Happy Birthday Spiderman! On Toddlers Learning to Sing

I was holding my toddler up in the shower when he started singing happy birthday out of the blue. He had never sung it on his own before. In fact, he typically shuns any sort of singing that isn’t coming from some professionally produced media. He has spent the past couple years shouting at me whenever I show an inkling of beginning to hum a tune. When I dare to get into the swing of things, he will run up and slap me on the thigh before firmly directing me to cease and desist. This may actually denote a fair bit of good taste, as I am more prone to breaking glasses than records with my dissonant voice.

It therefore startled me to find him belting out the lyrics so energetically. “Happy birthday to you!”

Each refrain would be punctuated by a wide-mouthed smile, his eyes beaming at this minor miracle of childhood development. He paused. I assumed his moment of grandeur had ended. I was wrong. He started up again, but after his second refrain, he hesitated slightly.

“Happy birthday…Spiderman!”

And so it went. Spiderman had somehow become a celebrated figure in this impromptu epic choral arrangement. I am not quite certain where my boy has been exposed to the daring webslinger, since I haven’t exposed him to it at home. Perhaps the older kids at daycare are fans? What I do know is that Spiderman’s birthday was back in August, so I guess these heartfelt wishes are better late than never!


Camper Vans of the Dead

We like taking our boy to a big park down the hill from our place. It has plenty of games in it and has tons of sand, so when he launches himself off from perilous heights and plows into the surface, leaving a crater that would shame a meteor strike, he can dust himself off and giggle his way to the next part of the jungle gym and try it all over again.

It’s a bit of a hike to get there, so we don’t go every day, but we made it out yesterday. There is a large open area next to the park. It is typically empty, but is sometimes used as the community fair grounds. On this particular day, several large campers were clustered in an irregular ring in the center of the field. Although it was a little unusual, I didn’t pay it much heed.

We had the rare privilege of being back in the area this evening, so we decided to haul junior back out to the park so he could air out and vent some of the energy his Acme toddler nuclear generator builds up over the day. As he was caroming between play structures like a pinball on Speed, my wife gently clutched at my elbow.

“Do you notice something strange?” She asked.

I keenly  surveyed the surroundings, having perked up from my glassy contemplation of the envy I felt for my son’s boundless energy. Within seconds, I was invigorated, nerves on edge, alive! Were there ninjas hiding in those bushes? Nope. Perhaps angry clowns ready to dash out from around the fairground lodge? Hmmm. Neither. Maybe there was a cloaked UFO hovering above us, levitating a cow up to its hold for unspeakable experimentation. Nada. This is a little disconcerting. What had she noticed?

“Sorry, I’m not seeing anything.” I admitted, slightly downtrodden. What good are my manly defensive instincts if I can’t pick out something unusual?

“Look at the campers. There are lots of them.” She pointed in the direction of the large open area.

“Uh, yeah, they were there yesterday.” I splayed my hands out dismissively. It was time to turn my attention back to the boy. Doubtless he would have found some way to chew his way through the steel plays tructures by now. Where had he run off to?

“But there are way more than there were yesterday.” I could tell she was about to smack me behind the head, so I decided to take her implicit invitation to take a second look. She was right. It’s like if some out of control cancerous cellular division of caravans took place overnight. There were dozens of campers of all shapes and sizes densely packed into the field. A small flag was erected in the middle of the camping area. Where had all of these vehicles come from, and why were they here, in the middle of nowhere? We live in a pretty small community. It isn’t quite in the boonies, but it isn’t in the middle of prime camping territory as far as I know.  It just didn’t make any sense why these visitors would have been drawn to our little park, nestled in a quiet little nook of nowhere.

As I began to grasp the scope of the invasion, my wife pointed to crowds of people milling about, seemingly emanating from the caravan hive. They were slowly ambling about in ones and twos, almost aimless in their demeanor. Since my wife and I seem to share the same brain most of the time, the same idea popped into our heads: this must be a zombie invasion. Zombies don’t spread their disease about by slowly shambling through fields from city to city. They clearly get into campers and set up shop in a new town. Most people don’t see it coming. I mean, who would suspect a bunch of holiday travelers to be the undead?

At this point, we both started laughing at how this started sounding like the setup for a movie like Shaun of the Dead. Soon after, we were arguing vociferously over who would get to be Nick Frost or Simon Pegg in our little horror escapade. At about this point, our kid thundered into the ground at mach chicken, leaving a smoking crater. A loud wail keened over the playground. Oh no! The zombies got him!

Not really, he slowly rose, his face covered in sand, his mouth filled with grit, and dribbling sandy slobber all over his chest. He wasn’t hurt, but his pride certainly took a beating. A swig of water later, and he was away, clambering up a ladder to a higher play structure. We forgot our zombies for a while, and turned our vigilance back towards our progeny.

I’m going to have to keep the story premise we stumbled across in the back of my mind, because I think it can be turned into a rip-roaring adventure. Of course, if Mr. Pegg and Mr. Frost want to use this nugget as inspiration for their next fantabulous outing…

Midsummer’s Bounty

Wild berries

Not a bad haul! © 2013 – Max Shields

Spring took for ever to surrender its grasp on our neck of the woods this year. It stayed cold and wet well into when I would usually expect balmy weather. The temperatures have now plunged back down, aping the Fall. I’m not quite certain where all of this weather is going, but I suspect my Summer will fade away before it really happens, only to be replaced with an extra-long winter.

The slow arrival of warm weather, combined with significant cloud cover and stormy weather has mitigated the growth of crops in the region. This is why I was surprised to find a few beautiful raspberries ripe for picking in the thin strip of woods behind my house. I knew they were there since I saw the bushes sprouting everywhere last year, but nothing seemed to be turning red. In the past few days, we’ve had some nice weather, and bright splashes of red began playing out across the yard’s foliage. I was doubly surprised to stumble across some wild blueberry bushes tucked in amid a stand of pine trees.

My wife and my boy eagerly foraged through the greenery to pull up this midsummer’s bounty. My kid really loved the experience, and is now fixated on going looking for berries. I guess that takes care of explaining the food chain for a little while. We also took the opportunity to spread some of the overripe berries around the lot to help seed a greater harvest for next year. We’ll see how all of that turns out.

Most interestingly, the picking session appears to have dislodged my toddler from a particularly tenacious bout of fussiness that had taken a grip of him a couple months ago. In the span of a few hours, he went from not wanting to touch any of his food to voraciously packing it down. Having your children involved with the preparation of their meals certainly appears to go a long way towards obtaining their buy-in to consuming what is presented on their plates!

Fight rules

My son has had the rare privilege of having a friend over for the past several days. The other boy is about two years older than my toddler, so there was a significant size and weight difference between the two. Nonetheless, they got along very well, having a grand old time spotting trucks, playing cars, and making monster noises.

As is all but inevitable when two boys get together, a wrestling match ensued on their last full day together. There was raucous cheering coming out of both of them as they managed to flex, wriggle, bend, and slam each other around the couch. Surprisingly, my little tyke held his own quite well against his much larger opponent. It’s not always about size. A lot of heart seems to go a long way.

The other boy’s mother moved in to keep things from getting out of hand, and I walked closer to offer some backup. The two were still having fun and seemed to be giving each other turns at winning, so it was all fun and games.

The only problem is that as my boy’s level of excitement rises, his gnashing chompers tend to become much more readily used for inflicting pain rather than beaming a toothy grin to onlookers. This was one of those cases. In almost surreal slow motion, he clambered onto the other boy’s back, reared his head high and chomped down. Hard. It was something like a primeval predator going in for the kill. A heart wrenching screech later, and we had disentangled the two gladiators. The older boy cried for a bit, but within moments, turned around and went back to my son, ready for round two.

My son had gotten a time out for the tooth-play that had truly seemed to be one of the most painful events in his life. When liberated from his penance, he walked over to the other boy and gave him a huge hug. “Pah-don (sorry)” he offered in the soft voice that only a toddler who is deeply grieving can produce. He was truly pained by the fact that he had hurt his friend.

The older child offered this simple direction: “You can fight, but you can’t bite.”

Very poetic words from someone under the age of five.

Instead, my boy let himself get distracted by the snack on the table, and both set themselves upon the task of munching the goodies in deep companionship. Their battle was left behind.

Buns in the hallway. Sometimes it’s hard to take a toddler seriously.

My kid has just developed a case of athletes foot. It must be the result of all the hours he’s spending in the gym getting ready for football pre-season camp. Sure, he’s not yet three years old, but you’ve got to start them young if you hope to get them into the big leagues. Tomorrow: we’re doing squats. We’ll start him off easy at 320 lbs, and work our way up from there.

Anyhow, just moments after having having pulled him out of the bath tonight, we dried his feet off and applied a liberal dusting of foot powder to keep his feet dry over night. We then toss on his socks to make sure he doesn’t play with his feet and attempt to keep the powder in place rather than have it wiped off all over his sheets.

We had just finished getting his last sock on as he wriggled out of my arms and dashed down the hallway towards his room. By this stage, he’s still running around au naturel, and it is at this very point that he lost the opportunity for us to ever take him seriously again. There’s nothing quite so hilarious as a naked toddler running away screaming “ninja!” (I am at a loss to explain where that came from) while wearing nothing but white socks as he disappears down a dark hallway.

I’m going to have to bring this up the first time he brings a young lady over for family introductions when he gets a little older. He may die of embarrassment, but the lass will likely find it quite endearing.

I’m looking out for you, kid.

On toddlers and the spontaneous generation of novel vocabulary

Toddlers are an author’s best friend. If you’re ever stuck in a rut and need some help, pay close attention to a kid trying to grapple with the intricacies of learning a spoken language. They will inevitably toss in extra vowels and consonants, clip words short, duplicate sections, or improvise sounds that are more manageable for their developing mind-lip interface.

I think every parent has had the pleasure of being called “Mapa” or “Pama” at some point or other. My boy is fascinated by crocodiles thanks to Dora the Explorer. He trundles around the living room yelling “Crokoli, crokoli!” and roaring his head off. Today, my kid invented a novel mashup of ketchup and mustard. “Kestard, moustchup!” I’m not quite certain why he was going on about condiments, since it wasn’t mealtime, but his little mind was bubbling away trying to figure things out. I keep my ear trained to his vocal experiments, and from time to time can come away with a wonderful nugget that will serve as the setting, character, or event for a future story.

This may not be too useful a feature for non-fiction authors. In fact, such re-interpretations of any language is probably going to lead to deleterious effects on your writing by osmotic transference so having kids is probably not a great career move. Thankfully, mine will doubtless continue to enhance my efforts to produce engaging works of fantasy and science-fiction.

Thanks kiddo!

On expanding your toddler’s vocabulary – You know you got it right when…

Monstres: A great kids’ book.

A few weeks ago, we bought a gorgeously-illustrated story for our toddler. Monstres from Édition Nathan is a wonderful story of a little boy embarking on a quest to find the ingredients needed to brew a potion to heal an ailing dragon. Since it’s a kid’s book, I won’t go on any longer since I’ve already covered a significant portion of the plot as it stands.

It caught my wife’s eye at the book store and I have to admit that I think I spend more time taking in the brilliant illustrations than my son does — and he looks at it a lot. The book depicts a wide menagerie of fantasy monsters in a cartoony style reminiscent of what a Pixar movie would look like in 2D. It has been a great opportunity to plant the seed of wonder in my boy’s mind.

Yesterday, I managed to get him to babble on about dinosaurs, trolls, ogres, krakens, dragons, and skeletons (not all depicted in the book, but what the heck, it’s always good to get some value added for bedtime stories.) Today we started working on goblin. Not bad considering he still has a while to go before he makes it to three years of age.

The best part about it all is that though the book tries to create some dramatic tension by making some of the monsters adversaries, others are allies. Best of all, a little kid can overcome the mightiest of mythical beasts. My wife and I aren’t presenting any of these creatures as something to be afraid of, so there have been no issues with nightmares, and hopefully it will prime him to be receptive to diversity as he grows up. It incidentally blends in with the general concept of the book I’m in the process of writing, so it is nice to see the concept pop up elsewhere.

If I end up writing about my son the basket case at some point down the line, or decides that wearing elf ears to work is an acceptable fashion choice, I guess you’ll be able to point to this as a potential cause. Sheesh, parents can never win!

My kid and his superfast jumping shoes are so much fun

We recently bought some new running shoes for our toddler. They’re a deep blue with neon green highlights. He didn’t really take to them at first, but now just look at him go! He zooms all over the place, little legs pumping into a thumping blur. This evolution has taken place without having converged with the development of a nascent sense of fear or self preservation. This kid is not afraid of any bone headed, death defying act of daredevilry (as a side note, I’m surprised that the term daredevilry didn’t tweak the spell checker; I was certain I’d just made that up.)

Tonight, he decided that running off of the front steps towards the lawn would be a good idea. He decided to do this rather spontaneously as both my wife and I were getting ready to go in the front door. We lost control of him for that nanosecond that is needed for a life changing tragedy to take place. Off he went. One, two, three snappy paces then bound! Bounce! Hop! Off the stairs and onto the stone landing he ran. Zip! A short stumble, but his stumpy legs started recovering.


Nope. Not quite.

Two more uneven steps and he launched himself off of the landing and towards the lawn. He sailed head first off of the two foot drop and into our flower bed, our hands outstretched in a vain attempt to catch him. They were ever so close yet so far.

Fwoosh! His trajectory bore him right into a soft, young, and supple hosta. Only his small backside and two feet were seen protruding through the foliage. He rolled himself out as we ran over to him and burst out laughing. Yes, we are that kind of supportive, nurturing parents. He wasn’t certain about what to do for a moment, but then he started laughing and all was good. His head left a deep crater in the young plant.

I’m glad we didn’t rip those hostas out last year to replace them with rose bushes and cacti. Of course, they would probably have fared a little better in their encounter with a rambunctious toddler.

On toddlers and arrogance – when a wink can mean so much

My boy is developing a new stalling technique. In the morning before getting marched off to daycare, he has started slowing down on his consumption of breakfast. He knows that we want him to start his day all fueled up. He therefore refrains from consuming much food in the hope that we’ll slip up and give him a few more minutes to chow down rather than ship out. This face off inevitably leads to one of two outcomes: he either ends up throwing a massive tantrum as food and drink is pried out of his hands so we can get him dressed, or he shoves everything he can into his mouth in a last second bid to squirrel away whatever he can for the trip ahead.

He must apparently sense some level of control over the situation as either my wife or I slip up and let him win a small victory from time to time. Perhaps we give him another minute to gobble down some cereal, or bring the cup of milk back out of the fridge after he’s dressed for one final going away slurp. He’s therefore started migrating the behaviour to other occasions.

Tonight, we went for a longer than usual walk to play in a new, faraway park. Since we came in late, we did not start snack time as regularly scheduled. The increased urgency of getting something into his belly before washing him up and tucking him in for bed was beginning raise its ugly head. Our young fellow was munching away while seated between his two  parents, taking his sweet ol’ time.

“Ok, young un’, shower time.” I announced.

“Uh uh.” He kept staring at his snack bowl.

“You’ve got one minute, and we’re cleaning you up for bed. Gobble it down and go.”

A languid slurp of milk was all that answered.

“Ok, you’re lining yourself up to get tossed into the shower all dressed, kid.” I frowned, trying my best to look severe.

He deliberately reached down into his bowl, picked out a piece of Cheerios and slowly plopped it into his mouth. He then turned his head towards me and winked, smiling all the while. He then turned back to his bowl.

My wife and I both caught it. We laughed our heads off. What does one say to that? The kid’s got a pair on him that should make any parent proud.

At what age do boys become dudes? It’s way earlier than you think.

It’s potentially a wonderful philosophical and developmental question. When exactly does a child progress along the path of maturation to become an adult? Is it based on having achieved some level of cognitive development?  Perhaps it is based on crossing some chronological gateway, an age when we magically convert from boy to man? Or perhaps it is based upon having completed some rite of passage?

My toddler today helped me postulate that the progression from boy to man (or as I will refer to it from now on: dude) begins at the moment when a boy begins to seek a girl’s attention, and thinks that doing stupid things in public is necessary to attract said girl’s attention. Evolution to dudeness begins so early. My dude has only recently edged past 2 years of age. He has never been overly fond of the swing on the playground. He certainly tolerated getting lifted onto the kiddie seat and pushed a few times, but he would clamor to get off within a few swings. Until this afternoon.

We were playing around in the park when a little girl, perhaps no more than a year older than he is, was hefted up onto the baby swing. My boy’s head immediately snapped up from where he was industriously filling in a hole in the sand some other kid had fastidiously dug out moments before. His eyes were suddenly different. He dashed the twenty meters separating him from the only other toddler’s swing seat in the park screaming “Papa, swing!” at the top of his lungs. I obligingly lumbered along and plopped him down into the seat.

I pushed him gently, no further than his usual tolerance would allow me to. “Papa, higher!” he chirped.

What? I actually had to ask my wife for a confirmation, since I could not conceive that he even knew the word.

“Papa. HIGHER!”

Sure, kid. Whatever. I gave him a stiffer push, sending him soaring up to about chest height.

“PAPA! PAPA! HIGHEEEEER!” He insisted stridently.

Huh? I then noticed that he kept peering over to the right at the little girl. Her dad was pushing her a little higher than I was pushing my boy. Sorry, my dude. He was most definitely deep into dude mode at this point.

He was rapidly returning from the far point of his oscillation. He began screaming as the seat touched my hand: “Pa…” The words cut off as I shoved harder than I ever had shoved my little dude before. Careful what you ask for, kiddo. He soared on mighty scything arcs that reached ever so slightly above my head, giggling and chortling gaily all the time. Every time air resistance threatened to lower his apex below that of his companion, he would instruct me to give him another boost.

This swinging stuff is harder work than it looks. I eventually started to tire. Thankfully, the little girl’s parents thought it was time to get her home to toss her in the bath. She had not made it five steps away from the swing that my little dude began to think that swinging was no fun anymore. Off he went.

Yep. Biochemistry at its finest.