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...
















Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Big Pinch

For the first time in life I took full advantage of cold and flu remedies as I fell deleteriously sick with a crippling cold a few days before we set off for a SoCal road trip. L had been asking for nearly a year to return to Lego Land. When we informed him Lego Land was near San Diego and there was an amazing zoo there, we henceforth heard pleas to go to San Diego. So we complied.  By the end of the trip, I was faring better but had infected our sons.
It was L's first new year's eve, on the cusp of his contagion. M was already in a worryingly febrile state, moaning in his sleep. We informed L that as we were New Yorkers (we'll always be New Yorkers), we would celebrate by watching the ball drop (mind you in my decade of living in NY not once did I entertain the idea of being a frozen sardine in the set up enclosures around the ball drop) we would watch the ball drop and celebrate the new year. He seemed excited, albeit not entirely sure of what was occurring, except that it involved him getting screen time. He confirmed he was still going to be 3. So we entered the new year in enchanting Santa Barbara, with two children about to be strangled by a sickness that ensnared them for nearly a fortnight. A cacophony of coughing
with intermittent screaming, crying and the emitting of copious amounts of mucus (followed by another interlude of screaming and crying) accompanied our ride back home. It was eventful, to say the least.

Something nasty is prowling around. I was poorly, but my kids were worse. M was also teething at the same time and refused food for nearly a week, which put not only an impasse in my weaning plans (from twice a day to once) but reversed our progress so that I was back to nursing him four times a day. We kept L from school for a whole week. He asked to do his usual reading lessons but as his brain was besieged by the vile virus, he forgot some words and started being anxious so I eschewed reading lessons for simply reading books until he fared better. On January 6, L was back to reading form and read his first sentence! I love cars. I was so proud.

Meanwhile, 17 month old M's vocabulary is exceptionally increasing and he has begun to use simple sentences "me too", "no more" etc. The other day I was stupefied when on providing him his requested cup of milk, he thanked me! "Thank you" he repeated, beaming. My three year old (or rather my threenager), recognizing my astonishment, remained unfazed. "He's just saying thank you, mama. Don't you know? M says that now" he explained.

M has also picked up L's habit of asking "why" recursively. M is usually satisfied with the initial answer, if not the follow up. L, however, who has been asking "why" for numerous months, well before he was three, is an astute and tenacious interrogator, that may grill you for hours. Sometimes the timing of L's interrogation could not be worse and I resist the urge to provide dismissive answers as I want to encourage his questioning and his appetite for knowledge. I favour providing very detailed answers until L is satisfied or until I run out of answers and start asking him questions.
"Why do you think, L?"
"I don't know"
"I don't know either. We have to look it up."
"Why?"
"So we can find out the answer."
"Why?"
"Do you want to know the answer to the question you asked me?"
At this point, he usually submits. "Yes, let's do it."


I noticed L was having trouble with two-digit numbers so I thought of a way to help him understand them, which thus far, seems to be effective. I told him every number beginning with 1 is in the teens, from 11 to 19. Every number beginning with 2 is in the twenties and every number beginning with 3 is in the thirties (our counting stops currently at 39). Look at the first number and you'll know whether it's 1-10, 11-19, 20-29. Then cover it with your finger and note the second. Take 17. If it's a teen because it begins with 1. Take out the 1 you have 7. So with 1 in front and it being a teen, its 17. This seems to have worked, albeit he has trouble with the numbers that are termed outside of the pattern (ie 11, 12, 13, 15). L is also mastering small addition and subtraction by utilizing small objects passed between the four members of our family. I find the tactile component aids in his understanding. You have 4 cars. If you give 1 to mama, how many does mama have? 1. And how many do you have? 3. If you give 1 more to mama, how many does mama have? 2. How many do you have? 2. If I give 1 to M, how many does he have? 1. If you give 1 to M, how many does he have? 2. How many do you have? 1. If M gives you 2, how many do you have? 3. And if I give you back 1? 4 ....and so on.

We love our preschool. L has really grown in his emotional intelligence. However, there are a few ill habits that he is picking up from other kids, which goes to show you can only shield your kids so much. The first is the mispronunciation of L, which he pronounced perfectly before school. Now it's "elow" which we are attempting to correct. The next, we suspect, is picking up pickier eating habits. While he still eats his veggies, if there be any "green" on his pasta or pie or any other non-vegetable dish, he will notify us of this indiscretion and demand it be rectified. We now have to fix his meals so that this offensive colour is absent. During our first parent-teacher meeting, we were told he likes to survey a room and take it all in before deciding on an activity to partake in and that he likes to be the leader of the group. We were also told he loves to make up songs and make jokes. That came as no surprise as this is how he is at home. He is of course much better behaved at school than at home. For instance, we were told he was a wonderful sharer. That was great to hear, because at home, he refuses to share his toys with M, wanting instead to choose an activity for M and then forcing M to do that activity rather than what he is doing which has led to physical altercation and subsequent parental intervention. Although L is the elder, M is tougher and invariably, it is L who comes crying if we don't intervene first, for whatever reason, claiming that M is pinching him (which of course all starts because L attempts to wrest a toy from M's hands).

The boys share a bed and a room now and go to bed together after their joint bath time, which has made life easier. They kiss and cuddle and play well together, save for the scuffles they have intermittently over sharing toys.

 L is not the only one being pinched. Possibly because M never had a bottle, pacifier, lovey nor any other thing to comfort him save for nursing, M developed a habit of pinching when trying to settle into a sleep. He now knows how to say pinch and when we say "no pinch" he smiles and  implores us by politely stating "pinch" before he continues inflicting his attack on our arms. We keep deflecting him and engaging him in this earnest debate, but the pinch has not got the point. Passo x passo...

Behind the Beard

This Christmas our 3 year old and 17 month old had a bonanza from Santa which they thoroughly rampaged, pillaging the contents in a merciless scorched earth policy, which made us wonder as to the wisdom of presenting toddlers with a cornucopia of gifts they are too excited to enjoy.

My husband had to act quickly to save Christmas when in my febrile state, through a cacophony of coughing and through a veil of matted hair and tissues that covered a deluge of streaming snot, I commented on the origin of a particular present that had ensnared their attention. "Mama's making a joke" he said, at once achieving a paternal smile while smiting me with his stare, which I thought quite an admirable feat. Indeed, hubby had diligently worked at indoctrinating our kids into this merry myth, including by leaving out a glass of milk and a plate of cookies, prudently drinking and eating Santa's treat (after all, his Corpulence could do without).

My husband and I, albeit we are both passionate Balkans to the detriment of our neighbours and the peaceful enjoyment of their abodes, have very a similar mindset, manners and share the same values. On what is now unfortunately and somewhat embarrassingly a controversial issue in the U.S.,  such as whether to provide your children with the benefits of modern medicine and perform your civil duty to the fellow members of your society by vaccinating your children and maintaining herd immunity, we didn't need a debate. We were also both opposed to pacifiers/dummies (the mischief is in the name! - admittedly due to some nursing mishaps our first used one periodically for the first two months) and adhere to the positive discipline approach (which admittedly at times we each fail at, resorting to our Southern European familial traps). Santa, however, was a topic that never even came up, even to laugh about. My husband had grown up with a firm Santa tradition and while he had wondered whether my Communist upbringing had included such a capitalist day (after all while his preschool was merry with the music of Ring Around a Rosie, mine abounded with songs against fascism and freedom to the people- that had mean hooks and were extremely catchy- but I digress) I had told him several stories of my quite inebriated maternal grandfather heartily taking on the role of Santa each year and decided that was good enough for him.

So here we were, presents apart, a Christmas tree glowing unease as our kids tattered paper with glee in a gluttonous frenzy, presented with the first real kerfuffle in our pedagogical partnership. I ran through my objections internally and did not find sufficient resolve to warrant action one way or the other. If my husband hand't brought up the tradition, I didn't know whether I would have (there were after all pleasant aspects to the story of a merry traveller dispersing presents worldwide) and my elder son's schoolmates had already been indoctrinated. Inoculation against his Corpulence would be tough. If I managed to unmask the myth, my toddler would surely disclose this to his schoolmates leading to possible excoriation from their parents. I did love a good fight.... but was it worth it? I looked at my kids' excited faces and decided to abide by the myth in due service to their smiles (at least momentarily).

"Yes, silly mama, it was bought by Santa!" I exclaimed, to which my husband quickly retorted his correction. "Oh, mama is on a roll with jokes this morning - Santa doesn't buy stuff, his elves make stuff " my husband affirmed. I acquiesced in this assertion but later told my husband away from small and earnest ears that I had to further analyze my views on Santa for the following year. He has disfavoured dietary habits, appears to defy all labor laws in his employment of the elves who appear to work around the clock without breaks in occupational hazard, his reindeer indubitably have workplace injury from having to fly such weight non-stop across the globe and I remain suspect as to whether he has adequate workers' compensation in place, has no diversity in the workplace and a firm ice ceiling, with no record of any elf being promoted from labour to a managerial position, infringes intellectual property with impunity, defies all custom laws and is a chronic trespasser. It was no wonder that on seeing his nuono dressed up as Santa (the first time he had seen his Corpulence), L ran to me, his eyes wild with the beat of fear as he shivered a hug around me.