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!

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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.

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.

Attack of the Eggliens

2013 March 30 hike & eggliens 021

The first egglien spaceship arrived in the docking bay. Close behind it was a second, this one with a more elaborate antenna, and an eye :

2013 March 30 hike & eggliens 024

The hatch opened.

The eggliens had arrived,

2013 March 30 hike & eggliens 023

bringing with them a unique and unforeseen dilemma:

How do you convince your kids to eat an egg that is looking at them? An egg upon which they painstakingly placed the eyes and hair themselves?

And am *I* going to have to eat twenty-two hardboiled eggliens in secret, all by myself?

Pinata de Ironman: Back From the Dead

ironman 1 fullbody with m

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.

ironman complete thighs up

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.

ironman complete legs down

ironman torso legs

Here we have Ironman at about the midway point. The coat hanger that we hung him from is visible sticking out his neck and arm holes. The hanger eventually required reinforcement in the form of Gorilla glue, when the metal hook pulled out of the wood.

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?

ironman behind complete hanging

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:

If I Build an Ironman Pinata, Will Robert Downey, Jr. Jump Out of It?

Ironman, The Killer Pinata, Part 2: Taking Up Arms

T – 19 Days: Ironman the Killer Pinata, Part 3

T – 8 Days: Ironman the Needy Pinata Boyfriend

T – 4 Days: Ironic Man

T – 2 Days: You Say Pinata, I Say Peanuta

T – 0: Blast Off: (From Both Ends)

2 Wheels + 2 Pedals = 1 Lone Mbot

2013 january 24 bike! 002

There is something different about this picture, and it’s not Gbot’s funky shades.

Learning to ride a bike seems somehow more important than the first day of school. Maybe because riding a bike is something you do–pretty much the same way–for the rest of your life, or at least until your get so old that your children tell you you’re in danger of breaking a hip.

Santa delivered Mbot’s 16″-wheel Giant Animator without training wheels, because I hoped, after eighteen months spent cruising around on his Strider, Mbot would have the balance and confidence to take off on a pedal bike, in spite of the larger frame and a seat so high that only his toes touch the ground. The training wheels were in the cupboard, just in case.

In the past three weeks, in spite of the cold, Mbot’s been out five or six times on the big boy bike, for a few minutes at a time, with me holding on, or cruising by himself down the driveway, pedaling once or twice before putting a foot to the ground. The seat was technically too low, but I thought being able to put both feet on the ground would give him confidence. It seemed to, but it also made it more difficult to get leverage on the pedals. A couple of days ago, I raised the seat. It’s still a little low, and I’ll raise it more in a week or two.

And yesterday, trailed by Gbot, still on his Strider prebike, Mbot rolled out his new pedaling skills for a ride that lasted a good three minutes before he put his feet down, at which point he immediately asked for a push and headed off again, and this time I didn’t look at my watch. The bot can ride a bike.

He toppled over a couple of times, and got up, unphased. I love to watch this version of human-ness–this super-elastic, Flubber-butted version, this unossified phase, as different from me as a caterpillar from a butterfly, although I am not the one with wings.

After twenty minutes of pedaling–getting the hang of turning in circles, going fast!, and avoiding his brother, who was zooming around like a Gretzky slap shot–Mbot steered up onto the sidewalk, lay down the wheels, sat down, and arranged two rocks in front of him. “Mom,” he said, “Is it okay if I play a little rock game with myself? I don’t need two persons.”

And, his cape of independence settled visibly around him, a big “M” emblazoned across his shoulders, that’s exactly what he did.

Warning: Those who haven't given birth may not be able to see the cape.

Warning: Those who haven’t given birth may not be able to see the cape.

Just in Time for New Year’s: A Parable for Mondavi Times

Back by popular demand, this post appears here in time to help those of you who might face tricky ethical questions at a New Year’s Eve party. May you find yourselves in less costly shoes than I found myself at last year’s Halloween party.
"President Obama accepts both the Nobel Peace Prize and a glass of Robert Mondavi Cabernet." Winespectator.com. I achieved peace by giving the wine back.

“President Obama accepts both the Nobel Peace Prize and a glass of Robert Mondavi Cabernet.” Winespectator.com. I achieved peace by giving the wine back.

Here’s a funny little story about my Halloween.

It was the third day of Halloween. Our party was at 4 on Sunday, a “MeetUp” hosted by a mother in one of the toddler Meetup.com groups we occasionally participate in. I brought at $14 bottle of Cabernet instead of a food item. There is always way too much food at these things, and so I hoped my decision to bring a bottle of wine for the hostess would be acceptable. I explained in jest as I handed it to her that I figured she might need it after a toddler party. I placed it on the counter with the other drinks.

Miniature Buzz Lightyears, paleontologists, ballerinas, and superheroes darted through the rooms. I set up my own superheroes with small plates of hotdog and fruit. I poured them something green from one of two pitchers on the counter set up as the bar. Behind the pitchers were stacks of cups, a few bottles of water, bottles of tonic, and three or four 1.5 liter bottles of wine lined up across the back. I hadn’t thought that wine would be provided, but how nice, I thought. Since there is, I will have a glass.

I couldn’t find a corkscrew on the bar, and since it’s the kind of thing I might forget in the frenzy of preparing for a party, I asked the hostess and she provided one. I reached for a 1.5 liter bottle of 2009 Robert Mondavi cab, wanting to open a lesser bottle than the one I’d brought. I see Robert Mondavi cabs all the time at Costco and Walgreens and CVS. I opened it. I poured. I drank. At one point during the evening, the hostess asked if it had been corked. I thought that was a strange question. “We’ve had it forever,” she added.

“No, it’s fine,” I replied. And it was. It was nothing special. Having bartended at fancy catered parties for several years, I knew corked when I tasted it. I also knew special.

I drank two glasses over the course of the evening. The boys ate cupcakes. The hostess’s smile never left her face but never quite reached her eyes.

Three days later, I received an email. This was it:

Betsy- I had to get this off my chest and felt I needed to let you know how upset I was that you opened my $140 bottle of 2000 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cab. The more days that have gone by the more upset about I’ve become. I’ve never had an issue with them sitting on my counter behind everything else. It wasn’t ‘retro’ of me and I really didn’t care if it was corked….I never intended on opening it and even if I did it certainly wouldn’t have been for a Mom’s group Halloween party. When you asked for a corkscrew I figured you were opening the bottle you brought. I specifically stated on the comments that if you wanted an adult beverage to bring your own, We were not providing.

I was stunned. How could I have been so socially unacceptable? How could I have been so rude? How could I have been so clueless? I wrote back immediately:

Oh my god. (Name of Hostess here), I had no idea. I am appalled. I had thought that the bottles on the counter were for consumption. I will replace it. I feel sick to my stomach that that happened.

While the Midgets took advantage of my distraught state, chasing the pets, making a mud pie on the patio and bringing it in to eat on the living room rug, I made phone calls and searched the internet for a replacement bottle, the first of perhaps four hours spent over the next few days. I called a restaurant in Boston that offered what looked like the last remaining bottle on the Earth for $300. Maybe I should have told them it wasn’t worth that. I called Robert Mondavi himself, who had on hand only the 2000 Reserve, but in the regular .75 liter size.

Finally, on the third day, I paid $40 (refundable when I canceled my subscription within the week) for a year’s membership to wine-searcher.com. And there it was, at a store in New Jersey, for $129 plus $25 shipping. A better wine, no doubt as it was the Reserve, but otherwise the same. I bought it. Kicking myself for my stupid mistake.

But meanwhile, the initial self-flagellation was subsiding into a more rational evaluation of just whose mistake it was. As a bartender in people’s homes, I had never seen a drinks counter set up with bottles that were not for consumption. Yes, I should have looked at the label more carefully: 2000 is not 2009. Yes, perhaps I should have read the long list of “comments” posted by mothers planning to attend. The absence of a corkscrew should have given me pause. But.

Moreover, the tone of the note implied not that I had made an honest mistake, but that I had knowingly opened a bottle of both monetary and sentimental value. What had the hostess accomplished by sending such a missive? She hadn’t asked me to replace the bottle. She felt bad and wanted to make me feel bad, too. Not exactly a hostessy act.

To get some sense of reality, I shared the story with my sister as objectively as I could. “You saved some other poor idiot from doing the same thing,” she basically said. “And what’s more, she’s the least gracious hostess in the universe.

My sister related the story to a friend of hers who happens to be a lawyer. A woman who also has been a polite guest. “The woman was asking for it,” she said. “She should be socially shot between the eyes.”

Well, she is a lawyer.

I had imagined, cringing, the scene at the party after I’d left. I expected that the organizers of the toddler group would quietly ask me and my toddlers to un-member ourselves.

In the following days, several members contacted me. But their reactions were quite the opposite. Do not replace the bottle, several counseled. And if you do, don’t replace it with the one you’re planning to replace it with.

Their support provided as good a reality check as the other opinions I’d heard. But I’d already ordered the wine, and it’s not like the original bottle had opened itself.

I thought of a woman, who I will call R. For many years, both my sister and I had catered small dinner parties for her. In spite of vast financial resources that included a little vineyard in France, R always cooked the meals herself, leaving us only with last-minute preparations, serving, tending bar, and cleaning up. She prided herself on her abilities and originality. She was a lovely, smart, compassionate, no-nonsense woman whose modest origins included professional catering. We had witnessed her navigate some treacherous social straits to the advantage of all. When my sister and I have an etiquette issue of our own, we ask ourselves, “What would R do?”

R, I decided, would take responsibility for her actions, even if they were only a small part of a debacle, and inject grace into a situation that was in sore need of it. Her character (and her bank account) would be big enough to absorb the cost. My bank account will never be as big as R’s, but I have more hope for my character.

Two weeks later, the bottle arrived. I brought it to the Halloween Hostess from Hell. But I couldn’t make a clean get-away. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I said, kicking myself internally, “The next time you invite people into your home who have never been, you might want to remove anything from the drinks counter that’s not meant for consumption.”

Her cat-and-the-canary smile vanished. “I’ve never had this problem….”

“I’m not arguing,” I broke in with a smile. “Just making a suggestion. So that someone else doesn’t open this.”

Maybe I should have recognized that the expense was too great and that I had been a player in a mistake that I really couldn’t make right. Maybe I would be a bigger person if I had made the decision not to replace it. I don’t know. Wisdom under such circumstances comes with experience. But I felt better. I have won peace with my decision, if not with the Hostess from Hell.

What would you have done? And what’s your worst etiquette story?

What the Directions for Your LeapPad Don’t Tell You

During the LeapPad Introduction Session, Husbot forgot to tell Gbot one important thing.

During the LeapPad Introduction Session, Husbot forgot to tell Gbot one important thing.

That when The Backyardigans doesn’t come on, you should not–repeat, NOT–apply a wooden boat ornament to the screen forcefully and repeatedly.

We will be holding a memorial service for the LeapPad later this week. In lieu of gifts, please send cash donations to:

Gbot’s second LeapPad fund, c/o Gbot’s mother.

And so three Christmas lessons have been learned: 1. If you are frustrated with your LeapPad, do not assault it enthusiastically with a wooden boat ornament. 2. Spend only half of what you can afford on a gift for your three-year-old, especially if it is electronic, because there is an excellent chance that you will soon be purchasing a second one. 3. The day after Christmas is apparently an extremely popular day for shopping. If, on this day, you find yourself in the market for a popular electronic device for three-year-olds, do not bother to attempt to actually shop for it. You may find yourself having a conversation like this:

Recorded Voice: “Please continue holding. There are (pause) FOUR (pause) guests ahead of you in line.”

Person, twelve minutes later: “Customer care, how can I help you.”

Me: “Hello. Could you please tell me if you have any LeapPad2’s on your shelves?”

Person: “I’ll check on that for you.”

Eight minutes later: “I’m having a hard time getting that information. Hold please.”

Six minutes later: “It’s hard to tell in our system.”

Me: “Umm…Could you look on the shelf?”

Person with obvious irritation: “Honey, if I walk across the store, fifteen people are gonna stop me to ask for something.”

Me: “Okay! Sorry! I didn’t know!”

Person: “No trucks delivered yesterday, because it was Christmas. The day before was Christmas Eve. The shelves were vacant. Check back tonight. There is a truck due in. Something might be unloaded. There’s a chance.”

Me: “Okay! Okay! Thank you! And I’m so sorry I even considered paying the company you work for for a product built for three-year-olds that can’t even withstand a bit of fisticuffs with a wooden boat ornament! Keep your shipload of WimpPads!”

(I did not actually say that last part out loud.)

Meanwhile, the perpetrator of the original incident had fallen asleep in the back seat. I had let him think that That Was That, no second chances for someone who doesn’t use the Accompanying Stylus to communicate with one’s LeapPad, and perhaps the tears and trauma had worn him out. It was the first nap he’d taken in five days.

I can’t honestly say it wasn’t worth it.

On Waiting. Or WHERE’S MY MARSHMALLOW?

methodlogical.wordpress.com

After Gbot and I stopped at the third home-improvement store in two days, in search of proper track lighting, proper bulbs, an adequate fan, and a dimmer switch in the right size plate in the right color (the less off- of two off-whites), I was waiting in line at the Starbucks.  I deserved, I thought, something I had not made myself. I was pleased to see there were four cars ahead of me, because of the new gift I’m giving myself, the time to read. I reached across to the passenger seat where my copy of Pamela Druckerman‘s Bringing Up Bebe was optimistically waiting.

Last night, I got to the part in the book about waiting. That is, making your child wait. Not too long. Just long enough to begin to teach him how to deal with small frustrations. The theory is, if he learns to self-distract, if he learns patience, he will be happier and more successful in dealing with the old frustrting world which certainly, on a daily basis, makes you wait. Having a child wait also has the happy effect of keeping the constant requests that ricochet off a mother’s skull fourteen hours a day from actually penetrating bone and causing the gray matter to dribble out onto your blouse. “Attend,” the French mothers simply say. “Wait.” And, astoundingly, the demand is met, according to Druckerman, with actual waiting.

I thought I’d been effectively saying Wait. But in the past few days, we’ve been practicing more. I have said it twenty times today, in situations ranging from “I want a drink of water” to “I need a pencil.”

Needless to say, in the past sixty “waits,” I’ve become acutely aware of how immediately my children want things, all the time.

As I was waiting in the drive-through, reading as fast as I could, I remembered the famous marshmallow test of the sixties–and then, several paragraphs down, Druckerman brought it up. She not only discusses it, but she goes to the source–one reason I am enjoying this book so much. She meets the man behind the marshmallows, Walter Mischel who invented the famous marshmallow test.

The marshmallow test isn’t a way to choose the best filling for your s’more–it was a longterm study on how the ability to delay gratification in childhood relates directly to an adult’s longterm success in school and a career.

Briefly, the marshmallow test involved watching on hidden cameras a child left alone in a room at a table with a single marshmallow on it. The child has been told that if he doesn’t eat the marshmallow right away, he’ll get another soon (in fifteen minutes). Then the child is left alone in the room. Just he and his impulses and the marshmallow. Seventy percent of the time, the results were the same as when Walter the Farting Dog (not, apparently, named after Walter Mischel), was left in the cruise ship’s hold with the cheese. (Walter the Farting Dog Goes on a Cruise.) (Walter eats the whole cheese.) The children who didn’t eat the marshmallow–who waited and got two–proved to be more successful in school, have significantly higher SAT scores, and feel more fulfilled in their careers later in life.

The marshmallow test revealed not only that the children with self control would learn to fare better in the world, but how they did it. They weren’t just better at being patient–merely sitting quietly with their hands folded–but at–lo and behold–distracting themselves while they waited.

After waiting in the drive-through for nearly ten minutes, I got my coffee, and I got a reading fix. (I was distracting myself from waiting for my coffee by reading.) Gbot and I returned home with our bounty of electrical gadgets, and the electrician announced we would have to wait ’til Monday for him to finish the job. No lights in the bedrooms for four days. Waiting. It’s for everyone.

But I have too many things to do to let lightless bedrooms faze me. And–not married until thirty-nine–I’ve got a lot of years of practice under my belt.

For the bots, this waiting thing hasn’t been easy. As I type, Mbot is slouched in a chair looking at The Tortoise and the Jackrabbit, by Susan Lowell. He doesn’t want to be looking at the book, or sitting in the chair. Husbot has told him that it’s time to sit quietly in the chair with a book. The moment Husbot leaves the room, Mbot slides off the chair, his feet touching the ground, and makes eye contact with me over the edge of the book. He points to the sofa. His mouth quivers. Tears begin to fall. “Mama,” he wails.

Husbot returns. “You’re old enough to practice sitting in the chair,” he says. Tears. More “Mamas.” It is uncomfortable being me right now because my heart has migrated across the room and is in that chair while the rest of my body perches, feeling heartless, on my own chair. “I’m just waiting and wating,” wails Mbot. “I really just wanted to hug Mama…”

I know this is best. I know he must learn to distract himself. I know it is harder for Mbot to learn this than for many children–Gbot, for example. I don’t trust myself that I know the best way to teach him this. But surely practice cannot hurt.

“I want to get out of this place.” Pause. “Mama.” Pause. Big gulp of air with the hint of a yawn. “Mommy, mommy.”

He never calls me Mommy.

“Malcolm, that’s enough,” says Husbot, striding in. “I want you to sit still and read your book.”

“I don’t want to read my book….” Wail, wail, wail, sniffle, bawl, gulp, cry. How many sounds there are for self-pity. The wind chimes clong and gong from outside the screen door. The wailing stops. The soothing tones have changed the subject, at least for several seconds.

“No, I wanted to hug Mama. I’ve been sitting here for these many minutes…I want to go…”

I remember again the clock my sister recently bought for her twins. Not just any clock: the Time Timer:

This model is suggested for children with autism or ADHD. A list of various models can be found on Friendship Circle Blog.

I order it. Husbot leaves the room. Mbot sits quietly for several minutes. “Can I come out now?” he asks.

Husbot lets him, telling him he’s been a good bear, telling him he’s old enough to learn to read quietly for thirty minutes while Mom works.

And I’m thinking this is working only because Husbot and I are working together and Gbot’s got the croup and is in the bedroom lying down. I have found it impossible to enforce a quiet reading time while running interference between the bots.

But it is rewarding to see that Mbot can do it–can sit in a chair with a book for thirty minutes, even if it’s thirty whining, wailing minutes. It’s a start. We will work on it. I will wait.

Newsflash: Reading is Relaxing!

Gbot sets out breakfast and an audience, about a year ago. Would I look this stress-free if I read to myself over breakfast?

Overheard at the coffeeshop on Saturday:

“So, have you read Harry Potter?”

“Yeah.”

“What book are you on?”

The conversation wouldn’t have been noteworthy, except that the two conversationalists’ chins barely skimmed the table top as they sipped their hot chocolate. They were four years old–Mbot and his friend Mbug. She’s a bright kid whose mom had told me she wouldn’t sit still to listen to picture books. I loaned her the first Harry Potter. They were on chapter five; she was riveted.

The same day, the news over at the Huffington Post was that reading a good book lowers stress levels. HuffPo editors and bloggers chimed in on their reasons how and why in Turn the Page on Stress. 

The timing was interesting, as a few weeks ago, I picked up a book I’d had on a side table for a month. I was too tired to read, and too tired to sleep. I lay down on the sofa, listening for a bot to call me back for one more hug, and opened the book. I knew that one reason I felt so weary was that I hadn’t gotten–or given myself–a chance to read more than half a New Yorker article in over a month–probably two.

The book wasn’t fiction: recommended by a friend, it was Edward Hallowell and Peter Jensen’s Superparenting for ADD. The title might reveal one of the reasons I’m so tired, but it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. A while back, Mbot was diagnosed with “very low level” Attention Deficit Disorder–a borderline case, a case that’s almost not a case, but I feel it’s something I needed to learn to manage more effectively than I was managing it. I dislike the label because so much ignorance surrounds it and it carries so many negative connotations. In learning more about ADD, I’m learning to change my own behavior, which helps him with his; the result is a happier bot and a happier household. Hallowell’s positive approach to the issue is delightful and his storytelling is instructive and amusing.

An hour after I started reading, I was thirty-eight pages in and feeling a much-missed feeling of lightness and optimism. I recognized I felt better partly because of the contents of the book, but partly due to the simple act of leaving my own drama to witness those of others. I was reminded, through narrative, that obstacles can be overcome for a happy conclusion, and that recognizing the truth and dealing with it is a source of power–and having control over a situation is a way to lower stress levels.

I am of course reminded often of the de-stressing powers of reading, but it is a constant source of amazement to me how thoroughly we can ignore things we know, or forget them. I am reminded of reading’s calming effect by Mbot himself. Every night at bedtime, and usually during the day, I read aloud, in addition to a few picture books, a chapter (usually more) of Harry Potter (we’re on book two), a chapter of Little House on the Prairie (we’re on book two), and a chapter of The Hardy Boys. (We jump around according to whatever’s on the library shelf). Mbot, who has shown little patience with learning the letters of the alphabet, and who is often pushing the boundaries of his environment, is completely absorbed by a long narrative. He often asks the meaning of unfamiliar words, but I am not sure how much he understands of the story arc. Yet he does understand there are characters to be concerned about, and that there is a story arc. He would sit listening until my voice gave out or I collapsed face down, drooling on the Heir of Slytherin.

On Saturday, in addition to coming across HuffPo’s article, I happened to read Flannery O’Connor‘s essay, “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” in which she writes,

People without hope not only don’t write novels, but what is more to the point, they don’t read them. They don’t take long looks at anything, because they lack the courage. The way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience, and the novel, of course, is a way to have experience.

When I came across O’Connor’s observation, I realized I had put off reading (to myself) for that month or those months not simply because I was too tired or didn’t have time–but because I lacked the courage to take a long look at things. I was resisting entering a drama–anyone else’s drama–because I didn’t have enough emotional energy for their’s, too: I am a slow reader, and invest a lot in whatever I’m reading. But in those thirty-eight pages of Hallowell’s book, I was introduced to nearly a dozen people’s dramas, and instead of feeling oppressed by them, I felt uplifted. Since that night, I’ve been making time to read (to myself!) every day, even if it is just for a few minutes in the car before heading inside. In fact, I’m back to my old habit of reading several books at once–like I said, if only a few pages at a time.

And so stress-relief is even closer than the new gym with two hours of child-care per day. It’s as close at hand as my bookshelves. Now all I need to do is remember that.