The Birthday of Ten Thousand Pieces (or Thane Turns Six)

Thane as a gigantic, nearly grown person

At some point after Thane’s birthday, I did a mental count of the number of individual pieces he got. Two tubs of Perler Beads (one regular and one glow in the dark) – 12,000 pieces. 200 piece puzzle. Four Lego sets (~1000 pieces). Box of actual sand (gazillion pieces). In truth, it was probably the birthday of 20,000 pieces, but that’s far less poetic.

Scientist Thane investigates the shells.

It is, however, very much Thane. From the first, he would patiently try to force tiny fingers into minute actions far too finicky for toddlers. He would try persistently, over and over, until he got it to his satisfaction. He still does. He sat down and did two “6 – 12” Lego sets, back to back. He created completely symmetrical designs with his beads. He has this capacity for quiet, by himself play that still astonishes me.

He holds his own with the big brother contingent.

One of his favorite gifts from his birthday was a Science Kit. For quite a while he was going to be a Chef/Scientist/Judge. He’s sort of settled on Scientist now, so he was super excited for the Science Kit. As we walked to the Library on Monday, he told me about how his laboratory was going to be right next to the Library so he could get science books to do experiments. It was an awesome plan.

Even on a cold October day, I could not keep Thane out of the water.

I asked Thane the other day (in a fit of trying out various cameras) how Kindergarten was going. He said, “Well… it’s so-so.” He’s actually doing very well. His writing is emerging out of appalling and into almost legible. (That whole forcing your hands to do the small motor things you desperately want? He’s never really wanted to write legibly.) He writes his full name, which still looks strange to me. (He went through a phase of wanting to be called “Nathan” at home. Although I like the name Nathan very much, I was pleased that he wasn’t very adamant and I still get to call him my sweet Thane.) He does not like to color much, I think. His reading is coming well. The books he can read get longer and harder, although it still seems very tiring to him. He is making good friends at school, and has emerged with a new best friend (whom I haven’t even met yet!)

His creations are usually very innovative.

We’re currently between obsessions. He told me, disdainfully, that he doesn’t like Scooby Doo. DOESN’T LIKE SCOOBY?!?!?! He’s spent most of his life completely obsessed with Scooby. There isn’t a Scooby episode, toy, book, spinoff series or live action theater event in the last four years that we haven’t been in the throes of. No Scooby? He’s always had an area of massive interest: Scooby, puzzles, dinosaurs. Legos, of course, persist. I have to guess that he’ll discover a new passion soon. Perhaps Science?

He’s just about too big to swing.

Soccer this fall went much better than in the Spring. This year, he was a big kid who actually kind of knew what he was doing. (Attending each of his big brother’s practices was a completely unfair advantage overlooked in second sons.) He’s incredibly tough and shrugs off physical discomfort. He ran fast and strong, although he does not seem to like the sensation of physical exertion. He’s looking forward to it in the spring, which is indeed progress!

He loves games. He’s been working his way on reading all the cards in King of Tokyo.

He’s still a homebody. He’d far rather hang out in his room doing Legos than go on whatever crazy adventure you’re proposing now MOM. Once we cajole him into the adventure, though, he usually ends up enjoying it quite a bit. He’s still often very glad to return to his own bed and his own Puppy. For a long time we were putting he and Grey to bed at the same time. Now we’ve separated the boys’ bedtimes, he falls asleep much more quickly and easily. He doesn’t even protest the injustice as much as, well, I would’ve at his age.

Making the best of a beach closed due to thunder

Thane is still, to my joy, young and snuggly. He’s shy in the face of new people. He holds my hand with this fingers interlaced through mine. He never walks – he bounces, jumps, spins, hops, drags or dances whenever he moves. He likes to play the “line game” which involves jumping over lines and ignoring the fact you’re about to run into traffic. He giggles when you blow on his belly and tells wild tales about how he thinks reality should work (“I don’t think there should be other planets. It’s unfair!”). He sings to himself while he plays. He asks questions, repeatedly, to which he knows the answer without listening for your response. He thinks its hilarious to wear his underwear on his head, but is grown enough to only do that with clean underwear. He carries his heart in his smile, and my heart in his every small, unconscious act of joy.

We’re going to have a great year together, kid.

Thane and his two best preschool friends

PS – I have up pictures from the end of October! You can See them here!

Camp Gramp Catchup – 2014

Our backpacking trip was marvelous. Sensational. Superb. I have just over a thousand pictures to prove it, which I’ll be spending the next several hours getting through. However, to tide you over until I get that magnum opus up, I have my mother’s Camp Gramp notes for days 3 – 7 for your enjoyment!

To Marie in Downer’s GroveThanks!! I have Grey’s summer camp write-up in the works, and I’ll try to get that done in the next week!

Day 3 — Camp Gramp 2014

I have sad news to report. The much beloved bouncy house is too small to support all the children. In fact, they have to go in one at a time to get any sort of decent bounce. This is a catastrophe! The slit in the slide required re-taping, but even that didn’t provide enough bounce for the whole gang. It is tough getting old! The joys of childhood fade away, one at a time. We have a huge collection of toys in the attic which are no longer appropriate for the grandchildren we have.

Today we went to church, had a picnic, then Gramama headed to Sunrise to deliver the backpackers to their trailhead while Papapa and the campers stayed home. There was much game playing, running, jumping, and enjoying the crew. There were no pictures taken. I promise to do better tomorrow. (Actually, pictures were taken of Adam and Brenda as they started their 4 day hike — but they are on Brenda’s camera somewhere on Mt. Rainier.)

We ended the day with the traditional ice cream and an episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle. The Wasamatta U football story. That cartoon is rich in pun and innuendo.

Tomorrow the Pacific Science Center. May the force be with us!

Day 4 — I lied. The camera remained firmly in its case and you will have to use your imagination.

Today was Pacific Science Center day. The spy exhibit was a real hit! They learned about the Enigma Machine and saw a chunk of the proposed Moscow Embassy with 8 different kinds of listening devices embedded in the wall.

Then we went to the Lego store, where Thane and Grey purchased Legos, Brain Marbles — or some such name, where Sebastian purchased a game called “Snake Oil”, and I fell victim to the pneumatic arm kit — yes really. It is so cool! Finally, we went to Target for Little Ponies stuff — I am sorry, Heidi! Giving kids choices sometimes has consequences.

Grey saw the sign on South Hill Collision which says “Wreck Amended” and he thought it was hilarious!

The sleeping room hasn’t quieted down so quickly tonight. They are still talking, but hey, it is Camp Gramp. Tomorrow, day camping at Big Tree campgrounds. It has a lovely little stream for the playing and they are all ready to enjoy that.

Happy Birthday, Matt! Hope it was a good one. Happy Anniversary tomorrow, Brenda and Adam. May the mosquitoes leave you alone!

Editor’s Note – I don’t see a day 4, so we’ll just have to paint it in with our imaginations.

Camping at Camp Gramp
Camping at Camp Gramp

Day 5
The morning began with Lego assembly, before the adults were out of bed. My muffled voice emerged from the blankets, “Take the table cloth off the table and work there.” So Thane obediently took the table cloth off the table, put it on the floor and emptied the bags of pieces on the table cloth, on the floor. We played Sebastian’s new game Snake Oil, with fun results. It is like selling refrigerators in the arctic, but we enjoyed it. Thane’s reading is excellent for headed into K. There were, however, some little mistakes.

Gmm washed clothes, imagine that.

About 3, we went “camping” Camp Gramp style. That means we go to a favorite camp site, play in the stream, hike around, roast hot dogs and marshmallows, then go home to sleep. The weather is PERFECT. About 75, sunny, lovely! There was a nice breeze blowing through the trees. Just perfect!

Then we broke “camp” and headed up to Paradise in hopes of finding the Cascade fox that hangings out in the parking lot in the evening. That was a wash. We saw only a couple of deer. No bear, no marmot, no Cascade fox. But it was really beautiful. The wildflowers, oh my! They are spectacular! I hope Brenda and Adam are enjoying them and the great backpacking weather.

Tomorrow, OMSI. I think I will go collapse in bed!

Day 6 — It is hard to tell which is the more popular, OMSI — Oregon Museum of Science and Industry — or IKEA for the meatballs. They were both a hit. Thane chose the dinosaur movie, which surprises no one. The older three chose the submarine, where they have decided the sleeping quarters are a little close! Then there were the exhibits. I think Sebastian liked the Laser room best. It had holograms! Thane and Carolyn went to the upstairs room to explore with the animal puppets and play in the water. For the second day in a row, Thane came home soaking wet! We will soon be out of shoes. Tomorrow we will rescue the hikers from Mt. Rainier. Mowich Lake, here we come!

Day 7 — It is a joy to realize that children have learned from things you have done with them. But why did they have to learn that? Yesterday I took the 3 older ones on the tour of the submarine at OMSI. We got the shower lecture. He called it a sailor shower. 10 seconds of water, lather up and shampoo, then 20 seconds of water to rinse off. So, we needed showers, oh did we need showers. I sent Sebastian first. He came back in about 2 minutes — “I took a sailor shower!” Somehow I think the lather and shampoo section was not all it should have been. All of them took sailor showers, except Thane, who needs a shower, but definitely doesn’t want to take one.

Today we went to Mowich Lake to pick up Brenda and Adam. That is such a beautiful place — flowers, crystal clear water, mountains, trees. It was amazing. The road was reminiscent of Zaire — pothole city for much of the way. But that was fun too.

Now the children are playing together on different computers. That will make sense to me, I am sure. All I know is there are happy voices coming from upstairs!

Thane at Four


I find it very difficult to believe that Thane turned four today. Not because it’s impossible that my little guy is so grown up! No, but because it seems implausible that he hasn’t been four for quite some time. Thane is so big, so capable, and so unbabyish that you could say he was turning five and not bat an eyelash. Fortunately for me, four it is.

Thane’s life has been marked by series of obsessions. I wrote about this when he turned three:

One of the key attributes of Thane is his sequential obsessions. They started, I think, with cars. Following cars were stickers. Then we went to dinosaurs. Dinosaurs were replaced by puzzles (my favorite – he spent long periods quiet and was a puzzle-savant doing 60 piece puzzles at two and a half years old). Puzzles promptly fell out of favor, to be replaced by Scooby Doo. I sense Scooby Doo is waning, but have no idea what will replace it – awkward timing what with the birthday and Christmas buying spree forthcoming.

This year's Halloween Costume
This year’s Halloween Costume

I was wrong, by the way. Scooby Doo is still one of the great joys of his life. But it has been added to by, oh joy! LEGOS! The sun rises on Legos and sets on Legos. Thane patiently coaxes his fingers into practicing the fine-motor gestures required, rebuilding over and over again what his chubby digits break. He clutches the instruction manuals to his chest in his sleep, surrounding his bed with crinkled booklets like votive offerings. He stares at the instructions, willing himself to learn to read so he can master them. (Seriously, Grey is a wizard, but I have to work HARD to put together the kits!) But you have never seen a kid, on the day of his fourth birthday, spend as many happy hours with tiny plastic blocks as Thane did today. (If you gave him something else at his birthday, have no fear! He also had a blast with a bunch of the other things! I think I’m jealous of some of that great loot!)

Legos and Mythbusters
Legos and Mythbusters

Of course, this mono-maniacal intensity comes with a downside. I wanted him to, you know, play with his friends at his birthday instead of demanding to know whether they’d brought little Legos. (Ah birthday boy etiquette! So hard to teach! So important!) And getting him to do things like brush his teeth often get barricaded behind a never-ending litany of “Just let me fix this first”. (Hint: it will NEVER be fixed to satisfaction. That’s the fun.)

I love listening to him while he plays. He tells these lovely little stories. Sometimes he sings – sweetly – to himself. The worlds he builds in his mind are vast and beautiful.

Best brothers
Best brothers

Lest you start to wonder if he’s an autistic savant, I’m here to reassure you that in his non-Lego-obsessed moments (granted, a minority this month), he continues to be a very fun and engaging kid. He has some great friends at school, about whom we often hear. He and Grey have been bound tightly by their shared interest. The difference between the kid brother who breaks your Legos and a brother who looks at you with hero-worship in his eyes while he asks you to assemble his birthday Legos for him is the difference between a rocky relationship and a very solid one. I find them often, heads together, in shared conquest. (Not that they’re never fighting and tattling on each other… just less often.)

Last night as a three year old
Last night as a three year old

Thane likes granola cereal, yogurt (he still eats his first-ever solid food, whole yogurt mixed with unsweetened applesauce, nearly every day), bananas, cheese sticks, and macaroni and cheese. This would be his entire dietary intake if it were left up to him. He likes to lead off our dinner prayers, often starting us on the Doxology. He is determined to capture your attention, and will often persevere gallantly to get it, but isn’t so good about doing anything useful with your attention once he’s gotten it.

Thane is also a goof-ball, in case you were curious
Thane is also a goof-ball, in case you were curious

Thane is now 42.5 inches tall, which is about three and a half feet. He’s a solid (but unknown) weight. He’s extremely physically durable. When he falls down, he picks himself up again and moves on – sometimes even when he probably should get a bandage or something. He dresses himself, takes care of his own toileting (alleluia!), carries his dirty dishes to the counter, and feeds himself unending supplies of bananas when he’s hungry.

Thankfully, he learned a reasonable caution around water this summer. Kind of.
Thankfully, he learned a reasonable caution around water this summer. Kind of.

Thane is completely fearless. He is not afraid of the dark. He is not afraid of the high swings. Rarely does he cling or shy away. It’s almost a bad thing, how bold and confident he is. His balance, for example, is well behind his belief that he can safely walk on a wall like his brother does. He’s also very emotionally durable. He rarely “breaks down” and holds himself on a relatively even emotional swing. This is not to say that he takes thwarting well, but rather that he is steadfast in his desires and emotions.

Preparing for his journey to Uranus
Preparing for his journey to Uranus

There are still some small traces of my baby left there. He has not foresworn cuddling, and is possible cuddlier than he was this time last year. He gives me sweet kisses and hugs. He still sleeps with his best friend Puppy close at hand, and sucks his thumb. He will sit still in my lap for hours if I am reading to him (although we argue about the books: he wants Scooby Doo and super heroes, I want anything OTHER than Scooby Doo or super heroes). Tonight, he laid his tired, curly blond head on my lap while we watched a movie together, and laced his fingers in between mine. He grows up so quickly, and so well, that I treasure these times we share.

My sweet Thane
My sweet Thane

Seven: the year of the Legos

My snaggle-toothed, seven year old, first grader
My snaggle-toothed, seven year old, first grader

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.

Brothers in Legos
Brothers in Legos

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

Lego Winter Village
Lego Winter Village

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.

The last night of a six year old
The last night of a six year old

What Santa is packing in his sleigh

Grey's letter to Santa
Grey's letter to Santa

My son is four years old this Christmas. If you are old enough to find your way to this blog, you’re probably old enough to be told the truth. I was four the year I found out that Santa isn’t quite as corporeally real as we pretend. When I was three, many years prior, I had a desk that had gotten left behind when my parents packed us into a station wagon and drove from Atlanta to California by way of Canada. Mom and dad were never too keen on that “Fastest way between two points” stuff. I digress. I yearned for this desk. (Full disclosure: I STILL yearn for that desk in some tiny part of me and am working very hard not to buy Grey a desk-like-object because the four-year-old in me wants that desk.)

Anyway, it was made abundantly clear to Santa (and daddy) that I wanted a desk for Christmas. My sister and I shared a room in our small house with the walnut trees outside. Christmas Eve came, and two very excited young girls gabbled and bounced sleepless in their beds. I had nodded off when my sister woke me up. A sound of thumping was heard through the wall. “He’s here. Let’s sneak a peek.” And so with infinite subtlety, we snuck open the door and poked rumpled blonde heads out to see the Man Himself.

And there was my poor father, nursing a stubbed toe from placing my desk under the tree. We understood immediately. The door was quietly closed, and we retreated to discuss strategy. We agreed on a pact of silence.

I don’t know how old I was when my PARENTS figured out that I had figured out what the game was. It never made it any less fun to play, but I’m glad they didn’t pretend any harder than they did. I would’ve known the lie. Because I wasn’t really looking for inconsistencies, I hope my parents didn’t have to work too hard. (No buying special “Santa” wrapping paper, for example.)

I’m thinking of it this year, of course. Grey wanted to know if he was sitting on the REAL Santa’s lap. I assured him without hesitation that he was. He announced to me the other day that he’s figured out his goal career. He wants to be one of Santa’s Elves and make presents. He’s ok with the uniform constraints, but admits that he might miss me every once in a while. (All humor aside: it was surprisingly well thought out with the data he had. He had considered quite a few consequences and outcomes of this decision!) We are at the very height of Santa-joy: old enough to make cookies, young enough to not consider the physics of Christmas eve flight.

I’m also doing the last minute planning for the presents. I probably need to do a present-review and see if I’m sadly lacking in any category. You know, are there books, crafts, obnoxiously noisy plastic toys, stocking stuffers, and most of the items on his and Robby’s Christmas lists? In future years, I’ll need to make sure I have present-parity between the boys.

One of the things I’m doing for both boys this year is new-to-them toys. Thane will be getting, wrapped up, some of the toys I set aside years ago from Grey’s room. Why not? The only difference between those and a new toy is packaging. Grey will be getting his first real Legos. We have roughly 30 – 40 POUNDS of Legos from my husband’s childhood. Seriously. A huge duffel bag and a big plastic garbage bag FULL of teeny tiny Legos. At current market prices, that quantity of Legos would cost thousands of dollars. (Seriously, have you SEEN Lego prices lately?) I got overwhelmed by them, and just picked out a nice pile for him.

The more I think about it, the more I think I’d like to give the boys all their presents without packaging. In our culture, packaging marks the difference between “New Presents I Bought For You” and “Presents Of Unknown Provenance”. When my mother-in-law scores a real find for me in thrift stores, she’ll often say, “And it still has the tags!” since that proves that it’s new. When we give gifts we use that packaging as a marker of newness. It actually gets in the way of the gift experience, though. “Wow, a truck! OK, now give mommy 20 minutes with wire clippers and you can play with it!”. It also conditions our kids to think that proper gifts come with original packaging and proper gifts are new.

I don’t want that. If my son was holding out for new Legos, he’d get about 15 of them for $30 bucks. (Seriously, this set has under 300 pieces for $150 bucks and is not that unusual pricing-wise.) By being ok with pre-loved Legos, he’ll get a big bag for, um, free. I would like that to hold true as my sons get older, too.

I think I’ll make it a point for things that are unlikely to be returned (no sizing issues) to remove the packaging before wrapping it. Yes, it means my sons won’t know when the toy they’re getting is new. But hopefully it means that they’ll evaluate their toys on whether or not it’s fun to play with, and not whether anyone’s ever played with it before. In some tiny way, perhaps that will help dial back the commercialism of Christmas.

What do you think? Do you always keep new toys in their new packages? How hard to you work to maintain the Santa mythos? How old were you when you found out? How did you take it?
Grey's letter to Santa