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!



Wasabi's first fusion burn is unforgettable.

Wasabi’s first fusion burn is unforgettable.

We like exposing our toddler to a wide variety of foods. Having an open gastronomic mind creates so many opportunities to appreciate the world, but it doesn’t just happen on its own. Kids have a natural tendency to shirk away from foods that they perceive as unusual. I believe that this has something to do with our primitive survival strategies back when we were still learning to play with fire. Early exposure to a wide variety of nutritional experiences in a supportive environment help plant the seed for the future.

One of the staple celebratory foods in our household is sushi. From an early age, we let our boy have some of the rolls. We are careful not to give him any of the raw fish to avoid picking up parasites, but he is otherwise happy to munch away on the veggie rolls, wakame salad, and other assorted goodies that make up a great sushi dinner. He is extremely fond of the pickled ginger, and would be happy to drink a bucket of the soy sauce all on its own. Thankfully for his health, we are thoroughly grossed-out at the prospect and limit him to a few drops of the dark ichor.

We had assumed that he would be overwhelmed by wasabi, so we never bothered giving him any. I can barely survive the mighty punch a tiny dollop of the green stuff. When I muster up he courage to indulge in a bite, my sinuses instantly combust, and my eyes water almost as profusely as my nose do, sending me scrambling for the closest glass of milk to quench the burn. I am left with a feeling that someone swung a sledgehammer at my head, and my tongue dangles lifelessly from my mouth. I could scarcely imagine what a dose of the nuclear goo would do to a toddler.

A few days ago, he finally noticed the verdant dollop gracing the takeout platter. He stood up on his chair and pointed at it insistently.

“Quoi ça? (What’s that?)” he asked pointedly.

“It’s wasabi. It’s a got a lot of kick. It is spicy.”

“Wasabi!” He pointed at it again.

“It may be a bit much for you, dude.” I try to talk him down from what would probably be one of his biggest mistakes that week.

“WASABI!” He insisted.

“I’m not sure…”

“WA-SA-BIII!” he interrupted.

“Ok, you asked for it. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.” I reached out and poked a tiny speck onto the end of my chopstick. My wife cocked one eyebrow up in the universal spousal signal for “is my boneheaded husband really going to do what I think he is?” She curled her lip, instantly freezing the chopstick’s progression towards my son’s mouth. I found myself in a bit of a dilemma.

“WAAAA-SAAAA-BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!” our child bellowed. That’s it. He’s in for it now. I popped the chopstick in as he was taking a big gulp of air to power another scream. His lips closed tightly around the stick. He held it in his mouth for a moment and then closed his eyes. It was almost as if the little fellow was savouring some flavour that I could not even begin to guess at. I slowly pulled the chopstick out of his mouth.

He beamed a huge smile. “Wasabi!”

I was now thoroughly confused. How on Earth was my son still standing there, not a care in the world? He should have been a babbling mess on the floor by now. Maybe it’s a delayed onset wasabi? Seconds ticked by. Nothing. My confusion began to grow exponentially.

“Papa! Wasabi!” He pointed once again to the platter. Meh. I guess this is an impotent batch. Whatever, knock yourself out. Here’s another scoop, kiddo. I hefted on a slightly larger glob onto my chopstick and nonchalantly placed it on his extended tongue.

I am not quite sure what happened next, but the larger quantity of wasabi must have crossed some sensory threshold, since he started hopping up and down energetically on his chair.

“PASABI” He exclaimed, almost in tears. He had just invented a new word, a mashup of “pas ça (not that!)” and “wasabi.” He had concisely articulated his displeasure in such a novel and memorable fashion that we shall never forget it.

Needless to say, he is much less fond of the green paste, and politely refuses it when we offer it to him. For some strange reason, though, he loves offering me some every time we get sushi. What a little bugger.

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…

On Toddlers Discovering the Sears Catalog

A couple days ago, I swung by the local Sears delivery point to pick up a brand new bed set my wife ordered online. Since we live in a remote location, these delivery points are a useful feature of the local commercial landscape. This particular one is in the bottom of floor of a little strip mall. It is dim and cluttered, but it does the job.

As I picked up the delivery, the lady at the counter, who was only a few years younger than I, rummaged through a new box of Sears catalogs and popped it onto the ginormous bag in which the bedding came in.
“Did you know that we are also now offering the telephone order service. You didn’t have to get caught up in costly long distance phone calls to Toronto anymore.” The clerk announced eagerly. “You can simply leave a message on our answering machine and we’ll handle placing the order for you.”

I smiled at her offer of such a cutting edge service, but I did not have the heart to tell her about this newfangled thing called the Internet.

She triumphantly held aloft the catalog she had by now liberated from its shipping box. She plopped it down exuberantly on the bed set. I dubiously eyed the addition, since I had decided to use the pickup as an opportunity for a little exercise and had walked down the hill from my house. It isn’t a huge distance, but I wasn’t looking forward to the concept of lugging the bag up while juggling this awkward inch-thick softback glossy paper tome of consumerism.  I politely took it, since I figured at the very least I could ensure that this particular copy would make it to a recycling bin rather than the dump or simply tossed to decorate the countryside with more unsightly trash.

I trudged the shipment up the hill to our house, channeling every ounce of Sherpa mountain guide I could conjure up. The catalog ended up perched on the living room couch while my wife and I adorned our bed in its new finery. During this time, our boy discovered the marvels contained within the catalog’s inviting pages. I almost had to wrestle it out of his hands to get him to lunch. He spent the rest of the day dashing back to ogle its enthralling contents of toys and baubles. By nightfall, he was fixated on a particular page that displayed a few snazzy train sets.

He came running down to the basement where I was working on a report for work with a page held aloft, roughly torn from the magazine.
“Uh, oh, did you break the book, kiddo?” I asked him.

“Noooo!” He thrust his little arm out for me to see. It was the page with the train set. My wife had removed it from the catalog as it was the only one he was looking at and was hauling the document all over the house. She thought this would help him lighten his burden.

After getting him into the bath, we engaged in the nightly book reading ritual. He insisted that it culminate with a prolonged examination of the ripped page. He gazed at it as if it held the secret to life, the universe, and everything. I knew it held nothing but the forbidden promise of unfulfilled dreams, but I wasn’t going to break it on him, as I remembered fondly my own reverie in contemplation of the potential held by similar pages a little over three decades ago. We eventually had to turn the lights off and lay him down to sleep. The page was set down on the floor, next to the books we had read. We closed the door as he drifted quietly off to sleep.

The next morning, he did not wake us. This is highly unusual, as he is usually the first up in the house. He usually comes tearing through our bedroom door to hop on the bed, bounce around, and climb under the covers in an attempt to rouse us from our slumber so as to force us to flip the TV on and give him a glass of milk. Not this time. The house was gloriously quiet. We managed to eek out another half hour of sleep before my wife pulled herself awake. It was probably some bit of motherly instinct, that bit that invariably cooks up conspiracy theories and potential ploys of destruction that your children could be conceiving when all is too quiet, that  got her out of bed. She shambled gingerly over to his room, stiff from the unexpected gift of extra sleep.

“Ha! You have to come and see this.” She whispered back to me.

What? Can’t I just lie here for a little longer? It’s such a rare and precious moment. Sleep. Sleeeeeeeeeeeeeep!

“Quick. Come see!” She insisted.

Ok, ok. I’m up. I swung my heavy legs out of bed and my creaking back cracked and groaned in protest as I stumbled still bleary-eyed towards the kid’s door. There he was, lying face down in his bed with the page from the Sears catalog clutched tightly in his arms.

It was no wonder he was still asleep. He must have been having some sweet dreams.

Beware the Bed Troll!

Scary things lie beneath the covers

There’s something undeniably fascinating about bed covers and pillows. For a child, they are the high energy fuel of imagination. A pile of pillows can be a fort, a castle, a scientific outpost, a mountain to climb, or an acrobat’s net. These simple items prime the young mind to exploit their environment to the maximum and live adventures beyond compare. They can also provide a canvas upon which our children imagine themselves as something or someone else. Mine chose to become a troll and grab passers by while bellowing terrifying roars.

Attaboy, kiddo!

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!