Play Ball! Baseball Season Starts in Backyard

With one full Little League baseball practice under his belt, JavaBoy decided to get industrious Sunday and made noises about putting together a “field” in the backyard.  Happy that he was playing outside with his sister, I didn’t think much of it until he announced he had named it after JavaGirl as an early birthday present and came inside to “make tickets for the games.”

Lo and behold, he had built a miniature baseball diamond.  The pictures really don’t do it justice.

 baseball diamond built out of PVC pipe

Using PVC piping and connectors I let the kids use to build things with, he constructed a diamond.  (Yes, parts of our backyard are devoid of grass due to our stellar gardening and our cherry trees.)

Here is the catcher’s mound and the picnic table is supposed to be the stadium bleachers.

catcher's mound

And then here are the tickets:

Translation: 
Detroit vs Chicago
Date: 4-1-11 and 4-11-11
Days: Fridays and Mondays
Seat: 2
Players will take autographs

Can a concession stand be far behind?

A lazy “yes” day

The JavaKids didn’t have school yesterday, but since JavaBoy had a bit of a cough, I curtailed any thoughts of taking a field trip, and instead gave us a lazy “yes” day.  I decided to go with the flow, and to say yes to most of their requests!

Yes, I will read every book you bring up to me.  Yes, I will immediately look up the answers to every one of the questions you have for me if I don’t already know the answer.  Yes, we will be silly!

It was a welcome relief from our often busy days.  At one point, I took a cue from JavaBoy’s school and we had DEAR time (drop everything and read!)  That meant EVERYONE had to read, including me.  JavaBoy is able to read on his own, and I asked JavaGirl to pick out some books she could look through, while I read a book about… reading aloud!  (The Read-Aloud Handbook)

At some point during this, JavaGirl asked me why the illustrated fly on the cover of her book (we’re talking a very, very tiny fly) had “squares on his eyes.”  I tried to explain to her how flies’ eyes work and then decided to look for images of “fly eyes” online.  From there we looked at all kinds of insect and animal eyes online and talked about why different animals need different kinds of eyes.

Once we tired of reading and exploring online, we got out wooden blocks.  I have many childhood memories of playing with my wooden blocks, but I find that today kids have so many toys, they don’t often play with the simplest ones.  We made towers and pyramids and discussed what makes one tower fall and the other not.  Being down on the floor with them, I realized it had been a while since I’d actually been down on the floor with them.  When they were younger, we were always rolling and playing on the floor, now we do a lot of things at a table.  I am resolving to spend more time on the floor in the New Year (or earlier!)

We took some time to do a little bit of math and JavaBoy delighted in using the entire family room floor to lay out tally sticks (popsicle sticks) to represent the numbers 1-10 and then matching them to cards I have with images of abacus beads for the numbers 1-10 as well as of fingers showing 1-10 and then finally cards with cardinal numbers. 

Prompted by JavaBoy’s Tiger Cub handbook, we spent some time looking at a local map and circling places we go to frequently.  We looked at the route I have to take to my Junior League meetings all those nights I tell them I have to go because “I have a meeting.”

As the kids got more engrossed in activities, I took advantage of an opportunity to stretch out on the sofa for a bit.  This immediately led to requests to snuggle in what JavaGirl calls my “triangle.”  Resting on my side, I put my back to the back of the sofa and bend my knees so my feet also touch the back of the sofa, making an empty “triangle” for her to sit in, resting her head on my hip.  More so than sitting on my lap, my kids love it when I make a “triangle” they can smoosh into and yesterday they decided to both get into the triangle at the same time — resulting in us looking like a pile of new puppies, limbs all over the place!

This was the position we were in when JavaDad came home and asked what we’d been up to all day.

“Oh, nothing much,” I replied.  “Just a lazy day.”
———————————————————————————-
Disclosure: This post includes a link to Amazon.com and I am an Amazon.com Affiliate.

Legos: Organizing the Obsession

Legos seem like they’d be the easiest thing to organize (they snap together, so modular, so neat!) and yet they are the cause of so much playroom clutter, both by my own informal visual inspection and according to online anecdotes.  Somehow they morph from the initial single bin or box into overflowing containers, toppling towers of boxes, or complex filing systems of kits or worse — a floor littered with teeny, tiny (and painful to step on!) Lego pieces.

Since JavaBoy had acquired several kits between Spring and Summer, in the grand back-to-school room cleaning, I sought advice via my personal Facebook page from friends about the One True Solution for organizing Legos, and found there really wasn’t one.  But there were several good ideas.

The Great Kit Debate

One of the first things to decide when organizing Legos is your kit philosophy.  Do you think those kits with their zillions of tiny pieces (perhaps I overstate) need to remain intact?  Or are they put together once and then disassembled and the pieces should join in with the rest of your Lego collection?  This is not a simple question.  My Facebook thread on this became quite heated.  There were those who felt it was essential to keep kits whole and even this group divided into those who believed in building once and never taking the piece apart and those who believed in building something and taking it apart but keeping the pieces in a single container together (the original box, a Ziploc bag with the instructions, etc.)  Then there were those who felt that the kits stifled creativity and that the whole point of Legos was to dream up your own creation.

After much thought and internal debate, I came to decide that I liked that the kits taught JavaBoy how to follow instructions, how to visualize both the small parts and the big picture, and even taught him the simple basics of construction and architecture and that by doing so, he was then learning valuable skills for planning and building his own creations with the “loose” Legos we kept in another container.  In other words, I see value in the structure of the kits and I see value in the freedom of unstructured play with Legos.  This means I’m going to be spending a lot of money on Legos.

Bins, Drawers, Cases, and Bags

sorting LegosNow that I had our philosophy down, just how was I going to organize all that stuff?  My friend Daisy had a beautiful system for the kits.  “Large freezer (like these because they are thicker) ziplock bags for individual sets with large numbers written in permanent marker on the bags. The large numbers correspond to a Lego 3-ring binder that has pages laminated with pictures from the cut up boxes for individual sets with each set page labeled to match number from ziplock bag. The ziplock bags in turn are combined together in larger clear rubbermaid storage boxes by similar themed sets. If sets get mixed up, I don’t fret as the kids can look at the pictures and simply find alternative pieces to make up sets. I like encouraging as much creativity as possible and my boys seem to prefer this too.”

Well, we haven’t quite gotten to that level of organization.  The kits were mostly still in their boxes with *most* of their pieces in the boxes, but the boxes were taking up too much space.  We spent some time putting them into plastic bags and trying to see if we had all the pieces but haven’t finished that project yet.  I would say it is about 85-90% done.    Other things like our beach trip, school starting, soccer starting and so on have taken over, but I consider it a good start!

We store our “loose” Legos in an Iris cart drawer, as I use Iris carts for Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs as well — no more stacked up bins to deal with, easy to open and close and they can roll out of the way if I need them to.  This works great for those regular brick pieces, but the itty-bitty pieces and specialty shape pieces tend to get lost in a big drawer.  Which is why I adore a tip from my friend Susan, “I use a few of those divided notion-sorters from the sewing aisle at Wal-Mart to sort all the tons of little pieces that you end up with… that way it’s super easy if you need to go back and find a specific piece. I use the same kind of divided container to sort lego figurine pieces (each piece in its own section: heads, hair, torsos, legs, accessories, etc). I found that the boys enjoyed playing with legos much more after doing this… they love making their own characters.” 

Brilliant! 

I immediately ran out to our closest Michaels art supply store and in the beading area I found that there were different sizes of divided containers (and different prices — the ones that were perfect for our needs were actually the really cheap ones) and we turned sorting the pieces into a family project.  JavaBoy LOVES having the little Lego bodies sorted.  He also liked having the small pieces sorted out such as the “one-bumps” and “two-bumps” and so on.  These boxes then fit into the Iris cart drawer, so it didn’t create any space issues, just made it easier to find the smaller pieces.

Why Does It Matter?

After I straightened out the Legos a bit, both kids had renewed interest in the Legos.  In fact, it reminded me that we had the large base plates and since JavaBoy has a Lego table in his room, I took those base plates and put them on the table in JavaGirl’s room so she now essentially has a Lego table in her room.

More importantly, Legos are the ultimate toy.  Both low-tech and yet highly-linked to generating interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), Legos are toys that turn grown-ups (notice I didn’t say just men) into kids again, and stimulate the logical and creative sides of the brain.

The only people I know who hate Legos are people who have to clean them up!

So I wanted an easy-to-maintain system so that JavaBoy (and as she gets more obsessed with them, JavaGirl) can pull them out and put them away as he wants to and I don’t have to worry about lost pieces or injured bare feet.  And most of all, I wanted to be able to encourage the kids to play with them instead of relegating the Legos to the basement because I was sick of dealing with them.  They are just too good of a toy to hide away.

A Few Fun Things to Know About….

  • Lego Stores Monthly Mini Model Build  Lego Stores have a time to when kids ages 6-14 can build mini-kits for free (these kits are not for sale).  The McLean store does this after 5pm on the first Tuesday of the month, check your local store for details.
  • You can have a birthday party at the Lego store — contact your local store for details, but it includes a little Lego kit for the attendees.
  • There are programs intended to get kids interested in science, technology, engineering and math that begin as early as age 6 and continue on through high school.  They begin at age 6 with Jr. FIRST Lego League and increasingly move from working with Legos to working toward serious robotics.
  • The National Building Museum in DC has a special exhibit (meaning you have to get tickets for it — and they sell out, so get tickets early) called Lego Architecture: Towering Ambition  featuring 15 world famous buildings recreated in Lego bricks by Lego Certified Professional Adam Reed Tucker.  Not only is it amazing to look at the buildings, but the room immediately following the buildings is a Lego free-play area where kids (and grown-ups) are invited to create their own masterpieces at what I can only describe as a Lego bar!  Our entire family enjoyed this, in fact it overshadowed seeing the rest of the museum.  Tickets are $5 each and the exhibit is here until September 5, 2011 (yes, NEXT year.)
  • There will be more Lego fun to be had at the Lego booth at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in DC October 23 and 24.  (If you happen to go there, please also stop by the booth for the Children’s Science Center!)

——————————————–

Iris, Lego, Lincoln Logs, Michaels, Rubbermaid, Tinker Toys and Ziploc are trademarks and/or registered trademarks of their respective companies.  I am affiliated with the Junior League of Northern Virginia, a major contributor to the Children’s Science Center.

A Statistic Waiting to Happen

With the sun shining on our backs, my children and I were trying to grab a little bit of shade in the picnic table area of Lake Fairfax’s Water Mine as JavaDad stood in line to grab us an early dinner.  We were trying to squeeze in a little bit of summer fun — after a summer that felt swallowed up far too much by my two surgeries and recoveries.

At a table immediately across from us was a young family with a boy who looked to be about 3, and an 8-month-old baby who was so sleepy she kept nodding off, and yet apparently so hungry she kept waking up, trying to gnaw on a French fry she clutched tightly in her fingers.  My children and I were delighting in watching this scenario and I kept looking off to my right to monitor my husband’s progress in obtaining our food, so it took me a while to register that the heaving sobs coming from the left were not from a baby, but a boy.

A young boy, who I started to realize, appeared to be alone.

Although a sign clearly stated the area was for “Temporary dining only!  30 minutes maximum!” there were coolers and towels and other items abandoned by people enjoying the slides and lazy river of The Water Mine.  Another family had been eating at a table off to my left and I had thought the cries had been associated with them.  But now, there he sat, a boy bigger than JavaGirl and smaller than JavaBoy, crying his heart out.

And no parent to be seen.

No one was in line at the food area behind my husband.  No one else was hovering near the picnic area.  No one seemed to care about this boy crying.

Having exchanged friendly banter with the mother of Sleeping Baby, I asked, “Have you seen any adults around this boy?”  She realized she hadn’t either and she went over to talk to him as did I.  (Java Kids were mere feet away, in clear view.)

It was a little  hard to understand him, between sobs and a bit of a language difference, but the garbled tale was that he was five years old and he was crying because somehow his older brother had caused him to lose one of his swim shoes.  This caused a big problem and it “embarrassed” him (his words).  For some reason the entire family was swimming without him now.  It was unclear whether he was saying his father “kid” (kidded) him or “hit” him during the incident.  We asked if he was on time out and he said no.  But at this point, he had been sobbing his little  heart out sitting on his own for 20 minutes.  His father and brother were apparently riding the lazy river, a circuit that allowed only an obstructed view of the picnic area about every six minutes.  He said his mother was “with the baby.”  Apparently that was all the supervision his family felt a five-year-old needed in a crowded water park that was at or near its capacity of 760 patrons.

It just so happened that father of Sleeping Baby had seen a blue water shoe when they were getting out of the pool, and he ran over to find it — it was indeed Crying Boy’s.  Wow, I can tell how hard his family looked — you know, while gleefully tubing past on the lazy river.

At this point JavaDad came to our table with our food so he watched our kids while I took Crying Boy towards the lifeguard station with the idea of having them call out for his family on the loudspeaker.  This also happened to take us mere feet from the exit — imagine if I had been a pedophile instead of a concerned citizen.   Just before I reached the guard station, his father happened to get out of the pool and approached us.  I asked the boy, “Is this your father?” and he said yes and happily reached towards him.

Not once did the man ask me who I was or why I had his son by the hand.  Nor where the missing shoe had reappeared from.  No, he simply took his son by the hand and walked off.  I was frankly too stunned to speak, though I would’ve like to have given him a peace of my mind.

I later asked my husband, “If you ever saw a stranger holding one of our kids’ hands in public, how would you react?”  I’m not even certain his answer is publishable.  The fact is, he would first freak out, and then ask questions.  Crying Boy’s father did neither.

All night tonight I have thought about how easy it would have been for me to have walked out the door with that child if I had wanted to.  He talked to me.  He trusted me.  He held my hand.  Somewhere, out there, I hope his family is as restless about this as I am.  Playing the “what if” game.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, every 40 seconds, a child goes missing.  He so easily could’ve been one of those statistics.

First Wheels

As a mom, there are some things that come naturally, and there are some things that definitely do NOT.  Teaching my kids to ride a bike is one of those things.  I wasn’t even aware I was supposed to be teaching my kids to ride a bike yet.  For whatever reason, my parents didn’t teach me to ride a bike at the “normal” age — I didn’t learn until 5th grade.  Now, this may have something to do with the fact that my mother is a bit legendary in her klutziness (which I inherited) and I have a searing childhood memory (prior to my sister’s birth, so I had to have been a toddler) of me sitting in a seat on the back of her bicycleand her running us along a chain link fence and me having a very painful, very bloody knee and screaming and crying inconsolably on a sidewalk somewhere.  That could have something to do with it.  A little.

No, I stuck to my tricycle and my Big Wheel and I think I was quite happy in my non-bicycle-riding status until two things happened.  1) There was going to be a bicycle rodeo in the fifth grade. 2)  All my girlfriends were starting to ride their bikes to Woolworth’s to buy lip gloss.  Neither of these activities were things I wanted to be left out of.  At this point my parents were separated but I believe my mother decided my father had the responsibility of teaching me to ride my bike.  This was probably wise on her part because my memories of it are awful.  It seemed to be a series of collisions and bruises and scabby knees and moments where I was certain I would die.  The only positive part was my pink Barbie bike with a banana seat, pink and white streamers, and a basket.  Which I am sure would mortify any self-respecting fifth grader these days.  I don’t think they even make banana seats any more, do they?

The point of this bit of self-revelation is to show you just how ill-prepared and how emotionally scarred I was in this area when it came to the chapter of parenting called Teaching Your Children to Ride a Bike.  JavaDadwas no help.  According to him, he just woke up learning how to ride a bike at some age.  Big help there, buddy.  So a couple of years ago when my son’s preschool teacher’s end-of-the-year scrapbook included pictures of four-year-olds riding bikes, I came home and said, “Oh my goodness honey, we’re supposed to be teaching him to ride a bike!!”  And JavaDad rolled his eyes at me as if I said, “Oh my goodness honey, we need to do the chicken dance!”

Because I somehow became Her Royal Highness, Purchaser of All Things, I had to select the bike, though my husband was probably much more qualified.  Since it was consignment season, I thought how easy, I’d just pick a bike that looked high enough at the next sale, and get it at a good price.  I had no idea there were different wheel sizes for goodness’ sakes!  I was looking for a blue, green, or red bike about yay high.  Yay high being a technical term, of course.  Some wheels were gigantic, some were itty bitty.  Some bikes had training wheels, some did not.  I finally settled on a blue bike that had little wheels but I hoped not too little, and training wheels.

JavaBoy was ecstatic.  He couldn’t ditch the trike fast enough.  Pedaling down the cul-de-sac was great, pedaling back up (hill) not so much.  But he was determined.  Sadly, it was tough for me to keep up with him (I was so worried about the multiple driveways) and also entertain his sister, two years younger, who didn’t want to be pushed along in the Kettler tricycle, didn’t want to pedal a tricycle, and didn’t want to just run back and forth behind him (neither did I, really, but that’s beside the point).  So his bicycle lessons were few and far between.  The logistics were too tough and weekends always seemed so busy or the weather wouldn’t cooperate.

Flash forward to today.  On a post-birthday visit to Toys R Us, we took JavaGirl to redeem a gift card, when we wandered by the bike section.  “Let me just try something out,” I said to JavaDad.  ‘I just wonder, maybe she’d do better on a bike instead of a tricycle…”  And so we tried her on a few bicycles and once we found one the right size, although she struggled, indeed, she pedaled it with more enthusiasm than she did the tricycle at home.  JavaBoy, meanwhile, whipped around us in loops on a larger bike.  We finished what we came to the store for, but at home, we reassessed the bike situation.

A neighbor had given us his son’s bike — a larger two-wheeler, which we had been hanging onto for when JavaBoy was ready.  JavaBoy is not yet ready to have the training wheels off, but was definitely ready for a larger bike.  Would our daughter go for his smaller, blue bike?

At first she was a little afraid, but she actually pedaled it better than in the store.  Better than JavaBoy did when he first got the bike, even though he had been the champion trike pedaler.  She could do it, but she almost seemed reluctant to.  I knew just what would make her heart sing — a bell.  Since I had to go get training wheels for the other bike, I had already made up my mind to get her one when she sidled up to me and asked, “Mommy, can I have a ding-ding bell?”  I leaned down and kissed her and told her I would go to the store right now to get her one.

JavaBoy accompanied me to the store.  We picked out his training wheels, a bell for his sister, two cup holders (as I have grand visions of all of us biking to the library and the pool), and then a bell that he could earn as a treat for “when (I) learn to ride without training wheels.”  He proudly carried his bell to the register.

Once everything was assembled at home, JavaGirl announced they were having a bike race and took off, not even waiting for her brother.  Ding-ding-ding. You could hear it going up and down the cul-de-sac as her brown hair flew under her pink helmet.  Sure, she still gets stuck, but she’s got her brother to help her out.  Two kids, learning to ride their bikes together.  No bloody knees, no terrifying memories.  Maybe it’s not quite “on time” but they’ll get there and they’ll have fun doing it.  Once they have the hang of it, I’m going to get myself a bike again.  Probably not pink.  And I guess it won’t have a banana seat.  I suppose I’m too old for streamers now.  But  I’m definitely getting a bell!