Angela Amman

The gratitude project: Day twenty-nine

Gratitude projectGratitude list: Holding hands

Day twenty-nine is a misnomer, really. I fell behind, and then we lost our beloved Nan. I didn’t feel much like writing for a few days. Those days stretched forward into the last sputters and bursts of summer days, and I stayed away from this space. I missed it and returned and hope to be here more frequently in the fall. Maybe not daily, though, because that feels like pressure instead of joy.

They don’t always walk in step. Especially as August days dwindle into September, with summer camps behind us and the looming routine of school ahead, they pick on each other. She vacillates between child and tween, and he’s not always sure which sister he’ll get when she speaks. He vacillates between the obedient little brother she’s always known and the goofy but focused person coming into himself. She isn’t accustomed to his assertions of independence any more than he is to making them, so they clash and crash seemingly minute to minute.

Yet they dance back to each other. They sing and stage Hamilton numbers and ride bikes, play board games and incorporate LEGO and American Girls into the same games so they can play together. I can see their relationship knitting together in a way that doesn’t belong to me at all.

I yearn for them to find that footing. It breaks my heart to be outside it.

My heart pieces itself back together and grows even more full when I see moments like this, hands held without us urging it.

Not too long enough, hand holding felt like a lifeline. Stay together. Hold mama’s hand. OK, hold your sister’s hand. Don’t walk too far ahead. I need to be able to see you. Stay together. Stay together. Stay together.

I still yell that at times, as they careen out of sight on bikes or weave too far ahead of us in a busy place. I saw it less, though, and see them doing it on their own, the togetherness. They enjoy each other in a way I couldn’t force if I tried but feel so lucky to witness.

 

The gratitude project: Day twenty-eight

gratitude project

making bodily noises with his hands in between sinking my ships

Gratitude list: Battleship

Pretend play fails to hold my attention many days. I try to play when asked, especially because I realize how fleeting their worlds of make-believe are. And I relish the times the game evolves and becomes a conversation about friends or something bothering them or something they love.

Still, most days that magical bonding zone eludes me, and my mind wanders. I think of tasks I should be doing when I’m supposed to be a villain plotting my escape from a LEGO jail or walking a fluff of an American Girl pet to the pet salon.

Board games, though, hold my attention. Some days I have to play with my laptop on the table next to me, and the kids understand that, because the majority of my focus is turned toward them. In fact, I find myself abandoning work tasks because our games start moving too quickly to keep up with both.

We’ve always liked games, but I loved the transition from Chutes and Ladders to Clue, from Candyland to Battleship.

Dylan takes Battleship seriously. He sets up his board quickly, and makes sure it’s hidden from view if I need to get up to refill my water or grab him one of his constantly-needed snacks.

My own Battleship strategy needs a little tweaking. I guess a little randomly and a little by intuition, and that’s not really how the game works.

He guesses methodically and carefully, something I only realized late into one game as he systematically picked off my boats as I kept stabbing for his in the dark. Even though he’ll still curl against my side during reading time, he pumps his fists in triumph when he beats me.

I guess I have a little strategizing to learn.

The gratitude project: Day twenty-seven

gratitude projectGratitude list: Minecraft and little boy hands

I talked a little about what keeps Abbey busy when she’s exhausted summer-like activities. Despite her insistence on teaching him her favorite slime-making methods, Dylan’s only interested in making a new batch once every four times she invites him into her laboratory — otherwise known as the kitchen island.

When he needs a break from activities, he wanders over and asks, “Can I play Minecraft?” Sometimes, he can’t wait until I’m finished with a conference call, and he’ll draw me a little picture, complete with zombies and Steves, a note across: Can I play Minecraft now?

We don’t have a gaming system yet, something he reminds me about frequently, but we added Minecraft to an old desktop computer sitting on our dining room table. He presses buttons and moves around and builds. Faced with parents who don’t have a clue how any of it really works, he watches YouTube kids’ videos about how to get through obstacles or tricky situations.

He’ll talk about it incessantly some days.

Like slime, it surprises me a little that I find myself grateful for Minecraft, for a game that involves sitting in front of a computer instead of kicking a ball or soaking in the sun shining on our short summer season.

But he does more than play the game in front of the computer.

He builds LEGO scenes based on Minecraft. Of course, LEGO has Minecraft sets. LEGO knows its audience has a penchant for building and a weakness for certain types of pop culture.

He makes his own, too, though. He incorporates other characters into those scenes sometimes, and I see his make-believe world building skills shaping his time in the same way his sister plays with her beloved American Girl dolls.

Not all of the influence is purely positive. Left to his own devices, he’ll grab one of our phones and make a video of himself playing with his sets, much like the ones he’s come across while looking for help on the video game. His (imaginary) YouTube channel would be filling up quickly if it were real.

Even those, though, make me smile. I upload them to my computer, making a note to back up to the external drive. I want to capture this stage, to remember it when he’s moved past pretend play and videos only seen by a few eyes. His little voice comes through clearly, even when he’s not on the video. I marvel at his small hands, fingers hovering between the baby ones I once held and the deft, sure tools that craft his world.

The gratitude project: Day twenty-six

gratitude project

racing slime…who knew?

Gratitude list: Slime

I never thought I’d be thankful for slime.

The first few times we attempted slime in our kitchen, my counters looked like they’d been hit by the Sta Puft marshmallow Man. Glue dripped. I found hardened bits of over-Boraxed slime puttied to edges of drawers. I stepped on sticky bits and filled the sink with sloppy containers.

With tendencies leaning toward impatience and slivers of perfectionism — and that’s just me — our first attempts involved frustration and rolled eyes. We mixed too quickly, added too much of that, not enough of this, and would sometimes get so wrapped up in a “recipe” to remember the science behind each of the steps and ingredients.

On good days, we’d talk about what happens during the process, what firms up the slime, what makes it smooth, what makes it fluffy.

After many — many, many — batches, Abbey’s developed a methodology that works. After those first bomb-like slimes sessions, she mastered mixing small amounts of Borax into water and spooning it carefully into the glue. Her preferred recipe involves shaving cream, which can be messy but wipes clean in a swipe and a smile.

gratitude project

Working from home with kids home involves me being distracted more time than I’d like to admit. We still get out of the house most days. Pool days and lessons and day camps and play dates fill our calendar. Still, I always feel like I’m rushing when we’re actually at home — checking an email, making small changes on a “finished” project, sneaking in a conference call.

The kids like to play outside, but some mornings they like to stay in their pajamas, and some days after being at the pool all day, they need a little break from the sun and humidity.

Some of those days involve slime.

gratitude project

Even while I’m working, I find myself listening to her make it. During play dates, I can hear her talking friends through her process. She even instructs Dylan, with whom her patience can sometimes grow thin.

I like that she’s learned how to correct the mixture if something goes wrong — add a little glue here, a little Borax water there, glitter and lotion, foamy soap and food coloring each have their own step, depending on her mood.

And now she cleans it up herself.

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