Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Advice Nugget

We moms (and dads) get plenty of advice from various different sources every day on how to do our jobs. Sometimes I think it is easier to block out all advice than to filter through it and pick out the gold nuggets. But darn it, those nuggets are really worth finding, some of them are quite valuable.

I recently went to a parent education night at my boys' school and came away with this nugget:

A mom's most important job is to make sure her face lights up when she greets her child. A dad's most important job is to love his children's mother. And his next most important job is to remember that she is not HIS mother.

It doesn't solve all the world's problems, but this quote had me remembering to make sure I give each of my boys one heck of a big genuine smile at least once a day. This is not as easy as it sounds, especially when they are talking back to you and rolling their eyes and grabbing your cell phone to change the ring tone on you.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Bad Birds

We have a hawthorn tree near our kitchen window. This time of year, it is bare of leaves, but the red berries are still there. Yesterday, two different flocks of birds invaded the tree, hoping around and eating all the berries. It was fun to watch.

Soon, we heard a loud noise BOOM BOOM BOOM and jumped up to find three little birds on the ground outside our glass front door. Two were sitting, panting but otherwise completely still, and the third was clearly dead, head at an unnatural angle, wing splayed, a bit of blood. Much interest and concern from the boys, observing the birds from such a close range. I had to do a bit of convincing to keep them from getting too close and handling the birds.

There was some speculation that the berries the birds had been eating had intoxicated them and impaired their judgement and flying ability.

Yes, I will shamelessly grasp at any opportunity to illuminate the effects of drugs and alcohol. These sad birds ate the berries and then stupidly flew right into the glass and now they are hurt and one is dead.

My youngest carefully studied the still birds for a bit longer, then looked up at the tree, birds still swarming around the berries, unaware of their fallen friends.

"Mom, are those gangster birds?"

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Harry Potter Effect

How do you know if your son is completely obsessed with a Harry Potter book ?

He is missing at carpool and after a search is found sometime later in the bathroom . . . reading.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Elvis Hair on Club Penguin

I checked on my sons' Club Penguin account this evening and was greeted by their penguin decked out in Elvis hair, a grey t-shirt, and an electric guitar. The green puffle, Kick, was hungry or needed a bath, I'm not sure which, and a couple letters had arrived asking to be penguin buddies.


Unless you have a six to ten year old child, chances are you have no idea what I'm talking about. I am talking about Club Penguin. Club Penguin is a online game where you choose a penguin as your cyborg. You can cruise around the penguin world, playing games and earning coins so you can buy stuff for your virtual self, like clothes and accessories, a pet, sports equipment, an igloo to live in, and things to furnish your igloo. You can also interact with other penguins by chatting, or typing short messages.

Club penguin was started by a couple of dads in British Colombia as an alternative to MySpace for younger kids. In August 2007 Club Penguin was purchased by The Walt Disney Company for $350 million dollars. That certainly tells you something about it's exponential popularity.

As far as online games go, Club Penguin has got to be one of the most innocent. Yet it is popular with kids from six, or even younger, to teens and even older. There is no personal information shared, and it is monitored for language and content. In fact, a few of my son's friends have been "kicked off" Club Penguin for trying out foul language.

My middle son has asked me for months if he can get a membership. He finally wore me down. I let him get one. You don't actually need a membership, you can play for free. But you can't earn coins and buy the really cool stuff unless you become a member.

I think the really interesting thing about Club Penguin, as a parent, is checking out what your child has created. Going into my sons' igloo is akin to futuristic travel into his dorm room or first apartment. He's got an upgraded, split-level igloo with lots of room for furniture. He's got a basketball hoop, a weightlifting bench, a cooler and a BBQ, a soccer goal, two fish tanks, a drum set, a cash register and a cactus plant (nice touch). He's also got a modern art sculpture and a couch made from a ferris wheel seat. He's got great lighting; several task lights and multiple cheerful tiki torches burning at the entrance. He's got a banner hung on the wall that says "Party!" He's got mood music and a flat screen TV showing some kind of penguin ice hockey game. I'm not too worried about the party scene yet, as he has not realized that an igloo without appliances of any kind cannot host a party. He hasn't thought to spend money on a refrigerator or microwave. I don't think kegs or tiki bars with blenders are available for purchase (although they would fit right in).

This penguin also has a closet full of clothes. Penguins can change clothes, accessories, and hair at any time. He's got a blue mohawk hairdo, the afore-mentioned Elvis 'do, a referee outfit, every kind of sports uniform, a fireman's outfit, a tuxedo with top hat (it's always better to own than rent), a pizza apron and chef's hat, several surfboards and a pair of sunglasses.

He also owns a puffle named Kick, a little pet that requires frequent feeding, entertainment, exercise and sleep. Puffles come in different colors with different personalities. My sons' puffle is green and it's attitude is energetic and playful, it's favorite toys are a unicycle and propellor cap, and it's special feature is that it likes to clown around. He only has one puffle because he says they are hard to take care of. Contrast this to my niece, a real animal lover, who has something close to the maximum number of puffles allowed (14). I'm guessing her favorite is purple, who's attitude is usually happy, favorite toys are bubble wand and disco ball, and special features are loves to dance and finicky eater. Just a guess. I wonder if this means she will have fourteen cats in her first apartment someday.

Some kids will do almost anything to become a Club Penguin member and enjoy all it's benefits. I have a friend with an eight year old son who wanted a membership so bad that he borrowed his father's credit card from his wallet, filled out all the information necessary to start a membership, and started playing. Almost a perfect crime, except for that damn itemized credit card bill. The gig was up and he got caught. He had generously given himself a full year membership, so he had a lot of chores to do for several weeks earning the right to continue playing.

If you have a child who plays on Club Penguin, I encourage you to read about it from one of the articles below and then go online, log in as your child, and check out what kind of world they have created for themselves. If you find something interesting or funny, let me know by commenting on my blog.

I'm thinking about getting my own penguin so I can see what it's like to walk around with a tiara and live in a castle.

For more information on Club Penguin, I've found the following articles particularly interesting or useful:
Clique on to Penguin, How a virtual world is changing social dynamics in fifth-grade classrooms across the country
By Elizabeth Weiss Green

Wikipedia on Club Penguin

Of course you can visit Club Penguin yourself and check it out. It's open to anyone. Create a penguin and wander around, and you will know enough to talk the talk with any 8 year old and be the hippest adult around.

Why Nine is Great: Baseball & Teddy

That's him on the left. Nine years old. What a great age to be. Not too big, not too little, but just right.

The book Your Nine-Year-Old by Louise Bates Ames subtitles this age "thoughtful and mysterious." The book also describes Nine as a tricky age; unpredictable, independent, persistent, complaining, moody, hovering on the brink of adolescence.

Ooo, it's that last part, that adolescence part, I can see right now in my nine year old. In my opinion, that is exactly the reason to celebrate the inconsistencies of the age. My nine year old has not discovered eye-rolling and the snarky comments that my eleven year old is beginning to master. He is in that fleeting moment of hovering between confidence and mastery and the insecurities of a little boy.

This weekend was Little League baseball try-outs. My nine year old is a natural athlete and a fantastic baseball player. In addition to being a great player, he truly loves the game of baseball. He approached the try-outs, with kids his own age, with confidence and anticipation. He caught every pop fly, threw accurately and hard, hit a home run off the first pitch thrown to him, and threw his three pitches right into the catcher's mitt.

Yet this confident and capable baseball player is still a boy. That night when he went to bed, he couldn't find Teddy (see Creatures of Comfort). Teddy has slept with him every night since he was a baby. My nine year old HAD to find Teddy, couldn't possibly sleep without him. When Teddy is unaccounted for, the whole house goes into high alert, as we all know how important he is. He was located and the bedtime routine continued.

I had to marvel at the two seemingly inconsistent sides of this wonderful boy. I know it is fleeting, that he will cross into adolescence soon. I'm just going to enjoy the age he is now, and the look of simple joy on his face for the two things he loves, baseball and Teddy.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Milk & Wisdom

I had to make the ol' milk run tonight. You know, go to the store late at night so there is milk for cereal in the morning.

The grocery store late at night is entirely different than it is during the day. This store had many people busily stocking shelves, cardboard boxes everywhere, but it was very quiet . . . they were all wearing earphones, listening to something, each in their own private world.

No wonder the checker was dying to talk to someone. I was buying one gallon of milk, but he was friendly and there was no one else in line. We chatted for a few moments and he told me he had two jobs, didn't get much sleep, has two kids, and is the luckiest man around. I looked at him curiously and he said, "I finally grew up. You know, growing up is when you do the right thing, even when no one is watching."

Milk and wisdom in one short visit to Safeway late at night. The wonders of modern convenience never cease to amaze me.

Monday, January 7, 2008

It's Alarming

School has started back after winter break. We all had to rely on our alarm clocks to get out of bed this morning. It's cloudy, it's cold, it's dark, it's Monday. Hit the snooze and roll back over.

All my boys have their own alarm clocks which have several options for alarms. One of the options, which I thought sounded great but no one uses, are various nature noises.

My oldest has his set on the classic alarm beep. Why? He says it is simple and it wakes him up. It doesn't make him want to go back to sleep like music and doesn't freak him out like the sounds of the rainforest.

My middle son has his alarm clock set to sports-talk radio. Why? Well duh, you can never get enough sports!

My youngest has music, the local top 40 station. Why? Because he loves music. And a good song or a bad song (or overplayed song) can determine how his morning goes.

My husband sets his alarm but never hears it because he always wakes up before the alarm actually sounds, and turns it off. Why? I don't know, and it's a little spooky.

My alarm is set to news-talk radio. I slowly rise into consciousness with the sounds of familiar voices telling me about traffic accidents and slow-downs on various freeways, none of which I have to drive on (but I used to), which makes me very happy to be cozy in my bed. I listen to the weather, and I note which reporter seems to have a cold. Sometimes I hit the snooze. Sometimes I hit it again. I like to wake up slowly. Then I usually get at least one boy hug, someone coming in to check on me and make sure I'm awake. That's really the best way to wake up.

It used to be that I woke up and then and made sure my boys were awake. But since I am not so much a morning person, and each person likes to wake up in their own way, it really is much better to have all the alarm clocks. It makes for an interesting cacophony in the hallway. And alarm clocks are never grumpy, even on Mondays.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Lacy Lichen, Stinky Chiton

The boys and I visited Point Lobos State Reserve during winter break, one day before a big storm swept in from the Pacific. It was our first visit to this small but achingly beautiful and dramatic point of land just south of Carmel, California.

Point Lobos is small enough to hike around in a day or two, but the variety and drama of the landscapes and vistas around every corner make even the most active, rock-climbing, exploring boy pause in wonder. It was the kind of day that inspired poetry.

Lace Lichen
by my seven year old son
composed on the trail at Point Lobos

Lace lichen
from trees
like woven cotton
in the winter breeze
sits lace lichen.
I've always
dreamed of it.

Lacy Lichen, Stinky Chiton
A mom's reflection on a visit to Point Lobos

I am made to explore

jellyfish and whale bones as big as park benches
divers just coming in or just going out
seawater and equipment

trails through ghostly trees,
lacy lichen waving to us
it needs only the fog to live

while we need a hearty
picnic lunch and a peanut butter cookie

the barking of distant sea lions arguing
a point of land rising straight
above a churning misty sea

rocks like sheaves of paper stuck in the shore
trees covered in soft carrot-colored
moss misnamed green algae

a sign, pointing to a secret which is no longer hidden
a cove full of pebbles and caves
abalone shells
a large chiton, unmoored, waiting to be discovered
a large rock, tall in the center of the beach, waiting to be summitted

two sweatshirts each and we are shivering
misty air loosing light

minivan cozy and warm
windburned cheeks turn hot

a day of . . . what is that smell?
find a bathroom
with a sink and some soap
don't touch a thing
not the seatbelt not the door
not me
that chiton you were holding
I think it had an odor!

but mom I am made to explore

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

More Yarn, Jesus!

We need more yarn.

What, oh what have I done?

I have three sons OBSESSED with knitting. They are even immersed in the language, discussing dropped stitches, increases and decreases (all unintentional), purling, accusing one another of making their stitches too tight. Wise observations are made: if you have bigger needles, you can get a lot more done. If your yarn is not soft enough it makes you itch and doesn’t feel good.

Is the craft store open on New Year’s Day? I call and get only an uninformative recording. We drive over with much anticipation. YES! It is open and we are the only customers. We get more yarn. Projects can progress.

My nine year old son spends the day alternating between knitting, visiting with cousins, reading his Alex Rider book, and listening and singing along with Jesus Christ Superstar.

What, oh what, have I done?