Another car conversation from today:
"When we get home, I want you to get some pages and staple them together and make a book for me and I'll tell you what to write in it. I want you to write two things that I want to remember, that I want to make sure not to forget."
(He could write them himself, but, well, you can see his inclination. Writing is still hard. Thinking of stuff to write, not so hard.)
"I want you to write that when we drive out of Los Angeles, I want to say, 'Bye Bye Los Angeles.'"
"What's the second thing?"
"I want to remember to say, 'What's this white stuff???'"
He's thinking ahead, I'd say.
Today in the car on the way home from Damian's swim lesson, I put Suzanne Vega's eponymous album on the stereo. Damian listened for a while, then said, "I want you to play this album first on our drive across country. I want you to play it when we're leaving Los Angeles."
I agreed, though I would have preferred Wang Chung's "To Live and Die in LA" or The Eagles' "Hotel California." But hey, why not?
A bit later he said, "I hope we get home before the end of the whole album. I don't want to hear the whole thing because the last time we listened to it, Dante was in the car" (we were acclimating the cats to carriers-plus-movement) "and if I hear the whole thing now it'll remind me of him and that will make me too sad."
There you have it. Our current emotional states encapsulated in a child's reaction to a CD.
For the past few months, Damian has been playing a long running game he's devised. I don’t know all the parameters, but I do know there are a whole hell of a lot of bad guys for the main character to fight. When this game began, he kept interrupting himself to come out and show me yet another bad guy (a toy lizard, snake, or frog, usually – the good guys in this case are mostly small plastic aliens).
I found the theology in this game rather intriguing: when good guys die, they become bad guys. And when bad guys die, they become ghosts and apparently (if I'm getting this right), when a whole bunch of bad guy ghosts are hanging (or is that floating?) around, they coalesce and turn back into one good guy. Mostly, though, I think this elaborate structure is just an excuse for a whole lot of fighting.
Shortly after Damian began this epic game, he announced that it was a chapter game and that it would end when we leave Los Angeles and move to New Jersey. Okay, whatever. Sounds fine, right? But shortly after we got back from our latest trip east, he started getting morose. Why? "I'm sad because I'm thinking about this game ending."
Now, when I say morose, I mean really, chin-quivering, eyes-watering melancholy. A powerful sadness.
"Well, then why end it?" we asked, "You can keep playing once we get to New Jersey." No, that wasn't going to work. "Why not?" It just wasn't. Take his word for it.
It keeps coming up, this sadness. Coming on him in a flood of emotion, only receding after we discuss all the possible permutations of games ending and games transmuting into other games and leaving games behind as you grow and games becoming… well, isn't it obvious? Game becomes an extended, deeply felt metaphor.
What you have to understand is that this is a boy who says he has no regrets about moving. Who shrugs and smiles when we tell him about snow and cold and humidity and how it's not going to be an extended vacation, who says, "Yes but it'll be better than here." Who asked me one night while we were at the Jersey Shore to list the reasons New York (including New Jersey) is better than LA and when I'd enumerated every reason I could conjure that makes it a better place for us as a family, added one of his own: "New York is more fun." He's right. For us, it is. Our life is more full there. He, like us, feels a little empty and isolated here. And knows it. When we arrived back in LA a week and a half ago, we stood by the plexiglass window in the terminal, watching the workers take the baggage off the plane we'd just disembarked. Damian gave a great big sigh. "I miss New York." Five minutes back in LA and he missed his to-be new home.
In other words, this child is deeply committed to this move. To wanting this to happen. And yet, I think, he has these feelings. Feelings of sadness at leaving. But he can't allow himself to admit it, though we've tried: we've encouraged him to express all his feelings and we've talked about how you can feel two things at once. But he doesn’t want to go there. Maybe it's too hard. Maybe it's too much. I don't know. But Dan and I both suspect that this unusual sadness over ending a game – an ending he completely controls – is really his way of expressing and feeling the sadness that's there under the surface. Leaving home. Uprooting. Transplanting. It's a good thing but also an emotionally difficult one. Especially, I think, for him. It's got to be. Dan and I have roots in New York. Memories. It's home for us, profoundly so. But Damian was born here. In the land of palm trees and red tile Moorish rooftops, of warm winter evenings and wild Santa Ana winds in autumn. This is his home turf. The only thing he really knows. Can this move really be as emotionally straightforward as he makes it sound? I doubt it. Thus this sadness. Over a game.
My father had a health crisis recently. I found out about it when his wife called me Monday night. During my subsequent freakout and various intense discussions with friends and family, Damian naturally wanted to know what was going on. We told him a little. I gather he asked Dan more about it on the way home from school yesterday, because when Damian came in the door, he gave me a big hug and told me that Daddy said I was sad because my daddy was very sick and maybe dying. He then immediately started chattering about how you get sick if you don't take care of yourself. True to a point, certainly, and far easier to talk about than any other ramification. So we talked about the things you can do to keep yourself healthy and left it at that.
Later yesterday afternoon, I was on the phone. As is his wont, Damian wanted to know who I was talking to. I told him I was talking to his grandpa, my father. Then I winced, wondering what he was going to say next and what my dad might hear. ("Oh, him, he's dying."? Which he isn't, by the way. That part was, shall we say, inaccurate. Thank god.)
Damian said, "Oh, he's the one who doesn’t take good care of himself." In a very clear, penetrating voice.
My father laughed. Because it's true, he hasn't been.
Kids don't shade the truth.
Small birthday party for the seven year old Sunday (yes, it was Mother's Day, what's your point?). Homemade chocolate cake (frantic IM to Diane: Know any good chocolate layer cake recipes?). Decoration conceived and supplied by the birthday boy:
The cake was yummy, and a good time was had by all (I think).
It's funny, really. The last couple of years we've had larger parties; fifteen kids or thereabouts, plus parents. We've put on a good spread and came up with interesting party projects. And I think everyone had fun... except Damian. Or rather, he kind of sort of had fun. He enjoyed the idea of it more than the event itself. A whole bunch of kids invading his room/toys/house/yard, that part overwhelmed him a bit. So this year: six kids, including him. A total of four families, including us. And he had a great time. Sometimes you have to put aside your own preconceived notions, your own idealized version of what something should look like and see it from a seven year old's point of view. This particular seven year old. A successful party is one that the birthday boy enjoys. A successful life is one that fulfills and satisfies the person who lives it. You can't judge based on externals.
Damian came home from school (via the Dan Mobile) to find me taking a bath. (Yes, a bath in the middle of the day. I grab my decadence where I can find it.) He was tickled. I usually take showers. He's the bather in the family. He peered into the tub. "Is it nice and warm?"
"Why don't you see for yourself?"
He dipped his hand in cautiously. "It's hot! You're going to get burned!"
I told him I was in fact not in any danger of a scalding. He seemed to accept this but still stood staring into the water. Then he smiled at me. "Now you know what it's like to be me. And I know what it's like to be Daddy." (Daddy is the Bathmeister of the house. Usually, anyway.)
Then he ran out of the room. "Don't do anything! Don't get out of the bathtub!"
Soon enough he came back. Holding, what else? Two toy frogs. "Now we can play a bathtub froggy game." Just like when he takes a bath, you see.
I played the game with him until my fingers and toes were too pruney for comfort. I wonder what would have happened if I'd asked him to wash my hair? I think he'd have tried. He likes changing places. I kind of do too.
I was fixing dinner. Damian was in the laundry room. I overheard him talking to the cats: "I'll show you who's boss around here!"
"I think they know who's boss, Damian."
"Yeah, me. I'm boss."
A beat, in which I tried not to imagine the things he was doing to the cats. (For what it's worth, I heard no yowls.) Then I heard his voice again. "I like being boss."
"I can understand that. It's nice to be boss."
He thought about it some more. "Maybe when I grow up I'll be a drummer and an inventor and a director too, because I like being boss and directors get to be boss." Another pause while he contemplated being an adult. "If I still like being boss when I'm grown up."
I suspect he will. Like it, that is. Direct? Who knows?
Damian and I were talking tonight over dinner about how it's harder to eat standing up than sitting down. He then sat down and commented, "It's nice to sit in the lap of the chair." I thought that was wonderfully poetic, and something only a child would come up with. We grownups are past the age where we curl into the lap of someone bigger than us and so the analogy doesn't come to mind. But I like sitting in the lap of my chair. It feels cozy.
Another kid-related bit that has me smiling today: I spoke with one of the administrators at Damian's school, touching base about a change in services. He told me the teacher is very pleased with Damian and happy to have him in her class. This is good, but what tickled me was how he then segued into talking about first grade. As I walked away, I realized: He was asking if we planned to stay next year. Wanted us to. Wanted Damian. I'd been talking with another mom about a charter school the day before; he may well have heard us and wanted to let me know we're welcome at his school.
We've come a long way since May and the hostile vice principal at our home school, the one who didn't want my child's special ed cooties in her regular kindergarten class. The folk here want my son and are concerned that we might go elsewhere.
It feels funny doing this, an all out brag. But this is partly a record for me, for the future, to look back and remember (or rediscover) and this is one I definitely want to record. So.
A couple of days ago, Dan came in the door, home from work, looking bemused. "I just met a man outside."
He'd just gotten out of his car in the driveway as this man, mid-thirties, probably Russian, was walking by. The man saw him and stopped. "Do you play the drums?"
"No, I don't."
"I hear drumming coming from your house. It sounds good. I was a drummer myself."
"Oh, that's my son. He started playing recently."
"He's very good. How old is he?"
Apparently the guy was absolutely floored when he found out the drummer he was complimenting was a six year old boy. A veritable prodigy.
I told Damian's drum teacher the story. He smiled and nodded as we watched Damian look at a brand new page of drum beats: sixteenth note grooves. Damian examined the next exercise, frowning over it, making little noises, and then started playing. Just like that. He got it. Just plain got it. When he looked at the second exercise on the page, he said, "This one is easy!" And it was. For him.
I don't know how to explain this. Not the musical ability, that's genetic and personality and inclination and the way his brain works and who knows what else. But how it feels to watch him. To see this talent. I don't have the breadth of knowledge to judge what I'm seeing, to compare to others learning the same thing, though the teacher tells me Damian is much more adept, picking things up more easily. Then again, we do sit with him when he practices. And it's not always perfect, not always easy for him. (The third sixteenth note groove exercise yesterday was tricky, for example.) He's not some kind of freak. He's just very good. It's thrilling. How many people unearth a gift like this at age six? I love being part of it, love helping him discover himself.
Today Cocoa was apparently a very bad cat. It seems he informed Damian's toys that they could do whatever they wanted, including not listening to Damian (a/k/a Da Boss). The toys took this to heart and boycotted a game of pretend Myst (wherein Damian, abetted by toys, enacts scenarios from the computer game).
Damian first brought Cocoa to me: "Mommy, Cocoa is a bad cat," and thence to his bedroom closet, where the kitty was incarcerated for three Damian minutes (ie: fifteen minutes). As a condition of his release, he had to stay in Damian's lap for another three Damian minutes (countdown courtesy of his erstwhile jailer) and not struggle for release.
I'm happy to report that Cocoa fulfilled his community service, remaining fairly content in Da Boss' lap. He was then allowed to scamper off with no more than a warning to never try to indoctrinate the toys again.
Damian lies asleep right now with a small tooth in an envelope under his pillow. The front lower left, to be exact. I wish I'd taken better notes when he was a baby. I wonder if that was his first tooth to break through the skin such a long time ago.
I tend to carry a wide array of things in a pack slung over one shoulder. Lately Damian has been coming up behind me as I walk and threading my arm through the other loop so the pack sits squarely on both shoulders. At first, I thought this was anal-retentive of him, wanting everything – including me – to be just so. In general he's not an obsessive-compulsive sort of kid, but it was the only explanation I could find. But then a couple of days ago, I was reclining on the couch with Damian standing over me, explaining or chatting about something or other, since forgotten. One of my bangs fell across my eye, obscuring my vision. Damian reached over and brushed it back. The movement was so tender, so reminiscent of how we straighten his clothes or smooth his hair, it made me realize: he's not being compulsive. Far from it. He's discovered a new, intimate kind of expression of love.
Why is it that when I want to sleep in, Damian comes racing through the bedroom, slamming first one door and then the other (because, you know, Mommy's asleep so we should keep the doors closed), not one but four times? Or he decides he too is tired and so clambers into bed – over my prone form, an elbow in my face and a foot in my side – and settles in beside me. For approximately one fifteenth of a second, after which he wiggles (not comfortable, this bed) and wriggles (no, that didn't feel right either) and squirms until he realizes, "Hey, I'm not tired after all," and shimmies off the bed. Over, what else, my prone form. Elbow back in face, foot back in side. And then thunk, off the bed, and stomp-stomp-stomp, off to the other room. Who knew a slender six year old boy could make such noise walking down the hall? And if neither of these ploys bring about the desired result, he carts in a few toys because of course my dark bedroom is The Best place to play this morning, a perfect place to chase the cat and zoom the froggie shadow ship and bang on the drum. Oops, no drum in the house? Oh well, guess I'll have to use Mommy as my drum. Oh, Mommy, you're awake? What a surprise, I was trying so hard to let you sleep.
Why is it that when Dan wants to sleep in, Damian curls up in the living room with me so very quietly?
Why is that?
Okay, I think I'm back. With a backlog of entries to write, if I can only remember them. There was the one about watching The Hours, the one about reading blogs vs. reading books, the one about Damian's second graduation. Ah. Well, that one I can talk about tonight.
It was his first time performing in front of an audience. It was a big audience, too -- fifty or more adults. And not only did he file out with the other kids, not only did he sit down in his allotted space (well, actually, no, he sidled over into a spot next to his best friend), but he spoke up as the director was introducing the first song. "It's in Spanish!" he announced. Just to make sure we knew.
That's when I got teary-eyed. Not at the thought of leaving this school, though it's a sweet place that's been very good for him, but at the very fact that my shy formerly language-deficient boy would want to and be able to pipe up on his own in front of a big crowd. Singing as part of the chorus of preschoolers, that was a kick too. He sang lustily, his mouth wide open and his eyes clear. He made the arm movements at the proper times (well, when he remembered, which was about halfway through).
He did great.
Maybe this is part of the point of a preschool graduation (a slightly absurd concept, if you think about it). It gives you a chance to see how far your child has come from wobbly toddler to surefooted kindergartener-to-be. Our child has come farther than most. Very satisfying.
Dan tells Damian a story every night while lying down in his room. Tonight's story involved one character receiving a present. Damian told Dan, "I'm thinking of a big red question mark." Because, you see, he didn't know what was in the gift wrapping. Symbolic thinking. Literally. Kind of neat.
Friday in the car Damian and I were discussing where Chicago is in relation to Los Angeles. (One of his floor time therapists is moving there in a couple of weeks.) I said I’d show him on the globe when we got home. He was quiet for a while. Then he said, “Maybe we’re on a globe right now and the globe is in a giant’s house. And the stars are really holes and if we went up to the stars we could go right through and see the giant's house.” Where did this come from? Did I do this at age six? I swear, he’s so discombobulated sometimes and then other times – magic.
Another one: last night, Dan was telling him a story about a frog who goes to the future. Damian was entranced by the futuristic details Dan invented and added his own touches. Like how the buildings in the future will be on wheels so you can move them around. And how there’ll be portals to other planets so you don’t have to travel in space ships. These portals will look like toilets and when you flush, that’s how you travel.
I love this kid’s imagination. He takes ideas from various sources and puts them together in new and interesting ways. World building all the time. I don’t know if it’s innate or a result of all the floor time, but it’s a lovely thing to witness.
"Want to know where thunder comes from?"
"Yes, Damian, I want to know where thunder comes from."
"There are angels in the sky and sometimes they to a bowling alley. Bowling balls crash and at the same time a volcano explodes and that makes a booming sound and that’s what makes thunder. Because the volcano in the sky likes to get active and that’s how it erupts."
(For the record? We don't generally (like, ever) talk about angels in this agnostic house. So that was kind of fascinating. Also cool.)
He was nervous but he went into the pool. He was nervous but he swam without clutching the instructor. He was nervous but he trusted in the floaties and felt the water bouy him up. He was nervous but he did it!
And after the official 20 minute lesson, I donned my bathing suit and Damian and I went into the practice pool. He clung to me but, like the teacher had, I was able to gradually get him to relax in the water, to float alongside me, to hold onto a kickboard and kick his legs. He'd never been in an actual pool before. He was always terrified. Not yesterday. In fact, he told me repeatedly last night that his favorite part of the day was when we were in the practice pool together.
I think this is exactly what he needs. And he even likes it.
The other day Dan and Damian were watching a Reading Rainbow episode about family. LeVar Burton asked kids what they didn’t like about their families. The children had all the usual complaints – brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers who didn’t do what they wanted, who did things they didn’t want. You can fill in the blanks, I’m sure. Dan paused the show to ask Damian if he could think of anything he didn’t like about us. Damian’s response: “I don’t like it when you scold me.”
Dan: “We don’t like to scold you either, sweetie.”
Damian (without missing a beat): “Then don’t do it!” Very self-righteous, too. Like, you shouldn’t be telling me off anyway, so stop it already!
These days when we scold him, he doesn’t just exclaim, “Don’t say that” and “I won’t love you if you say that again” (though always with an escape clause, ie: “I won’t love you again until tomorrow.”) He now says “I didn’t hear what you said. Say it again.” And then he covers his ears. So he really won’t hear, you see.
Damian surprises me sometimes. Case in point: after waving goodbye to Dan through the window tonight, Damian and I started discussing Dan’s acting class. Damian said he’d like to go watch sometime. I said I would too, but we’re not allowed. Damian started talking about how he can go visit Daddy at work but not at class. Like the time he went to Daddy’s work because he had to, because the planes crashed into those two buildings in New York and so his school was closed and he had to go with Daddy to work until I could come get him.
Think about it. Damian was THREE YEARS OLD on that horrible September morning. Also not overwhelmingly verbal at the time. And that was nearly three years ago. HE REMEMBERS. I’m sure he wasn’t remembering being told about it. It was clear from the way he spoke. He truly remembers. We even got into a bit of an argument because he thought the school that was closed was his current morning school, ie: the regular preschool he started this past September. I said, no, you were still in the morning class at your other school (he’s now in an afternoon class at the therapeutic preschool). He vehemently disagreed. Which means he remembers it vividly enough that it seems like recent history.
Nearly half his lifetime ago. And he remembers clearly.
Damian came to me this around five this afternoon and opened his fisted hand to reveal a dozen hard candies. "I found these in my drawer. Can I have them?"
"You can have them for dessert."
"Ohhhhh... but..." Deep, dramatic sigh. "I want them now! Ohhh!" He dropped his head down, sighing again. The picture of dejection.
I just looked at him.
He pulled himself together. "Can I have one candy? Just one? It won't fill me up because it's small and my tummy's big." He pulled his shirt up to show me. He placed a single wrapped candy on his belly. Belly bigger than candy, see? "I'll still have room for dinner because there's lots more room in there." Then he put the candy on his belly button. "It's as big as my belly button."
Then he smiled at me.
Yeah, I let him have the candy.
This morning a small plastic frog named Stripey whiled away the time outside a brunch place in Pasadena by trying to steal small objects away from me and jumping down my shirt. We placed Stripey in jail but Judge Damian was lenient and the lowlife frog was released all too soon. Fortunately for my dignity, we were then ushered into the restaurant.
In the parking lot after brunch, Damian asked me what Stripey’s middle and last names should be. I suggested a few. He shook his head. Stripey’s middle name should be Sneaky, his last name Thief. Stripey Sneaky Thief.
In the car on our way home much later, Damian asked if we had any food in the car. I gave him a box of raisins. He munched peacefully for a bit, then said, “Do you know what they use for mulch in Froggy Land?”
Dan’s comment: “That’s handy, when they’re done using the mulch, they can eat it. Maybe it looks like flies.”
But no. “If they eat it, they’ll get more weeds.” Then he ate some raisins, um, I mean, some mulch. And a little voice (sounding suspiciously like Damian in a higher-key) said, “Hey, that’s my mulch! You can’t eat that!” Thence followed some kind of tussle, but it was hard to hear the specifics from the front seat. I believe the frog won. Stripey Sneaky Thief strikes again.
More proof we're living with a scaled-down teenager:
His favorite response when you tell him something he doesn't like: "WhatEVER."
When I told him that no, I really couldn't do the convoluted, backwards thing he was trying to insist on, he said, "Ooookay, this time, but from now on I'm the boss!"
On the car ride home today, Dan asked Damian what game he and his friend T. played this morning at school. Damian said, "I don't want to tell you because you won't understand it."
Damian loves telling jokes. He's even started making up his own. Mostly they've been the kind that when he says "Get it?" you say, "Um, not really." But lately he seems to have developed a knack for real joke-making, a skill I don't possess.
Last week, he and Dan went to the zoo. They learned (among many other things) about the short lifespan of mayflies. That inspired this joke:
How do you get rid of a mayfly?
You wait until tomorrow.
Tonight over a (very) late dinner, he came up with this one:
What goes up and doesn't come down?
Tomorrow, by the way, he will be six years old. Which I imagine is why age was on his mind. My smart no-longer-so-little boy.
Entry on LA Book Fair half done. Can't finish tonight. Too tired. Am toasted. Instead I leave you with this:
Yesterday in the car on the way home. Damian said, "Mommy," in this worried little voice. I looked in back. His fingers were covered with blood. My heart froze. Then he pointed to his nose. Blood coming from nostril. Ah. My heart resumed a normal rhythm.
He sounded a little panicky. I reassured him, handed him a tissue and told him to apply pressure to his nose for a few minutes, that this would help the bleeding stop.
About two minutes later, he asked for the fifth time when the bleeding was going to stop.
"Soon, I think."
"Will I still be alive?"
The mind of a nearly-six-year-old. Blood is pouring out of me. I must be dying.
I reassured him that he still had plenty of blood and this was absolutely not going to kill or even weaken him.
He then posited that the blood coming out would make more blood (to replace itself, I guess) and that's why he'd be okay. Interesting theory.
But as soon as I told him the nosebleed was in fact not fatal, he turned from anxious to calm. A fascinating glimpse inside his mind.
Tonight when we got home from dinner, Damian was first pissed that I'd gotten into the house before he did (he was still playing with his Leap Pad in the car) and then outraged that the heater wasn't on when he plopped down beside it. We told him he was tired, that's why he was getting so bent out of shape, and that it was time for bed.
Of course this made him angrier. We had a round of "No, I'm not!" "Yes, I think you are." and so on. Then I left the room and when I came back, he announced to me, "It's my body and I can decide what I want!"
When did he become a teenager?
On the way home from school, Damian needed to pee. So I found an easily accessible Starbucks and parked around the corner. He carefully placed his milk box in the cup holder and hopped out, trotting off with me to Starbucks.
As we got back into the car, Damian picked up his milk box. Took a sip. Hmm. "There was milk in here but there isn't anymore. Maybe it evaporated." He thought about this. "If it evaporated, it might start raining milk in the car."
Guess we better start bringing a small umbrella into the car, huh?
Damian has become extremely aware of music lately. When we listen to The Rising in the car (his favorite CD, he used to call it Horizon), he tells me there are three quiet songs and exactly where they come on the album. He describes all the tempo and volume changes. He has a favorite song (Mary's Place). He wants to know the names of them all.
At night, he listens to lullaby CDs, a rotating set of three. He knows every song on each album. On the one Daddy compiled, Damian tells me, there are three animal songs in a row because Daddy knew Damian likes animals. On the Nicolette Larson (Sleep, Baby, Sleep), he sings along with Moon and Me and The Moment I Saw You, his two favorites. I think he loves the latter because I told him it makes me remember the day he was born. And tonight I found out he assigns emotions to the songs on the Tina Malia album.
Dan wasn't home from work, so I read to Damian, brushed his teeth, and then lay down with him to tell him a story. I lie with him for one additional song and then leave, that's our deal. But tonight he asked me if I could stay for one more song after that. Why? Because the next song (Jewish Lullaby) was a lonely one. As was the one we were listening to then (All Through The Night). He was right. I knew it as soon as I heard the melancholy intro in a minor chord. But I think there was another reason. Part of the lyrics (not exact): "Daddy left for work this morning and he'll be home soon." Daddy wasn't home. Daddy hasn't been home in time for Damian's bedtime for three nights running. We talked about that. We agreed that the songs feel lonelier when Daddy's not home.
Dan got home a few minutes after I got up. He went in to lie down with Damian for a song. A bonus track, as it were. Making up for the lonely minor chords lingering in Damian's head.
Tonight Damian wanted me to read him If The Dinosaurs Came Back, by Bernard Most. As we were settling in to look at it, he commented, "But the dinosaurs won't really come back because they're extinct." Indeed. "But maybe after the world ends, it will start all over again and there will be dinosaurs and then people."
Mmm. Kid been reading big bang theory books behind my back?
Damian started giggling at dinner. He was looking at his milk and eating his alphatots that not coincidentally spelled the word "milk." (After he read the word, he requested the drink.) He said, "I thought of something funny." When we asked what, he said, "I thought of a story about mice."
Here's his story:
Once some mice had a cup of milk and they went to the kitchen to get a wheel of cheese. But a cat was in the kitchen and saw the mice. So the mice ran away. They didn’t even realize that they tilted the cup. The cup made a milk trail. The cat followed the milk trail and drank up the spilled milk and found the mice. The mice hid quickly. The cat wasn’t able to catch those mice because the mice were too fast. The cat pounced on the mice and tried to eat them but all he got was nothing.
Okay, maybe this isn't that interesting to anyone but us. But the fact that he had no real props and no prior game pertaining to the story means something to us. And the fact that he was giggling, that too.
(warning: mild bodily function talk ahead)
Damian goes through short phases of interest in mechanics: creating lego towers and block walls, followed by long fallow periods. Right now he's into Kid Knex, which are like tinkertoys but plastic and easier as well as more expressive. He looks at the illustrations that came with the box and puts together his variants on the images. It's very cool.
Well, Monday morning while Damian was off at school Dan told me to come take a look at what Damian had done.
Here's the original illustration:
A simple stick figure person, right?
Here's what he did:
He added eyes, making it more human. He also added... um, what's that yellow thing sticking out? Hmm. He made the person male, didn't he?
We got a giggle out of it. It seemed like a developmentally appropriate interest. But what was that contraption below the guy? What did Damian have in mind?
When Damian got home that afternoon, he told me that he'd built something he wanted to show me. That it was a person peeing. The contraption? A toilet. See those blue wedges? Water splashing up. The yellow rods? Pee. The other rods? Well, he ran out of yellow.
This is even more developmentally appropriate. He's never gone through that poopyhead joke phase. I think this is his more inventive version thereof. I'm tickled pink. Or is that yellow?
Damian emerged from his bath tonight clutching a small rubber frog named Emerald. When he got up on the bed beside me, he found an identical green rubber frog named… Emerald. The following conversation ensued (bear in mind, Damian held a frog in each fist and voiced both of them):
“Who are you?”
“I’m Emerald, who are you?”
“No you’re not!”
“Yes I am!”
“No you’re not, I’m Emerald!”
“Well, I’m Emerald and you’re Emerald too because we’re both green and all frogs are green except some other frogs who are different colors.”
It degenerated quickly into a fight, the frogs making sorties across Damian’s thighs, rolling around like our cats do when they wrestle. But the frogs, unlike the cats, were also talking. Their battle was also interrupted periodically for pajama-donning activities. When I offered a white sock to Damian, one of the frogs grabbed it.
“I can smush you on the head with this flying sock,” exclaimed the apparel-bearing Emerald.
“Well I can fly with the sock and geep you because I’m smart,” retorted the other Emerald, grabbing the sock away.
Dan declared tonight’s lying-down story was going to be entitled Geep from the Deep. Damian decided I should write it because I’m a writer, that it should be a chapter book and that when I was done writing it, Daddy could read it to him as a bedtime story that very night.
He then began contemplating the life of a writer. “You have to be smart to be a writer because you have to remember things. Like the title of the book and what happened. You have to be smart like me.”
Indeed, kid. Indeed.
I’m tempted to write a chapter book for kids titled Geep from the Deep, complete with fighting frogs and flying socks. But I find I prefer the original, told in a child’s voice.
In the car on the way home:
"Mommy, my juice is squeaking!" (Damian was drinking watered down juice from a covered cup with a straw.)
"I can hear it." (It was in fact squeaking. Most likely the straw wasn't attached firmly enough and was letting in air.)
"Next time you go to the grocery store, you need to buy edible oil to make it stop squeaking."
He reminded me again as we left the car half an hour later. I'll have to put it on my list. Juice bottle lubricator, a/k/a edible oil. (Or maybe I'll just fasten the straw on more securely next time. But shhh, don't tell Damian.)
During a play date today, Damian's buddy D declared that Damian wasn't his best friend anymore.
Damian, who I don't think had ever entertained the notion that they were in fact best friends, was hurt by this. He said he wanted to be best friends still and why wouldn't D and that was mean and so on in that vein.
D decided that they could be best friends after all, but only on Sundays. Not the rest of the week. He was adamant.
Also Fridays, Damian said.
Okay, Fridays too, said D. And Saturdays.
They agreed that Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays were best friend days but the rest of the week? Not even friends.
Damian now has three best friends. T is his best friend at the morning school, C is his bud at the afternoon school, and D, who doesn't go to school with him, is the weekend designate.
I worry: is he spreading himself too thin? Will it be like this when he's ready to date? Does he know what he's getting himself into? And what does he do at his birthday party when all the best friends converge? Preschool social configurations can be brutal.
Maybe we should have a contract drawn up, like the kind they do in divorce settlements. Splitting Damian's best friend quota between the three boys, with special dispensation for occasional pre-agreed play dates after school hours. Know any good lawyers for the kindergarten set? They'd have to take play doh and toy cars in payment.
Yesterday Damian and I were playing with play-doh in his room. Correction: Damian and I and a stretchy blue frog were playing with the play-doh. Damian does many activities with amphibian accompaniment.
I rolled out some of the clay, stamped it out with a heart-shaped cookie cutter. Decorated it a bit and then gave it to Damian. "Happy early Valentine's Day, sweetie."
He accepted it, then got busy making one of his own. Out of blue play-doh to match his frog. With polka dots (finger holes pressed into the dough). Then he presented it to me.
"Thank you, Damian."
"It's not from me. It's from the peeper." (The blue frog is a spring peeper, you see.)
"I'd rather it were from you. I love you, I don't love the frog."
"But you have to love your pets."
"Well, sure, and I do love the cats. But the peeper isn't my pet, it's yours."
"But Dante and Cocoa are your cats and they're also mine. So we can share pets. The peeper is both of ours too."
What could I do? This child can argue circles around me. I accepted the blue heart from my newly beloved pet spring peeper.
Today I stopped a friend of Damian's from instigating a game wherein they'd hit each other with water bottles. Fortunately, he discussed his idea with Damian before actually, y'know, clonking him over the head with a full sports bottle. I said no, don't, bad idea, and explained that it's never okay to hit another person.
Damian said, "If it's not okay to hit, why is there the word 'hit'?"
Semiotics boy strikes again.
Actually, I love-love-love that he's asking and considering issues like this. Abstract thinking; if this then that and why? Mind stretching stuff for young brains. He's been making all kinds of similar links lately, his mind constantly working in "this because that" connections. I want to try to write more of them down before they disappear in the overly cluttered recesses of my brain. Because this, to me, is the amazing part. Abstract, symbolic thinking. It's the final emotional milestone according to Stanley Greenspan, the last building block in an emotionally complex brain.
Incidentally, I answered Damian by telling him we need the word to describe the action that we're not supposed to do. Because people do hit even though they're not supposed to. It's an intriging thought, though. If we didn't have the word, would people stop hitting each other?
Yeah, I know. Not quite that simple, is it?
Last night, I got up from the couch and said it was time for pajamas. Damian said "Okay, but first I have to go pee." Sure thing, kid. I gathered the necessary acoutrements (socks and whatnot) and walked to our bedroom, where he usually gets changed. But before I even entered the hall, Damian reappeared from the bathroom. Giggling.
"Guess what I did, Mommy? Mommy, I want to show you something funny!"
Then he emerged. Stark naked.
I agreed it was both funny and very clever, getting a jump on the process like that.
Then he grabbed the pile of clothing from where I'd put it down and ran off to his room. "Don't look, Mommy! Don't come in! I have something else funny for you!"
"Okay, Damian, I promise I won't come in."
But he closed the door to his room anyway, just in case I was tempted to peek. I suddenly felt like the parent of a teenager.
Fairly soon he emerged once more. Not surprisingly, he was fully clothed now. In his pajamas, of course. Also exceedingly pleased with himself. He thought it was the best joke, getting dressed without me. Me, I'm hoping it was funny enough to repeat sometime soon. Very soon.
Today as we walked to the local park, Damian asked -- completely out of the blue -- what Dante's last name is. I told him it was the same as his.
"Oh, so I gave Dante my last name."
Well, no, actually, Dante was born before you were. Daddy gave him his last name.
"Oh, so Daddy gave Dante his last name and Dante gave it to me."
Um. Not exactly. Daddy gave Dante his last name and he also gave you yours.
"Why did Daddy give me his last name?"
Um. Er. Because in some places, like here, most people get their last names from their father.
(Leaving out the fact that if he'd been a girl, Damian would have gotten his -- her -- last name from me. Let's not confuse the issue. Yet. Maybe next year.)
"No, you're wrong. You're lying. I got my last name from Dante, not from Daddy!"
"You're wrong and I'm right." He ran ahead, crowing.
Apparently Damian was named by a red striped cat. Who knew?
Damian and I walked into a waiting room filled with activity. Kids darting about, parents chatting with therapists. I said, naturally enough, "Wow, there sure are a lot of people here." (You have latitude to do this with a five year old, they're not about to roll their eyes at you and snark, "Well, duh, Mom.")
Damian hoisted himself up on the bench and said, "Yeah, there's a lot of --" and then he paused. "I left the word I was about to say at home." He glanced around. "Actually, I see the word!" He dug into the cushion, emerged with a grin. "I found the word! It was right here!" Then he paused again, one of those drama-filled pregnant pauses. "There sure are a lot of PEOPLE here."
Tonight I had the unusual pleasure of playing a game of Candyland with Damian and a small plastic frog named Ayoo. I've never played a board game with a frog before. The gingerbread man game piece was almost too big for him to carry from one spot on the board to the next.
Turns out, though? Ayoo is a very good, or at least very dramatic game player. He started out by pulling the gumdrop card and barrelling past our gingerbread guys. Later in the game, he got the candy cane card and was sent back practically to the beginning. He squeaked in dismay: "Oh no I was going to win but now I discovered I’m going to lose. Now what do I do?" Only it was more like "what do I do-oo-oo?" Very concerned small orange frog person.
He recovered, however, and soon he was belting out a rap song praising his choice of color card: "Who’s got the purple? We’ve got the purple! Who's got the purple? We've got the purple! You, I, Ayoo!"
Ayoo almost won, too. After getting sent back to the beginning, he recovered with another jaw-dropping doubletake (the snowflake card) and was thisclose to the end when Damian, quiet but methodical, slipped past him and crossed the finish line first.
I expected tears from the frog, but instead he informed me, "I need to sleep in a wet place, not a dry place, so I'm leaving now, I'm going back to Froggie Land. Goodbye!" And he was off, leaving an impression of orange and a drunken-looking green gingerbread man in his wake.
Damian has not been happy about winter. Not because of the cold. (What cold? We live in Los Angeles. Sixty degrees is considered cold here.) No, he hates winter because it gets dark early. Which means he can’t play outside. It also means, with his busy schedule, that we often get home after dark, which makes him feel like he’s lost the afternoon and can’t play before dinner. He’s indignant about the whole thing, keeps telling me he wants it to be summer, he thinks summer is much better, he hates winter, winter should be over already, he’s tired of winter.
He told me yesterday he wants to move somewhere where it’s always summer. I told him that’s impossible. I guess at the equator they always enjoy equal chunks of day and night, but this little boy wants lots of day, little night. He then decided he wanted all day and no night. So I guess our next house should be at the South Pole. At least, from September to March. We can have another cottage at the North Pole for our second summer, split the year between the two. I wonder if the cold would be acceptable as long as he gets his eternal day?
This evening I told him today was the winter solstice and from here on out the days will get gradually longer. He lit up like a small sun himself, almost bright enough to light the early night. I warned him it was only by minute or so each day, but he said, still beaming, that this time it would happen faster.
Maybe so, kid. Maybe so.
Happy Winter Solstice, and to all a good (long) night.
Damian's in major question asking mode lately. I'd like to record him one afternoon, transcribe his steady stream of curiosity, but one stands out today. Poor kid is sick, spent the day low key and flushed. Tonight he asked, plaintive, "If nobody wants to be sick, how come people get sick?" This led to a conversation about bacteria in the air and whatnot, concepts he already knows. But this time he wanted to know why there are bacteria. Sort of like why is the sky blue, but with a dark twist. Why is there evil? Why do people sometimes die before they're old? Why does bacteria exist? Some questions have no answers.
The scene: a pristine, beautiful beach. The craggy, rocky kind, not the soft sandy kind. The players: Damian, age five. Dan, a/k/a Daddy.
The players walk, run and play. Damian stops. “Daddy, I have a pebble in my shoe. My right shoe.”
Damian sits on a rock. Dan exhumes the pebble, replaces the sneaker (the kind that lights up as you walk, with periodic red flashes).
They continue on their way. Until Damian stops again. “Daddy, I have a pebble in my other shoe now. I had one in my right shoe already so now it’s the left one’s turn.”
Dan: “The pebbles were smart to know which shoe to jump into next.”
Damian: “If the pebbles are smart, they must have brains. If they have brains, they must be alive. If they’re alive, they must have arms and legs. And,” almost an afterthought, “they probably get upset and say ‘ouch!’ when we step on them.”
Makes you think twice about going for a stroll along the beach in your spiky-treaded army boots, doesn’t it?
Tonight Damian looked at his Bob the Builder cup. For once he wasn't checking out Muck the bulldozer. (His usual comment: "Muck is on every Bob the Builder thing. Even my underpants.") This time he was reading. "F--iii---xxx. Fix. That says Fix. Want to know how I know that? Because it start with an F and F is fff, and then there's an I and I is iii and then it has an X, which is kx. So that's how I know it says Fix." He went on to read "it" and then "Dig it" on the other side of the cup.
The other day, he started reading his carton of milk. "Hoe-rii-zone," he said. He got the vowel sounds wrong, but that's one of those bizarre vagaries of language, after all. He got the rest right. And then he drank up his Horizon brand milk with gusto, having for the first time learned its proper name.
There's something so miraculous about this ordinary moment in the life of a child. Starting to fit letters into words, starting to make sense out of the curves and lines he sees all around him. It's like deciphering a map, decoding a foreign language. Opening a new set of eyes. In a way, it feels impossible. As impossible as taking a first breath, learning to use the potty, learning to talk. It's one of those huge steps that separate before from after.
My kid is beginning to really, truly read. Tonight he said, "Yeah, because I'm learning at school." Then he said, "When I'm a grownup, if my kid wants to read books, I'll read to him every day." I believe him, too.
We told Damian we'd buy him a toy when we went out shopping today. Halfway through the outing, he remembered. He turned to Dan and said, "Daddy, you said you were going to bite oys. What's an oy?" Said with an angelic, wide-eyed I-am-not-pulling-your-leg look.
But my favorite pun of his remains the time I was walking with him through a store. I told him I had to go pay. He said "But the bathroom's back that way," pointing. "Well, you said you had to go PEE, right?"
Plays with the sounds and meaning of words, makes up elaborate stories. Please don't tell me he's going to be a writer. I can't think of anything I'd love/hate more.
As we walked up to Damian's friend Corey's house, we could smell the manure stink of fresh fertilizer. Damian, naturally, wanted to know why they put cow poop on the grass. I said it had vitamins and nutrients the grass needed.
Later on in the car, on a long ride to the middle of nowhere, Damian and Corey started saying that there was poop on the road behind us and warning all the other cars: "Cars, go fast or the smelly poop will eat you!" and on like that. At some point, Corey questioned why there was poop. Was it coming from our car (actually C's car, a minivan)? Damian said, "The poop behind the car is because there's a cow on the roof."
They exclaimed over this for a while ("A cow! On the roof!"), then inevitably wondered how the cow would get down when we stopped for a pee break. Corey said the cow would climb off the back, but Damian thought if it tried it would fall through. No more roof! Sunroof! Cow in the car!
Much later, Damian asked me, "What kind of cow eats grass?" It was a trick question. The answer: a lawnmooer.
I asked Corey's mom if typically developing five year olds are this goofy too. She thinks they are.
Tonight when Damian came into the bathroom for his bath, he found Cocoa (our black kitten) with his forepaws on the edge of the tub, peering in at the bubbles. He gently pushed Cocoa back down to the floor, saying "If you want to get wet, that's fine. Even though cats don't like to get wet." His voice was light, reasonable. He sounded, in fact, exactly the way I do when I'm trying to tell him maybe he shouldn't do something by telling him he can but that there are natural consequences to his action (ie: getting wet). Funny what sticks.
When I was a kid, going door to door meant padding down the hallways in our prewar apartment building, walking down a flight of stairs and ringing doorbells. It was anyone's guess whether people were home. No porch, no windows, scant decorations. But it was a ritual and it was fun. When I was a teenager and in college, Halloween costumes became about sexy and parties and dancing. Now Halloween is all about the kids again, but this time I'm an observer and coach.
Damian went to his morning school in his pajamas (as did all the other kids and the teachers, too) and changed into his costume (with Daddy's help) for his afternoon school's Halloween parade and party. Then home through horrendous traffic and on to the main event: trick or treating. We always choose a street a few blocks west of our house for trick or treating. Our block has too many apartment buildings, the one we choose is all quaint old houses and sloping front lawns and intricately carved pumpkins.
We have friends on the block and we usually end the night at one of their houses. This year we started at the top of the block so we hit those houses first and ended up at a stranger's house -- or someone we thought was a stranger. But Dan took a step forward, peered at the man's face. Said his name with a question mark. Turns out they worked together a few years back. So we ended up inside the house, visiting. After we came home, Damian commented sleepily, "We ended at a nice house."
Damian was cute this year. Two years ago, it was all he could do to choke out the words "trick or treat!" and then he'd clam up. Last year he had his speeches all prepared: "Trick or treat!" "I'm a knight!" and "Thanks! Bye!" It was work, though. This year he'd ring the bell, get distracted by the cool jack o'lanterns, comment on the bales of hay or cobwebs, realize belatedly the door was now open, accept his candy, tell the homeowner, "Yes, I'm a black cat," and then at the end I'd whisper in his ear, "What do you say?" and he'd blurt out, "Thanks and also trick or treat!"
Damian with a Power Ranger buddy.
As we got home this evening, Damian plucked a takeout menu from the front gate. He ran ahead of me up the porch steps and I heard him "reading" from the menu. Apparently the restaurant serves "organic email in a dot.com."
Very early in the morning, I lie dreaming in the quiet dark alongside my slumbering spouse. Until a tap-tap-tap on my arm wakes me up. I open my eyes to find a pajama-clad child looking at me expectantly.
“I have to go pee, Mommy.”
“Mmm hmm.” God, am I groggy. And what was that snippet of dream? I almost have it, if I can only go back to sleep I'll get it back.
Now the catch: “Mommy, check my underpants to see if they’re dry.”
As many kids do, Damian had a round of bed-wetting a while back. We found nothing that worked except a reward system. If he restrained himself, if he kept his bed and his clothes dry and actually got up to use the toilet, we’d give him a small treat. And even though he’s been quite good about it for months, he still expects the treat. After I say “Your pants are dry,” he says, “Mommy, get me a gummy heart.”
Rewards of this sort mostly fall away after their usefulness fades, but I think in this case it’s about the ritual of it. That, and a desire for my company. If we no longer gave him the heart, he’d probably find some other excuse. Which he sometimes does anyway: “Mommy, it’s too dark, hold my hand.” And so I guide him to the bathroom, open the door and stumble out into the dining room in quest of that small sweet for my small sweetie, dodging hungry, mewling cats as I go. When I return to the bathroom, Damian grins at me, far too chipper for four thirty a.m. “Mommy, do you have to go pee too?”
By the time we get into bed (he comes into our bed at this point, always has), I’ve lost the sleep mojo. He sometimes settles into an instant slumber wedged between his parents, but other times he’s all elbows and bony knees pressing into various tender parts of my body. Hard to fall back to sleep.
I know children all have comforting rituals to help them feel like the world is a safe, somewhat predictable place. My child perhaps needs this more than most. And that’s okay. In fact, I’m glad to give him that reassurance that we love him and are there for him even in the predawn hour of the wolf. But I have got to get a better night’s sleep. I feel like a walking zombie, nearly as tired as when this kid was a newborn waking to nurse every few hours. Like water slowly dripping creates a groove into solid rock, cumulative sleep deprivation is carving a groove into my brain.
So tonight when Damian taps my arm, I’ll roll over and tap Dan’s shoulder. Tonight is Daddy’s turn on gummy heart duty. Dan’s amenable and I’m needful. And hey, a small change in the routine will do Damian some good.
It's been fascinating watching Damian begin to/get ready to read. He's much more conscious now of words and how they're formed. He's been trying to suss out rationales. He asked his teacher yesterday if baseball is so called because it has bases, and he told me today that musicians are named that because they play music. Which I liked, because it's a "sh" sound, changed from the "k" sound of the root word. It shows he's really analyzing the words even though he's not seeing them written down.
Of course, he also told me that mushrooms are called that because you mush them in rooms. And he wanted to know if his friend Isaac was named that because he has eyes. And then went on to say, "But everyone has eyes." True.
What I find myself wondering: should I find some etymology dictionary and translate the real Latin/Greek/Germanic/whatever roots of these words? The kid may not know how to add but he'll know the ancient derivation of the word mushroom. Could be interesting.
It's cute kid's bedtime. Cute kid comes into the room crying. "I wasn't ready, Mommy!" I tell cute kid if he wants to negotiate, he can do it without crying. Tears magically disappear. He asks for one more minute. I acquiesce.
A minute later. Cute kid comes back into the room. "Is one minute up or not?"
"Yeah, I think the minute's up."
"You think it's up or it's up?"
"But you said you think it's up. It's not really up. You think it's up." Pleased with his lawyerly self, cute kid runs off, carefully (though I don't realize it at the time) closing the bedroom door behind him.
Naturally, I shout out to the living room: "Damian! It's pajama time! Come back in here!"
And naturally, from the living room (albeit muffled by the aforementioned door) I hear, "What did you say, Mommy? I can't hear you!"
Also known as: Gotcha, Mommy.