White House Mama

white-house.jpgJeffrey keeps asking a certain question:

“Mommy, are you running for President?”

This was at dinner a few days ago, and Brian reported hearing the same question during Jeffrey’s bath last week. “Is Mommy running for President?”

I suppose that Jeffrey’s been hearing enough election talk that it’s beginning to seep into his daily thoughts. Also, he keeps requesting that we read So, You Want to Be President every now and then, so he understands the basic concept of Being President. Oh, I love this kind of kid-flattery — when they honestly believe that you are capable of doing something like a Presidential campaign on-the-side. Just something I work on during, say, naptime. It was a little sad to set him straight. Looking at him across the dinging room table, I say:

“No, Jeffrey. I’m not running for President.”

“Why?” Hmm. No idea how to answer this truthfully — “I’d be really bad at it” — without leading to a score of other questions that need increasingly abstract, detailed answers. So, I bounced back at him with another question.

“Jeffrey, do you think I should be President?”

“Yeah.”

“Why do you think I would be a good President?”

“Because,” he says solemnly, “you’re good at talking to people and things.”

Heh. Talking to people — strangers, anyway — is one of the things I’m notoriously bad at . . . er, well. I’m not that bad at it. Let’s just say I’m one who loathes small talk. (LOOOOOOATHES.) But Jeff’s a little young to figure that out yet. I suppose that, to him, his mother is VERY good at navigating that Mysterious World of Adults and their Frightfully Dull Talk.

“Hmm,” chimes in Brian at this point. “Jeffrey, maybe you should be on Mom’s exploratory committee.”

“Yeah,” I say, tickled with this idea. “Can you find out if I should be President?”

“Yes,” Jeff replies, all seriousness as we leave the dinner table and begin trundling upstairs. “The first thing I’ll do is find out what George Washington does.”

Righto, Jeff. Remind me to look for that report in 2012.

Oh, and here’s the book I mentioned above:

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So, You Want to Be President by Judith St. George, illus. David Small.  George’s text is an entertaining account of traits that our nation’s presidents have had over the years — the oldest, the pets, who really was born in a log cabin, as opposed to just saying they were — but what really shines here are Small’s masterful caricatures of them all.  From a twinkly-eyed Lincoln to a Taft with a tummy bigger than Rhode Island, it’s a glorious tongue-in-cheek yet loving tribute to the Chiefs.  Oh, and the pictures won a Caldecott.  Yada, yada, yada.

Balloon Fancy

Tonight we went out to eat, and Jeffrey and Eleanor were given balloons at the restaurant.

Eleanor’s balloon popped about ten minutes after we arrived back at home — she sat on it (and then cried inconsolably) — but Jeffrey spent quite a few minutes lying on his back in his bedroom, quietly gazing at it while occasionally tugging on its string.  What was he doing?

“I’m just fishing for clouds in the sky, Mommy.”

Can’t help but think of this book:

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The Blue Balloon by Mick Inkpen.  Yeah, it’s by the same guy who gave us the Kipper books, which I’ve always been kind of meh about.  But I really adore The Blue Balloon — basically, it tells the story of a boy who finds a balloon on the street, which turns out to have all kinds of “strange and wonderful” properties.  It’s unbreakable, can change shape, and even carries the boy into outer space.  Inkpen’s ink-and-watercolor illustrations are simple yet expressive; best of all, he uses the occasional fold-out or pop-up device to show how wonderful a balloon really can be.  A storytime read-aloud staple for pretty much every child librarian I know.

Oh, and I HAVE to mention this one.  How could I forget it?

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Emily’s Balloon by Komako Sakai.  This Japanese import has a quiet magic very different from The Blue Balloon.  Little Emily is given a balloon while out with her mother.  She returns home to play with it, and it slowly becomes a friend — weighted down by one of Emily’s spoons, it bobs along right at her eye-level.  Emily makes a flower crown for the balloon, and talks to it in the backyard.  But then a gust of wind blows the balloon into a tree, and Emily is distraught.  She tearfully describes how she had planned to help the balloon get ready for bed — but then sees the balloon outside her window, is struck by how it reminds her of the moon, and goes to sleep content.  Soft yellow-and-grey charcoal illustrations are placed gracefully on the page; not a single stroke is wasted.  This was probably my favorite picture book of 2006.  Read it to your toddler, and it might become your favorite, too.

Broadcasts and Woodworking Tips

radio.jpgThis afternoon, while sitting in the front seats of the (parked) car and gazing in the mirror, Jeffrey fiddled with the radio dials and said this:

“Good morning, listeners!  The forecast for today is that Jeffrey and Mommy will look in the mirror!”

I’m guessing that he hasn’t figured out that a “forecast” refers to things that are going to happen.

Later, at bedtime:

“Mommy!  I can’t go to sleep without Bat Tiger!  I need him close to him so he can get snuggles and kisses!”

Here I should explain that Bat Tiger is just that — a stuffed tiger wearing a Batman outfit, the product of a Grandma-sponsored trip to the Build-A-Bear Workshop.  I fished Bat Tiger out of the nest of blankets Jeff habitually keeps on his top bunk and placed him on Jeffrey’s pillow.

“Is Bat Tiger a superhero?” I asked.

“No, he’s my assistant,” he replied matter-of-factly.  “He helps me build forts, except for one time when he got sick because he didn’t have his goggles.”  Jeffrey traces circles around his eyes with his fingers, to show what he meant.  Goggles.  Goggles?
“Yeah.  See, I needed to shave some wood for the fort, and sand and polish it, and Bat Tiger didn’t have his goggles on and his eyes got hurt.”

I love that my son is safety-conscious in his fantasy play.  Good old Bat Tiger.

Bruddahs

Last Sunday, Jeffrey and William spent a long time playing together on the living room floor.  I had to get a shot of them together:

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Let me tell you, Jeffrey is WONDERFUL with his baby brother when he’s in the mood.  He had set a variety of toys out for William to play with, and spent about twenty minutes playing peek-a-boo and singing songs.  Jeffrey even dragged out his big Star Wars book from the library and spent time “reading” it to Wimmy, who was busy chewing on his own wooden baby-book.

“Look, Mom!” Jeffrey called.  “William and I both love books!”

Oh, happiness!

Later, Brian jumped down for another sweet photo op.  Eleanor was napping during all this, in case you’re wondering:

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Now in Technicolor!

film-reel.jpgA few weeks ago I checked out Ty Burr’s new film guide, The Best Old Movies for Families. Burr, a film critic for the Boston Globe, is clearly a man after my own heart: this book is all about getting kids to enjoy films from the early ’60s and before. I LOVE the vintage-y vintage, and our Netflix queue is now clogged up with things like Bringing Up Baby and Easter Parade and The Adventures of Robin Hood.

So far, we’ve had great success with Singin’ in the Rain. It took us a couple of days to watch it, and at first the kids were kind of puzzled by the whole thing, but by the time we got to the “Broadway Melody” sequence at the end, Jeffrey and Eleanor were dancing around the room, trying to imitate Gene Kelly and Cyd Cherisse step-by-step. (Really — Eleanor wouldn’t just wiggle her hips to the music, but she would earnestly attempt to mimic the style of dance she was seeing, whether it was tap, ballet, orsingin-in-the-rain.jpg jazzy-jazz-hands-ness.) When Kelly picks up Cherisse and spins her around, Jeffrey tried to do the same with Eleanor. Unfortunately, he kept grabbing her around the neck and shoulders, so it didn’t quite work out.

Eleanor also really liked the “Beautiful Girl” song, where different models show of fashions of the ’20s. She’d pose in front of the television, her blankie artfully draped around her body in imitation of flapper chic. Fabulous.

meet-me-in-st-louis.jpgMeet Me in St. Louis has gotten mixed results — the kids were scared of the Halloween sequence, although they love the “Bamboo Tree” song, and Eleanor has been holding a cup up to her ear in imitation of the 1903-style telephone sequence. As for Laurel & Hardy’s The Music Box, Jeffrey thought it was hee-lar-i-ous, but Eleanor didn’t get it. I just love the pompous professor, a classic comedy stock character if ever there was one.

The only fly in the ointment so far is that Netflix doesn’t carry any Busby Berkeley films.

!!!

I know! There was a big box set that came out last year, for pete’s sake. It’s exactly the kind of thing that Netflix was MADE for. So, we have to content ourselves with watching the dance routines on YouTube.

We all love “By a Waterfall” from Footlight Parade. Brian and I dropped our jaws to the floor the first time we watched it.

But the kids’ favorite has to be the Carmen Miranda “Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat” from The Gang’s All Here. And can you blame them? Anything that involves a banana xylophone has GOT to be good.

Yesterday Jeffrey had to have major dental work done — cavities filled, and two crowns on his molars.* He had to go under general anesthetic to get the work done, and he was majorly woozy and exhausted afterwards. On the way home, we told Jeffrey he could pick out any movie he wanted to watch that afternoon. Sleepily, Jeffrey wobbled his head up from the collar of his puffy winter coat.

“I want Singin’ in the Rain, Mommy,” he said softly. The boy couldn’t have made me happier.

*Yes, YES, we DO brush his teeth. Assiduously. And we said good-bye to juice a long time ago. Jeffrey has simply inherited the soft teeth gene from his dad. Let me just state for the record that Jeffrey was amazingly well-behaved for the procedure and didn’t fuss or cry a bit, even though he wasn’t allowed any breakfast that morning.

In Which Jeffrey Pens a Missive

pen-and-ink.jpgToday I taught Jeffrey the concept of letter-writing. Or, that is, the concept of e-mailing.

Given a list of possible people to e-mail, Jeffrey chose his friend Liesl. Here’s what he wrote (I did the typing):

Dear Liesl,

George Washington died, and he’s dead. Are you playing with a Spider Man mask? I will be a Lego builder when I grow up. And a guy who throws a pie. Why didn’t you play lightsaber fighting on a warm sunny day? If you play with a lightsaber, tell me. I love Vikings. I saw a big wedding cake, and someone fell down on it. I’m making a story and I hope it turns out well. I wish you a happy birthday!

Your friend,

Jeffrey.

Okay, here’s my interpretation — for this e-mail, I prompted Jeffrey to both think of questions to ask Liesl, and to tell about the things he was doing. The references to Spider Man, George Washington, and Star Wars are obviously inspired by his current fantasy play obsessions. Building with Legos is also a favorite pastime. As for the “guy who throws a pie” and the person who fell on a “wedding cake,” I’m guessing these are references to the big pie-fight scene in The Great Race. But I’m only guessing — we haven’t watched that movie in months. And who can resist ending a letter with good birthday wishes?

So, you see, the thoughts of Jeffrey aren’t as random and bizarre as you’d think. There’s an explanation for everything!

Um, except for the Vikings. No idea where that came from.

Probably the best book that involves letter-writing would have to be:

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Click-Clack Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, illus. Betsy Lewin. The cows are on strike! The chickens, too! There will be no milk or eggs for Farmer Brown unless they come to an agreement, which is met via a series of typewritten notes. This book not only has an appealing premise (what chore-despising kid doesn’t dream of going on strike?) but has a smorgasboard of early-literacy goodies: fun repetitive catchphrases, little notes to read, examples of characters reading and writing . . . good stuff.

President’s Day, Part II: The Hershey Factory

hershey-kiss.jpgOn the way home from Valley Forge, we decided to stop in Hershey and do the free tour of the chocolate factory.

Well . . . you don’t tour the actual factory. You go on a ride that shows you simulated factory scenes. And singing animatronic cows.

To tell the truth, I went on this same tour back in the mid-90s, and it was vastly different then. More like a chocolate-based “It’s a Small World” ride. I prefer the cows.

But the fun thing this time was watching Jeff & Ella’s reaction to the ride. They didn’t quite understand what was going on, until our little cable car turned a corner and revealed rows of conveyor belts towing wrapped candy bars along. Then. . .

. . . well, it was like they had had some immense epiphany. They smiled and cheered rapturously, and burst into spontaneous applause. “So that’s what this is all about! To make CANDY!”

At the end of the ride, we told Jeffrey he could pick out one piece of candy from the gift shop for the ride home. He said he’d rather just go on the ride again. So we went again . . . and then again. After which, I was ready to kill the cows. But there was applause every time.

Jeffrey Goes Colonial

valley-forge-5.jpgPresident’s Day was a while ago, but here’s what we did to celebrate:

In order to keep up with Jeffrey’s ongoing interest with George Washington, we went to Valley Forge. The park holds a birthday party for George every year, complete with historic reenactors, a capella singers, and a cake made from Martha Washington’s recipe. (Which I obtained a copy of, and which starts with 40 eggs and 5 pounds of butter and moves on from there. People must have had high demands of cake in Ye Dayes of Yore.)

The best part, however, is that Jeffrey and the other children there were all able to join the Continental Army for the afternoon. This activity is done at Valley Forge on the 1st Saturday of every month, and it appeared to be done in conjunction with the local Boy Scouting organization. Kids were divided into groups by age, and given toy muskets to do drills with.

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Batallion leaders in period uniform taught the kids to march and shoulder their firelocks in the right way. They were accompanied by a long tail of picture-snapping parents.

When they reached the parade grounds, everybody “loaded” their muskets, attatched the “bayonets,” and then pointed them at an invisible enemy while screaming. HUZZAH!

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Kids were told up front that if they pointed their gun at another person, or poked or hit someone, it would be taken away. Jeffrey took this very seriously.

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After drilling, General Washington did an inspection of the troops . . .

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Deliciously in character, he kept making comments like “I must speak with the quartermaster about the irregularities in uniform here” and “I’m a bit dismayed with the age of these new recruits.”

Kids who participate in this activity for 3 months get promoted to sergeant, and General Washington promotes them, and gives a little speech, and talks about “writing to Congress to ensure the proper payment of $12 per annum” or some such. And keep in mind that he wasn’t just George — he was George in 1777. The man was probably a little too into his job; later I saw him pigeonholing people and giving long talks about threshing methods at Mount Vernon.

On this trip, be read:

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George Washington’s Teeth by Deborah Chandra, illus. Brock Cole.  Probably the most accessible book about Washington for preschoolers.  A series of rhymed verses recount the loss, one by one, of Washington’s teeth during the major events of his life.  Brock Cole’s detailed comic illustrations are gorgeous as usual.  Oh, and get this: he apparently never wore wooden teeth.

Amonhotep, the Four-Eyed Pharoah

eye-glasses.jpgI finally got a new pair of glasses this week!

(Applause, applause!)

The old pair were being held together with masking tape and wire. The new pair came in a red case from Target Optical, and as soon as I received it I whipped out the new glasses, stuffed the old ones in the case, and completely forgot about it.

That is, until Jeffrey discovered the old glasses in the case and immediately became curious.

Well . . . curious is Jeffrey’s default mode. Let’s just say that he became even more curious.

“What are these, Mommy?” he asks.

I explained, pointing out the temple piece wrapped in masking tape.

“So these are the old glasses?” asks Jeffrey.

“Yes. I don’t need them anymore, so I put them in that case.” Jeffrey’s eyes widen.

“Is this case the glasses’ tomb?”

I suppose I ought to explain that Jeffrey has had a recent obsession with all things Egyptian.

“Yeah, I guess you could pretend that that case is a tomb for glasses,” I say.

“We need to put this tomb in the temple,” he says reverently, holding the case up on his palms. “It should be surrounded with the mummy things.”

“If you want,” I say. (It was really, really hard to keep a straight face for this. I think I deserve a medal.)

Brian overhears all this. “Are you going to put it in a pyramid, or the Valley of the Kings?” he asks Jeffrey.

“It shall go in the Valley of the Sunglasses,” says Jeffrey, his face solemn. “I’ve built one out of Legos in my room.” With that, he — with the glasses still upraised on his hands — marches slowly down the hall and ceremoniously entombs them in a little Lego structure he built a few days ago.

Although, truth be told, last week I was informed that this Lego structure was supposed to be a starport for spaceships, but who’s counting? The Valley of the Sunglasses it is now, and no matter what Jeffrey says in the future, that’s how I’ll always think of his little Lego structures.

For further reading:

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The Egypt Game by Zylpha Keatley Snyder. There are few books that manage to accurately depict children’s fantasy play — especially the fantasy play of older elementary school-age kids — as well as this one. Perfect for Egypt nuts, kids with a taste for backyard adventure, and anyone else who’d like to see How Children’s Books Ought To Be Done.

Gung Hoy Fat Choy! Or Something Like That!

chopsticks.jpgThey’ve been learning about Chinese New Year in preschool this week.  How did I know?  Did the kids wear red?  Did they make a paper-mache dragon?  Did they get little envelopes of goodies?

No.

I wouldn’t even have known that they were doing a C.N.Y. unit at school if it weren’t for Jeffrey’s ongoing efforts to push the boundaries of our dinnertime rules as far as they can go.

It’s difficult to teach table manners to any kid, but Jeffrey can be more of a trial than most.  He gets up between bites, always wants to dump food in his glass, and frequently gets absent-minded and begins eating with his fingers — until the Great Scolding begins.  (I long wistfully for the day when dinnertime looks like dinner, not a training montage from No Time for Sergeants.)

Anyway, this past Friday was a little more hectic than usual.  Jeffrey kept forgetting to eat dinner with his fork, and I finally threatened to take his food away if he forgot again, when he suddenly stood up and held his arms up in the air.

“I know!”  he shouted.  “I can eat the way they do in Chinese!”  He then scampered off to the kitchen and began rummaging around in the silverware drawer.

The “Chinese way”?  After a few moments, we got it.

“Jeffrey,” I called out wearily.  “We don’t have any chopsticks.”  He didn’t hear me, but reemerged with a new fork and knife in each hand.  Climbing back into his seat, he then proceeded to use his fork and knife as if they were chopsticks — not that he held them both in one hand to pinch up food, but the way your average American five-year-old might eat with chopsticks: one in each fist, holding them at the tops of the handles, picking up food like the metal crane in a carnival prize-machine.

Ah, multicultural education: is there anything it can’t influence?

Anyhow, this is my new favorite “Chinese New Year” book (although it doesn’t have much to do with the holiday):

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Dragon Dancing by Carole Lex Schaefer, illus. by Pierr Morgan.   A class of preschool kids learn about dragons in class, and then decide to make a dragon in art class for classmate Mei Lin’s birthday.  Morgan’s Asian-inspired illustrations sparkle with clean lines, gorgeous colors, and pretty details, but what really shines here is Schaefer’s alliterative text, which includes very true-to-life kidspeak: Dragons have “boink-boink eyes” and a “ricky-rack back.”  My favorite new picture book, perfect both for laptime and group storytime.  A Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book (the prize for picture book writing).