, he can tell you the date. He knows what day of the week it is every day, and what that means. He knows what month of the year it is, and what that means. He knows his brother’s birthday, and how old Thane will be, and will likely volunteer the information that when Grey is seven, Thane will be four. This is important because seven is the epitome of “grown up” and four, well, Grey is four so four is awesome!
Grey will not being going to Kindergarten this week. I’ve been wrestling with this for over a year. There’s lots of “one the one hand” and “on the other hand” going on. (The one hand is: he’s reading well, can count to 100 and is making light of his preschool curriculum. The other hand is: children tend to do well with an extra year’s emotional maturity before going to school, and Grey will be no exception. Also, he will spend the rest of his life as a big person… why rush it?) The third and final hand, though, is that there is no mechanism for testing in early and I don’t want to start him off in private school, so wait a year it is. I don’t think this will do him any harm.
The reading. Oh, the reading! So Grey first read a book all by himself nearly a year ago, at his 4 year checkup (to the surprise of his doctor and I). He spent several months with the ability to read a word or two. It’s hard work, though, and he preferred to let us do the reading. Since he’s four, and he deserves to still have his mommy and daddy read to him, we praised his reading efforts, cursed when he read something inconvenient to us, and continued to read to him.
But last night! My mother-in-law is here, so I have a few moments of this weird thing called “leisure”. Go ahead and look it up in the dictionary. I was using this precious commodity to read a book for work (hey, at least it was an interesting one). I asked Grey to read with me on the couch. First he read me the book “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket”. (Which, um, seriously. That’s not exactly easy. Do you know how many made-up words there are? He must have a decent grasp of phonics to do it, although he definitely uses rhymes to figure out the pronunciation of the nonce-words.) After that, I told him he had to read to himself. And so he got out a treasury of Little Critter stories and read THREE of them to himself. All by himself.
His reading is sophisticated. He uses funny voices, when appropriate. There’s rhythm and cadence. He sometimes corrects my interpretations when I read aloud to him. He stops at punctuation. He misses words because he is reading for content. It took me a while to figure out that’s a sign he’s reading better, not worse. But a word might say “that” and he’ll read it “the” because he’s taking a holistic view of the sentence. It makes sense. It still flows. But it means that he’s reading sentences instead of words. (And hey, my mom still does that sometimes!) But reading for entertainment!!! Squee!!!!
I bought him some new books to read this weekend while we’re camping. I hope we get him good and hooked.
He’s starting to get a better grasp on his temper. Obviously one of the big components of that is getting more sleep. I need to keep reminding myself how much easier his life is when he gets to bed early, because I get lazy and enjoy his company and don’t always get him to bed with alacrity. But if you take away his toy unfairly, he might yell at you, “I don’t like that!” This may not seem huge, but it is. He’s using his words to work through very hot and present emotions. He’s making huge strides in mastering control of himself.
We watched “Drunken Master” the other night. (What? Jackie Chan is totally kid-appropriate, and I won’t hear otherwise. I just tell him the wine is a magic potion!) He didn’t mind the Kung Fu, which is pretty ballet-like in truth, but he got very concerned when Jackie was really hungry and tried to steal a dinner. He shows empathy in very appropriate ways, I think. (He also loved Drunken Master. “I want to watch it EVERY home day!”)
Grey intellectually understands that effort and practice are the keys to becoming proficient. We were playing Mario Kart Wii and I’m bad enough that I wouldn’t throw the game to protect his ego. (I actually think we’re pretty evenly matched. I’m not a great video gamer.) He stormed off. Afterwards, tearfully, he told me, “I forgot that if I keep trying I’ll get better!”
There are still some challenges, of course, in Grey’s life. He’s a very picky eater, often turning up his nose at the delicious and laborious dinners I place in front of him. I find that hard to deal with. He has a tendency to be a bit emo… there are times when some black eyeliner and vampire-themed-clothing would not be out of place. He hates it when things don’t go perfectly his way. (Don’t we all?) We’re working on cutting out a nail-biting habit before it gets too ingrained. But if he was totally perfect, that would be annoying.
Emotionally, Grey is getting very complex. We were in the car the other day, driving home from aikido, and he told me, “Mom, did you know some old people are sad because they didn’t have any children?” Whoof. Complicated social concepts to explain on no notice … GO! So we talked about how for some people that’s true, how some people don’t have kids and aren’t sad about it, and how other people choose to find other ways of having children, like adopting. I finally figured out he’d watched “UP” and really taken to heart that wrenching first 20 minutes. We talked about how that couple was both very happy and a little sad.
Despite being a non-cuddly baby/toddler, Grey has turned into the world’s snuggliest preschooler. He often comes to hug me, give me kisses and snuggle me. He is very solicitous of my well-being, although he is also a big rough-houser. He’s getting big enough that we’re teaching him how to safely rough-house with us. But he is so gentle and kind, to me and to his little brother. And most especially to his two favorite animals du jour: Tigry and Puppy. They are his children. He’ll give you the complete family tree of all his stuffed animals, but they’re his favorites.
He tells me, without provocation or priming, that he loves me very much and that I am his “Sweet mommy”.
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!
This time of year is commonly called “Back to School” time. Ah! How I have loved it. I have this mismash of memories: the sharp box of crayons all lined up by color, the cut brown and orange leaves hanging on the wall, the course outline printed next to the computer, the syllabus slipped into the front cover of a blank notebook, the snap of a trapper-keeper with a ream of paper and a pencil holder in front. I loved every bit of it. I loved the newness and the fresh start. I loved the office supplies. I loved school. In college, I loved all parts of it: social, cultural and academic all swirling together in one caffeinated delight.
Perhaps one of the things I miss most in my working life is the ‘back to school’ sense. My job is the same: winter and summer. It is never finished or finishable. It doesn’t change. I miss that fresh trapper, new syllabus feeling.
The older you get, the fewer firsts you have. My first day of school, ever, I do not even recall. My first kiss is a dim memory. My first job, apartment, pregnancy, home purchase and production database mistake are all in my past. Today I have another first.
Today is my first first day of school as a parent. Grey started preschool this morning. He’ll be going all day, three days a week. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays he will be a Caterpillar taking his first steps down the path of education. Who knows how far he’ll walk down that path. Will he love it? Take to it like a fish to water? Will he struggle? Will he excel in fields I never considered? He will go into that preschool classroom with a Spongebob blanket for naptime, a command of the alphabet and his own charm. He will fall deeply in love with his teacher, or not. He will make friends. He will make enemies. He will make mistakes. He will make pipe-cleaner art projects we will put proudly on the wall. He will decide he loves school. He will decide he doesn’t. He will go with the flow.
It is too much to say that this is the first step on the path to the rest of his life. He’s already trod down that path. He does know how to read – a little. He knows his alphabet. He can count to sixty before getting bored. He knows how to make friends and play tag. This is just the next step on the path to which his feet have already been set.
Grey turns three today, whether he knows it or not. I think he must know it — he celebrated by throwing up in the car this morning. (One of the challenges of being a parent to a child with a touchy stomach is that it’s very difficult to figure out when they’re really sick and need to stay home vs. when they are just throwing up because, you know, it’s fun and different!)
So what does it mean that Grey’s three?
Grey long ago passed the easy-to-capture milestones and firsts. After that, it’s all an element of degrees.
Verbally, Grey can usually make himself understood to people who are not related to him, depending on the subject matter. He’s started telling long and involved stories. They usually involve bad guys, hitting, explosions, Spiderman (red vs. black), fighting, and time-outs. He knows his days of the week, except Thursday which seems to give him problems. He can count up to forty and has known his alphabet for several years at this point. He knows all his basic colors and shapes. He can sound out words, and can probably identify ten or twelve when they’re written. He has a relatively extensive and sometimes surprising vocabulary. Ice cream is “delectable” (WHERE did that one come from?). He’s not angry or mad, no, he’s frustrated. And just yesterday we learned he knew a word that got him a three minute time out. Hint: it’s the same one that the kid in “A Christmas Story” used that ended up having him have his mouth washed out with soap. “To be” verbs still seem to be on the optional list and he mixes up cold and hot, but if you know the context for what Grey’s talking about, almost everything else is comprehensible. Grey does seem to have a bit of trouble with initial “S” sounds followed by a consonant. So “snake” often ends up as “nake”.
He spends a lot of time on days of the week, locations and people. Often the first thing he’ll ask me in the morning is what day it is and what happens that day. Is it a daycare day or a church day? Is anyone coming over for dinner? He knows the routes to all the places we go regularly — the chiropractor’s office, church, daycare, dance classes, the “Y”…. even the Starbucks near church. He knows the exit numbers for many of them, thereby putting him ahead of me. He has strong preferences on which route we should take. He talks a lot about those absent, especially the fellow inmates of Camp Gramp. The other day he jokingly introduced himself as his cousin, who has a rather difficult to pronounce three syllable name. He loves a little picture book I have for him with pictures of people he knows — he likes to go through and name everyone and talk about what they’re doing.
He tends to introduce himself by spelling, instead of saying, his name. “I G-R-E-Y.” I think this is because, given his unusual nickname, when I introduce him I usually end up spelling his name to make it clear that he is NOT “Greg”. Grey also loves letters and knows what they signify and I think he appreciates the letters in his name more than the name itself. I’m not quite sure if he knows that “grey” is also a color.
Grey can even write his name, after a fashion. The “G” is pretty good. The “R” is a circle with two spokes coming out of it. For “E” he’ll make the vertical bar and then add sufficient lines coming off it to fill up the bar. (Sort of looks like a caterpillar — the “E” is definitely my favorite.) The “Y” is three vertical lines that do not touch. These may or may not be written in the same orientation with each other. His fine motor skills — the skills for writing — are among his most advanced I think. He’s perfectly capable of unscrewing and rescrewing the lid to his toothpaste. He spends a lot of time practicing writing and drawing. He likes to draw people. He’ll carefully look at them and make sure he includes all the relevant elements, like earrings and hair. He can use a mouse better than lots of grownups I’ve met — to our chagrin. He can totally close out the software we have him using and pull up something more interesting, like the C drive. I’m very intentionally NOT teaching him how to use a screwdriver.
As far as large motor skills go, Grey is completely and utterly fearless. He climbs, jumps, crawls, leaps, runs and can even do a very good somersault. He’s pretty tall — he can and will reach the top of our kitchen counters. He’s also a fearfully good tool-using mammal. He pushes over chairs, toys or other things to stand on if what he desires is out of his reach. Grey is really fast. Right now he can run faster than I can. (Then again, several kinds of sloth can currently run faster than I can.) He also has endurance. He can and will walk for up to two miles, if correctly motivated. Motivation often involves daddy claiming that he will get to the goal before Grey can.
Grey likes to spend his free time as a kitty cat. Or spiderman. Or possibly as an angry robot. He will sometimes say “Aye aye captain!” in the most charming manner.
Socially, it’s very difficult to figure out where a three year old is. He sometimes plays nicely with other children, although just as often he’s playing around them instead of with them. He likes chasing games. He’s unafraid of large groups and pretty much never pulls the “wallflower” act. No no, he’s in the middle of the action, wherever the action is. He talks about his friends a good deal. He has some of his manners down (he’s pretty good about please, thank you and excuse me), but others are lacking. He hasn’t figured out how to introduce himself to someone who doesn’t know him. But he’s extraordinarily outgoing and friendly. He pitched a major fit the other day because he didn’t have a hand free to wave “thank you” to a motorist who had stopped for us to cross the street. He often says “hello” to people who are definitely not expecting it — including our next door neighbor. (He likes to say hello out the window in our kitchen.) He hasn’t quite figured out that sometimes people can’t hear him, or simply do not expect to be greeted (see also: surly looking teenagers). I personally love this about him. He reminds me to be more friendly myself. I think he’s a normal extrovert for his age.
Behaviorally, he’s also pretty typical I think. He vacillates between affectionate, “I love you very very much, mommy!” and violent. There’s definitely been a decrease in hitting, pinching and kicking (and biting has more or less disappeared altogether), but it still happens sometimes. Most of the time he behaves in an appropriate middle ground. Actually, I’ve been really quite pleased with his behavior lately. He’s doing a good job of listening and following the rules, even when he doesn’t want to.
He has a charming wheedle, where he will say “please” in the super-sweet voice when thwarted and then promise you something. Promises might include being your friend, letting you play with his toys, or giving you candy. I sometimes relent when he is super-polite like this, because I’d rather have the polite negotiating behavior than the violent lashing out that we had before. Sometimes, when you ask really really nicely, a no DOES turn to a yes! Yesterday, he promised his father and I that he would not open the package of candy that he was holding, and he didn’t!
Sleep is going better. He’s rarely waking up during the night anymore. He usually sleeps in until about 7ish, which is just fine by our schedule. Going to sleep has even improved with the advent of a rule that any time he opens the door, unless there’s ACTUALLY a poopy diaper involved, he loses one of his night lights. This gives him a stake in the game, and there are nights where we don’t have to answer any of his questions after the initial light’s out. (If there’s a bit of thumping from his room after he’s supposed to be in bed, well, as long as he’s staying in his room and not calling for us, it’s ignored.)
Grey eats as well as you can expect from a preschooler. He likes sweets better than dinner, of course. But he really like fruit and eats quite a lot of it. He’s gotten used to milk and water being the standard drinks and juice and chocolate milk being a treat. He will often eat the meal put before him.
Regarding potty training? There’s no doubt that Grey has all the skills necessary to be trained. What he doesn’t have is parents who are in a position to put in the focus and attention. He also lacks motivation. (So do we!) I plan on potty training him sort of whole-hog during my maternity leave. Wish me luck with that.
To sum up? Grey is a joy, a delight and a fun kid to have around.