It's been a fairly busy summer here at the International House of Johnson, and much of that business (busy-ness?) is due to a five-and-a-half-year-old boy who—sometime this spring, with the help of his mother—made a List.
On the List: things to do this summer. Here's a sample:
- Go camping. Done. We made our annual trek to the Maumee Bay State Park in Toledo early in August. This year, we replaced our 10-year-old tent with a 10' x 17' Coleman Red Canyon dome tent. In theory, this three-room palace sleeps eight; I can't attest to that, but it accommodated three with plenty of room to spare.
- Go to the zoo. We did this a couple of weeks ago. There were polar bears and elephants at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, but no hippos. We were disappointed by the lack of hippopotami, as we parked in the "Hippo" section and were thus primed for them.
- Go on a train ride. We crossed this one off in late July on the Ashtabula, Carson & Jefferson scenic line. If I'm honest, the scenery left a bit to be desired. Kyle and his cousin enjoyed the ride, so everybody was happy. Special guest appearance by Jay Lynn.
- See a baseball game. Done. Lake County Captains versus the mumblety-mumble Loons. The Captains won, though Kyle couldn't have told you that after we left the game.
- Play mini-golf. We're working on this one; we'll probably go to Red Mill sometime in the next couple of weeks.
"Go to the movies with dad" wasn't on the list, but we have seen a few together:
- Cars 2
- Kung Fu Panda 2
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- The Smurfs
We're also preparing for kindergarten, and when I say "we" I mean "mostly Laura." She's been purchasing school supplies and clothes and occasionally letting me know that we've received some manner of communication from the school. From what I understand, we'll be putting Kyle on a bus sometime next week and—if all goes to plan—he'll be back later in the day. Wash, rinse, repeat until educated.
That's what's been going on here this summer. What have you been up to?
Kyle has been practicing for April Fool's Day all week.
"Daddy," he told me on Tuesday, "there's a spider on your head!"
"Daddy," he said on Wednesday, "there's a spider on your head!"
"Daddy," he informed me yesterday, "there's a spider on your head!"
Every day, a spider on my head.
This morning I come downstairs and he's playing in the living room. I'm expecting him to tell me I have a spider on my head.
He looks at me and says...nothing.
So now I'm wondering if his April Fool's joke is to not tell me about the spider on my head. Did he just forget? Was the lead-in—a week of premature attempts to get me to freak out about nonexistent arachnids—actually a cunning setup? Is my five-year-old son playing mind games with me?
The trouble is, the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced there's a spider on my head. I feel a faint tickling; the sensation of eight little legs scrabbling through my hair. It's there...and then it's gone...and then it's there again. Something just brushed against my temple. I feel a definite presence on my forehead, just beneath the hairline.
I can't check. Understand that if my hand so much as touches my hair or I look at a mirror, he wins. But as I sit here, there are phantom arachnids—please let them be figments of my overactive imagination—roaming over my scalp. And I wonder if maybe he hasn't already won.
Let's be clear about one thing right off the bat: I'm living vicariously through my five-year-old son. Not every minute of every day, mind you, but at the very least I'm reliving my own childhood with him. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that my young apprentice received a few Star Wars-themed Christmas presents.
- Twin-Pod Cloud Cars — When I was a kid, the Star Wars vehicle I most wanted was the All-Terrain Armored Transport (AT-AT): the lumbering mechanical walkers that assaulted the Rebel base on Hoth at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back. Second on my list of "Most Wanted Star Wars Vehicle Toys" was the Millennium Falcon. The twin-pod cloud cars that patrolled Bespin (AKA Cloud City) were right at the bottom of the list, just below Luke Skywalker's landspeeder. Perhaps someone who owns or owned the original toy can tell me whether or not it had a second, hidden set of missile launchers revealed when the cars were pushed together. It's a simple thing, but definitely kicked the toy up the list several notches.
- Galactic Heroes AT-AT — The Galactic Heroes toys are short, cute, manga-influenced versions of regular action figures; perfect for the younger Star Wars fan. The Imperial walker playset ay not have all of the moving parts of the "full-sized" AT-AT, but it's still pretty cool. It comes with a speederbike that can be stowed in the main cargo compartment, as well as a driver figure. For reasons I can't explain, the latter is holding a blaster, making it rather difficult to fit him into the walker's cockpit.1 The walker also features light-up blaster cannons, blasting and walking sound effects, and a "cable" that allows you to recreate the scene in which Luke Skywalker destroys an AT-AT using a thermal detonator (not included) and the tow cable salvaged from his snowspeeder. Though it was designed for the Galactic Heroes sets, the AT-AT is also a reasonable size to crush some smaller LEGO vehicles, which leads to...
- LEGO Star Wars Snow Trooper Army Pack and LEGO Star Wars Rebel Trooper Battle Pack — I'm not sure whether the focus on The Empire Strikes Back was intentional or mere serendipity, but there are LEGO Rebels aplenty upon which the Galactic Heroes AT-AT can tread, not to mention Rogue Two,2 a Rebel "ice cutter,"3 a couple of Imperial snowtroopers, an AT-AT driver4 an Imperial speederbike (which the Empire appears to have had no trouble adapting to the cold) and an Imperial "battle station."5 One of the Rebel troopers has a mustache, and when Kyle and I were watching the Hoth assault (for reference purposes) he spotted similarly-'stached Rebel on-screen and excitedly declared that he's "got that guy!" Each of the sets has between 70 and 80 pieces, and it took me the better part of an hour to assemble everything on Christmas Day. I've heard some criticism about how specialized LEGOs have become, and claims that the majority of pieces in the sets can only be used to build the vehicle (or battle station) pictured on the box. That doesn't appear to be the case with these sets; the only piece (apart from the various weapons and equipment held by the minifigs) that an imaginative child would likey have trouble repurposing is the chassis of the speederbike.
- R2-D2 is in Trouble, Star Wars Mighty Muggs and Star Wars Mighty Beanz — There's really not too much to be said about these, except that I really, really hope Kyle doesn't decide that he wants more Mighty Beanz because they are, in a word, dumb.
- As you might imagine, this is not something that Kyle is bothered by; he has yet to say "Why does the AT-AT pilot have a blaster? Not only is it terribly impractical, I question whether it's canon!" [↩]
- AKA Zev Senesca. "Echo Base, this is Rogue Two. I've found them. Repeat: I've found them." [↩]
- AKA Vehicle Not Appearing in The Film. [↩]
- Sans AT-AT, sadly. [↩]
- "Station" as in "stationary" as in "not moving or intending to be moved." Call me a nit-picker, but I don't see how this could play into the Empire's assault on the Hoth base. [↩]
ME: [Reading a Christmas-related statistic] Forty-one percent of toys children receive for the holidays are broken by March.
KYLE: Who's that?
"Daddy, what's that?" Kyle asked from the back seat of the minivan.
"What's what?" I asked.
"That what I'm pointing at!"
"I can't see what you're pointing at when I'm driving," I said.
"What about your eyes in the back of your head?" he asked.
Uh-oh. Mommies and daddies have eyes in the back of their heads, I told him a few weeks ago.
"Those eyes can only see you when you're being bad," I said, adding one more sticky strand to the web.
"Is there any F-R-O-S-T-I-E left in the freezer?" I asked Laura as dinner was winding down, unintentionally misspelling the name of the frozen dairy treat from Wendy's.
I must have mumbled.
"Daddy?" Kyle asked. "What does T-I-T spell?"
It's just a good thing I didn't have food in my mouth.
Laura and I have been emphasizing the importance of good manners to Kyle lately, as he seems to have forgotten how to say "please" and "thank you" consistently. Thus, the following exchange:
KYLE: Daddy, can I play the Xbox?
ME: [trying to coax a "please"] Can you play the Xbox...what?
KYLE: The Xbox 360!
As restaurants go, Quaker Steak & Lube is pretty cool: a service station crossed with a 50s diner theme, cars and motorcycles hanging from the ceiling, and fantastic food. Kyle was suitably impressed with the decor, but the icing on the cake came during a visit to the men's room.
"Look at this," I said, pointing to the door handle shaped like a gas pump nozzle, "pretty cool, huh?"
No reaction, but he's four years old and has never seen a gas pump nozzle up close, so I really don't know what I was expecting.
The door closed behind us and I directed him to the urinal.
"Wow!" he exclaimed. "A new kind of toilet! This restaurant is awesome!"
Kyle accidentally head-butted me a couple of days ago, and my natural reaction was to feign unconsciousness.
KYLE: Daddy, don't be dead!
ME (without opening my eyes): I'm not dead, I'm knocked out.
KYLE: Well, get knocked back in!
My young apprentice has a decidedly casual attitude about vomiting. He'll be in the middle of talking (or eating, or playing with one Star Wars action figure or another), there will be a bit of coughing with a tell-tale gag at the end, and then: barf. This is not accompanied by crying or panicking, but generally with the observation, "I puked," followed by an immediate attempt to resume his previous activities; this despite the fact that there is almost certainly more to come in the Upchuck Department.
Laura and I will stop Kyle in his tracks and begin the process of (a) cleaning up whatever vomit has already been delivered and (b) attempting to catch any subsequent outbursts somewhere between his lips and the nearest horizontal surface (or his shirt). This latter act is typically achieved through the application of tissues, as they are usually the closest thing to a towel or washcloth within reach. Unfortunately, attempting to catch vomit—even from a four-year-old whose stomach is the size of (as near I can guess) a softball—with a tissue is a bit like trying to catch spaghetti with a broadsword, only slimier.
Yesterday, after Kyle's lunch made an encore appearance on the living room carpet, Laura decided it was time to introduce "the pail". She retrieved an empty four-quart ice cream container from the garage, I filled the bottom with about a half-inch of water, and we instructed Kyle that—should he feel the need to vomit again—he should aim for the bucket. Kyle immediately decided that it an old ice cream pail with a bit of water in the bottom was pretty cool, which led to an "accidental" spill about 30 minutes later. "It was a accident," he declared1 as Laura was cleaning up the spilled water.
Thankfully, there were no further spills, but later in the day there was more vomit, not all of which made it into the pail. Laura stood there, pail in hand, coaching Kyle on the proper angle of approach necessary to ensure optimum target efficiency, while I grabbed a pile of washclothes from the kitchen and made some attempt to clean up the mess, starting with Kyle's face.2
None of this seems to phase Kyle in the slightest. "I puked," he says, then stands by with what little patience a four year old can muster and waits for us to clean up the mess.3 If we weren't there to hold him back, he'd just play around the puddle on the carpet for a bit, pausing only to make a new, smaller puddle when the aftershock hit. This isn't how adults do it: we slump with our heads over the toilet (or the pail), often huddling there long after the last heave has been hove, just in case. Never does the thought of getting up and running around wander anywhere in thinking distance; we just want to be still. When we barf, we might as well clear our calendar for the rest of the day. Wimps.
- He pronounces the word "ASS-i-dent" and uses it like a "Get Out of Jail Free" card or his own little form of diplomatic immunity. I imagine that I'm Murtaugh on the deck of the Alba Varden, Kyle has just shot Riggs, and he looks up at me and sneers, "It was a assident." What's a father to do? [↩]
- If there's anything worse than a puking child, it's a puking child with a runny nose. And diarrhea, but that didn't play a factor in this particular incident. [↩]
- Or rather, that's how it worked yesterday. I'm told that sometime this morning he announced his intention to be sick, trotted over to the pail, and proceeded to cantar oaxaca directly into it. They grow up so quickly. [↩]