Monday, August 30, 2010

All In A Day's Play

Little boys like boy things, and little girls like girl things. Yes, there are exceptions. Some girls love Star Wars and some boys love to play with dolls. But it wasn't until I had kids myself that I understood the shocking degree to which play preferences are hard-wired in.

When my sister and her husband had their first child, they learned that their Harvard degrees and their sincerest wishes to the contrary did not inoculate their daughter against a zealous love of Disney princesses and the color pink.

I had boys. They turned every thing they laid their hands on into weapons; guns in particular. They built guns out of their oversized baby Lego pieces. (That's Duplo, for the uninitiated.) Any stick they encountered was quickly pressed into service as a firearm. In a pinch, they'd just extend an index finger and fire away. All of this before, as far as I knew, they'd ever even seen a gun.

Tractors, airplanes, dinosaurs, superheros, Star Wars, reptiles, space, robots, pirates, soldiers; they've all made playtime appearances at our house. I have found it difficult to muster up much enthusiasm for joining in beyond occasionally buying the boys a pair of suitably-themed pajamas.

As they get older, though, I'm starting to find some common ground between the things I used to do as a kid and the activities currently occupying my boys.

They love to spy, almost as much as I love for them to spy. Spies are quiet, and they hide. My sisters and I went through our spying phase somewhat later, once we were old enough to read the giant spy manual and run around the neighborhood peeping through people's windows. That was creepy of us, but hey--that's one bad idea I'll be able to forestall in my own kids because it's something I'm actually familiar with.

Nels also has a penchant for making potions. He's always wanting to dissolve things in a glass of water as a sort of science experiment. One day I let him add one dash of everything in the spice cupboard. Another day it was liquid hand soap and toothpaste. I didn't do exactly the same thing, but as a kid who made "perfume" by crushing the fine powder out of male pine cones, it is something I can relate to.

Lately, both boys have been into rocks. Nels's interest was sparked by learning about crystals at school. Willem quickly picked up on it and scoured our yard for noteworthy rocks, heaping them on our porch steps and introducing the pile to everyone who happened by as his "rock collection."

I was crazy for rocks when I was a kid, too. The second-best present my dad ever got me was a rock tumbler. (The first best was a Polaroid camera. Both presents were awesome.) I used to go around my back yard trying to break open rocks with a hammer and hoping against hope that I would find a geode. My kids do the same. Or they did, until the day I caught them doing it and saw the rock chips flying. Perhaps Santa will deliver some rock hammers and safety glasses this year.

Last weekend I went to an estate sale where they were selling boxes and boxes of rocks. They were all way more exciting than anything we already had, and I had so much fun picking out some really spectacular rocks and bringing them home to surprise the boys.

While I have been thankful for the new bits of overlap in things we think are cool, I am daily reminded of just how big our differences are. It's eye-opening to watch the physical way my boys relate to one another, as opposed to the verbal strategies my sisters and I employed when we fought. Nels takes a passive-aggressive approach, running into his little brother and "accidentally" knocking him down or tripping him, while Willem answers with a more straightforward punch to the gut. And while I know they're more interested in death and violence than I ever was, I still was not prepared for the day I walked downstairs, suspicious of the quiet, and was greeted with Willem's cheerful:

"Hi, Mom! We're tying our animals to the cross!"

I never did that.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

If Wishes Were Horses, Kid

Willem to me: I wish you were a human robot and you would do what I say.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Portland Highland Games

I have a serious backlog of summer doings to tell you about. For one, Shaun's Aunt Nancy came to Portland and stayed with us for two nights. Nancy arranged her visit to coincide with the Portland Highland Games, and she treated our family to our first outing there. Hopefully it won't be our last.

We had no idea what to expect. I imagined there'd be a lot of this sort of thing:

I pictured a Scottish-themed Ren Faire, a celebration populated with stout, jolly folks who like to dress up, but for whom cultural/historical accuracy is not a primary concern. (I have never actually been to a Renaissance Fair. That's just the unfair stereotype I carry about in my head.) There was a bit of that, in a happy, democratic, "everyone is welcome here" sort of way, but there was so much more.

In the photo above, did you happen to notice the older gentleman in the knee-socks and beautiful kilt? Every competitor for the day, be he or she competing in pipe and drum, or Highland dance, or pipe band, or heavy athletics, wore exquisite clothing. The tartans were lovely in their variety, the wools were fine, the pleats crisp, the socks surprisingly appealing. And if a man looks good in a uniform (and he does), he looks twice as good if the uniform involves a kilt.

New for this year's games was the regimental drum major competition. Here is one of the five contestants being judged on the authenticity of his dress:

It's hard to tell from the photo, but the judges' outfits were amazing too. I passed by a judge in the exhibition hall and was struck by the exceptional quality of his clothing. It's something I don't see these days apart from vintage. They don't make things that nice for ordinary ("not rich") people anymore.

Here is the Superstar Multiple World Championship Simon Fraser University Pipe Band.

They are a Huge Big Deal if you are into pipe bands. They were great. And don't you love their uniforms?

A Parade of the Clans is part of the festivities. It is a little disconcerting for the uninitiated to hear the word "clan" bandied about so freely, but one quickly gets used to it. Here's Nancy marching with the Clan Ross bunch. She writes their newsletter. Everyone we met was very nice, and I can see why she enjoys being so involved in the community.

One of the day's big crowd-pleasers is The Kilted Mile. Here's a bit of historical background from the program: "According to tradition, young MacGregor was late starting the race, but sped like a deer... As he overtook the leaders, his elder brother tried to hold him back by grabbing his kilt. Knowing his brother's strength, and being himself uninhibited, he slipped off his kilt, and so gained the victory."

As you can see, the outfits in this event are totally DIY.

This guy blew everybody away. It's not every day you see all that swooshing in a footrace.

Alas for this poor little fellow, the rules these days require everyone to keep their kilts on. His kilt started falling down as soon as he took his first step. He managed to finish near the front of the pack despite the fact that he had to hold his kilt up with one hand the entire way. Scrappy.

At some point we fell behind in keeping Willem fed, and it took us most of the day to get him back to happy equilibrium. Once his blood sugar drops he does a really scary Mr. Hyde thing.

Our own little Clan Ross members got to handle weapons at the Clan Ross booth. They loved it. Of course.

You can't go to the Highland Games without seeing any of the games. They are truly impressive. Big men throw big rocks. And logs. Yep, they throw logs. The event is called the caber toss, and it's pretty crazy.

The goal is to flip the caber so it lands in a straight line away from the tosser. It's hard just to pick it up.

Then you run.

Then you toss. Which sounds a lot more casual than it actually is.

It's pretty thrilling to watch. All of the events were fun; people had obviously practiced really hard to get good at these things they were passionate about. Yes, it gave me a little warm spot in my heart.

And any event with a Tea Tent stocked with a vast assortment of unfamiliar (to me) homemade biscuits is all right by me. Even if the tea is just Lipton.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Dark Lord of the Samba

Willem walked into the kitchen in a Star Wars costume the other day and announced, in as deep a voice as he could muster: "I AM DARTH CARMEN."

And woe betide the parent who dares to laugh.

I love the random fixations of Willem's imagination. For a while, everything was named Carmen. He drew a picture of a boat and named it Carmen. We had a stuffed animal picnic with a tiger named Carmen. Just the way he drops the name Carmen so casually (I have no idea where he heard it) is hilarious.

But we're not hearing the name Carmen so much lately, now that Willem has come up with the perfect moniker for when he and Nels run around the house in bandit mode. They call themselves The Oatmeal Brothers.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Waffle Song

I know, nobody really enjoys a vote-soliciting post. And my apologies to my Facebook friends who've already seen this. But it's not every day that one's internet friends become finalists in a Waffle House theme song contest.

My friends are very funny and they are very talented, and my outsize sense of justice will be outraged if they do not win.

Anyway, listen and vote here. If you want to listen to all of the songs, I don't need to tell you who to vote for, but if you just want to cut to the chase, theirs is the first song on the list, "Appetite for Life" by Geoff Pawlikowski.

You can vote once a day until the winner is announced during National Waffle Week, Sept. 5-11. Yes, it's possible that there are more important things that could be occupying your attention between now and Sept. 5. But it only takes a few seconds of your valuable time. And you will be helping to spare Shaun a week of hearing me mutter things like They got robbed and Stupid America has no taste while banging pots and pans around in the kitchen. Do it for Shaun.