Thursday, August 30, 2018

A Different Kind of Holiday

Holidaying with your kids is amazing. It's also not really a holiday. You can't simple lounge and enjoy sips and eats or promenade pensively, as you are on duty - in charge of engaging your children, supervising them and keeping them alive. The third day of our trip, for instance, involved recurring vomiting by both boys and we spent the whole day at home, except for a brief walk in the eve on the canal when they had recovered from their various eruptions and were set on adventure.

It was a wonderful, if somewhat taxing, experience.

When showing our kids the Parthenon, which they both admired vocally through intermittent exclamations as to how hot it was, one disgruntled individual commented that our kids won't remember any of their experiences and that it was a loss to bring them. It's always charming when strangers provide unsolicited opinions (which each pregnant person can attest to), particularly when they are so enchantingly depressing. Perhaps they won't remember. Or they may remember some parts, but what may seem quite inane instances, such as for instance, riding the escalator, which they could have done at home. I remember my grandparents took me around the former SFRY and yet my most vivid memories have to do with food - including a particularly tantalizing yoghurt in a beautiful wooden bowl which I believe I had somewhere in Macedonia.

Whether a child remembers an experience is not the point. Whether they remember it or not, it's nevertheless something they experience - and each experience widens their horizons and makes new connections in their wired minds. Our kids absorbed new smells, new sights and new languages and we were excited to see their wonder, which to some extent bounced back onto us. We are after all, all mirrors reflecting off each other.

My kids were impressed by the grand buildings, palaces, churches and gardens of the European cities we visited, but they were mostly excited about the transport we used. From planes, to trains to boats, to trams, my kids were happiest when a machine was moving them along. I've learnt you can turn any day into an amusement park simply by spending your time transversing the different modes of transport, and hopefully, using an escalator somewhere in there.

Their favourite mode of transport were the double decker buses in London. They loved it so much that we rode the bus just for the sake of the ride. We sat right up front and my boys began to excitedly ululate a nuanced narration of their trip. The passengers did not seem to appreciate that they were being provided a free guided tour of London from the toddler's perspective. So what's the 142 to Shoreditch like?

Crane! Crane! I see a crane ma!
Bus! Another double decker bus!
Clock! A big clock! That's a big clock mum!
Street sweeper! Street sweeper!
Duuuuuuup truck! Yep, that's a dump truck!
Crane!
Construction site! Construction!
Double decker!
Boat!
Bridge!
Crane! Crane! Crane!
Another double decker ma!

To help the boys remember, we started journalling - after each trip, they would draw what they could remember from their previous sojourn. I also encouraged retaining souvenirs of the trip. I think these exercises help cement the memory of their experiences and their digestion. This led to some added weight en route back as my boys have picked up my love of rocks (every time we go on trips, I stack on books and rocks to my husband's chagrin - and now I have two more partners in crime).

Our kids were notably stunned by travelling through five different countries, with five different languages and one that neither parent spoke (Hungarian, some words were the same in Serbo-Croatian, some similar but most were quite foreign and the kids were amused at my somewhat unsuccessful attempts to communicate with frazzled locals who invariably asked in perfect English if I could converse in it). This was a grand step forward. I had been explaining planets and continents, which they found exciting, but neither was much interested in learning about countries, not understanding what a country was (except Luca's gravitation towards Japan, which he understood to be the country of Shinkansen, robots, ramen and cartoons). The trip made them understand that other countries are where people speak different languages to you, eat different food and live in a different place to you and that cities are constellations of people within a particular country. L was very interested in why there were borders. I explained that countries want to know who enters and exists. When he asked why, I said that it allows them to better understand who is inside for them to more effectively govern. He seemed to take this answer as self-evident and I decided to not elaborate on the more stygian circumstances on the ground but leave him with this crimson impression.

There were invariably some cultural clashes on the playground. My kids would run up to play with other kids, excitedly gesticulating and loudly clamouring for some game in English, while befuddled natives would stare at them as if they were under attack and earnestly look for the aid of their parents. L, in particular, drew attention for his particularly Californian style, in which he runs manic around the playground role playing as a fire-fighter in various disaster situations, including fires and earthquakes. "You house is on fire!" he would yell at some unsuspecting child in his foreign tongue, and then proceed to act out pouring water on them, which considering the horror of their faces and that of their stunned parents and the stereotypes attributed to L's fellow countrymen, may have seemed as if his hose were rather a gun and he was stampeding his imperium about the playground in service to Manifest Destiny.

L takes rules seriously - particularly when they don't apply to him. He has yet to ride a bike (but his next birthday present will propel him into this activity) but is keenly aware that one should not ride a bike without a helmet. He is also quite astute at spotting people that ride bikes and motorcycles without helmets, after which he invariably proceeds to proclaim this slight to me. Having realized that I will not impose the rule on strangers, L took it upon himself, shouting after them they they forgot to put their on helmet. He has had a startlingly low success rate.

L and M both love the sea (particularly after L was satisfied with our multiple answers that there were no sharks inhabiting the waters of the Mediterranean), with L deciding that he didn't need his floaties and running into the sea until our invariable intervention (M was more cautious, assessing that he needed to be within centimetres of a parent at all times, floatie or no). After a while he understood he could go in up to his ankles and fetch water for our sand castle without any flaotie (which due to certain constructions impediments and architectural disagreements was left incomplete) and was satisfied with the imposed limit. 

The stray cats on Rhodes, a feature throughout Greece, caught the boys' attention. M, in particular, became their champion and at one dinner, after having asked why stray cats were skulking the restaurant tables, and having received all ill thought out response from his mother that they were hungry, refused to eat and proceeded to give his food to the cats. This resulted in a feline congregation around our table and none too satisfied wait staff, particularly when two members' of M's newly founded following began to battle over the morsels.

We managed the travel with relative ease, despite offering the kids no semblance of their usual routine. M developed in own routine, which included sleeping through lunch in his stroller. We had an arsenal of cars, crayons and paper which allowed us some relative peace at cafes to enjoy lunches and dinners, and the local wine, until invariably, they would begin to argue over the blue crayon, until we understood that such was its demand, that we needed one for each son. Everything was going grandly and were congratulating ourselves on travelling so well with our toddlers until our little one was assaulted by an onslaught of unfortunate concomitant circumstance - all his molars decided to pop out at once, he went through a growth spurt and he obtained a throat infection and its attendant high fevers. Even when M got over his infection, he was hardly eating from the pain of his protruding teeth, which advent he enjoyed heralding to all and sundry, clutching his chin and stating "new teeth coming". Overtired, hungry and in undulating, ceaseless pain, M had had enough.

M had chucked tantrums before. For months now they would begin with a spectacular shaking of his fist and a proclamation that he was furious - "I'm mad! I'm mad, mama!". However, we had never seen the spectacular horror of what he unleashed in the last few days of his rebellion. He attacked with a scorched earth policy that began with a frighteningly calculated violence. M would target vitrescent objects, menacingly prowling up to them and then threatening "I will break this!" before unleashing his demands. He wanted to go home. He wanted milk. He wanted "chocok" ice cream. "Now!" We were quite challenged by his behaviour. Any discipline resulted in physical injury. In the end, we were in earnest discussing whether to take our younger son to a child psychologist. Thankfully, when we arrived home, he was pleased and has returned to his former self. He has even kissed us and apologized for his behaviour. It's patently obvious to us now that we had dragged this kid past his limit and that he was not going to let us forget that.

The flights were not as bad as we feared. L enjoyed his headphones, pillow and near unfettered screen time and fell asleep for most of the flight to London from SF. En route back, he slept a while and otherwise coloured in and enjoyed his special flight license of screen time. M was more difficult, not being able to be diverted by the screen time (he had been sick and had enough before the flight and we had woken him at 3.30 am for it). M slept too- thanks to the inflatable pillows that allow your children to extend their seat so that they end up having a full bed were indispensable. En route to London on the American airline, the flight staff looked at us with relief, silently thanking us for the fact that our kids were sleeping (another choir took care to assault people's ears and we were simply relieved it was not our kids). Back from Paris, on the French airline, the French favor of bureaucracy led to a congregation of confused and curious flight staff conversing over what course of action to take over the unsanctioned pillows that had obviously caught them by surprise. I was on the far end of the four seats and could not hear what they were discussing to my chagrin but from their focused stairs and pained expressions I discerned that the conversation went something like this: we should allow it because there is no regulation that doesn't allow it. Ah yes, but perhaps we shouldn't allow it because there is no regulation that allows it! And so this went on for a few minutes until finally they reached a conclusion and left. A few minutes later, a stewardess came back with an ipad and asked if she could take some photos for later discussions. It seems that Air France may make a regulation on the issue, hopefully to sanction in favor of allowance.

What aided M the most, on the flight back, however, was yoga. Thankfully we had some more space at the back, being on a 380, and we went through our regular yoga routine, which calmed him down considerably. When I say "we" I should clarify that it was really M practicing, with me simply pointing him in the right direction for a particular asana. This led to some amusement from the flight staff and other passengers, partly due to the fact that M had minutes before raged an eruption that ranged about a 6 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index.

When we arrived back home and our circadian rhythms were all out of wack, I took the opportunity when we were up in the depth of the night, having breakfast and starting our day to explain (again) the difference between night and day, using our globe. Kids understand far better when you can show them how something works rather than attempting to explain them to in the abstract (and perhaps some adults too). It worked a charm.

We came, we saw, we survived. We were surprised that the next day after our trip, with the kids so happy to be home, that L thanked us for coming back home and in the very next breath asked when we were going to Japan.





















Monday, July 30, 2018

Monsters!



Are coming! My boys love to herald the advance of monsters from which we should all hide. Their favourite hiding spot is to stop and stand anywhere and burst out laughing, albeit sometimes they hide behind doors and under their bed covers.

They boys also love to simply run. Ready, steady, GO! They race each other in the park and in our hallway. 

The other night, M won his first race against his elder brother. L took this as a grand offense. He convulsed in a cascade of tears. M looked at L in surprise, proud that he had won for the first time. “I won!” M shouted triumphantly. We cheered. L erupted in tears. M then cautiously approached his brother and related his victory anew with a sombre tone, “I won L, I won”. Through undulating ululations, L described his feeling of “being so sad” that he didn’t not “come first”. 
L has trouble not coming first or getting answers incorrect. I’m trying to work with him through this, as I understand this can be a grave handicap. I’ve already noticed that if he thinks he cannot do something, he would rather not try then get it incorrect (for instance, he won’t attempt to mould a stegosaurus, understanding it’s too “tricky” for him and demands I do it, I would prefer he tries). I have not yet come up with a method to relate to L that winning and being correct is as important as trying (after all perfect is the enemy of good as some say). 

I have however come up with a way to calm L down. As in the other night, when he was riven with regret that he didn’t win, I ask him to imagine a beach, the waves flowing onto the sand and out back to sea. I had asked L to close his eyes, but he refused. He imagine it well enough with his eyes open. I asked him to breathe in with the waves flowing in, and breath out with the waves that flowed back to sea. This calmed him down a bit but he still continued to cry. I asked him to imagine what made him so triste as the waves advanced on the sand and he did, becoming visibly more upset. I then asked him to see his sadness flow away far into the sea as he breathed out and the waves took it away. After a few breathes in and out, L was calm. I asked him to wave to his sadness, which was still advancing to the middle of the Pacific, far, far, away. We both waved good-bye to his departing sadness. L then smiled and hugged me. “Thank you ma for taking my sadness away” he whispered. While I tweaked it a tad, waving goodbye to the sadness, I can’t take credit for this exercise. I read this in a book on mindfulness parenting, but unfortunately I forget the author (it was by a doctor). It really works!


M had his second year check up last week and loved being at the doctor as we had been reading about how Daniel Tiger (whom the boys love) went to the doctor. Now when M falls, he runs up to me and says “mama, kiss, kiss” pointing at his boo-boo and then my hypochondriac, not satisfied that his mother’s kiss was the cure, demands, “I need a check up”. 

The other day, we were eating chips, and L exclaimed, “wow! My chip is the shape of Australia!” Indeed it was. Both boys are excited to go to Australia. Luca is also really excited to explore Asia, and above all, Japan. So are we! They are also excited to get on a plane and fly to Europe in a few days. Recently, Luca understood, in a rudimentary way, thrust and lift for the first time and why planes need a runway. We discussed why helicopters don’t. He is fascinated by how things work and asks me questions now that I don’t know. “But why don’t you know?” is an exasperated retort I hear too often. I tell him we really don’t know anything except that we don’t know anything, which bothers him to no end - "but, why, ma, why?"

The big news is that M is now 2! He was very specific with his wishes. He sent us marching orders for a decadent breakfast of strawberry chocolate pancakes for brekkie, which his father dutifully made, a grilled cheese for lunch (which his father also dutifully made), to go the beach (where in true SF style we watched the beautiful bay cuddling up and zipping up our hoodies, turning away from the blasting wind- my kids are growing up thinking the beach is a cold, windy place and that swimming is something you do in a pool) and foremost, to ride the cable car. Rather than wait in line with the tourists at the first stop, we hiked up the hill and took a near empty cable car down 3 stops, which was sufficient time for the boys' adventure (L was also excited about riding the cable car and put it on his birthday list, reminding me that it was coming up). The driver was nice enough to allow both boys to ring the bell, which delighted them immeasurably. Best of all, a parade extended our experience by stopping the car mid-hill. Everyone else got off in a gruff, but we stayed and the boys got to run around the still cable car, exploring it. L did get impatient towards the end and asked, with an exasperate sigh and a furrowed brow, "mama, don't they know you walk only on the street?" I decided it was a suitable occasion to discuss permits and the First Amendment but the boys' attention was diverted by the colourful banners of the parade (luckily L's reading skills are not sufficient to read language respecting human rights abuse and to him it looked like a big party). 

M's latest friend is the younger sister of one of L's best mates from preschool. M is very fond of her (she is about 5 months younger) and after seeing her, as opposed to his other friends, proudly exclaims with an explosive smile, to all and sundry that C "held his hand". Ah, young love.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Boo Boo Butt

My boys have taken to the term “boo boot butt”  (learnt from one of their favourite books, The Book with No Pictures), in particular my younger son, M, who is a fortnight shy of two. I had wagered that as this entertainment began a couple of months ago, neither M nor L would favor it by now, but it continues to cause a riot. If I ask the boys to do something they are resisting, they respond with “mama, you are a boo boo butt” (L has also taken to calling me a "coconut head"  which I'm sure will be picked up by M soon) but they also simply love to exclaim it for no particular reason and M has even created a song. M is fond of composing ditties. His first, when he was twenty one months was “digger dig dig dig”, his second, a month later, was one he enjoyed even more. “L is a baby, a baby, a baby, L is a baby” he would sing gleefully. L preferred the former. 

Toilet humor is big in this house. If I ask what someone is doing, and M overhears, he volunteers “pooping” and then bursts into laughter. 

M continues to have accidents every so often, when he doesn’t make it to the potty in time and this distress him somewhat. He immediately flings off his pants in a dramatic flair shouting “yuck!” and then with a resigned sigh notes “accidents happen” and asks to be changed, “change me please mama”.

M started asking "why" at the beginning of the year, which somewhat perplexed me, and in the past couple of months he has ramped up his questioning with "mummy, what's that?" He likes to guess and is immensely proud of himself when he is correct. If he hears a motorcycle in the distance, he stops and asks, me "mummy, what's that? A motorcycle?" and if I affirm his analysis, he smiles ebullient. Sometimes, we have differences of opinion and he has tenaciously kept to his earlier and incorrect assessment. Very rarely he resigns himself to the fact that he is wrong. "Yeah, OK" he relents, his shoulders slumping and his brow furrowed.

As much as M loves congratulating himself, he loves to congratulate others. "Yay L!" he loves to cheer as his brother flips or does some acrobatic feat beyond M's agility. 

In the mornings, L is a stereotype of a threenager, putting his head under the pillow and resisting being woken. M on the other hand wakes up with the first dapple of the sun’s rays and rushes into our room, singing at the top of his lungs about nothing in particular. When he sees us, he smiles his explosive smile and says “good morning!”, snuggling up between me and my husband. He loves having the sole attention in the morning, his mum and dad on either side and then whispers his happiness to us, stating “mama, daddy, I love you too”, assured that the love is there. Recently, he’s taken to coming up to me and his dad and saying “I love you lots” and my favourite “so, so much” extending his arms as wide as he can. He, just like his brother, loves to hear how much we say we love them, beyond the heliosphere, beyond the Milky Way, to the edges of the Universe creeping out as it expands ( in this way, I slide in a lesson about the universe). 

The boys are starting to work together as a team. Yesterday, I had trouble getting them to bed as after book time, they pounced on me from either side, “prutzing” my arms (I believe the English term is blowing raspberries) until I was rescued by my husband who appears to have more authority, albeit I saw on the camera they gave him a run for his money too.

They both admonished me at the playground the other day for throwing their banana skins into the bin, reminding me that they should be composted. I agreed this was better and we resolved that henceforth, since there were no composting facilities in the park, I would bring a composting bag with us, so that we could compost our food waste at home. L cautioned me not to forget.

L can be super silly, but he has a distinctly cautious personality. When a bully hit him on the playground the other week, he firmly said “no thank you! Hit your own head” and walked away. When my husband offered him a blunt butter knife to cut his play-doh, he looked up at us with an elongated sigh and reminded us that he was a child and should not be given real knives, but only “toy knives” because he could cut himself and requested that we provide him a “toy knife” tout de suite. When he hears or sees fire trucks now, he worries that there is a fire and tells me that we should leave because it isn’t safe. Repeatedly, however,  he’s told me not worry because he will take care of his younger brother. 

When we were preparing for our flight to the east coast to see his grandparents earlier this month, L circled around us, reminding us not to forget anything and not be late for the flight. On the flight, he was a superstar. He read his books, completed his puzzles and watched Cars (his favourite), enjoying that the had the iPad and earphones and his own seat, indulging in his extended screen time. At times, he would crawl to the window seat to see the land below. I used the opportunity of embarking a plane to discuss thrust and lift, which to some extent L understood. He knows that jumbo jets have lots of thrust and both boys can’t wait to get on another jumbo jet. Albeit he is as avid as his older brother of taking another flight, M did not have such an easy time on the flight, needing to run around. We’ll see how our flight to London soon pans out. We have bought contraptions which apparently transform the seat into a bed, so we’ll see how the advertising pans out. 

The boys and I got quite ill on our trip. One second I was reading a book to the boys and their cousin, the next, M was throwing up a deluge of his digested food. He repeated this in the pool, to the distress of his brother and younger cousin. L followed soon thereafter, one second dandy, the next, doubled over, retching out his stomach lining. After throwing up, L would ask for water, but even a sip resulted in an eruption from his stomach, so I had to lull him to sleep without giving him any water as he cried for it. It minced my heart to deny him, but he was getting more dehydrated with every sip and I resisted his crying, simply repeating why I couldn't give him any more liquid. When he woke up the next day, he had a huge smile on his face, his system back in shape, and asked whether he could have water. I gave him water, he guzzled it down and kept it down and was fine. Children are hit hard, but they are resilient. Both boys bounced back in 24 hours, whereas it took my elder system more than a week of misery to get back to proper form. 

L’s teacher told me he is the most popular boy in his class and that everyone wants to sit next to him. He certainly has a tight crew of mates. When I came to the playground early, imagining that L and M would run to me and we would play together, I was surprised that they merely said hello and continued to run with their friends (they were being fire trucks putting out fires, at one time, I was included in the game as a house on fire, and was saved by the eager firefighters). In the end, I worked on the playground. M does his best to keep up with L and his mates. He adores his brother as well as his friends. When it was one of L’s best friends’ parties yesterday, M, full of concern, asked me whether he could come because he was friends with E too. I assured him we would all go together and for the whole day he kept singing about the party, he had such a ball. 

I was told that younger children pick things up quicker and easier, having the benefit of their older siblings for instruction, example and encouragement and this is evident from M and L’s interactions. L has been teaching M letters and numbers, helping me, so that M can count items in front of him and on his fingers up to 4 (he can count up to 10 otherwise, but can’t apply it in practice), while L is learning numbers in the hundreds. M recognizes more shapes than L his age, knowing his pentagons, hexagons, octagons etc, and a few weeks ago surprised me by being able to point to the continents on the map. I had been teaching L and I didn’t think M was digesting this information, but he pointed to Australia and informed us, beaming with pride, that his grandfather lived there, and so did Nemo. M is also enthusiastic about the big kid swings and eschews the baby swings, whereas L is only now getting used to the big kid swings (primarily due to its adoption by his friends). 

We have been into elaborate train tracks recently, covering the whole apartment (for this task it helps not have a large apartment). We came up with the idea of building “super tracks” to separate the boys so that they don’t crash their trains on the same track and avoid the bitter territorial battles that ensue. I didn’t realize how much fun I would have trying to build the windiest tracks with as many bridges and tunnels as I could make - I think I had as much as the boys. Every day, we try to beat our earlier efforts. At the redwoods the other day, after the boys had fund attempting to skin stones into the creek and run around the majestic trees, hugging each in turn, L shrewdly assessed the cathedral around him and decided it was a perfect place for a train track, pointing to the hollow tree which would make for a perfect tunnel. It seems the human itch to develop is ever present. 


Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Birds Are Coming!




One of M's favourite things is to watch the birds come to eat at our birdhouse. He has learnt to keep away and stealthily watch from a distance while they eat but he continues to jump up with unabashed excitement when he sees them fly towards their cafe. "Birds coming! Birds Coming!" he yells as he stomps his feet in delight. "Birds fly!" he confirms, in case we were disputing the finer details of their transport.

M adores books and continually asks for his favourites, which he then proceeds to read out loud with me, animating the words. His vocabulary and syntax have exploded in the past couple of months and the majority of his words are in English albeit he understands everything I say in Serbian (just like L he understands Serbian but retorts in English unless he only knows of the word in Serbian, which for L remains only a handful of words). M's first few words months ago were words of necessity, water, food, pee, kaka, nani (sleep) so he could enlist our help in fulfilling his bodily needs, vehicular objects (his first word after "mama" being "plane" and comprising the vast majority of his vocabulary at first - "cleaner truck", "fire truck", "garbage truck"), "please", "thank you", "woof woof", "ninja"(for after all, ninjas are amazing) and “yoga” (for the boys enjoy their regular yoga practice). M's very first communication of car, was "bop bop" which developed into "beep beep" then "go" because after all that is what cars are meant to do until he finally started saying "car." Dogs used to be "woof woof" then "doggy" and now when I say "doggy" he corrects me. The progression of language and the understanding of concepts always fascinated me and watching my children grow allows me to discern how our minds develop increasingly nuanced differentiation. For instance, a child has to learn that the bright circular celestial object is either the moon or the sun and this varies depending on whether it’s night and day, and that a picture of an object is not the object but a mere representation of the object. How the brain ticks through these is a marvel to witness. A while ago, M would point at the moon and say “moon” but he would also point to the sun and claim it was the moon until he learnt, a couple of months ago, to discern them. It was easier for him to discern the difference in reality than in a book or drawing (with the exception of the crescent moon which he understood was only ever a moon). What worked for the latter was to point out the difference between night and day. M understood then that the sun shines in the day, the moon at night, and that the color of the sky would (mostly) lead him to the right answer. 

M has always been an intensely verbal child. He was speaking to himself and then attempting to communicate his indecipherable language to us a long time ago. He then began to verbalise his actions, albeit we only discovered this when his words became decipherable (I was convinced that M was swearing when he would throw something or slam a door in protest and was concerned about my potty mouth which I thought I had contained as L began to parrot what I stated, but it turned out he was simply stating what he was doing, "M throw cup", "M shut door"). 


The other concept M has been learning over the past few months has been to count. A couple of months ago, he understood the concept of “one” as opposed to “more” and this numerical dichotomy was communicated by him with “two” being the equivalent of “more.” Now M can count objects in front of him up to three, but once he gets to three, he simply understands it as “more”, although he understands that “more” is more than three. Conversely, he can count by rote up up to ten (with some variance), which shows that he may be remembering the count without understanding the numerical concepts behind it. One concept that has been helpful in teaching quantities has been using different sized cups to fill a container. Both boys enjoy this. Sometimes it's two big cups, sometimes its four smaller cups. I find that the boys understand concepts more when you can put them into practice. Mathematical concepts in the abstract don't set in and they merely learn to parrot the answer. 

M is still unduly interested in cleaning and composting. He refuses to have me compost the remains of his food and as he can adequately negotiate the composting bucket, he immediately trots over and proudly adds his remains. At first I tried to prevent him doing so, fearing infection, but now we wash his hands afterward (and I wonder whether this serves as some natural inoculation). If there is an accident and M spills a glass, he furrows his brow and requests that I clean it up and then, after surveying my efforts shrewdly under an arched eyebrow, requests his own rag and proceeds to earnestly clean, resolved that he can do a better job. M's love of all things neat and clean has resulted in anguish when he looks at some of his favourite books, which he previously showed affection for by scribbling all over their contents. “Oh, no” he exclaims, exhaling a scowl of sigh when he sees his artistic endeavours, pats the book and mumbles an embarrassed “sorry book”.

At the beginning of this year, M was fascinated when I would teach L yoga and L delightfully would run through his yoga practice. A couple of months ago, M joined L in his practice and “yoga” was one of his first clear words. He would bounce into adho mukha shvanasana (downward dog pose) and malasana (general squatting pose) and exclaim “yoga” with glee in order to entice me and L into an impromptu practice. Now when  M wants to do yoga, he shouts “yoga mat” and even when his direction remains unheeded for less than ten seconds runs off to haul it over himself.

M and L both enjoy various artistic and craft exercises. They love making shapes with play-doh, drawing on paper and a sketch pad, painting eggs for Easter, their version of origami, and making creatures from various materials (the favourite so far using a coffee filter, tape, woollen string and crushed paper to make a jellyfish). M attacks his artistic endeavours, as all his ventures with earnest and has patience to tinker a task to completion. L, however, is conscious of his own mistakes and tends to withdraw if he doesn't appreciate his work. For instance, L prefers to sculpt with play-doh what he can accomplish well according to his own internal critic, thus far being variations of bugs and a snake, while he directs me to sculpt a
stegosaurus or the like, explaining, "it's difficult for me, so you do it." If I protest, he stays firm and reasons "but you do it better ma." I tell him that's not the point and that he should enjoy the creation as much as the consequence but he firmly shakes his head and explains that he appreciates watching the proper sculpting of a proper object. And if it not be proper, the sculptor will surely be noticed. Taming L's inner critic is a laboured process but we have made some tepid progress.

M just like L, and most humans, has an avid interest in music. He loves to compose on his xylophone, piano and the drums (L prefers the latter, M the former), loves to sing and dance to music and misses no opportunity to inform his mother that she is off key. The boys regularly request me to sing the songs I’ve composed for them (silly little ditties) but M increasingly directs me to stop and start again, registering a failure to hit a note with his unforgiving ear. At first, this direction caught me off guard and I remained flummoxed. L, who became M’s unofficial translator a while back, would confirm “Ma, he’s saying you should stop singing. It’s hurting our ears.” Children are painfully honest. They communicate how they feel without having to massage their message in order to avoid an unseemly impression upon their listener. My husband and I were first taken aback when L would say to either one of us, “I don’t want you, I want [other parent]”. However, now we appreciate that our child is honest and clear about his feelings and don’t want to discourage this by socializing him into filtering his feelings. On the other hand, we know that this crude honesty may affect his class mates (perhaps he might want to play with one friend and not another) and so we must negotiate this labyrinthine path delicately so that L is conscious that he must both acknowledge his feelings and yet understand that their communication may lead to unwittingly causing ill feelings upon others. Easier said than done...


L has been obsessed with the continent of Asia and in particular, the country of fast trains, beautiful Sakura trees, ramen, robots, and Totoro. He has made me promise that we will soon ride on the Shinkansen. His earnest interest started a couple of months ago when we started learning about the various continents. He enjoyed learning about all the different continents but Asia was prime of place from the beginning. So since we learnt all the continents, I started to teach him about countries and Asia seemed the best place to start. However, once we learnt about Japan, L was hooked. He is a tad miffed that we will summer in Greece and not Japan. I can’t blame him. I’ve always been an avid admirer of Japanese culture and indubitably this has flowed onto L. And of course, as an aficionado of trains, how can he not want to ride a maglev train? It was of course not long before L asked the question of why we don’t have maglev trains in California. I wondered whether it was the right time to talk about the failings of our supposed democracy and the problem of lobbying. I told him this was a good question to present to our Governor. 


L is reading full sentences now and adores teaching his brother the alphabet. As an only child, there are few things in this world sweeter than seeing my elder son patiently teach my younger son about the world. I try to make sentences relate to L and that he would find funny to encourage him to read them. I write it on a sketch pad at night and leave it for him to read in the morning. The biggest hit so far was the admittedly scientifically suspect statement of “the sky poops clouds and pees rain”. L also loves to read Everybody Poops (so does M) which contains subject matter they both favor and has simple sentences that L can read alone.

A few months ago, L started swimming lessons. We were nervous about L being in a pool with children who may not be toilet trained and possibly getting an infection because of his particular history so we waited until he could attend a class with three year olds. At first, L was afraid of getting into the water and this fear impressed the need for us to bring him to lessons, concerned that the more we waited, the more fortified his fear. His fear was due to sharks. L was fascinated by sharks earlier in the year and we learnt a lot about sharks ( I learnt many facts I did not know, for instance that some sharks give birth), including that some sharks would see us as food. L remained unconvinced that sharks would not be present in the pool where he would have his lessons until he saw the pool. “No sharks!” he exclaimed with explosive relief. L did fantastically, not crying once during his first lesson. L then decided he was a plesiosaur and now enthusiastically waits for his plesiosaur lessons.

Not having siblings, I’ve had to learn on my feet and have been surprised as to some aspects of the sibling relationship. For instance, if one boy asks for something, and I ask the other whether they want it, they may not want it, and declare this, but as soon as they see their sibling with what they just stated they didn’t want, this unwanted object becomes as valuable as the last drop of water and must be obtained at all cost. An easy avoidance of arguments is to simply always provide both with the same objects and food - hence we have many small cars that are exactly the same, one for M and one for L. At times, L wants to be alone. M, however, always wants to play with his brother. This becomes problematic  and is exacerbated by L’s developed dexterity which allows him to pursue activities that M attempts with consequences that erupt L’s irascibility. At other times, I remain in awe at how our close they are. If L receives something he adores, he asks for M to have one too. He continually asks for M to join him in his plesiosaur lessons. They hug each other as much as they hit each other. L loves teaching M about the world. He teaches him about the planets, about the continents and teaches him, with utmost patience, the alphabet. M has more patience listening to his brother than to us. L also adores informing his brother of The Rules, albeit he honours these most in their breach and broadcasts his brother’s breaches to us. “Ma, M just peed on the floor! Ma, M just tore a page off this book! Ma, M is taking the milk from the fridge!” 

L loves to tell people already about the right way of doing things, which he has apparently already calculated, and answers all questions, rhetorical or no, that are posed within his earshot. The other day M proclaimed "kaka!" and before he arrived at the potty, had already completed the job. I exclaimed, "how did that happen" and L didn't a miss a beat before he informed me that "it came from his bum, mum." Yes, L, it did. If I ask L something he doesn't know, he now shrugs and says, "I don't know, do you?" and has become very adept at this lexical boomerang. 

For mother’s day this year, I went to L’s preschool for a mother's day event. One event, unnoticed and quite unexpected was a manicuring station (without possessing any nail polish remover). L was extremely enthusiastic at the prospect of being my manicurist and picked black. L also gave me a beautiful card wherein he informed me that he wanted to buy me a dark blue limousine and couldn’t wait until I took him to Japan. M gave me the sweetest present when he said "I love you mama" and then while I gushed out a grin, pointed to the shelf and commanded, "read book please" lest I forgot who was running the show.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Slip and Slide

M's language has erupted and he now speaks in solid sentences, albeit his grasp of proper grammar is still quite slim. Some words are in Serbian but the vast majority are in the dominant tongue, English (just like L, M will understand Serbian and reply in English). Every day brings new phrases and the formation of new words. L has been "lala" for a while, but yesterday M perfected the negotiation of his brother's consonants and L was most pleased. M's new lexical grasp has resulted in his parroting our phrases, including L's so he has gone around and labelled everyone an excrement which he finds royally hilarious. Having kids has really curbed my previous potty mouth. 

M's a rather gregarious fellow. He loves to make friends on the playground by proffering his toys, he loves to sing stentoriously, he loves pretty much anything with a motor (planes, train, trucks, you name it), playing ball (kicking it, throwing it, the works), attacking the slide (perfecting going down headfirst) and somewhat more incongruously, cleaning. M loves to take a broom and clean away, shouting "clean, clean" and adores composting. I had been teaching L how to compost and recycle items, but M has really taken this on. When he finishes his dinner and proclaims "done" he makes a big show of picking up his leftovers, the majority which falls to on the floor trailing his path to the compost where he dumps his remains with a glorious grin (concluding with applause- M loves to clap for himself). While M makes more of a mess cleaning, it is grand to watch how satisfied he is to clean and compost so I encourage it with vigour.

M's sliding endeavours have caused a little more concern. The other week I let M go on the biggest slide in the park alone  - after all, he's got to learn some day and the only way he'll learn how to properly go down is to do it without his mama holding him. The bumps did not deter his interest. He was back at the top in no time and after a few bumpy goes, he perfected his technique and applauded himself. Now he goes down head first, launching on his bum and preferring to flip en route down. Not satisfied with the temporal period allowing for slippery dips, M has made it his mission to fashion slides at home. M's makeshift slides have included tunnels, blankets and cushions and some have been more useful than others. L has championed this idea and now they are both on a mission to find what they could make the best and fastest slide in our house. I've had to temper their ambitions somewhat. Both boys asked "why?" without listening to my explanation as they continued to unsuccessfully attempt to dissuade me from imposing parameters on their adventure. I persisted in my explanation because I wanted them to understand the dangers in some situations they were fashioning to which L responded casually with his usual "don't worry ma". M then proceeded to parrot this phrase and I discarded my explanation until some other time when they could focus, added my structural changes to their design while they grunted out their protest and they were backing to their slip and slide in no time, having forgotten about their mother's incursion. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Bad Spell

My three year old asked me the other day, eyes gleaming over a gluttonous grin, whether I could spell some "bad" words for him. I obliged. We spent a good half hour writing and reading numerous sentences involving pee and poop. I was basking in his literacy (his longest sentence has been "I love to read my books with mama") until he asked me to write, so that he could read, his brother being poop. I reiterated since we all have to undergo the digestive and filtering process, poop and pee are not bad but rather vital, but as their product is unsavoury, to say the least, it is extremely impolite to term someone any excrement. L stared at me pensively, his head askew and pondered my position. An incipient smile curled around his lips before he blasted out with "You're poo poo mama" and erupted in laughter. M, who had been otherwise eschewing reading lessons to shoot hoops, having discovered the the utility of cheating and walking right up to the basket, was now rightly angled into this escapade. Both my sons were riotously laughing and calling me poop. The charm of parenthood.

Anytime L is not served with his "favourite" activity or thing (for instance, not catching the bus with the blue seats but rather having to endure the injury of sitting on seats brown) he linguistically lashes out and his new verbal weaponry is "poop", at times "pookie pookie" (our term for flatulence) and more insidiously, "Neputune." The latter may seem a compliment, but rather than deifying the person he has so characterized, L is rather terming them malodorous. Sometimes it’s quite hilarious, but unfortunately as a parent there are times when your promenade must stick solely to the proper path. I reiterate my position and L’s defense is “don’t worry mama, I’m just being silly” - indeed. 

My toddler loves to tell me “not to worry”. He will go to Mars (his favourite planet at the moment, demoting Earth), he informs me, but I am not to worry that it's so far away because he will return and he will bring me back some rocks to boot (L has adopted my adoration of rocks - I have a global collection, my favourite being from the Tablelands at Gros Morne). Whomever termed “threenager” was spot on. L needs “alone” time, wants to sleep in and recently has requested pocket money so he may dictate the product of his own purse. I adopted the idea and told him that if he helped me sort the laundry I would give him twenty-five cents. L thought this was grand but he wanted payment up front, which I balked at. During our negotiation, M stopped running around in circles and screamed “kaka!”  rushing to the potty (M has rushing to the potty down pat and then he invariably finishes the job with his pants still on) and our negotiation ended without a resolution, L rushing to M yelling “kakastrofa!”. The clothes were not folded by L, nor did he receive payment (and what did he want to buy? A dump truck. “Don’t worry mama, it’s for you!”).

I’ve recently hit upon an excuse for having to work away from the kids that L accepts. The reason “having to work” is not concrete for a toddler, or in any case, my toddler, to accept. Nor is elucidating the reason by explaining the necessity of obtaining money for necessary things (let alone the need to have other exploits apart from motherhood). I had to hit upon what was concrete in L's mind and I came up with adopting our next adventure. L wanted to return to Lego Land, so every time I went to work before Lego Land, I was “working for Lego Land” and now that we’ve been again and have had some respite from this amusement park, I’ve returned to “Train Town”. Not only does L accept this, but he kisses me goodbye happily and thanks me for working! I’m not sure whether professional pedagogues would approve of my approach, but it’s resulted in quite amiable partings. 

I’m having a bit of a difficult time weaning M. I nursed L till about 16 months, when I was in my second trimester with M, and it was an easy parting in the circumstances (I went to New York, ran out of milk and he shunned me). I decided to wean M who has just turned 19 months, because I can’t support his tantrums after I refuse to nurse him for his afternoon comfort and more importantly, because he is still not sleeping through the night, waking up every so often for his nursing comfort. Alas, what a seven hour stretch would be like...the only way we can have M calm down at night is if my husband comforts him. In the middle of the night he's had to trudge into the boys' room and nestle between them, comforting M. If I go in and there is no milk for M, a tantrum of seismic proportions erupts.

Somehow M learnt the term “boob” and when “milk” doesn’t work, he points at my chest and implores me “mama, boob, milk, boob, boob milk.” He’s not hungry nor parched - if I proffer a cup of milk or water he dramatically takes it and throws it on the floor. It’s going to be a difficult trial for both of us. M is very obstinate and already has fortified opinions. He knows what books he wants to read and in what order. He will bring them all to you and expect that you comply. M knows what he wants to wear, or rather, he know what he does not want to wear and will fiercely object if you try to put on his grey shoes, for instance, when he wants to wear the blue, vigorously shaking his head and grunting “blue, blue, blue” (to which L confirms “not the grey, ma, it’s not his favourite”).

Woe to the poor soul who dares to challenge M. Unfortunately for M, when he is most irate, he sounds very much like Donald Duck. My husband and I have had to stifle laughter when M has protested and I wonder whether his head banging, which immediately distresses us, has resulted from his recognition of our altered reaction. As I understand the positive discipline approach, it is to lead M to an area where he can bang his head without injury without providing him too much attention so that he is not encouraged to continue to do it. This makes sense but it somewhat difficult to apply. Invariably I succumb to holding him and he calms down and shoots everyone an imperious and satisfied look.  The duck has dominion.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Recording Reflex

Our 18 month old has erupted with language. When he doesn't effectively pronounce a word, he becomes frustrated that we don't understand what he says and this has led to some tempestuous encounters. Following in the footsteps of his elder brother, water ("voda" in Serbian and "nero" in Greek, which are the other languages spoken at home) eludes him and we understand his intention more from the context and fury of his intent rather than from his somewhat mangled attempt at pronouncing the word in one of the languages spoken at home. Since the three words for water used at home do not appear to be difficult phonically (with the qualification that "nero" may be communicated without rolling the "r"), for after all M, as L before him, annunciates all the necessary phonics perfectly in other words, I have begun to speculate that the wiring mechanism of early language may prevent some connections during periods of stress or excitement. When my sons ask for water, they don't appear merely parched, but as if they've been exiled in the desert and just spotted an oasis. We can perceive this as adults too, for aren't we at times so impassioned and overwhelmed that we may not grasp the right word so that our surroundings become ineffable and our lexicon is reduced to a succession of emphatics and insertions of onomatopoeia?

Social media has brought amazing benefits (for instance, we face time with the grandparents regularly and the children can develop a sound relationship with them despite the geographical impasse)  but it has also somewhat corrupted our experience. Every time M says a new word, such as the name of his best bud yesterday as he ran towards his house, or the construction of a simple sentence, we brim  with pride as parents and are relieved at one less communication kerfuffle. I also have a keen desire to share my joy with the grandparents, whom I know would appreciate to see it.  Even without Facebook and other social media, I nevertheless have fallen prey to the posting reflex, posting pictures and videos to the grandparents on a shared stream. The reflex is not only to share, but to record. I have by far fewer pictures of my childhood from my parents than my kids have of theirs. This of course has its benefits, but I also wonder of the corrosive effect of having an itch to record every ebullient experience. Was it really proper of me to record my increasingly exasperated 18 month as he yelled "pasta" while earnestly rummaging through the pantry for his favourite, rotelle, and then proceeding to throw it in front of me to effect his purpose (on a side note, M loves to direct- if I ask if he wants me to read a book, he always says yes and then rattles of which books and in what order before proceeding to bring them to me)? We wouldn't think to record our spouse, or anyone for that matter, in such a manner and yet we record some delicate moments of our children (for I believe I am not the only one). We also lose some of the magic of the moment.

The other day M, who like L, is an earnest drawer and likes to form scenes on the sketch pad as if creating a mandala in a meditative trance, drew a definitive figure of a fish. I gasped and asked if it were a fish to which he responded in the affirmative, beaming with pride, "da, fish" (he had been at the Academy of Sciences the entire day with his grandma and it seems was inspired by his adventures at the aquarium there). I could discern the body, the fin and the tail of the fish and my pride percolating to a boil, I reached for the phone to record M with his drawn fish. Later I pondered why I didn't simply enjoy the moment with him - in an attempt to record it, I failed to really enjoy it and I might have deprived him of his own enjoyment.

We must resist the pervasive recording reflex...

Attached to the recording reflex, is the need parents have (attributing our idiosyncrasies to others) to affirm their kids' milestones which also has a somewhat corrosive effect. When M turned 17 months and started counting to two, utterly flabbergasting us when he interrupted our count, we became so excited that we started counting anew so that he would repeat it. M refused to do this, as he does at times, keenly aware that he must assert himself against such parental transgression. Kids are not pets that you teach tricks to and it may be somewhat disrespectful and exploitative to elicit a display of your child's latest milestone, as if we were merely tracking tricks.

Parenthood is as difficult as rewarding - how do we know that we are really practicing the best form of pedagogy? We have been following the positive discipline approach, which on the whole works wonders. My elder son responds very well to a timer, for instance. When he refuses to do something, instead of barricading ourselves into a brawl, we simply physically move him away from a danger/temptation or to where he needs to be. Affirming what can be done rather than stating what cannot be done has also worked wonders for both our sons. Rather than saying "no pinching", we have found that sanctioning "touch nicely" and showing what that means has slowly effected a gentler response from our piccolo pincher. One place where positive discipline has not aided us and where we have gone back to our earlier tools of time out, distraction and bribery, is food. Our elder son can be quite picky at the dinner table and no amount of speaking calmly gets the broccoli down. I have resorted to bribery in an effort to increase the green quotient of my son's diet. Indeed, bribery works, and works too well. It effects your limited purpose, but it entrenches you within its method so that you find your kids expect to receive some tangible benefit in the proper exercise of their appetite. L is an expert negotiator and liberally offers deals for his vegetable intake. There needs to be a better way. Positive discipline does not advocate forcing nutrients down and its authors have pointed out that children's own subconscious eating habits tend to provide them with sufficient nutrients. I have noticed that my picky elder son will refuse strawberries one day as if he were certain they contained cyanide but will gorge on an incomprehensible number the next. Perhaps this is the right approach, but whether it's my Southern European mindset or no, I can't help but think that this allowance is somewhat of an abidcatfion of my parental duty.

It is amazing how different my sons are. My elder son is a gentle, artistic soul who while socially enthusiastic and extroverted, has certain trepidation in the physical realm. "Oh, that's dangerous mama" he resolutely replies when I try to coax him up a ladder at the playground. My younger son, conversely, is an intrepid adventurer that has resulted in wonderful experiences and attendant injuries. All you can do sometimes as a parent is nudge. My older son needs a nudge to take a leap. My younger son needs a helmet.

The other day when I was picking L up from preschool, one of his schoolmates was recounting all the different classes his parents took him to - karate, soccer, swimming  - there was one more I can't recall. Apart from playing Playball at school and starting swimming lessons soon, we haven't signed L up for any sports or other activities. This doesn't mean he hasn't experienced any of it, for instance, we play football (soccer) with him and teach him how to kick and I teach him yoga and meditation, which he earnestly attempts and has enthusiastically adopted, but I wonder whether we are providing sufficient guidance not being professionals in either arena. A multitude of lessons on the other hand is problematic, and not only due to the monetary complications if done concomitantly, but the temporal limitations. If my son goes to preschool full time and a number of lessons outside of this time, when do I get to see him? What is the correct formula in providing access to all these varied experiences and providing sufficient time to simply be with your children? If your child is not participating in all these extra-curricular activities, in lesson form, are they missing out? Perhaps there is no right answer...