Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Last child in the woods

I'm still in the middle of Last Child in the Woods but in honor of Earth Day, I definitely recommend it. Basic premise is that our society's lack of interaction with nature is causing all sorts of problems, especially with kids. "I like to play indoors better 'cause that's where all the electrical outlets are," said one fourth-grader the author interviewed. I heard about the book from Tyler's brother Ben, and it's made the rounds of most of Tyler's family. We've all been trying to make outdoor activities a bigger part of family gatherings now. So as part of our trip to Northern California last week, I made Ben's wife Mandi take me to one of their family's favorite spots, the Sunol Regional Wilderness where they've found a wonderful kid-friendly river to play in.

I expected to have to tear the boys away. What's not to love? It was a beautiful day, perfect weather, a short hike to a wonderful sandy river with lots of rocks to throw, sticks to build things with, leaves to race. But after about 10 minutes, Carden and Seth had "hit the wall" and were ready for something else. Exasperated, I told them to go back and play some more. After another 10 minutes of bugging me for play ideas they settled in and had a great time exploring. The interesting thing to me was how they had to "learn" to entertain themselves in an unstructured way. Leaves and dirt do make wonderful toys, but it appears that is a learned skill.

I guess a winter spent largely indoors has taken its toll, and I'm having to recondition them. Carden took to the river pretty readily, but when I told Seth to go splash around he completely melted down when his shorts got a little wet. Once he was stripped down to his underwear, life was good again, but he kept interrupting me to fuss about any ant, gnat, or flea that he saw. In his defense, poor Seth has already had two bee stings--one in his ear and one on his neck, so he's a little paranoid of all winged critters.

The irony of all this was watching my nephew William, who was completely at ease, throwing rocks to see if they would break and making nests out of grass. Mandi and I laughed that my kids, who have an enormous backyard to play in seemed so out of their element, while William, whose California house is squeezed onto a tiny lot with almost no yard, was so at ease.

After wrestling with Charlotte on my lap for an hour I plopped her down in the sand and let her explore. She loved feeling the cool sand and taste-testing various twigs and rocks. Maybe there's hope.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Westward ho, the minivan

We spent spring break in the Bay Area. Tyler had a week of meetings, so it was sit home alone or tag along. We visited friends and family, ate at favorite restaurants, and soaked up spring weather, which in California was actually warm (it snowed the day before we left) and brightly colored. Luckily, the 12-hour drive went much more smoothly than we had thought, powered by the following distractions: three cell phones, an iPod, portable DVD player, digital camera, GPS, and two Nintendo DS systems. Add to that multiple cords and chargers for the aforementioned gadgetry and we finally arrived, disgorging a small mountain of snack wrappers, water bottles, cracker crumbs, and tangled wires.

Here's a few highlights of our week.

We always try to visit Carden's former therapy team from the autism days. Elley (behavioral therapist), Bonnie (speech therapist), Marieta (personal aide), and Kathleen (occupational therapist, not pictured) have remained wonderful friends and sources of encouragement. We are so blessed that Carden has no autism diagnosis and appears to be a typical boy. Thanks in large parts to their efforts, he has the whole world ahead of him.

The boys love Grandma & Grandpa's dog Posy, or "old Pose" as Carden likes to call her. She has to go hide in her cage to get away from their constant attentions. They chase her around the yard, play tug-of-war, and try to imitate a commanding adult voice telling her to stop eating their action figures they left within her reach. They especially love visiting the local dog park and watching her interact with other dogs. Carden comes back showing off his new-found knowledge of different breeds.

Unexpectedly, we spent a lot of time at various city parks. Charlotte loved her first time in the swings, and the boys had a great time climbing and sliding on various play structures. We met my college roommate Deborah and her kids for a picnic in a San Jose park and spent a day with my sister Lorianne and her daughter at a great park in Gilroy. It reminded me how I'd falllen into the rut of sending the kids into the backyard at home rather than hit the local playground. Watching Carden especially, who needs a little encouragement with motor skills made me appreciate communities who develop really great playgrounds.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Charlotte crawls

Charlotte learned to crawl this week, and we're still scrambling to catch up. When Carden hit this milestone we dutifully babyproofed everything, but he wasn't interested in demolishing the house. Plus we lived in a small apartment, and how much chaos can you cause in only 700 square feet?

When Seth became mobile, we still lived in that small apartment and Carden didn't have any small toys that qualified as choking hazards.

Now it's Charlotte's turn, and I am dismayed to realize that this time I have to contend with a house containing two staircases and a great many choking hazards. So this week the marble games, army men, action figure accessories, and bingo markers get shelved. Can't say I'm too disappointed, since these are also the toys that I'm constantly stepping on or vaccumming.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Broadway musicals

I grew up believing that Broadway musicals were the height of cinematic culture. Every time the orchestra revved up and the star began to tap dance I couldn't understand why my dad would head to the kitchen, muttering, "we now interrupt this plot to bring you a pointless musical number."

I get it now.

A month ago I saw "Bride & Prejudice." Jane Austen meets Bollywood--definitely a case of when worlds collide. Without rehashing the plot, which if you've seen any remake of "Pride and Prejudice" you know, I'll just say that I saw my culture through another's eyes.

I had never seen any Bollywood films (Bollywood = Bombay + Hollywood) before. According to Wikipedia, Bollywood films are famous for their splashy musical extravaganzas, something I didn't know before I watched "B&P," but I definitely know now. I plopped down on my couch, popcorn in hand (shoulda been a mango lassi, but this is Utah County and lassis are hard to come by), unaware I was in for some major culture shock.

I think I was more than a little dazed by the Day-Glo costumes and sets. And seeing the rich, young, U.S. hotel scion introduce himself as Will Darcy, or hearing the backpacking college student on the Goa beach say he's Johnny Wickham gives you a serious mental double-take. Throw in singing village merchants and a snake dance, and I was left wondering if all Indian villages come backed with a catchy soundtrack. Is every Indian wedding a three-day affair requiring the footwork of Fred Astaire--or MC Hammer?

A few days later I'd recovered enough to realize that the film was about as authentic India as walking down a U.S. street in a downpour, swinging an umbrella and singing about the rain. I understood that Dad was right: The musical numbers are pointless! They don't have anything to do with the plot--they're just fun, and what's better than that?

So last week when I spied a copy of "Bride & Prejudice" at the used video store I didn't miss a beat. It's now on the shelf with the rest of those gems of cinematic achievement, the Broadway musicals.

Wait till my Dad sees it.