Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Graham Carter

Aidan's alter ego sometimes takes the form of Tom Sawyer. By his powers of persuasion, he is often able to convince his sidekick in crime, Leo "Huck Finn", to do something inconvenient (i.e. fetching a band aid from upstairs) or slightly scary (retrieving paper from the darkened basement) or something gross (picking up a dead insect). Yet a recent Saturday afternoon takes the cake for Impressive Sawyer-like Smooth Talking.

It was nearly dinnertime, and as usual, the kids were going a little nutty. As usual, we sent them outside to play in the yard until we rang the bell to summon them back in. As usual, we reviewed the basic rules of safety and sent them on their way. When dinner was ready, I sent Jeff out to get the boys. He returned without them, the look on his face equally proud and terrified. "Guess where your son is right now." (Why is it always MY son when it's something naughty? I wondered...) "Which son?" I asked. "Leo." "Um...." Jeff was impatient with me. He didn't wait for me to guess. "He's across the street!" he screeched. Well, that's not so bad, I thought. He's not supposed to cross the street, but really, what's the big deal?

I waited, and Jeff continued. "HE GOT THERE BY CRAWLING THROUGH THE DRAIN PIPE!!! TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET!!!" I dashed outside to see if this was possibly true. I, too, felt equally horrified - and proud. On the one hand, what was he thinking? There could be snakes! Or rats! Or resting raccoons!! There could be rushing water! Or big hairy spiders! On the other hand... wow, Leo, you couldn't pay me to climb through that drain pipe. The one that spans the width of the street, the one that is about 2.5 feet in diameter, the one that is deep in the ditch on the side of our house...

(Notice the tiny speck of light in the second photo. That is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, the one that convinced Sawyer that it was okay to send Finn through it.)

After a very strict, very stern, very formidable talking-to about the perils that could befall a drain pipe trespasser, we asked Leo why he did it. "Aidan told me to do it. He just told me to crawl through the tunnel, so I did it. I was a little bit afraid. But then I did it."

And there you have it. Sawyer & Finn, 1; Parents, 0.

The littlest Carter is fast on the heels of mischief, too. Suddenly, food is highly interesting to Pax, and after refusing traditional baby food for months, he gobbles up any finger food/table food we place before him. Still, we're trying to go by the book, introducing a few things at a time and sticking to the softer stuff.

Our small kitchen never has enough space for pantry storage, and food is always spilling out of the cupboards. I've given up the organizational fight, and have informed all who complain about it that "It's the price you have to pay for me being such a creative woman." (....Elmer's glue, Epi pens, and an Etch-a-sketch also compete with the cupboards for space). So I didn't notice the box of graham crackers that had fallen out of the cupboard, but Pax sure did. Jeff and I were both on the main level but in different rooms when we realized someone should find Baby and see what he was up to. "Paxo!" I heard Jeff exclaim. Then a baby's giggle. Jeff carried Pax in to see me, and there he was, triumphantly clutching half-eaten graham crackers in each hand and grinning boldly. Message received: we'll move on to some crunchier stuff, Mister Baby!

And finally, a most beautiful moment. Yesterday was a very difficult day for us. I was weary and worn out from a day spent breaking up squabbles, shushing tantrums, disciplining sassy mouths and potty mouths and mean mouths. We finally sat down to dinner; I was anxious to reach the end of our day. Pax sat quietly in his high chair as we settled in to our own chairs. We began to sing our grace, "Johnny Appleseed," when we heard a most melodious sound - that of Pax joining in on our singing. Jeff and I looked at each other in surprise, then in joy, as we finished out the verse, all 5 of us singing our thanks and praise. What a moment! It was just the grace and pax I needed to get me through the rest of our evening.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Turn Into

Aidan and Leo are creative and imaginative; I love to watch them play. Watching them make their imaginations come to life is marvelous to witness and yet, as an adult, frustrating to try to join. My grown-up mind simply cannot compete with the magical thinking of these children! Their bed becomes a pirate ship in shark infested waters; the couch is a rocket ship one day, a train the next, and a mountain to climb on the third day. They are chefs on Monday, knights and pages on Tuesday, pirates on Wednesday, and nature poets on Friday.

They invent games that they play with each other that seem to make perfect sense to the two of them, yet are inexplicable to those who try to join in their unending fun. One game, called "Sparkle Sparkle Backhoe," is one that can only be played at meals (and usually only at lunch, per Mom's request). The object of the game is to get the forkful of food into one's mouth before the other person finishes saying "Sparkle Sparkle Backhoe!" Aidan, for example, will sloooowly raise the macaroni-filled fork tongs toward his mouth as Leo starts out, "Sparkle, sparkle, back---" suddenly, Aidan shoves the fork in his mouth -- "hoe!!" Apparently, this means Aidan was successful. It becomes Leo's turn, and the game continues in this way for the rest of lunch - accompanied by peals of laughter at every turn of the game.

But my all time favorite game of theirs is called Turn Into, because there is something about it that reminds me of the children's book called The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown. The story is about a bunny who challenges his mother by telling her he will run away; in turn, his mother responds how she will find him every time. (Little Bunny says, "I will become a crocus in a hidden garden." "If you become a crocus in a hidden garden," said his mother, "I will be a gardener. And I will find you." and so on.) Some have mentioned the possibility of this story as an allegory representing God, in that God finds us every time because we are God's children. Allegory or no, the story is touching and true, for what mother (what parent, for that matter) won't go to the ends of the earth for her (or his) child?

There is something about the format of Aidan and Leo's "Turn Into" game that reminds me of this book. As Aidan describes the game, "You start by saying "I'm going to turn into...[insert item here] and then you say something nice." Different every time, this is a recent transcript of their game:

Aidan: If I turn into a trash can...
Leo: If you turn into a trash can, I will dump you out.

Leo: If I turn into a towel...
Aidan: If you turn into a towel, I will dry you off.

Aidan: If I turn into a kitty...
Leo: If you turn into a kitty, I would pick you up.
Aidan: (interjecting, joyfully) I would like that!

Aidan: If I turn into Gladys... [Aidan's Lovey, Gladys]
Leo: If you turn into Gladys, I would hold you.

And that is where the game ended that day. I can only hope that in their hearts and in their minds, these boys are saying the same thing to each other that I am saying to them: I will go to the ends of the earth for you, I will do whatever I need to do for you because you are my family, because I love you.

Monday, July 12, 2010

California - part 2

Finally, a chance to finish -

The second part of our California adventure was equally memorable and fun. We visited the Grants, with whom we've been friends for more than a decade. Emily and I suffered through our student teaching days together, then celebrated our successes over pineapple & rum drinks at the Green Door. We were in each other's weddings and were pregnant together for two of our babies. During our many years of friendship, there have been countless adventures and dozens of travels back and forth between New York and Maryland, and now California and Virginia. Connor and Aidan are 6 weeks apart in age; Patrick and Leo are 6 months apart. Needless to say, all the boys were thrilled to be on a constant play date with such terrific buddies! It is a uniquely lovely experience to witness the friendships that play out with the children of some of your closest friends. It's affirming, really, to see your children discovering common passions and interests with the children of your own good friends.

Probably the biggest highlight of our time in Valencia was the chance to experience Six Flags Magic Mountain. Although the adults did not have a chance to ride many rides, it was worth it just to see the joy in Aidan and Leo's face as they explored the amusement park for the first time. Shockingly, we discovered that Aidan, who is usually more careful and reserved, is a fearless roller coaster rider! He even held his hands way up in the air, whooping and hollering at every turn. Leo looked petrified during the coasters, yet afterward, professed his love of them, too. And Pax enjoyed his first ride on a real* Merry-Go-Round, and was thrilled! (*The teeny one at the mall doesn't count). Our adventure at the park was another one of those times where I found myself marveling at how much enjoyment can be had in simply watching my children experience something so exciting and novel and fun.

Made-from-scratch sticky buns, grilled lemon and garlic shrimp, homemade crabcakes, and fabulous sushi were some of the delicious meals we enjoyed with our hosts. Many of my best recipes come from the Grants, and these culinary treats were no exception. Recently I was watching a show on PBS where they were interviewing an Italian chef, and he described the making and sharing of food not only as pleasure in the food itself but also in the "joy of the table." Indeed, these meals we enjoyed were not just about good food and good drink, but also about good friends gathered together.

Our travel back home was as smooth and seamless as our flights heading out. Home! Few experiences make you appreciate and love your home more than being away from it for a bit. We reveled in our house, our community, and our East Coast, mountain view setting for days. Reuniting with our friends and reconnecting with family, I felt a deep sense of peace and happiness about the choice we have made to live here, in this friendly, comfortable lake community and in such close proximity to my parents. I love going to the grocery store where my kids talk to Miss Mary and Miss Linda as they bag our food. I love how the small business owners here greet me by name. I love heading to the park and knowing - or at least recognizing - most of the moms there. I love that our kids can walk through the "secret trail" to their grandparents' house. I love our small town, I love the familiarity and the safety and the security we feel. I love the trees, the mountains, the lake, the nearby rivers, the four distinct seasons. As much as we love our California friends and family, and love the time we spend visiting them, we know now more than ever that our roots are firmly planted here in the deep red clay of Virginia.

For more pictures of the Valencia portion of our California adventure, click here...