It’s my birthday today. Lisa and the kids wrapped my presents in brown paper bags, which they decorated themselves. On one of them Lisa wrote a quiz about me and recorded the answers the kids gave when she asked them.
Red and black are the correct answers.
Q: What does Dad like to eat?
Q: What does Dad like to watch on TV?
Girl: I don’t know. I just can’t right now.
Q: What does Dad like to drink?
Girl: I don’t know I said!
Q: What did you get Dad for his birthday?
Girl: I know–a card!
Girl and I go up to Boy’s school twice a day, when we drop him off in the mornings and pick him up again in the afternoons, so as far as she’s concerned, the crossing guard is always monitoring the intersection at the school car park. The first time it snowed this past winter, on a Sunday morning, we took her out for a walk, and our route ended up taking us to the school. She expressed confusion and dismay that the crossing guard wasn’t there.
She had the same reaction this past Friday when we went up there around lunchtime, to eat lunch with Boy on his birthday. “Hey!” she exclaimed as we crossed the deserted intersection onto school grounds. “Where’d the crossing guard go?”
“It’s not time for the crossing guard to be here,” I said. “Probably she went home.”
“Yeah!” she agreed. (She’s in the habit, if you provide her with information, of acting like she is the one informing you.) “She’s at home with all the other crossing guards!”
Then this morning, we had two crossing guards at the school entrance–one standing on the corner, supervising, while a trainee directed traffic from the centre of the intersection. Some time after we dropped Boy off and returned home, Girl came up to me. “There were two crossing guards today,” she told me. “They love each other! And they’re girls!”
I gently corrected both of these assumptions. (The trainee crossing guard had, in fact, been a dude.) A short time later, Girl came up to me again.
“There were two crossing guards! One’s a girl, and one’s a boy. They’re friends. Just like Mum and Dad. And they have baby crossing guards!”
It occurred to me soon after I became a parent that one day I’d be faced with a dilemma. One day, Boy would come home from school and tell me something he had learnt that day, probably in history, and I would know that what his teacher had taught him is incorrect. Probably it’d be something the teacher believed to be true. If I correct him, then that leads to the strong possibility that he goes back to school and attempts also to correct his teacher, leading anywhere from him being simply dismissed to actually getting in trouble for disrupting the class. (In fact, I’m going to have raise “strong possibility” to “virtual certainty”, given the know-it-all personality he inherited from, well, either one of his parents.) But if I don’t correct him, then he continues labouring under a factual inaccuracy, and he helps perpetuate a widespread myth.
Today, first-grade Columbus Day, we hit that mark for the first time. Because of course today, he was taught that in fifteenth-century Spain, the wise men of the age believed that the Earth is flat, and that Columbus proved them wrong by discovering America. (I’ve never quite understood how the discovery that there’s a land mass west of Europe demonstrates the rotundity of the Earth, as opposed to leading to the more logical hypothesis that the edge of the Earth simply lies west of the Americas.)
And today, I responded to him with, “Oh, that’s really interesting.” There’ll come an age when the best response is to correct that sort of thing, but six ain’t it. Unfortunately.
Then he asked, “What does this mean?”
And I told him, “It’s like saying a swear word.”
He thought about this. “You mean like when you say, ‘I swear I don’t know the answer’?”
So I explained that, no, a swear word is a very bad word that you shouldn’t ever say. Does he know any swear words? He shakes his head. Does he know the F word? Or the S word? Shake of the head; shake of the head.
Then his face brightened. “Oh, I know the S word! I’m not going to say it, though, because you shouldn’t say it ever.” I smiled and nodded in agreement and approval, and then he adds, “Unless you’re talking about a Dalek.” I kept smiling and nodding for a moment until what he said penetrated, but then before I could ask what he meant, he ploughed on. “One kid thought I said the S word, but I didn’t, I said soccer.”
“Ah,” I said. “Okay.”
“I would never use the S word, unless I was using itfor real, you know? Like, for what it’s really used for. Like if you’re talking about a Dalek.”
You guys. He thought the S word is sucker.
We’ve just moved. We closed on a house last weekend, and we moved all our stuff over this weekend. It’s a local move, but it’s a move from a two-bedroom flat to a three-bedroom house, so we’re very happy with it.
Today, in addition to Moving Day, was also Girl’s third birthday.
And it was the first match of the new season for Boy’s soccer team. In fact, the movers were still bringing stuff into our house when it was time to leave for the match, so Lisa took him on her own while Girl and I hung out at the house. After the movers finished and left, it was just the two of us. She was in the basement watching TV while I was doing a little unpacking on one of the upper levels.
She came running up to me. “There’s an alligator downstairs! Dad, there’s an alligator downstairs!”
Of course my immediate assumption was that she was playing pretend, but I gave her a second glance when I realised how genuinely frightened she looked. “Can you show me where the alligator is?” I asked.
She looked at me like I was a moron. “No.”
So I headed down to the basement. And stopped at the top of the stairs, when I saw a little guy who looked very much like this on the bottom step. Her alligator.
I went to get a couple of cups to trap and release the thing, but it had vanished by the time I got back–presumably into the AC vent that’s right next to where it was scurrying around. So I told Girl it had gone, but she wouldn’t return to the basement without me holding her hand. My luck, she’ll be the one who finds it again in three days.
I’d actually seen one of these lizards (very possibly the same one) crawling across our front doorstep last night, and I took note of it because I’ve lived on the banks of the Potomac River for eight years now, and this was the first time I’ve seen a lizard like that around here. Like a little, creepy-crawly piece of Florida running around my yard.
When Girl and I pick Boy up from the school bus every afternoon, we typically go to the park for half an hour. The other day we got there and found a couple of mothers with three kids between them, a year or two younger than Boy. Boy immediately picked out the girl in the group, as is his wont, and the two of them started playing together, gathering up all the acorns that have been falling from the tree overhanging the park and stuffing their pockets full of them.
After the other kids had left and we were alone at the playground, Boy idly asked me as he played, “Dad, do you think schools can climb up high on the playground like I do?”
“Do I think what can climb up high?”
“Girls,” he repeated. “Like the girl that had all the nuts. Do you think girls can climb up high on the playground like I do?”
“How do they get down again?”
“… The same way you get down, I’d expect.”
“Down the slide?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Sure.”
“But Dad! Girls can’t use the slide!”
“Because girls aren’t people!“
I was horrified. “They most certainly are.”
He looked at me like I’m a complete tool. “No they’re not, Dad!” Such an idea would just be silly.
Yeah. He wasn’t saying girls. He was saying skirls. As in, his tongue was having an impossible time wrapping itself around squirrels.
You know, like a squirrel that gathers nuts.
I first heard the word internet on an episode of seaQuest DSV.
I remember this because I had actually recently made up the word internet for a science fiction story I was writing. To name an international network, I’d combined international and network. How original am I.
(Actually, I have a feeling I’d combined interplanetary and network or interstellar and network.)
And my reaction to the word’s use on seaQuest was to think, Damn. Now I can’t use that word, because now it’s a seaQuest word. Everyone’s going to think I stole it from seaQuest.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
If you don’t see a YouTube video above this text, check out the original post to see it.
Over the past few days, Girl has learnt most of her body parts, so this morning, when I had her stood up on her changing table, I was reviewing them with her. “Where’s your nose? Where’s your head? Where are your feet? Where’s your tummy?”
She got them all right, including one or two I didn’t know she’d know, so I said, “High five!” and she gave me a high five with her hand at shoulder height.
Then, out of the blue, she held her hand up for a successive high five, stretching her arm as high above her head as she could reach. “Up high!”
A few minutes later, as I was busily typing this adorable story to Diane over the Instant Messenger, Girl got up from where she was sitting playing with an annoying talking toy on the floor, ran over to me, and handed me a giant piece of carpet fuzz or something.
Absentmindedly, I took it from her and deposited it on the table next to me.
And at that point, noticed it was a wasp.
Like, an alive wasp.
I’m not going to lie. There may have been a bit of screaming like a girl, and a bit of running across the living room flapping my hands in terror. When I got back, the wasp was trying to climb inside my laptop by way of the USB port. So I killed it dead.
I’m going with the theory that it came in when I told Boy off for standing with the front door open on the way out to school this morning. Because the only alternatives I can think of are that we’ve had a wasp in our home all night, or that wasps have free access to our home.
So, when he held the door open this morning.
So, something I’ve noticed about Boy developmentally in the past few weeks. When it comes to spectra, he doesn’t see them as polar. He doesn’t see every move away from one end of the spectrum as a move toward the other. He sees each gradation as its own discrete point.
For instance, likes and dislikes. He doesn’t think of “love” as simply a more intense version of “like”. He refused to try cantaloupe because “I don’t like that.” Well, he was asked, how can you know if you like it without trying it? This was irrefutably logical, so he tried it (after waiting till all adults had left him alone, so they wouldn’t see him try it). A few minutes later, he was discovered busily gobbling down cantaloupe. “I love it!” See? was the response, I told you you might like it if you tried it. “Oh no,” he said, in that entirely unironic, pompous manner he has of correcting others, which he can only have developed from being the oldest child (or, um, from having a pair of oldest children for parents), “I didn’t say, ‘I like it.’ I said I love it.”
Or heat. Heat is my favourite. As far as he’s concerned, there are four different grades of temperature: cold, cool, warm and hot. And when something is getter “cooler”, that doesn’t necessarily mean the temperature is lowering; nor is it necessarily rising when something gets “warmer”–instead, the temperature is simply moving closer to “cool” or “warm” respectively. So on a blisteringly hot day, when the rain clouds roll in and the temperature mercifully drops from the high nineties to the low eighties, “Oh, Dad, don’t you love it when it gets warmer?” Or when his ice lolly starts to melt–“Oh no! My popsicle’s getting cooler!”
ETA: more books to the list, as I think of them
The other day, I got in a discussion with @S_cerevisiae on the Twitter about whether or not to show the first Harry Potter movie to a five year old. Boy has been growing intrigued by the Boy Wizard because of the massive advertising campaign for Harry Potter 8, but Lisa and I have decided not to show him the first film (yet) because, six weeks before kindergarten starts, we don’t want to show him a movie about how school is really cliquish and kids are really nasty to the kids from the other cliques.
A really good point that got made during the discussion was the idea of waiting till the kids are old enough to first read the books before seeing the films, duplicating as much as possible the experience that we who are old enough to read the books upon publication have had.
That got me thinking about other, older children’s books that have been adapted into movies, and my experience with them. There are, to be sure, a few books that I probably haven’t read because I’d already seen the movie–I’m sure I’d have read Treasure Island by now if I hadn’t watched the movie so often as a child. (Though I do recall poring over an illustrated children’s abridgement of it when I was very little.)
But very often, that’s not the way it works. I think, rather, that when we do it right, it’s the movies themselves that keep the kids coming back to the books, generation after generation. So I’ve been making a list: books I had finished by the time I finished middle school, that I had read because I saw the movie or the TV series.
The list is, I’m sure, incomplete. But it contains classics of children’s literature; it contains classics of all literature; and it contains some major twentieth century fiction. It also contains dozens of Star Trek tie in novels, which, rather than listing all individually, I’ve simply gathered under “dozens of Star Trek tie in novels”. They might not have been edifying literature, but they had me reading an hour after bedtime, the fingers of my free hand poised over the lightswitch in case I heard my parents coming upstairs and had to turn it off. And I don’t think there’s any better way to turn a child into a lifelong reader.
Swallows and Amazons
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Prydain books, because of The Black Cauldron
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
The Three Musketeers, because of Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds
Dozens of Star Trek tie-in novels
I’m sure I can’t be the only one. Anyone else get led to their favourite childhood books by the movies?