Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Words, words, words

We are now reading The Phantom Tollbooth, a cute story about a little boy who gets to drive his toy car through a tollbooth into strange lands. The land he's in currently is Dictionopolis, where there is an ancient battle between the people who prefer words and the people who believe numbers are the most important things in life.

Tonight Tanner asked me, "Mom, which do you think are better, words or numbers?" And I replied, "Well, since I'm a poet, I would have to say words are better. And they're more about being with people."

And he said, "Words ARE better. You know why?" And I know he has figured something else out, in his adorable analytical way. He whispers in my ear, "Because numbers are words. TWO is a word, THREE is a word, FOUR is a word...", and we both giggle.

I consider how I manipulate numbers in my head: abstractions, characters that represent quantities, but represented in my verbal representations as a word that has a spelling. A number has three lives: one in the abstract, one of concrete, and one of words. I know there have been books written on this subject, and I happen to own one (1) of them, which I have not yet read ("Zero", by Charles Seife)

And I really can't fault him for his logic. He will be six (6) at the end of next month, and I wonder how long I can keep up with him.

Tanner Rides a Bike

Yesterday the Second in Command learned to ride his new bike.

I had bought it for him a week ago, because in a flash of insight I realized that he wasn't learning to ride the one he had because it was icky. It was old and rusty and the tires were flat, and I began taking it apart with intent to repair and then hit my fit of pique and rushed out and bought him a new, smaller, one.

And the next day I had offered to help him learn to ride it, and he had confided in me that he really didn't want to learn. There was a look of five-year-old fear, a look I'm not sure I've seen in him before. I asked if he was scared of getting hurt, and he whimpered, "Yes". So I called in the Heir Apparent to testify to the joy of riding a bike despite bumps and bruises. "I would probably do it all over again", he said bravely in his worldly 7-year-old way.

So I asked a friend who has great insight into Tanner's nature and he said, "Of course he doesn't want to ride it. Because he's analytical like I am, and there is no obvious way the bike stays up." Ah. Well, I can't fix this. I can fix old bikes or buy new ones, I can hold and push and provide emotional support, but physics and gravity are beyond my purview. Inveterate analytical that he is, I would simply need to leave him to struggle with the tradeoffs.

Yesterday he was fueled by joy, riding his bike, wobbling down the sidewalk, all by himself. He fell a few times, and bumped an elbow once. I got the first ride on video. Life is good.

I was there to see it.

And that was part of the decision I made over fifteen months ago. And somehow, being there to help him and see his first bike ride makes it worthwhile. At least for now. For now, this is where I need to be.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Viking longswords, now.

I am essentially nonviolent. I don't even like Bruce Willis movies, honestly. I design sweaters, I bake bread, I read the poetry of Sharon Olds and Billy Collin aloud to my friends.

I homeschool my boys.

We have nearly completed our first history "unit study" of the year, which was chosen by both monkeys as the story of the Vikings. We have read several books, translated sentences of runes, made a movie, intereviewed a man who can trace his ancestors to Vikings, handled thousand-year-old coins, worn Viking helmets and felt the heft of chainmail, and memorized years, names, customs, religious beliefs, and accomplishments.

Tonight, I have just finished designing, cutting, and sanding two Viking longswords with my friend Kevin, who happens to have a wonderful wood shop in his garage and had girls, not boys (but is now the grandfather of three boys).

I made sure we took the router and cut the very authentic grooves down the middle of the swords. These grooves were for blood.

And I know that my two monkeys will love these swords. I will give them leather strips to decorate the handles, and perhaps they will paint the blades, or paint Thor's hammer onto the handles. Also, I know that they know what the grooves were for. And I have a certain abiding, yet unsubstantiated faith, that my boys are and will remain nonviolent.

I just hope that someday they will realize that their mother stayed up late making swords for them, for their entertainment and memory of history, and because she loves them. And maybe when I'm in my dotage they will read Sharon Olds and Billy Collins to me.