Monday, April 14, 2014

The Problem With Sports

There is a certain challenge inherent in discussing sports with little kids; at least, that has been my experience with Sooby and Pooh. The problem is neither the sports nor the kids; it is the ambiguous nature of the terminology.

Take, for instance, our discussion of bowling, spawned by a great little book titled Mitchell Goes Bowling by Hallie Durand. In that story, Mitchell's dad takes him to a bowling alley, a magical place where it is acceptable to "knock things down."

However, Mitch experiences some understandable angst when he is unable to knock all the pins down at once like his dad does. This leads our little reading circle to contemplate the word strike.

"A strike means you knock all the bowling pins down," I explain. "A strike is good. You try to get all the strikes you can in ten turns."

"But what about baseball?" someone asks. "Are strikes good in baseball?"

"No, strikes are bad there," I say. "If you miss the ball three times, that's three strikes, and you're out."

"Out of the game?"

"No. You just don't get to bat anymore right then. It's like losing your turn. Strikes are good in bowling, but not in baseball." I leave it at that before one of them asks me if strikes are good for the team that is not batting. That would be just too complicated.

Fast forward a month or so. Our local community college basketball team is playing in the national tournament, and the kids and I are listening to the radio as the game's final minutes are broadcast. Our team is three points ahead with only seconds to go.

A commercial airs. "It's a time-out," I explain.

"Someone had to go to time-out? What did he do?"

"Nobody did anything wrong," I say. "A coach says 'Time Out' when he wants to call his team over for a little talk."

The next few quite harrowing minutes require explanations of foul (called on our team--controversial, though), free throw (three of them awarded to the opponent--all good!), and overtime (which, thankfully, we were able to dominate for the win).

Later that night, I switched off the televised tennis match. I was afraid someone would ask me why a score of zero is called love.

Hence, my earlier assertion that sports terminology is arbitrary, confusing, and makes absolutely no sense. How is a kid supposed to understand when a strike can be good or bad, a time-out does not carry a stigma, and love means who knows what?

Keep the sports, and give me the clear, sensible world of the arts where the actors I see on my left are stage-right and the alphabet stops at G.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pooh's Bedtime Lesson

Night before last, Pooh chose My Visit to the Dinosaurs by Aliki for his bedtime story. Unlike the usual bedtime fare of fairy tales and talking animals, Aliki's little science book lured Googie in with the potential for some serious discussion in the areas of archaeology and paleontology. I could hardly wait for Pooh to finish brushing his teeth so that we could make our way toward bedtime by way of the Prehistoric Era.

Pages 1 through 8 were pretty predictable. We joined a typical storybook family on a trip to the museum where the dinosaur skeletons ruled.  We marveled at the long apatosaurus, preserved in sand and mud until the first dinosaur fossil was unearthed nearly 200 years ago.

Then came p. 9 with its illustration of a nest of fossil dinosaur eggs, and that's when the discussion got really interesting.

"Those eggs won't hatch," Pooh tells me with authority. Sniffing out a teachable moment, I prepare to pounce. Getting a whiff of the chance to discuss the stone-like condition of fossils, I prepare to lecture the boy on the nature of archaeological finds.

"No, they won't hatch," I said. "Do you know why?"  I was sure he did not. I was anticipating some lesson I could teach him about, say, sedimentary rocks.  Maybe we would even discuss the long-ago processes of carbonization and petrifaction.

"Yes," Pooh said, surprising me. "The eggs won't hatch because the daddy hasn't done anything special to them."

Say what? The daddy? Does something?  Special?  To the eggs?

I pulled my head out of academia and my eyes back to p. 9 and the nest of eggs. Sure enough, there was no sign of a daddy anywhere in the vicinity.  I had to give in on this one.

On the eve of a long day celebrating family birthdays and an early Easter, I was not interested in inquiring further about the special contributions made millions of years ago by dinosaur daddies--or, for that matter, by any daddies anytime. I am quite content to let Pooh's parents explore the concept of special with him at whatever time they--or he--chooses.  This time around, I am just the storybook reader.

So I would have to say that, night before last, I am the one who got the bedtime lesson:  Fairy tales and stories about talking animals are much safer, at least for now. As I learned, dinosaur eggs can lead you into fields you might not be quite ready to excavate.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Beenie and the Car Tote

Since Beenie turned two a couple weeks ago, he and I have added "Happy Birthday" to the repertoire of songs we regularly sing when we are together. He refers to it as simply "Happy," so when he says that word, I know that what he wants is for me to burst into a rousing rendition of that well-known song.

At first, it was no big deal. He would look at the pictures on the wall of the kids' room and name the six grandkids in turn. I would respond appropriately by singing a verse of "Happy Birthday" with each child's name inserted in its proper spot in the third line.

Then, he would ask me to sing a verse for Mommy, Daddy, Googie, Pa-pa, and his dog Bernice. Still no big deal--and actually kind of fun.  After all, I had been waiting a long time for this kid to start talking, and there is no phase of a child's learning I would rather observe and be a part of than this one.

A few days after that, as I was tucking Beenie into the toddler bed for his nap, he swept his sleepy little eyes around the room to land on a series of random objects. Many of those he has just begun to refer to by name in the stage of rapid language acquisition that typically follows on the heels of the second birthday.

So on that day, I sang "Happy Birthday" to, among other things, the light, the ceiling fan, the cordless phone, a book lying on the floor, the window, and the wall. Still no problem. Still pretty cute, really.

You may sense the subtle movement of things to a head here, but apparently I was oblivious. There is no other explanation for why, when Beenie was with me two days ago, I dug into the playroom closet to retrieve "The Car Tote."

The Car Tote is a plastic storage box containing all manner of little vehicles. Matchbox, Hot Wheels, Fisher-Price, Transformer, fast food meal toy--you name it, and, if it has wheels, I guarantee you it is in there.

Significantly, The Car Tote houses a collection begun more than a quarter of a century ago when Beenie's daddy was himself a toddler. By some miracle, said vehicles have managed to survive periodic house purgings, relocations, giveaways, and garage sales. With surprisingly few loose wheels, missing doors, and bent axles, they have assumed an immortality that enables them to thrill, entertain, and nurture the playtime imaginations of yet another generation of little boys.

By now, you may have guessed where this is going, and you would be right. It seems that, two days ago, every one of these little cars had a birthday that needed to be celebrated in song: "Happy Birthday, dear race car," I sang.

"Happy Birthday, dear garbage truck."  "Happy Birthday, dear moving van."  You, too, long oil tanker, and green choo-choo, and black convertible. Same for the yellow pickup; the recycling truck with separate compartments for paper, plastic, and glass; and the bright red fire truck [insert siren sound effects, performed by Beenie, here].

What a fun way to pass the better part of an hour with my favorite two-year-old. We didn't make it all the way through The Car Tote, but Googie sang until her voice was ready to give out.  Beenie, on the other hand, never tired of picking out the next little vehicle to be appropriately serenaded.

I love a world that still offers the simple joys of song and celebration--even if it means I have to sing to over a hundred little cars. As long as the song is "Happy," it's all good.