Monday, June 1, 2020

La Quarantaine Quotidien II: The Bottomless Pit

The quarantine has continued for far more than its etymological root of 40 days, the amount of time boats had to wait to offload to prevent the spread of plague in Venezia. 

It took barely a few weeks for our boys to go from registering the lockdown as a holiday in which they could savour their parents being at home, sleeping in and not going to school to stomping around the house and shouting "we hate quarantine! Thumbs down to quarantine!" The boys asked when the lockdown was over. They missed their friends, their teachers, their schools, their soccer, swim and yoga lessons, going to the Academy of Sciences and the Exploratorium and eating sushi. I told them it was a moving target based on the rate of infection, which they hardly found reassuring and expressed their dissatisfaction with singed scowls. L was not only worried about when this period of quarantine would end, but how many quarantines he would have to endure in the future. He interrogated me intermittently not only about “relaxations of the rules”, the reasons for the quarantine, including from his grandmother and the probability of future quarantine periods. L went through the generations and the globe, asking whether members of our family last experienced quarantine. I happily explained to him that nobody had experienced quarantine, not even his two great-grandmothers. I told him the last time the world dealt with such a pandemic with global lockdowns was over 100 years ago. This seemed to appease him somewhat. Yet even at his tender age of five, he is cognizant of the fact that merely because something hasn’t happened before, does not necessarily mean it won’t. Thus, he deduced that simply because the last global pandemic was over a century ago does not mean that his life will be free from future pandemics.

Despite reading numerous books on positive parenting and having implemented many practices from this pedagogical approach, the strains of working from home and caring for the kids has resulted in repeated instances of reflexive parenting.

At dinner one eve, I chided L for not eating his food and exasperated, pointed out that there are millions of children starving around the world. Yes, I became that parent that I vowed never to be. L was unswayed. He looked at me askew and asked, “so how does me eating my dinner help them? Should I give them my dinner?”

My three-year-old is also not above the snark. Pulling on my arm as I was finalizing an email for work, he said “mum, L needs you in the bathroom, it’s important”, I retorted, on the second last sentence, “I’m coming”. M tugged at my arm tighter, “you say you are coming, but you are not moving” M dryly observed. Later that day, M informed me of his suspicion of my stripped sanity, “you are crazy mum” he notified me. I requested the reason for his resolution. “You do crazy things, like losing your phone all the time.” He was right. It is insane that several times a week, the kids embark on a treasure hunt, their ears focused on my phone’s beeps to find where I haphazardly last laid my phone. More than once it’s been on one of our chargers, which perhaps best substantiates M’s point. I couldn’t just leave that comment hanging over me, however. “Nobody can be sane in an insane society” I informed M. “What is sanity?” M asked curiously.  “I don’t think we will ever know” I informed M. Perhaps L understood I was about to stampede into another stentorian tirade on social construction and interrupted me with a more simple request, “can we go scooting now?”

M and L have noticed our parenting has somewhat slumped lately. While M toilet-trained himself at his own initiative quite early, he nevertheless continues to have accidents at night and has succumbed to wearing diapers at night after fiercely resisting it for months (“I am a big boy not a baby!” he would argue as we related that washing sheets each day was a waste of our dear planet’s water, avoiding the admitted secondary reasoning of simply not wanting to do daily washing). One night last week we ran out of diapers. I informed M I was sorry but perhaps he could try and not pee in his sleep. M looked at me with fury and simply shook his head in disappointment. Waking up wet the next day, M castigated me. “How could you leave me without a diaper? You are my mother! Never do that again!” I couldn’t really counter his argument, so I simply apologized and agreed. However, I nearly did it again. On the last diaper, M looked at me determinedly and warned, “you are going to buy diapers tomorrow for me, right? Don’t forget!” Having my three year old direct my parenting is a new parent low for me.

As much as I am castigated by M for my failings, I also am showered with love. “My love goes throughout the multi-verses” M says and follows up with “and I will give you five millions pounds of kimchee” (I adore kimchee and yoghurt so M has taken up to eating both, together, which I never thought to mix). The other night M showered me with accolades, which I understood was his way of forgiving me. My favorite accolade was “best swimming lesson watcher”. With his last expiration before he sunk into solid sleep he sighed, “I miss my swimming lessons – when will quarantine be over?”

We’ve had some unwittingly zesty zoom encounters. My husband and I have tried to coordinate our schedules and sometimes have had to discuss our division and triage of work, childcare and domestic tasks unwittingly live on our children’s zoom - thankfully, we trust in the impenetrability of the mute button. However at least once our vivid domestic discussions were within earshot of the computer mic before we realized that M’s teacher had unmuted him to answer a question and wondered how many ears were privy to our private squabble (or perhaps the other parents were concomitantly too busy fighting over their dishwasher and time demarcations to notice?). We’ve both had calls and video conferences which the boys have interrupted for various deemed emergencies, usually involving an unresolved conflict between them. My favorite are bathroom needs. There’s nothing better to illuminate a strategy discussion than a youngster calling out to you to wipe his butt. Thankfully not recorded, but our three-year-old thought it fit to moon over zoom. He laughed deviously for a good few minutes after putting his pants up as if he had just completed walked on the moon, not taken his pants down in front of the camera. His teenage rebellion is going to be interesting to say the least.

In demarcating work and childcare full-time, we’ve let the domestic realm slip somewhat. It confounds us how quickly the house is mired in mess. Part of it was intentional, albeit in truth it was more finding scraps of time and triaging other tasks until we reached the point of ripe embarrassment. The former was our attempt to turn our apartment into a fun-house, complete with makeshift obstacle courses. The boys favoured our makeshift trampoline, which had them jumping from the couch onto a living room floor that was covered with cushions and blankets. The boys on their own initiative have turned several rooms in the house into various forts, with architecture that appeared to be mainly predicated on making the most mess possible, with the floor but a mere suggestion. 

 I was worried the boys weren’t getting enough exercise so we developed an obstacle course in the garden with a tunnel to boot. They would sprint across the garden a few times, do start jumps, go through the tunnel which I termed the “commando corridor”, throw a basketball into the hoop, do sit-ups and push-ups and then sprint back. This worked well… until it didn’t. Perhaps it was the fatigue but the boys became intensely interested in bugs and plants and now we’ve started a makeshift garden. The boys even have a song they love to sing at the top of their voices as we walk through the neighborhood, “seeds, sun and water and grow, grow, grow!” 

L and M love to shout out “hello, have a beautiful day!” to strangers in the street. While I have lectured both of them of the dangers of talking to strangers alone (which resulted a few months ago in M telling a sweet lady on the bus that he couldn’t talk to her because his mum didn’t let him speak to strangers) I encourage the boys saying hello to strangers if I or another guardian is there. I continue to find it bemusing that not all people being told to have a nice day by young children find it enjoyable or feel the need to reply. At first this saddened L, “mum, they didn’t reply” but this seemed a good exercise in learning that wishing someone well should not be for the sake of ingratiation and that receiving a reply was irrelevant. L analyzed my reasoning. “But if that’s the case, why do you say we should always respond to people when they tell us to have a nice day?” Teaching children what politeness has the unintended consequence of having them in turn chide people who aren’t impolite. Children love to follow rules if they are the ones enforcing them against others. I told my boys you can’t manipulate people into manners or chide them into it and that there are numerous reasons that people may appear impolite – they may not hear you, they are rushing in an emergency, they are too surprised that unknown children are wishing them a good day to immediately retort as we pass them by. I also told them they shouldn’t wish people well simply to get the same response returned. I warned that sometimes, they are going to give people compliments or wish them well and not have them returned. L was very upset about this. In his world, all compliments should be returned. “So, if you compliment someone on how good they are at basketball, do you want them to say the same thing to you?” L nodded. “And what if you aren’t?” L simply scowled, not knowing how to process his emotions. It will take time for L to learn that compliments should be given untethered.

The boys, and particular L, at 5, are cognizant of our fragility in a climate sensitive world. This is the third time in their lives that we’ve had to hunker down at home and wear masks outside. Before, it was wildfire. Now, it’s a virus. Yet the two are not disconnected - our pillage of the environment and consequent habitat destruction, including the displacement of numerous animals, is directly connected to spill-over effects of animal viruses. For instance, it is no coincidence that the epicenter of this current pandemic is close to the Three Gorges Dam, a gargantuan hydro-electric project in Hubei, which displaced many bat colonies. If we don’t radically alter our societies, we will face more climatic calamity. As a parent, I find it my duty to ensure my children understand our mistakes and ensure they build the world in a different direction - one that is more equitable. One in which our policies are holistic and tied to an understanding that we cannot externalize our environment, which our actions impact and which in turn impacts us. My boys are intensely interested in reliable renewable energy sources and eliminating our use of “dirty dinosaur juice”. Albeit this may have some unintended consequences. After pondering the issue, L decided that geo-thermal issue was the way to go. When I informed him drilling to access this natural steam could destabilize the earth and lead to numerous earthquakes and eruptions, L decided we had to focus on super volcanoes. For us, it was Yellowstone. L asked why can’t we tap into all that steam the super-volcano has rather than fracking ourselves to death? I informed him it was a national park but on the precipice of my pontification I momentarily faltered and even wondered whether this could be done in a manner that provided a net benefit to the environment. Children’s first reaction is “why not” and we tend to lose that with age as we become more averse to risk. There is of course good reason for this. We have more to lose, for one. We also are more knowledgeable and understand the interconnexion of everything, so that one wrong can ripple to multiple others. Yet piercing the paradigm is what propels us forward. To ask is not to err. We can take a lesson from our kids and ask “why not” more often.

In an effort to make the lockdown more palatable, I asked the boys to tell me where they would want to travel when we could travel the world again. “Where is farthest from San Francisco?” my three-year-old replied without missing a beat. Both boys were certain that they wanted to visit the beautiful and desolate Port-aux-Fran├žais in the Kerguelen Islands in the southern Indian Ocean. Less than a day later, M wasn’t satisfied with our terrestrial paradigm and decided that we should travel to Jupiter. As the lockdown progressed, M set his sights on visiting the Andromeda galaxy, 2.5 million light years away.  I told them we don’t have the technological capacity to achieve this, amongst other problems, which inspired L to come up with a new form of energy - viral energy. L thought it would be renewable and safe and felt pretty pleased with himself, deciding it was not the time to dig into the details. M in turn was inspired to build a “corona trap” out of pop sticks to save the world from the epidemic (he also has the unfortunate habit of “layering” corona from all and sundry when we otherwise have a pleasant promenade around the neighborhood). 

We broke the quarantine with my mother recently, who lives by us, but before we did so, for about two months, my mother would stop by the boys’ window daily in a mask and talk to the boys. Prior to ending the quarantine with my mother, L had asked increasingly detailed questions about infection and the various available masks’ levels of protection, until he came up with a plan of persuasion to allow him to see his grandmother - with both of them wearing N95 masks. Surely then he would be allowed a hug?

Home schooling the kids, I researched numerous science experiments. However, in juggling work, my grand plans became quite modest. One day, with nil preparation time available, lacking the requisite ingredients for my intended explosive science class, I decided to embark on “lazy parent science” which ended up being something the boys digested well and enjoyed. We did a refresher on matter and its different forms and then I simply took ice out of the fridge. We examined how it melted and then we boiled it to examine steam. It didn’t provide the spectacle of sublimation, with no dry ice, but it fulfilled its primary objective. 

We are fortunate to have numerous parks within walking distance, including the vast expanse of Golden Gate Park and I bring the boys’ journal so that they draw and write the various animals and types of vegetation that they have observed. Perhaps because our adventures have been limited, we notice the abundance of nature around us. Skunks and raccoons lurking our streets at night. Beach hoppers and crabs under the sand. Snails, butterflies, bees, squirrels and various types of beautiful birds that serenade us in the parks. Thankfully, they closed some thoroughfares in the park to all vehicular traffic and the boys scoot with such speed that I unwittingly provided free entertainment to numerous people as they laughed at my desperate and failed attempt to keep pace with the boys using just my feet.

One project the boys have loved has been delivering mail across the world. I write letters from animals to other animals, and they have to read the letters and “deliver” them across the globe. Through this exercise, they practice reading, geography and biology as we discuss what the animals are asking each other. For instance, Mr. Galapagos Tortoise wanted to ask Miss Kiwi whether she could fly and what she ate. In turn Miss Kiwi asked Mr. Anaconda whether he had ever seen a dolphin and if he had ever eaten one. The boys enjoyed this one and all one needs is a globe or a map and a pen and paper. 

L is very practical. When asked what his favorite animal was, he answered without a beat, “humans”. Favorite planet? It’s Earth of course. M on the other hand is fascinated with the immensely beautiful nebulous patterns of the giant Jupiter. They are both intensely fascinated with black holes, the cosmic bottomless pit. I found that they enjoy the piercing of narratives. L and M always request new stories after book-time, at bed-time. One night, I needed to leave earlier and hadn’t come up with a story. So I told them about a story about a boy that needed a story, his mother refused and as he insisted she told him the story of a boy who needed a story…. .. it was not a story, and yet it was and it was never-ending, until it came back to me… and they laughed raucously. They viscerally connect to a multi-layered reality. Perhaps that's why they are engrossed with black hole physics and the idea of the holographic universe. The bottomless pit we don't even know we're in. 

Our children inform their behavior by looking at how we act, more than what we say. Prior to the pandemic, our children would see that we would, for instance bend to pick up what someone dropped and run after them to give it back to them. Now, that is out of the question. We shout at people and notify them of what they lost, pointing to it. Not only do we not want to touch an infected item and go near another person, but we would find it rude to do so and not respect the quarantined-space of the other person. Everything that was once a show of affection and respect is now possibly a disrespectful and reckless act. It’s important to have kids understand that our change in behavior reflects the fear of the viruses and is not something that should be repeated when we are no longer in danger - but then, when will that be? 

The boys have increasingly been requesting a sibling. I wonder whether this is due to the fact that their world has narrowed to our nuclear family unit so they have focused on its expansion. My husband and I were flabbergasted when L asked for a sibling at dinner for his younger brother M to casually answer, “it would be nice, but babies are expensive.” L nodded, “yes and if mum had another boy, it would be chaos here.” This cemented to us their ability to access and internalize all conversations and to attempt to be cognizant of what we are discussing in front of them-  but then, to be human is to err, and so we repeat our prior mistakes… 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

La Quarantaine Quotidien: The Stinks

M and L have adjusted better than we feared to the quarantine, which started officially last Monday but had started for us a few days before when we decided to self-isolate against the virions that plagued our environs and that we were perhaps already incubating. L informed me yesterday that while he missed his friends, he liked that mum and dad were home every day and that he could see his friends "on the internet". They ensure to wash their hands counting to 20 or singing "happy birthday" twice (a trick L's teacher taught him), have diligently stayed away from people on the street and have asked about viruses in general, the regal virus and its fatality. As their grandmother lives 3 bocks away but we've isolated ourselves from her for the past few weeks, we have added window speaking to face time, in which we stop by each other's windows and talk, apart. The boys prefer this contact, M complaining he wants the "real baka" not the one on face time. It's a new reality, with a latent morbidity.
"Are people going to die? Is grandma?"
I didn't want to lie. I told them that many people would die but that their grandparents and friends and family were all keeping safe isolating from other people and they had nothing to worry about. This confused, hypocritical messaging to alleviate the fears of children is akin to the government in Australia ensuring parents that schools would be kept open but encouraging them to keep their kids home. A mediated messaging in which you massage the contours of the message to make it more palatable to such an extent that you end up piercing the logic of its content. "Everything will be ok (only it's not)."

During free drawing and journalling time, the kids' fascination with corona has resulted in many artistic expressions of what the corona virus looks like (alongside drawing their usual favourites, like sound and electricity, L displaying the latter as numerous balls with springs showing little balls jumping to and from each, which I proudly decided displayed his solid understanding of the basics of electron excitement).

We've had to curb the expression of our anxiety in front of the kids in order to alleviate their stress, but that has proven a difficult endeavour. A number of times I've exclaimed at the progression of this pestilence, or worried about authoritarianism, the consequences of disaster capitalism or even the fate of our family members unwittingly within reach of their ears, which never fail to register the information and prod further. M the past fews days has been waking up in the mornings and from his afternoon nap shouting for me and as soon as he sees me, has been exclaiming "Mummy! You are alive! You are alive!" with gratitude and asking for cuddles. Today, he told me he was glad I was not sick. It's readily apparent that he has internalized our anxiety. I have doubled down in my efforts to mollify their concern, yet the indubitably must be aware that there is a latent angst. I'm more cautious, more overbearing. Generally the risk of a broken arm is not something that concerns me. Kids should be kids. They need to scoot, ride a bike and do innumerable other things that contain some level of risk. Risk is inherent in life, after all. Now, I would prefer my kids were in bubbles and watch their play like the NKVD.

We have tried to keep the boys to a schedule. Of course, work variables have upended a consistent plan but our efforts have been somewhat smooth. We ensure they get ready on "go" days as before, as now we're in the "go-stay" period, and start the home-schooling with English. As the boys are 3 and 5 and have vastly different aptitudes, L can read and write sentences, M can read numerous words and write letters and few words (such as his name), I decided to do the following:
Start the day with two letters (which quickly expanded to include sounds) and ask the boys to think of words that start with that letter. After, have L write sentences which include a number of the words while M practices writing his letters. As M finishes before L, I take that time to continue mathematics with M, which L has long surpassed. Simple addition (2+1, 2+2 etc) and recognizing double and triple digit numbers. Then M has zoom class and L has his mathematics lesson. Next is sprint or scoot time around the block a number of times followed by yoga or an exercise video. Fruit and cheese snack. Geography/science/astronomy/biology (depending on the day). Lunch. M naps, then has his zoom meeting. While M naps, L reads books, connects puzzles or has his chess lesson. Then L has his zoom meeting with his teacher and friends (everyone in our household has zoom meetings daily).
After nap and zoom time, another snack. Then it's park time/outside time, in which we perform the quarantine shuffle, attempting to keep the designated 6 feet away from everyone else. Then free time. We have used dinner and night-time prep time for the boys to do free play and/or watch StoryBots or Octonauts.

It has of course not gone that smoothly. Yesterday the boys thought it a grand idea to hit each other repeatedly over the head with their respective avocado stuffed toys (or in their lingua, "stuffies"). When I intervened, they assured me that it was an innocuous activity because the toys were too soft and as an illustration of their point, L proceeded to hit me over the head with it. I was not pleased to say the least. However, at least they were fostering their fraternal bond and taking turns....

I trust parents all across the world have a new respect for teachers and I hope that one of the positives we can take from this carious circumstance is to provide them with the due compensation they deserve.

For instance, spare a thought for English teachers that as far as I know, have figured out how to teach spelling without having to turn up to work in SWAT gear.

Rather than start with "A" which would have been apples, I thought fit to continue with L's schedule. He was on the letter K. I immediately knew there was going to be trouble but insouciantly sauntered forth as if there were a phonetic basis to the lesson and asked L and M (who were at the start wagging their knees as if puppies awaiting the throw of a ball ostensibly in cross-cross apple sauce) to tell me words that started with "K".  M went first, shouting "cap", extremely proud that he said something before his brother. His brow furrowed when I explained that while "cap" is the correct "k" sound, it starts with the "hard c". Numerous hard "c" words later, the boys were about to stage a mutiny.
"Why does cat begin with a hard C but "kitten" begins with K?" M asked.
"Why does "cook" begin with C but end in K?" asked L.
I decided it was time for some etymology.
"Our wonderful language developed from other wonderful languages and we take that foreign language's spelling into account."
Blank faces.
"So "kindergarten"  and "kid" comes from German, so we use the German K. For words from Latin, we use the hard C, from French the "QU" rather than "KW" and from Greek we get "CH" -and there is also the "CK" which I believe is of Germanic origin but I am not certain."
My explanation was not exactly accurate, but I thought for a one sentence explanation to my children it could do the trick as a more simplified version of K's kerfuffle.
I wrote down "chronological" and "chromatic" and explained, whilst my calculation of the increased intensity of knee wagging fuelled my stress and added some strain to my voice as I picked up the pace to ensure I would be able to finish this lesson before outright rebellion, "chronological" , meaning in order of time, comes from "chrono" meaning "time" in Greek and "chromatic" meaning relating to colour, which comes "chroma" meaning "colour".
"But you used the "H" sound in Greek!" shouted L, exasperated. His dissatisfaction coiled into counters of incredulity.
"Look English isn't phonetic, it's beautiful and wonderful and useful and it's yours, but you're just going to have to remember. C can be hard or soft. K is always hard, but other letters make K."
"Now let's look at our K words and our "K" sound but not "K" words" I said pointing to our list. The kids eyed the "K" list, dismally short, with some derision as if English spelling were conjured by misanthropes that took indecent pleasure in Spelling Bee blunders.
"Now, let's get to writing K!"
I had M write K a number of times while L wrote down all the K words and was extremely pleased when they obediently and promptly began to write. My smile was a mile when I saw their exemplary script and flipped into the crevasses of exasperation when the next moment they were climbing up on the top bunk and ready to jump.
It was time for quick sprints outside before a snack and geography, in which L didn't fail to complain that the "Southern Ocean" should be the termed the "Antarctic" (this has been his pet peeve for many months now).

L has been dissatisfied with some of my answers to his questions. He is right to be, because his questions are surpassing my ready knowledge base, which sometimes results in a disgruntled and disappointed L shrugging his shoulders, rolling his eyes and commanding "just look it up, mum". Yesterday I noted that his makeshift plane had no wings and asked how it got lift. L said the body of the plane provided lift. I maintained this was error, and low and behold, realized that L was right. Future aeroplane design may use the body for lift. It was an embarrassing moment to say the least.

L's questions have been increasingly nuanced. He wanted to know why astronauts floated in "zero G" when there was gravity in space, with the sun's gravity pulling in the planets to orbit it. He wanted to know how a venus flytrap pollinated if it ate its pollinators (this one I had to look up and it's because the traps are at the bottom attract non-pollinating insects while the flower at the top has no traps and has a mutually beneficial relationship with its pollinators who never think fit to venture down to the plant's traps). We have since adopted a venus flytrap but it has not become the entertaining pesticide that the boys had hoped.

The boys have taken to saying "what the orca", "what the pod" noting that we shouldn't have an issue with this because "orca" and "pod" are not "bad words". And so our kids rather than swearing in the conventional way have merely made up new forms of swearing. I'm not sure what the right answer to this behaviour is but as the times have stretched our efforts to a loose degree.

The pandemic and the quarantine have provided a solid excuse for all my avid parenting failures, albeit I'm not sure as to its inherent as opposed to apparent verity. After all, I only have to look back at the beginning of this month when we woke up on a Sunday for M's first soccer lesson to realize we had forgotten to set an alarm for the new time, were already late, commanded the boys get dressed and informed them that breakfast would be en route and consist of an apple and granola bar, ushered them outside in the cold, only to discover that we could not remember where we parked the car and after ululating exasperation skirting blogging post rules and not to be repeated while circling the neighbourhood, found the car and en route in checking the location of the class, discovered it was cancelled. Parenting at its best.

L has been very proud of himself for learning to roll his "Rs" which has resulted in him being able to pronounce his brother's name. Unfortunately, M has been quite upset about this, not having succeeded this lingual feat. My husband has related that M has confided in him that he thinks I may not be proud of him because he cannot properly say his name. I've encouraged M to note that several weeks ago his brother couldn't roll his Rs either and now rolls them recursively, repeating "the rabbit went around the railroad" in a heavy staccato accent.

For the past couple of months, M is very into making deals. "I'll make you a deal" he insists when he wants something. I do this, you give me that. If I say he will get $1 for helping with a chore, he retorts with "how about $55?" and to my avid refusal, he simply counters up, "OK, then, how about $56?"

Before L's school shut down, during the month of February, L's teacher taught him about race, a subject I had skirted. L, in his five years of life, had never up to that point, been cognizant of varied skin colour. He came home excited explaining that human beings come in different colours and excitedly explained to me that his friends were all different colours. I told him the difference came from varied levels of a hormone, melanin. L explained that whatever we looked like on the outside, we were the same inside. His teacher has shown this by taking a number of different coloured eggs and instructing the children to crack them. His teacher had also taught L about segregation. "Can you believe that people of different skin colour could not drink from the same water fountain or go to the same school?" L asked incredulous. Wasn't that ridiculous? I pondered whether this was a good time to discuss the reification of race and its use to create a racial bridge between the rich white and poor, thus separating the real interest of the white and black poor (this is pursuit of economic interest by MLK is what resulted in his assassination - the man must be turning in his grave that he is remembered as a "civil rights" martyr when he realized that you can't separate civil and economic rights). While I was vacillating over how best to approach this, our lives were upended and this is a topic that I have yet to teach.

To cut the boys' bath level, which they insist should be deep, I decided to show them the trifle availability of freshwater. I poured a full glass representing all the water in the water in the world (250 ml). Then I explained that the vast majority of this is salt water and that without energy intensive desalination, which is not only expensive but creates pollution and contributes to global warming, we could not drink any of it. To illustrate I poured salt in the water, had them stick their finger in it and taste whether they approved of the salt. After their grimaces, we ventured forth to freshwater (6.25 ml). They immediately remarked on the difference. I informed them that not all of the freshwater in the world is accessible, some of it is stored in ice caps and not all of the water is renewable, as underwater aquifers have been filled over millions of years. The third cup represented accessible freshwater (2.5 mls by my calculation).
"Every time you ask for your bath to be filled to the brim, please consider how much water 8 billion and their progeny have to share."
L scrunched his face up. "What about water from space?" he asked.
How very human of him.

In this house, everyone has zoom meetings several times a day. The kids are starting to learn digital etiquette, albeit slowly. They at first shouted over the top of each other and have slowly learnt to use the vital mute button. It's amazing to see how the kids relate to each other over the internet. They find it fascinating. While we face time with relatives all the time, we've never face timed with their friends. M was speaking to his friend over face time yesterday and it was so lovely to see how the boys expressed their emotions for each other.
"I really miss you" said M's bud to him.
"I really miss you too" M fired back. "My kiss is going all the way from my house to yours. Can we play soon?"
"Yes, I want to play with you!"
At what point do men internalize and curb these emotions? Or is this new generation, which encourages boys to feel and express their feelings, developing a new masculinity, one that is less masked and more true?

Then again there are some things that appear to be quintessentially male, like finding "the stinks" as M likes to term it, hilarious. I'm not sure what the humour is, but my husband does and so do my boys. The stinks indeed.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Burnt Lattes

I have started to video tape my agreements with the boys and it’s worked a charm. Before the taping, we would agree to one more activity or a certain amount of time for an activity and when it came time for their exchange, I would invariably hear protestations of “but mama, just one more minute” or “just one more book (or episode, the boys love Story Bots and Octonauts to an almost indecent degree). This percolated me to a boil until I decided they needed to see their prior handshake. The first time I did it, I was looking forward to displaying to my three year old his pinky promise that we had agreed to only one minute more of trains before dinner while he was crying for JUST one more minute and was surprisingly a little disappointed I didn’t even have to show the video. All I had to do was point to it and the boys followed through on their end of the bargain. In fact, now my five year old polices my three year old on their trilateral agreements, counting down the number of books we have left to read or running to warn me that it’s nearing the end of the agreed final episode and I need to turn the TV off.

Despite having regained a hold of keeping the kids to their agreements, we’ve had some trouble with negotiating the deal in the first place with L. Recently he’s become rabidly rebellious at times, insisting that he doesn’t want to do what he doesn’t want to do. Join the club, kid. I explained to him that a large measure of our quotidian quests are unfortunately not to our liking. L quickly questioned this. “Why?” he asked. “Why does anybody have to do what they don’t want to do?” Perhaps this is the vocal process of the development of our social interpellation. First, we simply do as directed without questioning, next we question these directives and later we accept or rather succumb to the insidious social structure. I’m caught in the conundrum of on the one hand wanting to support this questioning of authority while on the other hand wanting my kid to just eat all his broccoli. How do you foster independent thinking while requiring obedience? Does one necessarily trench upon the other? I also understand that I’ve always had and continue to have a problem with authority to my detriment. I respected the teachers that earnt my respect and my report cards always noted this problem. Not playing the game has probably impeded me, so should I not guide them to a more practicable consensus with authority figures? Whether for good or ill, I viscerally cannot demand of my kids to do something without justifying the reason for it. You brush your teeth because otherwise you will have carious containments. You go to sleep to replenish, to repair and as a child, to grow and children thus require more sleep. In that sense, I want them to instill acceptance of authority without unquestioning deference.

“Why are you the boss?” L asked me once. It’s of course not as clearly delineated as L perceives it. As our time and money is mostly spent on our boys and they are our gravitational pull, one can easily argue that while we demand they, for instance brush their teeth twice daily and at times we request, constrain their movement by not allowing them to go out on their own and have instituted a curfew, it is they who really run this show and are our bosses.

As a parent rearing part of a new generation, I believe it is my duty to teach my children critical social and legal theory and for them to understand how society developed and to stand against injustice. I do not perceive our political foundations as natural and immutable states of existence (even what defines “political” after all is a political decision) or that “cultural” practices, which develop from power relations and serve to entrench them are somehow sacrosanct and worthy of deference.

I have not yet directed my kids on historical injustices albeit I have posited the question of “justice”.  I’ve read them a censored version of the Mahatma devoid of issues of race as my boys don’t yet perceive race and to teach about the injustice of racism necessarily involves teaching this social construction. Rather I distilled it to justice = respect for the universe inside the other as in you/ we’re all just a bunch of atoms. As for sexism, when my son pointed to a woman clad in a burqa in which the woman’s eyes peered through an imprisoned vision of the resplendent cobalt garment enveloping her entire form in a children’s book putatively celebrating the beautiful diversity across our world (failing to question the power relations entwined with “cultural” relations), and asked me what a ghost was doing amongst the people, I nearly cried. This was perhaps a poignant teachable moment and yet it escaped me, for I was not ready to discuss this with him. As to parent is to teach, whether we do it consciously or subconsciously by deflecting L’s question I failed him that time. I'll be ready next time we open the book. 

M has picked up some more colourful language from his grandmother, albeit unfortunately this time in English. Asking whether the next day was a “stay” day one night, I told him it was a “go” day instead. He rolled his eyes and laid his head back, “oh, fuuuuuck.” I erupted in laughter, which was probably not a sage response. Later, we were at swim lesson and the boys had been running around in the field before, when I noticed M was doing the stereotypical needing-to-pee dance and before I asked him to go to bathroom, he rushed straight to it, exclaiming “I need to pee”  - alas, it was too late. M looked down at his wet pants, embarrassed, not having had an accident during the day for longer than I could remember (more than 16 months at least), “fucking idiot” he said, shaking his head. The mothers in the dressing room, their ears pricked, cast me disapproving looks as their children’s mouth opened agape in horror. I wanted to burrow into the ground. I told M it was OK, but he was pretty upset. M does not like not achieving what he wants to achieve. For instance, we have fought over wearing a diaper at night. When in deep sleep, M has accidents. M does not want to wear a diaper and we don’t want to keep doing laundry (just think of the environment!). So we battle every few nights with M insisting that he is a grown up boy and doesn’t need a diaper. And every so often I relent- and his bedding ends up in the laundry.

M is an avid “night walker” and repeatedly requests to venture forth on them and as we adventure to shout at people excitedly “have a nice night walk!” to which they confusedly mumbling and indecipherable response or outright laugh, which doesn’t faze M one pinch. There is something enchanting about the night for M, particularly under the glisten of the moon. No one in our family has any hint of selenophobia. L loves to see the moonlight also as well as reminding all and sundry that the light does not emanate from the moon and that it is safe to directly stare at it.

’Tis the season of giving and viruses are not immune to it. A bronchial infection went round as did a rather disturbing stomach flu which resulted in me, while my husband was expiring his stomach lining in the bathroom and our febrile kids were passed out, washing the wall off my kids’ vomit that had streamed down and ruined their prized solar system poster. Fun times. When L gets sick, M also wants to get sick. He expertly performed a coughing fit and gargled out that he was too sick to go to school, needed to see a doctor and to stay home. He also requested L’s cough medicine. I told him L’s cough medicine would make him throw up. M thought this over. “but mama, I need to get the germies out, so that’s good, I need to throw up” he opined. For all his thespian abilities in emulating L’s cough or his sophistry, we held firm. He was not sick. He went to school. M notched up the stakes and deliberately drank from L’s water. “Now I’ve got my brother’s germs” he proudly announced his victory, “and you can’t send me to school or I’ll infect everyone”.

I’m used to now being called “L’s mum” or “M’s mum” and referred to as their appendage/chaperone. I noticed my kids doing this with their friends’ mothers and fathers and informed them that if they didn’t know someone’s name that they should ask them what it is so that they can call them by their name. I didn’t expect, however, to be thrown so early into quasi-romantic relations. A girl at school whom L favoured, decided that L could only speak to her and no other girl. This bothered L and before he divulged his distress, I understood he was in a brood going to school and was concerned that he didn’t want to tell me what was going on. I decided to not pry or rather realized he was getting more annoyed the more I tried to extract information from him, so I told him he was always welcome to share what went on with me, but didn’t have to. The next day, L told me that V didn’t want him playing with any other girl and that this upset him because he wanted to be friends with everyone, including other girls and that therefore he wasn’t playing with any of his other girlfriends. He also decided to draw a beautiful rainbow for V and wrote “love you forever” on it with some help from me. He asked me to put it in her cubby. I said, “why don’t we wait a day or two and then you can give it to you herself?” and hid it, deciding that this was not a wise move for my son. I also told him that he should play with everyone and tell V that he was her friend and that their friendship was not lessened by his other friendships. Perhaps I shouldn’t meddle so much. However, L seemed happier. Perhaps this did the trick. A week or so later, I came to pick L up and V came up to me, visibly distressed. “L’s mum” she tugged at my shirt. “L really, really hurt my feelings today” she blurted out close to tears. I was shocked. “What did he do?” I asked concerned. “Well, he played with me 1, 2, 3 times but he played with A 1, 2 {proceeding to count through }11 times and H 1, 2 {proceeding to count through} 7 times. That’s more times than he played with me. That really hurt my feelings.” I was immensely relieved but didn’t want to show this to the clearly distressed soul in front of me as L came back from his cubby with his jacket and backpack and looked at V in fright. “I’m telling your mum you hurt my feelings” V said. L looked at me aghast. “Now” I said, trying to pacify them, “it’s not the number of times you play with anyone, it’s how you play with them” I blathered, not even sure I what I was trying to get at. “L’s friends with everyone.” V had her own agenda. “I want a playdate with just L” she demanded. L nodded. “Yes! Wonderful idea” I exclaimed. “And I want us to have a hot chocolate bath” she requested. L and V, who are both quite expressive, sharp kids, continue to have a strong if a little tumultuous infinity and I wonder whether it’s some negotiation in their psyche of how to handle romantic feelings at such an early age. When I picked up L recently from school and he was lugubrious, I knew it had something to do with V. What happened? “V said she’d only play with me after I count to infinity!” he exclaimed. “And you know I’m never going to get there!”

This was the first year the boys discovered Santa due to the influence of their friends and their school. I’ve related before that I am not keen on Santa - an intellectual property pirate, with apparently unlimited surveillance of young children that abuses numerous labor laws in his treatment of elves- is not my idea of someone to emulate. After an internal crisis, I decided it was best to let them have their Santa fantasy. My husband, unlike my tacit tolerance, encouraged it. He baked cookies and left out a plate and a glass of milk for Santa on Christmas eve.

What did M want from Santa? Car to rocket transformers (the elf factory apparently does not produce these but he was ebullient when he received transformer toys). What did L write to Santa as his wish for Christmas? A “daddy” stuffed orca, as we have a mama and two youths, which I thought quite sweet that he wanted our whole family represented in his stuffed orca collection. L also wanted the Saturn V rocket. Instead, we bought him the Saturn V Lego kit (which comes in 1969 pieces of course). The problem with getting your kid something that you want to do for Christmas, of course, is that you gave it to your kid. My husband and I had quite a few marital squabbles over who was going to do which part of the rocket with L, even though he now does 97% of it, following the instructions without our guidance (the downside of fostering independence). Even M was getting into it by the end, displaying an increased dexterity. 

L has recently taken to playing chess. It is the one app I allow him to play as we found one that has aided his ability to understand how the pieces move and the intent of the game. My father trained him well while he was here over Christmas and from only being able to set the board last July, L now can play! I’m thrilled. We have played a few games, albeit I’ve realized that having L win to encourage his confidence has some drawbacks as now L thinks I’m terrible at chess and has advised me to practice more.

My husband has finally turned the boys to jeans. Their entire lives, they refused to wear them and wanted “soft” pants but my husband came up with the idea of “rough and tough” jeans. This concept won them over like wildfire. Now all they want to wear is “rough and tough” jeans.

The boys love going to their dentist. Firstly, they have a fabulous dentist. Secondly, the boys love being taken care of. Our three-year-old had his teeth scraped for plaque and all it took was for the dentist to show the "germies" and M insisted she continue "thank you for taking the germies off" he said as she gushed. Little does she know they don’t behave like that in their domestic environment (kids save the best of themselves for parents). M was told he has a gap which works as a food trap and now avidly flosses nightly telling his brother, “I have a food trap so I have to be really careful”.

The other day I made M cry. M had been in an irascible mood that evening and anything I did was wrong. I knew to tread carefully and was increasingly worn thin by his attack on every occurrence. It was bath time and “wash” hair day and M and I had a tortured exchange over washing his hair. The boys regularly make me “lattes” in the bath, filling their cups with bubbles (I do enjoy a latte in the mornings). They are my brilliant baristas. M, for the first time, during his tirade against everything and everyone after I had washed his hair with some exertion of force, scowled as he thrust a "burnt latte" before me. I understood this as an intentional insult and told him I didn’t like burnt lattes and put it down. M began to cry and was disconsolate. I was crushed. I just made my kid cry because I thought he was somehow trying to insult me by providing me bad coffee (the parodies of my failure are endless). I vehemently apologized to M that night but the next morning M told me at breakfast that I really hurt his feelings by refusing his latte and I decided I was one of the worst mothers in the world. I again apologized and we made peace. That night, M made me another bath latte and exclaimed, with the most serious tone "and this time it's not burnt mama"... 

Monday, November 4, 2019

From Quiver to Quake

Increasingly my two sons want to play with each other without us, which has its benefits but also finds me in quite a triste state as I thought this exclusion would occur later and when pensive in my more planglossian moments, not until they reached double digits. Perhaps part of this has been their separation during the day as they used to attend the same preschool and play together there but have now developed friendships completely outside of each other’s association. This has been beneficial for both, but in particular for M, who seemed to be struggling within his brother’s shadow at their joint preschool until L left.

The boys concoct their own games which are for “brothers” only and invariably revolve around natural disaster relief. Their quotidian tasks are fighting fires, halting mud slides and tsunamis, finding people trapped in buildings after earthquakes. This is decidedly different to the role-playing games I used to play as a child, to say the least, but I believe it’s part and parcel of growing up in the sunburnt caprice of California. The other day was the 30th anniversary of the big quake of 89 and we commemorated the day with all of our phones exploding in attestation of the effectiveness of our state government’s alert system which supposedly will herald the coming of the next titanic tantrum of our neighbourhood transform boundary with seconds to spare (which apparently will suffice for survival). The boys were quite frazzled. That night when I was tucking them into bed, they decided it was an opportune time for an interrogation – which seemed interminable at the time- as to our family’s readiness for The Big One. Wanting them to go to bed, I uncharacteristically tried to evade their answers and end their examination. I told them their ceiling had withstood two great quakes and innumerable smaller quakes and that there was no need to worry about the ceiling falling on top of their head (which is a fear my three year old expressly vocalized, “mama, I’m afraid, what if the ceiling falls down on us?). L retorted that perhaps our building was now weaker, having had to withstand the prior shakes. I explained to the boys that our buildings have reinforcements and flexible foundations and that our city’s skyscrapers have damping, or a pendulum to counteract the force of the quake, amongst other tricks architects and civil engineers have garnered over the years for our structures to withstand the seismic shake.
And yet. When I told them they would be safe, L responded, “yes, but doesn’t it all depend on how strong it is? And if it’s too strong?”
I decided only a confident if possibly incorrect answer would stop this mounting morbidity. “The fact that we have small earthquakes consistently means that the pressure won’t build up for a big one – so it won’t too strong for us.”
That did the trick and the boys went to sleep without further worrying about our dextral strike slip.

For the past few months, I’ve encouraged L and M to do chores around the house to get pocket money. M is quite nonplussed about the idea of owning his own money, but L has enthusiastically taken to it. I thought pocket money would teach financial responsibility, which I also hope would have the more general application of garnering executive function in addition to teaching mathematics. I’ve learnt that L -and possibly all children- learn better through functional application than abstract concepts. The first pocket money L and M obtained was a $1 each for carrying books to return to the library. They painted their pocket money jars with great fanfare. As soon as L gained $1.75 and knew that he could now afford a Hot Wheels car, he bought a small azure racer. Then he realized he had no money left. In order to entice him to save, I showed him some LEGO sets he could buy if he saved up without much hope that it would achieve immediate acceptance. However, to my delight, L determined on a particular LEGO set and has thus far saved $5.50 towards it. Of course, for what he wants that L must have some certain conception of is far too expensive for his own budget, he comes to us. “Mama, can we go back to Hawaii soon? It would really relax me” he said the other month when I picked him up from school.  I said we would see, it would relax us all, but we would have to check the family budget and schedule. L nodded as if he had contemplated my answer beforehand. “Just put it on the list”.  There’s a list?

This year L turned 5 and wanted everyone to know about it. "I've gone around the sun five times!" he would yell out to strangers on the street on his birthday (which for L lasted about four days). L decided where his party would be, concocted his own cake (which involved an orca of course) and was ready with an invite list (he is also very into creating lists in general). He is very proud that he is a whole hand and ensures that his three-year-old brother is avidly aware of that fact to the point of fatigue. While L was elated to be 5, he was also assessing his own mortality. “How much time do I have?” he asked me. I asked for what, his question posed without any seeming relation to our conversation about pin-pointing M down to one Halloween costume. “How much time before I return to being a star?” My face must have contorted into a crater of concern because L looked terrified. “I want to know how much I have left” he reiterated. “Do you know?” I shook my head, grasping for comforting words as my thoughts swirled into a hurricane of horrid thoughts. “We never know how much time we have, that’s part of the value of life, so that we learn to treasure each day.” L paused, pensive then asked, “so I can die tomorrow?” While I want to foster L’s reflection (this is the kid when asked what begins with D, quipped without a beat, “death” succeeded by “DNA”), I realized this was not headed in a direction suitable for his stability so I resolved to fabricate an answer that I hope will be true. “You will be at least 109, healthy and happy- and only then will you have a clearer picture.” Fortunately for us, we were diverted by a delivery of birthday presents from distant relatives, that arrived just in time to switch L’s rumination on the fragility of life to the excitement of receiving new toys to play with.

L is a very sensitive character. He appears to be quite popular in school, but there are times, recently when he has endured some hostility which he has found quite unbearable. Usually he talks to me about it, but last week, I knew something had happened at school because he avoided one of friends, a girl, with whom he was a wonderful but apparently quite complicated relationship with and with whom he refused to speak when I was there. L never revealed the conflict that crushed his spirit that afternoon – at least he has not it divulged yet – but his silence made me realize that my boys are slowly growing up to a state when they don’t feel comfortable expressing all their feelings to me. Perhaps this is normal and I should respect their privacy and leave it alone. And yet, if we don’t know what’s wrong, how can we being to mitigate the consequences? Perhaps letting our children fall without bearing the brunt of their collapse is the only way they learn to stand up – and to perfect their balance so that they don’t fall again. One way or another, life is going to break our heart. Putting the pieces back to together may be a skill no one else can teach another -  but that doesn’t mean we can’t be there, attentative, in support.

I’m trying earnestly to glean what my sons do each day at school. If you ask them, you may think their preschool teachers just have them stare at a wall. L noticed I took a photo of the daily time-table on his preschool wall and when he asked, I explained I wanted to learn what he did all day. After that, L’s answers, which on all other topics are as loquacious as outrageous, were earnestly edited from “nothing” to “everything that’s on the schedule.” If I prompt further, L protests, “just check the schedule, mum!”

L is harnessing his negotiating power. The other week, it was quite a late bed time and my husband, who is in charge of bath time as I frantically clean up the consequence of the boys’ frenzy in their room which I believe has led me to the mastery of surface cleans, determined that there would be no book time. The boys met this with ardent protest. “I want 2 books!” L shouted. “Fine” my husband retreated from his earlier insistence and proffered a new position, “you want 2, I want 0, so I will read 1.” L pondered this offer. “Why only one?” My husband explained that they both wanted different things, so they would compromise and meet in the middle. “But daddy, I really wanted 10 books, and since you wanted 0, our compromise would be 5.”
By the time my husband walked that back, we ended up with 2 books, a victorious (then) four-year-old and two flummoxed parents drenched in defeat.

Our three-year-old was quite a “handsy” individual. He was prone to preemptive strikes, which we took to be his territorial defense against the imperialist notions of his elder brother in addition to simply enjoying tactile contact. We’ve tried several methods of easing him into a more socially acceptable response. The stress ball worked wonders. I chuckled when he adopted a blue brain shaped ball and kept massaging his brain when he was stressed. “Has anyone seen my brain?” M would yell if he misplaced it around the house. “I can’t leave without my brain!” he would plea if we were late and he didn’t have it in hand. You really can’t argue with that.

It was daddy however who came up with what finally clicked in terms of understanding he was intruding into others’ personal space – the concept of a burst bubble. If M went to hit his brother or even just talk to L too closely in an altercation, P would jump in and say “M, remember, don’t burst his bubble.” M adopted this concept avidly and we informed his beleaguered teachers of it. He accepted everyone has a bubble and nobody wanted it burst.

M increasingly requests for his brother’s aid over anybody else’s. “L, I made a mistake, may you please help me?” L adores being able to instruct his brother on whatever his brother requires aid on and thus we are left to merely observe.

M is fascinated by night and is constantly asking to go outside and do "night walks".  Now that it's late autumn and that we've switched time, M is outside at night and he relishes it. "We are going on a night walk!" he excitedly relates to anyone who is near his ear. 

The boys have taken to shouting at people walking under their bedroom window at night.
"Are you enjoying your night walk?"
"Have a good night!"
"Our planet is not facing the sun anymore!"
I didn't discourage this, but when they started sticking their heads out of the window, we had to have a discussion about the dangerous consequence that could result from that - the window could fall down on top of them, for instance. For L, this was immediately effective. He did not dare to touch the pane with any digit and kept his head far away. M took no heed of my advice and adventured forth to possible decapitation. I had no choice. I closed and locked the window to M's increasing chagrin. L tried to calm his brother. In an equanimous tone, he assured his brother that I was only looking out for them and keeping them safe. M, who had not listened to me, now composed himself and accepted his brother's counsel - and then apologized to me. The brothers then went back to shouting out silly ditties out the closed window, erupting in laughter.

The other day was Halloween. My boys, along with their mates, ate an insupportable amount of sugar. L, was of course, an orca, as was I, partly because L insisted, correctly, that orcas are intensely social animals and that he would be lost if he had to be alone without his pod, and partly because when I ordered a boy’s size 8, it was so enormous that it was too large even for me. L and I were orcas, P was a wizard (apparently “Will the Wise” from Stranger Things, but this reference continues to elude me) and M, after numerous iterations, was a tiger. M was intensely exited about Halloween “I’m going to growl and scare all my teachers!” he roared gleefully. Halloween costumes have been an earnest family discussion since February. In that time, M voiced his intention to be, in the following order: a rocket, a robot, a banana slug, an astronaut, a blue plane, a helicopter, later defined to be purple helicopter, back to a rocket, a bear, a polar bear in particular, back to a purple helicopter, a witch, a lion and finally a tiger. L always maintained he would be an orca. The boys decided fairly early on that I would be a clove of garlic (I do adore garlic) and P would be a bowl of spaghetti. P informed the boys that Halloween tradition did not allow for alliums nor even vegetables. The boys did not care to continue tradition and insisted on garlic and I decided this would be grand, right up until the shooting at Gilroy, after which I thought a clove of garlic would have more ominous associations than I intended. L, who aims to direct everybody, proclaimed his pretensions of his brother being an orca of me and P being fish. I told him that there was something latently disturbing, but all L retorted, was “you said we can’t just eat candy, so we’ll need some fish.” Thankfully I was allowed to join his pod.

M loves to create stories. If you ask him what he did on the weekend, he may tell you, as he informed us, that he took a plane to Paris, saw the Eiffel Tower and ate a cart of croissants. Some of his stories are more fantastical than others. He has been interested in snakes of late, particularly anacondas and the gratefully extinct titan boas. He drew an anaconda with a protruding belly and when I asked what it was doing, M looked up with ebullient emerald eyes and informed me that his anaconda was “just hanging out” after having just eaten five children. For Halloween, M came up with a “scary story” about a boy who met a “mean witch” on Halloween, whom she has lured in by her copious grant of sweets during his trick or treating crawl (I’m not quite sure of the accuracy of this terminology as nobody provides tricks rather than treats and if they did they may be subject to minority munity). When the boy ate one of the witch’s magic treats, he became a chocolate chip cookie and was placed in the witches’ trick or treat pile to be eaten by the next unwary victim. However, a bat ate the witch and the boy was turned back into a boy. M also loves to sing ridiculous songs at the top of his lungs. One recent ditty was about trying mosquito ice cream as if he was prescient about dessert options in a future environmental dystopia.

The other day when I was reading the boys a book in the Cyrillic alphabet, they asked what the letters were. They thought it fantastic that “P” was “R” and “X” was “H” and that “B” was “V”. The fact that the same letter was entirely different in the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets interested them far more than the letters that were distinctly foreign. L in particular wanted me to write a dozen words, including his and M’s name, in Cyrillic, which looked quite different to him. I told him that different languages use different script and some languages use logograms, so that one character is not a letter within a word but represents an entire word or even a phrase. I told him this was the case with Kanji and L, being keen on anything Japanese, asked to learn it. I told him I would support him in learning as many languages as he wanted, from Old Norse to Mandarin. Every language is a key to an aspect of our humanity. We think differently in different languages, the grammar of each delineating our thoughts- a city which provides the landscape for the traffic of our thoughts. It’s also the most efficient way to reach another person – to speak their language. Even in English, we can change our vernacular to be familiar to our speaker and don us with the same cloth. For if you don’t speak the same language, how can you communicate?

Recently I was shocked to discover my gender bias or prejudice, depending on how you look at it. My friends who had elder daughters had informed me that when their daughters had reached the age of my sons, they were requesting a new baby. I embarrassingly, assumed this was because they were girls, understanding that girls pretended to mother baby dolls whereas my boys were obsessed with vehicular objects. I had made this brash assessment from the observance of my friends’ daughters and my boys’ different interest, despite the small pool of my reference. Perhaps girls are drawn to dolls because they are given dolls to care for. In any case, my boys have recently requested that I make them a sibling, preferably a baby sister. They informed me they would take care of her. I told them they would have to share their toys, which they thought quite fine. I next decided to coax their interest away from a sibling and towards a furry quadruped, which worked fantastically (now I just need to convince P of it - I've always wanted a companion canine).

M has recently discovered super heroes from his friends at school and at home wants to dress up as a super hero and “save the people” by “fighting the bad guys”. While I understand and empaphise with his valiant intention, I don’t want him to see  bellicosity as the answer to the world’s ills. Nor do I want him to understand the world in terms of a Manichean dichotomy between immutable characteristics of good or evil. “There are no villains” I informed him. “Only villainous choices.” 

I have been trying to teach not through mere rote learning, but through interdisciplinary projects which capture and sustain their attention. To teach them geography and mathematics, I decided to do a “science experiment” on the five oceans. We looked at a globe to see where the five oceans were and then guessed which was the largest and smallest. After they estimated and we finalized our list, I wanted them to envision the difference between each and the expanse of the inaptly named Pacific at our doorstep across from which lives my father. So we took five blue Mason jars and poured in the various measurements, vastly reduced but hopefully to scale, and the boys were impressed. The Pacific was larger than all the other oceans combined and is larger than the entire landmass on our globe. The boys developed an understanding of the expanse of our hydrosphere. I decided the next experiment should be the difference between the salt and freshwater on our Earth. This would involve mathematics but also hopefully an opportunity for the boys to understand the fragility of our freshwater resources. L was imminently concerned. “But mama I need water every day! What would happen if we ran out of water?”  “Disaster” I responded. “However, as long as you and everyone else understands we have to conserve our water and not pollute it, we would be OK – and that’s why we are doing this experiment.” The boys seemed somewhat satisfied with this answer, but I realized it was not concern over our dwindling water sources but rather my methodology and manner. “You need to put salt in the jars that represent the oceans” L informed me, “so that we know the difference.”

Parenting, particularly of such youngsters, is truly walking the tightrope. On the one hand, you don't want to overwhelm them too much with the ills of the world, for fear they would be crushed by the pressure of the problems presented to them, on the other, you want to nurture their characters to be sensitive to the ills of the world - ills created by us - and learn to mitigate and perhaps even arrest them. There are some things they are not ready for at this age (at least in my opinion). For instance, the introduction of the injustice of racism and its consequence. Why? Because to teach this is necessarily to introduce this political concept (for its a political not a biological concept with "whiteness" for instance a moving measure in time) which my children are completely ignorant of - all they see is people as they should. Aside from their readiness, I'm not sure how to approach the subject appropriately and thus I'm choosing to wait (and I'm acutely aware that for other people this is not a choice they can make). I did teach them about Gandhi, but I changed the facts to be about a few people wanting to boss many others around and curbing that injustice so all are treated equitably. With respect to the environment, I find it necessary to instill an understanding of conservation and interdependence and I see no reason to wait. To some extent this may impose pressure on them, but as long as they are taught they can overcome the difficulties facing us, they will add to the solution and not the problem. O perhaps I am naive. At least it curbs their desire to have a deeper bath, which is a reckless waste of water. 

Yesterday, we took the boys to vote. We wanted to instill this civic duty in them. They wanted to know what voting was. We explained that voting was making rules. Partly, we voted for representatives, which we explained were people that while we were at work all day and they were at school were busy making rules on our behalf, for instance, that everyone must stop at a red light (a rule they already know well). We also explained that sometimes we voted on propositions and directly voted on our community's rules. L and M asked when they could vote and be involved in making rules. I told them they would have to wait until 18. When they asked why, I told them every time we decide on a dividing line, to some extent it's arbitrary, a 17 year old the day before their 18th birthday and the day after has the same level of aptitude and this particular youth may have more aptitude than a particular 45 year old. Yet, we have to draw a line somewhere and we think finishing high school is a pretty good boundary line of being able to understand and analyze social issues well enough to vote. L looked at me with concern. "It's a long time for me to wait." Yes, too long and too short, for it does go in a blink.