Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Koala Report

Yesterday Will got home late and upset. He'd been working on an animal report, and he'd lost the rough draft. Knowing it was due the next day, he'd tried to recreate it, but when I read through it, I was disturbed by the fact-to-fiction ratio. Truth has been an ongoing issue with him this year, and it is too often passed over in favor of an embellished story. So in the koala report, the part about koalas getting flung out of eucalyptus trees had to go, as did the part where babies pinch their parents noses while sleeping. Then there were the nonsequiturs like "I've eaten bamboo!" and "G'day mate!". It was pretty short afterward, like "Hostel" on Clearplay. We underlined each of the facts in his report, then we looked up koalas on the internet to fill it in.
We discovered that like many marsupials, male koalas have bifurcated penises. I told Will "It pays to do the research, because truth is always stranger than fiction." but he just said "Uh, Mom, could you stop talking about it? It's pretty gross." You know you've struck gold when you can disgust a third-grade boy!
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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sebi's Fifth

Today was Sebastian's birthday. I really can't believe it's been five years since we had the quickest, easiest, delivery of any of the kids. You know, the way they tell you it's going to be in those birth classes: 'select some calming music and bring along candles to sniff' kind of nonsense that never actually is used or helps and generally just gets in the way. Well, with Sebastian it did happen. We brought Schubert's impromptus and read old Economists and he was born in about six hours of labor and I was a true convert to the epidural. Mmmm hmm!
Now look how huge he is! His grandpa took him out yesterday to buy him a bike helmet, having read that Sebi should have input on it so that he'd like it and be invested in it. Sebi's head was so mammoth that he didn't even fit the 8+ size. Yup, he's got a youth 14+ helmet and will probably turn out like HEEEED from So I Married An Axe Murderer (in case you haven't seen it, Heeeed is not an axe murderer, he just has a cranium like a 'virtual planetoid').
Sebi has also had a run of great one liners lately. I unfortunately can only remember three, and hope I haven't said them here before. Last week we took his dance teacher a CD of one of our favorite songs. Upon his return, he told me that she played it during class and they all danced. I asked him if he could show me how he'd danced to "Hey, Little Minivan" and he said "Mom, it's called provisation! It changes every time!" This week I asked what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday. I was thinking yellow-, chocolate-, pound-, bundt- or whatever, but he said "clone". This took a little sussing, but it turned out that he wanted a Star Wars Clone War cake. Here he is

creating the sound effects: (you didn't know that cakes had sound effects, did you?) Also on the subject of Sebastian and Star Wars, once upon a time we were concerned about his speech. At 18 months he had two words, and they were nearly indistinguishable. But after almost a year of speech therapy, lots of sign language videos, and many doctor appointments, he made great progress and now has no trouble getting his point across. Rob was watching Star Wars with him and asked Sebi who someone was. "Some wandom dude", Sebi replied. Indeed.
And finally, Aunt Kiecoo brought back a great set of cards from the MOMA when she visited New York in December. They have twenty four works of art shown at the museum, and then a detail from each one. The kids and I have used them to play Go Fish and Old Maid and Memory, and they're wonderful. The kids are really starting to recognize these pieces and I'm wishing that I could get some for the works they'll be seeing in Vienna. Tonight I was playing with Maddie and asking her for Marc Chagall's "I and the Village". She didn't know which one it was, and Sebi who wasn't playing and was across the room, piped up "It's the man with a axe killing a lady". Which is how it will always be known henceforth and forever, I'm afraid.

That's m'boy! He's such a thoughtful and helpful big brother that he could probably take care of Joss for a few hours by himself. He idolizes his big brother and his grandpa and would watch grass grow with them if that's what they were doing. He eats like he has two hollow legs, and his favorites are chicken curry ('lellow chicken'), green pasta (pesto), and peach soup, any of which he regularly has three to five servings of. He is a willing helper with shopping or laundry or dishes or cooking, and a great companion at the store. He's becoming a great reader, but I think the Wii and the trampoline are still his great loves. He makes friends and has fans wherever he goes, but his favorite is still Tomas. And Sebastian still wins for Most Ticklish Boy In The Universe. We love him!
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Brushes with Fame

Last week Rob's sister Betsy, who teaches school locally, had her students put on a play about World War II. She's perhaps the best teacher in the whole entire world, having received the genes from both her father and mother, and getting the nurture from them as well. So you'll have to believe me when I say that she is able to transform 30 kids from the east side of town into soldiers and mothers and children in concentration camps for half an hour. It is an amazing introduction for them to understand some world history. We always go, as much to show the kids as to support Betsy. This year, Rob came home from work, took one look at Joss, and decided he was not going to take that loud thing to the play. So I had to stay home with the Fluffster. I was even more sad about missing it when I found out that Thomas S. Monson (the LDS church's leader of leaders) attended it. He attended it to see his grandson, who was performing in it. Almost a decade ago, I actually taught this grandson at church. He was three, and very attached to his mother, and so I had to either teach her as well, or teach class with the door open while she sat out in the hall. Betsy assures me that he has gotten over this phase and she gets to teach with the door closed. So the kids got to see the prophet and all of them were too shy to do more than wave to him. Still very cool, and fun for Betsy. Everyone has been impressed that she had security guards at her school play.
I was consoled that I got to go to the Draper temple dedication on Sunday with Maddie while Rob had to stay at home with the boys.
Monday, however, I took Will out for a date. We went to the Nickelcade where he played video games for two hours. You can be impressed now. Even the Professor, der Besten Vater an der Welt, said he's not doing that. We played Super Mario and air hockey and Skee Ball and blowup and driving games. The deer hunting game was weird -- nice music and narration by a guy who sounded like Kenneth Ellen Parcell. I found myself being lulled into a pastoral respite until the buck was shot and mounted on the wall. Disturbing. Will's favorite was a snowmobiling game called Arctic Thunder where he chose to be a half gorilla/half turtle creature named Ponzo and blast his snowmobile through Chernobyl Disaster (I am not kidding you -- could I make this stuff up?). He probably played it 6-8 times.
For dinner, we went to CPK where we were seated within Skee Ball distance of this gentleman:
He was having the quintessential Utah Valley experience with what appeared to be his wife, two children, an in-law and three small grandchildren. I tried to explain to Will about purple socks and variety shows and "I'm a little bit country/I'm a little bit rock n' roll" but I'm afraid you just had to be there to understand the appeal. After dinner, we bought some shoes in the mall, and we saw him again at the Game Stop and hanging out by the cart with the baby leg warmers, his granddaughter on his shoulders. I was surprised no one was bugging him or even seemed to notice him. I guess that around here, a toddler is a great disguise.
Rob says that had he been there, he could not have helped himself. He (and his friend Heather A.) would have serenaded Osmondia with their spoons for mics
"May tomorrow be a perfect day/ May you find love and laughter along the way/ May God keep you in his tender care/ 'till he brings us together again."
I don't doubt that the Professor would have done it.

The Boy-O-Matic

Last week, Will told me that he wanted to build a machine that would get him out of bed in the morning, get him dressed and make him breakfast. He wanted to call it the Boy-O-Matic. Probably because of the gendered name, it make me think about these types of machines in movies and the fact that they are always for men (usually eccentric bachelor- or widower-type men). There's the famous breakfast machine for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Wallace & Gromit's alarm clock/dressing/breakfast machine, one in Calvin and Hobbes, Back to the Future and several I've never seen in Flubber, Brazil, Honey I Shrunk The Kids, The Great Mouse Detective, and Waiting. As often as not, we see them malfunction (and never really quite function). I guess the joy is all in the tinkering.
But I tried to think about any female character who wanted, created or used something like this, and I couldn't come up with anyone. The closest thing I could think of was Cher in Clueless with her computer software to design and select her outfits for her. So I'm wondering why getting ready in the morning is seen as such an arduous task by the male half of the population. And why women, who do these things not only for themselves, but also for family, don't express the same need to get out of the rut and assign the task to someone or something else.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pinewood Derby

This is the last time Rob's cub scouts were all together. We have just had a ward realignment, which as the Professor says "in the parlance of the ward, it was a 'reduction' not an 'augmentation'". So we're down from two dozen or so cubs to about 16.

This is Will putting his solid gold car up at the gate. It turned out to be a lightweight, but everyone was gracious at this event, sharing their graphite and helping out (we'd heard legends of grumpy parents and people fighting, but nothing like it here). Another cub's dad helped Will to add weights to it while Rob supervised, and in the end it raced well. Poor Will is the scout we're having to learn on. We'll know better next year. In the meantime, his car had flash and style. The gentleman on the right is Rob's assistant cub master and secret weapon: he did everything. Rob just had to show up and yell. And now Joel has been called elsewhere and Rob has got to find a new one.
Never having participated before, I was most impressed by the setup. The track had a digital finish line which was connected to a laptop. The computer randomized the heats and ensured that each car raced once in each of the four lanes, then totaled the times and had the three top cars race another four heats. Our Derby man and his lovely assistant were the bomb. For his part, he said our scouts were some of the best behaved he'd seen (imagine that!).
As for design, it was more mellow than the cake decorating. Here's a speed racer, a stealthmobile, and a Patrick car (from the boy who won last month with the Sponge Bob cake). You really had to have a pink car to stand out in a crowd of two dozen cars.

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If History is Any Guide

Rob and I have just survived yet another of the kids' patriotic programs. There is a regional event around here which I shall call Heap of America. It brings in thousands of elementary school kids to our very own Big Mac on campus to sing patriotic songs and cause traffic jams. Our school gets so fired up about it that they hold their own event every other year (perhaps we'll call it Heaplet of America). It isn't our favorite. Actually we loathe it. The kids miss class daily for about a month beforehand. The crowds are huge and unruly. In past years rival groups of Polynesians tried to outdo each other in hooting for their kids. Everyone is crammed into folding squeaky metal chairs in the gym. You can never see your child because ImaLou has got her beehive up a good six inches tonight or her husband LaPriel has a vintage 15 lb. video camera going directly in front of your child's face. This year both kids even had to sit and sing with the lights off for a slide show for one number. I told Rob "I will come to these to see my children, but I did NOT come to watch pictures of Neal Armstrong, or empty combat boots, or weeping children after Katrina. Bag the slide show!"
But really, we are deeply uncomfortable with the messages being taught. IMHO, it brings out an element of the people here which is 1.unflattering and 2.already ominpresent in the seventh month of the year. I would have to call it the kind of patriotism which confuses nationalism with rooting for the home sports team/wearing a flight suit on a battleship/beating ones chest.
Now, let's get it straight. Rob and MA are patriots. We're simply patriots of a different stripe. We believe that being American means appreciating the multiplicity of cultures that made America. It makes us happy to have kids from Argentina and Spain and Vietnam and China and India in the neighborhood, and it makes us squeamish to hear them singing about America as the One True Country. As Barbara Kingsolver says, "every country has its motto, and none of them is 'We're Number Two!'" As the melting pot or the salad bowl or whatever we are these days, we should be sensitive to the dual loyalties.
When Maddie was in first grade, she was singing "It's A Grand Old Flag" and was excited to perform it for us. She sang us a coda that had a line about "everything I love is within its borders". Rob quizzed her on this: "So, Maddie, is that true? You don't really like Nutella, or the Ferris Wheel at the Prater, or Ritter Sport or Apfelsaftgespritz, or Sissi or the Hofburg?" (and on and on) and poor Maddie was heartily confused. Six is a tender age to stare into the dark world of adult agendas.
We believe that being a good American also entails behaving with good grace in those other cultures. Just as missionaries are expected to be good emissaries of Christ for example, and not sit on the statue of the Buddha, we teach our children and our students to behave well abroad. Make an attempt not to talk loudly and wear neon T-shirts and matching his and hers white sneakers, like Marvin and Carol in David Sedaris's "Picka Pocketoni" (which if you have not read it, will make you squirt soda out your nose; you should run and get a copy immediately if you're in need of that sort of thing). Our experience is that we've found things that are easy to appreciate in every place we've been: the landscape in Chile, the drunk driving laws in Great Britain, the healthcare in Germany, and plenty of other examples.
The good news is that this year Maddie had two of the most inoffensive numbers on the program: Fifty Nifty United States (informational as well!) and the I Have A Dream speech song (cue the slide show again). Will's Neal Armstrong piece was also good, but essentially cancelled out by the third grade's medley of military anthems, for which we had to shell out four bucks to become the owners of a camouflage hat. Will owned camouflage pants in Vienna in 2005, a mistake I do not mean to duplicate. Ever.
The best news though is that we're done. This year we sat in front of neighbors who have been attending these since 1978. I am going to need a truckload of German chocolate to get me through that many patriotic programs.
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Sebi: Linguistic Artist

This little boy doesn't think he knows German. A few months back he informed me that he only knew one German word: "wasser". The problem is that he doesn't know what is German and what is English. Sort of. His orthopedic surgeon got a huge kick out of the fact that when Rob was talking to him in German at the hospital, he said "Dad, talk English to me!", but the kid had a broken arm! Last week while I was out one night, Rob had Sebi and Joss at home. He took advantage of the time by playing Star Wars with Sebi and speaking lots of German with him. It backfired on him.
Sebi said he was tired. Rob repeated it in German "Ich bin mude" to have Sebi say it. Sebi said, a la Jar Jar Binks, "Mesa mude". He tried to get Sebi to say "Wir sind in der Badewanne" and Sebi said "Wesa in der Badewanne".
Currently Sebi seems to be winning this war. It remains to be seen who comes out ahead once we're in Austria and there are good things to be had for those who can say them. I don't know if "Oh mooey mooey I love Kaiserschmarrn" is going to play well in the empire's capital.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

There Will Be No Accompanying Photo With This Story

Tonight our guests very graciously complimented our dining room chairs and Rob and I were talking about all the other dining sets that we'd had before this one. We'd had the table that Rob inherited from his grandparents from an old folks' home in Florida, which he wrote his thesis on and would periodically write notes on when he happened to run out of paper (you'd have to ask if he'd gotten everything down somewhere else before you could wipe the surface). Later that table became Maddie's changing table which would have been dangerous had it not been shoehorned in between all the rest of our furniture.
Then there was the D.I. trestle table which seemed like such a step up. At one point, we had two arm chairs my parents had given us as projects, with cane seats and backs. One of them had a rip in the caning on the back. At dinner one night, Maddie was sitting in it, wiggling around in her seat, when suddenly she worked herself into the rip. It tore loudly, she lost her balance, looked very surprised, and fell right through onto the floor behind.
I thought it was the funniest thing to happen at the dinner table in a long time, and started to laugh uncontrollably. Maddie, meanwhile, had gotten the wind knocked out of her, but when she caught her breath, she began to squeal, not only because she hurt and was afraid, but also because her mother was laughing at her. I got down on the floor to help her up, and rub her back, still cackling about it, but she would not calm down. She, still screaming at the top of her lungs, threw up all over me.
This is only one of the many reasons that I'm glad to have a dining room set.