Thursday, March 30, 2006

Absurd Conversation #7,439

Conversation between the boy and myself as shoes were going on everyone to head out to the Truck Playground this beautiful morning:

Boy: The shoe goes on my "foot" [pronounced like "food"]
Daddy: On your what?
Boy: J [our nanny] says "foot" [again like "food" and pointing this time for emphasis]
Daddy: She says it like that because she speaks Polish as her first language. We speak English. And Momma speaks Vietnamese, too.
Boy: I speak Firetruck!
Daddy: Firetruck? What do you say in Firetruck?
Boy: WooOOOOOoooo. WoooOOOOOoooo. [other siren sounds]
Daddy: What does that mean?
Boy: It means we’re going to the Truck Playground. [brief pause] I don’t know what it means.
Daddy: Okay. What language does Q [little sister] speak?
Boy: She doesn’t speak anything. She’s just a baby.

Can't argue with that.

Friday, March 24, 2006

City Nature

When rummaging through the laundry yesterday, a cricket leapt out of the socks and sweatpants. I called the boy over right away to have a look. We’re unaccustomed to bugs in and around the house, so he didn't quite know what to make of it. My own childhood was full of things like crickets and skunks and snakes and the fascination that goes along with them. When I was a bit older than he is now, I checked out the same spider book from the public library at least twelve times in a row. I spent hours understanding the ant lions that waited in their little craters around my babysitter’s porch.

“It’s a real cricket,” he said, taking a few steps back.

A few months ago, a (different?) cricket began chirping in our bathroom just before the boy was to brush his teeth. I ushered him slowly in since we have to go far away to hear such things. He insisted on touching me the whole time, and we talked through the what and the why. He managed to convince himself that the cricket was friendly and the sound was pleasant, and I think he actually missed it when it finally went quiet. He even held his breath to listen.

But the real, live cricket heading for his room required a bigger backstory to tame. My wife, as always, was ready.

Momma: What’s his name?
Boy: Cricket.
Momma: Does the cricket have a little sister?
Boy: Yes!
Momma: What’s her name?
Boy: “Little Cricket.”
Momma: Does he have a daddy?
Boy: Yes!
Momma: What’s his name?
Boy: His name is cricket, too.
Momma: What’s his mommy’s name?
Boy: Her name is cricket, too. And he’s got a brown balloon. Q [our daughter] doesn't want to eat him.

[For the record: We went for balloons earlier that day; the boy’s was orange and Q’s was green. And Q most likely did want to eat him.]

We agreed that Cricket’s parents were probably worried, so we herded him uneasily into a plastic cup to take outside.

Cricket in a cup
Out back in the park, the cold wind working against us, the boy and I found a suitably leafy spot to make the drop. It felt, just for a moment, oddly like a funeral. The feeling obviously wasn’t mutual, though--he quickly popped off the lid and turned over the cup, sending the bug kicking into the brown grass. I could see it head deep.

Heading in, we talked about seeing him again when the weather warmed and what he will have for breakfast when he gets home. Turns out that crickets like french toast, too.

Monday, March 06, 2006

"I hope the scoops are working today"

We're all basically still coming back from a stomach bug that ran through our house quickly but meanly. My wife has managed to avoid actually getting sick, but she has had to play nurse to the rest of us--first my son throwing up into her lap, then me (not on her, thankfully), then the girl (on her again). Even our nanny can't avoid it, and she has to take a day off. The food stays down after about two days, but during that time eating still feels like a dare.

Once we're feeling up to it, the boy and I head outside just to be outside, to exchange the old air around us with some fresher stuff. The air certainly is brisk; winter has returned with a vengeance after a teasing shock of spring melted the record snow in a couple of days. He wears his new blue coat that keeps him "toasty," and we walk along the empty playground with nowhere in particular to go.

We end up in the Irish Hunger Memorial, an interesting exhibit (for lack of a better word) that sits right across from the Mercantile Exchange and the Embassy Suites. It consists of a ramp up into a roofless replica of an Irish farmhouse and then up further still to an overlook where you can see the Hudson, wide and probably a little salty from the close ocean, stretch in both directions. The ramp into the memorial is more like a tunnel, with glowing quotes on the wall and voices telling stories about famine and death. It's a bit of a mystery to me why he likes it so much (particularly this tunnel), but it's close and has a nice view, so we're regulars.

When the cold starts to make us forget our fingers, I suggest that we go into the local movie theater building and watch the construction of yet another luxury high rise. He's been into trains for some time now, but big machines that dig and haul and lift still capture his wonder, and we can ride the escalators up (which he's extremely good at now by himself) to the big window and the heater where we can stay as long as we want. He likes this idea (we've done it quite a bit these cold days), and says, "I hope the big excavator scoops are working today."

I know a little about child development, and his response catches me a bit. There's this big cognitive leap that happens around age three and a half or four when kids grasp that other people can have their own beliefs--and in particular can have false beliefs. Prior to that leap, children fail what's often called the false belief task. A common test goes like this: A kid sees mommy and daddy put, say, candy in a drawer. After daddy leaves, the kid then sees mommy move the candy to a cupboard. When daddy returns, the kid will almost always say that daddy believes the candy is in the cupboard. Around age four, though, the kid will almost always say (correctly) that daddy mistakenly believes the candy is in the drawer. The change really is profound--it's the point at which kids become their own thinkers and when they begin to recognize the faults that we're all prone to.

But back to hoping. At not quite three, the boy hasn't yet made this leap, of course, but he's on his way. He's been using the word 'hope' a lot these days, and as a parent it makes me a little nervous. To hope for something is to want something to happen, to anticipate that the world will be wonderful when the right time or place arrives. Adults know all too well, though, that hopes have a way of going unfulfilled--we even tend to say that they've been "dashed," a rather violent end to something so powerfully happy. I worry, then, now that he's hoping, about my son's running into this blunt fact.

We're lucky. At the top of the escalators we find a big wheel loader scooping dirt into a dumptruck, and the tall red crane pulls a towering steel beam up into place while a bunch of men guide its base with a thick rope. This is the other side of hope that I want him to know, that hopes can be met. Transfixed and smiling, he watches the work below until it's time for lunch, and we bundle back up for the windy walk home. I carry him part of the way because I still can (he still wants me to), and I think to myself that I have to tell my wife about this when we get home. I wonder also what he's thinking, and though I'm not sure, I hope that it's of good things to come.