The new bedtime routine

Since buying the iPad, Liam, of course, loves it. He loves the double-scaled iphone games that now have larger buttons that he finds it easier to press. He adores (and is astoundingly good at) Labyrinth 2 HD. He appears to prefer watching movies on the iPad to watching them on TV – again, because he can hold it in his hands, rotate it, zoom it in and out – all the fidgety things that kids like to do.

And now he’s discovered how awesome iBooks is. The past 4 nights, I’ve been reading to him chapters from Winnie the Pooh, the included book. We turn of all the lights in the bedroom, shut the door so it’s completely dark, and snuggle under the blanket on his bed. He generally leans his head on my chest for a pillow, and I lean the iPad on my legs. I read and he turns the pages. Sometimes we zoom in on words or pictures, or rotate the iPad for a few pages.

Then last night we tried out Alice in Wonderland (AKA the Alice App). He immediately loved the typography of it. But then we got to the page where the March Hare’s pocket-watch sways gently back and forth. And then Alice shrank and grew as we tilted the iPad around. It was a great, great experience. I currently only have the lite version, but we’ll be purchasing the full one shortly. And Liam wants us to find more kids books on the iPad, of course. Because reading, in the dark, purely by the light of the iPad is again, one of those minor, but somehow transformative experiences.

Parenting Aside: I love that I can tap a word to get the dictionary definition of that word. But you know what would be great? What would be so awesome for Liam, who is reading a fair number of simple words, and figuring out how to sound out longer ones? if from that same pop-up I had the option for the iBook to read me that word aloud. Or, more to the point, read that word aloud to Liam.

Liam, future popstar!

Yesterday, on our way home from swimming, Liam informed us that when he grows up, he wants to be a singer. Not only that, but h wrote 10 songs at school! We, of course, immediately asked him to sing for us. I managed to record 2 of his songs, now preserved here for all time:

  1. “I Love You Baby”
  2. “You’re not Building a House, You’re just Building a Bench”

So these were recorded on my iPhone, and thus are in m4a format, so I’ve no idea how this will work for various people on various platforms (they’re also pretty quiet for that matter). Nor do I have any embedded players – my apologies. If anyone has a recommendation for a lightweight plug-in, please let me know!

Liam certainly has the tropes down – lots of repetition, lots of “baby!” and “oh yeah!” in there.

Learning how to make Mistakes

Liam is a very cautious, meticulous child. Bright, but very sensitive. He’s, probably as a result, incredibly hard on himself. He internalizes everything. This has some interesting effects. For instance, Liam is not very good with change. Most kids aren’t of course, but with Liam, a sudden change in plans seems to mean, to him, that he did something wrong, it’s his fault. Suddenly decide to go to Costco before Safeway, rather than the other way around as originally discussed? Out will come the big, trembling lower lip, the downcast eyes, the fidgety fingers. It’s taken me a long time (really, until just recently) to realize that the reason for why he gets upset like this when faced with an unexpected change is that Liam believes he has made a mistake and is likely castigating himself, causing him to be so upset. It has been hard to piece out because Liam would never want to tell us what he was so upset about – in part, I believe, because he would then be upset about how he was over-reacting, so was now upset about being upset.

The clue, for me, came just recently when I finally got him to tell me that he was sorry that he didn’t put his shoes on when I asked him to. In his mind, apparently, the reason I was going to Costco before Safeway was because he took too long to put on his shoes, so for some reason that meant Safeway had to be after Costco (he likes Safeway because often shopping there entails him getting a treat, like a piece of a KitKat bar). So I turned off the radio and explained to him that the reason I was going to Costco first was that we needed to buy groceries from Safeway that had to remain cold – milk & ice cream, and that if we went to Safeway first, they might melt, but if we did it the other way around, they wouldn’t.  Then I explained about how cold things left in the car warm up, and getting warm is what causes the ice cream to melt. And I told him that it didn’t matter that he took a few minutes to put his shoes on – it wasn’t why we were doing things differently.

It may come as a surprise to many, but Liam has never had a tantrum. He’s never yelled “NO!” at us, or fallen down screaming and writhing. It just has never happened. I suspect this is because he internalizes things. Probably much like myself as a child (Leah might say as an adult), he doesn’t really understand how to properly experience anger, and often experiences anger as sadness or a weird longing for comfort (here I’m obviously projecting based on my memories of me as a child). And ends up blaming himself for whatever he should have been angry at.

At Daycare, most of the teachers tell us what a wonderful child Liam is – so friendly, never getting into trouble – but he cries a fair bit, and doesn’t deal well with criticism. This is true – because he’s incredibly hard on himself. When he makes a mistake, it’s the end of the world for him, and the standard “don’t worry about it” response that we as adults use to indicate that it’s not a big deal simply doesn’t work for Liam. I had suggested a couple of weeks ago to one of his teachers than when he gets upset because he’s done something wrong to, rather than say “it’s ok Liam”, to say “It’s not a big deal, we all make little mistakes. Do you remember when…” and tell Liam of when they made a mistake, and make light of that. Liam does really well when there’s an explanation for something, a solid reason for things. Today, a teacher at his school let me know that this seemed to have helped. Additionally, letting Liam help when other kids make mistakes – ask him what the other kid did wrong and whether he thought it was a big mistake or a little mistake was having nice results – Liam was starting to “try” things that he might get wrong. He was beginning to risk making mistakes. The very upset Liam when he was called out it was still there, but slowly but surely, Liam is starting to take some risks that might not work out for him. We laughed at the idea that a teacher at Daycare was teaching my son how to “act out”, but that’s essentially what we’re doing.

I suspect, much like the little clone of me that he often appears to be, that socially-expected reactions will be a challenge for a long time for him. Fortunately, Liam doesn’t appear to suffer from the same shyness that I did, and is quite popular at school – when I drop Liam off, kids make a point of coming up to him to say “hi”, and we hear from his teachers that virtually all the kids like playing with him, and invite him to play with them throughout the day. Hopefully he’ll be learn ways of not taking everything quite so personally. Or, if not that, learn some productive ways of processing that self-directed anger.

Parenting is hard.

I’m a mean dad

Every night before bedtime, we read stories to Liam. Many nights, Liam will then take a book into bed with him to “read” (in quotes because 1, he’s not really literate yet and 2, the lights are off so it would be hard to read anyway – this worked better for him in the summer) – often times we’d hear him reciting the stories, talking to the characters in pictures, etc.

He additionally likes to choose a different book to read in the morning – the idea being that he’ll bring the book with him into our bed in the morning, and we’ll lounge around and read together. This is awesome, fantastic family time on the weekend – it’s less good during the week for obvious reasons, but whenever I can, I’ll read at least one book in the morning to him because hey, books!

And I realize none of the above make me seem terribly mean. But it is back-story for what happened tonight: I put Liam to bed, and read him stories. He wanted to read the transformers book. Now, despite being a transformers fan myself, I loathe this book. It’s this bizarre “Transformers Annual”, from England from the 80’s when I was a kid with a mix of comics, short stories and “factsheets” in a hardcover.  But I told him to choose a different book because I didn’t want to read it. Which made him sad, but an animated telling of the Sneetches made that all better. So at 8, I turned off the light, went into the office to start working. I can hear him talking to himself next door for a while, and then it goes quiet.

At 9:30, I’ve gone downstairs to watch some TV when all of a sudden I hear him on the stairs. He looks up at me, smiling sweetly and says “I need my transformers book to read in the morning and I can’t find it. Can you help me find my transformers book?” And this is the mean part. I told him quite sternly that it was very late, and he had to get back to bed and not only would I not help him find his book I didn’t want to hear him out of his bed again unless it was to go to the bathroom. The lips quivered, they trembled, his eyes welled up and there were tears. Poor, disappointed, sleepy little boy. He wasn’t quite crying, but close. And while every bit of me wanted to make it all right, I decided to just march him back to bed, say “see you in the morning” and close his door. But now I just feel mean. I know exactly where the transformers book is, and could have given it to him in seconds. But he shouldn’t be up so late. But it’s just a book. And so on. Oh guilt, you are a cruel mistress.

Activities & Over-scheduling

So being a dad to a smart, inquisitive boy, I of course want Liam to experience everything possible, to help him find things that he likes. But I also firmly believe in the power of free time, of idle thought and quiet alone time – I don’t want to fall into the over-scheduling trap, which is all to easy, when I think of all the things that I’d like Liam to try out:

  • swimming
  • gymnastics
  • skating/hockey
  • tennis
  • snowshoeing
  • cycling
  • baseball
  • soccer
  • arts & crafts
  • pottery
  • music

Essentially, as Leah & I read through the Community Centres’ program offerings, we almost invariably  nodding our heads and saying “yes, we should try that”. Liam’s not much of a filter, as he, being the aforementioned smart & inquisitive, is just as curious about trying out new things as we for him to try them. I have established certain “imperatives”. For instance, whether he wants to or not, I want Liam to learn how to swim comfortably, safely. Fortunately for us, Liam absolutely loves swimming.

This fall, Liam is continuing swimming. I’d like to sign him up for skating lessons, and Liam is certainly very excited about that. Browsing the programs, we came across “Parent & Tot Indoor Tennis (3-5 yrs)”, which is described thusly:

This program introduces your child to the joy of running chasing, and hitting a ball, all enjoyed with Mom or Dad. Racquets provided if necessary.

What 4-year-old boy wouldn’t love running around and hitting balls with a racket? Particularly given how much Liam loves to play T-ball & baseball in our back yard. So then there’s that. And also soccer.

So thinking about it last night, I came up with the following guideline for scheduling these sorts of things with Liam: No more than 3 scheduled activities a week. This should leave plenty of time for us to just play, read, explore, do whatever, but also, be enough that Liam can try out new things on a regular basis, and see if he particularly likes any of them to continue.

Of course, this means there’s lots of things he won’t get to try. But that’s ok. I think. I am, of course, feeling guilty for not enabling him to do everything. Perhaps if I didn’t work, so had more time with him, I’d be more willing to share my time with him, but given that I only see him evenings & weekends, it’s hard to justify. For Leah, who’s just starting shiftwork as a nurse, this will be even harder – today, Liam’s staying home from daycare to hang out with her because she’ll be working all weekend, and it is quite clear that Liam gets upset when he doesn’t get much time with one of us over the course of a week.

So. How to balance trying new things, learning skills, playing sports with family time, alone time, etc? I’m not sure I know. I’d certainly be interested in hearing about what other parents out there are doing to find a balance.

The Bead

Yesterday, Leah and Liam sat down and made a bead-phone with this bead-art craft kit we have (you stick little rubberized beads on a mat with little posts in a pattern, then iron the beads so that they melt together and stick, so you can then remove the art). Liam took his newly made phone into his room when it was naptime, and Leah continued on with her day.

A short while later, she heard Liam at the top of the stairs, crying. Coming upstairs to see what was up, he held up the phone, one corner-bead missing, and sobbed “the bead came off so I put it up my nose”.  So, stifling a laugh as best she could, she tried to comfort him while seeing if it could not be removed quickly. Realizing it couldn’t be quickly removed, and trying to console Liam, she called me. We decided to take him to Children’s Hospital emergency to see what they could do.

I left work and met them there, and then of course we waited for an hour or so. It didn’t appear that the bead was bothering Liam, who quite happily watched a movie on my phone, and played in the waiting room until we were called. Finally, we went in, and a nurse had a look up his nose to see the bead, which was apparently quite a ways up there.

Deciding that suction wouldn’t work, they first tried to have Leah blow it out, by essentially doing a variation of mouth-to-mouth. So Liam lay down on the bed, and they wrapped a sheet tightly around him to try and immobilize him. While I l held his legs down, and a nurse tried to hold his head steady, Leah gave a short, quick, hard breath into Liam’s mouth, which should, in theory, dislodge the bead, which it did not.

The next attempt was to use tweezers, but to do this a new nurse had to be brought in, who was stronger, as Liam was (understandably) really upset and squirming. The tweezers did NOT go well at all. They made 3 attempts, which had the end result of no rescued bead and an increasingly inconsolable Liam. He was crying so much that Leah had to step out of the room because it was too upsetting. He looked terrified, and while the doctors & nurses conferred on a next step, I tried, somewhat futilely, to console him. I asked him what he’d like to have as a treat after they got the bead out (a brownie) and told him to think hard about  a brownie, not what they were doing to him.

The final technique was to use a catheter to inflate a balloon behind the bead up his nose and pull it out that way. To do this they had to tip the table back more, so his head was pointing down to the ground. This time, with Leah helping hold him steady, and me holding his legs down with one arm while he was squeezing the fingers of my other hand, the doctor successfully introduce the catheter up his nose, inflated the balloon and pop! out came the bead. Success! So we gave him hugs, and I think every single person in the room asked him if he would put anything up his nose again (his sobbing answer, “no”), and then we left, headed out to get him a brownie.

Liam’s Story: The Big Little Tiny Old Woman & the Whale

This isn’t turning into a daddyblog, I promise! That being said, I do want to share with you all a story that Liam told to me last night:

Once upon a time there a big little old tiny woman. She went outside to play with her sand toys but there was lots of snow and she couldn’t see the sand and she had to shovel the snow. There was a whale in the snow. The whale ate the big little old tiny woman. The end.

Given how many of these stories I get from Liam, I’m guessing parents of other toddlers hear them too. It might make for a fun interactive-internet project: parents post stories that their young ones tell to them (as text or audio or video). Illustrators/designers/photographers take those stories and illustrate them. No idea how it would work, but that seems like the sort of thing the internet is great for. Anyone know if such a thing exists? Or want to collaborate on building such a site?

the 4:45 AM emergency

Liam usually sleeps through the night – he has for a very long time. We’re really quite lucky, really – in fact, I often have to wake him up at 7:30, 8 AM in order to get him to school and myself to work on time. The exception has been if he had to go to the bathroom, but just in the last couple of weeks, he’s even figured out how to do that by himself at night (although, humorously, he simply cannot seem to figure out how to close his bedroom door – he either slams it shut, somehow jamming it so it’s super hard to open again, or it just doesn’t shut at all).

But last night, I awoke, adrenaline pumping, to the sound of Liam screaming my name, sobbing unconsolably. I rushed out of bed to his room, expecting – expecting I don’t know what – mostly that he’d injured himself, or had an accident, or fallen out of bed. But I certainly did not expect what the cause of his distress was. Liam takes a different toy to bed every night. One of his favourites is a “Mack” truck (from the movie Cars). The emergency at 4:45 this morning? He’d woken up, and the cab of the toy had become separated from the trailer (it is supposed to be able to do this), and he couldn’t get it to fit back together properly. I really didn’t know whether to laugh or get angry, but, given how intensely unhappy he was, the answer was neither – I put Mack back together, gave Liam a hug until he calmed down again, then went back to bed.

Possibly the scariest moment of my entire life so far

This morning, as Liam and I were walking to his daycare along Pacific, Liam was inches from being hit by a car. My natural over-protectiveness, that makes me hover my hands right by him whenever we’re somewhere cars are, are probably what prevented something really awful from happening:

A woman was coming out of a parking garage. There’s a little ramp from the garage up to the sidewalk, then out on to the road. From the garage door, she could probably see there was no oncoming traffic. But we (or at least Liam), was obscured from her view by a planter. But as she was driving up the ramp over the sidewalk, she wasn’t even looking. She was looking down, fumbling in her purse as she drove out onto the street. She didn’t see me or Liam. I lifted Liam up high, and the car passed underneath him. The whole thing was so close that my feet were probably half an inch from being run over by her, and his feet were maybe an inch or two above the roof of her car. She turned right, and drove off. I don’t believe she had any idea we were there at all. Were I not so worried about Liam, I’d’ve tried to get her license plate. He was totally unhurt, just annoyed at having been unceremoniously pick up by me, and just wanted down again.

Myself, my heart was pounding and I broke out in cold sweat at just the thought of what would’ve happened if Liam had been even half a step further ahead of me then he was. I really didn’t stop shaking until after I had dropped him off at Daycare and took a moment to sit down…

Proud, but a little scared too

We’re on the bus today, and all of a sudden, Liam starts saying “BUZZ! BUZZ! BUZZ!” so I look around, and I can’t see anything buzzing, or hear any buzzing. Then, I see he’s looking at the little pamphlet holder behind us on the ‘wall’ of the bus. And what does it say? “the BUZZER”. So I point at the letters, and Liam happily shouts out: “BEEEE! YOUUUU! ZED! ZED! EMMMM! ARR!” (he always mixes up Ms, Ws, & Es, when looking at his bath letters too). The lady sitting next to us is now staring at us slack-jawed. Then I ask “Do you know what that says?” and He shouts “BUZZ! ARRRR! BUZZZ! ARRR!” So Apparently, Liam’s learning how to read. Not perfectly, but the fact that he can connect groups of letters into actual words just blows me away. That seems to be a large step from just identifying some letters, which is what I’ve seen him do before.