Thursday, October 25, 2012

Born to entertain

We are now pretty well into the little guy’s second year of Montessori, as well as finally underway with a transition of the little girl from the “older infant” room to the “toddler 1” room (the timing of said transition overdetermined by enrollment numbers and caregiver ratios at the daycare center; the little girl has been ready to mix it up with toddlers for quite a while) and both children continue to be adorable and delightful more often than not. When they’re not, they can be absolutely heinous in both their neediness and their willfulness (sometimes, paradoxical as it seems, each one simultaneously), but I have to admit that the good outweighs the bad.

And some things, I suppose, are beyond weighing, at least in terms of behavior modeling and positive/negative reinforcement and all that. Sometimes the little guy is sweet and helpful, and sometimes he is spectacularly uncooperative. To a lesser extent, sometimes the little girl is agreeable to whatever we’ve got going on, and sometimes she has her own ideas about how things are going to go down (involving lots of tears and screaming as you might expect from a one-and-a-half year old). But sometimes they do things that don’t register on the good-to-bad behavior continuum; sometimes things are just gosh-wow neat.

Recently the little guy has taken to singing to himself, much more than he ever did before. When I say “to himself” I mean for his own enjoyment, without any need to have me or his mother stop whatever we’re doing and pay attention and be his audience. I do not mean that he sings quietly, because, come on, he’s four. His favorite songs are “Bella Notte” from Lady and the Tramp (which, by his own admission, has lately supplanted Cars as his favorite movie of all time) and “Life’s a Happy Song” from The Muppets. The latter is kind of amazing since, as I related, he only saw The Muppets once, but I guess Bret McKenzie knows how to put together an earworm. Actually, I know he does, and I know the little guy’s favorite part of the song is the line that goes “I’ve got … everything that I NEEEEE-EEEED …” because you can really lean into that jump up the staff on “need” (and, boy, does he). It hasn’t gotten old yet.

I love music, so of course I love to see it taking root in my little ones’ hearts, but as we all know I love stories even more and the other day, the little guy told me his first ever original story. It was of course very simple and I’m pretty sure I can recreate it here verbatim: “Once there was a family of giraffes, a mommy, a daddy, a brother and a sister. Then, one day, they met a gorilla. And the gorilla said, ‘Will you be my friends?’ And the giraffes said, ‘Of course we will.’ And so they were friends. The end.” How fantastic is that? I know that, benevolent mercies of the universe willing, there will be many more firsts for me to enjoy in my son’s life, from the first time swings a bat and connects with a pitch to the first time he accelerates from a dead stop on an uphill in a manual transmission without stalling out, but I suspect that first story will always be at the topmost treasured position on the list.

I also suspect that his sister will be right behind him in the singing and storytelling sooner rather than later. She’s always been a little more attuned to music, and more likely to vocalize melodies (or approximations thereof in her preverbal way) so I am hard-pressed to predict where she’ll be when she’s four. Probably using a smartphone app to record and play her own voice back in order to three-part harmonize with herself. She’s getting more and more into books now, too, and figuring out things like characters in books having names of their own and so forth. She asked for a specific book the other night, about a chimp named Bobo, by saying “Bobo!” over and over again until I clued in. Did I mention she’s also differentiating sounds into more and more wordlike utterances?

I’m proud of her, of course, but I mention all this as much in relief as anything. For a while there, when my wife was working evenings and I had to get both kids to bed by myself, I worried sometimes that I was shortchanging my daughter by not reading to her enough. I rationalized that I didn’t have time to leisurely go through books with her on my lap while her brother was running rampant elsewhere awaiting his turn in the bathtub, and thus I would shuffle her off to her crib on the quick. It’s massively easier now that my wife is home for the bedtime rituals, but it’s also heartening to see the little girl basically demanding to be read to every night after she gets her pajamas on. Somehow, slack and distracted though I was in the early going, she got there anyway. Which gives me hope that baby number three won’t suffer terribly from mathematically necessary lack of constant individual attention. It might even be somewhat liberating. If I can always look on the bright side, and count it as a win if at any given moment even one kid’s behavior is close to the good end of the spectrum, or at least is amusing me, then the youngest will hardly ever have to rein it in at all.

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