Music, Magic & Cats
I’m spoiling her, I know.
The thing is that she wised up to the whole Santa Claus game pretty early, checked out on the ruse. I felt a little bad about that: not really, but enough that between being an only child and having two parents working full time, I wanted to inject a little bit of the magic back into the season. It’s tough enough that we gloss over the oodles of festivities that happen this time of year in lieu of fitting in the last minute extra-curricular chores, but to have to wake up to two nearly-indifferent parents as the big day creeps ever closer, and knowing that she is overflowing with untapped giddy energy over the whole thing…. I feel a bit bad.
So I’ve been doing this thing.
Last year I bought her a tiny tree. It’s pre-lit and about eighteen inches tall and just sturdy enough to hold some small decorations and — little drummer roll — tiny gifts.
I’ve been playing elf. For the second year in a row we’re celebrating twelve days of Christmas. Not THE twelve days of Christmas, either by legend or by verse, but rather A twelve days LEADING INTO Christmas wherein each night someone — *ahem* — leaves a small, wee, one-might-almost-call-it-a-stocking-stuffer, gift under the aforementioned tree. For twelve days. Twelve days leading into, the day before Christmas.
A LEGO mini-fig.
A comic book.
It’s the little things that don’t seem like much, y’know, that when she’s thirty she’ll look back and remember. Maybe it will be a new tradition. Maybe it will just be her thing. Definitely she knows it’s not a guy in a red suit. But perhaps there’s something a little bit like magic in it somewhere.
a mash-up of sex & food
One may only imagine the vast quantity of words that have been spilled across the historic pages of humanity on the subject of the aphrodisiac. In fact, in the modern world one needs only go so far as the SPAM folder of one’s own mature email account to learn of the vast variety of exotic concoctions that claim to improve romance through ingestion of the same.
Daily invocations to click on message subjects such as “to men who want to act better in bed” or “give your woman the first-rate intimate experience” implore the presumably hapless (and physically humbled) recipient towards further explorations down dark and deep rabbit holes of creepy web addresses hosted in foreign lands.
Don’t dare click those links save the few who possess the technical prowess in untangling digital the snares that surely lurk therein.
Our curiosity with the often mundane potential of exotic foods to tip the genetic balance in favour of some kind of yet-to-be-woken, still-slumbering sexual prowess is obviously not new, and one may wonder why the myth of the super-food cure-all-inadequacies eat-this-and-be-awesome clings so firmly to our collective story.
Perhaps, frustrated by the lack of effect from the daily and mundane diet each of us endures, our resilience towards untested hope overpowers our logic and reason. Each of us travels with our palates, adventures with our stomachs, and journeys to the distant lands of the unusual culinary curiosities in the hopes of unlocking something. Perhaps that something is little more than an experience or a check box on a long list of daring delicacies. Or it is possible that the aforementioned something is a kind of emotional desperation, a lighted beacon in the fog of life that promises civility and hospitality at its source.
And then just maybe that’s the rub of it all. Each person who yearns for an exotic aphrodisiac does it in their own way. Some by ordering magical pills through the mail after venturing into dark digital alleyways. Others, by braving the culinary adventures of exotic lands and reshaping the manner in which those experiences present their existence to the universe.
Either way, it’s trading the notion of adventurous ingestion for the too-often-hollow promise of that elusive “first-rate intimate experience.” And if those historic pages of humanity have anything to teach, its that such an experience has been long sought and rarely found.
Running during a gentle snowfall is a quasi-spiritual encounter with the winter city.
“I’m not going to lie to her.” My wife says. “If she asks me if Santa is real, I’m just going to tell her flat out: no.”
The resiliance of a seven-year old to hold onto a cherished belief so firmly has left me astounded over the past few weeks. The holidays are approaching and while we tend to celebrate modestly –a nice home-cooked dinner, a tree, and a few gifts such as books or those concert tickets we were planning to buy anyhow– our December 24th has always found a pre-bed timeslot for setting out cookies for Santa Claus.
The girl has been clinging to the who Santa concept extra hard this year. “She wanted to know how Santa was getting in our house since we don’t actually have a chimney.” I tell my wife. “I told her to to think about it. Do you know how she answered?”
“By magic.” I chuckled. “Everything is explained away with magic.”
“All her friends are talking about it.” She says. “And they have one of those silly elves in her classroom… the kind that moves around each night and they’re not supposed to touch it. I don’t care, but I’ve already told her it’s a sham. I even showed her the stacks of boxes of them in the bookstore the other day.”
“Her friends have those things, too.” But we’ve already resolved that it’s not about controlling the message. It’s about prompting her to be good –as the song goes– for goodness sake. “Kids talk, you know. She just doesn’t care if there is proof or not.”
My wife shrugs. “I know. But no lies, OK?”
“She’ll figure it out eventually.” I say. “Kids always do.”
nurturing imagination, rule 015
supplement the truth: balance whimsy and something more serious
I’m on record as saying I was going to crush my daughter’s belief in Santa Claus. When I began the first iteration of this blog, a friend of mine ran a radio show on the topic of science and rational thinking… and she brought me on to chat about just that sort of thing. Of course, having mellowed with a few more years of parenting experience, and now living through the experience of a daughter who (despite any sort of internal condratiction that seems to be fighting an epic battle of truth-v-fiction in her little head) refuses to give up on that belief quite yet… well, I’ve decided to overlook certain holiday contradictions.
Raw rationality is good. It provides us with the outlook to make sound, evidence-based decisions that keep us safe, healthy and prosperous. But I also think that there is a balance wherein our imaginations lurk, a safe space between fictions and absolutes, and sometimes you just need to play along.
I think there would be a lot less trust in the world. At least now many of us understand the rules and know that there are limits and a framework for how the universe works.
This is the first list in a new feature I’m calling my “week of lists” and I’m pegging it right into the parenting category. That’s right; My first list is Seven Stupidly Simple Parenting Habits to Make You a Better Dad. It’s not, of course, any way scientific or based in evidence. There is no research that proves these points. There is no literature-supported bibliography to follow. And just so we’re clear: There is no measurable “result” or “effect” falling out of these — neither is there a solution hidden between the lines. These are just fun things to do with your kid — fun things I do with my kid — that bring us closer together as father and daughter. Like’em or leave’em. It just is what it is.
1 : Never Under-Estimate the Value of Shadows
There is a lot of mythology and weirdness with shadows. I just finished reading a book — a real grown-up book — where one of the subplots involved a man getting separated from his shadow and this having all sorts of philosophy-of-mind implications. It was fiction, obviously. But it being summer here and our days filled with bright sunshine, we sometimes take the idea of a shadow for granted. Don’t do that. Shadows are awesome toys. Shadows are the basis of games and races. Shadows spur excitement and competition, bend the imagination, and prompt millions of questions. Go for a walk for the exercise, sure, but don’t forget some shadow play.
Bathtime is a nightly ritual around our house, and there being two parents we (generally) alternate shifts. Now, I’ll admit: bathtime is really boring. A nearly-five-year-old is something like ninety-percent self-sufficient in the tub. I need to be there for making sure she doesn’t overflow the tub, that she gets out eventually, and to make sure she rinses out ALL the shampoo, but otherwise I’m just a glorified lifeguard. But that said I’ve started filling the time, entertaining myself and her, but constructing an increasingly elaborate magic trick. It’s not complex. It’s not even very special. It’s just a simple distract-and-disappear trick, where one of her little toys is stuffed into a washcloth and — presto — it’s gone. I’m getting better each time — though a stage show is still years off — and she not only requests repeated encores, she’s now trying her own. It’s our little thing.
3 : Invent a Silly Character and Plot to Go With It
Maybe you’re not an epic storyteller. Maybe you can’t write your way out of a paperbag — or however that expression goes. But I’ll bet you can invent some kind of simple character that does silly things. And just the fact that this character comes from your brain, and its adventures can continue a little bit each week in those drawn out otherwise boring moments (see: alternatives to bathtime magic tricks) or during car rides or at bedtime — just that fact — will make that silly character an evolving part of your family narrative. You might even get inspired to write some of it down someday.
4 : Make Friends with Your Kid’s Imaginary Friend
My daughter has an imaginary friend. Some days George is her big brother. Sometimes he’s just this kid that lives at our house and eats our food. We can’t see him, of course, and while I’ll be the first to admit I know very little about the pyschology of imaginary friends in toddlers, I seem to recall that there is something fairly natural about the whole process. Thus, it should come as no big shocker that George and I are buds. We hang. We have heart-to-heart conversations (while Claire is in the room, obviously — I’m not totally nuts.) And if I was so inclined as to inventory the number of openings to deep and meaningful conversations this has instigated — oh so positively — between dad and daughter, I’d probably shock even myself. At least more than my meandering bit of anecdotal remembering does.
Being that I’m writing this on a Saturday morning and I’m right now contentedly stuffed with grilled bready breakfast products, I have no qualms about recommending a weekly food ritual. Sure, maybe you want to steer your budding chef towards something more healthy than pancakes drizzled with maple syrup each weekend morning, but that’s where the customization of these little tips is up to you. Each week — assuming we’re not away from home — we spend about an hour on Saturday morning measuring ingredients, prepping our tools, sneaking a few chocolate chips, setting the table, and readying for a breakfast feast. It’s just the two of us, and for the first few weeks I recall that Claire would hint, vocally, that “maybe we should wake mom to help.” But, we’d let her sleep and then wake her just as the first few cakes were hitting the plates. We get to spend a morning together, and now she wakes me each Saturday — earlier and earlier — to start on cooking.
For regular readers of this blog, it might be recalled that a few months ago I bought a new point-and-click camera to take on vacation. It cost me a couple hundred bucks and it comes in very useful for making videos and shoving in my pocket for more casual picture-taking opportunities when I don’t feel like lugging around the dSLR. So, it might come as a bit of a surprise to learn I’ve essentially written it off as lost or broken. Why? Well, the girl like to take pictures. She’s been getting little creative ideas about stop-motion animation (really) and perspective from this CBC kids show called Artzooka, and she always asking to mess around with the camera. And while I’m certain I could fret over the camera, worry about it getting scratched or broken, I get the sense that I’m doing both her and myself a little favour — and maybe being a slightly better parent — by just relaxing the don’t-touch-dad’s-stuff rule with this particular toy. You don’t need to give up on a camera, of course, but bend the rules for something. C’mon. Be cool, now.
7 : Create a Secret Handshake
Or a signal. Or a password. Or something secret. At first I thought an almost-five-year-old wouldn’t get it, but was I ever wrong. She figured it out right away. I’d tell you the details, describe in more elaborate ways the nuances of our just-between-the-two-of-us acknoweldgement and greeting, but then it wouldn’t be a secret, would it?
This is a post from my (new) “Daddy Daze” series, an anecdotal exploration of my odd little adventures in parenting in bite-sized chunks (for your reading enjoyment) and because the last thing this world needs is yet another doting parent blog.
Claire has always been a bit neurotic when it comes to her schedule. She likes to know in advance… to avoid surprises, if you will. When she was wee little this manifested as a kind of random meltdown when her schedule and routine varied too much. Now that she’s a preschooler it’s manifesting as a kind of calendar obsession. It started with me sketching out a few little pictures on our calendar: a pencil for her school days, a pumpkin for halloween, an octave-worth of piano for music lessons, and that type of thing. Now, that calendar seems to have become a pivotal part of the routine. She can plan her life (and I say that, because she does that exact thing) crossing of each day and counting out the “sleeps” until any anticipated event. So much for having an existentialist daughter, I guess.
Lunch Kit Directives
On my alternating Friday’s off — such as is today — I fill the role of “Dad’s Taxi” delivering the girl to her planned day of activities. She’s not over scheduled, except on Fridays it seems: a few hours at the dayhome, an afternoon at preschool, and then an hour long music class, all with just enough time between. Nearly every other day… nothing. But Fridays? Well, part of the pre-school delivery means packing a snack. But because of this busy schedule, I’m left to do that chore prior to the lunchtime-ish transfer. Today, en route to the dayhome I was given explicit instructions on the lunch preparation by… guess who. Claire sat in the back seat carefully detailing what she wanted in her lunch, why she wanted each item, and offering specific details about the allergenic qualities of peanut butter and why it was “not allowed.” Soon, I’m not even going to need to think anymore.
Everything is explained by magic these days it would seem. Capital-S Skeptic that I am, I find myself biting my tongue every time my own little serious daughter invokes a magical explanation for something she doesn’t otherwise understand. And then I get all torn: I mean, kids are sorting out their worlds and part of this is trial-and-error reasoning. But another part of it is parental guidance about what defines — and what does not define — reality. So, when you step out onto the front porch, getting ready to take the dog for an evening walk, and your daughter grabs your hand, holds you back and says: “Wait Daddy. A star. I need to make a wish.” And then she proceeded to whisper an incantation to the sky do you (a) smile at how cute she is or (b) crush her little world with an explanation of astronomy, astrophysics, and the probability of wishes coming true from the same? Or, when you encounter some inexplicable (to a four year old) bit of reality and she brushes off your offer of an explanation with a know-it-all reply of “It’s just magic, Daddy” do you (a) smile at how cute she is or (b) tempt her into a more critically analyzed explanation by questions that lead her to the same conclusion you long since reached? Regular readers will know I’m more of a “b” answer kind of guy.