Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Today, Leo and I were reading this ancient book that used to belong to my brother, and then to me. It's part of a series, published by Childcraft with a copyright of 1976 (originally published in 1964). This particular one, titled How Things Work, is one of Aidan's favorites because it explains both simple and complex concepts ranging from how a toaster works to how water is pumped from a water tower, then through the pipes in a house. Leo is becoming increasingly interested in the book as well... (especially because he and Aidan find endless amusement over calling it the "booty book" - but that's a different story entirely.)

As we were browsing through the many chapters, Leo stopped me at the page that featured a woman cooking over an electric stove - the illustration for How Electric Stoves Work. "Look!" he exclaimed. "She looks just like you, Mommy!" I chuckled at first and asked, "She looks like me? What makes you think she looks like me?"

He replied excitedly, "She has brown hair that's dark, just like you! She has short hair just like you! And she is cooking just like you!"

I thought this was so funny... and yet, the more I reflected on it, the more I was struck by Leo's observations. He noticed all the things that were the same about us, never noticing the most obvious difference. When does this happen, I wonder? When do we go from searching for all the similarities between ourselves and others, and instead focusing on the differences? This is a question I've explored with my middle school philosophy students at great length. When we try to deconstruct the concept of prejudice, this is one of the main ideas on which we focus. Why do we hone in on our differences? Why can't we focus on the similarities? And, in doing so, what impact would we have on averting prejudices? What impact would we have on humanity?

I guess I have my answer, in part. Somewhere between age 3 and 10, we lose our ability to seek out the similarities we have in the people we see, the common bonds we have to humanity. Today, I was delighted by and proud of the color blindness of my son. Initially, I thought he was joking with me. I couldn't imagine why he would think I looked like her. It was truly an eye opening moment for me. I am always surprised and humbled by the wisdom of children.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Public Transportation Celebration!

Left to right: Model train exhibit; waiting for the plane to depart;
waving to passersby on the trolly; content on the bus;
enjoying his train cake!
...also known as Happy Birthday, Leo!...

On Tuesday, January 5, Leo turned three years old. I had a hard time deciding whether or not to do a kid party for him because on the one hand, I always do kid parties for the kids. Lest he feel as though he is being slighted for being a second child, I fretted about not having one for him. On the other hand, while we have many playgroup friends, he only really has one buddy who is his age, and very few others who are even close to his age. When I contemplated putting out an ad on Craigslist - "three year olds needed for role of friends at a three year old party" - I decided maybe I could come up with something equally fun. And so I did! We celebrated Leo's birthday with a "Public Transportation Celebration."

It began at 9:30 when my parents arrived at our house for the adventure. Aidan played hooky from school and Jeff was not scheduled to work, so the seven of us bundled up and grabbed our Passports. Our first stop was to visit my dad's friend, Don, whose hobby is model trains. I expected to see a few trains on a track about the size of a table or so, no biggie. We walked into his basement, roughly the size of our own, and were shocked to see 8 years' worth of work on the model train exhibit! At first, I thought "Oh, that's clever -he added mirrors to make it look bigger." But oh, no, the track extended way back into the basement and was built in around the rafters and pillars. He had three large trains on one huge set of tracks, complete with towns, mountains, bridges, rivers, lakes, and landscapes, as well as a smaller scale model train that was still a work in progress. We spent over half an hour watching the trains and still, we had to drag those kids out of there! I was immediately buoyed by the plan for the day; we had gotten off to such a good start.

Our next stop was the Charlottesville Airport. It was freezing cold! We stamped our feet and shivered against the wind, but it was well worth it. We saw one small plane take off and another one land, a helicoptor depart, and a huge jet plane take off as the grand finale. Leo was confused why we couldn't simply buy a ticket and hop on board, but I think it appeased him to know that a plane adventure is scheduled for June (to fly to California).

Starving and shivering, we loaded the cars to caravan to lunch at Mellow Mushroom. It felt positively decadent to be eating pizza and drinking beer on a Tuesday with my entire family and my parents. Leo was quite particular about when we could and could not sing "Happy Birthday" to him***, so once he finished eating every bite of his pizza, we were finally allowed to serenade him...

Satiated and sufficiently warmed, we walked to the Trolly stop across the street and were promptly picked up by the free trolly that runs around the UVA grounds and the Downtown Mall of Charlottesville. Leo was literally jumping up and down, shouting, "The trolly! The trolly!" when he caught sight of the next part of our adventure. Once aboard, he stood in the seat and waved to everyone we passed outside. He loved it.

We got off the Trolly at the Downtown Transit Station and hopped aboard Bus #7 to ride back to the Corner. The kids rode for free, and Jeff and I both have UVA ID's, so we rode free, too! Only the old folks had to pay the hefty fee - $0.75 apiece. It was an interesting experience, and I felt like I got a small glimpse of what it might be like to use public transportation regularly in Charlottesville.

The warm, cozy, clean bus delivered us back at Mellow Mushroom's doorstep, where a very contented birthday boy hopped into his carseat and promptly fell asleep. We capped off the day with the birthday boy's favorite meal, Chicken Pot Pie, followed by a train-themed cake. The day was a complete success! I'll never again doubt the idea that family birthday celebrations can be as fun as - or even more fun - than kid parties.

***Side story (or two): Leo is SO much like me. He is fiercely determined, demands his independence, and insists on doing it his own way. This is a blessing and a curse; he exasperates me and evokes my admiration in equal measure. Recently when we were rushing to get to church, Leo refused to let Jeff help him with his socks and shoes. Jeff was trying to remain patient, but the clock was ticking. Leo surrendured, letting Jeff put them on for him, and said to Jeff, "I wish I was more like Annie." Jeff, unsure he'd heard Leo correctly (since Leo's usual term for me is Mommy(!)) asked Leo to repeat himself, and sure enough, he said, "I wish I was more like Annie." In a tone that conveyed that same admiration and exasperation, Jeff responded, "You are like Annie. You're a lot like Annie."

So it should not have come as a surprise, then, how much Leo enjoyed this party, and yet how particular he was about when we were and were not allowed to sing "Happy Birthday." When I was a child, I hated birthday parties - mine and everyone else's. When the kids sang to me, I usually ended up crying. I refused to go to most kids' parties, even my very best of friends. I don't enjoy being the center of attention, and birthday parties are the epitome of that. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, for sure. And for that, I am most grateful... Happy Birthday to you, my Leo Leo.