What Kind of Creature are You?

Mbot Fly 4

After a recent bath, Mbot, in his winged Red Fish towel, realized he might be wearing a garment that would allow him to fly. “Mom! I’m going to fly!” he announced. He mounted the steps of his bunk bed.

He raised his arms wide.

He leapt.

He landed. Ker-plop.

I waited.

He said: “I think I need to start from higher.”

He climbed higher.

He raised his arms wide.

He leapt.

He landed, ker-plop.

He said: “I think I need to flap my arms faster.”

 

 

Mbot Fly 3

He climbed up again. He raised his arms wide. He leapt. He flapped.

He landed, ker-plop.

He looked at me. He said, “I think I’m more of a gliding creature.”

And that was the end of that.

I thought, my heavens, if everyone figured out the truth about their own natures–and accepted it–so readily, what a different world we’d live in. I wondered about myself and some of my own unfulfilled ambitions, the terrycloth fins I spread.

Even if we dream of being flying creatures, is it so bad to discover that we are only gliding creatures, in the end?

 

Mbot Fly 2

Why Humans Exist on Earth and Not Pluto

All those continents keep us from squashed together when we go to restaurants. By Gbot.

All those continents keep us from getting squashed together when we go to restaurants. By Gbot.

From the back seat on the way to school this morning:

Mbot: “Mom, why aren’t there any humans on other planets?”

Me: “Well, because the Earth is the only planet that we know of that has the right environment for humans.”

Gbot: “Because the Earth is not too big, and it’s not too small. And it has all the continents. Pluto does not have any continents. And so all the people would get squashed together if they tried to go to restaurants, or shopping, or school.”

Pause.

Mbot: “Oh, you can’t plant any seeds on Pluto.”

Pause.

Gbot: “Even there are no cats.”

These answers satisfied us all, and off the bots went to school, to learn even more.

 

 

 

 

Dear Easter Bunny, Enough with the Rejoicing

Rejoice, for new life bursteth out of the egg (or the bed), and will astound you with its very aliveness, no matter what the hour. (Come back later for an explanation on the outfits.)

“Rejoice! For new life bursteth out of shell and room, and will astound you with its very aliveness, even in the darkest hour.” (Madeupians 3:30) (Come back later for an explanation of the outfits.)

Dear Easter Bunny,

I realize that Easter is a time for rejoicing, but next year, I’d like to do a little less of it.

Next year, please do not stop at our house first, like you did this year. I appreciate your thinking that, with duty done, you could sleep peacefully through the night, eliminating a 5 a.m. wake-up call for basket dispersal, but it did not work that way. This is how it worked:

Mbot woke up at 2:30 a.m., discovered his Easter Basket and called out to me gleefully. I staggered, still half-asleep, to his room chirping, “Wonderful, Sweetpea!” to find him in a fully lit bedroom; I had never before realized that we’d installed stadium lighting. I squinted in the glare at Mbot, fully animated and investigating the contents of his Easter basket with his tonsils. After joining him in rejoicing in his good fortune for ten minutes, I convinced him to return to bed, curled up with the stuffed snake the Easter bunny had brought. I turned down the lights.

I went back to bed, rejoiceful. And if that is not a word, it should be.

At 3 a.m., I was just drifting back to sleep when a high, joyful call pierced my semi-conscious state. Gbot. I stumbled down the hall again, chirping, “Wonderful, Sweetpea!” and into the stadium lights under which both bots now crouched, unwrapping chocolate bunny bars with vim. I pulled up a chair and sat, in order to rejoice with a lower heartrate–one that might mimic the forty beats per minute of sleep. I exclaimed happily for ten minutes, after which I convinced them back into their beds. I turned down the lights. I went back to bed. I rejoiced at this.

At 3:30 a.m., I tried to tell myself that the familiar footfall marking Gbot’s approach down the darkened hall was just my imagination. “Mom,” he said softly, dispelling my fantasy, “Spruce Bear is not in my bed.” I remembered that at bedtime the night before, I hadn’t been able to find Sprucie, and put Gbot to bed hoping the absence would not be noted. Fat fluffing chance. I rose. Together, we went looking for Spruce Bear, who we eventually found, reclining in a particularly beautifully dark corner of the living room. I rejoiced with Gbot at finding his bear.

I went back to bed. I rejoiced again.

At 4 a.m., Gbot’s angelic voice entered a dream in which I was superbly prepared and extremely confident. “Husbot,” I said, “Could you please go this time.”

Husbot pretended to be asleep, but I knew he wasn’t, because he’d just hacked up something that his allergies had deposited behind his uvula. I repeated myself.

“He’s calling for you,” said Husbot. He’d gone to bed grumpy with me for being grumpy with him for something that, due to lack of sleep, I can no longer clearly recall.

“Please,” I said.

He rose, muttering, and shuffled out into the hall. I sank back into my pillow, highly rejoiceful. I tried to re-enter my dream, unsuccessfully, but apparently sleep found me, because the next thing I knew, Mbot was on the bed, telling me it was morning! Not just any morning, but Easter morning, and the Easter Bunny had come. A blissfully soft natural light glowed through my closed lids from the bedroom window. I rejoiced at soft natural lighting.

Husbot took the bots in the car to get special juice. I have never rejoiced so deeply in the existence of special juice or, for that matter, cars, or Husbot. I lay unmoving for another forty-five minutes, rejoicing in the marvel of the modern mattress.

So, Easter Bunny, just as a recap: Please stop at our house last next year, so I can rejoice in the exuberance of life, the joy of the new, and the miracle of transformation of one’s bedroom from barren to brimming with never-before-allowed-candy — after six a.m.

Sex Ed For Five-Year-Olds in the Age of Ben 10

BEN 10 wallpaper

I admit, a month ago, I didn’t know who Ben 10 was. Then, at the bots’ request, I downloaded a Ben 10 video game onto their LeapPads. What I have learned since is that Ben Ten “was just an ordinary kid” (that is what the rockin’ theme song tells us, or is it “is no ordinary kid?’ None of us can tell). At any rate, he found an alien watch with special powers that can turn him into ten different aliens with superpowers by mixing the alien DNA in the watch with Ben’s DNA. In my experience, at least with boy children, this sort of thing happens all the time, so I’m guessing the theme song says he’s an ordinary boy.

So yesterday, while I was making an omelet for Gbot and scrambled eggs for Mbot, Mbot asked: “Mom, how come some chickens have chicks, and some just lay eggs that we eat?”

I batted blind. “Well….if a chicken lays an egg, then it’s just an egg that we eat. But if a rooster fertilizes the egg, then it hatches and a chick comes out.”

Mbot, the farmer’s son: “Oh, I know what fertilizer is! So he POOPS on it?”

Me: “Well….no. ‘Fertilize‘ means that you make something grow better, so the rooster makes it grow better, and it grows into a chicken.” I continued preparing breakfast, terrified that I would have to start explaining process.

“Mbot: “Oh, yeah! Like the rooster’s DNA mixes with the chicken’s DNA!”

Me: “That’s exactly right!”

Mbot: “So could you make a half-eagle/half-chicken?”

“Me: “Well….”Scientists are working on it.”

And then we ate our eggs. The kind without rooster deoxyribonucleic acid.

Apparently, this is what results when DNA combines.

Apparently, this is what results when DNA combines.

Recycle Robot League Takes Over Local Kindergarten Class

1-2014 April and March 232

The Collector-Bot reports to class.

After a winter in hibernation, the Recycle Robots have returned, just in time for Earth Day.

When Eileen Kelly, a kindergarten teacher at nearby Archway Trivium Academy, called to ask if I’d help her students make recycle robots, I happily agreed. I built a Collector-Bot, which the children spent the next week feeding with recyclables they brought daily from home–cardboard tubes, yogurt containers, lids, cracker boxes, water bottles, vinegar bottles–anything that could fit in its mouth.

I watched while Mrs. Kelly demonstrated what happened when she dropped a bottle cap in its mouth (the bottle cap dropped into the see-through “stomach”, whose latched door we then opened to retrieve it). The “oohs” and “aahs” would have made you think she’d made the Statue of Liberty vanish and reappear right there in the classroom. She did the same thing with a yogurt cup, and got the same reaction. She did the same thing with a paper towel tube, and got the same reaction. I knew we had a hit on our hands.

This week, I returned to the classroom to help the kids build their own robots fr1-2014 April and March 217om the loot they’d fed the Collector-Bot. And what a pile it was. Thirty-odd five- and six-year-olds sat in a big circle, taking turns picking out robot parts: bodies, heads, legs, and extra bits and pieces that caught their eye. It looked to me like they were just reveling in the opportunity to play with trash. But each one chose main body parts with great thought, and it was fabulous to see their imaginations at work as they visualized the bot they would create.

Then Mrs. Kelly and I armed ourselves with hot glue guns, and construction began. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the kids at work, which is a shame, because the enthusiasm was inspiring. But I did have a chance to scribble a quote midway through. Watching me tear a scrap of tin foil from the lip of a yogurt drink container she’d chosen as her robot’s legs, one student thoughtfully said, “I have a story about that gray stuff. One time my dad left some of that gray stuff on some butter that he heated up in the microwave. It caught on fire. It was AWESOME.”

Fortunately, none of the robots caught on fire, but every single one was awesome, from the six-legged robo-deer to the Mountain Dew Monster with munching jaws; from the red-headed milk-jug robo-dog to the graceful, long-necked Minute-Maid with a turning head; from the Q-tip Crusader to the Capri-Sun Creature with the smiling mouth that opens and closes.

The kids will take them home–along with, maybe, a new way of looking at what most of us consider trash, a feeling of power that they can create fun in unexpected ways, and a realization that they can help shape their world.

My favorite moment of the afternoon came near the end when a shy, quiet boy considered his finished creation of toilet paper tubes and Chobani containers, and said to me, in a tone of deep surprise, “I didn’t think mine could turn out so cool.”

Recycle Robot League: Mission accomplished.

1-2014 April and March 2211-2014 April and March 2261-2014 April and March 2191-2014 April and March 2291-2014 April and March 225

Meet the Recycle Robots!

Meet Omega-3, Heinz, and Joebot. (copyright Betsy Andrews Etchart)

The pioneers: Omega-3, Heinz, and Joebot. (copyright Betsy Andrews Etchart)

Once upon a time, sometime in August, I made three friends.

It was not long after Mbot’s fifth birthday. It seemed all the toys he’d received at his party were breaking because they had outlived their unwritten life-expectancy of three weeks, or collecting dust, because they’d entered the boring zone.

The idea of robots originated with Mbot’s very first show-and-tell, over two years ago.

Heinz door open

On the eve of his first show-and-tell, we (I use the term very loosely) made a recycle robot for his first preschool show-and-tell–not because we were trying to be clever, but because we were panicky and desperate (again, the term “we” used loosely). I documented that event in my post, Recycle Robot vs. Sister Mary Villus. Ever since, I secretly wanted to make more.

So I’d been piling recyclables in the garage–not all of them of course, but the choice items with interesting shapes or moving parts (cardboard tubes, ketchup bottles, wipies lids), in preparation for a recycle party that we hadn’t had. I envisioned inviting over some of the bots’ friends and making cool stuff out of all the cool stuff that other people thought were trash.

We have yet to have our recycle party, but I started partying with recyclables by myself. While During the seven weeks that I was going through radiation, I promised myself that I wouldn’t push myself too hard. I wouldn’t try to make headway on any of my writing projects. I would be kind to myself. I would have fun. I decided it was time to get out the pile o’ trash. I made these three dudes as toys for the weebots. They’re all about twenty inches tall (antennae not included) and have swiveling heads, moving arms, grasping hands, and secret compartments. I avoided using brads or any metal parts, for safety reasons.

What I didn’t know before I made the recycle robots is that they would turn out to be the perfect toys. Why?

1. They are cheap. They are made out of garbage!

2. When they break, I can fix them myself, because I made them in the first place!

3. When the bots get bored with them, I can change them! They will seem new again!

4. They can serve as friends, targets for Tae Kwon Do kicks, storage containers for other toys, or piggy banks. And it’s always nice to have a friend who’s also a piggy bank.

6. They can double as décor by adding a test tube filled with water and a flower.

Heinz 2

Wouldn’t you love to have him holding out a flower to you all day? (No test tube in this picture; I added it later.)

7. They have turned my own weebots into lean, green, recycle machines; their favorite craft now is collecting junk, gluing it together, and adding eyes. They can, literally, make their own friends.

Fresh off his shift as a sparring partner, Joebot becomes a handy Lego container.

Fresh off his shift as a sparring partner, Joebot becomes a handy Lego container. (At far left, Mbot’s speedboat, complete with a hatch that opens into a raisin box filled with ninjas that look a lot like wine corks.)

My friend Solveig, who’s been around since the failed Scotch sewing machine days, dubbed the robots–and we who make them–the Recycle Robot League.

Thanks to St. Peter’s Montessori Fall Festival–where, after three weeks of collecting recyclables, the children built their own recycle robots–there are now nearly fifty members!

It is very cool to have a hungry robot bigger than yourself greet you at school!

It is very cool to have a hungry robot bigger than yourself greet you at school!

Next week, I’ll post pictures of the kids’ robonderful creations. Toilet paper tubes have never had such a shiny future.

RRL Montessori Fall Fest 11When a friend asked for step-by-step instructions so she could make them with her eight-year-old homeschooled twins, I sat down to write them, and at her prompting, made them downloadable on Etsy.com  for $.99. The process that actually made the robots better, because I wanted to make sure to include tips on how to reinforce their bods to make them as durable as possible. Because while it’s great to be able to whip out a glue gun for a quick fix, it’s even better not to have to!

He Breathed a Song Into His Bear

I shot a rocket into the air...

I shot a rocket into the air….

Several weeks ago, Mbot, in the backseat, said, apropos of nothing:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost.

Whose woods these are, I think I know.

His house is in the village, though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

 

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake,

The darkest  evening of the year.

 

He gives his harness bells a shake,

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

 

The snow is lovely, soft, and deep,

But I’ve got promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep

And miles to go before I sleep

Before I could fill the car with astonished applause, Mbot added, “I wonder why he has to go to sleep twice?”

Apparently, Mbot’s class had learned the poem in preparation for St. Peter’s Montessori Fall Festival. This was the first I’d heard of it. I knew they’d been learning songs–Gbot spontaneously throughout the day would lift his voice to sing that the autumn leaves were falling, falling, and (crouching down, hands at his feet) touching…the…ground. But Robert Frost?

The fascinating thing about the spontaneous recitation was the the expressiveness with which Mbot spoke–it wasn’t like he was reciting it by rote as much as telling me with great enthusiasm about what he did last night (in extremely articulate rhyming iambic pentameter). He owned that poem! And obviously enjoyed the tumble of it from his tongue.

It reminded me of the first time I can remembering hearing classical music (although I’m sure I’d heard it before)–in a gray-linoleumed, fluorescent-lit music room where my third grade class filed once a week to sing simple songs very badly. The music teacher lowered a record’s needle onto a vinyl disk, and the first notes of “Morning Song,” at the beginning of Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite were breathed into my consciousness. I didn’t know what it was. I remember sitting in my metal folding chair as the music described the rising sun, transfixed with joy–I had never even imagined that anything that beautiful that could exist. I went home and asked my mom if it would be possible to actually buy it. Soon afterward, this appeared in our living room:

1-1119131434

I couldn’t care less about the Nutcracker. But I listened to the B-side of that record as often as my mother would agree to load it onto the turntable of my dad’s treasured hi-fi stereo, whose amplifiers he had built by hand (and whose vacuum tubes periodically self-destructed in a dramatic cloud of smoke that filled the house with the smell of freshly charred wiring).

Partly because of the vividness of that memory, I’ve never believed in dumbing down language or music for children. Sure, we read picture books by the shelf-foot, and sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” But I also read to the bots whatever they’ll sit still for–parts of articles from National Geographic or the New Yorker (Ian Frazier’s adventures in northern Russia, for some reason, particularly captured Mbot’s interest), and I intersperse what is now the Bot’s fave music–“beat music” (any popular dance song, whose lyrics they argue over, both of them wrong), with large doses of classical, and not the Little Einstein version, either. Once in a while they complain about it (Mbot: “I will NOT thank whoever wrote THIS music”), but not often. Who knows what the bots get out of all these grown-up forms of artistic expression? But if they’re ready to get something, it’ll be there for them to get, and they’ll get it.

The Fall Festival was just over two weeks ago. Mbot and the other kindergartners recited Robert Frost, almost incoherently–it was much better performed solo in the back of the car; Gbot performed his extremely brief song about falling leaves while waving a gauzy scarf in autumnal colors, and the elementary class recited Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Arrow and the Song”:

I shot an arrow into the air

It fell to earth, I know not where,

For, so swiftly it flew, the sight

Could not follow it in its flight.

 

I breathed a song into the air,

It fell to earth, I know not where;

For who has sight so keen and strong,

That it can follow the flight of song?

 

Long, long afterward, in an oak,

I found the arrow, still unbroke;

And the song, from beginning to end,

I found again in the heart of a friend.

Since the Festival, Gbot has been reciting bits and pieces of this poem, out of the blue. I provide the words when he can’t remember, but generally, he just seems to be enjoying saying a couple of lines at a time; his favorite combo goes straight from breathing a song into the air to finding it again in the heart of a friend.

Since Junebug has died, we’ve been talking about her almost every day; we’ve been talking about death lately, too, because the antique cat–after nearly eighteen years, having beaten diabetes but unable to conquer renal failure–is finally sneaking up on the end of his ninth life. Needless to say, there are way more questions in the house these days than answers for them.

Yesterday afternoon, I happened to say to Gbot at breakfast something like, “Goodness, your cereal just disappeared.”

At which point there was a brief pause before Gbot responded, “And June disappeared.”

“Yes,” I said.

There was another pause, and Gbot replied, “And you know not where.”

Gbot’s use of the poem’s antiquated syntax made me think that he was making a connection to the song breathed into the air, and its trajectory. It reminded me of the power of poetry–not only to create beauty in the presence of grief, but to connect seemingly disparate facts, objects, memories, experiences–and build a harmony of them filled with subtle and complex understanding.

Even as tears sprang to my eyes, I had to stifle a giggle. I thought for a moment. “Into the hearts of her friends,” I said. Then we went out and rode bikes.

Friends.

Friends.

It is Not Instinctive to Not Eat Your Soup While Driving

From the back seat:

Gbot was not happy to hear that soup was not on the inflight menu.

Gbot was not happy to hear that hot chicken noodle soup was not on the inflight menu.

Evolutionary biological evidence that the automobile did not develop in tandem with Homo sapiens:

Gbot, having not finished eating his lunch at school, spreads a napkin on his lap in preparation to finish his soup on the drive home. And then pouts when I put the kibosh on opening his thermos.