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Archive for the ‘Successes’ Category

As a 4 year old, Peter loves to make other people laugh.  He’s such a clown, with his rubber face making hilarious expressions, and his physical comedy.  If he does something that makes you laugh, he’ll do it again and again, and try it on other people too.

Typically his pratfalls and goofiness have outpaced his joke-telling and wordplay.  A typical knock-knock joke would be to follow up “Raccoon who?” with “The Raccoon talks to his friend, HAHAHAHAHAHA,” while you look on, amused and befuddled.

This week, however, he made a great leap forward.  As we were driving around looking at some Christmas decorations, Peter commented on the inflatable Santa in someone’s yard.

“There’s a blow-up Santa,” he said.  Then he gasped.  “BLOW UP SANTA????” he yelled incredulously.  “Oh no!   KA-BOOM-SHAKA-LAKA!!!!”

We all giggled for a good minute or two.

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Weeks ago:  My 7 year old eldest son Jack still gets upset when you wash his hair during tubby time, especially if water gets in his eyes.  He enjoys swimming pools if he can wear a flotation device and have us nearby whenever possible.  He can close his eyes and plug his nose and put his face in the water but it makes him splutter and gag immediately afterwards as he complains about the chlorine.

One week ago: We arrive for vacation at my parents’ condo.  Among other things, it features a swimming pool that’s 3 to 5 feet deep.  My wife brings $4 super hero goggles for each child.

Five days ago: My sons go swimming with their mother for hours.  While younger Peter wants nothing to do with the goggles, Jack loves them.  He gets better at putting his head under water and opening his eyes, thanks to the goggles.  He can touch the bottom in the 3ft and 4ft parts of the pool and finds this very exciting.

Four days ago: I go swimming with the kids after dinner.  They have learned to play Marco Polo and I teach them the “fish-out-of-water” variant that my grade school friends used.  Peter is not very fast on his floating noodle even though he can still touch the bottom in the shallow end, but we have fun.  I tow Peter all over the place, but Jack is now imitating my “torpedoes” by pushing off of the sides of the pool with his goggles on.

Three days ago: I go swimming with the kids.  Peter is cranky and leaves early, so it’s just me and Jack.  Jack introduces himself to some other kids, including one boy who has diving toys.  Soon they’re all over the pool together, with Jack learning to reach down and get the toys from the bottom of the pool.  The other boy is more comfortable in the water, though, so Jack starts pushing himself to get to the toys on the bottom of the pool faster.

Two days ago: My wife swims with the kids for another two hours despite a record fourth day of 100+ degree weather.  Jack is jumping into the pool, chasing friends, launching himself from the sides of the pool, swimming up to Peter from underwater, and generally having a blast.

Yesterday: The morning before we leave, my wife and the kids go swimming one more time for another 2 hours.  At this point Jack decides the goggles are getting in his way, and ditches them.  “Besides,” he reasons, “I can still see underwater without them, it’s just a little blurry.”  He continues gallavanting.  We shoot this video as proof of his transformation.

Today: Back home again.  For the first time ever, my son takes a shower instead of a bath at bedtime.

Yup… kids are weird.

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We were watching Super Hero Squad, a mini-Marvel Universe cartoon with some subtle humor for the older generation mixed in.  (Sample: Thor rescues horse-man by turning him into another Thor.  Dialog: “A Norse is a Norse.” “Of course, of course.”  But I digress.)

Jack pointed to one of the female characters who was talking and said, “Her voice is very familiar.”

We agreed that it sounded vaguely familiar.

Jack proclaimed, “That’s Azula.  From Avatar: The Last Airbender.”

Really?  Well, he seemed sure of it.  To IMDB we go, and… ummm… wow.  Sure enough, Grey DeLisle is the voice of multiple female heroines in Super Hero Squad and the voice of Azula from Avatar.  Way to go, Jack.  Quite an ear you’ve got there.  Either that, or we let you watch waaaay too many episodes of Avatar.

Mind you, Grey DeLisle does a million voices that we’ve all heard over the years, including others Jack would recognize — like Daphne in every modern episode of Scooby Doo, Wubbzy from Wow Wow Wubbzy, Asajj Ventress and Padme from the Clone Wars cartoons, and Betsy from Curious George.  Not to mention the video games I would recognizer her from, such as the female bounty hunter voice for Star Wars: The Old Republic and now the female wizard in Diablo 3.  But still — there are a lot of famous voiceover voices out there, and Jack picked her out within minutes.

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I saw it buried under a pile of shoddy games at this year’s Frosty’s Fair, an event which features crafted tchotchkes and junk from your basement, all on sale to benefit the local church’s community.  Between toddler penguin-balancing games, old Milton Bradley contrivances, and past fads like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and various “DVD-interactive” games.  STRATEGO.  I bought it for a dollar as my wife rolled her eyes for the 27,953rd time in our marriage.

But I had high hopes for Stratego.

Newsflash — I love gaming in all form factors.  Video games, board games, card games, dice games, gambling, sports, puzzles, and all their combinations (fantasy football! video gambling! etc.)  While, for better or for worse, I had successfully instilled a love of video games into Jack and Peter — as evidenced by having to forcibly turn off the Wii to get them to school on time — we have only just been able to come into our own on the board game and card game front, because of the whole following-the-rules and taking-turns thing.  He can play Uno and a great game called Sleeping Queens, but there’s not much actual strategy in those games.  Our most successful board game has been Dungeon! which pretty much devolves into Jack playing with the figures and the monster and treasure cards, devoid of any structure.  We had no luck with Battleship or Trouble, really. We had just had luck with chess, since Jack knows how to set up the pieces and how they move, and can even play a decent game of it — but his patience does wear a little thin.  And besides, Jack needs a narrative to keep a game interesting.  Why is the knight attacking the queen?  Is she an evil queen?  Will the king get mad?  Strategy is there, but not really.  Recently we’ve had good success with Cartegena (nicknamed “Pirate Candyland”) and Carcassonne, which Jack understands well and likes because there are castles.  But he doesn’t go out of his way to want to play those.  You know, because there’s no WEAPONS and FIGHTING.

With a game called Stratego… surprise!  There’s strategy.  Also fighting and weapons.  And bombs.  And spies.  It’s no Settlers of Catan, and there are no resources to manage (“Oh thank God,” I hear my wife muttering, because she knows she’ll be asked to play this one too).  But there are rules.  There are turns.  And there is strategy.  This piece beats that piece.  These miners (“are they like the bomb squad?”) do something different, and these scouts do something different.  These bombs will beat anyone.  The first one to find the other person’s flag wins.

We played this morning.  Jack digested all the rules as I explained them to him from the other room while I entertained Peter.  (Peter is in a new phase where he constantly whines that no one wants to play with him, then yells at you that you’re doing it wrong when you try to play with him.)  Jack heard the rules once, then set up all his pieces on his own.  I set up my pieces with Peter on my lap, and we played.

We played through the whole game.  I gave him no advice at all on setup or gameplay.  Jack took turns.  He knew when it made sense to advance and when to retreat.  He successfully surrounded his flag with bombs to protect it and stuck it in a corner of the board without me suggesting that it might be a good idea.   He sent a miner in to defuse the bomb protecting my flag and it was just my moving over a marshall to intercept him that stopped him from winning the game.  And, I won in the end — but he didn’t freak out.  We put the game away afterwards so we wouldn’t lose any pieces instead of playing with them on the table and then leaving the game out.  He wants to play again sometime.

I cannot tell you how freakin’ awesome that last paragraph is.

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Jack has been writing a story.  This is exciting, because it’s one of the first times we’ve been able to see him merge his delightfully hyperactive imagination with his budding reading and writing skills from 1st grade.  He doesn’t particularly take to the rote style of the classroom and the homework assignments, so it’s nice to see him using those skills in other contexts.

Here’s an example.  One of his homework assignments this week was “Write a 5-7 word sentence using each of these words:  out, as, have, there.”  Torture.  Pure torture, getting him to do this.  Tonight, in lieu of finishing up this homework page, he continued working on his story: “Back Through Time.”  He’s drawn a picture of two scientists in a lab building a time machine, and then various panels showing them going through time (with little clock faces — that’s math homework in action) in the future dodging robot lasers and in the past running from cavemen and dinosaurs.  He’s left space for captions on each page.  Tonight he decided to work on the caption for the first page, and came up with: “There was a scientist named alfrt and his budeey Dude.”  He originally was going to write “and his assistant Dude” but decided assistant was too long.  I pointed out that he just wrote a sentence with ‘there’ in it, so now he could do that part of his homework.  He started to copy the sentence over, with the intent of changing buddy to “pal”, but then just cut it off at the scientist’s name, and further, changed it to “Fa” (as in the note — from his music class).

Jack still has a wonderful if bizarrely accurate memory sometimes.  When he went to spell the word “named,” Katherine suggested that he’s seen the word “Name” in other places before — meaning, the top of every single homework assignment he does, which has a space for his Name.  Instead, Jack said, “Right, I remember!” and ran off.  He came back with his alphabet book — the one he made in pre-school two years ago — and proceeded to page through all the letters (B for bubbles…  E for eggs…  J for Jell-O…) until he got to N, on which was written “Names” and the names of all his other classmates.  Really?  Huh.  Okay then.
Here is the image he drew to explain to us a planet in the story.  He walked us through what was going on.  The numbers on the left side and the letters on the top (note his alphabet takes advantage of their recent lessons on U being a “buddy letter” — the alphabet goes “…MNOPQURSTUV…”  These letters, he explained, are for locating the planets.  For instance, the Earth (“did they invent camouflage by looking at the Earth?  It’s the same sort of pattern, isn’t it?”)  was at 8D and the big planet was at 6V.  (“It’s just like Battleship, Dad.”)  That’s the sun in the upper left, and also another galaxy nearby.

Now here’s what he drew on the back.  You’ll see he has zoomed in on his grid, so he only shows the letters in the area he’s zoomed in on.  (Hence the vertical line at “s” on the front… he wanted to see where that would put him.)  He has drawn an alien ship which is flying near the planet.  He has also drawn a smaller planet that we couldn’t see before with 15 moons (“Dad, do you know any planets that have 8 moons?  How about 15 of them?”)  You see the mean alien’s face on the spaceship, which is soaking up sun beams for power.  There is also a smaller alien spaceship (mean alien faces barely visible inside of it) which is apparently docking with the big alien spaceship.

Jack then explained that the vertical column on the far right was ANOTHER zoom in, this time of the small galaxy visible around 2B (okay, 2D — he still gets his b’s and d’s reversed sometimes), which is why we’re right on the sun.  But see those strange characters?  “That’s the alien letters and numbers… so on the top those are the alien letters for A and B… and those are the numbers going down the side.  I tried to make them like Chinese symbols.”

It’s been amazing seeing how Jack’s brain digests all the opportunities for learning he’s exposed to (math, science, English, music, video games, sci-fi and fantasy, reading, TV shows) and mixes them for his own creative take on it all.

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This week we had a child care quandry.  My wife was out singing in the Berkshires all week.  We had originally made arrangements for the boys to spend Thursday and Friday at Nana’s, with me taking Wednesday off to cover.  But then our new boss’s boss at work convened an all-hands team meeting, with people flying in from all over the country.  The last time we had one of these I was sick (like, hospital sick) and pretty much missed it completely.  So I didn’t want to miss another one.  How could we pull this off?

Have I mentioned that my in-laws are some of the most amazing and generous people I know?  (This, after coming from a great vacation back home with my equally amazing and generous parents.  What’s this stuff we read about in-laws being evil?)  They agreed to take the boys for all three days while my wife sang and I did 8a-6p and team dinners Wednesday and Thursday.

Since Nana is on Facebook, though, the world got an amusing view into the world of grandparents trying to keep grandkids entertained for three whole days.  And, I know the next time Nana is over and our house looks like a tornado hit it, we might not worry about being judged!

Here are the Facebook posts, in chronological order.

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We got Jack one of those decorate-it-yourself toothpaste pump tubes. He & Peter diligently began adding stickers. “Some look like boy stickers, and some are girl stickers,” I said. “Yeah–flowers and hearts are for girls. Skulls and footballs are for boys,” he replied.

As I explained that boys can like hearts and girls can like skulls, he looked at the next page of stickers. “These are abstract,” he proclaimed.

Huh?!

Sure enough, the stickers on that page had no particular theme — streamers, circles, other random shapes.  God, I love having a kid with an ever-expanding vocabulary.

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