Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book backtalk

Sometimes, I wonder whether our dedicated reading to Nathaniel is backfiring.

Lately, we have been reading a book called, "Sam and the Firefly." In a nut, it's about an owl named Sam, who befriends a firefly named Gus and teaches Gus how he can write in the nighttime sky with his light. Gus, ever the miscreant, then uses this newfound skill to wreak all sorts of chaos, such as causing cars to crash and airplanes to collide.

Sam is horrified as he witnesses this spectacle, and he lets Gus know it. To this, Gus replies, "Let me be, you old hoot, you old owl."

In the end, Gus does something good with his firelight writing in the sky, and so the meaning is he's learned that it's better to use this talent for good than for bad.

We figured that would be the message that Nathaniel, our nearly 3-year-old, would have gotten, too.

Yesterday, as I was driving him and Isaiah home, Nathaniel began screaming. These were ear-splitting shrieks, uttered for no other reason than to annoy Daddy. I asked him to stop. He let forth with another screech. I told him to stop. He shrieked again, and then hurled at me: "I will scream if I want to. Let me be, you old Daddy!"

Wonder where he got that from?

For good measure, Natty Lou underscored his resistance to authority by screaming again, even louder than before. And, for the first time, I pulled the car over with a screeching halt, turned around, glared at him and told him if he didn't stop, he'd sit in that car for a long, long time.

He got that message. At least for now, my words carry more weight than a book.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

School Days

A quick post, this one. Nathaniel has just finished his first week of school. Well, his week is really just two days. But he made it, although I have precious little to report, as we know very little about what he did.

We know so little because Nathaniel has been so beat that he's a verbal vegetable by the time he's been picked up and transported home. The little information we have comes from the daily activity log provided by his teacher, Miss Stacy.

Day #1: Nathaniel "played with Magnatiles, enjoyed playing outside and listening to 'Ira Sleeps Over.'" He ate apple straws and drank milk during morning snack, polished off his bagged lunch and gulped down some Cheez-its and water in the afternoon.

Day #2: Nathaniel listened to the book "Froggy Goes to Camp," played with building blocks and talked about what made him happy as part of this week's theme of being in touch with your feelings. The best description, however, was this: "Nathaniel also enjoyed showing us his dance moves."

Now that's the boy we know and love.

He also napped, by george – for the first time in weeks. He must have been exhausted.

We snapped some pictures on his first day (see above). We think they really express a range of emotions balled into one: the innocence, the nervousness, the competing tension of angst and excitement. Looking at these photos, it's clear Nathaniel had been thinking for a while about this day. He alternated between silent and chattering repeatedly, "Are we going to school?" on the way.

When we arrived and went inside, Nathaniel turned oddly silent. He looked around and seemed somewhat intimidated by his surroundings. When one of the teachers tried to engage him to play with some blocks, Nathaniel sat still as a statue, just nodding. After a few minutes, though, he began to relax. Michelle was the last one to leave, and as she bade him goodbye, he gave her a kiss and turned quickly back to playing kitchen.

That's our boy, too. He had been talking about school for a long time, and now he's there. And it looks like he'll be happy, too.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


There are moments in a child's life that a parent marks as important. A baby's first word, crawling, walking, and other milestones. They're important because they mean a child's made a major developmental leap, physically or mentally.

Tomorrow, Nathaniel starts school. This is one of those moments. It's not formal school, per se, but he will be immersed in a structured environment and receive formal instruction for the first time. There will be playtime, nap time and I would imagine general goof-off time, but the pre-pre-school's basis is on teaching the children who attend.

Nathaniel has been looking forward to this day for months. In fact, the idea of going to school served as his primary motivation to be potty-trained. Now, still about two months shy of his 3rd birthday, our little guy is pretty close to being fully versed in the business of doing your duty in the bathroom. The credit goes mostly to him. He was driven to learn to do his business in the potty, knowing that the reward would be to go to school (and the lollipops along the way).

As a parents, it is a bit bittersweet. I was thinking about all this at church this morning, as I watched Nathaniel playing the piano – not badly, I must say, with perfect posture at the bench to boot. He suddenly seemed bigger to me, more grown up. No longer could I mistake him for just a toddler. He had a veneer of maturity that made it hard for me to see him other than a little boy, forming his own views and opinions and full of hopes and promise. Where had the last three years gone? How did my little boy suddenly seem so grown? So, in a way, I'm as excited as he is about school – the beginning of the opening his mind and his imagination to all that scholarship has to offer. But I'm just a bid saddened, knowing that a phase in his life is ending, never to return, except in my mind.

Watching your children grow is exhilarating and heartbreaking at the same time.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Goodnight Irene

You all may have heard a hurricane swept into New England last weekend. It raised quite a stir, from the frenzied pre-landfall reporting to the unexpected flooding Irene produced in Vermont and upstate New York.

Around here, Irene summoned up some impressive winds and waves, and even gave me a chance to play reporter again for a day. (You can read that story here.) I ventured outside about 1 p.m. on Sunday, about four hours after the most powerful elements of the hurricane had swept through. I was bowled over by what I saw: stately trees snapped in half, innumerable branches strewn in the streets and on sidewalks. In some cases, the leafy debris was so dense it blocked my path, and I had to find another route. A 40- to 50-foot tree had fallen over a few blocks from our house, and it appeared to be lying on some power lines. First responders had blocked passage on the street with yellow caution tape. Not much further away, on the main street that runs through our quaint downtown, at least one massive tree had given up the ghost, taking a pole and several power lines with it. Just up the block was part of a two-by-four, some cables still attached, hanging in a web of wires overhead. It looked as if a projectile had been fired and been ensnared in a web.

Here's a video of what I saw downtown:

Four blocks of the main street had been blocked off because of the downed wires, some of which danced with each gust of wind, like a puppet to a techno beat. I walked on, down toward the water, just a few blocks away. There, I watched the water boil, wave after foaming wave churning their way northward into the town harbor, and splitting their guts against the rock walls. I was awestruck. The bay was angry, impetuous, whipped by the lashes of its slavemaster, the wind. Standing near the water, the droplets washed over me as if I were standing in a summer rain. The marinas were vacant; the boat owners had moored their vessels in open water. I get that now. Why would you subject your craft to slamming against a wooden pier that may come unmoored when you can tie it in open water and let it rise and fall with the current, no matter how strong?

Here's a video from the harbor.

I returned from my walkabout about 2:30, I think, and despite the carnage I had witnessed, all was well chez nous. Michelle had planned well for a power outage; she had filled the bathtub (in case we needed water to flush), she had filled up many containers with drinking water, she had cranked up the cold settings on the refrigerator and freezer, she had stacked the freezer with frozen Tupperware to keep it cold as well, and she had moved some easy eats to a cooler. Thanks to her, we were ready, more or less.

It didn't seem necessary. Irene was dying down by the afternoon, albeit with some gusty last breaths. At one point, Michelle and I looked at each other: We were in the clear, we thought, and we were talking about breaking down our storm preparations when ... the electricity went out.

OK, the power is out. No worries. In fact, it was kind of fun! For the next two days, I'd submit we partook of quite the adventure. Neighbors checked in on neighbors. We dined two consecutive nights with our friends across the street, the St. Angelos. Feasted, really. Pancakes, turkey sausage and fruit salad the first night and spaghetti with meatballs, sausages and grilled zucchini the next. Clearing out your fridge does have some advantages.

Come nightfall, an eerie calm fell over the streets. It was dark (naturally) everywhere you looked, the inkiness spoiled only by darting shafts of beams from flashlights or headlamps. Inside homes, lit candles gave off a charm and warmth that lights fail to deliver. Wandering outside with a glass of red wine in my hand, I looked up and was bowled over by the starry skies above. I saw constellations I didn't even know existed. I even saw the faint wisps of the Milky Way. It's astounding how the ambient glow of even small towns can blot out the night sky, and take us further away from the natural world.

Anyway, for four nights, we were tossed back in time – when simpler things – a book, conversations with family and friends – held sway. Before 9 each night, we were bushed; it felt like midnight, and we headed to bed. I understand now why, before electricity, people rose with the sun and accomplished much of what they needed by nightfall. You simply can't do that much in the dark.

At 3:30 a.m. on Thursday, amidst the roar of generators all around, Michelle nudged me awake. "Notice anything different?" she asked.
On my back, I opened my eyes. Light streamed down on me. Still groggy, I blinked a few times before I made the connection.

Electricity had returned. Hallelujah. I never felt so grateful for something I've taken mostly for granted.