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Pre-Christmas Implosion '08

Well, we've survived Thanksgiving and we're frighteningly close to Christmas. I say 'frighteningly' because at this point I have no idea if I have presents for everyone. And, given the way the season is crashing down on us, I probably won't know until after the holidays are over. I console myself with the certain knowledge that I have enough Bushmills to get all the way through New Year's Day.

Theron continues to become more talkative. A little as two months ago, he spoke mainly to ask for things. Around the time the last entry was posted, he was repeating things back to us - practicing his pronunciation, I think. Soon after that, he started making comments of his own: "That's so funny." He also started ordering us around: "Mommy right there." Or he'll give us directions: "Daddy, that way."

Last Sunday (December 14th, for the record), he told his first knock-knock joke. We were at McDonalds, and he was playing in the gerbil tubes. He knocked on the wall. I said, "Who's there?" He thought about this for a moment, and said: "Bat." This was good; I recognized this. It's the opening joke from the Elmo Says Boo DVD. So I said, "Bat, who?" And he replied: "Assa babbla ig, Count. Ovva bledd urgin blot wov tadah deeda sha funny scawy jokes."

It helps if you're familiar with his source material.*

He's also prone to random bursts of singing. In addition to "Jingle Bells", he can recite the alphabet song and sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer". His singing has actually improved; the first time he graced us with "Jingle Bells", it was the most mournful dirge I'd ever heard.

And, of course, he climbs, runs, and jumps at every possible opportunity.

Small Boy on a Big Ranch
For Thanksgiving, we went down to a dude ranch. We rode with my wife's parents, who were sponsoring the trip. Her sister and brother-in-law met us down there with their new daughter.** They also brought their own horses, which was especially helpful since the ranch always seemed to have more people who wanted to ride than they did horses available.

The ranch was located in south Texas, about an hour east of San Antonio. Geographically, that places it in Middle Of Nowhere. It's hill country; the soil is mostly limestone, and the plants are mainly scrub and low trees, with the occasional cactus for variety. It had a playground, which was conveniently located right behind our room, and which was composed of a slide and some swings set in what was basically a large sandbox. It also had a firepit where you could roast marshmallows in the evening. Occasionally, one of the ranch hands would take one of the tamer horses, and let the smaller children ride on it while he walked it around the corral. There were, of course, quite a number of small children, including at least six who were almost exactly Theron's age. So, from a Small Boy's perspective, it's hard to see how the place could have been any better. He essentially didn't nap the whole time we were there; he was too busy having fun. The only reason we could get him to sleep at night was because it was too dark to see the playground.

And, of course, he got to ride a horse:

This was probably the high point of his trip. On this particular occasion, the parents (i.e. us) were leading the horses around the corral. Every time we tried to stop, he'd say, "More cowboy?" So he went around quite a few times before he finally wore out.

Both Theron and his cousin Logan were extremely well behaved. Logan was sweet and quiet and actually took naps. Theron, by contrast, didn't want to nap, and while he extremely excited about climbing on the bunk beds, he didn't really want to sleep in them. As a result, he ended up sleeping with his mother in the real bed, while I slept on the bottom bunk. I say he was well behaved because he was willing to endure an eight hour drive down and a seven hour drive back. The portable DVD player definitely proved its worth, but that's still a lot to ask of a small boy.

There were some things about the trip that could have gone better (the ranch didn't seem terribly well organized, and the floorplan for the rooms didn't lend itself to family time), but overall it was a lot of fun.

Every parent has one of those stories
Being a parent, as I've often observed (in this very journal, in fact), is a fundamentally disgusting experience. It isn't disgusting all the time, of course. But if you spend any significant amount of time around small children, sooner of later you're going to end up with a collection of stories involving excrement. These will range from mildly gross to nearly unbelievable. The events can be ranked according to volume produced, quality of product, inconvenient timing, and impropriety of location. You get bonus points for stories that combine high ranks in three or more of these categories.

But, as a personal favor to you, dear readers, I will keep these stories to myself.

Age-appropriate shows for children
A week or so back, I came home to find the Beautiful Woman lying on the couch and watching television. Theron was there also; he was basically using his mother as a cushion. When I entered the room, she immediately paused the DVD.

This had exactly the opposite of its intended effect: I immediately turned to see what was on the TV screen. What I saw was a vampire exploding into dust on the point of Buffy's stake.

I raised an eyebrow, or possibly 'did that thing with my mouth'.

Looking sheepish, she explained: "I just couldn't take any more Elmo. I was planning to fast-forward through the violent bits."

I glanced back at the screen. Buffy was still stabbing the vampire; the vampire was still exploding.

Theron, helpfully, said: "Violent bits?"

This was, clearly, an important opportunity to make a lasting contribution to my child's moral and intellectual development. So, looking deep into my son's eyes, I said, "Tell your mother that you want to watch the violent bits."

And Theron, dutifully, turned to his mother and said, "Watch violent bits?"

And I thought to myself, My job here is done.***

The Christmas Singing Debacle
Two days a week, Theron attends a Mother's Day Out program at his grandmother's church. This gives him the opportunity to interact with other children, and simultaneously gives my wife and her mother a chance to get things done. He loves the program, he likes the other kids, and he adores his teacher and the senior volunteer who works with his class. Plus, it's quite inexpensive by daycare standards, even when you consider that it's only a half-day program. So, all in all, it's an amazing deal.

Unfortunately, there are... hidden costs. Things that they don't tell you when you first enroll. Things... like the annual Christmas program.

I thought I wrote about this last year, but apparently I didn't - or if I did, I can't find it. (Guess I should install a search function on the site...) So, anyway, here's the annual Christmas program in a nutshell.

One evening a couple of weeks before Christmas, all the kids from the Mother's Day Out program come to the church, along with their parents. The children gather with their teachers in the meeting hall, while the adults go upstairs to the sanctuary. The children then come into the sanctuary and "sing" "Christmas carols".

I put those terms in quotes because they're true only in the loosest possible sense. The children, for the most part, aren't singing - at least not as I recognize the practice. The younger ones are silent, and about half of them are completely forgetting to do the hand gestures for any given song. (Yes, all the songs have gestures to go with them.) The older ones are more yelling the words than anything else. Concepts like "on key" or "harmonizing" or even "carrying a tune" are nowhere in evidence.

The end result is, of course, perfectly appalling. Small children in large groups always sing badly. They can't help it; they're children. The only reason people applaud for them is because parental sentiment (and, occasionally, extreme cuteness) overwhelms any sense of aesthetic evaluation, or even common decency.

As an additional indignity, only some of what they sing can rightly be termed "Christmas carols." Last year, they introduced me to the idea that "Happy Birthday To You" can apparently be a Christmas carol... if you're singing it to Jesus. This year, I discovered that "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" had also been assimilated. This bothers me more than it probably should, but, well, it's not like there's any shortage of real Christmas carols that they could be using.

This year's show was even more appalling by the behavior of the woman conducting it. (She is also the one who runs the Mother's Day Out program.) Halfway through the show, one of the older girls - I'd guess she's about five - developed an urgent need to go to the bathroom. The conductor told her - gently, but in no uncertain terms - to stay on the stage until they were done. So we got to watch her shift from one foot to the other, and grab her crotch, and generally look excruciatingly uncomfortable. Finally, one of the teachers - Theron's teacher, as it happened - motioned for her to come down. I have no idea whether or not she had peed on the stage by then, but the teacher whisked her out and presumably took her to the restroom. Unfortunately, by that point she was so busy holding it in that she could barely look where she was going, and managed to trip on a power plug on the stage and bang her knee on the steps. On top of that, one of the boys developed the same problem a bit later, and the conductor asked him to remain on the stage as well. (He lasted until the end of the program, then made a dash for his parents in the audience.)

I'm sure the conductor wanted to get through her carefully arranged program, which she and the kids have been practicing for months, without interruption. But for the love of G-d, if a little kid needs to go to the restroom, let them. It was enough to give us - and probably most of the other parents in the audience - second thoughts about keeping Theron in the Mother's Day Out program. (We decided not to remove him, mainly because the person conducting the show does not do most of the day-to-day child wrangling; Theron mostly interacts with his teacher and the senior volunteer, both of whom he loves.)

Unlike last year, Theron seemed content to remain on the stage for most of the show. (Last year, his teacher basically had to hold him in order to keep him from making a break for it.) He didn't sing (he saved that for the car ride home), but he did some of the gestures and he didn't seem especially freaked out. I have no reason to believe that he had any idea what he was supposed to be doing up there, or why it was important to show his utter lack of singing ability for a huge crowd of strangers; but I fully support him in his incomprehension. I don't understand it either.

The Gingerbread Boy
Right after Thanksgiving, my wife and her parents took Theron off to build a gingerbread house. This activity was set up by the alumni association for the college where we first met. I didn't go (I was sneaking in some downtime), but apparently a great time was had by all.

Theron not only had a good time building the house, he also had a good time identifying pieces of it after they brought it home. "Snowman!" "Door!" "Mail box!" And then he proceeded to eat all the Hershey's Kisses, most of the pretzels (which made the fence), and a fair chunk of the icing. By the next morning, the house looked as if it had been through a war.

I don't think it lasted more than twenty-four hours, but it was a completely worthwhile use of our time and money.

And now, miscellaneous pictures:

Boy on Horseback

Swinging! (video)

Tired Boy on Back of Chair

Gingerbread House
Click for larger images.
Taking After His Father

* Translation: "Bat-ter let me in, Count. Elmo has some funny, scary jokes to tell you."

** Relatively new. Newer than Theron, anyway. About six months old, at this point.

*** Actually, I'm not sure that Theron was paying any attention to the television at all. Since he didn't seem upset, I wasn't too worried about it. Besides, learning how to stake vampires is an important part of a young boy's education.