Star Wars: First Reaction

30 01 2009

The scene: Alex sitting down to watch Star Wars. He sits mesmerized through the famous opening fanfare. We watch as the Imperial Star Destroyer captures Princess Leia’s small space ship. The tension builds. Ominous clanking, men in funny hats line up along the walls, blasters in hand, waiting… then BLAM! The Storm Troopers break through the door of the ship! Fighting! Mayhem!

“Oh no!” Alex exclaims, distraught. It’s the first thing he’s said since the movie started. “The door. It’s broken!”

Hmm, I think to myself. Maybe the finer subtleties of this movie will be lost on him.

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The Force is Strong in This One

27 01 2009

Movie night has become a tradition. We try to keep Alex limited to one movie per week, which we watch on Friday nights. He can now connect the dots… in the morning, if we have to empty the dirty diapers out of his room, he’ll ask, “Is it garbage day?” When we say yes, he knows what to ask next: “Is it movie day?” Friday means he gets to see both the garbage truck and a movie. It’s like having Christmas once a week. He’s so excited. On Fridays, when we pick him up from school, the first words out of his mouth are, “Is it movie day?” I bet he’s been asking his teachers that question all day. And unlike the other four days of the week, there is no fight getting Alex home from school on Fridays.

For my own sanity, I try to vary the movies that Alex watches. It’s difficult. He latches onto whatever movie he saw most recently, and he doesn’t want to watch any other. For the two months between Halloween and Christmas, that movie was The Nightmare Before Christmas. Getting him to watch that movie was one of my proudest parenting moments, because it broke the 6-month reign of The Jungle Book. (Which is a great movie, as far as kids’ movies goes, but any movie gets old after that long. Unless you’re two.) After Christmas, I got Alex to watch both Peter Pan and The Little Mermaid. Ooh, both bad choices. Yes, he likes them. But as an adult, I cringe some of the stereotypes and shallow characters. They’re fine films to watch once, but not once a week for months.

So I need something new. Hopefully something non-Disney. But what? I had no ideas, until I saw this:

Could it be? Is Alex old enough for Star Wars? Well, I’m pretty sure I saw the movie in the theater, and it was released in 1977, so I was close to Alex’s age. Maybe I’ll wait until his third birthday, I thought.

But something happened today. As we were leaving school, one of the teachers gave me a rolled up piece of paper. “Here. This is Alex’s. He was playing with it.” I thought nothing of it and put it in my pocket. When we got home, I pulled it out of my pocket and gave it back to Alex.

He took it, looked at me sadly, and said, “But it’s broken.”

“What’s broken?”

“My light saber.” I couldn’t believe my ears. Where did he learn about light sabers? And did he really say that? He’s enunciation isn’t that clear. Maybe he said life saver. One way to find out. I asked him, “Alex, what do you do with your light saber?”

He took the rolled up paper and waved it around, very clearly like a light saber. That settles it. I think he’s ready for Star Wars for his next movie.





Enjoying the Temperature Inversion

19 01 2009

One side effect of December’s crazy weather is it made Cliff Mass, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington, a local celebrity. Many people around here know Cliff from his Friday morning segments on the local NPR station, where he gives the background on the weekend forecast. He does a great job explaining what’s certain and what’s uncertain about the forecast and offers real insight into the region’s climate.

When the cold and the snow descended on Washington (and didn’t go away!), the entire town found it couldn’t wait for Friday mornings for Cliff’s weekly weather update. We had to know the latest information right now. And that’s when many discovered, like I did, that Cliff now keeps a blog at http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/. It’s now a regular part of my Internet reading.

Here’s an example of why it’s great to get the story behind the weather. If you just listened to the Seattle weather forecasts for the last few days, all you’d know is that we’d have patchy fog and temperatures in the 40s. Reading Cliff’s blog, I learned the story behind the forecast. We were experiencing a temperature inversion – a condition when air temperatures increase as you increase altitude. And as Cliff notes here, you can escape the persistent cold and fog by just going up.

So Saturday morning, that’s what I did. I coaxed Alex into the car saying we were on an adventure to try to find the sun. At our house, we had thick, thick fog. It was really cold outside, by Seattle standards. Those reading this from Minnesota will laugh at our definition of “cold.” Cold here means that I made sure to grab a hat and mittens for Alex when we headed out of the house, but I didn’t make him wear them as we got in the car. We then drove the half hour to Cougar Mountain Park, which I’d never been to before.

For a while, I thought this was going to be a disaster. I’d brought Alex’s hat and mittens, but nothing for myself. The fog showed no signs of breaking up. And as we drove up Cougar Mountain, it just seemed to be getting colder. Crap, I thought, maybe this mountain isn’t high enough to get out of the cold weather.

When I was just five minutes away from the park entrance, I saw that I was in freezing fog. All of the tree branches had about an eighth of an inch of ice on them. It was quite beautiful, and I wished I could stop for pictures, but I didn’t think I could convince Alex that walking around in the foggy cold was fun.

Then, suddenly, I turned a corner and all of the fog was gone. The sun was shining and there was nothing but bright blue skies overhead. It was the strangest thing. Moments later, I was in the parking lot. Alex & I got out, and sure enough, it was quite balmy. I didn’t have a thermometer, but I estimate it was in the upper 40s in the sun, maybe warmer; really quite comfortable.

More amazing than the temperature (and its contrast to the weather at our house) was the view. Here’s a sample.

Mount Baker

Below us, thick clouds. Above us, blue skies. And in the distance, the Cascade range, looking incredibly clear and close. What you see above is Mount Baker, which is almost in Canada. This was a real treat. If it hadn’t been for Cliff Mass, I wouldn’t have known to take this short trip. My only regret is I couldn’t stay longer – I had to get Alex back for a nap and then I had to head out to the afternoon’s piano recital.

If you click the picture below, you can see a slideshow of my photos from the morning.

Alex above the clouds





We’re Still Alive

18 01 2009

Up until last Sunday, things were going so well. In my head, I’d already started drafting a blog post about how I remember the 7-8 month age as being one of the best periods of Alex’s life, and now Patrick’s going through the stage. He’s developed enough that he’s no longer just a blob. Some simple things are now easier, like carrying Patrick around. He’ll hold his torso upright when you carry him, which makes the whole process a lot easier. And Patrick now has a pretty predictable routine, which involves a lot of sleep at night, and he’s just a happy, smiley kid when he’s awake. With Alex, this period lasted a brief month, so I was determined to enjoy it. Last Sunday, things were going so well. Molly & I even made arrangements with a babysitter to watch the two kids and go out to dinner. It was our first dinner out in over seven months.

Things changed when we got home from our dinner Sunday night. During dinner, we did have this feeling of foreboding. Patrick hadn’t been himself that day. When we got home, our fears were realized: Patrick was sick. He was running a 102-degree fever and was just unhappy.

Thus started a week of parenting with a sick kid. Two trips to the doctor, multiple days off work (especially for Molly, who took all of Friday off), stress-inducing arrangements with backup child care (Will she take as good care of Patrick as us? What if Patrick doesn’t like the backup nanny? What do you mean, the nanny can’t give Tylenol?). Patrick’s new, blissful sleep schedule was history. By Friday, everybody’s nerves were shot. (And did I mention Friday was Molly’s birthday?)

What made things worse is Patrick seemed to get better a couple of times over the course of the week. Each day we thought it might be the last one of him being sick, and we got our hopes up. He’d be off of Tylenol/Motrin for half a day, seem happy, then wham! Suddenly, he’d have a 102 fever again, and it seemed like we were back at square one.

My experience Tuesday night went beyond typical sick-child parenting. Patrick had just fallen asleep in his room, Molly was getting Alex ready for bed, and I was doing the dishes when suddenly Patrick started crying. I told Molly not to worry about it. I went in to Patrick’s room, confident that a little time with a pacifier and bouncing in a parent’s arms would calm him down so he could fall back to sleep. It had always worked before.

Not this time. For forty minutes, he screamed. He cried. He arched his back and tried to squirm out of my arms. He screamed some more. My child is really sick, I thought. He’s in pain. He has cancer. He’s dying. This isn’t normal.

After forty minutes, Molly had finished putting Alex to sleep and she came to relieve me. She took Patrick out of my arms and he calmed down right away. She looked at him, took him out of his room, and set him on the play mat in our living room. And sure enough, he was quiet and happy. He didn’t have cancer. His little body hadn’t been wracked with agony from some terminal illness. He just didn’t want to go to sleep, and he had been locked in a contest of wills with his father who kept trying to get him to calm down and shut his eyes.

Oh no, I thought. Maybe the blissful seven-month age was over before it started. I remember clearly what ended the golden era of Alex’s infancy: It was when he developed free will. Things were great when he could sit up, sleep well, hold his body up when we carried him – yet he couldn’t move on his own, and he was just happy being dragged around wherever we needed him to go. Bliss ended when he really cared that we kept him from exploring some new and dangerous corner of the room, and when he knew he really wanted that toy and we couldn’t swap it out with some other. Once Alex had free will, a new and complex era of parenting had begun.

Patrick had just spent forty minutes fighting with me because I was trying to get him to do something he didn’t want to do. Free will is here.

Time will tell if we’ve really crossed that threshold with Patrick. He certainly shows more determination each day to propel himself on our carpet and grab ahold of whatever has caught his eye. Or maybe his feistyness will recede along with his fever.

I’m happy to say that one week after Patrick’s fever first spiked, we seem to be back to normal. As I write this, both kids are sleeping, and they’ve been quiet since bedtime. With luck, we’ll be able to survive until the end of cold and flu season. At least everybody’s survived this past week.





Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium

11 01 2009

On Saturday, we took our first trip to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma. If you asked Alex, he’d say it’s worth the hour drive because he got to go to a zoo and an aquarium at the same time!

When we first got there, I wasn’t sure we were going to see any animals at all. At Point Defiance, they’ve put a carousel at the entrance, and Alex didn’t want to leave it. (Which is strange, because he didn’t want to ride on any of the animals, either; after one ride on a wooden horse, he just wanted to watch the carousel go around and around.) Patrick had his first carousel ride:

Patrick & Mama on the Carousel

Eventually, we enticed Alex away from the carousel with the prospect of a snack and a chance to see some sharks. The zoo did not disappoint on either count. Their food pavilion was clean and served food that, while still clearly cafeteria food (hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, etc.), was still clearly better in both taste and presentation than the industrial food we can get at the Woodland Park Zoo. My hot dog was a good, tasty, all-beef hot dog. Alex’s peanut butter & jelly sandwich was a real sandwich made by real people served wrapped in Saran wrap. At the Woodland Park Zoo, you get these strange, round, sealed Smucker’s Crustables “sandwiches” that were clearly made by robots and look more like hockey pucks than sandwiches.

Bonus food points, from the toddler point of view: The kid’s meal comes in your choice of plastic lunchbox. Alex picked the monkey one and named it Chico Bon Bon. It hasn’t left his side since he got it yesterday. He slept with it and took a bath with it. Here he is, holding it:

Alex Running

Point Defiance has headline animals that we don’t have at our Seattle locations. We saw the sharks, the walruses, and the Beluga whale. (We didn’t see the polar bears. I guess we’ll have to go back.) Alex got to see the Beluga whale poop underwater. To him, that alone was worth the drive down. If you asked him about the zoo, I’m sure the poop is the one thing he’d tell you about.

Here Comes the WhaleWalrus Flippers

There's a whale!Molly, Patrick, and the Sharks

Point Defiance feels like one of those smaller establishments that has to try harder! to compete with its more well-known and well-established alternatives. For Seattle families who are now familiar with the Seattle attractions, head south to Tacoma. You’ll like what you find.

Click the picture below to see a slideshow of all of my pictures from the day:

Tiger Stripes





Alex Dancing

11 01 2009




Some Updates on Patrick

6 01 2009

A little smile

The little guy just keeps getting bigger. Within the past week, he’s really mastered sitting up on his own. (For a few weeks now, he’s been sitting with help.)

And while he doesn’t crawl yet, you’re certainly not safe leaving something interesting within a 5 foot radius of him. He’s shown remarkable determination to roll, kick, scoot, and army crawl to get whatever’s caught his eye. Usually that thing is a piece of Alex’s train track.

He’s also getting the hang of eating. Unlike Alex, who took to it from day one, Patrick didn’t like it at the beginning. Molly had to catch him at just the right time for him to try food. If he was too hungry, he’d just want to nurse. If he wasn’t hungry enough, he wasn’t interested in trying food. Now he eats. He doesn’t eat as widely as Alex did (tonight, he rejected spinach & potatoes), but he’s eating. We’ve also given him Cheerios and slices of pear in those nifty mesh bags.

And I hope I don’t jinx things by writing this, but he’s also gotten the knack of sleeping. Ever since the day after Christmas, he’s been waking up only one time to eat and sleeping the rest of the night. This is a big improvement from being up every 2-3 hours. Let’s hope it continues!