Sunday, January 31, 2010

Your brain on dreams

The Disney Channel's perky PSA showed an assortment of animals and people deep in slumber. The energetic voiceover: "Sleep is how your body rests!" followed by an exhortation to get proper rest.

I was folding clothes nearby when this caught my attention. "Hm," I thought out loud, "I would have said, 'Sleep is how your brain rests.'" I was about to go on that it's perfectly possible to lie down and rest your body without being asleep; that the change in brain state is what makes the difference between sleep and wakefulness.

"No!" said Ulysses, forcefully. "Sleep is how your body rests."

"Sleep is how your brain rests," I repeated, "because your brain waves..."

Ulysses cut me off. "Sleep is how your body rests."

"Sleep is how your brain rests," I said, unhelpfully.

"Sleep is how your body rests."

"Sleep is how your brain rests."

"Sleep is how your body rests."

"OK, OK, whatever," I said.

* * *

At bedtime, I tucked Ulysses in and said, "Now it's sleep time. Shut your eyes and go to sleep."

"Sleep is how your body rests," he reminded me.

"Sleep is how your brain rests," I said.

"No! Your brain has to stay awake."

"Why do you say that?" I asked.

"Your brain has to stay awake, so it can dream."

He kinda had me there.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Too far gone

Ulysses was watching a kid show this morning before kindergarten. The main character, Special Agent Oso ("the unique stuffed bear" who helps children break down daunting tasks into manageable procedures via the scientific method) was assisting a little girl with her homework assignment, finding three wildflowers to press in a book.

The girl needed to find a daisy -- described in the show as a flower with white petals and a yellow center. She and Oso found themselves amidst a field of yellow-petaled flowers with white centers, white-petaled flowers with black centers and so forth. At each new flower discovery, Oso addressed the television viewing audience:

"Are these the daisies we're looking for?"

After the third iteration of this, Ulysses burst out:

"These aren't the droids we're looking for!"

He's way gone.

So safe

"Good guys save the world," Ulysses said.

I looked up from the bamboo cutting board where I was using my favorite carbon-steel knife to dice fine an onion for the mountain of paprikash I was preparing for supper. Inches away, several pounds of chicken crackled vehemently against the intense heat of the flat, shallow sauteuse and of one of our biggest skillets. To save time, I had filled up multiple pans for the pre-browning. The over-the-stove vent was turned on, and it pulled lustily, if not all that effectively, at the fine oil mist that escaped up through the mesh of the spatter guards covering the pans.

"What's that?" I asked.

Ulysses was only a few yards from me, but on the other side of the noisy vortex of Maillard, and so not easy to hear. He was at the play table, a sturdy 6'-square cedar job Donald built him years ago, playing with his medieval knights, which he'd long ago divided into good guys and bad. His two castles -- one good and one bad, as he had instantly and irrevocably deemed each one as it came into the household -- were locked in combat. Cannon from the good guy side pummeled the bad castle, and when the bad guys tumbled from their crenolated turrets, U piled them up and slammed them away into their own dungeons.

"Good guys save the world." That was what I thought he'd said.

I took a breath.

"That's the idea," I said, finally.

"The world is so safe!" he exclaimed. "So safe."

To this I could not muster a response.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Goodbye, chompsticks

Yesterday, we had spaghetti (low-carb from Dreamfields, the best!) and meatballs for breakfast. Fabulous red sauce, Newman's Organic marinara bolstered with caramelized onions and multicolored peppers. Last week I turned several pounds of on-sale ground chuck into many quart sacks of meatballs and froze 'em. Grated Romano. A satisfying start to a Sunday.

Ulysses joined us at table, new but catching on with him. He didn't want the red sauce, but was happy for me to squeeze some Annie's organic ketchup (the best!) over his pasta, along with plenty of romano. He even was thrilled to have meatballs in his bowl, although he did not deign to eat one.

His utensil of choice: chopsticks. He asked for them by name, but for the first time really called them "chopsticks." Up until now, he's always said "chompsticks." A great name for them, I've always thought, and plenty more descriptive than the real one!

No more "chompsticks," I guess; once he switches over to the regular word, there's never any going back to the cute-kid version. Thus our "cooking room" now is just a kitchen. We no longer hear of "PP3O" and "R2D-toon" as the names of that loveable pair of Star Wars droids.

At least Admiral Ackbar, he of The Return of the Jedi, is still, in Ulysses's words, "Eggroll Ackbar."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Just a tree

"Put the ornaments in storage so our birthdays can come," Ulysses said.

Last night I finally dived into the daunting project of separating out all the little toys and wrapping bits that had gotten mixed up with the Christmas village and HO gauge (get it?) train set under the tree, putting away the holiday glassware and replacing it with the everyday mugs, taking down the cards -- and that reminds me, I still haven't made a holiday e-card to send friends and family.

U had protested whenever the subject of putting the Xmas stuff away came up. It wasn't really much of a conflict, because I was nowhere near actually doing it -- always something pressing to take care of, no good time window for it -- until last night, anyway. Meantime, plenty of good toys from Santa were going unplayed with, as the tree and the expanding unorganizable pile around it took up valuable play space.

Donald and I pointed out that, with the tree up, there was no space to celebrate the household birthdays coming up, mine in a week and U's in mid-Feb.

As I picked and packed, I was reassured to hear U encouraging me. Good, he got the message about making space for the next life event. Then:

"Just leave the Christmas tree up. That way it's still Christmas."

Well, maybe it's a gradual letting go.

* * *

The evening progressed without incident, if you don't count having your head and back made into a human slide for Backyardigans figurines several times over as an incident. Ulysses was proud to figure out how to open the complicated train storage box "all by myself," with only minor breakage of the styrofoam inner casing -- "Oops," said U -- fixable with a tape gun.

No complaints as the ornaments came down and got put away in the little individual plastic cups of their original packaging.

"That box is still missing an ornament," U pointed out.

"That was the ornament that broke the day we put the tree up, when you crawled behind the tree to follow the train and the tree fell over and everything came off," I reminded, matter-of-factly.

"Oh, right," he said. "And then we fixed it?" he added, apparently hoping against hope.

"No, it was one of those things that can't be fixed. It got smashed to smithereens."

"Smithereens, right!" he said. It's one of his favorite words.

Knickknacks and garlands, the set of 12 figurines representing historical Santas around the world, the matching poinsettia apron and tablecloth from Donald's grandmother, the pair of wooden camels from a 2008 yard sale, all disappeared into boxes.

"Don't forget the lights," said Ulysses. They were the only thing left on the tree, and I disentagled them from the branches. As I stuffed them into their box, I noticed it was printed with a copyright date of 2003. That meant we had got them for the Christmas I was carrying Ulysses, just before he was born.

Ulysses looked up at the tree. "Now it's a tree," he said. "It was a Christmas tree. Now it's just a tree."

He was smiling.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My big man

Our neighbor, Jayne, dropped over today.

"How are you doing, Ulysses?" she inquired.

"Doing good," he answered.

"Do you like school?"

"Yes! I have fun."

"And your birthday is coming, too, isn't it. What are you going to be?"

I expected to hear "Six."

Instead, he said, "I'm going to be a big man!"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ends with a "k"

Yesterday Ulysses had off from kindergarten for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday. A day off for him means a day on for us, of course, but I'm always glad to be around him.

Last night I asked him, "Are you looking forward to going back to school tomorrow?"

"Mm-hmm," he hummed with enthusiasm. "It's fantaskick!"

"Fantaskick?" I said.

"Yes!" he replied. "Fantaskick ends with the letter 'k'!"

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Princess Leia: Where's the crown?

For over a year, one of U's favorite video games has been Lego Star Wars II: The Original Adventures. This is, of course, the interactive-play retelling of the original movies (the ones I think of as "the real ones") starting with the 1977 release that Changed Everything. His favorite character: Princess Leia.

"Princess Leia is a princess," Ulysses observed many times last summer. "But Princess Leia doesn't have a crown."

By gum, he's right. How did I never notice that?

"She's sooo beautiful!" he says, and has been saying frequently for several months now. Remember, he's not talking about Carrie Fisher, the human. He's talking about the cartoon video game character based on the blocky Lego toy based on an idealized, simplified construct of a fictional inhabitant of a fantasy universe last played by a flesh-and-blood actor over a quarter of a century ago.

He's seen the three 1970s-1980s movies several times, but he always goes back to the Playstation II as the lodestone. I'm pretty sure he thinks they're some sort of live-action adaption of the game. A novelty, perhaps.

So I always have to wonder when he says, with some heat, "Princess Leia is so beautiful!"


In kindergarten, his class has been learning about rhyming words. I was impressed when I heard Ulysses singing this song, to the tune of "The Wheels On the Bus": "Mouse and house are rhyming words, rhyming words, rhyming words. Mouse and house are rhyming words; they sound a lot of like." (I'm assuming the teacher sang "alike," but I'm not going to correct him; those cute little-kid linguistic quirks will be gone forever soon enough.) "Wall and ball are rhyming words..."; "Cat and hat are rhyming words..."

Wow! I thought, he understands what rhyming words are! I tried to introduce him to the concept a few months ago, but had gotten nowhere. Great, he's got it, I thought.


"Princess Leia and Amidala are rhyming words, rhyming words, rhyming words. Princess Leia and Amidala are rhyming words; they sound a lot of like."

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The old switcheroo

"Why can't we have a sticker on our car?"

Ulysses eyed the shiny row of well-scrubbed clunkers, lemons and rust buckets facing the highway as we drove by. Each sported a garish set of four digits in the top portion of the passenger side of its windshield. These numbers, I surmised, were the "stickers" U coveted.

"Those cars have stickers! Why can't we have a sticker, too? Those cars all have stickers. I want a sticker on our car."

"That's a car store. Those stickers show how much money you have to pay to buy one of those cars," I explained. "If we put a sticker in our window, then somebody could come and give us that much money, and then they would take the car, and then we wouldn't have it."

Ulysses answered quickly -- more quickly than I expected -- "We could take that money and go buy back our green car."

He was referring to the Dodge Caravan we traded in last March. We were lucky to get it while it was working to a dealer who would take it despite its quirks. We were also lucky U didn't seem traumatized by its loss, what with its being his favorite color and all. This was the first time in nearly a year that he'd mentioned it.

So this mention of the green minivan caught me by surprise. I had meant to quell the sticker campaign, but he had taken it in a new direction.

I paused, thinking how to respond.

"We don't know where that green car is," I tried.

"We can put a sticker on the gold car, and then somebody will buy the gold car, and then we can take that money and go buy back the green car."

"That green car is gone," I said. "There's no place we could go to get it. There's no way to find it."

"Somebody will give us money for this gold car, and then we can buy back the green car."

I switched to a new rationale. "But without the gold car," I said, "how will be able to go get the green car? Without a car, we won't be able to go to it."

U fell silent. It was the last word on the subject. Until the next day.

Don and I were driving U home from kindergarten. An urgent voice piped up from the second row: "Doald! We have to put a sticker in our car so someone can give us money for it so we can go get our green car back!"

Startled, Donald turned to me for interpretation. I filled him in.

By now Ulysses was pumping up the drama. "Some bad guy came and stool our green car. We need a sticker! We need that money! Doald! We have to go find the green car and get it back!"

"We traded that green car for this one," said Donald, reasonably.

"What?" said Ulysses, catching his breath.

"We made a trade," he repeated. "We traded the green car for the gold one."

"Oooh!" Ulysses crooned. "So it was the old switcheroo!"