Sunday, February 17, 2008

U's Fourth Birthday, Part II

While Don and I were discussing, once again, how to introduce the birthday topic to Ulysses today, he stumbled, half-awake, into the office. There we were, surrounded by wrapping paper and wrapped presents. Red-handed! Fortunately, his consciousness was semi enough that I could easily divert his gaze and lead him out of the room before he registered any of it. And all was good cheer.

Several minutes later, Donald guided U to the page with the birthday greeting that awaited him that day: cartoon characters Boowa and Kwala singing lustily, "Happy birthday to you, to you! Happy birthday to ..."

"No," said Ulysses. "No, no, noooo!"

Oops. Too different, too early. Retreat, retreat! Back to good cheer.

A little after that, cuddling on the couch with Ulysses, I told him, "Today is your birthday, Ulysses!"

"No," he said.

"I'm going to make your birthday cake now!"


"What kind of cake would you like?"


I dropped the subject.

A little while later, Ulysses wandered back into the office. From where I was working in the kitchen, I could hear this conversation with Don.

"Wow! Present!"

"That's for later, when we have the cake."

"Present! Present!"

"No, Ulysses, you can't open them now. That's for later, when we have cake!" Don was starting to sound a little desperate.

"Yes! Present."

"No, Ulysses! You can't open that now. Mama will be upset!"

Suddenly I realized that Don's main worry was that he -- Don, that is -- would be in trouble with me if he let Ulysses open his presents early. Well, I thought, this stuff is supposed to bring fun. Not fear and misery. So I called out, "He can open his presents!"

"OK, Ulysses, you can open a present," said Don, but Ulysses had already carried the biggest box halfway across the house and over to his train table, which hasn't been repopulated with trains and tracks since we put it aside for the Christmas tree in December. We've left it clear for now, and figured it would make a good play space and present opening space for U's upcoming birthday. Evidently U had come to the same conclusion.

Ulysses worked off the paper to reveal ... the present our friend Sharon had sent us for Christmas of Aught Five! We had decided back then to give it to Ulysses when he had grown enough to understand what it was. A toy medical kit! At the time, when he was not quite two, it would've just been a random collection of interesting shapes to him. It seemed like a waste of such a beautifully presented set to give it to him at that time. By the time he was old enough to understand it, it would've been worn out, the pieces separated, the brand-new sheen worn off.

Over the past couple of months, Ulysses has picked up the relevant concepts and vocabulary: doctor, medicine, Band-Aid. And then there's: "Fix it," "It's broken," "Ow! That hurt!" and "I bonka'd my head!" Since last summer he's learned the names of a lot of body parts also, starting with head, and followed soon after with eye and foot. One of his favorite books is Maisy the Doctor. On one of his favorite games involves helping Kwala take medicine, get a shot, take a temperature, and so forth. Kwala sings a song, "I'm not scared of anything," through this ordeal in her sick bed. So this morning we rewrapped it in birthday paper (the original Xmas-themed wrapping was long gone) for four-year-old U.

And so he was thrilled to see the doctor kit! "Open the box! Help!" he said, and we obliged. He picked out the stethoscope and, to our surprise, directed the earpieces towards his head, held the resonator disk to his chest, and said, "Ba-BOOM! Ba-BOOM! Ba-BOOM!" Donald and traded glances and exclamations of the form "I didn't know he knew that."

He picked up the toy blood pressure measure and Don showed him how to squeeze the bladder. It made the needle spin on the dial. Ulysses squeezed happily, saying, "Around and around and around and around!"

"Is happy!" said Ulysses at the thermometer's 98.6 position, helpfully illustrated with a happy face as well as the Centigrade equivalent. "Is sad!" he said at the sad-face-fever setting.

He picked up the syringe and started pretend-plunging it into his arm.

"Oh, great," I said, "He must have gotten that watching Pulp Fiction."

"He's not shooting up!" said Donald. "He's drawing blood."

Later, at the party, I heard Don confessing to Sigurd and Gloria that he'd just been sticking up for Ulysses in saying that.

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