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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

My Fashion’s Wearing Off! Long Live My Fashion!

Against all odds, I remembered this morning that today is Picture Day.

I wonder that the School Picture hasn’t gone the way of the Scratch ‘n’ Sniff t-shirt in an age where a teacher can just whip out her cell phone during class and upload, but apparently, there is still a market for generic photos of overdressed children.

They are hard to take seriously.

Even so, I pulled out the bots’ wedding outfits–buttondown shirts and nice pants. We attended a beautiful family wedding this past weekend and I took no pictures, so I figured I’d let Special EFX capture the bots’ Wedding Look.

But everyone knows you do your hair first.

Mbot’s coif was in its usual morning Harry Potter look-alike mode, so I dribbled a little water on it while he was rinsing toothpaste out of his mouth, and plugged in the blow dryer. He was excited about the blow dryer. He wanted to do his hair himself. I set the switch to “cool” and figured it’d be safe to go finish packing lunchboxes.

Silly me. I’d thought “cool” referred to temperature.

Several minutes later, the following conversation ensued over the sound of the blow dryer:

Gbot: “Mbot, are you done yet? Your hair looks completely perfect!”

Mbot: “I’m trying to make a Mohawk. Where’s the water, Gbot?”

Gbot: “I can get the water cup and fill it up!”

Pause.

Gbot: “Here is the water!”

Mbot: “Okay, pour it on something!”

Gbot: “You mean your hair?”

Mbot: “No, a towel!”

Pause.

Gbot: “I brought you the towel!”

Mbot: “Now, pour water on it!”

Pause.

Mbot: “Thanks!”

Just another day at Salon des Petites Coiffeurs

Just another day at Salon des Petites Coiffeurs

Now we're gonna have to start a boy band.

Now we’re gonna have to start a boy band.

Then it was Gbot’s turn with the blowdryer.

The updo, re-imagined.

The updo, re-imagined.

Then, for some reason, perhaps because he likes playing with water, Gbot dampened his hair again.

But he didn’t realize the effect applying water would have.

Gbot: “Oh, my hair is back to curly! My fashion’s wearing off!”

Mbot: “I’m going to try to cool it outside.”

(Rushes out the front door to cool his hair.)

Mbot (rushing back inside): “Oh, I need to see if my fashion’s wearing off!”

(Disappears into bathroom.)

Mbot: “Oh! It’s not!”

hair 10

Gbot, having doused his hair again, enjoys watching Mbot trying to add more lift.

They spent the ride to school discussing which world they were going to choose to have their picture taken in. These were their world choices:

Yikes.

Yikes.

I decided that DP140 was the lesser of the cheevils (cheesy evils), because, with the fanciful mushrooms and far-off castle, at least it didn’t look like it was trying to fool us into thinking it might be real. Mbot was very excited by the possibility of going into Mushroom World. Then I had to explain to the bots that they would not, in fact, be going into Mushroom World. The mushrooms would be added on a computer. They took it pretty well. Although, when we get the pictures back, Gbot, who preferred River World, might be disappointed to find that I sent him to Mushroom World instead.

When we hugged goodbye at school, Mbot was concerned that I not mess up his hair.

Mbot: “What if someone else messes it up?”

Me: “Then just say, ‘Hands off the ‘do, Dude!'”

Pause.

Mbot: “I think I would feel a little bit foolish saying ‘Hands off the ‘do, Dude.'”

Me: “Then just ask them nicely not to touch your hair.”

And off they went, leaving me very glad I live in Bot World, and that it’s not just in my computer.

Don’t touch this. (And yes, up at the very top, that’s Gbot in the mirror, getting his fashion on.)

This Cat Will Never Go to San Diego,

I should not have been surprised, as this is what happened when we painted pony statuettes.

I should not have been surprised, as this is what happened when we painted pony statuettes. Fortunately, the antique cat was out of range that day.

and not because he’s dead. The antique cat is alive and not long ago,smelled like a coconut. Along with the smell was the visual effect: he looked like he’d lost a sun lotion squirting fight. Of course he lost. He doesn’t have thumbs. It’s the price he paid for my sleeping in (6:30).

Gbot did not sleep in.

Gbot, although he insists loudly that he’s fourteen, is three.

And I’d left the Hawaiian Tropic SPF 30 sunblock in the swimming bag, and I’d left the swimming bag within fifty inches of the floor.

I did not take a picture, to preserve the dignity of the victimized party. Also to preserve the upholstery, pillows, and antique quilts. Because the antique cat was getting ready to curl up on all three, threatening to transfer the great white globs that were slathered from withers to hips onto anything that moves slower than he does.

A few minutes in the shower with the baby shampoo did the trick and the antique cat emerged clean, albeit nonplussed, and smelling like babies instead of beaches.

The sound of the shower awoke Mbot. “Mom, why’s Tesserpiglet so wet?” he asked.

I explained that Gbot had smeared sun lotion on him, and that we do not do that to animals. “Why?” asked Mbot. “Why did he do it?”

“I think to be funny,” I said. Then it occurred to me that I didn’t really know WHY Gbot had done it. “Gbot, why did you smear Tesserwell with sun lotion?” I asked.

“Because!” he replied guilelessly. “I wanted him to be cool in the sun!”

“Oh,” I said. I explained why kitty cats don’t need sun lotion. I explained that when it gets too hot for them, they go inside or lie in the shade.

“Then I will NEVER take Tesserpiglet to San Diego,” announced Mbot. “Because that’s the HOTTEST place on earth.”

I was grateful that my children are (at least attempting to be) kind to animals. I was grateful to be reminded not to prematurely assign nefarious motivations to others. I was grateful that I’d stored the Rainbow Animal Painting Kits more than fifty inches above the floor.

Mbot actually started it; the animals in his Rainbow Animals Painting Kit became a Skele-Pig and a Skele-Pony before he turned to bigger and better things. I have cropped this photo for privacy purposes, but let's just say that Mbot became Skel-Mbot, from brows to bare booty.

I’m still slightly dumbfounded that Mbot’s Rainbow Animals Painting Kit mini-statues became a Skele-Pig and a Skele-Pony before he turned to bigger and better things. I have cropped this photo for privacy purposes, but let’s just say that Mbot became Skel-Mbot, from brows to bare booty.

2 Inventions You Didn’t Know You Needed

Another great reason to buy new shoes (like we need one....)

Another great reason to buy new shoes.

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.

Mbot models the latest in lunch carriers.

Mbot models the latest in lunch carriers.

And, as if that’s not enough for one morning, here’s our second world-changer:

Why build, if you don't build something useful?

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.”

Step aside, codpiece. We've got the Mortal Shield.

Step aside, codpiece. We’ve got the Mortal Shield.

WARNING: The second invention does not generally fit into a pair of jeans.

Proof of Life Via Bathroom Conversation

Why the bots haven't been heard from in so long: they're both in juvie. KIDDING. They thought playing in dog kennels was HILARIOUS.

Why the bots haven’t been heard from in so long: they’re both in juvie. KIDDING. They thought playing in dog kennels was HILARIOUS.

We are alive and well, and to prove it, I will transcribe a brief conversation I enjoyed with Gbot in the bathroom yesterday*

*For those not familiar with Spanish nomenclature for human anatomy, the word “pito” is Spanish–and our family word for–the little penises in the household. (Usage tip: Do not make the mistake of transferring the word to the larger, grownup version. Apparently, it is understood as insulting. Something to do with size.):

Gbot: “My potty thinks all life is evil!”

Me: (nothing)

Gbot: “My pito thinks all life is disGUSTing!”

Me: “It won’t always think that, Honey.”

Maybe for the next post, we’ll venture out of the bathroom. But there are never guarantees.

The Circles of Life

(Artist: Mbot. Medium: Play-Doh.)

(Artist: Mbot. Medium: Play-Doh.)

The bike rack arrived, so we’re ready to load up for the drive to Idaho tomorrow.

After the second lumpectormy, my own rack has been given the all-clear, too. Vacation time! Radiation doesn’t start ’til mid-August, and I will cross that isodose when I come to it. In the festive mood that’s permeating the household, the bots have been conducting business as usual.

From the Bathroom:

Mbot, perched on the toilet, expresses concern about using too much toilet paper, because it is Bad For The Earth. “We don’t want another tree to die, Mom!” He calls out, bare butt hanging halfway down to the water in the bowl. I consider myself Earth-friendly, but considering what’s in the bowl, I’m more than willing to say sayonara to a giant sequoia if that’s what it takes.

“How do they get the giant tree into the office?”

Me: “Into where, Sweetie Piglet?”

Mbot: “How do they get the giant tree into the toilet paper making office?”

From the after-dinner popcorn party:

Gbot: “Can we plant these (kernels) and grow a popcorn tree?”

popcorn tree circle of life

It’s not exactly The Lion King, but it’s the circle of life nonetheless. It feels good to be rolling again.

Oh *I* See the Problem Now. There’s a Pig in My Shoe.

Last week, we were leaving Tae Kwon Do class, which looks like this:

Mr. Rice demonstrates a punch for Mbot. (Mbot: "Oh, I've punched my brother.")

Mr. Rice demonstrates a punch for Mbot. (Mbot, unimpressed: “Oh, I’ve punched my brother.”)

At the end of class, Mbot sat on the floor to put on his sandals. Kids were coming in and practicing for the next class, and after two full minutes of watching Mbot through the milling crowd, I saw that he was working very hard jamming into the toe of his sandal a keychain, which looks like this:

A gift my brother in Japan gave me long ago finds new admirers in the next generation. (on sale now for $1.50! at getgags.com)

A gift my brother in Japan gave me beellions and beellions of years ago ago finds new admirers in the next generation. (still on sale today, for $1.50! at getgags.com)

Having accomplished this task, he worked for another two minutes to stuff his foot far enough into the shoe to affix the heel strap. “Mbot,” I was urging, “If your shoe is not on by the time I count to three, we will leave without shoes.” The door to the dojo was standing open, desert air flowing inside at 102 degrees, and Gbot, who had just awoken bleary-eyed in my arms, was growing exponentially heavier as the seconds passed.

Finally, Mbot tottered happily out the door and across the grass with his heel hanging off the back of one sandal and the other sandal in his hand. I left him at the curb to climb into the car while I loaded up Sack-o’-Potatobot. Mbot, gaining his seat, crossed his foot over his other knee, considered it without expression, and then said as though totally surprised, “Oh I see the problem now. There’s a pig in my shoe!”

I take a few things away from the pooping pig in the shoe incident, and they look like this:

1. Don’t assume that your goals are the same as the person you are with.

2. When the world is not funny enough,

The world is not funny enough.

The world is not funny enough.

 make your own jokes.

Juniper at Jupiter: A Bear, His Boy, and a String Quartet

I apologize to readers for my absence–but we are back! I’ll make my excuses later. Today, I bring you volcano music.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the handsomest one of all?

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the handsomest one of all?

Attending the Jupiter String Quartet’s Phoenix performance with Mbot was my idea. Attending the concert with Mbot and Junepy was Mbot’s idea. So was the necktie, a strip of red felt fashioned into a bow, although in the end, Mbot wore a pair of fleecy dinosaur zip-up footie pajamas and a wide, pale blue polka-dot grosgrain ribbon tied in a Windsor knot, and Junepy wore the red felt bow. “But Junepy will be handsomer than me,” worried Mbot (unnecessarily, most would agree).

 

I’d been lucky, the week before while in Boston, to have a friend casually drop the fact that her daughter was singing that night in the Boston Baroque Ensemble at the New England Conservatory. It was serendipity–I am a huge fan of chamber music, and particularly of Baroque music, and I am a huge fan of the NEC, as it’s home to my ultrafave radio show, NPR’s Sunday evening staple, “From the Top,” which features amazing young musicians from across the nation. As far as music goes, I am one of those people perfectly designed to provide an audience, unburdened as I was at an early age (by my piano teacher, as it happens) of any illusion that I’ve got the rhythm in me. There is evidence to make me suspect that Mbot has inherited a seat beside me among the spectators.

 

So my first morning back home, Mbot climbed onto the bed and asked what I’d done in Boston. “I went to hear the most beautiful music ever,” I told him. I retrieved the netbook and pulled up the Boston Baroque Ensemble’s homepage. He pointed to a picture of a bright red, erupting volano. “I want to hear that one! The volcano music!” So I clicked it–the volcano was the image on the DVD cover of the BBE’s recording of Haydn’s Creation. I left the room to brush my teeth and see what havoc Gbot was creating, and Mbot listened to the volcano music, rapt, for twenty minutes.

 

So I bought us tickets to the next performance sponsored by the Phoenix Chamber Music Society. It would be a big evening. It wasn’t cheap, the concert venue was almost an hour’s drive away, the concert started at what was technically bedtime, and the concert would require sitting. For over an hour. And then for another thirty minutes. While Junepy excels at sitting, Mbot’s gifts lay elsewhere.

 

The night arrived. An hour before takeoff, an excited Mbot announced, “Junepy wants to come!” and disappeared into the bedroom. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes passed. Silence. In my experience, ten minutes of silence usually equates to a twenty minute cleanup effort afterward, and so I went to investigate. I found Mbot on the floor struggling the bear.

 

He’d managed to push Junepy’s large, obstinate head through the neckhole of a shirt, but the bear’s large, obstinate feet were proving too large and obstinate to go through pantlegs without motherly help.

 

“Junepy’s going to be the handsomest bear there!” announced Mbot proudly. Then he said with alarm, “But he needs a tie!”

 

At last, everyone dressed and ready, we headed into town. “The volcano music is so beautiful,” mused Mbot from the back seat.  “But why is it so beautiful? Why does it sound like swans singing?”

 

Why, indeed? I had no answer. But in my mind, the evening had already paid for itself.

 

When at last we pulled into the parking lot of the church where the preformance was being held, he studied the crowd. “Are we in the right place?” he asked. “I see lots of old people.”

 

“Then we KNOW it’s the right place,” I replied.

 

“No Mom,” he insisted. “It’s not the right place. This is the senior center.”

 

Indeed it did look a senior center. There was even a big white bus that had come from the senior center. Mbot was the youngest attendee by about forty years. There were a handful of twenty-somethings–literally, I could count them on my hands–and one teenage girl with her mom.

 

I thought the silver-haired crowd might express fear at our disruptive potential, but without exception they appeared delighted by the presence of the bot and his bear. Many observed his outfit with a sigh of envy. If only we could wear fleecy dinosaur one-piece zip-up pajamas!, everyone agreed.

 

We settled into a pew. The lights dimmed. The woman behind us sneezed. The musicians appeared. The concert began. “Mom, I’m dehydrated,” whispered Mbot. I found with horror that his sippy cup was empty. Thankfully, the M&Ms in my purse provided distraction. The woman behind us sneezed again. Beside me on the pew, which seemed to be designed by or for ascetics, squirming occurred. My blood pressure rose. In spite of the soothing and lovely tones of Mozart’s Quartet in D Major, K. 575, I sat rigid, hoping the squirming would be contained to our five board feet of bench.

 

It was.

 

There was considerably less squirming during the next piece, Bartok’s Quartet no. 1, due no doubt to its energetic and unpredictable progression, and so when Intermission finally arrived, with its promise of water, cookies, and an opportunity to run intervals at the back of the sanctuary, Mbot had actually earned many charmed smiles and compliments. “We need more young blood!” exclaimed one couple with delight. The woman behind us sneezed again.

 

“Allergies?” I asked with heartfelt sympathy, when she asked me for a tissue, which I provided.

 

“Do you have a cat?” she replied.

 

I admitted that we did, and she eyed Junepy suspiciously. “I’ll bet the fur is all over that.”

 

I bit back the urge to say, “Him. The fur is all over him.” but I did defend him. “Actually, he’s way cleaner than he looks.”

 

Still leveling a doleful gaze at Junepy, she replied, “I find that hard to believe.”

 

After intermission, Mbot lay on Junepy listening to the Schumann Piano Quintet until his lids slowly dropped, and he fell asleep. I finally relaxed.

 

Afterward, I carried Mbot through the warm night to the car. The sneezing woman kindly and bravely offered to carry Junepy.

 

In the following days, Mbot would claim that his favorite part of the concert were the orange M&Ms, and that he liked “to listen to beautiful music, not watch it.” But I consider the evening a triumph for chamber music, for children, and for cat-dander-carrying bears everywhere.

 

New Superhero, “Naked-Boy,” Sighted Near Phoenix,

it is rumored that Naked-Boy shares a tailor with the Emperor. (library.sc.edu)

It is rumored that Naked-Boy shares a tailor with the Emperor. (library.sc.edu)

….Experts are still debating exactly what his superpowers are, and whether they are helpful on Planet Earth. One eye-witness reports seeing him do the superpee, shooting, in a fit of defiance against larger powers, urine up to two feet onto the wall behind the toilet.

Another eye-witness, or possibly the same one, claimed she saw him break through a discipline deflector shield that was supposed to be protecting items on a very high counter, and obtain an entire bunch of bananas, simultaneous upsetting a stainless-steel decorative trivet which landed on Naked-Boy’s foot.

Still another eye-witness has produced proof that the newest and smallest superhero pranced across newspapers splattered with still-wet oil-based magnetic wall paint during his mother’s latest attempt at home improvement. The witness was charged with negligent looking-away-from Naked-Boy while being in charge of him. Naked-Boy does not appear to be magnetic. He does, however, appear to be naked.

He was first sighted several mornings ago, after his mother dressed him for school, or thought she did. Soon afterward, he pranced into the living room in his distinctive “costume”  and declared, “I’m NAKED-BOY! Meet NAKED-BOY! I’m SOOOOooOO NAKED!”

There are no photos available, in the interest of protecting the privacy of the private parts of the party.