Friday, January 21, 2011

Seven Years Old

Today you are seven years old. One of the big kids now.

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But you're far from turning jaded or sullen. Not you.

Your primary mode of transport is skipping. You sing your heart out, just for your own entertainment, without a drop of self-consciousness.

You are almost always in the midst of improvising an action adventure movie or a comedy skit.

"This is the part where we're running away and the cave is collapsing and there's going to be an avalanche. Ready? Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!!"

"Mommy, I'll take a drink and then you tell me something surprising and then I'll spit it out. Okay! Go!"

When, occasionally, you can't find the words for something, you come up with your own, infinitely more interesting, way to say it.

"Do you want to know why I didn't finish my breakfast? My food microbes are not at 100 percent."

_______

You know all your math facts and frequently correct adults' grammar, yet you still seem to enjoy school, thanks to a teacher who (most of the time) lets you sneak away to the bookshelf when your classmates are parsing "the cat sat on the mat" and asks you to read aloud to the class while she needs some time to prep.

The kids in your first grade class seem to like your charisma (that we adults call "bossiness"), your boldness (that we adults label "tactlessness"), your array of movie quotes for any situation. More than one boy has boasted to me at pick up time,"Ben is my best friend."

________

You're starting to ask yourself the Big Questions. Sometimes, you take out the kids' bible we bought you and you study it for a long time - the stories of kings and battles, angels and miracles. You rarely want to talk about it with me, except the occasional question that tells me you are grappling with these mysterious stories in your own way.

"Mommy, why were people so mean in Noah's time?"

"Did these things actually happen?"

I know that you've inherited my skill for imagining the catastrophic. You worry about things going wrong, about losing control of yourself. You invent worst-case-scenarios that hook themselves into your brain.

"Mommy, what will happen if I go to a play and I shout a grown-up word so loud that the actors hear me and the actor comes off the stage and yells at me?"

Sometimes, you're afraid of making mistakes, of not being perfect. And sometimes, you need the people around you to be perfect, too.

Despite this, you are learning that most of the time it's better to say "Oh well." or "I'll be okay." than come apart. And every day that gets a little easier.

__________

And most days you have a smile on your face when you get up in the morning and a smile on your face as you get into your bed at night. Usually, because you're recalling something funny from a book or a movie or your own imagination.

You already have so much of what you'll need in this life.

You already have so much of what I wish for you.

Intelligence, creativity, compassion and most of all, joy.

Happy birthday to my big kid, my sweet boy.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Making comic strips

We've been having a lot of fun lately using the Make Beliefs Comix online comic generator.

It lets you create three-panel comic strips with a variety of different characters and standard comic strip elements. The interface is a little clunky, especially if you're familiar with any other kind of drawing software (or have an iPad), so Ben acts as the creative director and I do the actual manipulation.

Using this tool has helped me see how facile Ben is with the visual and narrative conventions of comics, even though he can't draw very well himself. He comes up with the storyline, the characters, and the dialog on his own and knows exactly how to insert storytelling devices such as using "meanwhile" to indicate a parallel plot development, or foreshadowing events by showing characters lurking in the background.

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Since the tool includes several different emotional states for the different characters, this might be a fun way to have kids create their own social stories or experiment with cause and effect. The three panel design could also be useful for helping younger kids with basic sequencing.

And because Ben and I do this as a collaborative activity, there's lots of opportunity for spontaneous conversation and give and take.

Ben especially likes to print out the panels and assemble them into entire pages. He gets a much more "finished" end product than he can draw himself and it's helping him learn that he can channel his storytelling abilities to create permanent artifacts, not just in-the-moment imaginary play scenarios.

Try it out next time you're looking for a rainy day activity.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Monkey" and "Other Monkey"

I'm not the only one who records bits and pieces of our quirky life. I implore you to read Chris' piece about Ben's longtime companions, Monkey and Other Monkey. Find it here, on his outstanding Tumblr page.

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We felt odd naming it, even though the boy couldn’t speak to give it a name of his own, so in time “Monkey” stuck.

We wound up ordering two additional monkeys, first Backup Monkey, who was called upon when Monkey was pooped and/or barfed on.

Backup Monkey disappeared not long after he arrived, misplaced in the home of the woman who cared for the boy during the day, and was never seen again.

Then we ordered Auxiliary Backup Monkey, who we left in a drawer too long. By the time he was called into service (Pretty sure, barf that time.), Original Monkey had already been worn down enough that the boy could tell that this softer, shinier wasn’t the same.

READ IT ALL

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Collections

It's all about collections right now.

Ben is constantly inventing and describing and assembling collections of books, collections of DVDs, collections of video games.

Thanks to the marketers who know that bundling products together is the best way to get customers to spend a little more than they were planning in the first place, he's become fascinated by things like the pamphlets that come in DVD packaging or promotional cards tucked into magazines or the "Also by this author" lists on the back covers of books.

The idea of creating or completing a collection must feel so satisfying, so compelling, for someone who is, like Ben, both a pattern-seeker and completist.

Every time I come around a corner these days, I seem to encounter a neatly laid out grid of DVDs or books, arranged into a collection: in the middle of the living room floor, the hallway, on the sofa.

He now asks for books and DVDs based on how they would enable him to complete a collection rather than an interest in the content.

And he invents his own collections. Several times a day we have a conversation like this one:

"Mommy, have you ever heard of the 3 DVD set called The Dr. Seuss Complete Collection?"

(I take the bait) "No, I haven't. Tell me about it."

"On Volume 1, it has Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat and the Cat, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back..." (He lists five or six, or ten or twelve more titles, organized into volumes.)

"Wow! That sounds like a great collection!"

"And... have you heard of the Dr. Seuss Complete BEGINNER'S Collection with special BONUS FEATURES?"

And we continue like this for some time. He enthusiastically pitches and I ooh and ahh and say, "Tell me more!" as if on the set of our own QVC show.

Sometimes, from another room, I'll hear him in his announcer voice burst out with: COMING SOON TO OWN ON DVD, THE GREATEST DISNEY BLUE RAY COLLECTION OF ALL TIME!

If only the copywriters who slave away on package copy or voiceover scripts for video trailers knew how much he appreciates, and believes, their tired hyperbole. If only they knew what a devotee they have in a hyperlexic, echolalic child.