Conversations with a 6-year-old

With my youngest being nearly 7, I think it’s starting to hit me how precious and fleeting innocent little-kid conversations are, before they start to censor their thoughts and words. I find myself trying to draw out these conversations and linger on them as much as I can before they mature and change, from innocent and honest to schooled and guarded.

These are our stories. Duh-duhn. (A little shout-out to “Law & Order” there if you didn’t catch it.)

The other night I was watching a cartoon with Boy #3 (“Adventure Time” if you’re a Cartoon Network connoisseur, or just have boys like me). He was sitting on my lap, and while he was watching TV he was stroking my hair and pushing it behind my ears. In the episode, a crazy dragon-ish creature in the middle of a labyrinth was granting wishes to Finn (the heroic boy), Jake (his magical dog/BFF) and some little hot dog soldiers (Yes, it’s a weird show). Pretty soon Boy #3 turned to me and in all sincerity said, “If I had one wish I would wish that you were a prettier mommy.”

The thing is, I knew he meant it as a compliment. And the fact that he wanted to waste his only wish on me made me fight the urge to be a teensy bit insulted even harder. I know that little boys love their mommies, and little boys love for their mommies to be pretty. For Boy #3, putting my hair behind my ears transforms me from Plain Mommy to Pretty Princess Mommy. (I really have no idea why showing my ears makes me prettier in his eyes, but it’s obviously his thing. It could definitely be worse!) I know he already considers me pretty (I think all little boys are born with rose-colored corneas when it comes to their mommies) and making me “prettier” was his gift to me. I’ll take that.


Tonight after reading “Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend” with Boy #3 before bed, we read the blurb about the author and illustrator on the back flap. Knowing that he loves to draw and also make up elaborate action sequences for his Pokemon and action figures, I asked Boy #3 if he was going to write a book when he grows up.

“No, I’m going to be a cop,” he said.

Oh, yeah. How could I have forgotten that he had dressed up like a cop for Career Day at school earlier this month? (“Do cops get to carry knives?” he asked me as I was dropping him off at school that day.)

“So what are you going to do when you’re a cop?” I asked him.

“Save people,” he answered.

“Will you save me?” I asked, ready for nearly every answer except the one I was given.

“Unless you’re dead.”

Taken aback at this response, delivered in such a matter-of-fact tone, I said, “I won’t be dead. Why would I be dead?”

“Well, you might be,” he said.

And he was right. I might be. And apparently if you’re dead you don’t need saving. I guess that just plain makes sense.



The Dark Ages Redefined (or Kids Say the Darndest Things)

It’s so funny to see things from your kids’ perspectives, especially when it involves the concept of time. Here’s a conversation that played out in my house, just this morning.

Boy #3: “Mom, was Grandma alive in the ’80s?”

At first I thought he was talking about the 1880s. Then I realized he was, instead, referring to the 1980s. You know. Back in the “old days.” Before the Internet, cell phones and Pokemon. Might as well be the Dark Ages to them.

Me: “Yeah, Grandma was alive then. I was alive in the ’80s too.”

Boy #3: “What?! Hey, Boy #2! Guess WHAT?! MOM was alive in the ’80s!”

Boy #2: “You were?”

Me: “Sure.”

Boy #3: “What did you play with back then?”

Me: (Suppressing the urge to answer “Rocks and dinosaur eggs”) “Um, Strawberry Shortcake dolls. Barbies.”

Boy #3: (Eyes alit with wonder and amazement) “What?! Oh my gosh!”

Me: (Ready to really blow their minds) “I was actually alive in the ’70s too.”

Boy #2: “You were? What, like 1978, right?”

Me: “I was born in 1972.”

Boy #2: “Whoa.”

I don’t blame him for the “whoa.” That’s pretty heavy stuff. Especially when you’re 6 and 8.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go discover fire.

Image by mmagallan

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten—Really?

Last night I was reading with Boy #3. We were reading Math-terpieces (which is a really cool book, by the way). It introduces a famous painting and then adds math to the mix by pulling out a feature in the painting, such as a melting watch (think Dali) or a feature related to the painting, like soup cans (yep, Warhol) and asks kids to do some problem solving, combining groups to arrive at a certain sum.

I was focused on the math, and I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with how Boy #3 was doing with coming up with “7” or “9” several different ways. But it was when I turned to page 20 that he asked the question that completely blew my mind.

“Is that a Piet Mondrian?”

“What?” I asked, sure that I must’ve heard him wrong.

“Is that painting by Piet Mondrian?” he asked again. And mind you, it wasn’t just that he asked it, it was also the way the Dutch name just rolled off his tongue, like he’d been saying it since right after he learned “dada.”

Now, here’s the really sad part: I didn’t know. I had to look on the page and find the caption under the painting to see which artist had created the work.

Oh, yeah, Piet Mondrian. Of course it was.

“Uh, honey, how did you know that Piet Mondrian painted this?” I asked. (I didn’t pronounce it nearly as nicely as he did.) I knew he hadn’t had time to find and read the caption yet; I had just turned the page.

“I learned it in Art class,” he said.

“You did?” I asked, remembering when I was in kindergarten and how our entire Art curriculum seemed to revolve around a single standard: “Don’t eat paste.”

“Yeah,” Boy #3 said nonchalantly, sounding eerily like Cliff Clavin. “He only painted squares and lines. Well, except for one painting of a barn that he did early on. But the rest were just squares.”

“Is that so?” I asked, realizing I’d just gotten schooled by my 6-year-old.

I think Robert Fulghum may want to consider revising his book and adding a chapter on “Art History and Appreciation.”

Image: by Anonymous (photographer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The attack of the killer presentation

This week, Boy #2 had to give a presentation to his class. The topic? “All about me.” Sounds pretty straightforward, huh? That’s what I thought, too.

I had asked him to think about what he wanted to include in his presentation, and I would help him with the visual part of it when I got home from work. Well…when I walked in the door that afternoon, I was greeted with a “Guess what? I’m done!” from the boy.

“Done with what?” I asked a bit uneasily. It’s rarely something I WANT to hear he’s “done with,” like putting away all the laundry or determining how we can shave 20% off our monthly budget without feeling the hit. Instead, I usually get things like “defrosting the freezer in the garage” (that’s full of food) or “writing all over my brother with makers.”

This time, however, what he was “done” with was his poster for his presentation. Which would be okay if someone other than his 6-year-old brother had helped him organize and write it. Yeah, that $8 tri-fold presentation board that he insisted he needed and I got on my infamous Wal-Mart trip was now completely covered in random phrases and one lone Iowa Hawkeyes pencil that was secured to it with a more-than-ample amount of tape.

But what could I say? He was so excited to “surprise me.” I couldn’t shatter his enthusiasm. Instead, I went with “Wowwww, yeah, you really covered that board, didn’t you? Look at that!”

There was no sort of organization to his factoids, and frankly, some of the things he thought his classmates should know about him were news to me, too. But nonetheless, I later sat down to work with him on his oral part of the presentation after finally convincing them that his teacher didn’t want him to just stand in front of the class and read random sentences off his poster. Thank goodness she included a rubric to “prove” this to him, because my insistence alone was not good enough. (Never mind that I used to teach this stuff to high schoolers. I apparently know nothing.)

First we started with the introduction. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t just say, “This is my presentation.” So I tried to give him ideas of different ways to start off, such as with a quotation or funny story, or even a joke. He wanted no part of any of it. Finally, he agreed to give the kids a math problem to solve as an example of one thing about him: he loves math. Whew, now on to the rest of the presentation.

After studying the rubric some more, he came up with the idea “on his own” that maybe he should turn over his presentation board and redo it on the other side, this time with a wee bit of organization. Man, why hadn’t I thought of that? Once he got started, he really did a great job of plugging most of his “facts” into one of 4 categories: Things I like to do, things I like to play, my favorite things, and things I love. Not bad for a third grader.

There were, however, several facts he had included on his poster that seemed to be enigmas. We weren’t sure where to fit them in. Things like “I like to look at my reflection in water.” Apparently, this was a secret love because it was the first time I’d ever heard it. I’m still not sure whether it has more to do with a fascination of the reflective properties of water or a fascination with himself. After insisting this fact HAD to be on his poster, he decided on the “What I like to do” section.

Another enigma? “I like to fuse red and black.” Hmm… First off, I was unsure what this meant until he showed me how he’d taken a red marker and a black marker, held them both in his hand at the same time, and written his name. Apparently this is “fusing” the two colors. I don’t think I knew what “fuse” meant until chemistry class in high school. This also went under “things I like to do,” making it one intriguing category.

His favorite foods also made me smile (Of course, only on the inside. This was serious business.) They were, in order:

  1. pizza
  2. salad
  3. croutons
  4. Oreos
  5. doughnuts

I’ve never heard of anyone listing “croutons” as one of their favorite foods, but hey, at least they were above doughnuts.

His favorite animals were also somewhat of a surprise:

  1. sharks
  2. dogs
  3. mountain goats
  4. mountain sheep

That was it. No other animal must’ve been worthy enough to occupy the fifth spot. And are there both mountain goats AND mountain sheep? Boy #2 confessed that he thought the goats were just male sheep, kind of like bulls and cows. Makes sense to me, but I had to break the news that indeed, they are different species. However, I’m not so sure on the “mountain” part for both…

When he started practicing for us, we noticed a new voice we’d never heard before: the baby-talk-from-a-third-grader voice. Kind of like “wah way wah wi wu.”

“Uh, Boy #2,” I interrupted. “You’re not going to use that voice, are you?”

“No,” he said.

“Well, then let’s not practice with it,” I suggested, as patiently as I could.

“But everyone’s going to be looking at me!” he said, and I realized that I’d forgotten how scary it was the first time I had to get up in front of a class to give a speech. Although I’m pretty sure I didn’t have to until like 9th grade. Back in the days before state standards and all.

I told him that EVERYONE gets nervous before they talk in front of people. It’s perfectly normal. I said that even movie stars and the president get nervous. He totally didn’t believe me. “Duh, Mom, they do it ALL THE TIME. They don’t get nervous!” I don’t think I was able to convince him otherwise, but at least I got his mind off that silly voice for a minute.

When the big day arrived, I suggested that he wear jeans (Heaven forbid) and a nicer shirt. “I HATE jeans!” he told me. “I’ll just wear THIS!”

And he plucked a pair of red slick pants and a maroon T-shirt. Now, I’ve pretty much given up trying to make my boys’ clothes match. But usually I do try to avoid blatant CLASHING. Especially on a day they have to get up in front of the class to give a presentation. But no amount of prodding or pleading would convince Boy #2 that his clothes do not match. “They’re both RED, Mom!” So I decided if he wanted to wear it and felt comfortable, it was a small battle to give in to.

Oh, and did I mention that he was also wearing his bright lime-green Crocs? Yeah…

All day I thought about Boy #2 and wondered how he’d do. We even made note cards so he wouldn’t forget anything, and we practiced over and over.

So when he came home, I said, “Boy #2, how’d it go?!”

“Good,” he said. “Except I forgot to do my introduction or my ending.”

“What?” I asked, my face falling. “But, honey, we practiced and practiced!”

“Mom, I got a perfect score, so who cares?”

Well, I guess you can’t really argue with that.

And hey, he only has to do THREE MORE presentations this year! I can’t wait to see what he comes up with for those. There’s never a dull moment with Boy #2 around.

A Question for the Ages

My kids are weird. Not weird in a bad way, necessarily, just a funny, quirky, out-of-the-ordinary way.

And I find it quite charming most of the time.

They make me think about things I’ve never thought about before. And sometimes they ask me questions that literally stump me.

And yes, those questions usually involve math.

But this morning, Boy #2 asked me a question that had to do with MY world, MY subject — and it STILL stumped me!

Here was his question:

“Mom, what’s your favorite compound word?”

Okay, I wasn’t aware I was supposed to have a favorite compound word. Am I the only one that’s favoriteless in this category?

Trying to stall while I thought of some brilliant reply, I asked Boy #2 what his favorite compound word is.

And yes, he has one. Actually, he has two.

  1. cupcake
  2. eyeball

Now, I have no idea what cupcake and eyeball have to do with each other, or why cupcake rated above eyeball (except that it tastes much better), but I was impressed that he had actually given this literary question some serious thought.

However, I have to admit that I could not come up with my favorite upon request. In fact, I couldn’t even really think of many compound words since I was under so much pressure. So I told him I’d have to think about it and get back to him.

So I have. And here’s my reply to him (Feel free to read along as well).

It’s much easier for me to come up with my least favorite compound words, so I’m going to start with a few humdingers (ooh, that’s a compound word too):

  • bathroom — This word isn’t necessarily ugly, more like misleading. I don’t know about you, but I RARELY get to take a bath in my bathroom. This is not what happens in there. The same goes for “restroom” — even though the boys like to go and hang out for a while in there, to me it’s not where I go to rest. Instead of “bathroom” or “restroom,” a more accurate compound word might be “pooproom” or “stinkroom,” maybe even “peeonthetoiletseatroom” (although that might be a bit hard for kids to spell).
  • toenail — Although this compound word has kind of a harsh sound to it (the hard “t” and “n”), it’s more the image that pops in my head when I hear it that makes me detest it. Even though some people have pretty pedicured toenails, this is not the picture that automatically comes to me. Instead, it’s ugly ragged toenails, and particularly toenail fungus, that I associate with the word. I blame those late-night toenail fungicide commercials. Nasty.
  • cowlick — I was blessed with cowlicks. Plural. When I was little, I had a slight fear that a cow would come and lick my head. Although maybe that would’ve tamed my unruly locks. What a dumb word.
  • armpit — There’s really nothing pleasant about an armpit, is there? For men, it’s hairy and stinky. For tweens, it’s just stinky. And for us ladies, if you shave or wax (which I hope to God you do), there’s always that five o’clock shadow you can’t quite make go away. And on a personal note, I’ve had to use my husband’s “manly” deodorant all week because he broke MY “womanly” deodorant last week (yes, when he was using it) and I keep forgetting to buy new. So right now my armpits smell like a sporty, musky man. And I’m sure that is more than you ever wanted to know about my armpits.
  • earwig — Okay, I threw up a little bit just typing this worm. I never want to see one of these icky bugs. Honestly, does it live in the ear, or why is it called the earwig? The thought of this bug with long pincers living in my ear is enough to put me over the edge. I believe I would rather experience a tapeworm (another lovely compound word) than an earwig. *shudder*
  • shuttlecock — This word is precisely the reason that badminton will never be taken seriously in the sporting world.

And now for some compound words that don’t make me want to dump English and become fluent in Swahili:

  • dishwasher — I love this word not only for its sibilance (all those “sh” sounds) but also for what it represents. Whether in human or appliance form matters not. God bless the dishwasher.
  • flapjack — Why has pancake, flapjack’s more popular yet more boring brother, taken over our vernacular? Flapjack is such a lively and energetic word, and pancake is as dull as, well, a cake pan.
  • inkwell — This is so sophisticated-sounding. “Pardon me, but may I borrow your inkwell?” Maybe part of it’s because I have a secret wish to replace all of the ball-point pens in our house with fountain pens. With huge, white feathers. Don’t you think that would make even the mundanes of life more enjoyable? You could be writing a check to the city sanitation department and you’d still feel like John Hancock.
  • chickpea — Although I’ve never tried a chickpea, the name makes me want to. It sounds like something only cool people would eat.
  • housecoat — This word just makes me smile. I want to start a movement to bring the housecoat back (not, however, to be confused with a muumuu).

Other compound words I’m going to start weaving into my daily conversations:

  • fiddlesticks
  • claptrap
  • hoodwink
  • muckrake
  • nitwit

Ah, fiddlesticks, girl! Don’t try to hoodwink me with your claptrap! I can tell you’re trying to muckrake me. What do you take me for, a nitwit?

So what’s your favorite compound word?

Eyeball cupcake photo by Eric Staudenmaier
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A Case of Misplaced Empathy

It’s funny. My boys don’t think twice about hurting one another. They call names. They hit. They say things that (I hope!) they don’t mean. And they always get over it.

But hurt Squidward Tentacles? And you’ve gone too far.

According to Boy #3, that is.

We were in this car this morning listening to the radio and discussing nothing SpongeBob-ish, when out of the blue Boy #3 piped up from the backseat: “I feel sorry for Squidward.”

Trying to figure out how the conversation went from how mail is delivered (we had just come from the post office) to a surly cartoon squid, I asked, “What? Why?”

“Because SpongeBob yelled at him, ‘Get out!’ And Squidward was sad.”

I finally remembered that last week we had watched an episode where Squidward got electrocuted, thus reversing his usual personality traits. He became such a nice guy and hard worker that he won Employee of the Month at the Krusty Krab, causing SpongeBob to become jealous and angry. This finally culminated with him yelling “Get out!” to Squidward at his Employee of the Month Party at Patrick’s house. (Yes, I realize how disturbing it is that I remember this episode in such detail. It may also explain why my house isn’t clean.)

“I can’t get it out of my head,” Boy #3 continued, visibly upset.

Wow. Since this episode aired, Boy #3 has probably been called an idiot, been pushed and shoved, and possibly even been told “I hate you.” And likely he has heaped the same abuses on one of his older brothers. But somehow this doesn’t affect him as much as when it’s happening to an arguably deserving cartoon character.

I don’t know whether to be touched that he’s so empathetic—or disturbed that it’s bothering him so much!

So we talked about why that wasn’t nice for SpongeBob to do. And then I suggested we watch another episode of SpongeBob so he maybe he can replace his bad SpongeBob memory with a better one. (Yeah, pretty obvious that I’m not a child psychologist, isn’t it?) Fortunately we didn’t have to wait long this morning for one of the many SpongeBob episodes to air.

And we watched Squidward being his usual meanie self to SpongeBob, who had a huge chunk of wood lodged in his thumb.

The good news is that Boy #3 no longer seems disturbed at Squidward’s sadness.

The bad news is that I now have images of SpongeBob’s red, festering, pus-filled thumb oozing infection that I can’t get out of my head.

Here’s hoping you have a less disturbing Friday!

Image copyright Nickleodeon
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