Time... According to a Child

 
   

How amazing it must be to have no concept of time? How liberating.

Plotting our sons growth alongside the chart of mankind’s evolution, he is close to understanding that as the sun settles near the horizon it's time to get back to the cave.

Walking upright? Check.

Simple cave drawings? Check.

Charting the Suns movement across the sky and breaking it into 24 equal increments? Hardly.

Our five year old's time thumps to the rhythm of his own internal combustion engine... and the beat of his imagination. Unless it's a school day and his routine is orchestrated by our needs, he wakes when his body tells him he's had enough sleep. It's never the “groggy, rolling out of bed hesitant to start the day” look. His is the “I got exactly the amount of sleep by body needs to replenish the energy I lost on the previous day playing and doing kid stuff” look. It's our job though to manipulate his clock.

He has yet to fully comprehend that the numbers on the face represent the time of day. His only perspective is sun up versus sun down.

As his overlord, there have been a few days I've set the stationary teaching clock on the wall in his room to 7:50am and told him he can't get up until 8. It's nice playing god.

He has yet to figure out how morning fog can delay wake-up time.

“Nope. Sun’s not out yet… Back to bed.”

Curtains were invented not for privacy but to control a kids sleep patterns.

We've taught him days in how many sleeps he will have between now and the event in question. But that doesn't always stick. Maybe we need a slow burning rope with knots for days? Or an hourglass.

Mankind has come so far. Childkind? Not so much.

I told him recently I was coming to observe him at school the following week. The following Tuesday. That day was Friday.

“Are you coming to my school tomorrow?”

“No, tomorrow is Saturday. I will be there Tuesday. Four sleeps.”

“Tomorrow is Tuesday!”

“Well, it’s not. Today is Friday. Tomorrow is Saturday. If tomorrow was Tuesday, tonight would be a school night and you would have school tomorrow.”

“I don’t have school tomorrow! Tonight is not a school night! Are you coming to my school tomorrow?”

I told him to think that over.

On the news one morning he overheard the reporter mention an approaching nor'easter.

“Yay! Tomorrow is Easter!”

“Well, no. It’s not. Easter is always on a Sunday. Today is Friday… that makes tomorrow what?”

“Easter! I can’t wait. He said it was Easter! Did you know the Easter Bunny lives in the ground? Why do they live in the ground? Is it cold down there?”

He has it in his head that Halloween happens when it’s dark out. Occasionally, as the sun is setting he will exclaim! “Yay! It’s Halloweentime! I love Halloween. What am I going to dress up as tonight?”

When you have no concept of time the daily rotation of the earth determines the holidays. That and seasonal holiday decorations.

At the sight of Christmas lights up in March. “Yay! It's Christmas! I've been a good boy this year. I hope Santa comes.”

“It's not been a year. It's only March.”

“I don't like to march. I can do a somersault though. And skip.”

And blowing leaves means it's Fall.

“Yay! It's fall! The leaves are falling!”

“Well, it's actually spring. Summer will be here soon.”

“No it won't. It was hot yesterday. Summer was yesterday.”

To be unburdened by time. What a peaceful world.

He's watching the earth move and slowly assigning values to its position. And when that doesn't work… He pulls holidays out of the air.

“You're wearing red? Yay! It's Valentine’s Day! I love Valentine’s Day. Can we get some chocolate?”

“Not necessarily. But today is not Valentine's Day. It will be Valentine's Day in a year.”

“When I am six?”

“Yes.”

“Yay! When I turn six it will be Valentine’s Day. And my birthday! At the same time! Yay!"

Let's hope he doesn't see a turkey that day or we'll have Thanksgiving too.

 

This Christmas... He's a Believer

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This is his fifth Christmas and this year he’s a believer. We took him to see Santa last week. We went to the good one. The Friday night Mall Santa. Not the Tuesday morning B-Shift guy. Our guy was the real deal. At least the boy thought so.

We got to the mall early at five to beat the rush. It was shift change. Luckily they build in a thirty minute buffer between Santa’s so the kids don’t see one tap out for the other.

“You’re in John. Rough crowd today.”

“I can tell. Is that gum in your beard?”

Our A team Kris Kringle apparently started his shift at 5:30. It was five and we had to wait. I thought this would be an issue. Little boys aren’t known for their patience. I started pulling out the old tricks.

“Wanna go look at the train display?” I asked him.

“Nope.”

“Go look around the toy store?”

“Nope.”

“Get some ice cream and eat is real slowly?”

“Nope.”

“What do you want to do?”

“I want to sit here and wait for Santa.”

And sit and wait we did. For thirty minutes. Patiently.

He’d hear a phone ring in the distance.

“Oh! Is that Santa!”

“Nope.”

He’d hear the jingle of someone passing into the jewelry store.

“I hear Santa! I hear Santa!”

“Not this time, Son. Soon though. Soon.”

Never in his his nearly five years on Earth has he sat so still and eager.

In years past I’d review the script of what he was to do when he got up to Santa.

“And then you will walk up to that stranger and smile at the camera and tell him what you would like for Christmas and that you’ve been a good boy.”

Not this year. He wrote it himself. He only wanted one thing. And when he ran up and sat on Santa’s lap he delivered. He made fools of the crying kids after him. He high fived us when he jumped down and relayed the conversation to us.

It’s going to be a fun Christmas.

Luckily, we know what that one thing is.

National Adoption Month. Where Do Storks Come From?

stork-and-baby
stork-and-baby

“Father?” Said the almost five year old. “Listen, there is something I’ve been thinking about. You and I have been watching a lot of classic television programing lately. Shows like Tom and Jerry and Dumbo and I’ve noticed that in them, often a Stork drops off a baby to Moms and Dads.”

“Yes?” I answer while thinking, “Here we go. It’s time to talk about his adoption story. Where’s Mom? It’s something her and I have had on our to-do list but just haven’t gotten to. Damn you MarioKart.”

“So in these shows,” He continues. “The families always receive their babies from flying Storks. They are dropped from the moonlit sky and the little ones float in under a full parachute safely to land on the doorstep of their eager families. I’ve seen a Stork drop little elephants, giraffe and humans. All sorts of things. But what I’m wondering is this. Who brings the Storks?”

“Uh, I’m not sure I follow?”

“Well. A Stork flying around with a baby llama is quite a sight. Clearly that’s not the Storks child. It doesn’t look like her. It doesn’t even have wings. The same with a baby alligator. The Stork is going to drop off the alligator to an alligator family. Why would a Stork be flying around with an alligator if not to drop it off at its real family? But why would she deliver a Stork to another Stork? Wouldn’t they be able to deliver their own baby? Is this why we never see them flying around with a baby Stork in the basket?”

“There is a lot to cover here?” I said. “Maybe we should wait for your Mom to get home. I think I’m going to go play some MarioKart.”

“I guess my question is this. Where do Storks come from?”

“Just so we are clear here, Son.” I ask him. “We are talking about Storks right? The bird.”

“Of course we are Father. What else would it be? I understand that when a Stork is flying around with a potbellied pig in her basket or cloth sack no one would guess that it is hers because the pig looks so different. Same with a baby zebra. But if the reason we never see Storks flying around with their own is because Storks deliver themselves… where do Storks come from?”

“Okay. First of all. Families are made of all types of animals. Moms and Dads adopt children from other species and they make beautiful families. Even when they look different and have different features. Sometimes a bird may have a donkey for a son and that is just fine. Or a monkey. Second. Storks do fly around with other Storks. Just not in the basket. Baby birds can fly too so they just fly alongside their parents.”

“Surely they can’t fly at birth. How do they get to their parents houses?”

“Magic.” I said.

“That’s not true.”

“A Genie in a bottle.” I answer.

“Like Aladdin?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t believe that answer either.”

“Amazon Prime. They come in those brown boxes.”

“Oh. That makes sense. Amazon drops off all the babies that way right? Then on moonlit nights, the Storks fly them to their families?” He asks.

“Yep. You got it. Until the drones take over. They will put all the Storks out of business.”

“Oh. One more thing?” He asks. “Am I adopted?”

“Yes. And we love you very much.”

“Thanks Dad. Can we order a sister from Amazon?”

His First Joke

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For the first time in his life he has come up with something funny. Months later he still calls back to it. And it is funny. He’s had funny moments before. He’s pulled some physical gags and laughed at himself and then asked if it was silly. But this is his first joke.

Sometime late summer the subject of a sweet dessert came up. He was asking for it and I didn’t know what it was. He wasn’t saying it right. His pronunciation was off. It didn’t make sense. It was something he got somewhere and I didn’t know what it was. At four he’s too young to have things in his life I’m not aware of. We both laughed (hysterically) as I made it into a game of twenty questions. He caught on to the bit and riffed with me.

He was asking for something that sounded to me like “Fruit Myer”.

“Is it cold?”

“Yes!” He said laughing implying that of course it is served cold.

“Is it in the refrigerator or the freezer?”

“It’s in the freezer silly!”

“What color is it?” I asked.

“Green.”

“And what is it called again?”

“I told you. Fruit Myer!”

“I have no idea what this is! Maybe next time we are in the store you can point it out to me.”

“They don’t have Fruit Myer in the store, Silly! You are so crazy.”

"Also, Dude. Fruit Myer is not the preferred nomenclature." I added.

I have no idea what this stuff is.

My clues so far.

It’s green. It’s served cold. You eat it with a spoon. It makes a mess if you spill it. You get sick if you eat too much of it. Asking if it is bigger than a breadbox makes no sense to him. They don’t sell it at the store. You’d be crazy to think they did.

I’m guessing it’s some kind of green ice cream that my Mother-in-Law bought him.

She was also the source behind another mystery. One that I was able to solve.

That one was easier to piece together.

He asked for a popsicle from the freezer and when it was lemon instead of chocolate he demanded I put it under running water. “It will turn to chocolate!”

“No it won’t.” I said.

“Under the water! It will turn to chocolate! I don’t want lemon! I want chocolate!”

“That doesn't make any sense! That is impossible!” I yelled back matching his volume for affect. “Running water will not turn frozen lemonade into chocolate! It will turn it into more lemonade!”

I proved this and subsequently disappointed him in the name of science. His expression when I gave him a plastic stick that once held a popsicle was actual comedy.

“See!" I waved it. Again, for affect. "No chocolate!”

I may have over done it. He sulked. Tough audience.

My hypothesis. His Grammy makes him frozen popsicles with chocolate milk. She also makes him some from lemonade. My guess is to help extricate them from their plastic mold she runs them under water to loosen them up. Perhaps the lemonade variety doesn't need loosening? He must think we have a Willy Wonka sink that can turn anything into a chocolate popsicle?

But. To the current mystery. And joke.

Months later he will call back to the Fruit Myer bit and laugh knowing it’s funny.

It may begin with him chuckling, “Remember the Fruit Myer?”

I will laugh and start the round of the twenty questions again.

Even better is when I catch him laughing to himself and then when I ask him what’s funny he says snickering, “Fruit Myer.”

It’s a joke we share. A joke him and I wrote and one that I think he finds as funny as I do.

Maybe I don't want to ever know what Fruit Myer is?

My Son. My Chronological Yardstick

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spacegrowththinEvery memorable event in my life that happened before the spring of 2010 is filed away in my brain with a five year buffer. My mental calendar from the era before I had a child is ordered in half decade increments. When did I graduate college?

“I was done wearing flannel shirts by that time... mid to late 90's?”

Since my son was born he has become a yardstick on which I measure time. Instead of just inches marked off on the door frame I see months and the corresponding historical events. I look at his growth notches on the wall like a geologist sees the colors of a canyon.

My brother was married the month our son’s adoption was official. June 2010.

February 2011 he started scooting around the coffee table on his way to becoming bipedal.

In addition to tagging my memory with his chronology, I’ve watched the evolution of mankind as he’s inched his way up my leg. His descent from the crib akin to early man deciding that a tree wasn’t such a great place to raise a family. Soon after conquering land he began grunting and sketching crude drawings on the walls. This led to the use of simple tools and more complete sentences and an attempt to overthrow the established rules of the house. He assumed he was smarter than his elders but didn’t yet realize that we control the food and the bath toys.

It’s just a matter of time before I catch him sitting around a plastic round table with his playmates playing Rock Paper Scissors to decide who gets to be Braveheart this time.

“They will never take away our Freedom!”

I can’t wait for him to catch up with the 1960’s human and enter the space race in the backyard. Am I allowed to impart my wisdom onto him or do I have to let him fail in order to achieve global dominance? Does he need to lose a few model Estes rockets because my interference will disrupt the space time continuum? I’d hate to walk back inside after properly staging his rocket engines when he’s not looking to find my image fading in the few physical photos we have on the wall.

And when he actually becomes smarter than his elders I’ll be certain to hide the growth chart from him so he can’t rewrite history. It will be saved for posterity so I can remind him where he came from if his power becomes too great for him to handle.

“Right there. That is when you first inched up to my waistline.”

Hopefully he will still look up to me as he did then.

If not, I'll just take away his bath toys.

On Father's Day

Taken from my vantage point
Taken from my vantage point

I used to give lip service on Fathers Day. Cards were sent and thanks was given and the love was spread around as abundantly and efficiently as I could spread it. But I’m not sure I really meant it.

And then I became a Dad and realized that my life was no longer about me anymore and I began to appreciate the sacrifices my Father and Step Father accepted to raise me. They shaped the man and father that I am today.

My buddy offered a simple line of advice before I became a dad. He, having already tread into this new world said, “It’s no longer about us anymore.”

And it’s not.

The time I give to myself or my wife is the time between all the times when my son is my first priority. I remember that line on those rushed days when I look down to the smiling boy holding my hand and see that he’s well fed and bathed and smells good and is comfortable and relaxed and I’ve not eaten, rested or had my own visit to the ‘potty’ since he woke up.

Taken from my vantage point again. Luckily they sat down.
Taken from my vantage point again. Luckily they sat down.

I never realized what these men (along with the corresponding moms in the equation) gave up for me until I started counting the things I have given up for him. And my child is only 4!

I never realized what they gave me until I started seeing myself in my son. More importantly, I never realized what they gave me until I started seeing them in me.

And as parent, this happens more often now than ever before. The way I discipline, counsel and praise all have roots in my own childhood. When I’m complimented on how I interact with my son I think to my own childhood and give a silent thanks to my fathers. When I look at myself in the mirror after a long day of child raising I wonder how they handled it. Good music and a pop top beer?

I also look at myself though and wonder how old my son will be when he sees pictures of me from this era and questions my hairstyle or choice of glasses. Hopefully he'll say fondly, "Yep, that's my dad."

Yep, those are my dads. Happy Fathers Day.

The Beat Poets Taught Me How to Talk to a Four Year Old

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jack_kerouac___on_the_road_3_by_nicadom

Many days during my college decade were spent studying the Beat Poets and experimenting with stream of consciousness prose. We turned words cut from the newspapers into dialog and had nonsense talks over wine. We verbally riffed and let our talks ebb and flow on a course of their own often ending where they began... with a twist.

Talking to a four year old takes me back to that time. Those late night jams wired my brain to help me navigate most of my dialogs now. At least the ones I have with him. The child.

With him, I know where our conversations start and how I want them to end... my job is to orchestrate the words to reach that desired crescendo. I take his words... cut them up and use them against him. All the while letting him think he has a say in things. He's just providing the tempo.

For me, it's lots of verbal bait and switch. Subtle misdirection.

Our breakfast conversation may start with him telling me how much he "Doesn't like bagels! I will never eat them again!" With my conductors baton in hand the talk will end with him devouring a bagel telling me "This is my favorite food ever!"

But between those two points... is magic.

"I don't like bagels! I will never eat them again!" He says pushing his plate away.

"I know you don't like them. The cream cheese is horrible anyways." I add.

"I don't like cream cheese!"

"Cream cheese... string fleas... pink bees... crinkly knees." I rhyme.

"Trees! Trees rhymes with bees!" He sings.

"Sneeze and breeze and flying trapeze. Let's not forget the peas." I say.

"I like peas." He says smiling.

"I like peas too. And bagels." I strike.

"You don't like bagels. I like bagels. I love bagels. This is my favorite food!" He says as he pulls his plate closer.

Magic.

He Already Thinks He's Smarter Than Me

What else
What else

He's only four and he already thinks he's smarter than I am. He's learned how to give the look that says, “Seriously? I wasn't born yesterday you know?”

I give him the look back that says, “In the grand scheme of things... close enough.”

He's given me that looks twice in his life and they both happened last week. The first time he may have misinterpreted my amazed facial expression as defeat. I wasn't as much impressed with his problem solving skills as I was in shock that at such an early age he already thinks I'm full of shit.

The second time he gave me the look I was prepared and let him think he outsmarted me. I'm playing the long game. No need to sprint.

“Well played son.” Is what my face said. But my mouth added, “Listen little man. From your very first day of life when I turned powdered formula into food through a science you can't comprehend I've been smarter than you.”

The first debate that arose this week revolved around the construction of a Thomas the Tank Engine track. I've been building these tracks for literally more than half his life. He can mock my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but I'll be damned if I'll let him question me on my track construction.

The tracks on all these train sets are a one way affair. One side of the track only fits into the opposite side of a connecting track. We own a few switches that allow the tracks to branch off into extra segments but naturally you need another switch to connect that offshoot back to the main railway. Obviously, You Can't Have an Odd Number of Switches! Train tracks can't end in a dead end! Unless you have a roundhouse or a rail yard. Both of which we do not. We're not the Rockefeller's.

He was insisting on having 3 switches even while complaining that the line wasn't connecting. I tried explaining and rationalizing and drawing a diagram on paper and even ran off into a little bit of tangent with a premature birds and the bees talk when I demonstrated the “female” vs “male” ends of the tracks. “It won't work this way!” I yelled.

He added a fourth switch connecting the lines and said, “See daddy. It's easy.”

And that's when I gave him the face that said, “This is precisely what I've been trying to tell you. This isn't your idea you know?”

And he gave me the face that said, “What else don't you know?”

Now the second confrontation.

It's bed time and he wanted to read an E-book on a Leappad tablet. The battery was nearly dead (“like the goldfish Daddy?”) the night before and we finished the book just in the nick of time before I had to explain to him the difference between the alkaline batteries in his tablet vs the lithium ion batteries in daddy's cell phone. This is how conversations end these days. They start with, “Why daddy?”

Before we turned the tablet on I planted the seed that would flower in the garden of his disappointment. “We may need to come up with a plan b here man. I think the battery is dead and before you get all fired up let's come up with a solution.”

“Dead like the goldfish?” He asked.

“Yes.”

“It's not dead.” He said as the tablet booted up.

“I know... but it may run out of power soon so just start thinking about what real book we will read when that happens.”

The tablet started up and we got to our E-book and the bedtime routine began. We were making good progress as I gave him the cliff notes version of some of the pages while I watched the battery indicator blink red. Time is of the... it turned off.

“Okay, the battery died. Let's find a real book to read.”

He tried to explain to me it wasn't dead and I fought back saying it was and he said it just needed to rest like the cats do and we went round and round until he demanded it wasn't dead and that all we had to do was turn it back on again.

Which he did. And it powered up. And he said, “See daddy. It's easy.” And he gave me that look again. For the second time this week.

Naturally it powered down soon there after but I calmly took it away before he saw that so he'd go to bed thinking he was right.

I did tell him though that he didn't need to use the stylus to push the power button because it is mechanical and not touch sensitive like the capacitive screen.

“So there.” It was my face said.

And we both won that one.

On Fatherhood: Almost 40 With a 4 Year Old

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How different his world is in 2014 than mine was when I was his age in 1978. This is the blessing of the late blooming father. Had I begun the child rearing phase of my life a decade or more ago things would be different. We could enjoy the Hunger Games together, we could both simultaneously suffer from Bieber Fever and I could have eaten all of his leftovers without worrying about calories. Not so when 35 years separates us.

Now I can easily justify saying, "When I was your age."

"When I was your age, we called a thirty second video clip a commercial."

Will I be able to teach him to appreciate the things that made me who I am today or is he too far removed from my generation? Will the coming of age moments for me be relevant for him? Will the movies, books, video games and music mean anything now or will they be campy and ironic to him?

I've begun compiling a list of media he will need to consume (and appreciate) as he matures in order to continue calling himself my son.

When he comes home from school with awkward adolescent struggles and feelings of not fitting in I will sit him down to watch Weird Science to understand my 80's awkward. We had to watch our back then. When we (the nerds) weren't doing so we were fantasizing about a time when we could control our destiny with computers. We were on the front lines. "Back in my day, nerds weren't cool like they are now. Who knew it would take something like Glee to allow us to come out."

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Who knows where he will be and what he will have seen by then but when he is in high school and surely feels trapped, he will read On The Road and dream about wandering. He will not read it digitally. He will not listen to it. I will get him the book. I will encourage him to write in the margins and dog-ear the corners. I will teach him that the scuffed up pages with take him back to the spot where he scuffed them up. He will remember the book but more importantly he will remember where he was and who he was with when he reads it again later.

When I first started playing my fathers records, naturally I was drawn to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". It became mine when I heard the tracks that weren't overplayed on the radio. That album came out only 7 years before I  was born but seemed from another time. If my son does the same, maybe he will stumble upon my Nirvana "Nevermind" CD. That album came out almost twenty years before he was born! Twenty years! What a gap. If 7 years was a lifetime for me then... what will a two decade spread sound like? The Beastie Boys album "Licensed to Ill" was one of the first tapes I bought on my own. A quarter century before he was born. To him... vintage. But the lyrics are timeless right? "Don't step out of this house if that's the clothes you're gonna wear. I'll kick you out of my home if you don't cut that hair."

As an avid collector of classic video games whether he will enjoy the games from a simpler time is a grey area for me. Will he have the imagination and patience left to be able to experience games in anything less that HD?  When we start playing together, where to begin? Do I introduce them after the fact as being retro and nostalgic or slowly trickle them out in chronological order so he can watch them develop as I did but on a much faster scale. If so, we need to start playing Pitfall on the Atari 2600 soon. He's not too spoiled yet to think those green splotches are alligators and naturally you need to jump over them.

pitfall-1

Will these things hold up? Will he tell me to turn that old stuff off? Who knows. My only hope is that he can appreciate them and although it's decades later maybe they will resonate with him at the right time and the right place as they did for me. Then again... maybe it will be his turn to teach me something.

 

 

I Fear My Son Will Think I Don't Read

Bookshelf-Wallpaper
Bookshelf-Wallpaper

I fear my son will think I don't read... or listen to music... or vacuum since that task has been assigned to the robot.

It's been years since I bought a physical book and I can count the number of physical CD's I've purchased in the last decade. I have neither of these things laying around as conversation starters for him to ask about. That being said, I read on my Kindle every day and spend hours around the house with my Ipod and at least one earbud jammed in my skull.

For all he knows though, I'm watching My Little Pony on the tablet or doing "the letter game" since that's what a tablet is used for in his world. And for physical copies of music, I listen to vinyl with him since he likes to watch the turntable spin around. He probably thinks the evolution of media is from cassette to CD and then on to vinyl. I'm sure he assumes the retro Fisher Price turntable Target sells was just recently invented too.

Fisher-Price-Record-Players
Fisher-Price-Record-Players

I've wondered how his world will be different as we've moved to digital media.

We don't have cable so he doesn't know about channels nor does he have any concept of having to wait for his show to start. He chooses the programs he wants to watch on Netflix by pointing to the TV and saying "That one, Please" while we select it with the clicker (we don't call it clicker). It starts immediately.

He doesn't know what commercials are and has yet to be programmed to want a particular toy for that reason (See This Great Old Blog Post I Wrote About This). The only thing we watch that isn't streaming is the "News" at 6:30. "It's your turn?" He will ask. "Are you going to watch the NEWS?"

Since it's an over the air digital broadcast it gets pixelated when it rains unlike the streaming HD he is used to. He must assume we are so old fashioned with our fuzzy screens and non-voice activated clickers.

I'm thinking about buying up some of the cardboard books they have on display at IKEA to show off their bookshelves so at least we can have a lesson on the printing press.

"You can keep the shelves, I've got plenty of empty ones at home. How much for the cardboard books?"

Better yet, maybe I'll buy bookshelf wallpaper.