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Advice to My Kids as They Begin Their Education

Next month, the Little Man will start Kindergarten. He has been in pre-school since he was 15 months old, spending his days from 7 am – 4 pm at the school (as does the Little Miss) and so he is used to the long days, but this will be at a new school, and it will be the real beginnings of his education. This got me thinking about my own schooling, which in turn got me thinking about what advice I’d offer to my kids as they started out with their own education. It didn’t take me long to come up with 4 things to pass along:

1. It is okay to make mistakes, get things wrong, and occasionally fail at something, so long as you try to learn from those mistakes.

The Little Man in particular gets frustrated when he makes a mistake, or when he doesn’t win at a game. I’m not sure where this comes from because I’m of the opinion that mistakes are how we learn. Natural geniuses aside, learning is rarely easy. I can remember how halting I read when I first learned to read. I had to sound out every word, mangling half of them. It seemed to take forever to get through one page. But one day, I no longer noticed the words. Instead, I noticed the story that they told. It took practice (a lot of practice!) but I got there.

Even failing at some things shouldn’t get you down. We can’t be expert at everything. In college, I took a macro economics class. I attended every lecture. I did all of the assigned reading and homework. I ended up with D in the class. To this day, macro economics stumps me. In many respects, the earlier you learn your trouble-spot, the better you are.

The most important thing is to try to learn from the mistakes you make, in school work, and socially as well.

2. Write in your books!

I wish I had done this more. Write in your books! When you are reading, write your thoughts in the margins as you go. Include your opinions (“This passage is wonderful!”, “Was Doyle on crack when he wrote this?”). This will say you work when it comes time to talk about what you’ve read. But by writing in your books, you also make the book uniquely your own.

Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Winston Churchill are just three people who wrote in the margins of the books that they read. You will be in very good company.

3. It is okay to have an opinion about things; it is okay not to like something you have read for school.

Through about 7th grade, I went through school thinking that every book I was assigned to read had to be good, because otherwise, why would it be assigned. (The notion of learning what not to do by reading a bad book was foreign to me.) Sometime in 8th grade, however, we had to read Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I read it, and loathed it. Looking back on it, I just think I’m not a fan of the loquacious Victorian style. What bothers me most, in retrospect, was that I was afraid to express my opinion of the book in class out of fear that I’d get in trouble for not liking the book.

At some point (probably in 10th or 11th grade) I did express my opinions about books in class. What I found was that my teachers seemed to like this. Looking back on it, I think it is because it was clear that I read the book and formed an opinion about it.

There will be things that you read that you won’t like. Read them anyway, learn what you can from them, but don’t hesitate to express your opinion about them. It is part of the joy of reading.

4. It is okay to go beyond what you are learning, if you find it interesting.

If you find yourself interested in something you learned in class, or read about for class, by all means, pursue it. Don’t feel like you have to be hemmed in by what you are given in class. If you read about Soviet-era Russia in a social studies book, and want to learn more, go to the library and check out a history book. If your science book spends a few paragraphs on black holes and you want more, go to the library (or online) and learn more.

It is okay to go beyond what you are learning in class if you find it interesting. You can also use what you learn later, and if you are entertained while learning, that is all the better.


The main problem with advice like this is that it usually has be learned from experience. That may be so, but this is the advice I would pass along to the Little Man and the Little Miss as they begin their journey through school.

The Little Miss’s Unique Contributions to the English Lexicon

The Little Miss, who will turn three in August, has always been both precocious and strong-willed. She prefers her way, even though she understands there are other ways, and it turns out, that her way with words are often more efficient than other ways. Here are just three examples from the Little Misses unique vocabulary.

1. Sockpants. Instead of stockings–the kind she would wear with a dress, that pull all the way up–the Little Miss insists on referring to this item of apparel as “sockpants.” Which, when you think about it, is a perfectly concise and accurate description of what they are.

2. Rainbrella. It makes absolutely no sense, at least to the Little Miss, calling that thing that keeps you dry when it is raining an umbrella. What the heck does “um” mean, anyway1? She calls it, completely of her own accord, a “rainbella.” Once again, it is simplicity itself.

3. Babysuit. In the winter, the Little Miss would wear white tanktops underneath her other clothes. She took to calling these garments “babysuits,” possibly because, without arms, they have some resemblance to bathing suits that she wears when she goes swimming.

Like the Little Man, the Little Miss seems to have inherited my ear for song lyrics. She learns them remarkably fast, and that means that our evenings often ring with the dulcet tones of the Little Miss singing “Let It Go” or “For the First Time in Forever” or “Do You want to Build a Snowman.” For the latter, I’ve noticed that the Little Miss hasn’t quite misinterpreted the lyrics of one verse. Instead, I’d say she’s reinterpreted them based on her own experience. Instead of singing:

We used to be best buddies, but now we’re not, I wish you would tell me why….

The Little Miss sings,

We used to be best bunnies, but now we’re not, I wish you would tell me why…

And no amount of correction will convince her that her interpretation is wrong. Because in her world, it isn’t.

At the very least, I think that both “sockpants” and “rainbrella” are worth of serious consideration for extended use. It will be interesting to see what other portmanteau words the Little Miss manages to invent as her vocabulary continues to grow.

Notes

  1. Apparently, it comes down from the Latin “umbra” meaning dark spot, or shade, which I suppose makes sense, but the Little Miss has never used an umbrella for shade, only for rain, and I think therefore her term makes far more sense.

Being A Big Brother

We slept in later than usual for a Saturday. The Little Man, almost 5 years old now, came into our room sometime before sunrise and got into bed with us. Sometime later, after sunrise, we heard the Little Miss, 2-1/2, calling for us. We both wanted to sleep in1 and in an act of small miracle, the Little Man got out of our bed, walked into their shared room, and greeted the Little Miss.

The morning routine involves the Little Miss using the potty before she comes into our room. We both lay there, waiting for the call, “Mommy, Little Miss needs to go potty!” But it didn’t come. We lay there and listened in wonder as the Little Man took charge.

“Do you to go potty, Little Miss?” he said.

“Yes.”

“Okay, let’s go. You want me to help with your pajamas?”

“I can do it,” the Little Miss said.

We could hear her unzip her feetie pajamas and sit on the potty. We could hear her start to go. What we heard next was one of those things that, as a parent, melts your heart. The Little Man said, “Little Miss, I’m very proud of you for going potty.”

He helped her back into her pajamas and then walked her into our room and into our bed, where the four of us lazed around for a little while longer. The Little Man might have been proud of the Little Miss, but we simply beamed with pride at what a good big brother he has become.

Notes

  1. I’ve found, as I’ve gotten older, that “sleeping in” is a relative term. Anything after 6 am feel like sleeping in, even on a Saturday. Anything past 7 am feels almost lazy. We slept past 7 this morning.

Inherited Traits: Or, What I Have Passed on to the Little Man and Little Miss

When you have kids, you kind of expect there are certain things they will inherit: eye color, hair thickness (or thinness), etc. These are all physical characteristics, and our kids have a good mixture from both of us. But I’ve noticed more and more non-physical things that they have inherited from me.

The Little Man has inherited my ear for lyrics and music. He remembers all of the songs I sing, and I sometimes find him singing them to himself. I’m not talking about children’s lullabies, either. I’m talking things like R.E.M.’s “Superman” or Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong’s “Gone Fishin’”.

The Little Miss has inherited another of these traits. I have this strange ability to quote from any episode of M*A*S*H, and do so frequently when in the company of willing conspirators, much to Kelly’s chagrin. Sometimes, when an episode of M*A*S*H is on TV, I’ll often say the lines just before the actors, which I know can be very annoying–but I just can’t help myself. The Little Miss seems to have inherited a version of this peculiar talent. Except, instead of M*A*S*H, she quotes lines from Caillou–often immediately before the character says the line. I noticed this for the first time a few nights ago and it was slightly disconcerting. She has done it more than once, since, but I think she does it now because she knows how proud it makes me. She will be a very good TV episode quoter, just like her dad.

When I Need Perspective and Relief from Stress

When I put the kids to bed at night, we listen to about 10 minutes of what they call “rain music.” This is really an album of white-noise tracks of thunderstorms and rain storms. It is very calming, and I often listen to this while writing when there is other noise in the background. The Little Miss does not want to sleep in her room at the moment, so she, the Little Man and I go into the Little Man’s room. He climbs into his bed and I tuck him in.

The Little Miss then points to the beanbag chair on the floor next the Little Man’s bed and said, quite firmly, “You sit, daddy!”

I drop into the beanbag chair and she crawls in beside me with her entourage of stuffed animals and baby dolls. We turn off the lights, I turn on the rain music, and the three of us lay there in the darkness, listening to the sound of rain and the occasional gentle rumble of thunder.

Sometime, the Little Man wants to hold my hand while we do this. So there I am with both of my kids, holding the Little Man’s hand and with the Little Miss nestled in the crook of my left shoulder and it is just wonderful. I’m not sure there is anything that acts as quickly as a stress reliever than laying there for 10 minutes with the kids falling asleep around me.

The Little Miss Turns Two

Happy birthday, Little Miss! It’s hard to believe that the Little Miss was born two years ago today. We have outgrown babies and now have a preschooler and toddler, although technically they are both preschoolers since the Little Miss goes to the same preschool as the Little Man.

As a doting father, it is incumbent upon me to say that she is utterly adorable. And so she is. Mostly. She seems to catch onto things with a quickness that is as scary as it is impressive. She is currently going through a Mommy phase, where Mommy has to do absolutely everything and I am not allowed to do anything, unless, of course, she is desperate and there appears to be no alternative but to ask Daddy for help.

She has been speaking in complete sentences for some time now, but she has an older brother, to say nothing of native intelligence, to help her in this respect. She communicates very clearly, actually, often being very specific about what she wants to tell us, or how she wants things to be.

She dotes on her big brother. She likes watching the shows he watches, and she can name all of the super heroes on sight because the Little Man can do this, and she has learned it from him.  She wants to do everything that he does, and is the perfect little emulator.

Mostly, she is just a little bundle of joy.

Happy birthday, Little Miss! I hope you have a fun day today!

You Cannot Fool the Little Miss

I‘ve noticed something recently, a kind of harsh mathematical truth about the Little Miss: as she grows increasingly adorable, she also grows increasingly willful. It’s not a direct proportion either. I’d say her willfulness factor increases to the cube of her adorability, which, from an evolutionary point of view, makes a good deal of sense, I suppose.

Take the other night, for instance. We have a pretty solid bedtime routine. It usually ends with Kelly getting the Little Miss into her sleep sack, and then the Little Miss stands on our bed and shouts to me (she shouts because I am usually writing and wearing my noise-cancelling headset), “Daddy, I’m ready!” But on this night, when Kelly said it was time for bed, the Little miss replied, calmly but firmly, “No.”

Various things were tried, various bribes were made, but to no avail. The Little Miss had taken a position and she was not going to give up the high ground. More warnings were given. More bribes were made. Quid pro quo was in full force. Eventually, satisfied she’d gotten what she wanted, the Little Miss acquiesced and I put her in her bed.

Usually, as our routine goes, I lie down next to the Little Miss and we listen to “rain music” on my iPhone for the 10 minutes or so it takes for her to fall asleep. The one significant variation to this routine comes when we listen to rain music for 30 or 40 minutes, not because the Little Miss won’t sleep, but because I have fallen asleep. But this seemed to be an ordinary night. We had figured out some way of getting her into bed quietly, mostly by distracting her from the fact that she was going to bed, and now, we both laid quietly in her room, the Little Miss in her bed, me on the floor, listening to rain music.

I was drowsy, but I kept watching her. Sometimes, I watch her as she falls asleep. On this particularly evening, she lay on her back looking at the ceiling, and I could actually see her mind working. It was eerie. But she didn’t stir. She simply stared at the ceiling, quiet, while the rain music continued to play.

My eyes had closed and I had nearly fallen asleep when I heard her speak suddenly. She didn’t shout or howl. She said, as if in sudden realization, “I am in my bed.” She paused and then followed it up with a vehement, “Oh man!

I am not a mind-reader so I cannot say this with certainty, but I believe that in that moment, the Little Miss realized that, despite her protest, she ended in her bed anyway, and by her own acquiescence, and was expressing her own utter frustration.

A Perspective on Priorities

When I picked up the Little Miss from her daycare today, she had a bloody nose. Not a big deal, just a little bloody nose. She has a wonderful daycare and the caretakers told me what had happened that led to the bloody nose. Perfectly normal stuff.

I brought her home. Kelly and the Little Man were already home. The Little Miss had brought a rose for Kelly for Mother’s Day.

“Happy mommy’s day,” the Little Miss said, running into the house to give the rose to Kelly.

“Oh, thank you!” Kelly said. There was a pause. “What happened to–”

“She got a bloody nose at school,” I said.

The Little Man perked up. At nearly four years old, he is fascinated by blood.

I explained what happened. “When so-and-so’s dad came to pick him up, all of the kids suddenly wanted to play with the same toy, or something. I think they said it was a dinosaur. Anyway, in the commotion, whosits threw the dinosaur and it bobbed the Little Miss squarely in the nose.”

“Aww, my poor little girl!” Kelly said. The Little Miss did not seem bothered by this in the least.

The Little Man seemed to consider the story carefully and then asked what he deemed to be the most significant question.

“What kind of dinosaur was it?”

Get Whatever You Want in 12 Easy Steps

This post is brought to you courtesy of the Little Miss, who demonstrated the process this very evening to a small audience. I am merely passing along her methods, which, I should add, are frighteningly effective. Credit where credit is due.

Step 1. Begin nonchalantly. Stand up on your mom and dad’s bed.

Step 2. Release your stored up energy. Jump around on mom and dad’s bed, until mom says, “It’s time to relax, no jumping.”

Step 3. Demonstrate your independence. Continue to jump anyway until mom say, “If you don’t listen you’ll have to go into your own bed.”

Step 4. Call the bluff. Live for the moment. Do it again.

Step 5. Marvel at how quickly your are transported to your own bed.

Step 6. Play along. Lay down quietly, feigning sleep.

Step 7. Wait five minutes.

Step 8. Start yelling for mommy. Throw in a few screams. Turn on the waterworks.

Step 9. When daddy asks why you are crying, say, “I want mommy pick me up.”

Step 10. Surprise your opponent. When daddy says, “You can’t sleep in our bed, you have to sleep in here,” you say in your charming, voluble, 21-month-old voice, “I be good girl!”

Step 11. Puppy-eyes for effect.

Step 12. Marvel at how quickly you are transported to mommy and daddy’s bed.

Game. Set. Match.

The Little Miss Channels… The Terminator?

The nightly routine

We go upstairs. The kids play for a little while, while Kelly and I do various tasks in preparation for the next day. Lay out clothes. Pack bags and backpacks. Then it’s time for a bath or shower. When that is over we read a book. Sometimes, we read two, one for the Little Man and another for the Little Miss. When the book-reading is done, the kids usually climb onto our bed. They each get to watch a show. The Little Miss generally watches Caillou, while the Little Man, obsessed with superheroes as he is1, watches The Avengers cartoon. They both drink their milk.

It is during this brief respite that I squeeze in the my daily fiction-writing. I can generally get as much as 500 words done before the shows are over. At some point, Kelly gets the Little Miss into her sleep-sack, usually with only minor protest. Not long after that, the Little Miss will say, “Daddy, I ready!” Usually she has to yell this, as I wear my noise-canceling headset as I write. Usually, I respond (once I hear her), with “Okay, I just need two minutes.” This is because the Little Miss has chosen the exact wrong moment in my writing to “be ready.” I finish my thoughts, typing feverishly. Then I stand.

“Okay,” I say, taking out my iPhone and holding it up, “should we go listen to rain music?”

The Little Miss waddles across the bed in her sleep sack, a big grin on her face. She practically leaps into my arms.

“Goo-night, mommy,” she says. “Goo-night, Little Man.”

“Goodnight,” Kelly says.

The Little Man generally says nothing, absorbed as he is in what is going on with the Avengers. We prod him and without taking his eyes off the TV he says, “Goodnight!”

“I love you!” the Little Miss says.

“I love you,” Kelly says. “Sweet dreams.”

We start to walk out of the room and this is where the Little Miss channels the Terminator, every night, without fail.

“I be back,” she announces.

And before morning, she almost always is.

Notes

  1. I wonder where he gets that from?

Daylight Saving Pet Peeves

First and foremost, it is daylight saving time, and not daylight savings time as I both see and hear it referred to by so many people. There is a difference, slight at it may be. It is not a bank account into which you put your accumulated savings of daylight (and earn an utterly meaningless amount of daylight interest). You cannot withdraw daylight from your daylight savings account in the winter to get you an extra hour of sunlight. Small pet peeve, I know, but there it is nevertheless.

I actually like daylight saving time, and I like even more that it has been expanded. It is, like my birthday, yet another harbinger of spring, and spring is probably my favorite season. (And spring is always so much better after a somewhat cold and snowy winter!)

My real pet peeve regarding daylight saving time has plagued me for only a few years. Daylight saving time and parenting don’t mix well. Parenting, especially when your kids are very young, seems to be all about routine. Daylight saving time (and the eventual return to standard time) screw up those routines. It’s not so bad when your kids are infants. But when they are toddlers or preschoolers, it can wreak havoc on a well-ordered household.

Advantage: we can start taking our evening walks again as a family.

Disadvantage: the kids aren’t tired at their usual bedtime.

Advantage: it feels like we have more time to accomplish all our chores in the evening.

Disadvantage: the kids see the extra sunlight as meaning its not time to do those chores yet.

It took me an hour to get the Little Miss to fall asleep last night, this despite putting her to bed nearly an hour later to try to compensate for daylight saving time. I suspect that I would not have had this problem had we not sprung forward early Sunday morning1.

Notes

  1. Okay, who else likes to wake up at 1:59am on Sunday and watch the clock on the cable box change from 1:59 to 3:00am? Anyone? Anyone?

The Little Miss’s Trio of Songs

Despite the fact that the Little Miss is only 18 months old, she already knows a bunch of songs. Some of these are snippets of the songs I sing to her instead of the traditional lullabies. (Think: “Where the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day” or “Far Away Places.”) But recently, I noticed that she knows most of the words and tune to three different songs: “ABC”, “Bah-Bah-Black Sheep”, and “Twinlke, Twinkle, Little Star,” If I start singing one of these songs, she’ll jump right in and join me, getting most of the words, and all of the tune right. And as soon as I finish singing, say, “ABC,” she’ll bounce up and down and say, “Bah-Bah Black Sheep!” and we’ll move on to that one. It really is amazing to me.

Of course, it is also a bit of a cheat. After all, the “tune” to all three songs is identical. Hum it to yourself and fit the lyrics to each of the three songs and you’ll see they are identical. Even so, the Little Miss’s voluble singing abilities continue to amaze me–and always bring a smile to my face.