Monday, September 13, 2021

From Seed to Sequoia

 There should be a boot camp for prospective parents. They should be woken up at all hours of the night with an alarm mimicking a cry and be given a hefty sack of potatoes to hold as they are directed to do a number of household tasks single-handedly, while they walk over a Lego laden floor, dodge various projectiles at their head, are randomly rammed to the stentorian soundtrack of shouting, whingeing and the occasional moans of a wounded animal who has learnt the words “but I want to play”. The beleaguered aspirers will then be tugged at constantly and be asked incessant questions while given the task of preparing a nutritious, and if not delicious at least palatable dinner, within twenty minutes with the contents of a cadaverous fridge. Then they will be requested to align numerous calendars containing a cornucopia of playdates and lessons and be ordered to provide timely transport for respective near concomitant lessons at opposite edges of the city, while negotiating peace between belligerent passengers. To finish, while our stunning soundtrack continues, they will run a marathon, in which they will ingest all their food whilst running, change into their work attire, whilst navigating the nuances of negotiation for various objects and events and be clocked on how they instruct and perform long division – and that’s just level 1. For extra points, parents will have to homeschool their kids while concomitantly finishing their own.

In level 2 they are introduced to the penultimate paradox of parenthood- that by instructing your children to question authority and think critically, you undermine your own and you provide them the tools to undermine authority figures in their lives, which may at times work to their detriment as they bring on the ire of (usually inept) authority figures. However, in failing to instill this, you do your children, and society at large, a great disservice. In a democratic society, authority is not static and impenetrable, it’s earnt and subject to change. I try to navigate this by always justifying my demands and addressing the reasons thereof. You need to eat your vegetables and fruit in order to obtain vitamins and be healthy, you need sleep to rejuvenate, recuperate and grow etc. This mostly works but for two factors. The first and main reason is that children do not always have the capacity -nor for that matter do adults- to undertake something for a future benefit that is not to their liking in the present. The second reason is that parents do not sometimes have the time to detail all the intricacies of a particular decision, for instance when you are terrifyingly tardy for an event and your children are unclad and engrossed in a game. This indubitably generates tectonic activity. 

In level 3, you are presented with the penultimate predicament of being a parent. You love your kids more than anyone, more than anything – yet, you have to tread a delicate balance between having fun and being their friend whilst also guiding and disciplining them. Numerous times I have had to chime “I would love to just be your friend and have fun, but I must be your mum -and sometimes being a good friend, is failing at being your mum”. For instance, I explained to them, a good friend may simply continue a morning pillow fight and be tardy or even absent from school, but that would be a failing as a parent. This is at times a confounding concept for children to digest and even more so for adults to swallow. It’s easier to simply have fun and give in to demands. It’s difficult, even sacrificial, to be strict. What children don’t understand, at least it appears so to me, is that when you are strict with them, you are equally strict with yourself, because you are accepting the harder road for their benefit. My kids oft say I am “very tough” and “too hard on them”, pointing out that other kids have juice and soda and eat all sorts of chips, but how am I to let my children eat a product that appears to have radioactive tangerine powder all over it? We’ve come to a tacit understanding. These will never be in our home and I’ve explained the ill effects of these, yet they know when it’s their friend’s party, for instance, they’re allowed to have the juice, chips and cake – and they do. 

M has a penchant for some biting one-liners. Leaving the house in a scurry, M assessed my disheveled aspect and commented on my capillary catastrophe with an incipient grin “your hair looks like a volcano erupting mum”. Later, when assessing people’s personal attributes, he commented “mum, you’re a lighter, you burn everything in your path”. He considered himself a tornado. I suppose razing the ground must be in the family. Playing Uno, with P picking up his 12th card in order to make a match, M burst out in laughter and said, “OK, OK, dad, enough punishment for you tonight”. Arranging the carcasses of his lambchops on his plate in a manner in which one bone utilized the others as a slope then halfway brought them all down, he cackled “it’s not a landslide, it’s a lambslide”.  During a walk, his brow creased in concentration, M pondered, “what if we are just the products of someone’s imagination?”. What could one answer to that? Perhaps we are. And whomever is imagining us has some certain and oft tasteless humour. The only answer I thought feasible was to say that we may be, but we have to pretend we are not. One morning M wondered whether we were simply cereal bobbing around a cereal bowl. I should perhaps have pondered this a tad, but his imagination sparked mine. “If we are – who is eating us?” I wondered out loud. Fortunately, neither M nor L were afraid of this prospect but rather erupted into laughter. Then they requested cereal for breakfast.

We went camping for the first time earlier in the year, amongst the sequoias. The boys had their own tent, about a metre and a half away from ours. At night, under the sparkling sky and the soothing breeze, as everyone dozed, I could not sleep pondering possible dangers to my boys, in a tent, in the woods. Wild animals, strangers, miles away from any help. When I eased into comfort, some boisterous birds bellowed out their alarm and a new day began and I begrudgingly got up. The boys were soon awake and had no qualms waking up in the early morning and warmed themselves by the fire, ironically breathing particulates from the smoke that in the city would have had them relegated indoors or wearing filtered masks. 

The boys loved hiking amongst the sequoias, loved playing with our friends’ dog, whom they designated as their protector from bears and coyotes (a position that I’m not certain he would have agreed with) and particularly enjoyed the hammock which we strung between two trees. L was fascinated by the hammock as if he’d never been on one. He became more adventurous and vigorous in his rocking and failed to heed our warnings. We assessed he would likely injure himself soon, but not enough for it to warrant medical care, due to the small height and bushy underground. Barely a second after an exclamation erupted across the serene scene, in which L shouted “WOW! This is AWESOME!”, we heard a thud. The next second we heard crying. L never had an issue with rocking recklessly on the hammock again.

It’s generally trying to get the boys into bed on time (and that’s an understatement). Yet when we went camping and the boys were their usual raucous and rowdy selves in the eve, I warned, after several attempts to instill some serenity, “you keep that up mister, you are going to bed right now”, to which M responded within the beat, “yes please”. I asked L if he wanted to go to bed too and he immediately began to walk toward their tent, mumbling “thank God”. They were out in a few minutes. 

We took the boys back to Greece this summer. At first, M was wary of the water, albeit he adores being in the pool. P thought he would acclimate on his own, but I admit I have a more aggressive parenting style. I donned M with a floatie and carried him protesting into the water. As soon as he was in, he immediately became enamoured with the sea. In a few days, he was running in with his floatie. Watching his older brother swimming and snorkelling on his own, M wanted to catch up (this is the story of his life and perhaps that of all younger siblings) and discarded his floatie. By the end of our trip, M was snorkelling on his own, while L was diving deeper down. L astutely documented each marine creature he spotted, a true marine biologist out in the field. The islands offered up a rich bounty of marine life. Yet it’s somewhat bittersweet, seeing the plastic we’ve littered the seafloor with and hearing the booming noise from the boats that blast the eardrums of our marine species. One day P got fed up with all the plastic he would sea in his own waters, amongst the marine life and began to pick up the trash. We became a sea clean up squad, carrying out plastic on each snorkelling trip. Most of the plastic on the seafloor were the tops of drink lids. People order frapp├ęs, open the lid, it’s blown away and collects on the seafloor. During one stint, we collected 42 plastic lids. The boys had as much fun collecting garbage as they did spotting the various marine life. Unfortunately, we added to the plastic predicament. As much as we cleaned up, we also added to the plastic malignancy, losing M’s floatie. Swimming after it, going at a much faster pace but starting later, I seemed to be acting out Zeno’s paradox, a swimming Achilles chasing a plastic tortoise. The current was pulling out and I noticed L was swimming out towards me. I stopped and told him to go back, which he did not do. Finally, I changed direction and swam to L, the floatie now out of reach. L explained he wanted to help me and we had to have a long discussion, which I hope he digested, why children should never follow adults out to sea. Too many times, growing up in Australia, I heard stygian stories of whole families lost to sea as they each went after someone. Parents go after kids, that’s the order and that’s a given, but in no event should children follow their parents out to sea, even if Greek waters be tamer than the inaptly named Pacific of Australia’s east coast. 

The boys had their first sleepovers. L stayed over at his good mate’s house. After being privy to another household, he concluded that we are a “crazy” family. Other families, he deduced, could manage getting out of the house on schedule without a stampede. M’s friend stayed over a couple of times at our house. The boys, as expected, were giggling and whispering to each other after the lights went out. M was embarrassed to still wear training pants at night and refused to wear them. He looked at his friend and with vermillion verisimilitude empathically stated, “I do NOT wear these”. His friend, focused on choosing a book for me to read, paid him no attention. M continues to be upset about the deep sleep bed wetting. While toilet trained from about 18 months, he nevertheless continues to wet the bed when in deep sleep. His pediatrician recommended a belt that works like an alarm to wake M up when he pees so that his body gets used to waking up at the time he pees so that he could pee in the bathroom – but I’m concerned about the collateral consequences of this disruption of his sleep. M, however, is not and clamours for this so that he could finally wear undies to bed. 

M is fond of rules, particularly when he is the enforcer and not subject to them. His swimming lesson concurrent in the same pool as his older brother, who loves to show off and goof around in his class, M is wont to look over and direct him to attention, “L! Stop goofing around and concentrate!” It thus should not have surprised me that when he trampled into dog faeces while we were on a walk, his ire would be directed to all dog owners. Why did this happen? He demanded to know. I explained that it was the right thing to do, it was also the law and not complying subjected one to a penalty, but that sometimes people didn’t follow the rules, either because an emergency occurred at the time they were meant to pick up after their canine companion or they just didn’t care to follow the rules for whatever reason. M took umbrage at this latter point. For several weeks, when spotting a person walking their dog, he would go up to them and notice them of their duty, “excuse me, excuse me dog owner! Are you picking up after your dog? Because it’s not nice to step in poo. It happened to me and I didn’t like it at all. So, pick up after your dog. It’s the law you know”. That was his spiel. Flabbergasted owners would cringe crimson, stand to attention and thrust forth their expectant doggy bag to convince the 4year old in front of them that they fully intend to comply with the law and social mores. M would simply nod his approval of their affirmation and move his ire unto other dog owners. 

Months ago, before the Delta surge, with minimal cases in SF, I thought it may be OK to take M on a short bus ride. I had picked him up from preschool and didn’t have the car with me. I offered a walk instead. M was disconsolate. He refused to leave and the only reason he expressed was that he wanted “daddy to come pick [him] up”. After parsing it out, morsel by morsel, M finally divulged his fear “you have the vaccine, I don’t. I’m afraid to go on the bus with other people and get COVID- and I’m just a kid!” That was enough of a reason for me not to take him on the bus (and he still hasn’t taken one). We ended up staying in the park, watching the grass cutting robot, reading books and being dappled by sunshine instead.

M is very keen on composing music. He has been recording songs for his band The Hooks, which is only composed of an electric guitar, drums and vocals, or rather his acapella version thereof with hits such as “Superman Fire Smash”.

L is a very encouraging soul. He compliments people on their work and encourages people to keep going. He has encouraged me to publish my children’s stories (a work in protracted progress). He additionally insisted that I had to illustrate them. I balked at this. My pictures are more readily identified as scrawl. L’s response was to take personal offense. My husband reminded me that my perceived lack of confidence (which could also be described as realistic assessment of my talents) was discouraging to the kids and their own confidence, so I modelled vibrant self-esteem and agreed to draw. L wouldn’t let me off easily. He sat with me and ensured I finished all 24 rough drawings to get an idea of how the book should be illustrated. Every couple of days, he asks me to report my progression (which is admittedly quite protracted). 

L is very chivalrous. He always opens doors for girls, helps them carry things and when boys pronounce that no girls are allowed to play, he vociferously rallies against this injustice – “everyone should be allowed to play!” L is very adept at navigating social situations and discerning the respective and oft conflicting wants of all the parties. He then structures and negotiates deals. He has diplomatic qualities that I suspect he may only finesse as he grows. I hug him (and his brother) each day as his line leaves for the classroom. For instance, in true L style, rather than instruct me not hug him, he asked me to blow him a kiss. I got the subtext, remaining impressed at his diplomatic manner. Yet, as chivalrous, diplomatic and even romantic as L can be, he nevertheless asked me the following question, which initially perplexed me and led to a vibrant discussion on the difference between human and most animal relationships: “how many girls can I mate with?” 

M is less diplomatic but has more of an engineering mindset. He can assess how things work with an acuteness I lack. He is obsessed with the mag-lev shinkansen and wants to be a train engineer. He enjoys learning and explaining how things work. In particular, he is interested in magnetism and electricity. When I went to pick him up at school, I stealthily waited while he was instructing a friend on how mag-lev trains were faster because there was less friction. His friend seemed disinterested, she was looking away from him, yet he earnestly continued to exuberantly explain the science of these vehicles as if he had enchanted an invisible audience.

M and L started full time school this semester. M found school difficult at first. The first two days, he missed his preschool friends and complained he didn’t have any. In two days, he was telling us he was making friends and he now has a firm crew. Even with friends, he was telling me school was too long. It’s true that a boy who just turned 5 has a long day when it starts 6:40 am, to get ready for school and is picked up nearly ten hours later. I’ve tried to get him earlier and some days I can pick him up right after school. While he at first admonished me for leaving him at after-school care, M now demands he is taken to it so he can spend time with his friends. L, on the other hand, was adamant from the get-go that I would leave him at after-school care for as long as possible so he could fraternize. When I protested that I wanted to also spend time with him, L informed me that right when I picked him up, study session began “and wouldn’t it be good for me to do that?” I was not surprised to find that this was not accurate. “Well, how did I know?” L rebutted, “if I had never stayed long enough?” Indeed.  

M has taken to frequent exaggeration. He loves to don the truth with glib garb that receives a gasp or giggle. While M has heard the didactic story of the boy who cried wolf numerous times, he has not listened to it and has failed to heed its warning. His kinder teacher brought in a snake for a week. M not only said he touched the snake, but that the snake coiled around him. We assumed this was his exaggeration. Low and behold there is a video of M with the snake coiled around him, a gigantic grin on M’s his face as he exclaims how awesome the experience is. When I took L into M’s classroom, which was his prior classroom, L was stunned to see a train set. “My God!” L cried. “You weren’t lying about the trains!” he exclaimed to his brother. The next second, L’s shock slipped to sorrow and he hugged his younger brother. “I’m sorry brother I doubted you” he said sententiously as if on a stage. “I am SO sorry, you did not lie and I was a bad brother for I did not believe you and I am SO sorry!” M brushed it off. “Yeah, I never lie” he lied. 

The other day, on discussing life, the universe and everything, six-year-old L declared, matter-of-factly that the most important thing in life seemed to be money. P and me were appalled and began to attack his statement right away. L held to his pronouncement. What about love? What about family? “If you don’t have money for medicine, your family members may die. If you work all the time, you never see them” he rebutted. Then he proceeded to pontificate on his point.  “Health is important, but for health, you need medicine, vaccines, hospitals – and the government needs money for these. A clean environment is important, but the government needs money for clean energy and to clean up pollution. Housing, water, sewerage, schools – these are all necessary, but you need money for these”.  There really was no arguing his point. In the current structure of our society, he’s right. One only has to look at the vaccine divide in our world or the fact that most children in the world today in the year 2021 die from lack of clean water. It’s diarrhea, not COVID that is, and has been, the world’s most pernicious pandemic. The better point is to instruct it should not be that way. L certainly takes that to heart. On divulging this discourse to a friend recently, my friend thought it interesting that L thought it was the government’s responsibility to protect the health of its people and the environment. It was a point I missed, perhaps because I see it as elementary. What else is the government for if it does not protect its peoples’ health, their environment and foster education?  

For our generation, the monster isn’t hiding under the bed. It’s in our air and seas. M has been embroiled in climate anxiety. L, on the other hand, has a Panglossian view of our green energy future. “We’re all going to die in 200 years” M remarked. “The polar ice caps are melting, we’re done for”. I tried to cleave his concerns. “We know the problem and we’re working on it – coming up with alleviation and mediation strategies. How to stop climate change and deal with its consequences”. M looked at me with an inch of incredulity and a pinch of disdain. L decided he need to intervene with his unflappable optimism. “M, don’t worry, we are going to have hydrogen boats and clean seas”. M pointed to one of our science books. “This book says that if we don’t radically change things, we are all dead – and why don’t we have hydrogen boats now?” (this goes back to L’s earlier point, it’s too expensive). When the monsters are real, you can’t simply nudge them away. This is not resolved by censoring scientific study and retaining the truth for a less tender age. Our planet is in a pernicious predicament and we can no longer shield our children from it  (if that were the wise thing to do) because it’s not simply a matter of statistics in books that we can shut. It’s in their lives, directly affecting them and revealing its raw consequences. The smoke affects their air. The plastic is in their water. The sky flamed incarnadine. For us, as adults, that life may radically change is both worrisome and unbelievable. We can profess it, but we cannot viscerally digest it. We are too invested in our pasts building our future, which to some extent structures and confines our vision. This is bolstered by the fact that the expected future looks grim. Perhaps this deeply embedded ignorance is to some extent survivalist. For if we accepted that there was no future, that all was already lost, how could we live each day? Apathy is ceding defeat before it occurs and we must not succumb to it. So, while we must instruct our children they will inherit the errors of generations past, they also inherit their knowledge to build upon. We must teach them to be resilient, precautionary and in tune with nature. For that is the ultimate parenting goal, to raise humans better than ourselves. Every sequoia begins with a seed. 

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Hooks

L, at a fresh six, has decided he is more of an adult than a child. He directs his brother to finish his chores and he negotiates deals on behalf of his brother. If he wants to watch an episode of Magic School Bus, understanding that his brother adores the same show (which is admittedly pretty informative and entertaining) he maneuvers a deal between the kids and the parents, professedly on his brother’s behalf. The parents are offered the consideration of M’s reading of two books and a few addition problems, while M is offered an episode of  his (and their) favourite show. L, with endearing and earnest eyes, lays out the benefits of the deal to each party and blithely brokers an agreement for which his fee is the enjoyment of his brother’s consideration. He has well learnt how to understand and manipulate people’s interests to achieve solutions that benefit each party, while also benefiting himself and- importantly- without having to express his self-interest. This diplomatic finesse is also utilized when L is introduced into stressful situations. When his friend, who attends a private school and had the benefit of in-person learning, unlike the children at public school which have been neglected by their district for twelve months (in acute hypocrisy to the district’s professed intention to support equality for it is the struggling, working parents that rely on schools being open both to educate their kids and allow them to earn income who were most in need of schools reopening), teased L by claiming he did not go to a “real school”, L, obviously upset, simply protested that he did and made no other issue of it. However, later, when we went around the table to express gratitude, L displayed that he did not take lightly to the slight and expressed he was grateful for his school, his class and having the best kindergarten teacher ever (he does avidly adore his teacher and she is amazing but I understood there was also an ulterior motive to this proclamation). It is through this delicate diplomacy that L navigates the world. I would not be surprised if this talent, combined with his earnest concerns for our world and his intention to change it for the better results in a political career or some other advocacy. His main interest is the protection of the environment and in particular, the protection of our oceans. 

L’s brokering of dealings has been to my advantage for I have weakened my negotiating position with my dealings with M. If I attempt to negotiate a deal with M these days, he looks at me intently and solemnly states, “you are trying to trick me to do something again, right?” If I don’t resort to L’s brokerage and his fee, I remain with two resources, both of which appeal to M’s ego and his visceral desire for conquest. I can ask for help, because he is of a most succorable character and will not refuse one aid, or I can pose a challenge and that baits him just as well. If I explain that no four year old or five year old has ever done X, M’s interest is immediately piqued. 

M is also a little activist but his approach is more akin to a bulldozer that rams everything in his path. He has no qualms expressing his pedestrian ire, for instance, at cars that block the footpath. Adults are not used to children’s criticism, particularly when it is so impassioned and on point and generally comply. The people that choose to ignore M, do so at their own risk, because unless I drag him away, he will continue to berate them. “Do you think you own the sidewalk? What about people walking?” etc. Riding in the car, M, who acutely observes all rules and patterns, will immediately censure the driver for failing to put up a timely signal, failing to break smoothly, or inching past a red light. P was surprised that M informed him- before he noticed the pattern- that there was a bug in our car's system and that the moon roof only worked properly when the car was stationary and could not perform all functions when the car was moving. 

M adores the piano. He does not attack the keys, but already navigates a melody. His interest in music and his acute ear impel us to support this interest and fortify his talent. He has informed us that he has a band and they are called “The Hooks” (after further prodding it was divulged to us that the plays all the various instruments in his band). He is also fascinated by engineering and has declared he will create a faster and cleaner train than the mag-lev or the hyperloop. Power to you, M. 

M has a dire drive to conquer over his brother. So much so that that his interest in chess piqued so that he could beat his brother. Indeed, during one game in which he inserted himself to aid my endeavour against L, he immediately pounced on L's weakness, which is to make use of easy prey without giving thought to the consequence, and ended up exchanging our pawn for L's queen to L's stewing strife. 

M adores his brother, but he is also wary that everyone loves his brother and worried that he may not receive the same reception. When L informed him that he may have the same kindergarten teacher, M was at first excited but then concerned. "What if she doesn't like me? What if she doesn't like me as much as L?" M asked me quietly one day. He confessed that L was better at school, better at reading etc. Indeed, L is far ahead of M. M, the self-professed "book spider" reads, but its an effort for him, while L has long surpassed that and reads effortlessly (indeed, he has a voracious appetite for reading, shouting to all and sundry that books are his favourite vehicle because they transport him to other worlds - and so much so- that I've oft had to admonish him for walking and reading, lest his intellectual pursuits lead to physical strife). Even though I've explained to M numerous times that his brother is twenty-two months older and was no advanced at his age, M feels the difference in their aptitude acutely and I'm still not sure how to best navigate his insecurity in this regard. 

Yet as much as the boys may fight and attempt to conquer each other, they have a fraternal bond that flexes without fissure or fracture. They cuddle together, M climbing up to L's bed in the morning, craft conspiracies against their parents, play together (my favourite of their imaginative play is "Keep Earth Safe" against "Pollution" in which they protect the earth from oil spills and other toxins) and discuss life, the universe and everything - which at times can get so acutely animated over a difference of opinion that I have to stop eavesdropping and broker peace (numerous times when M would get avidly frustrated, L, in a calm tone, would attempt to pacify him by noting "M, don't get angry, it's bad for your heart").

One of my favourite past-times admittedly is listening to their discussions in the morning, but I am also uneasy at this incursion into their privacy (it seems they haven't yet understood the auditory effects of sharing french doors between our bedrooms). During one of these supposed intramural discussions, L asked M why their pro-yia yia was so ill. "She's old" M flatly said. "Will she get better?" "No, she's old. We all get old and die. Our bodies stop working" "But why?" L continued to ask in frustration. "I don't know L, it just is" replied M with a hue of irritation, choosing to venture into a different topic. Albeit as steady and sure as M appeared to be before his brother, he continues from time to time to ask me questions about mortality, still navigating our ephemeral existence and still searching for a loophole from life's finality. "I don't want to die, I want to live forever" he oft confides in me. "Do I really have to die?" he asks as if I can somehow unlock immortality. He seemed personally insulted on learning that turritopsis dohrnii, a species of jellyfish, has the ability of transdifferentiation and thus was effectively immortal and yet humans hadn't figured out how to cheat death. I decided not to also note that smacks of jellyfish were taking over our oceans and that we may not be the apex species. "Do you know when you are going to die?" "So it can be any day?" "What happens when you die?" "What happens to your body when it shuts off?" I provide what answers I can, with some sliver of salt. One the one hand, I do not want to lie to my son, on the other I don't want him waking up each day in a noxious neurosis thinking each day he could die. It was a delicate discussion in which I told him energy never dies, it merely transforms, that the smallest part of his existence will be as him even though that is all he can perceive whilst he is on that journey, that his stardust will return to the stars and that humans usually die when they are old (which I have told him before). He pressed me on this point. "When earlier? Why?" so I pushed nutrition - "the more you eat your vegetables and fruit, exercise, use your brain and socialize, the longer you will stay healthy and live". M took this to heart and informed his friends emphatically that if they didn't finish their vegetables they would die to their dire distress. The unavoidable ripple of unintended consequences. 

L informed me the other day that he was conflicted. He wanted to be a marine biologist, but he also wanted to be an inventor. He wants to invent a way to clean the oceans – “I believe that this invention will be the most benefit of marine life” he avowedly expressed. I informed him that he can do both. There is no reason to do one thing in life, I told him. Do not think that you need to grow up and “become” something. You grow up and you do something. Labour specialization is one of the ills of our society. It is reductive and depressing for individuals who are enmeshed in the one role, thus stifling their experience. It is also not the most productive, which is the impetus for the specialization. For instance, a multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving allows for holistic, more durable solutions than when one is confined with a structured paradigm that necessarily directs and informs their answers by rendering invisible that which may otherwise be the pertinent point if viewed from a wider perspective. L took this up wholeheartedly. "We don't just have to do one thing when we grow up" he excitedly began to relate this diktat in turn to his brother, in his usual loquacious manner. M's retort was characteristically laconic, compounded with a shrug indicating that he never had any intention to confining his interests according to social dictates. 

M, our self-professed "tornado of silliness", which he likes to relate to all and sundry as if in an effort to undermine any perceived control over his own faculties, is true to his name. I am less than pleased with some of the effects, for instance, discovering a titanic toy spider in my bed at night which led to the predictable consequence of an avalanche of dire decibels or their room housing a colossal spider's web, which prevented any movement therein for the several days of its conquest. The latter, which had the stamp of parental authority with my husband avidly helping the boys set up the strings across the room, as if he were intent on teaching trapeze, was professedly a leprechaun trap. I was less than pleased with the concept of aiding the boys trap anyone, even a fictional character, but the boys assured me that the their trap was really an earnest effort to provide a needed - and comfortable they noted - resting place for the tired leprechaun. All the boys in the family (father included) were so pleased with their venture that my husband became their mission's emissary in an effort to have me dot the strings with green so that it would appear a leprechaun had evaded their trap. The diplomatic mission successful, the boys were amazed at the leprechaun's feat and agreed to construct a more elaborate trap next year. I was less than pleased with that intention but I was pleasantly surprised that they then commandeered a pulley system from the string to take things up to their bed, including stuffed toys, cars and their water bottles.  

The boys have recently swapped daily baths for showers. We had been wanting to do this for a while but the clincher was their understanding of the difference in water usage. If you keep the water on during a shower, you can see how much water you use and their quick shower resulted in a lower water level, which was sufficient for these self-professed friends of the environment to switch. 

L the other week informed us that humans were the apex predator. "We are a predator to animals, to the environment and to each other" he solemnly declared, before professing that things needed to and would change. M is also acutely aware of our environment's fragility (after all these kids are Californian, they were putting on masks under a miasmic sky long before the pandemic and experienced a day incarnadine last year) and at times admonishes me. "Mum" he sternly interrupted by narrative on how we were to conquer mosquitos, the vicious vectors of disease, "the mother mosquito just wants to feed her babies. You want to feed and protect us, right? Why would you get rid of mosquitos? They are just being good mums. You need vaccines for these diseases, not to attack the mosquitos". It was a fair point and yet I sit where I stand - I favour humanity over mosquitos. M would have nothing of it and threw my own teaching back to me exposing my rabid hypocrisy in my avid expression of anthropocentrism (this is the cruelty of the filial relationship, it exposes your core contradictions). Yet M's point that we needed to solve the problem of pathogens and not vectors was apt - if only it were that easy to do. 

Normalcy has somewhat returned. The first activity L did this year was get back to soccer. He was thrust into an intensive soccer camp for three hours a day which he adored and which fortified and finessed his skills. The first day, L proclaimed through droopy eyes that he was happy but that his "brain was putting on pajamas". Then his body got accustomed and he had more energy after class. L then started karate and was pleased, as we have been learning Japanese at home, that he could count to ten and understand words in Japanese that his sensei would intermix every so often in his commands. Then swimming lessons opened up and the boys were overjoyed. After the first lesson, M looked disappointed at his teacher and asked "this is IT? It's so short" to which she replied with an energetic smile that he would have another lesson in just a week. "Just as well" M muttered as if he were a grumbling geriatric and not a four year old. 

We were concerned that the boys would have greatly regressed from not having swimming lessons for over a year, but the muscle memory kicked in pretty much right away. "We're orcas after all" L proclaimed with an eruption of a smile. This served them well - when M was with family in a pool, on top of a float, a year after any swimming lesson and a week before he restarted, he still managed to swim from underneath it to the edge of the pool while his grandmother jumped in lest he were in trouble. 

M is coming up with (or remembering from somewhere who knows) jokes left and right. The other day I was explaining an aspect of our skeletal system and when he understood it, he beamed a smile and presently proclaimed, "mama, you should go to the bank and get out $20". This caught me off guard and I asked why. "Because you make a lot of sense!" M shouted back. I erupted in laughter. P later told me that he was explaining to M earlier that day that there were 100 cents in a dollar. Perhaps M penned his first pun.

 L amused a procession of people on our promenade one day by serenading me with a song professing to his adoration. I must admit it was a moment to cherish. He occasionally bursts into song about how he would always protect me. I wonder where he picked up protection of his family (he noted that he will be taller and stronger than me in no time) rather than us protecting him, but I'll take his serenades any day. 

The other week was the first day of school for kids in the district (for two days a week). Us usual, our house was less than orderly in the morning and we were scrambling to have the kids ready on time. L continually contorted his face in concern, "mama, please don't let us be late today" - and I heeded his instruction- we were not late. Yet L, perhaps because of my chronic tardiness respecting social appointments, raced up the hill, explaining he would rather be early than late. It was a sight to behold. All the children (and their parents) were blithe and beaming as if they were about to enter a land of unrestricted candy consumption. At pickup each child excitedly related to their parents the events of the day and L insisted on walking with his friends home. Each child professed their excitement that the morrow was another school day. It was emotional to say the least.  For L, school is the most exciting and fascinating place and he continues to vocalize how grateful he is that he gets to go back in person - and how he can't wait to be there full time. I wager this studious sentiment is echoed by his classmates. I wonder whether denying children school for so long will make them more earnest to study. Perhaps they will never want to leave and end up a generation with doctorates.