But now, with altitude,
The bots are back.
It was a Halloween miracle, or several: Gbot’s brown turtleneck arrived via UPS at 3:45 p.m. Having forgotten to load up their pumpkin buckets, I bought the last $1.99 cauldron at the corner drugstore at 4:10 p.m. There was a $1.99 bat bag hanging above it. In spite of a still-coldy, sore-nosed Gbot (and after the application to the nostrils of Vaseline, which ingited a bout of wailing that only a piece of pizza could stop), we were all outfitted in time to take pictures. And Gbot wore his costume. All evening. The Great Pumpkin surely was watching over us.
I hope The Great Pumpkin was watching over you, too!
I just walked out the door holding two of Husbot’s shirts, folded. I am not on the way to the dry cleaner, nor does Husbot own shirts that require poisons to cleanse them; if they reach that state, they get thrown out.
I was headed to the coffee bar, which in addition to coffee, happens to serve a bracing New Zealand sauvignon blanc by the glass. Getting into the car with an armful of shirts by mistake just illustrates how dire my quest was: I am in a state that requires poison to cleanse me.
Yes, it is only 3:29. This is my first and will probably be my last drink of the day, if you’re not counting an oversized homemade iced decaf mocha and not enough water.
It hasn’t been a bad day. In fact, it’s been a good day. It just feels like it’s been about three days, since 6 a.m. Probably because I’m trying to steer us all to a successful Halloween.
I should have gone to bed earlier last night; instead, I sat up practicing face painting. Which I scheduled myself to do for two hours tomorrow morning at Mbot’s preschool. Not only did I offer to repeat last year’s effort, which was valiant if not entirely successful (read about it here!), but to paint a panel of sample designs so that the woman who will take over for me during the afternoon Spookfest will avoid the embarrassment of instantaneously forgetting what a frog looks like when called upon to conjure one onto a four-year-old’s cheek.
Facepainting is kind of like regular painting, except really fast on a moving target. So even Picasso might have messed it up. Of course, chances are, you wouldn’t be able to tell if he did.
I find, while I sit here with my glass of Infamous Goose, I need to list the day’s triumphs:
Harry Potter gown hemmed (with black duct tape) and ironed.
Harry Potter broom padded at the dangerous end with black fleece. Extra glue added between handle and bristles to preempt mid-trick-or-treat meltdown due to falling-apart broom.
Chipless Dale costume examined and sighed over. Projected chance that Gbot will actually wear it without a fuss: 60%.
Chances that I’ll mess up the face painting required to produce a smile and two buck teeth on Gbot’s lower face tomorrow: an even 50%.
Garbage taken out.
Car washed. (Really. Needed. To Be. Done.)
Doggie poop cleaned up off living room floor.
Gbot’s nose wiped (twenty times. Tail end of cold.)
Hands washed between doggie poop pick-up and nose-wiping.
A still-coldy Gbot cuddled extra and listened to while wailing over 1. missing his chance to count down for Mbot before he launched out the door to the playground. 2. missing his chance to strap himself into car because he was wailing about missing his chance to count down for Mbot.
Husbot pissed off at wife’s attitude when he came home from work at 2:45 to spell me ’til 5. Excuse wife for not breaking out her first date smile when he threatens to lull them to sleep at 4 pm, which means she’ll be up ’til 9 p.m. putting them to sleep again.
The good news: I am almost ready for Halloween! And my friends and relatives on the Eastern seaboard are safe.
Last but not least, about the photo: I took this two weeks ago in Idaho’s Wood River Valley. Every year, my parents’ neighbor, architect and spare-time-hilarious-actor-in-local-productions, Steve Pruitt, put this witch up at the corner. Steve passed last fall, having lost a long battle with a rare kind of cancer. I never actually met him in person, but many years ago, I saw him in Don Quixote, and I still remember how hard I laughed. Other neighbors have taken up the Halloween witch-in-trouble ritual. And one morning in mid-October, we found her at the end of the rainbow.
I finished another pair of pants! Mbot’s new Race-Cat Pants are of Kona cotton and rock six pockets. Pockets are popular in our house. The pocket fabric was designed by “krikany”–at least that’s the username–at Spoonflower.com, a fabulous site where you can buy fabric by the yard in hundreds if not thousands of designs by anyone and everyone including yourself. If you yearn to turn your child’s artwork into a bolt of silk, this is the place to do it.
Mbot wore the pants this morning (it’s cool enough–at least ’til noon–for pants!) and, to the tune of The Boys of Summer, which was wafting from across the parking lot from a painter’s truck, hammed for the camera.
Eat your heart out, Lord of the Dance.
Some friends generously sent us home from a playdate with a sample from their backyard watermelon patch. Mbot promptly dropped it, which is the best way to find out if it’s ready to eat. The dinosaur thought so, but was a bit outsized.
The antique cat was less impressed:
In the end, we gutted and ate it. No pictures of that. We were all too sticky. It was kind of sad to slay the little guy. Gave a new dimension to the old saying, “I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me.”
Today we’ll just add some fresh basil leaves and crumbled feta, and finish him off. We have no remorse.
There has been more rain this summer than any summer in the last five years. Which means that here in West Phoenix, we’ve been rained on maybe eight times since March, and all in the last three weeks. As the heat builds over the desert, clouds begin building over the Bradshaw Mountains, twenty miles to the north. Some years, they build for a month of afternoons, hovering like a promise on the horizon and vanishing by morning into a dense humidity that dissipates in the baking oven of midmorning.
But this year, the rain has been falling. The timing coincided with my lugging the livingroom rug outside and draping it over the patio railing to hose off after the latest bouts of canine incontinence. My plan was that it would dry in twelve hours, at which point I’d bring it back in and call the rug cleaner. But then it rained, so I left it out to dry. And then it rained again. And again.
But while the rug was languishing in the storms and the eucalyptus on the front lawn came down one night, the bots reveled in the puddles appeared and reappeared miraculously overnight. One of Mbot’s fashion-foward friends asked her mother if she could buy a “mud suit” especially for playing in puddles. The bots are not so concerned about specific mud duds. For them, anything will do, from diapers to school clothes.
But while my patience for tomatoes smashed on a door is limited, my patience for mud-soaked weebots is about infinite. I grew up in Juneau, Alaska, on the edge of a coastal rainforest. It was a world of reflections. Although I found the near-constant overcast oppressive, the reflections–on the bay, on the wet macadam, in the puddles on the playground–were like live scraps of energy, rippling with their own life–maybe I liked them so much because like liquid mirrors, they added light to world of blues and grays.
I have come to crave the rain here like I craved the sun there. And so when the puddles appear, we sit in them. And we pay the extra fee for having the backing on the rug replaced because, it turns out, saturation is not nearly as good for rugs as it is for children.
The weekend out of town with old friends was as wonderful as I’d hoped, and I returned home (extremely tired, but that’s part of the game) to about what I expected: requests I’d made had been ignored but everyone was alive. Husbot reported that on Sunday morning, Gbot awoke early, as usual, and announced, “Mbot ate Mama.” Then he added sadly, “Mama was our friend.”
His explanation for my absence made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. And up until a couple of weeks ago I might have just left it at “oh, how cute.” But I have been reading a book called “Bad Guys Don’t Have Birthdays: Fantasy Play at Four” (The University of Chicago Press, 1988) It was written by Vivan Gussin Paley nearly twenty-five years ago, won the 1990 James N. Britton Award, and should be required reading for anyone who’s ever walked into Party City and purchased a candle in the shape of the number 4.
At the time she wrote this slim volume, Ms. Paley had been a preschool teacher for two decades. In order to understand the complex systems of play she witnessed daily among three- and four-year-olds, she began recording conversations and transcribing them each evening, documenting the children’s play and interaction, discerning patterns, connecting the play to events occurring in each child’s life, examining the interpersonal dynamics and excavating the “rules” of play. The book follows a group of four-year-olds through a school year, acting out such complications as a new baby in the family, parents working, the appearance of an older relative’s boyfriend.
“In fantasy play” writes Paley, “you sidestep that which cannot be controlled and devise scenes in which fears are resolved.”
Discovering this book was like unearthing the Rosetta Stone to Mbot’s play and conversation, or, for fans of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, like having a Babblefish on my shoulder: I suddenly and, it felt, magically, am beginning to understand the language he and Gbot use to describe the world they create daily–or rather create, change, destroy, and re-create–so richly inhabited by good guys and bad guys, Good Luke (Skywalker) and Bad Luke, Good Spiderman and Bad Cockroach Spiderman, Wonder Woman and Cinderella and Ree-punzel and dragons and four-headed monsters and bullet guns and laser beams and dy-no-mite.
What is all this violent talk and bam-bam-bam! with a Trio “gun”, I often wondered, when Mbot has trouble watching any movie–from Ratatouille to Babe–without running with a yelp into the kitchen while I fastforward through the parts where anyone is talking or acting in a hurtful way?
In part, here’s what this talk is: he is acting out his fears and overcoming them–just like Paley’s students do:
“A master of disguises, Fredrick will conjure up new dangers and, with a flick of his cape, be the instrument of rescue. In so doing it is he who is saved.”
He is taking control of his world. In Paley’s words, “Any unknown, it seems, can be made into a bad guy.” And in play, “I pretend, therefore I am. I pretend, therefore I know.”
If Mbot ate me, Mbot’s the bad guy, and my absence in much less threatening than if I had left on purpose. And in the bots’ world, it is a fact–reinforced in everything from Burt Dow, Deep Water Man to Your Body Battles a Stomachache–that what has been eaten can be rescued, regurgitated, or resurrected. And my return Monday morning showed him he was right.
Aside from last night, when Gbot shook an enormous red thigh until a lone, leftover Tootsie Pop fell out, life P.I. (Post Ironman) has returned to normal. It’s a heavy, pre-monsoon 106 degrees outside our air-conditioned box, and so we went to the zoo early. The fun of visiting the zoo often and at different times of day is that it offers the opportunity to see all of the animals active some of the time. Yesterday, one of the normally sedate Colobus monkeys was zooming back and forth across forty feet of tree branch, long white fringes flying, making him look like a throwback from the seventies; any minute I expected him to hop on a mechanical bull.
Mbot wanted to ride the merry-go-round, but the zoo was in sleepy summer weekday mode and it wasn’t open. As we walked past the silent carousel, Mbot asked thoughtfully, “Do you think the guy who works there has to stay home and listen to his mother?”
A little further on, Gbot broke free, raced past the monkeys and the birds, and disappeared around the eucalyptus trees. I knew where he was heading: to the reptile house. The bots are in thrall to reptiles these days, as long as they are alive and not just a reconstructed set of ancient bones. I found him using his whole small body to angle open the glass door. It was all his thirty-seven pounds could do to keep it open long enough for me to slip through, too. He looked up, his rump and shoulders still pressed hard against the glass, and said from beneath sweaty curls, “I opened the door with my AMAZING POWERS!”
It occurred to me that he had never opened that door before. Had never been allowed to; had never been able to. And now he could. It wouldn’t have been any more amazing if I had suddenly shot a web out of my index finger and pinkie and swung on it into the top of the eucalyptus.
My single-minded pursuit of the perfect Ironman last week removed me from the daily reminders of how amazing the weebots’ world is, and mine. The most amazing power, I think, is the power to be amazed.
Vote for me by clicking here!
He was one by the village clock….
He was two by the village clock.
And hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that baby without hair.*
*With a nod to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who wrote that long poem.