"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Monday, November 19, 2012

Trains and the Two-Year-Old Boy

At two-years-old, Xander can't get enough out of trains.

He wakes up in the morning calling out, "Choo choo!" Mom and Dad hear it through the baby monitor, and it's enough to make me want to ditch the whole system. If he wants me to wake up, he can climb out of the crib and say "choo choo!" at me in person. I don't think Mom is there yet, though.

When we finally pull him from the crib, then, he runs to wherever he was last night with his trains before being forced to give them up in favor of a pacifier and cup of milk. He carries at least three trains in his arms, wanders around the house, sometimes putting the trains on a track, sometimes just pushing them around the floor or couch or table or bathtub, always with the mantra, "Trains. Choo choo. Trains. Choo choo" on his lips.

And the perpetual smile is kinda creepy.
He watches a variety of train-related videos during the day. Thomas the Tank Engine is one of the favorites, much to my chagrin. At least it's changed from earlier incarnations. Even with George Carlin or Ringo Starr narrating, I could never get past the soulless faces on these engines and the plastic humans, standing in place, as if someone were literally filming a train run around someone's model track in the garage. Now it's computer animated, so the trains actually speak their lines and the background doesn't look like it was built by Radio Shack, but it's not like they now produce Pixar-quality stories. It's still just an excuse for a toddler to watch trains chuff their way down the tracks.

"Chuff," by the way, is a word I've only recently learned. It's the sound the train makes as it goes, as in, "Thomas chuffed around the tracks, showing he was a very useful engine." We found a book called Choo Choo by Petr Horacek at the library, and it demonstrates that there are several interesting synonyms for train noises that a young boy might want to know.

Lately, though, the boy wants to watch a movie called The Little Engine That Could. Wildly original, I know. But it's a new movie, computer animated, and Whoopi does a voice, and so does Patrick Warburton, so it could be worse. Xander will watch this movie over and over and over. He calls it "Train" and Thomas and Friends is called "Choo Choo."

When we want to feel like good parents and limit his TV time to a mere several hours a day, we have train-based iPhone apps that he fiddles with. They're mostly Thomas puzzles and interactive books, and some are just train pictures with train noises, but the boy can't get enough. He'll sit on the couch touching the screen in the same place to see the same picture or hear the same chuffing, again while holding three trains in his other hand against his chest, like if he drops them or even lets them out of his sight for a minute, the train might go away, his fascination might require some other diversion.


Then last week, he turned two, and he got the gift of even more trains. Trains of different sizes to go on different tracks. It's a racket, but we willingly bought into it. He now has trains more fancy than the blocky, plastic ones he used to carry around. It's Thomas and Percy, wooden, metal, and even electric. He doesn't really like the one that has an "on" switch to make it go by itself. It's loud and creaky. Perhaps it reminds him of the nasty hair clippers. Or perhaps it just takes away his own fantasy of moving his own engine by his own power, hauling some kind of precious cargo over the hill because he knew he could.

Monday, November 12, 2012

New 'Do



Here is the boy at the local skate park. I swear there are kids tricking (Is that the proper skate term? Sounds wrong.) out there every time I look. Don't they have school? Or homes? Except the area was uncommonly deserted this day when Xander discovered that the skate ramp makes a pretty good slide.

No longer satisfied with wholesome Bieber bangs or even a faux-mullet, Xander had opted for the who-has-time-to-think-about-his-hair 'do. We had a couple of options:

1. Do nothing, which would mean we'd have to get him a board. Maybe a longboard to start? Then just send him over to hang with the cool kids. He's already got the hoodie.

2. Take him back to Sport Clips. The first time we did that has been previously chronicled. Not a bad option. But I believe that when you're getting a haircut, you should get your hair actually cut. Which brings me to option

3. Break out the clippers and shave his head myself.

You can see for yourself which option won the day.

Full disclosure, in case she's been saying otherwise, this was done with full permission from his mother. I'd always wanted to do this with either of my two daughters as they were growing up. Every time they'd scream as I was brushing knots out of their hair--which is to say, every time I brushed their hair--I'd ask their mother once more if I could just shave their heads and save us all a couple of months of grief. That never happened, and my thirteen-year-old still whines about brushing her hair. Even today she needs a good buzz cut. Imagine how that would go over with my ex-wife.

So with both parents in agreeance (it's a perfectly cromulent word), we strapped the boy into his booster seat, put the chair on the back porch, and clipped away. He didn't seem to know what was happening at first, so he didn't move when he heard the quiet buzzing of the clippers near his ear. But the moment the clippers snagged on a too-long strand of hair, the hummingbird whisper became a chainsaw growl and the boy started howling and the world descended into total anarchy. You can imagine. Dogs and cats living together and such.

You can see we all survived, brilliant countenances intact, so it wasn't as bad as all that. But I doubt Mom will let Dad do it ever again.

At first I wasn't exactly satisfied with the results. The extremes were too severe, from too long to too short. And as his hair grows now, every missed hair sticks out more, which diminishes my once professional-level ability with the clippers.

But now I think he looks older, more debonair, like a more youthful David Beckham. Which can't be a bad thing.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Lil' Kickers

The Boy is nearly two-years-old and it's about time he learned how to kick a ball. I mean, Ronaldinho was juggling a futebol de salao right out of the womb, right? Xander's behind schedule.

As for me, I started playing soccer when I was five. It was the mid-seventies and soccer was exploding in popularity all over America. "Soccer Made in Germany" was broadcast semi-periodically on PBS. Pele was paid millions to play out his waning years for the New York Cosmos. And the AYSO's "Everybody plays" policy helped extend the Sixties nearly into the Eighties.

At some point I realized that I was rather comfortable with a ball at my feet, so my parents put me on a team. I played my whole young life, then didn't for many adult years, then started coaching a few years back, and now I'm consistently playing again. I play indoor, managing maybe three minutes without keeling over, and somehow I end up stepping on an opponent's toes nearly every game. Also, we keep losing to the same teams, which gets old, but I can't complain because I'm playing soccer. Complaining would be antithetical.


The club where I play offers the Lil' Kickers program which starts kids at eighteen-months-old. Last week we were able to sign up Xander for a free trial with the "Bunnies." In a couple of weeks, once he turns two, and if we decide it's the worth the pricey fee, Xander will be put on the "Thumpers" team.

They started with ten minutes of "warm-up," which consisted of about eight toddlers roaming around one end of the indoor soccer field, at times picking up and carrying a size three soccer ball, other times kicking it, everyone in their own space. As parent I tried to keep a leash on things. I passed a ball to Xander's feet as often as I could. He kicked it back by stumbling into it. Mostly, he just wanted to run.

I mean that literally. That's all he wanted to do. It didn't matter where. It didn't matter what was in his way. He was out of the confines of our small home, free to cavort as though he had all the time and space in the world.

Which he didn't.

He discovered early that the long, air-filled tube separating the Bunnies from the Thumpers was easily moved. All he had to do was tumble headlong into it and it would roll away from him, reducing the space allotted to the Thumpers. More than once the dividing tube nearly steamrolled over another small child on the opposite side.

He also didn't have nearly all the time he desired. After that first ten minutes, Coach Jill attempted to engage the players in organized activities. First, she wanted them to sit on a colored mat then tell the group their names and what color the mat was. Why she thought anyone less than two-years-old would be able to do that, I don't know, but at least all of the other kids were able to sit in one place while their parents doled out the information. Xander wouldn't sit down, let alone still, so I held him upside down like I do when he's too squirmy to hold onto properly and told the group who he was.
Not a great photo, but you can certainly see his enthusiasm.

After that we were supposed to run together across the field to the opposite wall. Xander wanted to run in whatever direction he chose. Then, Coach Jill handed each child a few orange field cones and demonstrated how to make a tower then kick a ball at the stack. Xander didn't mind stacking up the cones but didn't wait to put a ball at his feet before knocking over the tower. Next, hula hoops. Roll them around. Chase them. Run into other children. It's all part of the fun. Then with the squishy balls. Each player started with one, but Xander likes to carry more than one of anything, so he pounced on any unattended ball as quickly as he could and tried to carry them all around. Very little kicking was involved. In fact, few team or group activities were involved on the Bunnies soccer team.

Until Coach Jill pulled out the parachute. The other kids threw their squishy balls onto the parachute, circled up, and grabbed hold of an edge. Xander wasn't sure what to make of it. We tried to make the balls bounce around the middle. Then we flew the parachute up, and pulled it down over ourselves so everyone was underneath. Everyone except Xander. He'd found his calling. From outside, he ran back and forth from the parachute, attacking the airy bulge at every open point. More than once, he crashed into a child underneath, before I had to grab him again and pull him aside. The only time he held still the whole hour was when we put the kids on top of the parachute and the parents made a Merry-Go-Round out of it. I got dizzy myself from the circles, but the kids, even Xander loved it.

He ran away again as soon as the turning was done. The other kids were getting their hand stamped and picking up papers to give to parents, and I was still chasing after my boy.

The lack of actual soccer notwithstanding, we'll be taking him back. I'm disappointed that Xander didn't demonstrate grand promise as a future soccer megastar, but he clearly enjoyed  himself. Perhaps the Thumpers and the two-year-olds will show him the one true way. In today's competitive climate, we can't afford to wait until he's five.

Before we left, as if to punctuate something, I put him on the bleachers to change his clothes and to get a few pictures, when he chose to step off the bench in the instant I took my hand off him. I reached out to catch him, smacking him in the mouth, but slowing his descent to the floor enough that all he got was a bloody, fat lip.
Seconds later, pow, right in the kisser!