Wednesday, March 27, 2013


My daughter has reached that exciting but frustrating stage where her mental development has outstripped her verbal skills and physical abilities. In other words, she’s in the pointing and grunting stage. Since 20% of her vocabulary is comprised of the words “hat” and “shoes,” it’s rare that she is able to say the name of an object she wants. (Granted, about 50% of the time what she wants IS a hat or a shoe, but that still leaves about 49% of the time when she doesn’t have the necessary word at her disposal.) She knows what she wants but is often not able to get it herself, and struggles to communicate verbally with others to get them to help her get it. She’s in the age of charades.

She’s actually quite creative in how she expresses her wants. If she wants something to drink, for example, she has a whole arsenal of techniques to let me know. If she has a sippy cup that she’s finished, she holds it up in my general direction and shakes it. If she’s in the kitchen, she goes to the counter where the cups are and reaches up over the edge in an attempt to knock one down. If she succeeds, she brings it to me and shows me that it’s empty (usually accompanied by a woeful expression and a sad, “Uh-oh!”). If she can’t reach a cup, she comes to find me, takes my hand (well, technically, my thumb), and leads me to the refrigerator, then looks at me expectantly. If I still don’t get it, she grabs onto the handle of the refrigerator door and tugs with all her might.

If she wants something that she can see but can’t quite reach, she also has several techniques in her arsenal. The most common are the crab-pincers and the point-and-grunt. If an object is almost within reach, she uses the crab pincers. She has developed a great fondness for jelly beans this Easter season, so if she walks up to the piano, reaches up, and flaps her hand open and closed like a little crab’s claw, I can be sure she wants a jelly bean from the dish that lives up there, and not a closer look at a framed photo or a piece of sheet music, which are the only other objects in that general vicinity.
And if she’s strapped in her high chair and there’s a toy that’s just out of reach, the crab pincers aimed in that direction are enough to indicate what she wants.

If the item is a bit further away, or if it’s part of a group of objects, she does the classic toddler point-and-grunt and waits for me to guess what she means. If she wants a toy that’s inside her playpen, she’ll lead me over, point at something, and then look at me with a quizzical expression and a grunt. So I begin showing her different objects: “Phone? Lamb? Truck? Baby? Giraffe? Beads?” At each wrong answer, she chirps, “Noooo!” in an increasingly annoyed voice, and stabs again with her extended index finger. It reminds me of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” when the Ghost forces a reluctant Ebenezer Scrooge to look at his own gravestone.
(She’s not very intimidating, so it’s definitely the Mr. Magoo version that comes to mind.)
The complication in this scenario is that since she doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on what the word “no” actually means, even when I show her the item she wants, I’d better be watching her instead of just listening to her response because she will say “no” even when she means “yes.”
At times it can be frustrating for both of us, but most of the time we both see it as a game, a creative challenge, and a fun problem to be solved. Plus, when we do it right, sometimes we both get a jelly bean.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Toys: Boys vs. Girls (The Second Child Edition)

Back in July 2010, I wrote a blog entry about the difference between how boys play with toys and how girls play with toys: Revisiting that entry now that I have a child of each gender only serves to reinforce my belief that boys and girls play differently. It’s certainly true in my family, at least.

My son has been obsessed with cars and trucks ever since he was small. Even before he could walk, he would crawl over to anything with wheels and attempt to spin them – a grocery cart, a stroller, a skateboard. I always made sure to keep a matchbox car or small truck in my purse to keep him entertained. And since his obsession continues, my daughter (who is almost 2 years younger than her brother) has grown up surrounded by cars and trucks. And when she was tiny, she was also content to zoom them across the table and to watch their wheels spin in fascination. But now that she is old enough to be interested in what toys are or represent, rather than just their physical size and feel, she is much less interested in cars.

Her toys of choice are generally soft items like stuffed animals and dolls. She loves to hug them and coo to them and make them kiss each other. For her, I keep several small plastic animals in my purse. Giraffe and tiger often make an appearance at a restaurant, hiding behind cups and salt shakers and playing peek-a-boo with her, and just generally allowing themselves to be kissed and pawed and snuggled and loved. If on occasion I have forgotten to put a car in my purse and I give my son the same toy animals to play with, instead of kissing each other and playing nicely, they will roar ferociously and attempt to eat each other.

There are also huge differences in how they choose to play with the same non-specific toys. Give them both a box of Legos and my son will alternate between building and knocking down towers and designing some kind of gun or cannon, whereas my daughter will stick a single Lego on the index finger of each hand and click them together with fascination, and then pick out all the flowers and animals that are part of the Lego set.

If you let them choose from the same group of toys, they rarely choose the same things. At a local play area, my son runs directly to the train table where he immediately starts redesigning the track while my daughter makes a beeline for the play house and begins to “chat” on the phone.

Of course, there are often similarities in their play, especially when it comes to imagination games. They both love to run, and squeal, and be tickled, and play hide-and-seek. They both love to dig in the sand and splash in the water and scribble with crayons and chalk. They both love to strum the guitar and pound on the piano keys and bang on anything that bears a passing resemblance to a drum. They love to make an old paper towel tube into a trumpet. They are both fascinated by sticking stickers on things.
But when it comes right down to it, their play is fundamentally different, because THEY are fundamentally different. And although I would never tell my daughter that she can’t be a construction worker or an engineer simply because she’s a girl, and I would never tell my son that he can’t be a nurse or a teacher because he’s a boy, I do believe that their future interests are going to be very divergent from each other just due to their natures, which are in part due to their gender. Because they’re different. And viva la difference!

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Monday, March 25, 2013

I Saw the Sign(s)

Since this morning was sunny and relatively warm, and since my kids (and myself) seem to be suffering from a bit of cabin fever and a desperate need of fresh air, I decided that it would be a good day to take a long walk. And since I’ve been reading up on homeschooling lately and am getting inspired, I also decided that it would be a good opportunity to learn about spring. So as part of our walk, we looked for signs of spring. This is what we found!

1.      Puddles
We traced some puddles back to clumps of snow that were melting. We traced other puddles back to hoses coming from people’s basements. Both sources of puddles are definitely a sign that the snow is melting and spring is coming!
2.      Mud
Much like #1 above, mud is a sometimes unpleasant sign of the coming of spring. Melting snow mixed with road sand and clots of dirt thrown up by careless snowplows results in fascinating mud sculptures in the shape of everything from tire ruts to fantastical cityscapes. And, of course, muddy footprints. Lots of muddy footprints. A sign not only of the arrival of spring but also of the need of spring cleaning in its many forms.
3.      Easter decorations
We saw several houses with Easter flags or Easter baskets or Easter bunnies or spring wreaths hanging on their front doors. We saw one house with two bushes out front covered with brightly colored plastic Easter eggs. We saw a neighbor hanging up a big Easter bunny flag. He asked my son if the Easter bunny was coming to our house and what he would bring. My son said that he WAS coming and would bring us Easter eggs with candy inside! Anticipation of Easter candy by small children is a sure sign of spring.
4.      Birds
We heard lots of birds singing their spring songs: the distinctive “chim-chim-cherreeee” of a red-winged blackbird, the “sweeeeeetie” call of a lovesick chickadee, the serene hooting of a mourning dove. We saw a robin hopping about searching for worms. We saw a bird’s nest in a tree. Seeing and hearing more birds than we have in a while, and especially hearing the change in their songs to their spring mating calls, is one of the earliest – and one of my favorite – signs of spring.
5.      Budding plants
The tree in our front yard has fat, fuzzy buds all over it. There are a dozen or so dwarf irises peeking their little green noses through the dirt and snow by our front steps. We saw some forsythia that was starting to bud. One of our neighbors has clumps of some kind of decorative grass that has some fresh, bright green tips poking up among the dead brown leaves from last year. In a year when we’ve been taunted by warm weather interspersed with snowstorms, new green leaves are a reassurance that eventually the snowstorms will stop coming and the warm spring weather will be here to stay.
It felt good to get some fresh air and exercise, it felt great to spend time talking and learning with my kids, but it felt spectacular to prove to myself that spring really is on its way. I know it is, because I saw the sign(s)!

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Lovely is as Lovely Does

It’s a relatively common occurrence for a stranger to approach me in a store, or a restaurant, or a playground, or at church, and tell me, “Your children are just lovely.” I always accepted it as a sweet commentary on their looks, as my children are – in my entirely biased opinion – quite good-looking.
But yesterday I was in Costco with both kids, and when my son got a sample of some treat or another, he immediately told the lady giving out the samples, “Thank you.” She seemed quite surprised and told him, “You’re welcome!” then said to me, “Wow. Most of the adults don’t even say thank you.” And it occurred to me that what is unusual and striking about my children is not so much their looks, but their behavior and their manners.
Now, I’m not quite egotistical enough to assume that my parenting skills alone are what make my children unusually pleasant to be around. They're just naturally very good-natured, happy children. But I am egotistical enough to believe that without my making an effort to teach them politeness and proper social behavior, even my sweet-tempered children would not behave as well as they do. Without guidance, my son would probably say hello to other people, because he’s social and he likes people. But he certainly wouldn’t know to offer someone his hand and say, “Hi, I’m Ryan. Nice to meet you!” Nor would he know to say, “Excuse me,” and then wait to be spoken to rather than interrupting a conversation. He certainly couldn’t know to say “please” and “thank you” without being taught. And my daughter wouldn’t know that throwing herself on the ground and screaming when she doesn’t get her way is not proper public behavior. (Or private, for that matter.) Nor would either of them instinctively share toys or take turns at games with other children. But my husband and I have made a very deliberate effort to teach our children to be pleasant and polite. We’ve taught them how to behave in church, how to behave in a theater, and how to behave in a restaurant. Are they perfectly behaved in all of these venues? Of course not. But they know what they’re aiming for, and they know there will be trouble if they don’t make the effort to be polite and use their manners.
So the next time someone comes up to me and tells me how lovely my children are, I’ll think, “Lovely is as lovely does.” And I’ll say, “Thank you.” Because my Mama taught me how to be polite.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

In Other News, Water is Wet

My son, being three years old, is naturally fascinated with water. Any time I need him out from underfoot for a few minutes while I make dinner, or fold laundry, or unload the groceries, I can always keep him busy by letting him play with water in the sink.

His fascination with water started very early, in the bathtub. Many babies hate baths at first, but my son loved the water as soon as he could kick his feet and make it splash.
When he got big enough to play with bubbles, tubby toys, and bathtub crayons, he would gladly have stayed in the tub until he shriveled up like a raisin.

And when summer came and he had an entire pool to play in, my otter baby was in his glory.

So what is it about water that is so fascinating? Is it how it looks, how it feels, how it sounds, how it moves? I think it’s all of those things, and more. Water can run through your hands, fly into the air, separate into tiny droplets then join together into a puddle. It can make a sprinkle of sugar or salt disappear, turn a blob of soap into a froth of bubbles, and change a pinch of dull-colored powder into a cup of brightly flavored drink. It can make your shirt stick to you. It can transform boring dirt into delightful mud. It can be as huge as an ocean, with waves that knock you over. It can be as tiny as a drop of dew sparkling on a flower petal. It can be a home to snails and tadpoles and sea stars and sharks and octopi.
(Photo taken by my son at the New England Aquarium.)
It can fall from the sky. It can bubble up from the earth. It can turn hard, crunchy pasta into delicious, chewable dinner. It can cool you off on a hot day – either by pouring it on your outside or by pouring it into your inside. It can make a beautiful rainbow in the sky.
When you stop and think about all the things that water can do, it’s surprising that we adults don’t spend more time playing with it. It is pretty amazing stuff, after all. And best of all, it’s WET!!

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Google Me

I am fascinated by Google. I am fascinated by its search paradigms. I am curious about how it tries to predict (usually incorrectly) what I am searching for. I am often bewildered by its choice of results for a given search. But above and beyond all of that, I am positively mesmerized by the results of googling myself.

Not long after I was married, I googled my name and came across a breeder of vanilla Labradors, my mother-in-law, my husband’s ex-wife, and eventually myself (listed on a theatrical board of directors and in a video of my engagement). Just this morning, I did a Google image search of myself and came up with the following:

·        Actual photos of me – exactly what I would expect (and want) from such a search.

o   My Facebook profile picture

o   A few of my elementary school photos

o   Photos from theatrical productions in which I’ve performed

o   The book I wrote on the history of my in-laws’ dance studio

·        People who share my name – an obvious connection and a reasonable result.

o   The web page of a woman who recycles used leather jackets

o   A group photo of scientists

o   My mother-in-law’s most recent professional headshot

·        People connected or related to me somehow – a shared surname or a reference to me, and another reasonable set of results.

o   My stepdaughter’s college photo

o   Various candid photos of my kids and my husband

o   Some vintage photos of my parents and grandparents

But here’s where it gets weird: There is a whole series of photographs that seem to have no relation to me or my name at all. Check out these random hits:

·        Food.

o   A breakfast dish at a diner in New Orleans which involves bacon, a soft-boiled egg, home fries, and green olives

o   A plate of deviled eggs

o   Homemade Jello fruit snacks

o   A pan of chicken alfredo with artichoke hearts

·        Random people.

o   President Obama (several times)

o   A stylist at a salon in Texas

o   People at a fundraising auction in Alabama

o   A bride and groom at a shooting range (bride is carrying a large shotgun)

o   A Bates College basketball player

·        Totally random stuff.

o   A photograph of what appears to be four empty flagpoles on fire

o   A vintage birdcage

o   A poster for a museum discussion on why Jane Austen never married

o   The schedule for a Sports Medicine symposium

o   A white picket fence draped with Mardi Gras beads

I have no doubt that if I delved deeper into these seemingly unconnected pages I would find some kind of connection. Perhaps the birdcage was pinned on Pinterest by someone who also pinned something from my Pinterest board; perhaps the deviled egg recipe is courtesy of a cook who shares my first or last name; perhaps whoever was attending the discussion of Jane Austen also linked to a blog entry I’d written about Austen’s books. There may even be some more distant connections: perhaps the basketball coach at Bates studied under my husband’s uncle, a well-known college athletic director; perhaps the pattern of the plate on which the deviled eggs were served somehow incorporates my last name; perhaps the people at the auction were raising funds for a non-profit organization to which I have made a donation.

It serves to remind me that as big as the world is, we are all more closely interconnected than we sometimes think. After all, me to Kevin Bacon is only six degrees of separation: I’ve performed in a show with Matthew Solomon, Matthew’s mother Nancy Kerrigan was on “Skating with Celebrities” with Kristy Swanson, who was in “Hot Shots!” with Cary Elwes, who was in “The Crush” with Alicia Silverstone, who was in “Beauty Shop” with Kevin Bacon. And of course, me to President Obama is only one degree. It’s true – ask Google!

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Please Don't Sees the Charmin

Since I am female, my bathroom sink is naturally covered with various assorted hair, soap, and cosmetic products. I’m relatively low maintenance, but I still have hairspray, several bottles of perfume, facial mask, hair smoothing cream, a bottle of vitamins, a bottle of pain reliever, several prescription bottles, three kinds of toothpaste (adult, child, infant) and three toothbrushes, several water glasses (my son backwashes so I don’t like to share), a hair dryer, and glasses cleaning spray all taking up space on my sink. So when I saw a flier advertising a sale on an over-the-toilet shelving unit, I couldn’t resist. I went and bought it the next morning, and as soon as I got both kids down for their naps, I put it together and rearranged my bathroom. Not only was I able to tuck away all my products, I was even able to create a little “guest area” with a set of hotel soaps, shampoos, conditioners, and even a sewing kit I snagged from some posh hotel, plus an extra roll of toilet paper. And then I stood back and looked at my handiwork.

And immediately realized I had to hide the toilet paper.

Now, I know that everyone uses toilet paper. Everyone knows that everyone uses toilet paper. And yet, there seems to be something innately shameful about toilet paper. Why else would we feel the need to hide that extra roll? We’ve been doing it for decades – probably for centuries. Think about it: didn’t your parents’ house – or at least, your grandparents’ house – have one of these sitting on the toilet tank to hide that extra roll?

Maybe the crafter in your family was more whimsical so you had something with more personality like one of these:

You might even have had holiday and seasonal variations, like these:

Or maybe no-one in your family knitted or crocheted, so you had to make do with a wooden box:

The era of the crocheted TP cozy may have passed, but there are still plenty of contemporary options for hiding the shameful TP roll:

There are even some contemporary TP holders that serve to hide not just the spare roll, but the roll that you are actually using! They leave just enough room for the edge of the paper to peep out, but not so much that the sight of an actual roll of TP will be offensive to anyone using the facilities:

I’m as much of an animal-print fan as the next guy, but I’d be much more embarrassed about having this zebra print TP cover in my bathroom than I would an actual roll of toilet paper. So instead of investing in any of the charming little TP cozies above, I opted to just stick it behind the louvered doors of my new shelves. So if you’re ever at my house and you peep inside the cupboard, please promise you won’t faint when you discover a naked roll of toilet paper. And I promise I won’t faint when I realize that you used it.

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Monday, March 18, 2013

The School of Life

Even though my son is only three, I’m already thinking about school for him. He has a November birthday, which means he won’t be able to start kindergarten until he’s nearly 6, and since he is exceptionally tall for his age (he’s already the size of the average six-year-old), he’ll look pretty out of place. Not to mention that he already knows his letters and is able to spell out words, and can even sound out and read a few simple words like “on” and “off” and “go,” so by the time he starts public kindergarten he’ll probably be reading at about a 2nd or 3rd grade level. So my husband and I have agreed that home schooling him for a few years might be the best option.

Because I am a researcher by nature, I have already spent hours and hours online looking into homeschooling. What curricula are available, what local homeschooling groups we might be able to join, what our state requires for subjects and testing, etc. And what surprised me most during my research was how broad the parameters are for homeschooling subjects. Required subjects in my state are “orthography, reading, writing, the English language and grammar, geography, arithmetic, drawing, music, the history and constitution of the United States, the duties of citizenship, health education, physical education and good behavior." There are no other specific requirements for which subjects must be taught in any given year, or what aspects of those subjects must be taught. And it occurred to me that I am already teaching many of those subjects every day!

Here is an example of the subjects that I teach as part of everyday life during a typical day in our house:

Orthography (or, as most of us would call it, “spelling”): My son spells every word he sees all day long. We talk about how some letters can make different sounds (hard and soft G, long and short vowels) and how some sounds can be made by more than one letter (C and K, C and S, G and J). We list words that start with particular letters. I also give him credit for self-study for waking up in the morning and immediately reciting, “R-Y-A-N spells ‘Ryan’!” over and over until breakfast.  

Reading: Both during the day and at bedtime, we sit down and read books together, including classic literature such as “Make Way for Ducklings” and “Green Eggs and Ham.”

Writing: We color with crayons and he practices tracing over his name where I write it on his paper.

English language and grammar: We read books together and learn new vocabulary words. His vocabulary already includes words like, “humongous,” “stabilizer,” “genius,” and “paleontologist.” We talk about opposites: big and small, wet and dry, tall and short. We practice thinking of rhyming words: cat and hat, bug and rug, hot and pot. I also correct his grammar on a regular basis when he says things like, “We goed to the store,” or “I throwed the ball.” I encourage him to tell me stories. Sometimes they even have a somewhat logical plot.

Geography: I tell him the name of our street, our city, our state, and our country. We talk about different countries, and learn that kangaroos live in a country called Australia, tigers live in jungles in India, his cousins live in a country called France, and that people speak Spanish in the country called Mexico. I’m setting up the framework for basic cartography by teaching him right and left and asking him which way we go to get to the store, or to church, or to the playground, or to his grandparents’ house. (This is also helpful to me personally because I’m awful with directions and am sure I will be able to use his navigational assistance in the future.) The GPS in the car is a great source of fascination to him so we even talk about directions like east, west, north, and south, and how a map is a picture of part of the earth.

Arithmetic: My son is great at numbers and counting, so we’re already working on rudimentary addition and subtraction. We play the “what’s one more than…” game, we count how many crayons are in the box, we play the card game “War” to practice what number is bigger and what number is smaller. We practice counting by ones, twos, fives, and tens. We even do word problems like, “You have five goldfish crackers; how many will you have if you give two to your sister?” We learn geometry by talking about shapes, and how many sides and angles various figures have. We learn to identify a circle, triangle, square, diamond, rectangle, trapezoid, rhombus, pentagon, hexagon, and octagon. (Sorry, heptagon.)

Drawing: Construction paper and crayons are a regular part of our day. When the weather is nice, so is sidewalk chalk. It’s sometimes mere scribbling, but more and more often he’ll tell me that he’s drawing a robot, or a tree, or a rocket. And occasionally, I’ll even recognize a drawing of a human figure or a spider with being told!

Music: He can sing “Peter Peter Penguin,” “Little Boy Blue,” “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” “Happy Birthday,” "K-K-K-Katy," "Jesus Loves Me," and the chorus of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (which happened to be playing on the radio when we were on our way to the hospital for his birth, so that’s “his” song). He listens to the children’s CDs “Mr. Bach Comes to Call,” and “Beethoven Lives Upstairs” and recognizes several Beethoven pieces when his father plays them on the piano. We play the piano together (although it’s more John Cage than Beethoven). He strums the guitar. We talk about how sheet music tells you which notes to play on both instruments.

American history: My husband and I have taken him to the reenactment of the Battle of Lexington. We talk about how people used to live a long time ago, how they didn’t have bathrooms inside the house and how they rode in horse-drawn carriages and sleds instead of cars. I tell him about my childhood, and my parents’, and my grandparents’. I tell him that my grandmother's grandfather's great-grandfather sailed to America on a ship called the Mayflower.

For now, we’re skipping the US Constitution and the duties of citizenship. But we are learning about being a good neighbor by staying off other people’s lawns when we go for a walk and not crashing his tricycle into people’s cars, we bring him to the polls with us every time we vote, and he understands that his big sister is learning to be a soldier (she’s in the Army Reserves), so at least we’re setting the groundwork for the latter.

Health education: At meals, we discuss that it’s good for your body when you eat different kinds of foods, like milk, fruit, chicken, vegetables, and bread. I remind him that treats are something we only have every now and then. We talk about how germs make you sick and how washing your hands and getting shots help keep you healthy. We discuss how snot and poop take germs out of your body and why it’s so important to wash your hands extra carefully if you touch either of them. And that you should try really, REALLY hard not to touch either of them.

Physical education: We play basketball, football, and soccer, we run around the room for hours, we freestyle dance and do jumping jacks and somersaults. Since my husband is from a dance family, I’ve taught him a passé, an arabesque, and a shuffle. I tell him that exercise will help his body grow strong.

Good behavior: I teach him to say “thank you” when I bring him something and “please” when he asks for something. When we go out to dinner, I remind him to put his napkin in his lap, wipe his hands on his napkin and not his pants, not talk with his mouth full, put his fork on his plate rather than the table, use his quiet inside voice, and say “please” and “thank you” to the server. When we go to a playground or the church nursery, I remind him not to push other kids, even in fun, and to share the toys. I teach him to say, “Excuse me,” and then wait quietly if he wants to talk while his father and I are talking. We practice saying, "gesundheit" or "bless you" when someone sneezes and "excuse me" when we burp. I remind him that we try not to burp, and we try not to laugh hysterically when we do.

And over and above the required subjects, I teach other important subjects as well:

Biology: When we play with his stuffed animals, we talk about where each kind of animal lives and what kind of food they eat and what noises they make (he does a mean zebra imitation). We discuss poop. A lot. Dinosaur poop, elephant poop, worm poop, dog poop, people poop. He informs me that it comes out of the dinosaur’s/elephant’s/worm’s/dog’s/his bottom. I inform him that poop is what your body does to get rid of the parts of the food you eat that it can’t use. He is vastly more interested in the former fact than in the latter.

Home economics: He makes his own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He helps me make cornbread, shepherd’s pie, and brownies. He counts and cracks the eggs in every recipe that requires them. We learn about measurements like cups and tablespoons. We learn to pack brown sugar, shake cornmeal, and leave flour fluffy. We learn to stay away from the hot stove and not to lick the electric mixer while it’s plugged in.

Physics: We learn that things bounce off other things, like balls off walls, toy trucks off other toy trucks, and stuffed animals off his little sister. We learn the word “ricochet” (and use it often). I tell him that gravity is why things hit the floor when you drop them. We talk about how gravity is weaker on the moon and non-existent in space. We learn about water displacement when he gets in the tub and the water level goes up.

Astronomy: We look at the moon and discuss how sometimes it is a circle, called a “full moon,” and sometimes it is a semicircle, called a “crescent moon.” We talk about why we don’t always see it in the daytime and why it isn’t always in the same place in the sky. We look at the stars and talk about constellations and how they make shapes. He knows that Mars is the red planet and that our planet is called Earth. We talk about the sun being a star.

Architecture: We build towers of blocks and talk about why they don't fall over as easily when we give them a bigger base and a smaller top. We talk about why we can make a taller tower if we make sure that the blocks are nice and straight. We discuss why the little pig’s house made of straw was so much easier for the big bad wolf to blow over than the little pig’s house made of bricks.

Meteorology: We look at the different shapes of clouds and try to guess which ones are full of rain. We talk about what causes lightning and why we don’t need to be afraid of thunderstorms.

Looking at this list makes me realize that homeschooling doesn’t have to be intimidating. A child’s curiosity about life is a natural basis for teaching. You’re just teaching about life, after all. And I know life! It’s one subject with which I have plenty of experience.


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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?

I woke up at 1am last night to the sound of a barking cough coming from my son’s room, followed by hysterical crying and wheezing. My husband took him to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with croup and given a dose of steroids, a stint in cool mist, and a Popsicle. When they finally got home at around 3am, we decided it would be a bad idea to have him sleep in the same room with his sister, plus I wanted to be nearby in case he had further breathing distress, so he slept with me in my bed and my husband slept in the guest room.

Other than one ill-advised all-nighter in college, I got less sleep last night than I have in my entire life up to now.

I am what could generously be called a “restless sleeper,” but I am not even in the same category as my son. First of all, the excitement of being the center of attention at the ER, combined with a Popsicle and the relief of being able to breathe again, had given him a second wind so he wanted to sit up and tell me all about his adventures instead of going to sleep. Once I’d convinced him that his tales could wait until morning, he had a hard time finding a comfortable spot. He started with his head on his pillow, but quickly rearranged to clutch the pillow to his chest, then to hold the pillow over his head, and finally to throw the pillow to the foot of the bed. Then, being sans pillow, he decided to make ME his pillow. He tried resting his head on my shoulder, then crawled over so his head was on my chest, then attempted to drape across my whole upper body, rolled down over my legs, stretched himself out lengthwise over my entire body, and then (with some helpful “nudging” from me) scooted off me and ended up turning upside down with his head at my feet and his feet occasionally kicking me in the face or his knees poking me in the gut.

And then there was the blanket-stealing. Again, my own genetics are likely responsible, as I am an admitted blanket-hog, but my son has upped the ante. Not only did he pull the covers off me, but he did it by cocooning himself into them and rolling, thus pinning them under his own body weight and making it impossible for me to steal them back without spinning him around like a top. (Yes, I was tempted. Lucky for him he was sick, or I might have succumbed to that temptation.)

But the crowning glory was his bed-hogging ways. He’s pretty sneaky about it: it started with spooning against my back, but then one sharp little extremity or another poked me until I scooted over a bit, then he moved over to snuggle against me again, scoot-snuggle, scoot-snuggle, until suddenly I realized that I was clinging to the last 18 inches of mattress while he enjoyed the remaining 4 feet.

Adding insult to injury, of course, was the fact that he woke up at 7:45, happily chattering and full of energy, while I blearily mumbled a few responses and fantasized about a cup of coffee. I don’t know if I can get him to go to bed for a while this afternoon – not that I’m certain he’ll need a nap, but I’m certain that I will – but I do know one thing for sure: whatever bed he goes to sleep in tonight, it will not be the same one that I’m in. This bed’s just not big enough for the two of us.

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