A Year In Mill Valley

Archive for March, 2008

The Schruncy-Munchy Man Turns 5

Today is Sebastian’s 5th birthday. And it’s a very big day, not just for Sebastian, but for Rachel and me. That’s because there’s always been something about Sebastian — I’m not sure if it’s his impish grin, or the way he lisps his words, that he’s always tagging along behind Nathaniel, or just his general personality — that has made me turn to Rachel more than times than I can count, and whisper, “will he ever grow up?”.

But all that’s changing. He’s losing his lisp, and the sweet way he mixes up his words (what did he say the other day? oh yes…Rachel was returning from the doctor’s office where he’d had the last of his shots before school and he said “Mom, did you know that people don’t get the weasles anymore?”). He’s becoming more self assured. And he’s starting to become a little more independent from Nathaniel. And just the other day I turned to Rachel and said, “did he just grow up?”, because something big had changed, seemingly overnight.

Ever since I can remember, from the time he was a little baby, I’ve called Sebastian “my little man” and “my scrunchy-munchy man”. And as I tuck him into bed, I lean down and kiss his head and know that no matter how big he gets he’ll always be my little man.

Congratulations Sebastian…we can’t wait for the next 5 years!

— Daddy and Mommy

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The Wizard of Zo

Once a week Nathaniel writes a letter to us in his writing notebook. A couple of weeks ago he wrote this letter, spelling and all:

Dear Dad,

We are starting our fanatasy book project. After I read my fantasy book, I will get to design a diorama. I picked Charlie Bone and the Hidden King. What fantasy book do you like?

In p.e. we are playing hockey. I’m the best in the class. Yesterday we did a dribling drill wich really helped. I’m enjoying it.

Love, Nathaniel

Diorama. That word sends a wiff through the air of all of those science nights I never participated in, history projects on large pieces of cardboard that I was crap at, and still lifes in shoe boxes I had no idea how to make.

My folks were big on education, but they weren’t particularly helpful when it came to things that were out of the main classroom experience. I vividly remember a junior high project on Eisenhower’s campaign where my classmates came to school with large pieces of cardboard full of images, campaign pins, and newspaper clippings, while I showed up with a large piece of cardboard with the words “I Like Ike” rendered in crayon. Or my one and only science night where the rocket I was showing wouldn’t go off, and the booth looked like, well, like it was designed by the same person who designed my Eisenhower poster.

Determined not to let Nathaniel know the ignominy associated with handing in a mediocre diorama, I told him I’d be glad to help him with it.

I asked him how the book was going. He said it was going well, but I sensed from the way he said it that he either hadn’t gotten very far, or he was having a little bit of trouble with it. So I asked him to bring it home. And I was glad I did, because it was definitely on the hard side.

As there was only a week or so until the diorama was due, we needed a fallback. Luckily he and I were in the middle of reading The Wizard of Oz, and while we weren’t going to have it finished by the time the diorama was due, we had made it to the Emerald City, and there was lots of great diorama material getting there.

So we worked on the diorama together. He said he wanted to show Dorothy and Toto walking on the yellow brick road, and I suggested maybe they could be meeting the Scarecrow. We worked on a sketch. Then he got a shoebox and painted the inside. And hung some clouds. And drew a couple of trees, along with Dorothy and Toto and the Scarecrow. And Rachel helped with Dorothy because he didn’t like any of his Dorothys. And I helped him prop up the fence and the Scarecrow so they wouldn’t fall down again. And then he drew the characters on a piece of paper and taped it to the outside of the box (see picture above). And he wrote a really nice summary of the story on another piece of paper and taped it to the back. And what you see above is how it came out.

And when it was done I don’t know who was happier, Nathaniel or me.

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Growing Up

There are many stages of a boy’s life, and most appear gradually, over extended periods of time. You know the kind, where Granny Weez (my mother), who hasn’t seen the boys in six months, says “The boys are really growing aren’t they?”. And we, who have been here the whole time kinda have to sit back and scratch our heads, pull out some photos, and say, “You know what…you’re right.”

And then there are the stages when you realize things are changing all of a sudden.

Recently I’ve had one of those “all of a sudden” moments.

I’ve been riding to school with Nathaniel in the mornings. We ride down the hill, onto the bike path, right at the bridge, past the Dipsea Cafe, under the overpass (ducking way down so my helmet doesn’t scrape on the ceiling), and on into Tam Valley. When we get near school, we get off our bikes, walk past Tom the crossing guard, and park Nathaniel’s bike in the school yard.

Last year we didn’t ride to school because I was working in San Mateo (an hour drive away), so I’d park four or five blocks away from the school entrance, and walk with Nathaniel to his classroom. He would invariably slip his hand into mine, and we would cross the street, walk past the refuse center (where we always looked at each other and said “We forgot to recycle the batteries again!”), and hand in hand enter the school yard. As I am congenitally late, the bell would just be ringing, so I would send him off with a kiss, and a “There’s the bell, better get going.” He would run off, and I would watch his backpack swinging from side to side as he hurried to class. I couldn’t help smiling, and watching, and wondering if every parent was filled with as much love for their child as I was with Nathaniel at that moment. And then I would turn, and walk back to the car.

This year we started the year off biking quite a bit. Then the rains came, and it got colder, and my front derailleur froze, and we started driving more than we biked. And one day I realized that we were no longer holding hands. And on a morning not long after that, a morning on which we did ride in together, we were standing at the corner of the school, and as I bent down to kiss him goodbye I saw his eyes dart, first down one side of the building, then the other. And I knew right then that things had changed.

When I got home that night, I told him what I’d seen, and asked him if he was looking to see if anyone else was looking, and he was big enough to admit that he had, and we talked about why that was, and how it hurt me a little bit, and how he shouldn’t care what anyone else might be thinking, because there’s a good chance they’re not thinking what he thinks they’re thinking, and how the other kids probably wish their parents biked to school like we did.

It was a good learning experience. For Nathaniel. And for me.

It made me think back to the first time that my father and I hugged as adults. I’d gone off to study at UC Berkeley, and my roomate John Wiley dropped me off at the San Francisco Airport to fly home for Christmas, and gave me a hug as I picked up my bags. Boy, that was a surprise (not much hugging in my family growing up). When I got home I decided to give my father a big hug, which unleashed some kind of huge latent hugging buildup on his part, because thereafter he and I hugged all the time. Anyway, it reminded me of that because we do a lot of hugging in our family. And a lot of saying how much we like and care for each other. And even though my relationship will change with Nathaniel, I want him to know how much it meant to me to hold his hand walking to school with him when he was eight.

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