The Samson Toddler

My childhood brain nearly imploded once when I overheard a learned adult hypothesize Samson was actually a scrawny guy. Blasphemy! Didn't they see the super accurate pictures on my Sunday School coloring page? But in a way, it kinda makes sense. Would everyone have been amazed by his strength if he looked like the Hulk with muscles rippling out like four Dwayne Johnson's stacked two high and two wide? Or would they have been more shocked if he had the typical dad-bod yet could swing a lion around like a small cat and go on a mass murdering spree with nothing but a donkey jaw?  

That sums up how I feel about my two year old right now.  He's a bit tiny for his age, although he does actually grow occasionally because I noticed recently his belly was starting to stick out of his 9-12 month shirts (which is unacceptable because we don't allow immodest crop tops in this household, so I promptly took it off and let him go shirtless). But despite having three other boys whose antics were very similar, I can't seem to help but marvel at the sheer insanity that is me trying to keep up with my youngest. But since we wrote down his older siblings' stories it would be remiss not to also chronicle his shenanigans: In a way, he's both easier and more difficult than Jamie was. Easier because I already survived one child who never sleeps and climbs everything, so I can sit this one out from the lofty towers of complacency. But it's harder because I don't have the time, energy or desire to train this last one or work as hard as I did with the first one. It really is true the youngest is more spoiled. I thought maybe it was just my jaded perspective as a firstborn, but unless everyone else is doing a much better job with their caboose child (don't answer that), I'm thinking this can safely move from theory to fact.  

When Jamie climbed out of his crib, Jim and I waited in the dark below his crib, rose up and went all Walking Dead whenever he attempted to climb out.  That didn't work so well with William because a) it kept his brothers awake more than it served as a compelling reason to stay in his crib  and b) like all strict parenting books tell you, you CAN train a child to be obedient, but while he did eventually learn to go to bed at bedtime, that didn't stop him from getting up in the middle of the night and raiding the pantry and fridge like a raccoon. c) no amount of training kept him from getting up for the day at 4:30/5:00 am.  

So we bought a sleep tent for the tidy sum of $100 (which I blogged about before) but was guaranteed to give exhausted parents a safe place to put their child during sleeping hours.  Within a week he broke the front panel out...just pushed his finger through the rip proof nylon until he got enough of an indentation to get a good grip, rip it open and emerge victorious in the baby game of Survivor.  We fixed that which earned us a whole month of sleep before he figured out how to wiggle the zipper down enough to make quick work of the rest (if he was smart, he would have figured that out first).  We used a carabiner after that to lock the zipper shut and that got us all the way to last night when Jim and I had just settled on the couch for a relaxing evening of Sherlock, bourbon and sewing projects when we heard a suspicious amount of bumping and activity going on in the back bedroom.  Jim went to go check and discovered our small son razing havoc like a small Tasmanian devil ping-ponging around the room.  

We assumed he'd just busted the carabiner lock (which had happened before), but no...he had ripped the entire tent off its base.  I assume, judging by the five star reviews, that this is not a common occurrence for other owners of this tent. And he seriously looks too small to do anything remotely that powerful, which is why I'm henceforth dubbing him my Samson toddler.  He may not talk very well, and he may not be super well behaved, but just to be on the safe side, I'm going to lock up the donkey jawbones.  

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It's a good thing children look so angelic when they're sleeping? 

The Great "How-To" On Reading Comprehension (or how to read when you have no time)

The TV is back on the wall. Shame.  But I avoided a useless ER trip, so Yay?   

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I did fork out a fair chunk of change to be told my child is full of crap...literally full of crap, but hey, you win some, you lose some.  The TV rode in (magically transformed from dragon to knight on a white horse) to rescue Jim who had to work from home while I took the aforementioned kid to the Dr (with what I thought was appendicitis, but turned out to be an impacted colon). Thankfully it's nothing a bottle of magnesium and caution tape around the bathroom can't fix. 

I also added another boy to the brood for the week, which has worked out well (most notably it turned up the notch on hilarious conversations overheard and the amount of food consumed), but suffice it to say there isn't a lot of extra time for me to read the growing pile of books next to my bed.

Like any good (mostly) millennial worth her salt, I have read books on how to read books.  And my book stacks have baby book stacks.  So if your life is as crazy as mine and your Amazon and library lists are equally out of control, here is the cliff notes version of what some recent experts say and my own experience with their advice.

1. Books have grammar and not the punctuation kind. 

Thomas Foster talks about this in his "How To Read Literature Like A College Professor", but you also see it if you read blogs written by publishers, editors, and agents.  There is a grammar and structure to how the whole "written with words" world works (say that five times fast) and if you understand it, then your reading speed and comprehension automatically picks up speed because you can proverbially pick the cross-titch off the frame and look at the backside. It also sorta lets you see the motivations and humanity behind the author (for better or worse). I recommend reading the aforementioned book, as well as "Save the Cat" and any book on how to write non-fiction. 

My takeaway: Take a few books and really think about the structure and behind-the-scenes systems that go into making a book, and you'll find subsequent books are easier and faster to grasp. 

2. Speed reading may be pseudoscience, but it helps with the boring stuff. 

Tim Ferriss is the most recent hawker of speed reading, but he is by no means the first.  None of the methods truly work (for science or me) because they focus on the physiology of how your eyes and retina work. BUT I did find I could read super boring stuff a lot better without my eyes glazing over and my mind wandering. I do pause a lot as I think through things...especially difficult concepts or ones I'm unfamiliar with, so I don't think I'm the best candidate and a college student would find the theories more useful.  There's a nice summary of the basic speed reading strategies here.   

My takeaway: I think speed reading is a bit like being told spinach will make you strong like Popeye. It won't, but it's still good for you. The neuroscience peeps are undecided on speed reading, but I find it useful nonetheless. 

3. Write A Review and don't say "Love it" or "It Sucks". 

One of the best ways to transfer information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory is to be able to articulate to someone what you learned.  Even more important, doing something physiological and slow after you've done something mental and fast, is insanely beneficial for your brain and its ability to process, build connections, and operate smoothly.  Thus writing review accomplishes both of those things while also providing a good "reason" to do so (vs just writing it in a journal for the pure exercise of it).  In the book "Thinking Fast And Slow" Dr. Daniel Kahneman shows how our brains adapted to take in information a certain way and make instant judgments on it.  Slow thinking is harder, more meticulous and apparently more rational.  

My takeaway: Pick up a pen.  While fast reading and processing in this hectic age of information is a necessary and laudable skill, any way you can get yourself to also exercise and use "slow" thinking, will help concepts stick better and serve as a cautionary safety net.  

In case none of those are helpful, here are the honorable mentions (in no particular order):
Read lots of books at once
It's ok if some books take a few days and others take years
Figure out the central premise of each book by reading the contents and footnotes first
Realize that non-fiction can be more fictitious than fiction
Find books you think you'll disagree with, and read them anyway

 

And that's it, I'm off to disinfect the toilet and pay my library fines...we'll see if I actually remember any of this in a week. 

Lentils, Insanity and Dinosaur Trains

I used to hate it when my parents sat us all down for a "family pow wow".  They were epic come to Jesus talks that usually ended with us all getting up early, doing more chores and sorting out whatever major attitude problems were shaping up into WWIII.  I loathed them so much, that early in our marriage when Jim casually mentioned "let's pow wow" I broke out into a cold sweat and treated the poor man like he'd just suggested a flogging post and torture rack.  

Now I have four kids, and although the word "pow wow" is still strictly forbidden, I realized I totally do the same thing.  Negotiating with a two year old is a slippery slope where you think peeling a banana a certain way or watching a show in the morning is not a big deal, and then before you know it you're standing on your head, holding your mouth a certain way and angling the banana so it correctly lines up with the earth's magnetic field as you peel it at 5 am while you watch the same dinosaur train episode.  ...and you don't even know how it got this bad.  

Multiply that by four, throw in the end of CC and state testing and it's no wonder people commonly burn out this time of year.  

So I sat all of the kids down and told them we were having a week reset of absolutely no fun (you have to set the standard super low so something like playing math bingo feels like you're getting away with murder). We're doing nothing but learning poetry, reading books, doing math and re-learning how to play nicely with our siblings. I cleaned up our food while I was at it, because I figured you might as well bum everyone out with one swift kick in the pants.  Our diet had slipped from pizza occasionally and cold cereal as an emergency backup to such a high level of consumption that they need to come up with a new scientific classification of consumers for us: Herbivores, Carnivores, Omnivores and the Junkavores. 

It had gotten so bad even Jamie was craving healthy food.  He's become so big and responsible this year (mostly) that he can babysit for short periods and go places independently. So when he kept bugging me and bugging me for lentil soup, I finally just handed him my card and told him if he wanted it that bad he was going to have to do it himself.  

...and I was surprised he called my bluff, but he did. He walked to the grocery store and asked someone where the leeks and lentils were located, used the self checkout and was home in ten minutes total. Jim and I teased him later that the only reason someone didn't get him into trouble was because they probably had never met a potentially troublesome sixth grader shopping for lentils and leeks.  Ahem.

 I wonder sometimes if other families have to go through the monumental, boot slogging task of feeling like they have to troubleshoot every.single.area of their kids' lives. Oftentimes it seems like my kids only struggle struggle struggle, and never succeed.  Everything needs extra work and effort, nothing comes easy.  We were back to forming ABC's today like we're in Kindergarten to fix a bunch of letter reversals that have been cropping up lately. William probably needs speech therapy too, but there is a limit to how many "therapies" one can juggle in a week, and his issues are mild (in comparison).  But see? It's a constant state of triage on who needs the most help.  Of course after three kids who needed speech therapy to even start talking, I feel like at this point I should just write my own.   "Speech Bootcamp For Stubborn Toddlers: The at home guide for parents who want to hear something other than 'EEEEEEEEGHH!' all day" 

But hey, two days in and everyone is doing a lot better (food wise, school wise, and behavior wise) so maybe my parents were on to something with their "pow wows".  And honestly there are worse things than sitting home all day eating watermelon and homemade beef jerky while you build epic train tracks and read Laddie aloud.  But in defense of electronics and Netflix...  Jamie said there wasn't one thing on his common core state test that wasn't in Wild Kratz and Magic Schoolbus. So there. 

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Shiznobbers and giggles

My whole family likes to watch those video conglomerations where people do stupid stuff like faceplant off their unicycle and flip their cars into dumpsters. They have to talk me into joining them because I see nothing funny about watching people have possibly the worst day of their life.   Tonight we watched a clip that started out with a bunch of beautiful young people in a hot tub (I immediately start looking for clowns hiding in the bushes or someone about to jump in from the roof).  I hate that sense of impending doom! They're laughing and I want to warn them they statistically have less than three seconds before their fun implodes.  

 ...or in this case explodes in a cloud of brown water as one poor girl clutches her stomach and you realize she is really quite ill (you've never seen a hot tub vacated so fast).  

This is the problem with life.  You never know when your super awesome "Spring Break" in Cancun will end with some bad tacos and you having to change your name and find all new friends.   Just sayin'.  

As someone with an overactive introverted brain trapped in an extroverted happy body, it's a constant battle to go through life imagining every possible outcome and yet still risk it open handedly. 

Case in point, I was listening to a podcast today on the dangers of not letting children play unattended (beware of intended double negative). In theory, (and like most primates) children's' brains need lots of hours in the sunshine figuring out how the world and human interaction works.  A child in 2017 gets less outdoor play time than an institutionalized patient in the 1950's.  The problem is it's a lot harder to get in that prime time than it would seem.  I'm lucky enough to have a fenced in backyard and a husband who pays for it all so I can teach the basic R's and pray I don't screw it all up somehow.  Right now we have roofers trying to squeeze in an entire new roof before California drifts away in a flood. Which is wonderful...Charlie won't have to sleep with a bucket next to his head, but I have to wear my watch on the wrong wrist, and remind myself over and over that if I hear the back door unlock or open... RUN! (Because the two year old is fast and there are ladders involved in roofing).   

I try really hard to juggle it all, but sometimes it's almost a relief when a virus sweeps in and knocks everyone off their feet.  Wednesday found us all bundled up on the couch with fevers, tea and tissue (and by "tea" I mean force feeding them elderberry and echinacea).  We were too sick to do school, but not sick enough for me to acquiesce to Vultron so we binge watched National Geographic instead. 

Which means we can add baby seals being eaten by killer whales to the list of things I don't like to watch.  But guess what new show they all clamored for this morning?  National Geographic.

I better get at least one marine biologist or orthopedic surgeon from all of this. 

 

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Bee stings, shrink wrapped strollers and wrestling with Lent

Babies in Scotland don't cry. 

...or at least not when they're shrink wrapped in their strollers.  It took a few days of me being jealous of all these adorably old-fashioned prams, before I realized I was not only jealous of the cool stroller but also of the apparently perfect child contained within.  Andria and I would see these magical wee things on the bus and wonder if maybe they were American Girl dolls all bundled up or something.  In all seriousness, we never did figure it out.  My theory is straight behaviorism. The babies learn fairly quickly that if the pram is buttoned up in plastic then they can't cry or they'll get soaking wet in the rain.  Perpetual sunshine may have its downsides.  

My babies do cry.  And then when they don't cry it makes me nostalgic for when they did cry. I don't mind it when someone tells me to "enjoy this stage while it lasts", much the same way I don't mind it when someone says "have a great day" or "Tatties o'er the side" (just kidding...no one ever said that no matter how closely I listened for it).  It's all ritualistic bee dancing to keep us connected.  One of my children came in and informed me he'd been stung by a bee. Normally this is a big ordeal that involves many tears and much angst, so it was with some alarm I checked for signs of sanity and went to go get tweezers.  He'd already beat me to it though, pulled the stinger out himself and smashed the flopping bee.  Well alrighty then.  Later, I caught the same child digging at his hand with a knife and needle...this time removing splinters from tree climbing gone wrong.  Again, usually my kids are allergic to needles and the word "splinter". It's an odd feeling not being needed to kiss, soothe and bandage.  

As amazing as St. Giles Cathedral was for the last two weeks, there's nothing like stepping back into your own "parish" with your own people and pastor.  There may not be ancient flagstone floors or gothic stained glass windows in our church, but it's a little easier to clean up with baby wipes when your kid smears buttercream all over the wall. 

I've been trying for years to figure out what I think about Lent (which turns out to perhaps be rather Lentish in and of itself).  On one hand, I grew up in a fundamentalist culture that put fasting on an unhealthy pedestal. But then fasting came back in style with Paleo so it seems everyone is doing it (and Lent) again. You can even do Lent if you're not religious at all! Everyone likes to talk about what they're giving up for Lent which seems like it should be against the first rule of Fight Club.  Also, there are levels to Lent like Dante's inferno or Mario Bros.  Except that each level gets you closer to God or something instead of farther away.  The Ulster-Scot, American, Protestant, Puritan and Presbyterian in me has serious historic and cultural reticence about such a thing.  Eating fish on Friday is level 1...giving up Facebook is level 327. 

In all of my obsession with cognitive science lately though, Leithart hit a nerve when he said "Lent is the season of blood and guts and flesh. It is the supremely anti -Gnostic season." I think we have to remember that we're not just rational souls with this complex ability to reason on an abstract level (which some of us do more poorly than others). We're also physiological beings with bones and muscles and a chest that goes in and out as we suck in oxygen.  Giving up something for Lent (or conversely starting something for Lent) forces your actual body to grapple with life, the gospel and sin. The key is figuring out the balance... not making either the tangible or conceptual into an idol.  I appreciate the paper being bent back one way, while recognizing that it can probably safely course correct in the center a bit?  Like I said... still wrestling.  

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Zucchinis, paper airplanes and "quilts"

It only took twenty hours, two planes, two cars and human kindness to get home, but we made it.  Fortunately, Andria lucked out in the uncle department and we got picked up from LAX in rush hour traffic and ferried to his house (where our car was) for albondigas soup and tortillas (bless them).  I've never been so happy to see a zucchini.  I was equally happy to see the jalapeno, but I think my stomach may have preferred the Scottish level of spice (which is to say "nil").  From there we only had to stay awake and not flip the car in what turned out to be an epic amount of rain and water on the road.  I have to say I think the weather was less wet and cold in Scotland.  We pulled in long after the kids were asleep, but that didn't stop me from waking them up (or trying to).

Tuesday is our Classical Conversations day and I briefly considered getting a sub but decided, in the end, I would rather be distracted and working, than at home crabbily trying to fight jetlag. By the time dinner came around though I'm pretty sure I was in a full on REM cycle every time I blinked.  Truly, I actually kinda like jetlag and always have.  I feel like the Pacific Time Zone is a strategic win if you're traveling East because sleeping in late on vacation is acceptable and I love the bounce-out-of-bed in the morning feeling you get when you get home.  Well, that's all great when you're going to and from your in-laws in Ohio, but a little more drastic when it's the other side of the Atlantic. Tuesday morning found me up in the wee hours working on my thermodynamics and paper airplanes lesson for CC.  I had printed the instructions for three different types of paper airplanes and I thought I should make one of each as a model for the class. My spatial recognition IQ is not going to qualify me for Mensa any time soon, but on this occasion, I whipped through the instructions so easily I figured I must have just picked really easy airplanes.  Wrong. It took a legit engineer and much reverse engineering to figure out how to follow the instructions in class.  And this is why I love jetlag...fleeting moments of rare brain functioning in the middle of the night.  If only I could figure out how to replicate it on a more continuous basis.  

I got all of the kids kilts, and they loved them, but Charlie thinks they're truly inspired. For a kid who doesn't like to be hampered by restrictive clothing, I could see why he appreciated the freedom (ahem) they bring.  I may need to get him several more.  I didn't get them the leather sporran's that go in front because there was no way I was fitting them into a backpack that had to be shoved under an airplane seat, but now Jamie has printed off patterns and researched leather making so I guess leather working is in my near future. Any tips?

Besides everyone looking so good I could put a spoon in them and eat them up, William does the dishes now (this is not a perk), and Robbie keeps asking me to put his "quilt" on him. lol  It's good to be home.  

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Day 11 (last day...crossing fingers)- Church, Harry Potter and a picnic

We arrived at church this morning a few minutes late and out of breath because we underestimated how much time it would take to hike "up" the city, instead of "down". The doors were shut and an imposing minister stood guarding the front turning away tourists.  "Are we too late to worship?" we asked, "of course not" he said, opening the wardrobe drawers and letting us into Narnia.  

The church was once split up into four churches with walls partitioning the different sections. While technically you were a member of only one parish, people often popped into whichever sermon they were most interested in hearing that week.  The partition walls came down later during a restoration project, but it stands to show the thread of change that goes through history.   St. Giles was John Knox's church. He'd been banished during the persecution of protestants, but came back when James VI was a baby after the drama with his mother (I think? Assuming I'm not mixing things up).  I have complicated feelings about all of the great reformers (Luther, Calvin, Knox...etc). And I think the key word is "struggle".  People want things to be so black and white. But the real progress comes in the back and forth. The "rows" so to speak. It's hard to hold all of the things in your hand, but after spending hours and hours in Edinburgh's version of the Smithsonian I can safely say that today's politics have got nothing on its predecessors.  In the same way the 19th century military and culture was over the top and romantic with lots of bells and ribbons and good intentions, so it seems to repeat itself. 

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On a more prosaic note, I've been working on a Classical style sunday school curriuclum (for fun or my own family), and I love these little medallions from parish schools rewarding good learning. Proof we've long used a reward system for teaching kids. 😎

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Last week we tried to go to the Elephant House coffee shop where JK wrote Harry Potter, but it was so crowded we ended up at the French Bakery next door.  I think everyone this morning was hung over from the rugby match because we got right in and made our way with our coffee to the back where JK wrote. Andria listened to The Hobbit and I worked on my book while we watched the rain fall in Grey Friars graveyard.  On a side note...Tom Riddle is buried there. :P

 

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From there we went back to the aforementioned Scottish National Museum.  I'm pretty sure you could spend a lifetime in there and eventually your ghost would just be wandering around trying to piece everything together.  Physiological beings that we are though...our stomachs eventually growled loud enough to drive us out in search for food.  I blame it on the immense energy expended carrying all of our earthly possesions. We were like gypsies or tinkers, backpacks, bags, shoes, jackets and waterbottles all hanging and clanking around as we took out unsuspecting victims every time we tried to turn around.  Eventually our shoulders couldn't take it anymore and we piled all of our stuff up on the floor and moved it in front of us from room to room after taking long periods of time to geek out over everything. 

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We picked up some pasties from the Piemaker shop and some beer from the market and made our way down to Princes Park to enjoy our vittles.  I'm sure Scotland does indeed get some mighty gales, but at least for our trip, the rain was just light and steady...with random wind and sunshine (not counting the snow in the highlands). Before we left,  I asked an elder at our church (who was once stationed in Scotland) if I needed an umbrella and he said no one really had one because it was too windy.  He spoke the truth.  We saw very few umbrellas. In fact, even coats were somewhat optional.  I kind of liked it because everyone just embraced the wild hair, a fashion statement I can definitely get behind.   

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I feel bad I've given mental space and airtime to Burns, Scott, Gabaldon, Tolkein, Lewis and JK, but not to Sir Terry Pratchett which is a shame because you can't walk through Edinbourgh without feeling like you're in Ankh Morpork.  These pasties were a perfect example.  Each one filled with unidentifiable meat that tasted different with every bite (corned beef? sausage? pastrami? it was impossible to tell).   

And now we're safely ensconced in our hotel next to the airport. We're checked into our flight, our boarding passes are printed, and the alarms are set.  Lord have mercy and see us home.