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.
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.
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.
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!
Next week, I’ll post pictures of the kids’ robonderful creations. Toilet paper tubes have never had such a shiny future.
When 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!
Introducing the Lunchbot. We’ve been making Recycle Robots, in our house, out of household recyclables and so I didn’t make a fuss when I discovered this morning that Husbot had left Gbot’s lunchbox in the Rolling Black Hole (aka Husbot’s truck. When an object goes into his truck, it may not be seen again, and if it does reappear, it will do so only–in the case of an item of clothing–after it has been grown out of).
I made a lunchbot. Van’s box, 4 pipecleaners, and the hacked-off end of a Cling Wrap tube, sliced at the top. And a few squirts of hot glue to attach one of the pipecleaner loops to the tube.
Gbot loved it. Mbot did too. It’s a good thing I put in another Zappos order yesterday.
And, as if that’s not enough for one morning, here’s our second world-changer:
And the conversation that went along with it:
Gbot: “Mom, I have something special in my underpants.”
Me, not turning around to look: “Yes, honey, I know.”
Me, turning around to look: “WOW! What is that EXTRA special thing in your underpants?”
Gbot: “It’s my Mortal Shield! I need it when I battle Mbot because my pito is very sensitive.”
WARNING: The second invention does not generally fit into a pair of jeans.
Yesterday, Mbot made a pirate ship (pictured above, upper left). We had been reading library book about pirate treasure. “Only Tesserwell and Mbot allowed,” he pronounced, while assembling his vessel, which he named, in honor of the favorite foods of the captain and first mate, “The Mouse-Rat-Strawberry-Cream-Cheese-Cupcake Ship.” Later, he said to Gbot, who also decided to build a pirate ship on the same patio, “I get Tesserwell. He’s a great pirate cat.”
I am not sure where the antique cat earned his swashbuckling reputation. It could possibly be because Mbot believes Tbug to be capable of Great Things. Earlier that morning, I’d found the ancient fellow sitting in the bath tub, a place he has always enjoyed. He looked up at me and plaintively meowed. His favorite drink besides apricot juice, preferably from someone else’s glass, is running water, preferably from the bathtub tap; preferably trickling very lightly so as not to splash his fur, so he can sip delicately from around the drain without getting his feet wet. Not to deprive him of one of his great joys in life, I turned the tap on just a smidge, brushed my teeth, and got on with my morning.
Twenty minutes later, when Mbot got out of bed and ventured into the bathroom, I heard him exclaim, “This is SO EXCITING!” He repeated it: “This is SO EXCITING! Mom, did YOU turn on the water?”
“No,” I called, lying.
“Did Dad turn on the water?”
“Gbot, did you turn on the water?”
Like any good detective, Mbot was eliminating all other possiblities before reaching the conclusion he suspected and desired. “It’s AMAZING! Tesserwell turned on the water!” he called, using his best deductive reasoning.
Such an impressive cat would certainly be good company on the high seas.
Gbot, who couldn’t find a ship as good as the emptied patio toy bucket, decided he’d join Mbot and Tbug in theirs. The first thing he brought on board was his toy cash register (complete with its key, which I’d lost track of long ago). He explained it was for his gold doubloons. You will see, in the picture of Captain Fishypants, above, that he made sure I drew him holding a bag of doubloons in addition to a sword. (Mbot drew the picture of himself, upper right.)
This is in keeping with Gbot’s interest in finance. Five weeks ago, he produced his first two representational drawings ever, shown below:
For those of you not schooled in the iconography of preschool stick figure drawings, it is an image of Abraham Lincoln. Behind and above him is the Lincoln Memorial. Gbot was not inspired by the great man’s accomplishments, but rather by what appears on either side of a penny.
Mbot was not pleased about letting Gbot join his crew. But if I put chocolate chip-oatmeal-walnut-coconut cookies in the cash register drawer, I think Cannonball Mbot will reevaluate whether or not his ship has room for Captain Fishypants and his booty, and the Mouse-Rat-Strawberry-Cream-Cheese-Cupcake Ship will sail.
For many of you, my Ironman pinata of ridiciulous dimensions is old news. But last June, just as I was finishing building the largest and best behaved guest at Mbot’s fourth birthday party, my camera died at the hands of said birthday boy, and so the final images that appeared on the blog were teeny-tiny stills captured from my video camera, and I didn’t know how to make them any bigger. Well, seven months later, I have figured out how, and due to the overwhelming number of Google searches for Ironman pinatas, many of them in Spanish, I’ve decided to post them here, just in case anyone wants to repeat my folly and create in their dining room a 5’8″ hollow Superhero sculpture made of newspaper, water, flour, and balloons.
I do not recommend it.
The entire premise of building a pinata in your dining room–especially when you live in Arizona, within a thirty-minute drive of an ENORMOUS pinata store, and your assistants are two hyperactive midgets with too little appreciation for long-term goals and too much appreciation for flour paste, is ludicrous. But there is nothing like laundering many small socks, wiping many small booties, and preparing many small meals every day, many of which are greeted with “Blech!” before being pushed half way across the table, to inspire one to create something big and lasting that will be greeted with “Ooohs!” and “Ahhhs!”, even if it’s eventually whacked to bits and survives only in photos. It was that sort of housewifishness, mother-of-weebots, frustrated artist mentality that drove me to purchase the thirty-inch high “It’s a boy!” bottle-shaped balloon that would become Ironman’s torso, setting the scale for Ironman’s body, and coming to represent the first circle of Pinata Hell.
I suppose I should report on what has finally happened to Ironman. For a long time–many months–I kept his limbs in a pile in the garage. The bots got a kick out of trying on the legs from the knee down, and chasing each other wearing the giant red arms. My plan was that perhaps I would reassemble him and hang him in their room, slanting from the ceiling like he was flying.
But a few weeks ago, in a claustrophobic cleaning frenzy of the sort that grips me every ten years or so, I stacked the body parts in the recycle bin and breathed a sigh of relief that it was gone. After seven months, in my mind, he had finally turned into an it. I forgot one arm, and the bots spent an afternoon chasing each other with it, at which point I think it, too, went into the recycle bin. This morning when I brought the empty bin back into the garage, I saw a single red finger laying on the concrete. I thought of evil little Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter books, who cut off his own finger before turning into a rat, to “prove” to everyone he was really dead.
Hmmm. Is Ironman not really dead? Does he live on? If I ever start building a giant rat pinata, will somebody please stop me?
For those of you who missed the original posts, just click on these and you, too, will be able to witness the whole sordid affair:
In an interestingly serendipitous sequence of events, within three days last week, Mbot set fire to a paper Spiderman napkin, Husbot and I saw Prometheus, and the family caught a discoverment at the Arizona Stomach Center entitled “Combustion.” What do these things have in common? Read on.
The first event occurred just after Nanny and the bots set the table for my birthday party. Uncle Marty and Grandma were coming over for dinner. Nanny was busy in the kitchen boiling lobsters. (She was not wearing earplugs, as, fortunately, their screams are silent. (Z, that was for you.) I was shucking corn. The bots were behaving, by which I mean kind of watching Caillou and kind of playing with balloons and kind of doing crafts. I laid out the cheese and crackers, I opened the wine. I moved a giant candle to the center of the table–a table whose center is farther from its edges than bots’ arms are long–and lit it. The bots tried to blow out the three flames from their positions on the chairs. They couldn’t. I told them to stop trying. That fire is dangerous. Blah, blah. blah. Then I turned around to do whatever I had to do to continue getting dinner ready.
Moment later, as I was taking a serving plate down for the corn, I heard Mbot’s voice. “Uh, Mom? There’s a fire on the table.”
I whirled and yes! Lo and behold, there was a fire on the table. A small one, exactly the size of a paper Spiderman napkin. I rushed over and lifted the single unburned corner and dropped it on the serving plate that was still in my hand, then dropped it into the sink and turned on the water. And then I attempted to explain how he could have hurt himself, and us. Blah, blah, blah. He remained unfazed. So Nanny had a go at it. She explained that he might have hurt Junepbear by mistake. And that’s what got through. There was crying, and promises to never play with fire. My heart rate was still about 160. I washed the serving plate and piled lobster on it. The guests arrived and dinner was served while Uncle Marty and Husbot discussed Prometheus, Ridley Scott‘s prequel to Alien, which Uncle Marty (an author and screenwriter) had just seen at the IMAX in 3D.
The next day, Husbot decided we had to see it. And here is my completely uneducated review: It was okay. There were problems. It was also confusing. But fun to discuss and try to make sense of. Prometheuswas the name of the spaceship that arrived on a distant planet seeking the origins of mankind. Students of mythology or art history will know that Prometheus is the name of the god who took fire from the heavens and gave it to man. As punishment, he was chained to a rock, and every night an eagle flew down to eat out his liver, and every day it grew back. This happened for all eternity.
One thing about the movie isn’t confusing. One of the morals of the story is: Don’t play with fire. Not to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet, but fire, in this case, is the biological weaponry that a superior race with a god syndrome (or are they god???) had developed in order to destroy whole planetfuls of other carbon-based lifeforms. Perhaps in order to start from scratch with the hope of a better outcome (a world without the color mauve? Without reality TV and the Hilton sisters?)
Of course, the characters don’t KNOW at first that the animate sludge on the distant planet peopled by large dead guys will turn into large gross monsters that will shoot large gross appendages down their throats. (Again, I hope I’m not ruining something for someone.) The humans are seeking knowledge, and that is their downfall. Like knowledge, fire is a thing that must be used carefully and that can destroy more than paper Spiderman napkins and stuffed bears.
Which brings us to the Stomach Center. We visited it the next morning because Nanny had never been. The bots loved showing her the waterworks, the exhibit on nanoparticles, the giant telescope you look through and see your own eye projected on a big circular screen on the ceiling. Mbot wanted to see the kitty brain. No one except Nanny was brave enough to go into the giant stomach (from which the Arizona Science Center takes its bot-given name). I won a game of Mindball against Nanny, but solely because I knew she was worrying about where the bots were while we were playing, and so I didn’t have to worry about where the bots were. And then a demonstration began, about combustion.
Mbot dragged me to an empty seat and sat, riveted, while two college students explained the three sides of the fire triangle (fuel, oxygen, and heat).
They poured alcohol into a clear plastic twenty-gallon water bottle, pumped in air, and dropped in a match. Mbot jumped about two inches at the fireball that momentarily filled the bottle. Then they threw lycopodium powder into the air and aimed an acetylene torch at it. Then they held a flame to Peter Cottonball and we all watched as it was reduced to a blackened puff of its former self. Then they explained how to use a fire extinguisher. And then, they told everyone in the audience to put their hand over their heart–Mbot did so immediately–and solemnly repeat after them: “I promise to never play with fire.”
Mbot repeated it. “I promise to never play with fire.” Then he glanced sideways up at me, and added, “Again.”
And the next day he was back to his discoverments with liquids, pouring his cup of milk at breakfast into the mouth of a deflated balloon to see if it could be done (yes, to a point), and if, after it was done, he could drink out of it (yes, to a point). As I was mopping up, I banned (again) all discoverments involving liquids to the bathtub.
But it doesn’t look like there will be any more discoverments involving fire. Not until he gets his first chemistry set, or falls in love.
We celebrated Memorial Day by visiting The Stomach Center (Mbot renamed The Arizona Science Center) where, thanks to a game called Mindball, I proved that I can consciously calm my brain more effectively than Mbot can calm his (a fact I know Husbot would question).
Which was a remarkable feat, because, by the last day of a three-day weekend filled with fabulous fun family time (and no time to myself, except for two hours that morning during which I washed the dishes, did four loads of laundry, and cleaned a bathroom), I was feeling anything but calm. I was torn between feeling grateful and joyous at having such a wonderful family (and such good weather for zoo-going, bike-cruising, and water-parking) and feeling stressed and panicked at not having had any time to write. At all.
But here is the Mindball brain-activity read-out, which backs up my claims of my ability to calm myself, although at the moment the picture was taken, only Mbot’s brain activity was being charted, in the window at the left.
How do you play Mindball? See that long plexiglass tunnel on the table? Inside is a metal ball. A player sits at each end of a table, puts on a funky hat with a cord coming out the top, and tries to think calm thoughts. “I am sitting on a beach. I am listening to waves. I have a babysitter for the entire day.” The ball rolls away from whoever is calmer and more focused. If the ball reaches your end of the tunnel, you lose.
Mbot lost four times in a row, but not for lack of trying, kind of. He switched chairs once, just to make sure I wasn’t sitting in the Magic Chair of Calm. (I wish!) Distractions abounded. All around us were people and other interactive exhibits, one of which replayed, about every three minutes, the sound of a car crashing. I finally had Mbot stare at the ball, place his fingers in his ears, and sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” softly to himself. It was really, really cute, but his brainwaves still went through the roof.
I was starting to worry that Mbot had ADD, and then calmed myself remembering that he’s supposed to be this way–he’s three. But it set me thinking, and on the Mindball website, I discovered that the same brainwave technology– EEG Feedback Training— is being used with great success to help children and adults with Attention Deficit Disorder.
It made me think, too, of the effect of writing on my brain. It must stimulate my alpha waves. Focusing on communication and self-expression through the written word must calm me, allowing me to focus more, which calms me more–a self-perpetuating zen state. I don’t have a Mindball machine to back up this theory, just years of experience. I wish refereeing disputes over who had the green water pistol and who had the red one had the same effect.
So, wonderful weekend memories, and a sigh of relief at sitting back down at my computer. What was your weekend like? The ball’s in your court.
Although I reminded Husbot twice before I left town and texted him both the night before and the morning of Mbot’s show-and-tell, to remind him about it, I neglected to mention Recycle Robot.
We had discussed him several times before I left. To the every-fourteen-business-days question, “What would you like to bring for show-and-tell?”, last week Mbot replied, “Recycle Robot.” I was surprised he remembered Recycle Robot. Recycle Robot the First had lived an exciting yet abbreviated life in the limelight (see Recycle Robot vs. Sister Mary Villus.)
In our discussions, I said things like, “If you want to bring Recycle Robot to show-and-tell, we need to build him. Would you like to build him now?” And something would always happen–drawing a picture or becoming Wonder Girl or becoming Fasci the horse or zooming around the house on his Strider bike–and Recycle Robot would retreat into the hazy future. Show-and-tell wasn’t ’til Thursday. Which, in preschooler years, isn’t ’til December.
I thought Mbot would forget about Recycle Robot. Did I really think this? No. But I fervently hoped it. Surely he would fixate on a flattened penny, or one of Daddy’s maps of the Coconino National Park, or his new fave bedtime friend, the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle book from the library.
Today, far away in Chicago, I pushed away the niggling fear that Recycle Robot would rise to haunt me, as I went from the Goucher booth at the AWP Book Fair to the panel on the mix of motherhood and writing (the product of which does not combust if combined in just the right manner) to another on running writer’s workshops. Before I headed out to a reading by the poet laureates of both Great Britain and the United States, Husbot called.
“How is everything going?” I asked from my perch overlooking the Chicago skyline.
“Great, just fine,” said Husbot. “Except,”
I froze. I knew that Recycle Robot was coming to haunt me.
“…Except at 10:30 yesterday, Mbot sprung on me that he was going to bring Recycle Robot to show-and-tell.”
I sat rigid on my puffy, immaculate bedspread and did the math. 10:30. That would give Husbot exactly seventy-five minutes to make Recycle Robot. Subtracting time spent coaxing the Bots into the bathroom, convincing them into socks, supervising the application of shoes, acquiring last-minute food and drinks, and loading into the Midget Mobile, I calculated that this left no more than six minutes and thirty-eight seconds for the design and construction of Recycle Robot.
“I tried to talk him into something else,” continued Husbot. “But he was insistent. And he was good about not throwing a sputterfuss.”
“What happened?” I asked. I felt like I was watching a Hitchcock film. Everything was pretty bad, and you waited, and waited, and then things got much worse.
Husbot’s voice was nonchalant. “We made Recycle Robot.”
I blinked. “What?”
“I found a Triscuits box, and we put on a plastic head, and got cardboard tubes for legs….Mbot drew a face on him, and wrote his name on the back…It was great. He was very pleased with it. Everyone really liked it.”
Thoughts whirled in my head: Why couldn’t I pull Recycle Robot out of my ass? It had taken us almost two hours to make Recycle Robot the First. Of course, I had insisted on articulated limbs.Why did Husbot sound so relaxed about it? It’s not like he was the show-and-tell expert. I had needed an extra glass of wine the night that Recycle Robot the First was born. But those thoughts splintered and disintegrated like cheap fireworks and the one that filled the pristine room on South Michigan Avenue was:
It’s things like this that make women fall in love.
Who was your hero today?
Hypothesis: Since Mbot learned that Alexander Fleming went on vacation in 1928 and came back to his laboratory to find that one of his experiments had gotten moldy, thus resulting in the discovery of penicillin, Mbot is under the impression that he can make medicine for himself and Gbot, who has had a drippy nose for two weeks, if he only had some moldy bread.
Procedure: Place a piece of bread in an old spice jar and set it on the kitchen window sill. Check it every day.
Results: After six days, there is still no mold.
Conclusion: 1. Moisture needs to be added to the bread. 2. We need to go on vacation?
Hypothesis: A bridge can be built from the kitchen table to the sofa using a sofa cushion.
Procedure: Proceed while your mother is emptying the dishwasher, with her back turned to the table, the sofa, the cushions, and the possibilities. Span the distance of about three feet with a cushion. Climb onto the kitchen table and prepare to crawl across the new bridge.
Cry, “Look Mom! We’re making a bridge!” Then proceed onto the bridge. Exclaim with surprise when your mother moves faster than you’ve ever seen her move before–faster than either you or she believed she could move, faster than it seems physically possible for a mother to move, as though she’s wearing one of those special suits Olympic swimmers wear that mimic the behavior of a dolphin’s skin, which forms, at high speeds, microscopic creases that allow a better flow of water–and catches your arm just as gravity kicks in, allowing you to, instead of land on your head on the tiles three feet below, come to rest softly on the failed cushion bridge, instead.
Conclusion: 1. Cushions do not make good bridges. 2. Try tiptoeing next time?
What have you learned from your latest discoverments?
It is one of several discoverments by Mbot that we have had in our house lately. The first, a few weeks ago, was born unchaperoned in the bathroom. It was a mixing discoverment, and consisted of a concoction of toothpaste, expensive soap, and tap water stirred vigorously with his brother’s toothbrush until the soap disappeared, bubbles formed, and water appeared on the floor and the clothing and the brother.
The word “discoverment,” in case you didn’t know, is what Mbot came home from preschool one day saying his class had done. I have not been able to ascertain the details. I am quite certain that Mrs. Pursell did an experiment and made a discovery. No matter its origins, I am a fan of the word.
The next day, when another mixing discoverment was attempted, to see if soap plus toothpaste plus water still made bubbles and if it turned color, I suggested we only do discoverments together, at the kitchen table. I got out the homemade play dough, the only kind Gbot doesn’t eat, and small vials of food coloring. I pulled out four clumps of dough for each Bot. I instructed them to press a hole in the middle with their thumbs. During this stage of the discoverment, Mbot pronounced with enthusiasm that this work was his best work. I dribbled several drops of food coloring into each hole and pinched it closed. Then I let the Bots pummel them.
I’m not sure how much color theory they absorbed, but it kept them happily occupied for at least twenty minutes.
Then, a few days ago, during our recycle parade, we came across Mr. Jeff while he was busy eradicating weeds from the grounds. He carried the most fascinating large white jug of poison connected by a flexible hose to a squirt mechanism. Mbot and Gbot were dropping into the recycle bin the old milk jugs and paper towel tubes they’d be in charge of marching with, when Mbot announced that we could MAKE a thing like Mr. Jeff’s. Out of a milk container and a cardboard tube and a squirty top. “You’re right!” I said, and then we got back inside and forgot about it.
Until this morning. When, while cleaning up from breakfast, I heard Mbot call from half way to the bathroom, “Mom! Now I’m gonna fill the tank with hot water!’
I stopped loading the dishwasher and sprinted.
Mbot was holding the contraption pictured above, except that it wasn’t taped together yet. “Let’s talk about exactly what you plan to do,” I said, and we sat down together on the sofa. “Show me.”
He would fill the tank, like that, and then add the hose, like that, and then water the plants, like that. I decided that a mother should not impede scientific progress, and so I offered to help with a piece of duct tape. I also suggested a way to refill the tank, with a funnel. I dug a water jug out from under the kitchen sink, filled it, and ordered everyone into their rain boots.
Out on the patio, Mbot held the discoverment while I poured in the water. “Now where are you going to put the water?” I asked, having lost sight of our ultimate goal. “In the sand box? Here, how about in this bowl?”
“I am going to water the plant so it doesn’t die,” Mbot announced, and proceeded to turn the discoverment upside down on the verbena bush. It worked.
Did you make any discoverments today?