Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My brother's reflection on his time with my littles

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Last week circumstances resulted in me being flown out to Minnesota for a three-day weekend babysitting my sister's kids. I stayed out of the pool the week prior so I could retain my strength and arrive healthy and raring to go. I didn't do it alone, though. My mom was there, too, and when I arrived on Thursday night, she had already been there for two days and was happier than usual to see me. For the next three days we tag-teamed cooking, cleaning, napping, and playing. So. Much. Playing. The boys knocked on my door at 6:20 on the dot and then it was go go go until about 7:30. Here are some of my favorite moments:

Lego Guys: When I arrived, the boys had lists of things they wanted to do with me. Most of the ideas were simply to play different Wii games. But Henry was convinced that I was going to buy him a huge Lego set. He really wanted to go shopping. We tried to downplay this, but then I realized that buying a Lego set was going to be fun for me. So off to Target we went and returned a bit later with two kits, one for each. Henry's was too difficult, and so he mostly played with his "guys," which seemed to be the whole point in the first place. This was confirmed when Charley got home, and after seeing his kit said, "Uncle Greg, I like this set, but what I really love are the ones with the guys." He repeated this about three more times so I won't forget next time.

Later, after getting annoyed with the kits -- they just seem to reward following directions and don't encourage free play or imagination -- we went to their big miscellaneous bin and started some other projects. As I was digging through, I realized that there were heaps of guy parts, so I started pulling them out. After dinner, we took a big bowl of these parts to the table, organized them into bowls for heads, bodies, and arms, and then reassembled. By the end of it, we had 42 new guys for them to argue over, since playing only comes after negotiating who gets who. This was probably my favorite moment.

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Chess: Charley is getting to an age where he can really play adult games. He's not that good, but he's in first grade. I didn't learn chess until I was in 5th. He lost the first game, but I gave him a single rule to follow next time we played: Take the middle. Next time, I started without my rooks and it was much closer. Maybe we can start playing online.
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Maths: I've been following the rise of Khan Academy for a while, and this weekend allowed me to sit down with Charley and watch him work through the modules. I gave him very little help, and he easily got through a bunch of advanced math that I didn't think he could do yet. And he loved it. We returned to redo a few of the exercises. Impressed with the program, and I think that it makes math so much more fun, more like a video game.

Science! I arrived with a few projects to do. We created a non-newtonian fluid out of cornstarch and water, and Charley and I played with it for at least a half an hour. Henry wouldn't even look at the stuff. He has some aversion to getting dirty. But missed out. Then we made rainbows in plates of milk, which turned out prettier than I thought. We even used four different kinds of milk to test the effect. This is what it looked like:
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The big finale -- because the big coke bottles and tubes of mentos sat on the counter for two days -- was the diet coke geysers in the back yard. We did four bottles. They went quick, but it was pretty spectacular. Then we used the bottles to create little tornadoes in the sink. Who knows if this was really super fun for them, but it was definitely fun for me.
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Invisible Ball: When I was a kid, my Uncle Wayne would play this game with me. The kid acts like he has an invisible ball and throws it at the bag held by the adult. When the ball hits the bag, the adult snaps his/her fingers so it sounds like something went in. Then the kids come and retrieve the ball. For two 4 and 7 year olds, it's pretty convincing (as it totally was for me at that age) and they loved playing it.

Dinner: Eating meals was fun, and I was impressed that my mom and I (well, mostly my mom) pulled it off and we all sat down to eat together. The boys fought over where I would sit, and Sydney, who never seemed to stop eating, just squealed and pointed and was happy. At dinner we talked about the day and what happened. On Friday, I was eager to learn what Charley did at school. "Nothing," he said. "We just ate lunch and had recess." Slowly other details emerged. He made a watercolor rainbow, returned with some president stuff, and then the big prize: an autograph from the current Miss MN Teen USA. He didn't believe it was her signature, and he couldn't tell us if she was pretty or why she was there or if she said anything. Mostly I think he was confused about it, as was I: why do they send these folks to grade schools? More important was that at recess the girls acted like hungry polar bears, and calling the boys chicken nuggets, chased them around the yard. We probed the logic of this relationship, but it was clear that once the girls dictated the terms, the boys had to be chicken nuggets. In short, the girls were in control.

What I learned: First, sometimes you shouldn't ask kids what they want to do. You just have to do it and they'll enjoy it. Henry said "no" to so many things that eventually I stopped trying to reason with him and we just read or went to the park or ate and he quickly forgot his resistance and went along happily. Case in point: he cried because he didn't want to go to the park, then skipped ahead of us all the way there and cried when we had to go home. Second, kids remember a lot. I regret saying a few things because I'm not used to being around them. I told them that one of their friends sounded like a "jerk" and I said "damn" at least once when I got punched out at some Wii game. But it was the other things, small promises, and even the math and chess tricks that they remembered. Clearly it sticks even when I don't think it will. Third, their parents have done an amazing job. Not only did the boys do things like close doors and pick up and put away dishes, but they entire house was Sydney-proof while still totally playable. Routines worked smoothly and rules were easy to apply. The kids even got sick of television and wanted to play other things. They had their meltdowns and they struggled to share -- Charley has a bossy streak which results, partly, from being older and able to just do things that Henry can't, but that seems pretty normal. One of the biggest challenges I noticed was that Henry consistently wanted to do stuff that he wasn't ready for: Wii games he couldn't control, Lego sets he couldn't do, etc. Being around a big brother has introduced him to these things, and even I couldn't buy him an age-appropriate Lego set because it just seemed too boring. It probably would have been perfect, though.

Time with Mom: This was really special. We talked about all kinds of things or just sat and recovered at the end of the day with a beer or glass of wine. It's always nice to hang out with my parents and talk about when I was a kid or discuss approaches. My mom and I had different styles of handling the kids, but it was good. She kept them organized and safe. I was mostly the one that asked them to explain their actions. It worked, though I know we were both glad to be home and in spaces where we didn't have to worry about who was where doing what.

I don't imagine I'll get this chance again, so I really appreciate my sister and brother-in-law letting me come over for a very special few days.

4 comments:

Peggy, Jason, Lily and Connor said...

Tell Greg that I LOVE THIS! I love that he wrote soooo much about the time with the kids! That's exactly what I like to hear about when I think about others watching my kids. Soooooo special!
pw

jessica said...

Fun to read!

Raina and Andy said...

I like all the details. So funny about Henry not wanting to do things and just enjoying if you don't ask. Recently andy and I said lets just eliminate some of the choices we give Eli. Ha! I wonder what tricks uncle greg has in mind for a 2.5 year old....maybe in 3 years well have him come and. I can start planning our trip now...eeeee. Rr

Raina and Andy said...

I like all the details. So funny about Henry not wanting to do things and just enjoying if you don't ask. Recently andy and I said lets just eliminate some of the choices we give Eli. Ha! I wonder what tricks uncle greg has in mind for a 2.5 year old....maybe in 3 years well have him come and. I can start planning our trip now...eeeee. Rr

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