Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Endless Obsession

My son has an ongoing passion, verging on obsession - play dough.

This is my son

This is my son on play dough

I thought the novelty would wear off quickly, but we are going on months now where almost every waking moment, the child must have a sticky, malleable ball of this stuff in hand. "What does he do with it?", someone asked me recently. Well, let's see..... He puts it in/under things, takes it out of/above things. Makes "pancakes" and button-playdough stews. He rolls it into little balls that he stashes in cups or boxes and covers with blankets ("The play dough is tired. It needs a nap. Sshhhhh, don't wake 'em up!" Snoring sounds then ensue). Generally I'm pretty amused and thrilled by this, although I have to admit, I have a list of pros and cons about the subject:

The Cons:
  1. Supply can barely keep up with demand
  2. Multi-colored play-dough confetti distributed throughout every inch of our house.
  3. This stuff is lethal when it dries! Last week I knelt down to pick a book up off the floor and a dried shard of play-dough inserted itself firmly underneath my fingernail leading to a bit of consternation (ok fine, a few expletives)
The Pros:
  1. Cheap if I'm feeling lazy
  2. Even cheaper if I go the non-lazy route and make it myself
  3. Versatile which means endless "scope for the imagination" (as Anne Shirley would say)
  4. HE NEVER GETS SICK OF THIS STUFF!! If I attempt a painting craft project like painting, the project lasts the duration of an average toddler's attention span (i.e. 8 minutes). But make the project play-dough and I have to tear him away from the stuff an hour later for lunch time/nap time/diaper change. 
  5. Thanks to the extended attention span that play-dough induces, I can actually walk away and wash a nearby dish if need be (Gasp!).
  6. Relatively mess free (see points 1. and 2. in the Con section for exceptions to this rule
As you can see, the pros vastly outweigh the cons. A couple of weeks ago I tried a new play dough activity - a large, pile of plain, white, homemade play dough; 3 bowls of food-colored rice; a selection of accoutrements for decorating.

There is something really lovely and soothing about a big mess of uncolored play dough. It gives me a feeling akin to a freshly washed, white down blanket or a thick dusting of newly fallen snow.

This project was definitely one of my favorites and by the focus and the duration of time spent doing it, I think Taran would agree. We broke two of my ceramic bowls in the process and I still have flecks of multicolored rice trapped under the glass of our table, but all-in-all....totally worth it. Just look at this face:

You know he's reeeeeally excited about something when his shoulders hunch up and 2 little pointer fingers come out

I was trying to think of halloween costumes the other day and I was pondering on what were some things that he really liked right now. The best I could come up with was a tub of play dough.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Bad Mama Moment

Do you ever have one of these? Bad Mama moments? I definitely had one this morning. This past weekend we headed up to Cleveland for Nai Nai's 70th birthday. It was really wonderful to be there, but one difficult thing was Taran's interactions with our younger niece who is the same age as Taran. Multiple times over the weekend he would snatch whatever toy she was playing with out of her hand leading to an explosion of tears. Taran would instantly try to repent, forcefully shoving the object back into her hand which would only cause more tears and a very perplexed expression on his face.."but Mama, I tried to do the right thing"... I felt a little bit bad that I had somehow failed on teaching better socialization skills.

So this morning, I made a point of working on "No grabbing" with him. My first brilliant idea was to take a toy I thought he would be interested in and play with it very animatedly in the hope that he would try to snatch it at which point I could dialogue with him about not taking toys others were playing with. Of course, he had zero interest in what I was playing with. So then I attempted to snatch away the toy he was playing with - a little blue wax balloon on a small wooden stick. (Note to self: Never try to teach good behavior by modeling bad behavior. Reeeeeally bad idea). I don't know if the stick scratched him a little as I removed it from his hand or what, but he totally burst into tears and instantly crawled into my lap for comfort. I can't tell you what a big monster I felt like then. I wasn't expecting his reaction at all because he doesn't cry easily. I  thought he'd just get a little miffed and then I could apologize and tell him that I was sorry that I grabbed without asking and that asking would have been the nice thing to do. Sigh. Lesson learned. By me. Needless to say it was really hard to pack up my stuff and leave the house for work ten minutes later. I guess I should be a little bit gentler on both him and myself. Perfection isn't really the goal for either of us, just a willingness to learn from mistakes.

On Saturday morning of our visit, we had a family photographer come to shoot pictures of the extended family. Trying to get two toddlers to stand still in one place, looking in the same direction was a bit like herding cats so I wasn't a big fan of the posed pictures at all, but the photographer also gave us the opportunity to  do some candids with the smaller nuclear families. I shyly grabbed my own camera at this point and tried to snap a few myself and luckily, rather than giving me a disparaging look, the photographer was nice enough to ask me about my camera and give me some tips on how to shoot in the early morning light. I wish I could have shadowed him all morning. Here are a couple of shots I got of the girls and Uncle Matt:

I tried to get some of Taran as well all dressed up, but he wasn't too game. He had some sort of tummy bug this weekend (projectile vomiting in the carseat one exit from Cleveland, explosive diarrhea in his crib at nap time) so he wasn't feeling overly cooperative and definitely wanted lots of extra snuggles. I did get this one though which I think captures how fragile he was feeling that day.

Ack. Sometimes I feel such an incredible pang of love when I see him that it's like having a sucking chest wound.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Children's Garden - Ithaca trip Part II

Hello blog! I've missed you!! I've been so swamped with work that I haven't had a chance to revisit my Ithaca trip and by now, I've forgotten half the things I wanted to say. And in the meantime all sorts of other potential posts - zoo trips, colorful craft projects, recipes for toddlers - are falling by the wayside. This makes me a bit sad because one of the driving motivations for the blog was to document Taran's growth for: a) my family, and b) myself. The last is especially important because I have a lousy memory (total spaghetti strainer people) and a complete inability to keep a journal (something about the double whammy of needing to have follow-through AND organizational skills absolutely stymies me).

Tonight I'm putting aside work because I'm feeling a bit disgruntled with it and I need some time for more creative ventures. And I need a few smiles. Which looking at my recent trip certainly provides. So let's see.... in my last post I got through only 1.5 days of our ten day trip. At that rate I would need another 6 posts at least to cover everything. So let me talk about a few highlights from the trip.

Photo Credit: http://www.ithacachildrensgarden.org/

On the second day, we met up with my Dad and step-Mom at the Ithaca Children's Garden and I fell so in love with the place. If my essence could be distilled, and grown into a garden, I think the garden would look like this. It was whimsical (a little straw bale house with a sod roof called "The Troll House"), wild (prairie flowers and wildflowers), creative, rambling, a little slipshod (a "greenhouse" with walls made of 2-liter soda bottles strung up on bamboo poles), and very ecologically minded. Their philosophy is to "connect children with nature in playful ways". This actually resonants very deeply with me and is part of my grand master plan of what I hope to do with myself professionally in the next couple of years (more on that at some future juncture). If I could set up a cot and a camp stove in the Troll House and move in tomorrow I'd be in bliss.

We were all equally as pleased with the sites and Taran ran and laughed and jumped and squealed with absolute delight. He's such a lucky guy to have three different sets of grandparents to love him up and I get a kick out of seeing his unique relationship with each one.

By the side of the road, there were a series of colorful flags blowing in the wind and Taran thought they were the best. Ever. This picture cracks me up because it looks like Taran is in super-speedy motion, running in mid-air with the sign behind him warning to keep at 15 mhp:

I don't know if you noticed, but Taran is wearing his Darth Vader shirt in the above pictures. Which brings me to my favorite part of the morning. Two small boys, slightly older than Taran were playing together when Taran came whizzing towards them on one of his mad capers. Upon seeing his shirt, the older cried out "Aaaaah it's Darth Vader. Ruuuuuuun!". The younger brother quickly chimed in and off they want. Taran had no clue what all the hubbub was about, but he was perfectly willing to join in the fun, so he careened after them squealing and chortling. Which of course made the boys run and yell some more. I regret to say that I have not a single photo of this glee because I was too busy laughing my A*@ off [insert expletive here] to snap a picture.

Another highlight of our trip was seeing Auntie Anna swim across Lake Cayuga for "Women Swimmin'". Anna is an incredibly passionate and powerful woman in every sense of the word and I was so proud of her for this accomplishment and also for participating in such an important community event. This annual swim raises a significant chunk of the budget for the local Hospicare, which provides palliative care for people who are dying. It was pretty awe-inspring to see the waves of women - all shapes, sizes, ages - swimming the 1.2 miles across the cold, deep waters in the early hours of the morning. I was moved to tears by the moxie of the women and the community spirit which brought hundreds of friends, family, and supportive spectators out to cheer the women on as they came in to the final stretch where we waited with warm blankets and even warmer hugs.

Oh man, I feel like I'm probably hitting the limit of people's attention span and I haven't even begun to tell all the stories. Ok. Last one. Monica and Trevor's farm. This was another early morning trip when the fog was still clinging to the hills and the sun was low in the sky. Monica was my roommate my last year of graduate school and I absolutely adore her. She and her husband are raising their toddler son on an organic vegetable farm and in her spare time, when she's not running the CSA for her husband, she's a full-time middle-school teacher of students with disabilities. If I had 1/10 of this woman's energy and initiative I'd be really well off in life. 

The highlights for Taran were definitely the beautiful horses and Hummel the rabbit.

I have to admit, I'm a little (ok, a lot) scared of horses (big bodies, little brains). As it turns out, they are capable of fairly complex problem solving and understanding of social structure so my impressions are erroneous. But no one ever said that fear was rational, right? Anyway, I digress. My point is that while I was hovering a few feet back "Just so I can get some good pictures, you know", Taran was right up in the mix, absolutely fearless. I envy that quality in him. He loved feeding the horses and could have stayed there all day.

The only thing that could tempt him from leaving the horse pen was the prospect of hugging the soft bunny waiting for him inside.

I'll sign off for now and the rest of the memories will have to be sent off to the ethers where all old memories go to die, maybe to be resurrected, a little worse-for-the-wear when I pore back over old photos.

As a parting moment, here I am with Taran waiting for the Women to swim into shore: