Bear read the original Mary Poppins last night (the whole novel, in a couple of hours). He is so clearly in that will-read-anything stage that Verdi went through at this age. I ought to be taking advantage of this.
He may be in private school next year, but they are a new school and a lot is up in the air, so we don’t know for sure. If he stays home, I plan to mostly just read aloud to him. He does well with Developmental Math by George Saad, enjoys nature studies already, is working hard at learning his ukulele, so read-alouds and narration feels like all he needs, maybe with some gentle timeline and map work. Here’s what I hope to read.
I want the history and mythology he does to match what his brothers are looking at during this time.
Story of the World: Ancient Times by Susan Wise Bauer
The Jewish Children’s Bible: Genesis
The Jewish Children’s Bible: Exodus
Christian Stories by Anita Ganeri
Parables of Jesus by Tomie DePaola
Aesop illustrated by Don Daily
The Golden Goblet by Eloise McGraw
Steig’s A Gift from Zeus
Herodotus and the Road to History by Jeanne Bendick
Stories from the Stars: Greek Myths of the Zodiac by Juliet Sharman-Burke
There are a lot of short stories in the list above. I feel eager to get these in while he doesn’t yet feel they’re babyish. I’m focusing on Israel and Greece intentionally, since Rome is a bit grown-up for him and it just doesn’t feel like Egypt is that influential/important. It’s tricky to find books about India or China or even worse, ancient Africa or South America, so I am skipping those as well.
I’m hoping to build on the interest generated by our visit to the American Indian celebration recently to keep Terran learning about this stuff, and he is exactly the kind of kid who nature stories were written for, and Bruchac made this delightful book that meshes the two, so…
Because I don’t know how much longer he’ll let me read him fairy tales…
Seven Tales by Hans Christian Anderson illustrated by Maurice Sendak
‘Yeny’ is a narrative tale about a little Colombian kid who starts a peace movement. Terran’s become interested lately that his grandmother owns a farm in Colombia but his daddy won’t let him go visit there, and this touches down a bit on what my ex is afraid of. ‘Facing the Lion’ is about an adventurous childhood in Africa; I chose it because Terran has been asking a lot lately if we can go adventuring in Africa, pretending that whenever we are in the woods.
Plus some fun stuff. We’re reading through Pippi Longstocking right now. Some of the stuff I have thought to hit with him soon includes Mrs Piggle-Wiggle, Moomintrolls, Roald Dahl, and he asked for some Neil Gaiman after seeing Coraline. We might also do some Egyptian & Roman myths if he seems interested, or some historical fiction that takes place in Ancient India or Ancient China if some pops up and calls to us.
It is a simple plan, just a booklist, but he is little and doesn’t need much. I stacked it all up in my room. (We had all these books already from when his brothers were littler.) Even if he does go to school this year, he and I can curl up on my bed to reconnect in the afternoons, and I will read aloud.
Yesterday Terran and I bused down to the Normans Kill, or, our favorite part of it and had a walk around. We identified lots of plants and some critters, notably failing to figure out what the giant furry spider we saw might be. Our best guess is that it was someone’s escaped tarantula because it had the wrong body shape to be a wolf spider but was the size of my fist and furry. Terran collected spiral shells like these and clambered off the path as often as I’d let him. We talked about backpacking a lot, Terran making plans for all of us. Then we walked the two-and-a-half hour walk home because I’d run out of cash for bus fare. That was pretty great too, but I have no memory of what we talked about, only that I arrived home with the sense that walking had been a Very Good Thing because it got him talking.
Today I took him to a festival held to kick off an American Indian political/environmental campaign. We did so much that I feel tired at the thought of recounting it all. Highlights were probably talking to Unity Riders and getting to sit on one of their horses, or maybe touring a reproduction of a historical tall ship and hearing the story of the original owner. There was also more tree climbing, of course. I mustn’t forget that Terran jumped in to dance all the American Indian dances, saw blacksmithing, worked with an old-fashioned foot-powered wood turning device, climbed inside a log canoe, and looked at a display on rigging. Oh and we learned to do the kind of four-bar beading that you see in American Indian jewelry. We vowed to do more of that at home.
The highlight for me, however, was running into people I last saw at a tiny country meetinghouse three or more years ago and hearing them say, “You look good! You look alive! You are doing something right, must be going in the right direction!” When I think about how I was three years ago, well, yes. Things are much, much better, and it was satisfying to know that near-strangers could see that on my face. Also, it turns out they know Robin and are good friends of his dearest friends, so it made my world smaller. Oh and I got to meet the baby of another old friend that I just coincidentally bumped into there, and he was so, so sweet and mellow. I love babies.
The big boys had no interest in either of these events. They’ve been hanging out at home watching Mythbusters and writing a novel. But they’ll get theirs. Tomorrow I am taking Verdi to that Arduino class, and hopefully after I’ll get to play the new game about mechs that Bear has been working on.
I’ve been trying to get the kids to finish up all the projects they have half-finished, so today Bear finished his potato clock (although he ended up using salt water in place of potatoes).
Terran set out to finish his brushbot. We lost one of the screws that came with the kit so he still isn’t done, though he was convinced to let it go with one googly eye missing.
“We can’t make it because we are missing one of the googly eyes.”
“We have plenty of googly eyes.”
“But not the same size.”
“Well, use one a different size.”
“But then the eyebrows it came with won’t fit.”
“Then make it one-eyed.”
“No, listen! You can pretend it is a resistance member who got into a battle with an agent of the empire on its way to earth to deliver a super important message to you.”
Then Verdi went to do the rocket that his father gave him for his birthday, only to discover that it didn’t have a rocket inside it. Or instructions. His father shops likes to shop at yard sales. I had already bought rocket fuel, too, because his father hadn’t provided that either.
Bear started writing a new novel today too. He says the genre is science fantasy.
Terran and I are off to find a river, because I’ve got Kat Eggleston’s “Go to the water” stuck in my head. It always starts playing on my internal radio when stuff comes up with one particular unresolved issue in my life. “Where the sea is rough and the sun burns hotter, to know love, go to the water.” I know it’s probably metaphorical or something, but I can’t tell you how many problems I have solved by literally putting myself, or the problematic entities, in water. By that I mean like giving cranky toddlers a bubble bath, not sinking the bodies of my enemies in seaweed. Somehow, at the bank of the Hudson, on the shores of the Atlantic, nothing is a big deal, all my preconcieved “shoulds” with their righteous justice disappear, and I can see the path of light and love clearly beckoning me. “It laughs and shouts where it touches land and it holds the world like a loving hand. It’s a bed of pearls on a moonlit night, full of life, no end in sight.” The novel I have in my head right now is a love story in which Eurynome and Thetys are re-imagined as seafaring lesbian refugees. Maybe I will take some time to outline it this weekend, even though I really should be making up a budgeting plan for figuring out how to afford all the math books the kids need next.
I can not convince my seven-year-old that African-American Vernacular English is not “how a baby would talk”/lesser English. Even when he hears parents in the park switch to our English and use it flawlessly to talk to me or him while in the middle of a totally AAVE conversation, he is the most stubborn little racist I have ever known. I don’t understand it. Everyone this child has ever known is a bleeding heart liberal. He was born in a black neighborhood and has grown up in a black neighborhood and went to kindergarten in a school that had as many kids of color as white kids. WHY IS MY SON RACIST? He says things like, “They talk baby talk,” so casually, completely failing to understand the implications of his declaration. He’s not trying to be mean. In fact, the only way I can get him to not say such things loudly on the bus full of black people is by telling him that such statements are hurtful.
While I’m confessing such things, my ten-year-old thinks that homosexuality is unnatural and gross. Yep, the one who had sex ed in a liberal/welcoming church, who has seen his mom have lesbian relationships, who can count on one hand the number of adults in his life who are not at least bisexual, who was read all the picture books about LGBT issues when he was a toddler.
My thirteen-year-old, at least, is positively responsive to my opinions about minorities. I suspect the younger two will grow out of it if I keep working on them. I hope so.
I spent Wednesday cleaning with the kids, doing some long overdue deep cleaning of the porch myself mostly while the kids put the living room and dining room back together. When that was done, Verdi put together his new motorized Lego set, Bear began Tuck Everlasting and Stephenson’s Reamde (which Verdi is still working on), Terran read a few picture books, Verdi set up our Wii to stream videos from Amazon Prime to our TV (which is cheaper than Netflix by over a hundred bucks, huzzah!), and all three of them worked on learning a new video game that Verdi just bought called Faster Than Light. It’s a very realistic (real time, real difficulty) space game in which you are the captain of the ship; it has won some awards. The kids had friends over briefly and ran through the taller-than-children weeds in the backyard chasing cats, and at one point I found Bear and Terran having a conversation about game development while working the elliptical in their unique way. Over dinner we talked about what an Arduino is, occasioned by Verdi’s new kit (for his Sunday class) arriving, and then what the difference is between electronics, robotics, mechanics, programming and mechatronics, and exactly what a computer is. Bear declared that statistics is his favorite math and we talked about jobs in sociology.
After dinner I crashed in my armchair with some chai and noticed a new display on top of the shelf that houses my father’s books about antique woodworking. Someone had stacked up the boxes for the Pi, MakeyMakey, SparkFun Arduino Inventors Kit, and MakerShed Ultimate Microcontroller Kit next to the soldering iron and a framed portrait of Fred Gauss. Apparently I’ve been making enticing activity-centers for so long that this is the way my kids think decorating works.
(This is what is in the frame. My camera stinks.)
Verdi’s proposal for the music credit NYS says he needs to do is to create a musical instrument. We tossed around the idea of using the Arduino and the Pi before settling on the brilliance of using the MakeyMakey. We then Googled that. Turns out they’re doing it at NYU. Verdi may use some of their ideas. I am psyched about the conductive paint; I wonder if I could get the little boys in on creating painted technomusic instruments. Even though I am eager for Verdi to finish his Rube Goldberg lemonade stand, and antsy about him devoting time to other projects before that’s done, I’m excited to see what he comes up with for a musical instrument.
We ended the day with a game of Little Dead Riding Hood, new to the boys. Verdi turns out to be a scarily efficient huntsman of zombie wolves. The game allows players to rearrange the board to suit them (to create a path to Grandmother’s House) and that element was just enough like chess that Verdi was on it. We all really like this game and have played it three times now, ignoring the other four new games (Munchin Axe Cop, Bushido, Dawn Under and Anasazi) that Robin and I got for our birthdays. Maybe I’ll get the kids into a game of Dawn Under if Verdi finishes his Lego Technic kit today.
Verdi is reading Neal Stephenson’s Reamde, a massive scifi novel. He was at a workshop on biodiesel this week. Bear is reading Groovy Greeks, which Verdi devoured in one half hour after it arrived. He hit the beach and got some good swimming time in this past week. Terran made his first pro/con list this week, about whether to go to Falcon Ridge Folk Festival with his dad or downstate to visit Grammy with me. This morning in the car on the way to the free summer movies at the big fancy theater up in the mall (to see Coraline, which he then retold with people he knows in the main roles), Terran asked Robin how exactly evolution works. Robin has magic explaining skills and managed to keep Terran engaged and get the actual facts of it across. Wanting to record that reminded me to make note in this more permanent blog format of a couple of other good conversations we’ve had around here lately. As I recorded them at the time…
Bear: How can the elliptical machine tell what your heart rate is? Does it have sensors that hear your heartbeat?
Verdi: It uses an algorithm based on weight and speed, probably.
Bear: So you mean it makes a sci-assumption.
Verdi: It’s called an algorithm.
Bear: I prefer to call it science-umption. Sci-assumption.
Verdi: They actually do it with an algorithm.
Bear: ♪ SCIIIII! ASSUMPT! IOOOOON! ♪
Verdi: *closes eyes, begins deep breathing exercises*
Terran: Hey Mama, what happens in the brains of boys to make them suddenly start hating girls?
Me: That’s a good question. I don’t really know, but I think you’re right about that feeling being characteristic of a particular neurodevelopmental stage.
Terran: What happens to girls at that age? Do they start hating boys, hating other girls, or hating themselves?
Me: . . . Actually maybe it is social or cultural because at the same age boys are starting to call girls gross, girls suffer a loss of self-esteem. You could call it self-hatred.
Terran: *nods sagely* But that’s not likely to happen to me. First of all, I’m homeschooled, so I’m not being raised like other kids. But secondly, my best friend is a girl, my cousin who is my best-friend-I’m-related-to is a girl, and, DUH, my MAMA is a girl.
When Verdi was small I called him Justice Boy because everything absolutely had to be right and fair. He was worse than Clark Kent. He was so serious and solemn about all things in his determination to do what was good and right. Today I sent him off with his little brother to a situation I judged dangerous. Seeing my anxiety about it, he threw off his recent apathethic-adolescent coolness, looked me dead in the eye, and with a solemnity that brought that six-year-old Justice Boy rushing back from my memory, assured me he’d protect his brother. Words can not express how honored I am to be this young man’s mother.
Me: What are you doing?
Verdi: Walking in circles.
Me: Could you please take a penny, scrub it til it’s shiny, then put it in a ziploc baggie full of water, and tack that near the backdoor?
Me: ♪ It was midnight on the ocean, not a streetcar was in sight, and the sun was shining brightly, for it rained all day that night. ‘Twas a summer night in winter and the rain was snowing fast and a barefoot boy with shoes on stood a-sitting in the grass. ♪
Terran: . . . Oh.”
Bear: *squints at us with eyebrows furrowed
We have a weird new game and one card that was in play required all players to say “comic sans is awesome” before drawing a card. Terran, on his turn, could not abide this. He choked out, about to cry: “I’ll lose a life. I won’t say it is awesome against my will.” And he didn’t, and soon he realized he was going to lose all his lives this way right quick. Bear said, “He’s a paladin of Times New Roman.” Robin was able to console Terran by impressing upon him how valiant a choice that is and how rare it is for adults to be able to make it, but the look Terran gave Verdi next he heard him praise the font was so full of grown-up disappointment that I couldn’t hide my snicker.
At one point today I looked around me and thought, “Leave me with just one of my own kids = house a mess for a week. Leave me with four other peoples’ kids = inside an hour, the house is neater than it has been for ages.”
This morning a friend dropped off her four kids and I took them and mine to the sprinkler park for a couple of hours. That was hard; at one point I wondered what the heck I had been thinking. Supervise a toddler, my poky littlest son, a couple of grumpy pre-teens, and three active boys, all by myself in a giant park? GAH. When Terran was stung by a bee, I thought I was done in for. But he was fine, and everyone was fine, and we got through it and got home.
We walked home after that, and while the kids constructively occupied themselves I cleaned.
My house is a wonderland of constructive ways for kids to occupy themselves and each of them found something to do: one designed and sewed a hat from scratch, two challenged each other on a multiplication game, and the baby wandered from trains to musical instruments to the watercoloring station. There was impromptu face painting as well. The microscope was popular today too, with random objects being looked at after I brought it out to show Terran his bee stinger. Oh and we talked about gender roles and childhood prejudices.
I kept myself apart from the kids, but close to them, deep-cleaning the kitchen and reorganizing the bathroom, the whole time all this went on. As long as I was bustling, I was a presence but not a distraction. I could step in to redirect and I knew exactly what was going on, but I wasn’t interfering; I was letting them follow their interests. It’s a zen kind of way to be and I like doing it.
Then they went home. Verdi and Bear had Dungeons & Dragons. Verdi made dinner. We roasted marshmallows on the stove. Bear designed a new game, Verdi attempted to organize his next week, and Terran lost it and got goofy and was sent to bed early.
It was a good day.
Yesterday was full of errands, more Pippi Longstocking, the joyful discovery that Terran can tell back a chapter in vivid detail, and the playing of board games.
I’d like to say a word about those errands. I remember my (single) mother dragging my younger brother and myself on a tour of all our suburb’s parking lots in the little black Pontiac Grand Am she’d inherited from her grandmother. We would sit in the car while she ran into the bank, follow her around mindlessly while she ran around the grocery, then sit in the waiting room while she was with a doctor. We had fun because we didn’t have Gameboys, just each other and our wild imaginations and the car radio station. (We sang along to Billy Joel and Elton John.) But that is not the kind of errand-running I mean when I report that I ran errands with my kids.
We don’t have a car or live in a suburb. We walk or bus or bike everywhere. Because of this, and because of our location, all our errands start with the state museum.
The museum is connected to a long complex of government buildings, including the state capitol, and by walking through these buildings it is possible to get across the city. Also, pretty much any bus you might want to take to anywhere in the capitol region comes to the capitol building, so you really can get anywhere from there. The museum door happens to be our closest entrance to this complex, so, every time we go out on an errand, the kids walk into the museum, past the rotating front-lobby display. This month it’s a history of soap box derby. They routinely wave hello to the now-familiar fossils permanently on display in the lobby, as well.
Then it’s a ride down an escalator and into an underground mall, which contains most of the paintings in the ninety-two works collection of modern art displayed in this complex. Just by the repetition of walking past these two or three times a week, the kids have many of the artists memorized.
In this underground mall, as well as all the modern art, we will pass by our bank, post office, stationary store, florist, YMCA branch, a bunch of government offices, the state university, a convention center, and on Wednesdays a farmer’s market.
If it is nice out and we decide to walk across the mall above ground, we’ll pass most of the sculptures in this collection, giant wind-animated things and loop-de-loops that would be a skateboarder’s dream.
At the end of the mall, we arrive at a security clearance. The guards know us by name. The boys’ favorite part of the walk is there: the portal. It’s meant to be an after-hours secure gateway for people holding passes that let them in after hours, but it lets anyone through during business hours if you just press a button. Here’s Terran going through it yesterday. Usually at this point he starts pretending he has walked into an alternative universe that is identical to ours, and he and Bear take delight in pointing out all the spooky differences from the world they know. Good thing we always come back home through the portal, too.
After this security clearance point, the building changes, and instead of the super-modern 1970s environment, we find ourselves looking at classical columns. Verdi once said it was like entering Harry Potter’s Ministry of Magic, the transformation is that dramatic. Up an escalator and we’re in the capitol itself. There’s a cafe where we often stop for a cup of joe and to eavesdrop on government doings. You can see the underside of what they call the “million dollar staircase” from our favorite table in the cafe, with all the little intricate carvings that people travel from all over the state to take pictures of. There are always some portraits and displays of historical objects, too, itchy Civil War uniforms and whatlike. The Marquis de Lafayette in this portrait is making a ridiculous fish face and here Terran is yesterday, attempting to mimic it.
Then we’re out of the complex, through another security clearance (where, again, all the guards know us). Our bus stop is out there, a side door from the capitol. The architecture once you step out here is amazing, classical-style buildings looming around us in every direction, and the park that hosted Occupy Albany right there as well, featuring a sculptural fountain and an age-old school building.
As often as not when we come out of the capitol onto the lawn, we’re in for a game of guess-the-protest. Once we were thoroughly stumped. Clearly it was something, because brown-skinned Spanish-speaking people in their fifties and sixties, all of whom looked very well-kept and conservative, had descended upon the lawn en masse. We couldn’t figure out what they were there for, though. We now refer to that protest as The Mysterious Abuelita Convention.
Here is Terran, yesterday, climbing around while we wait. At lunch times the capitol is surrounded by food trucks offering gourmet ethnic stuff, crazy good food, and men in very fancy suits scrambling away with paper dishes full of this food. We’ll stand and watch them (rarely do we indulge in food), wondering who they all are, until our bus comes to whisk us away on our errands.
I try in general to be more engaging than my mom was when I’m running errands with my kids. I look for the teachable moments. I had a very long conversation with Terran yesterday about dialect and race and his privileges and responsibilities as a white man, inspired by his reaction to two people on the bus, and I spent an extra forty minutes in Target so that he could figure out unit prices all on his own and get the most bang from the buck he’d earned working for his dad. But no matter where we’re going, or what we’re doing, just walking out of our neighborhood reinforces my sons’ education in art and in civics. I’m lucky to live in a place people consider a destination.
Verdi (13!) spent the day sorting through his birthday stash, playing the games he got (We Didn’t Playtest This at All and Cthulhu Dice) and trying the science stuff (a lemon clock, a model rocket, a solar hot air balloon, an optic fiber lamp). He also made us dinner. We had some good conversation over dinner about the Trayvon Martin case, comparing it to the case where a Florida mom got twenty years for firing a warning shot after slipping away from her husband, who had been just then brutally beating her, and for whom she had an order of protection. We mostly discussed race and language, though, comparing the implications of two ideas about “why poor black people talk that way.” Most of the social media response to the testimony of Trayvon’s young black friend assumes that she speaks “that” way because she is underprivileged and undereducated, but I asserted to Verdi some of the notions I’d picked up in anti-racism blogs, that these language structures are just as intelligent and deliberate as our own and represent a very wise way of hiding in plain sight, a necessity when your skin color is a crime.
Bear (10) did some artwork, careful grayscale sketches of weaponry. He spent much of the day managing the behavior of his kitten, who is quite the handful right now. He read some in an economics text (“the most important unit in economics is happiness,” he said) and read a bit in a theoretical physics book about the speed of light in a vacuum. He also ran an errand for me, going out to a grocery to get milk and butter. Oh, and he cleaned the living room. He would like it recorded that “I made an epic house in Minecraft.” He claims this should count as architecture.
Terran (7) swears that all he has done all day is play with the kitten and drink cool beverages. It’s pretty hot here today. I know he also built several spaceships from Lego, listened to me read Pippi Longstocking aloud, played more than one board game with Verdi, and cleaned the dining room.
I had a therapy appointment in the middle of the day, so I will have to take their word(s) for it, even though they always, always forget half the cool stuff they did and I have to find out about it later accidentally.