Owl


Last night, before bed, Owl and I had ourselves a little chat about Christmas. What prompted this was my question about what Owl would be dreaming of that night as he lay in slumber. Owl said, “Snow, and playing outside with cats in the snow.” This seems ambitious, at best. But I am not here to serve as the killer of dreams.

This conversation about snow and snow-covered cats led to a discussion of Christmas. Pencils a’ready folks: Owl would like toy cars. All toy cars. Small ones. In all colors. Owl would also like a large, squishy yellow and pink ball. Just that please. Cars and a ball.

The birthday request gets a little trickier. After the Christmas discussion, I mentioned that his birthday would be just a bit before Christmas and what would he like to receive on that day? He stated, “I want to be 14. Then I can drive Penguin to school. And Daddy.” I mentioned that one needs to be 16 to drive. “I want to be 16. And drive Penguin. And drive Daddy.”  I asked him what car he would like to drive. “Mama’s car. In blue.”

So there you have it.

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I had a simple, but exquisite weekend.

Setting: park at noon.

Action: Blowing bubbles, digging in the sandbox, shooting down slides, drawing on the sidewalk with fat sidewalk chalk, playing hopscotch, jumping over tires, following the leader.

Until I had children, I forgot how much I love the outdoors. Love it. Love grass, love trees, love parks, love breezes, love birds chirping. Love not being inside enclosed within the small walls of an apartment. Love the lack of concrete, noise and congestion. I smiled so freely and deeply yesterday that I almost didn’t know myself.

Also, since my children are inadvertently humorous and have impeccable timing, let me share this brief story. This park is very close to a church and after the service, a family with two little girls walked over from the church to the playground for a little springtime fun. Owl was sitting in the backseat in this fake car and the two little girls started climbing into the front seat, their parents watching and smiling. I was about 100 feet away, gathering some things up with Owl before heading home. Owl sat there for a moment staring at the girls and then his body suddenly melted into the ground. Keeping his eye on the two girls, he slithered down, flattened himself out, rolled under the car, A-Team style, and then started shouting “Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!,” while running away and darting desperate looks back at them, ensuring no one was in tow.

Good times.

A few months back, Penguin had a nightmare and the following night, he was rather reluctant to go to sleep. He said that he was scared that he would have the same dream again and desired not to spend his most soporific hours thrashing in terror. I’m paraphrasing here, natch.

To quell the anxiety, I offered to tell a very short little tale while we were there in the dark. I made something up and it was bad, but it worked.

Side note: An interesting fact. I feel as though I write fairly well, but when asked to devise an impromptu verbal story, the stammering and banality is astounding. “There was a little boy. He liked cake and so he ate some. Ummmm, a frog was walking by and looked in the window and shouted, ‘Ah, cake! Gimme cake,’ which made the little boy jump. And, uh, he dropped the cake. And cried. No, crap, that’s not a good story. He, well the cake fell, but then he started to pick it up and eat it. No, no, it wasn’t dirty. Yeah, in our house there would be dog hair on it. Yeah, probably cat litter, too. So the frog, I mean the dog, no, the frog jumped through the window and ate the cake. I dunno, pal. Sorry. I got nuthin’.”

But back to the matter at hand. So I told my little story and Penguin settled in and fell asleep. The next night, he convinced me that my tale had done wonders for his nerves, and could I please do another one. So I did. A universal truism unknown to those that have children is this: one time is a lark, two times is a pattern, three times is expectation. When, the following night, I allowed myself to be talked into a “mouth story” (different from “book stories,” mind you), I did it with full recognition that I was now adding another 5 minutes to bedtime routine. Forever. Alright, whatever. I work all day and it’s the least I can do, right?

The problem, though, is that there are one or two nights when Papa Bird takes the lead on bedtime and I go off and stare vacantly at a wall before mustering the energy to clean up the toys, stuck bits of food and my dignity from off of the floor. And Papa Bird, not to be outdone in the mouth stories department, would concoct these magical tall tales filled with faraway kingdoms, gnomes, Army tanks, explosions and everything else that makes a little boy’s heart skip an excited beat. Try as I might to match these, I just could not ever do it. And so mouth story time became an exercise in futility, where I would try to create something fantastical and end up spitting out something flatulent. There was really no competition. Papa Bird wins this one hands down. Further, Penguin had no shame in telling me that my stories stunk and that he wanted his father to always put him to bed since his mouth stories were better.

Game on.

Figuring that I had to do something else to reclaim that space and make bedtime enjoyable again, I pulled forth the only thing in my bag of tricks that Papa Bird cannot replicate. Singing. He doesn’t really like to sing, though he lives and breathes music. But Penguin, Owl and I like singing. The boys hum or sing tunes all the time and I am constantly busting into a little song and dance routine for them when I am at home on the weekends.

I started out by singing songs that I knew the lyrics to very well, but that is an extremely limited repertoire because I never, ever remember song lyrics. After the eighth night of “Knick Knack Paddy Whack”” and “Feeling Groovy” by Simon and Garfunkel, the children were spent and getting antsy. Enter the magic of technology. There are people on YouTube, bless them, that put all your favorite songs to written lyrics and turn it into a video. Huzzah!

Now, every night before official and final “time to go to bed,” the boys and I sing a few songs together. We lay down on the bed, power up our tablet, point it to Youtube, and see where the songs take us. Right now we are working our way through the Beatles catalogue. We’ve also taken a fondness for some older REM songs, and I keep trying to slip in some Gershwin and Cole Porter. Owl approves, but Penguin rolls over and refuses to participate. Penguin’s favorite songs as of late is “Hey There Delilah” and “Blackbird.” Owl has a deep and abiding love for “Tonight You Belong to Me.”

It goes without saying, though I will, that these are some of the sweetest moments of my day. The boys and I lay back and they rest their heads on my shoulders or chest. Penguin hums along to the tune and Owl, unable to read or hum very well, spots the first letter at the start of a lyric and just sings that through the stanza. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.” And I sing along, too, happy to find new songs, happy to rediscover old songs, happy to have a few moments in which we can all enjoy each other enjoying music in a very simple way. My hope is that the boys will remember this. Perhaps because I selfishly need to believe that it means as much to them as it does to me. And if they don’t that’s OK, too. They are going to have killer taste in music and if that is the case, parenting duty #427 fulfilled.

Throughout many of his earliest years, a common refrain would echo through our apartment. “Play trains with me.” What this meant, roughly, was that you were being asked to commit to the building of a very elaborate wooden train track – a track that a mere novice should not be playing on, but there you go. Anything less would be insulting and ripped apart in an instance. So, you would get out a piece of paper, draw a rough design and, if you were me, fail miserably in the interpretation and just see where the laying of the track took you. I did this for years. Days and days and days of hearing this request. Before work. After work. On the weekends. I can’t remember a time in which I was not asked to lay down train track and then play a rousing game of “No, don’t use that one. NO! Put! It! There!” Smash. “Mama, build a new one.”

On my better days, I would oblige the request, certain that there would be a time that this would pass and I would look back on this activity fondly. On days in which I had it up to the parental here, the mere thought of attaching this piece to that could have me break out into a cold sweat. Some days, it seemed like the most boring thing ever.  Not the track building itself, which had the power to at least tax my creativity slightly. No, it was more the relentless looping around the track with a little wooden train that tended to get, shall we say, tedious after the first five minutes.

When Owl was born, my first thought was, “Oh dear. We need to buy him his own, less cool wood trains so that he never touches Penguin’s. The Lord help him if he does.” And I did just that, buying him very juvenile-looking wooden engines and box cars when compared to the new, realistic Whistler wooden trains that I had purchased for Penguin.  This worked, for the most part. A curious thing about siblings though. The most awful dregs of a toy suddenly seem appealing and even necessary to one’s very existence when in the hands of a sibling. Once Owl was actually old enough to hold a train and maneuver it around the track, we devised a simple way to let the wee child know that a given train was approved for his use by the elder child. By very fact that they were his first, Penguin saw all the trains as his, except for the Thomas trains (“face trains” as he called them, since they were too babyish). But through something that must have been an unwitting sorcery on my part, I convinced him that it would be easier for all involved if he selected a handful of trains that were just Owl’s so that he could play with the rest of the trains in peace. Owl’s trains would all be marked with a big, black “O,” therefore making it quite clear which trains were his to enjoy. I would simply need train Owl to use just these trains and there would be no more fights. Seasoned parents are free to insert side-busting laughter here.

So, it never quite worked that way. Now, on top of the daily request that a train track be built, the further request of “Make one for Owl, but make his worse,” and “Don’t let him touch my trains” and “I think he’s looking at one of my trains” and “I’m not going to play with this track if he puts his train on it so you’ll have to make me a new one” also filled the air. Punctuated randomly by wailing shrieks from Owl as he watched his train be snatched from his hand and thrown across the room for having the audacity to be on its own simple, circular track but TOOCLOSE to Penguin’s train rounding the bend.  It was – to summarize – nightmarish.

Then a funny thing happened. Only I can’t quite tell you exactly when this was. It began quietly, as these things usually do. I noticed one day that Owl has grabbed one of Penguin’s moderately favored trains.  Instantly my heart started racing. Do I take it away, ensuring a mournful cry but preventing a possible beating? Do I feign ignorance and then watch, shocked I say, as Penguin exacts his retribution? Do I attempt to distract both of them away from the trains altogether and on to a less combative, less bloodthirsty pursuit? I could see Owl eying his brother and I know in that moment we were both waiting for the gauntlet to fall. Owl, braver than I, began flaunting the acquisition and it was all I could to run screaming from the house in suspense. At an undetermined point, Penguin glanced over and took note of the train. It took a second and in those moments, I can’t be sure what he was thinking. I imagine he realized right away that it was his train. I imagine that there was a part of him that instantly began to burn with the white-hot fever of sibling possessiveness. He stopped what he was doing and Owl, though pretending to nonchalantly play along, was clearly watching him from the side of his eye, ready to run or cower as the need arose. I practically chewed my fingernails to the bone, waiting for something – anything – to happen. And then, nothing.  A gigantic nothing. Penguin continued to play and Owl, sensing victory, immediately discarded the train because it appears that this is what little brothers do to bigger brothers. Push the envelope in what can only be an appreciation of both sadism and masochism.

From that day forth, the number of trains in which Owl could play with grew exponentially. For a long time, almost any train was game, save the Whistler wooden trains. Those were the last holdout. Then one day, as with the others, those too fell and Owl was free to play with whatever he wanted. I say this in a short paragraph, but in effect, this whole experience took about a year.  During this time, Penguin pulled further and further away from playing with trains and train tracks, more interested in things like computer games and Army soldiers and tanks. One day last summer, and I strain my memory to remember but just cannot, the very last request to build a train track was made. I have not heard it since.

As with everything in parenting, that which was once torturous has become nostalgic. The laying of track, the swooping of a train around a curve and the sound of wooden car and plastic wheels against the little grooves in the wooden track is still something I can hear if I pay attention carefully to my memories. I do wish I could remember the last day we sat down to build a track, and I also wish I had advance knowledge that it would be the last time so that we could have gone out with a bang.  A show-stopping layout and all the passion I could muster as I brought the trains into the station and then back out again. I won’t lie – I’m glad to have hung up my conductor’s cap. Owl’s not very interested in trains and so we just don’t play with them much at all anymore. But I can’t bring myself to get rid of any of it during our upcoming spring cleaning. For all the monotony on our daily runs, I can look back and say I’ve enjoyed my time on the rails.

Conductor out.

 

This is how Owl says, “Thank you, Mama” when I have helped him, handed him something, done something for him or otherwise made him feel very pleased indeed.

Also, this morning, I was pulling some wipes out of the bag and I received a very enthusiastic “Grey job, mama. Grey job!” I’ll take that as great job, and not a monochromatic insult.

Owl is a chatty one, but he often confuses words or makes them up to mimic the sounds of an actual word. So I can sometimes sit back and listen to about a minute of conversation that has all the markings of a chat, but none of the actual words.

Owl is also hitting that age where the gentlest of fibs starts rounding the bend. The other day, he spilled his drink, but he told me, “Mama did that” in complete feigned sincerity. And then he removed his socks and said “LuLu ate them,” in spite of them being crumpled up into little sock balls right next to his feet.

I wish I could take him to work with me. He could eagerly compliment me as I completed my tasks and then pass many an hour telling tall tales about how I ate my stapler.

Owl has been giving lots of kisses as of late. It’s rather cute. If you are holding him, he will wrap his arms around your neck, open his mouth and place it upon you. No puckering or smacking just yet, but the sentiment is there. If you are Penguin and prone to sitting on the floor, then Owl will come up to you, fall on you and THEN wrap his arms around your neck and give a smooch. Or 10. He seems to love to give his brother kisses.

In the past week or so, Owl has discovered a new way of getting his parental minions to do his bidding. You can always see the mental wheels turning in that one and so you know that when there is silence, it is not a real silence, but evidence of a plotting mastermind at work. Papa Bird and I have something of an overactive mind and imagination and from the looks of it, the boys do as well.

Anyways, recently Owl has been taking someone by the hand to lead them to the thing that he wants and/or believes that he desperately needs in that very second, please and thank you. One could be sitting anywhere or  doing anything and then feel the slight tug of a little hand on your body. I have been standing at the sink, looking in a closet or grabbing something out of a bag and then suddenly  startled by some little fingers clasping on to some part of my arm or hand. Not that his methods are always undertaken in the spirit of a surprise. He has also barreled towards me full steam and shrieking and attempted to pull me off  the couch, the toilet, out of bed and off the chair while I am working on the computer. (To note: Owl has also reached the excited shrieking stage of his development. Or as Penguin might say, “He sure is eggskited!”)

The movements are always accompanied by a grunted “eh, eh, eh” which, if he were an older child, might translate to “Come on, come on, come on.” Or “Why are you so lazy?” if one was Papa Bird.  So the process goes something like this: tug, tug, tug, “eh, eh, eh,” tug.  Rinse and repeat with increasing insistence until your neglectful parent gets you to the place or the thing that you so desire.

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As a  slight aside, is there something about running water that is fascinating to children? At this age, Penguin could not get enough of filling up cups and bowls with running water from the sink. Owl is the same way. It really explains the water table industry, a product I would have thought totally unnecessary until I had children of my own. I am holding out hope that this infatuation will carry into adolescence so that I may demonstrate to them the awesomeness that is doing dishes!!11!1!

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