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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It is Not Instinctive to Not Eat Your Soup While Driving

From the back seat:

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

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

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

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

Attack of the Eggliens

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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 :

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The hatch opened.

The eggliens had arrived,

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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?

It Hops Around the Sea, Scaring People

Not this guy, silly--a beluga whale. (Mbot at the fabulous Phoenix Children's Museum.)

Not this guy, silly–a beluga whale. (Mbot at the fabulous Phoenix Children’s Museum.)

To make things easy today, and to prove that the bots are still here, being their eminently quotable selves, I’ve transcribed a few lines from the past forty-eight hours. You can see that we haven’t been bored; our topics ranged from mammals to physics to love. They are all connected, after all.

Mbot, on the beluga whale: “We studied the Polar regions. All of us had to learn about the beluga whale. It hops around the sea scaring people.”

Gbot, on panda bears: “If I were a panda, I would eat ALL your bamboo.”

Mbot, on Gbot: “I want his stomach to get REALLY fat, so he floats away!”

Mbot, on me: “I think you taste good in your heart, Mom, cuz you make my heart beat really fast.”

Mbot on Junepbear: “Joompbear, you’re deesGUSting.” (I gasped inwardly when I heard this. Mbot was examining his old stuffed bear at close range, and I feared that he finally had gained some perspective on the ratty old thing’s rather poorly aging fur, which at this point doesn’t get a whole lot cleaner looking with washing. I feared I was witnessing the end of an era. I shouldn’t have worried. He continued lovingly, “You’ve got some jelly on your head!”

Mbot, on relativity: “So, germs think that garbage cans are continents?”

Gbot on ear cell hydration: “I poured water in my ear so my ear cells could have a drink.”

Mbot, from the back seat: “Can’t you please drop me off at Grandma’s, Mom? I really want to give you some peace.”

Mbot, having rethought his opinion of Gbot: “I want him to be cute for the rest of his life.”

Ditto, and right back atcha, kid.

 

First Day of School

2013 Jan 7 First Day of SCHOOL 012

The day began at 6 a.m. when Gbot, caught atop the box for his Fisher Price Circus in an attempt to extract marshmallows and sugar cereal (which is only in the house due to their inclusion in a Christmas cookie recipe) from the high cupboard, “I am checking to see if the marshmallows and poppers are not soggy.”

And then it was off to the potty. There are guinea pigs in the Montessori classroom, and Gbot adores anything guinea piggish or hamstery, and so I’ve been using that as bait to get him to the potty. For example: “When you go potty in the toilet like a big boy, you get to go to school with the guinea pigs!”

This morning upon successful pottying, he announced, “Oh, the guinea pigs will be SO HAPPY!”

2013 Jan 7 First Day of SCHOOL 013

Not as happy as Mama.

At school, Mbot led the family in one final flushworthy effort.
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And then they were off.

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I was thrilled. I was as thrilled as Gbot and the guinea pigs put together. I didn’t think, “Where has the time gone?” But I did want time to stop.

Maybe it’s having lived through the turn of the century that makes me so aware of the fact that it’s ’13, and to think about everything that happened in the ’13 that I’ve grown up with: 1913. Before World War 1. Before the Model T was in production. Before women could vote. Slavery had been abolished only forty years before. And in forty years, when I’m eighty-five, it’ll be 2053. The early fifties. In the early fifties, my grandpa was only just younger than I am now. He was born in ’15. It is impossible for me not to think of the young boys born near the turn of the last century, who I knew only as old men. Because for the children who will remember me as Great Grandma Etchart, wrinkly and white-haired, Mbot and Gbot will be those boys, who those children will know only as old men. I see this vaster span of time overlaid across every day like a web. And although I know it’s ridiculous, it makes me sad. Can’t we just replay the first day of preschool forever?

Chipless Dale and Mini-Harry: A Photo Essay

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!

Introducing the Love Child of Picasso, Euclid, and Martha Stewart

Dot-to-Dot: The love child of Picasso, Euclid, and Martha Stewart!

Yes, it’s an old-fashioned connect-the-dots game, brought into the twenty-first century by Husbot with an unmistakeable you-can-do-this-at-home! vibe.

I mentioned to him last night that I’d like to see Mbot trying to focus more on the shapes of numbers and letters, and so this morning he Mbot on his lap and drew some impromptu pictures, just faintly dotted outlines with numbers (in order, of course) at strategic points around the periphery.

And this perhaps is an alphabet-outlined sea-monster (C monster?) that’s been caught on a fishing line. Abdominal spikes added by Mbot.

I thought Husbot, although neither Picasso nor Euclid nor Martha, was pretty ingenius. Husbot asked Mbot to say the numbers or letters aloud as the tip of his colored pencil reached them. And you know, it kind of worked. But the big lesson for me was that customizing a silly connect-the-dots game makes it more interesting for the weebots, which means they actively engage, which means they learn more.

It was perfect for just-turned-four year-old Mbot–not so engaging for Gbot, not yet three. When I drew him a hamster (not shown, in order to retain my dignity), he claimed that hamsters do NOT have whiskers, and when I wrote the number 1 on top of his head, Gbot was so upset that I covered it up with a fire hat. “Let’s pretend he’s a Wonder Pet!” I cried, but it was in vain.

“I do not WANT a hamster in a fire hat!” cried Gbot back.

So, as with everything in parenting, even great ideas, there are potholes, and you will fall into them. But at least we’ll all go down counting.

Buck-toothed shark. Will he get you? It’s a number’s game.

Bad Guys Don’t Have Birthdays, and Mbot Ate Mommy

This little guy, eat me? It beats the alternative…. (Mbot. Photo credit: Solveig Haugland)

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.

I Hereby Relinquish Control: Teacher Appreciation Week, in Retrospect

Please accept these mushrooms as a token of my appreciation. (www.denny.co.za)

Not that I have a strong opinion one way or the other, but whoever came up with the idea of Intelligent Design is an unqualified, certified, card-carrying moron. In three hundred years, people will look back at us, the founders of that stupid idea, like we look at the preCopernican world. Because it’s basically the equivalent of believing the sun and all the other planets revolve around the earth. Which was actually worked out, mathematically, but according to Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in The Grand Design, the equation was a solution neither simple nor elegant. When they did the math for all the planets, including (gasp!) the earth, rotating around the sun, the equation was both.

I bring this up, obviously, because this is Teacher Appreciation Week. Sure, teachers get a whole week and mothers only get one day, but I do not begrudge the teachers their week. We love Mrs. Pursell, Mrs. Doll, and everyone at Montessori, and they work their butts off. And so we happily went along with the protocol: a cupcake from the whole class on Monday. A thank you note from each child on Tuesday. A flower from each child on Wednesday. A vegetable or a piece of fruit from each child on Thursday. And, as parent-teacher liaison, I collected small monetary donations for a spa certificate to be presented today.

The stress began on Tuesday. Mbot, who is normally most content when left with pencils and paper, wanted to make rockets out of his Trio set instead. Then he wanted to draw a picture for his friend Ybot. Then for his brother. After three hours of on-and-off trying, we had three pictures (the Spanish teacher needed one, too). But there was something wrong with the amount of stress I felt during this exercise.

Wednesday, on the way to music class, we stopped at Safeway for two flowers. I told Mbot he could pick them out. I gave him choices of the least expensive varieties. He chose the sunflowers. Since they were only $3 for three, we got two bunches. He held one. Gbot held one. The flowers were dragged along the floor. They were swung through the air. They were carried over their shoulders like hobo sticks. By the time they got to music class, I’m sure several days had been taken from their already truncated lives. By the time Mbot had carried them in this fashion down the path to school, through the lobby, into the courtyard and into the hands of the teachers, I had decided that, when gifts are requested from little people, you have to take into consideration the fact that we, as adults, are pressing our standards and expectations and values onto people who have not yet been on earth long enough to learn our ways.

And so, by Thursday, when we went to school via the Safeway produce department, I found myself saying “yes” to the yellow bell pepper for Mrs. Doll ($1 apiece!). And to the carton of sliced mushrooms for Mrs. Pursell. The teachers were just lucky that, on the way to the checkout counter, we passed a display of very attractive strawberries at $1.28 per carton. Mbot agreed that they would be good, too. But if he hadn’t, Mrs. Pursell would have gotten the mushrooms. And I would have been perfectly okay with that. She could eat mushroom soup while admiring her world-weary sunflower and begrudgingly drawn picture of the antique cat.

It has been a week of lessons in weighing value, struggling for perspective, and drawing boundaries. I crawl out the end of it educated and exhausted.

They say that the behavior of three year-olds breaks us in for the behavior of teenagers. We get twelve years of practice before the big stuff starts. I believe it. The whole process has been magnificently designed. By The Laws of Nature. By Evolution. Give it up, all you Intelligent Designers. Relinquish control. If the universe had been designed by a humanlike mind–a truly intelligent female one, at least–there would have been a weekly spa visit included.

I Just Got a D in Preschool Snack Procurement

(humanewatch.org)

Last Friday Mbot was sent home from preschool with a big red bag and a list of food items I needed to bring into class on Monday. I’ve been faced with the big red bag and the accompanying list twice before; approximately every three months it’s our turn to buy a week’s worth of snacks for the Joshua Tree classroom. The list changes all the time.

I’ve always done the shopping well ahead because who wants to be the mom who can’t even find the caramel dipping sauce for the apple slices? (Although I had to visit three stores before I found it.)

But this weekend, having succeeded twice before, I was lulled into a sense of my own competence. And so, on Monday morning, when I looked at the list on the way to library story and craft time, I read along nodding: ten bagels, a container of cream cheese, a bunch of bananas, a bag of carrots, etc. etc. And then: Gogurts. Followed by: Pretzel Flipz.

Were they typos, spelling mistakes, or trademarked names for packaged foods I’d never heard of? I feared the last. There was no one around to ask. I couldn’t Google it because I left my smart phone in my other life, the one in which I’m savvy and hip. Hell, if I had a smart phone, I’m sure I’d already know what Gogurts where, just because hello, doesn’t everyone?

I cheated on the Pretzel Flipz and bought the funnest looking pretzels I could see, in little tic-tac-toe shapes. But after failing to find anything called Gogurts in the trail mix aisle, I admitted defeat.

I had to turn in the big red bag without having completed the assignment. I didn’t have time to explain my performance, which, if not improved within twenty-four hours, would surely result in midafternoon cries of starvation emanating from the Joshua Tree classroom.

By now, I have discovered that Gogurts are, of course, individual tubes of flavored yogurt that can be sucked directly out of the bag. I will go buy some this afternoon. Although, if I do say so: gross.

We are all learning something in preschool.