Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Coffee Break

Ben hates to get water in his face. Showers are a power struggle, swim lessons were a no-go and even water parks are a turn off since he came down the slide and--because he was so light--flew off the end so fast, he didn't have time to stand up. He actually ended up going under water in a sitting position.

But he wants to overcome this fear and loathing, and this is never more evident than when he watches his brother make friends with every other kid on the beach, and then head out into the waves with them to boogie board.

So I hold Ben's hand, and we stand waist-deep in the ocean. The waves come up, Ben jumps and turns his head away from the splash, and asks me every few minutes to go out farther into the water. Occasionally when a wave splashes him in the face, he drops my hand, runs to the towel to dry himself off, and then returns for more.

Last night was a full moon, and I remembered it today when we were at the beach playing chicken with the waves near the shore. We watched Jacob, his friends and his dad frolicking in the swells, and I decided to see if Ben knew about the effect of the moon on the waves.

"Hey Ben, do you know who controls the waves?" I asked him. His eyes widened at the thought that someone was actually in charge of these things, and for a moment I thought he was going to say, "Pop-pop?"

"Who?" he asked, clearly intrigued. I could imagine him silently penning a letter to this person as we spoke.

"The Man in the Moon," I told him. But before I could explain how it all worked, he looked out at his brother and said, with no hint of sarcasm,

"Well I wish he'd turn them off for a while so I could go out farther."

Monday, August 23, 2010

Digging Deeper

One of Ben's favorite activities when we visit the coast of North Carolina each summer is to capture and observe the little digger clams that proliferate the shore. We dig in the wet sand, scoop up the each smooth, shiny-shelled mollusk and put it into a bucket filled with sand and water. The clam sits on top of the sand and within a minute, sticks out its tiny hatchet foot, tilts itself up on one end and then digs down under the sand in a matter of seconds.

One of my favorite activities is digging for these clams alongside Ben. His curiosity and enthusiasm are so much fun to watch, and if I let him he would dig in the sand for hours. He is a 'nature boy' who loves the natural world around him--whether it be working in the yard, weeding the garden, picking berries or looking for cool insects. He is in every way his father's son.

While I sat meditating on the wonderful situation we found ourselves in--alone and rapt over something together that did not involve a homework assignment or video game--another young beach visitor stopped by. Peering in our bucket, the boy, who was about eleven years old, asked if we'd caught anything. As Ben pulled up some of the clams and showed him how they dig, the boy proceeded to fish around in the sand next to his foot, and with his hands pulled out a clam to add to Ben's collection. His mom called him away just then and, as he left, Ben commented on the boy's actions.

"He was really nice. Clams are nice too. Basically, anything that's harmless is nice," he said nonchalantly.

But the way he'd phrased it, choosing the word 'harmless', made me wonder if something upsetting was going on in his head.

See, Ben is the type of kid who, when put into bed at night, will lie in the dark and come up with questions like, "Mom, what do blind people see? Is it total blackness, or total whiteness or something else?" It's no wonder he has such a hard time getting to sleep when his mind is trying to puzzle out such questions. So even though his comment seemed innocuous, knowing him as I do, I decided to do a little digging of my own, into his brain.

"You're right, Ben, he was nice. What would you consider 'not nice'?" I asked.

Bracing myself for an answer like 'bullies,' 'mean kids,' 'my brother,' or 'scary dogs,' I hoped my tone came off as more curious than prying. I held my breath.

"Laser beams," he replied.

I bit my tongue to keep from laughing at his answer, as he might misconstrue it as laughing at him.

"Ah, yes, being shot by a laser beam doesn't sound very nice."

Soon after, we decided it was time to free the little clams. As we placed them back on the beach one by one, they dug their way back into the shore unscathed. When I noticed one that didn't seem to be moving at all, despite my nudging and re-positioning of it, I tried to decide if I should hide it from Ben or tell him that I thought the clam was dead. He spotted it before I had a chance to choose.

"That guy's not digging."

"I know, Ben, I think he might be dead."

"Or maybe he's just sleeping."

"Hm, maybe," I said cautiously as he continued to stare at the motionless clam.

"Yeah," he went on, getting more sure of himself. "Maybe he's just a hard core sleeper."

"HA!" This time, I couldn't help but laugh out loud at his choice of words. "Oh, I mean yeah, you're probably right. He's hard core. Let's tuck him in so no one eats him while he's sleeping," I suggested.

"Great idea, Mom. You're really nice."

I don't always have the answers to Ben's questions. But knowing he doesn't mind my digging around to get him to share them with me is enough. Maybe even enough for Ben.

Photo credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hilton Retirement Plan

I love watching Ben mature, yet every now and then he will come out with one of those statements that just underscores for me how his still-young brain works. We haven't been to the Berkshires since my father-in-law passed away last year, and decided it was time we took a ride up as a family. My mother-in-law recently moved to a senior living facility, and the kids love it there. Between the ping pong table, the swimming pool and the restaurant-style dining room, they are never bored. Ben, though, is still making the logistical adjustment in his brain from the old house they used to own to this new place. Tonight I threw him a curve. The last time this happened, the conversation was almost as funny.

Me: "Ben, be sure to get some rest. We don't want you to get sick because we're going to Grandma's house in Massachusetts this weekend."

Ben: "Wait, which house?"

Me: "The one with the tennis courts and the lake. Remember?"

Ben: "You mean the hotel with all the old people?"

Me: "No, that's her new apartment."

Ben: "Wait, you mean the one where we SLEEP OVER??"

Me: "That's the one!"

Ben: "Better take cover, Mom. I think my head's going to explode."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lounge Lizard

When Jacob was born, he weighed six pounds and one ounce. That's about three-quarters of what a gallon of milk weighs. I can still remember when he was just a couple of weeks old, and we went to visit friends who had triplets. The triplets were exactly six months to-the-day older than Jacob. And they were HUGE. I remember looking at them and then looking at Jacob and thinking, I cannot believe my child will ever be that big. Ever. No way. Can't happen.

Well, last week Jacob discovered the Teen Lounge in our town. No, he's not a teenager yet, but on Mondays, the Lounge is open to kids entering 6th grade this fall. Having grown substantially since birth (which seems like, oh, last week), he was eager to check out this new 'tween scene. So I took some deep breaths to silence my heart palpitations, and said "of course I'll drive you there."

When we arrived, there were about 15 kids there already. Several were inside playing various games while others were spilling out the door onto the stairs. Great! I thought. Jacob isn't the only one here! Then he stopped dead in his tracks.

"Mom, I don't see any boys."

Neither did I.

I convinced Jacob to come inside anyway so we could look around and get some information. Outfitted with a bumper pool table, ping pong table, big screen television, couch, foozball and vending machine, the place was deemed 'cool' by Jacob. And the adult supervisor who registered him, checked him in and gave me the low-down and a list of rules for Jacob to study, made me think the same thing.

The question remained: stay or leave?

Jacob decided to stay, and asked if he could remain until closing at 10pm. I said he could, gave him my cell phone in case he changed his mind, then headed out before he had a chance.

On the way home, I tried to recall what it's like to be almost 11 years old, and when I remembered, I cringed at the thought of the social situations I often found myself in. Girls who knew more about the mechanics of girls' bodies than I (or at least sounded like they did), boys whose actions were mysterious, bizarre and contradictory, and me in the middle. Learning to relate to others was a very difficult process for me--the back and forth of relationships was something I would not fully grasp until many years later.

So in a way, I felt that games like ping pong, bumper pool and foozball were perfect vehicles for relating at this age. Children learn through play, after all, and my hope is that Jacob can learn to negotiate the delicate dance of social interaction by being in this environment. Instead of competing about who knows more about sex, or who has tried out which evil deed or web page, they can actually connect over friendly--and harmless--forms of competition. Innocent back-and-forth situations can help facilitate ones that are more complex.

When I picked him up later that night, he was grinning from ear to ear. We had a bit of chat with the supervisors, who praised him for his courage in staying with so many girls. Blushing, Jacob was tongue tied and, I daresay, speechless.

Considering the only time Jacob is speechless is when he's unconscious, I'm going to assume he had fun.