April 21, 2009

Don't Say Cheese

I think that we had two consecutive days of spring-like weather so far and in those brief 48 hours I got a twinge of spring fever and took the kids out for their spring portraits.
Usually I leave the portrait studio disheveled and in a full sweat after organizing otherwise chaos into four simultaneous smiles. I tried a new studio this time and was quite pleased at my mental state when the shoot was complete.
Our previous studio had the policy that a child could not pose in a chair unless they could sit independently. Can you imagine how interesting an individual portrait of little Bear at the age of 3, 4, 5. . . laying on his back would be? Not quite the pose I was hoping to capture. Our new place was wonderfully receptive to my sitting support strap that we concealed under his sweater.

This was the first real photo session I have had with Bridger in a while and I left with tears in my eyes from laughing so hard. It only took 208 images to capture a handful of print-worthy ones. Every time we laid the kids on the ground next to each other for a tummy shot, Bridger assumed the facial expression of Speed Racer (but with the speed of an inch worm) and would immediately crawl himself out of the shot. Lance insisted that I buy some of these for the comic memory it is to us.

What makes me smile the most, however, is the portrait posted at the top of the blog entry (one of our few "keepers") and something that nobody else would ever notice in looking at Bridger's hands. The photographer kept telling the kids to say "cheese". Every time she did, Bridger, who never would smile at the camera, kept signing "cheese". So his little hands in that picture are obediently complying with her orders.

Bridger's signing vocabulary has blossomed lately and I made a list the other day of how many signs he knows now:

  1. milk
  2. waffle
  3. outside
  4. sunshine
  5. color
  6. chicken
  7. bird
  8. cheese
  9. caterpillar
  10. cold
  11. bread
  12. all done
  13. yes
  14. strawberry
  15. eat
  16. mom
  17. dog
  18. fish
  19. more
  20. bear
  21. butterfly
  22. book
  23. grapes
  24. horse
  25. shirt
  26. hat
  27. silly
  28. skunk
  29. shoes
  30. turkey
  31. thirsty
  32. mouse
He simply amazes me! Many of these are useless signs -- strawberry will really not help us for a while. He doesn't eat strawberries, doesn't touch strawberries, but that is his favorite sign that he makes sweet "yum-yum" sounds with.

Signing book:





Just like you have to have a careful ear to interpret the "toddler speaks" language, the toddler sign dialect requires a careful eye to translate. After working on 3 signs with him for six months with hardly any measurable success -- he is now acquiring approximately 2 new signs a week for the past several weeks! Through all my efforts, I have to remember my new proverb: That Bridger will do what Bridger will do when Bridger is ready to do it.
But for now, when taking pictures, I will have to think of a new smile cue.

April 06, 2009

Growing Oaks

Years ago I wrote on the wall of my children's playroom, "great oaks grow from little acorns". Next to those words there are some painted trees, with the leaves of the trees being dozens of their little hand prints, stamped in shades of green around the branches. It makes me sigh at how their little hand prints have already grown so much since that time.
I love oak trees. I stop and marvel when I see the beauty of a really old, seasoned oak. Around the neighborhoods here, many builders have planted Bradford pears. They are chosen because their growth rate is exponentially faster than the slow growing oak, with spectacular blossoms to see early on in its life. Unfortunately, the Bradford pears grow too fast, they can't support the weight of their numerous broad branches and a decade or two into its life it starts to split. The branches split chunk by chunk until it doesn't even look like a tree should, and the tree is chopped down. We have removed several Bradford pears from our yards over the years. We have never replaced them with the same type. I am not growing Bradford pears, I am growing oaks.
I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago. A mother was exhaustively, and proudly, telling me of the bizillion activities and lessons that each of her children were signed up for. After I listened to her going through each of her children's daily itineraries she turned the question to me -- what did I have my kids signed up for?
"Not much." I simply replied. That short response didn't seem to satisfy her. She questioned on.
"How about x? Or y?"
"Nope, we are not really into that." Again, she persisted in the questioning. I'm not sure if she really just wanted me to join in her competitive game, or if she was really looking for the gold star to be placed on her belly. Finally I responded to her questions with more than a 5 word response, trying to end the conversation while respecting her pride of her children's resumes.
"Alan and I just have our own philosophies on things like that."
"Oh," she said sympathetically, "you probably can't do anything because of Bridger."
Oh dear. My claws came out. I'm pretty good at tolerating annoying conversations, but when you bring little Bridger into it you better step back. Bridger has only cemented our philosophy. I took a deep breath, tucked my claws into the pockets of my jacket and looked at her with a smile and said nonchalantly, "No, I believe that kids will be plenty busy one day, and that day will come all too soon. I believe in just letting them be children for now."

That ended the conversation. I have one thing that I do not wish about my childhood and one thing that I do. I do not wish that I had one more piano lesson. I do wish that I had one more date with my dad.
A friend sent me these musings, they are thoughts of a friend of hers. But they perfectly summarize my philosophy:

"I believe in downtime and childhood and non-regimented exploring. But sometimes it's difficult not to get caught up in the competitive energy of it all. I do believe in education, in interesting experiences, and in supporting talent and hard work. I just have to remember I'm raising people not college applicants, not just someone's future employee. I'm raising someone's best friend, someone's spouse, someone's mother or father.

I have to remind myself that what I want for my kids is a
good life, with challenges and joys.
To find something they love to do
and develop the work ethic to do it well.
To find someone to love
and to know how to be loving.
To use their imaginations and
create ideas and passions to follow.
To be able to articulate their thoughts.
To be involved citizens and engaged neighbors.
And, really, the camp for those things is called home."

So what talent are we practicing here?

Walking slowly,
Eating doughnuts,
Counting turtles.