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Digging Our Way Out
(February 5, 2010)

Theron will be four in June... which is to say, in about four months. His younger brother, Roland, is due to be born sometime in early April, which is to say, way too soon.

I will note, for the record, that if I were to time-travel back to my twenty-year-old, about-to-graduate-college self, and tell him that not only had we married the Beautiful Woman, we were also preparing for the birth of our second son, I'm pretty sure that my younger self would laugh at me. At the time, something like this - anything like this - seemed so vanishingly unlikely that I'm not sure I have anything to compare it to. Trying to consider my current existence from the perspective of my younger self makes marriage and parenthood seem utterly surreal.

Moving along... it's been the better part of two months since the last time I put one of these entries together. Christmas and New Year's kept us busy, but I managed to get through the holidays without getting sick. Then, about three days later, I got sick. So now I'm recovered, but I'm finding the prospect of writing up the last six weeks (or more) just a liiiiiiitle bit daunting. (And of course, within days of writing that sentence, I got sick again. Truly, parenthood is an unending stream of new and fascinating diseases.)

Let's see, since the last entry:

  • We had Christmas and New Years;
  • Theron started at his new school;
  • Potty training has commenced;
  • Theron has continued to alternate between being a small dog, being a Transformer, and being a Ball Robot.
  • He's also grown.

Theron's Old School
One of the last things Theron did before changing schools was to participate in the Christmas Pageant at the Mother's Day Out program. This was perfectly appalling, but that's to be expected. All children's performances are.

Now, I know that people are going to gripe at me for pointing that out, so let me defend my position. First of all, with a few rare exceptions, children can not sing. Put a large group of them together, and any child who can sing will immediately be drowned out by the rest of them shouting (off-key, at that). Hold the event in the evening, when the children are used to being at home with their families, and they get uncomfortable. Add in an audience of adults - not present in any of their practice sessions - and some of the children are guaranteed to panic. Honestly, it's a wonder the teachers could get them onto the stage. That any of them, let alone most, were shouting along with the music... well, that borders on the miraculous.

But Theron went, and he participated. And yes, when he remembered to sing, his efforts came out as shouting off-key. This didn't make much difference, since his efforts were swept away in a cacophony of high-pitched (and equally off-key) voices. He also tried to do some of the movements, and was woefully out of sync with the other children. Again, that didn't really matter, because none of the rest of the children showed any appreciable sense of rhythm, either. This is why I was unconcerned when he paused in the middle of a song to lift up the front of his sweater and make sure that his belly button was still where he'd left it.

Really, by the standards of children's performances, it went quite well.

Christmas and New Year's
The holidays were... odd... this year. It wasn't anything strange in the family gatherings or the events, it just seemed... like the timing was off. I help Santa with his e-mail, and the Man With The Bag only got about two-thirds of the e-mails he usually receives. I'm usually very aware of the holiday season, mostly in terms of bad drivers and outrageous traffic, but this year it was almost over by the time I noticed. I made it all the way through New Year's Day without getting sick, for the first time in years, but came down sick a day or two afterwards.

So, yeah. Like I said: nothing was actually wrong, but something seemed a little bit off.

Anyway, Theron made out like a bandit, again. The top treasures from Christmas Day were a robot that turned into a helicopter (a Transformer), and toy version of Rocket (from the Little Einsteins show). Theron finally seemed to understand the Santa Claus mythos, or at least that Santa brings the good stuff. Later additions included a Droid tank (from the most recent Star Wars movie), a Spider Tank (which is part of a playschool set of rather imaginative space exploration vehicles) and a pair of old Battletech robots.

Theron had a great time with his grandparents, and his aunt A and uncle S. He also spent a lot of time playing with his cousin Logan, who was "Baby Logan" the last time he met her. She's now past the toddler stage, and into "little girl". I was at work for a lot of this time, but I'm told that they played together quite well.

Uncle S and aunt A were around for the week following Christmas. Somewhere in there, both children stayed with their grandparents while we went to see Avatar. (I won't try to offer a review of the movie; suffice to say that most of the criticisms are valid, and it remains a very enjoyable - and impressive - movie anyway.) Much fun was had by all, and they headed back home just before New Year's.

Theron's New School
The Christmas performance was basically Theron's last big interaction with the Mother's Day Out program. After the Christmas holidays were over, he started at his new school. I've mentioned it before, but for anyone coming in late: Theron's teacher (at his old school) thought that Theron might be a bit behind socially. She suggested that we run him over to a program at the local school district, and see what they thought. They thought that he might conceivably fall on the autism spectrum (which I suppose might be true, but in that case it's a fair bet that I fall on the spectrum somewhere). So, instead of shelling out $300 a month for a private preschool program (admittedly, a program that we really like), we're now sending him to a special program at the local public school, courtesy of our tax dollars. Theron, meanwhile, decided that this was his cue to start talking to other children, and has taken to the practice with the same relentless attention that he gives everything else.

As far as I can tell, he really likes the new school. It's a shorter day, which has advantages and disadvantages; his pronunciation and enunciation have already noticeably improved; and he comes home singing things that (I presume) they've been working to teach him.

At one point, quite by accident, we drove past his old school.
Theron asked, "Where is that?"
I said, "Is that Nana's church?"
He said: "Yes."
Then after a minute, he said: "Is that my school?"
I said, "It was your school, but now you go to the other school."
He thought about that. "Yes," he told me.

So he may miss his old school, but he seems happy enough with this one.

Among the services provided by the new school is this: they will send people out to consult with the parents, or to help with the child at home, or both. They don't do a huge amount of this - it's something like three hour-long meetings a year, as needed - but it's interesting. For our first meeting, the topic was Theron and his Potty Training.

Theron and his Potty Training
Theron will be four in June. It is now the beginning of February, so he's more than three and half years old. He's still in diapers.

This probably represents a failure of parenting on our part.

Actually, I think it also reflects a cost/benefit analysis on his part. Diapers are easy, they require little time and attention, and they're reasonably comfortable. Learning to moderate your own body requires effort and attention (you could say that it's a pain in the butt), and the only reward is that you get to stop wearing diapers. So even with the prospect of candy and other rewards, it just doesn't seem worth the effort. Frankly, I can see his point; potty training is also going to make a great deal of additional work for us, and I'm just not that enthused about it.

We're working to change that equation. Regular visits to the potty are no longer optional. We've purchased some pull-ups that are supposed to get cold if you pee in them, and we're using them. (Pull ups, for any non-parents reading this, are a sort of transition between diapers and underwear. They're absorbent, but only up to a point.) The bathrooms he regularly uses - our house, the grandparents' houses - have acquired, um, targets to encourage him to aim for the toilet bowl.

Some of this is independent, but a lot of it is based on the recommendations from the home visit. Their conclusions were, basically, that Theron seems immune to the normal motivations for learning, so we'd have to make it an unquestionable part of the schedule, and that we'd have to praise him for using the bathroom more than we praised him for anything else.

So, once again, just as we were getting settled into a rhythm, parenting has made our lives more difficult.

Growing Boys
Video link: Theron on the SlideTheron is getting steadily bigger. Some time in the past week - or ten days, by the time I get this up on the website - he grew enough to change the way his shoes fit. They still do - barely - but it's a lot harder to slide 'em on his feet than it used to be. His feet have gotten bigger.

He's taller, of course, and he weighs more. Every time I start to adjust, he gets a bit heavier. It's leaving me with a perpetual case of tennis elbow, though in this case I suppose it's small boy elbow.

Playing Pretend
Theron is sometimes a puppy dog. I've mentioned this before; he's cute, and he's not annoying about it. I'm pretty sure he's modeling his Nana's dogs, since our household is All Cats All The Time.

Theron posed as a DroidekaOn other occasions, he's a Ball Robot - a Droideka from the Star Wars prequels. He crouches down in a little ball, and then unfolds until he's standing with his legs spread, balanced on the outside edges of his feet. His hands are extended in front of him at about the bottom of his ribcage, with two fingers out and the rest tucked back; the elbows are conspicuously bent. All in all, it's a surprisingly good impression - especially given that Droidekas are not built with a humanoid frame.

Then, a couple of weeks back, I found him playing on the bed after his nap. He'd crouch all the way down in what I'd call a 'turtle' position, with his elbows and knees under him. Then he'd stand up and put his arms out. Then he'd fold himself back down. When I asked him what he was doing, he said he was a robot turning into a car (or maybe it was the other way around; I forget).

His school is working hard to make sure that he knows the difference between Real and Pretend.

Frankly, I think they're wasting their time.

Further Linguistic Development
(Or, Why Daddy Must Keep His Mouth Shut For The Next Two Years)
I'm driving the car; Theron is behind me in his car seat. Somebody nearby is driving badly - driving too slow, or driving too fast, or doing both by turns; and probably changing lanes a bit more often than really necessary. I don't remember the details, but the other driver was being more annoying than dangerous.

I had been keeping up a running commentary, as I sometimes do, combining observations about lack of driving skill with speculation about whether he was lost, untrained, or just stupid. Finally, though, he did something that put him In My Way. Being a bit irked by this, I remarked: "And now you're in my way, because you're a Moron."

The other driver turned off, and we continued on our way. We stopped behind another (perfectly innocent) car at the next stoplight. From the back seat, my son voices an inquiry:
Theron: "Is that car blocking us because he is a moron?"
Me: "No, he stopped because he has a red light. He is smart."
Theron: "Oh. Otay."

And that is why Daddy has taken a vow of silence.

A Theory about the Little Einsteins
For the non-parents who read this (and I know you're out there): Little Einsteins is a cartoon produced by Disney. It features four children: Leo, age 6, the conductor; June, age 6, the dancer; Percy, age 5, the musician; and Annie, age 4, the singer (and also Leo's sister). They fly around in an intelligent, transforming spaceship called (imprecisely) Rocket; Rocket can become a helicopter, a train, a dune buggy, a lunar rover, a submarine, a sort of pogo stick, and a mechanical spider, as needed. Rocket also has a giant Rocket Booster that pops out when the Little Einsteins need to go Super Fast.

Each episode of the show features a particular piece of classical music, some famous piece of art, and a mission which allows the Little Einsteins to use their particular abilities to solve problems. Since the storylines are frequently based on the featured music, and the animation (particularly the settings) is often based on the featured art, the show is delightfully surreal. I picture the scriptwriters sitting around saying things like, "Well, Tom drew Van Gogh's Terrace Cafe from the art hat, and Olivia drew Mozart's Symphony No. 40 from the music hat. What can we do with that?" ...Sounds like fun, actually.

Anyway, my wife and I have a theory about the Little Einsteins. Our theory is that one of the parents is brilliant inventor, with a background in both engineering and artificial intelligence. (The other, clearly, is some sort of world-class musician, and possibly a theoretical mathematician as well.) Anyway, this inventor, in the culmination of his (or her) life's work, developed the perfect vehicle. It can go anywhere. It can leave the atmosphere and return without burning up or needing its ablative tiles replaced. It can travel in the depths of the ocean, cross the arctic ice, or make its way down narrow forest paths and winding rivers. It is equipped with powerful sensors and a highly developed artificial intelligence.

As a vehicle for exploration and discover, it was superb, its potential unmatched. Unfortunately, a vehicle with such capabilities could easily be converted to military applications, where it would be equally useful for spying, destruction, and the capture of enemy assets. So, to ensure that Rocket would be used as intended, the inventor included some safeguards.

This is why Rocket has a secret hangar under kids' clubhouse. This why Rocket can only take off if the children inside are clapping their hands (or singing). This is why Rocket only communicates by tinkling-xylophone sounds. This is why every time they reach an obstacle, Rocket waits on his passengers to help him sing, dance, or otherwise find a way past.*

This is also why you never see rocket extend his Destructor 470 Particle Beam Planet-Buster Ion Cannon. At least, not on the show. You and I both know that sometimes, in the small hours of the morning, after yet another run-in with Big Jet... Rocket thinks about it.

I have other theories about how things are likely to happen when the Little Einsteins kids finally get old enough to date, but it's best if we don't go into those here.

Disease as a Contact Sport
Emetophobes, be warned: stop reading now, and skip on down to the cute pictures and videos at the bottom.
Just as I was getting ready to finish this - also, just in time for my birthday - Theron got sick again. I dropped him off with his Nana on Monday morning, and he ate breakfast. Then she dropped him off at school, where he walked into his classroom and promptly threw up all over the floor. (This sent the other children scurrying back with cries of "Ew! Ew!" and suchlike.) So his Nana picked him up again, and he spent the rest of the day at her house, lying on the couch and feeling puny.

At one point he threw up again (on the couch, but aimed at the little cover where the dogs sleep - so at least it was easy to clean). After this, he turned to his Nana and said, "I don't feel better any more."

We got him home that night, and put him on our couch with a movie. I tried to get him to eat some banana, but he wasn't terribly interested in that. So I tried him on a hot dog (cut into bite-sized pieces) and he ate the whole thing, much faster than I thought was wise. I couldn't really blame him, though; he was hungry. I had set out a little bucket, and explained to him that if he needed to throw up, he should aim for the bucket.

Sure enough, a few minutes later he went from leaning on my leg to sitting up. He put his head forward, so it was over the bucket. I asked, "Theron is your tummy upset." He said. "Yes. Bleh," and spat a little bit of saliva into the bucket. Then he sat back up.

Then he leaned forward again, and (Blehhhhhhh!) threw up most of the hot dog. He got the whole thing into the bucket, with a little splatter on the sleeping bag we'd used to cover the couch. (That sleeping bag cost me six dollars when I bought it, and that was about eight years ago. It's one of the best purchases I ever made.) I was, of course, expecting this, and very few things nauseate me; so my main reaction was pride: he'd listened to me, and he'd done exactly what I wanted him to do when he needed to do it.

Being a parent means being proud of the damnedest things, sometimes.

We got him some apple juice (I tried a little Sprite on him, but he didn't like the flavor), and later on I sliced and peeled an apple. We made him eat the apple slices more slowly, and got some Tylenol into him as well. This time, everything stayed down. He was much, much happier - I daresay re-energized - after the treatment, so I count it as a victory.

He stayed home Tuesday. The school actually requires this, but we'd have done it anyway. He was a little puny, but definitely better - 'better' in this case being measured by the lack of vomit - and even played at the park for a little while. That pretty well wiped him out, though, so we ate dinner, played a little Battlefront, and went to bed.

Unfortunately, he's not the only one feeling puny. The Beautiful Woman was actually the first one to succumb (at the time, we thought that the pre-natal vitamins had set off the nausea), but I'm feeling it now, too. My symptoms aren't quite as... acute... as theirs, but it's definitely the same thing. So, while nobody's actually throwing up anymore (or in my case, not yet), we're all exhausted and cranky and a bit uncomfortable in the midsection.

And on that happy note, I think I'll move on the pictures and video from last almost-two-months. As usual, click on the teeny images to see the full size pictures and videos.

Mixing Icing For Nana's B-day Cake
He's surprisingly good at this.

In the Cardboard Box House
at his Grandparents' home

Sleeping on his uncle's couch
He's training for his teens, I think.

Dancing With The Duck
I blame his grandparents. It's their duck.

Christmas Eve Service
Nana, Mommy, & Theron

Asleep on the Kitchen Table
I wouldn't have said it was possible.

What Droidekas Do
Changing from Ball Robot to Spider Robot

Theron is a Transformer
He's more than meets the eye.

Daddy is my Exo-Suit
Because some days, you just have to.

* Think about it. What self-respecting military pilot would put up with that?