Wonder Week

Little Z has seemed a little extra fussy the past day or so. He wants to be held more. This morning, he had a four-hour stretch where he didn’t nurse — usually when he’s awake, he gets hungry every couple hours. He didn’t take much milk throughout the rest of the day. What’s going on? Is he getting sick?

No, he’s just started going through a “wonder week.”

If you’ve had children, you’ve probably noticed that they grow in spurts. You just wake up one day and their clothes don’t fit anymore — it’s like they gain a quarter of an inch overnight. The same is true for a baby’s mental development as well. They’re going along fine and then — BAM — they undergo a dramatic neurological change and their brain reorganizes itself. Once that happens, they are suddenly able to experience more of the world. From their perspective, they wake up and everything seems different, the world isn’t the same as it was before.

That’s enough to make anyone upset.

Fortunately, a husband and wife research team collected 35 years’ worth of data on the the development and behavior of babies (and other primates as well; they started out with Jane Goodall observing infant chimpanzees). Once they had analyzed all their information, they found that babies experience fussy periods at predictable times that coincided with their developmental leaps and the resulting change in behavior.

What’s even more fortunate (for me, anyway) is that they wrote a book for parents about all this called The Wonder Weeks.

The Wonder Weeks is usually the first purchase I recommend to new or prospective parents. I figure other people will give them good recommendations for more standard things, but no one else is likely to mention this book. A crying baby is one of the most difficult things to endure as a parent, and it’s made even worse when you can’t figure out the source of your child’s distress. Knowing that my baby was undergoing a developmental leap — one of those wonder weeks — gave me immense relief.  Even if there wasn’t anything I could do, at least I knew why and I knew it was a phase that just had to be weathered.

Any time they go through a wonder week, your baby will have a period where they cry a lot and are extra clingy. It’s the kind of behavior that can get annoying to even the most loving, patient mommy or daddy. I was able to be more sympathetic towards my little ones when I knew this was because their universe was being upended and they needed comforting.

A newborn only experiences things in the moment and doesn’t know much beyond their basic needs. But just when you, the new parent, get the hang of meeting those needs, they suddenly acquire more without letting you know. Your child becomes able to be bored. They start to have opinions about things they didn’t seem to even be aware of before. They grow capable of understanding that when they don’t see Mommy in the room it means that she’s gone and they are powerless to do anything about it. Imagine what it’s like for a baby when that realization sets in. Sorta explains why one would suddenly start crying whenever Mommy’s not right there, huh?

Little Z is now going to be able to experience things about his environment he wasn’t able to notice before. Once he gets over the shock of that, he’ll also find he has a new set of skills he will slowly start to grow into. To the rest of us, he will start to act differently and have a wider range of behaviors.

According to my copy of the book, the signs of the particular leap Z is due for include: craving more physical contact (check), crying more easily (maybe), taking longer to get used to new people (dunno, haven’t had the chance to test that), wanting to be entertained more (not that I’ve noticed), and wanting to be breastfed a lot but not really drinking much (that’s a big “yes”). The Wonder Weeks also tells me some of the new skills or behaviors we’ll start to see in him. Sure enough, he’s holding his head up much better, shifting his weight forward while sitting up, making short grunts or repetitive sounds.

The book devotes an entire chapter to each developmental leap, detailing the new way your baby sees the world and the new things he or she has going on in that expanding mellon. There’s a handy section on how you are likely to be feeling when your tyke is going through his cranky period (here’s a hint: it’s not any different than when your child has been a wailing mess for any other reason). It also includes activities and games that will emphasize the new skills he will start to develop now that he’s leveled up. If your three-week-old doesn’t seem to particularly get it when you play peek-a-boo, just wait another three months.

There is a Wonder Weeks app, which is no substitute for the book but is a handy accompaniment. You can put in your baby’s birth date and it will make up a calendar to track their state of wonder weekage. When Z was extra fussy and not really eating, I remembered to whip my phone out and check the app. Sure ‘nough, the chart had him at the beginning of a stormy phase. I could skim the abbreviated information the app had until I had a chance to pull the book out and read the relevant chapter.

The good news is, he should only be a mess for another eight days or so. The other news is there’s another wonder week due right on heels of this one. And so it goes for the next year.

In fact, it looks like he’ll start perceiving “the world of events” during our upcoming trip. Speaking of which, I likely need to downshift my posting rate soon as we will be on the road. But stay tuned! I’m sure to have some tales about our first time flying with three children that will be hilarious to those who didn’t have to live through it.

The Dad Cooks: Swedish Pancakes

Welcome to a special Challenge Edition of “The Dad Cooks.” The Wife had promised the kids (and herself) Swedish pancakes for breakfast. However, seeing as how she was up a lot in the night, I’ve decided to let her sleep and tackle these foreign confections myself. Realizing right away how this could be good grist for the ol’ blog, I made sure to take lots of pictures.

Swedish Pancakes

The first step is to get the coffee started. Once that’s going, search around for the cookbooks. Having determined that it would likely cause a fatal blow to your organization system to pull them out from under the stack of papers and junk, do a web search for “swedish pancake recipe.”

I’m not going to embarrass the site I got my recipe from by naming them — I’m sure anything you come up with will be similar enough for this guide to assist you. It probably tells you that prep time is 5 minutes and cooking time is 20 minutes, or sometime similar. This is a big, fat lie but doesn’t mean that the rest of the recipe isn’t going to work out.

The Wife tells me that cooking is an art but baking is a science. I believe this means that when cooking, it’s okay to improvise, but when baking it is very important to follow the recipe and directions exactly right. I’ve heard that the only difference between cookie dough and homemade modeling clay is whether it was the Wife or I who was in the kitchen. So whatever your particular recipe tells you, it’s probably best to follow it to the letter. That said…

Get half a stick of butter melting on the skillet while you mix the rest of the batter. Set the other half of the stick aside for later. The directions on the recipe call for combining the ingredients with a blender. Since the coffee is at best still brewing, and a blender requires rummaging around in the cabinet, plugging something in, and then making a lot of noise, you can just mix it all by hand.

Oh, good! The mixing bowl is clean!
Oh, good! The mixing bowl is clean!
Pro tip: make sure you finish unwrapping the butter before putting it in the skillet.
Pro tip: make sure you finish unwrapping the butter before putting it in the skillet.

Combine your flour, melted butter, milk, eggs, and vanilla. When it is time to add the salt, you will find it isn’t in the place where it is normally kept, nor in that other place where it usually ends up if it isn’t where it’s supposed to be. It’s important to remember that you aren’t crazy; you definitely aren’t out of salt, it’s around here somewhere. If you haven’t located it after about two minutes, though, it’s time to improvise. Avoid using the chunky sea salt you did manage to find — the size of the salt pieces does apparently matter to baking science. A good solution if your measuring spoon is slender enough is to crack open the salt shaker and pilfer your fraction of a teaspoon from there.

Maybe I should stop taking pictures and pay more attention to making breakfast...
Maybe I should stop taking pictures and pay more attention to making breakfast…

IMG_0930.JPG

Is it smooth yet?
Is it smooth yet?

 

The recipe calls for the ingredients to be blended until smooth. Since we’re doing the blending by hand, just keep at it until someone in the household starts to cry — either your children because they are hungry or you because your elbow is about to fall off. The next step instructs you to heat your skillet up again “until a drop of water bounces and sizzles.” I don’t know what the hell that means, so just put a quarter of your remaining butter on the skillet and it’ll be fine by the time that’s melted.

Now it’s time to make the pancakes! First, call up your old Calculus teacher and ask them if the recipe calls for 1/3 cup of batter to be used for a 10-inch skillet, how many cups of batter should you use for your 8-inch skillet? Once you’ve gotten the answer and verified that your old Geometry teacher would probably be a better person to call in the future, pour one pancake’s worth of batter into the skillet. The directions specify that you should cook it until it sets, then flip it over and cook the other side until it is golden brown.

First one, here we go!
First one, here we go!
$#!%
$#!%

At this point in the pancake-making process, whether said pancakes are Swedish or not, you can throw the recipe out the window. Each individual pancake becomes its own unique challenge as the variables constantly change. Whether you used a bit too much or too little batter, if this is the first pancake and the skillet is still heating up or a later one and it’s now a little hotter, if you’ve just put down more butter or are cooking this one in the butter left over from the previous pancake, if the skillet is pristine or littered with the debris of earlier pancakes — all these factors come into play and alter how the current pancake will cook. Just keep chasing that Platonic ideal of Swedish pancakeness until your tears of frustration bounce and sizzle in the pan.

Then sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve with fruit or syrup.

Alright, so far so good...
Alright, so far so good…
Holy crap, it looks like a real thing!
Holy crap, it looks like a real thing!

IMG_0938.JPG

The Wife prefers lingonberries on hers, which is why we stocked up on the stuff a while back. This morning’s breakfast will deplete the supply, I’m afraid. Worse, the kids declared that they don’t like the stuff and want to eat their pancakes plain (which means “with butter and more powdered sugar”), so some of it got wasted. But I’m happy to say that I beat the breakfast challenge and am able to serve the Wife Swedish pancakes with lingonberries in bed.

Uh oh
Uh oh

A Long Time Ago, On A Yellow Brick Road Far, Far Away, Part 2: “Some People Without Brains Do An Awful Lot Of Talking, Don’t They?”

As I discussed in my last post, we recently watched Star Wars with the girls and, while they seemed to like it, their reaction was less awesome than I had hoped. So I am pleased to say that when I showed the The Wizard of Oz for the first time last month, it was everything I’d hoped  it would be for them.

Aside from the obvious fact that The Wizard of Oz is a children’s movie and Star Wars isn’t, I think they were more absorbed by it because I’d laid more groundwork for it. RU’s only exposure to Star Wars prior to seeing the film was to ride Star Tours twice at Disney; with The Wizard of Oz, we’d actually read the book first. In fact, we watched Oz because the girls liked the book so much.

You might have picked up on the fact that I have a great many things I am excited, even impatient, to share with my children. Star Wars is just one example; there are books I’m looking forward to just as much and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was one of those. I would have thought RU needed another year or so before she’d be ready for something so long, but she’d been having me read those Frog and Toad books to her, all the way through, one after the other. What really surprised me was how MeToo took to it as well. She would come and sit down when I’d start a chapter with RU. She might not stay for the end, but she was interested enough to keep coming back.

The book (in case you haven’t read it) is quite good and deserves a place on your kid’s bookshelf. It moves quickly (Dorothy goes from Kansas to Oz in about five pages) and most chapters are short. I’m finding it to be a better read (easier, simpler, more engaging) than Milne’s Pooh stories, at least at RU’s age. It goes along well with the film, although naturally there are differences (less singing, for one). The brief bits when Dorothy’s companions converse with one another are nice; I loved the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman discussing the relative merits of brains and hearts.

There are a couple of spots where the book gets a little more intense than the movie. The scene where the heroes are pursued by a couple of bloodthirsty kalidahs* is a real nail-biter, but it’s resolved in just a few paragraphs. In addition to that, the Wicked Witch of the West sends some crows and wolves after them before bringing out the winged monkeys, but the Tin Woodman and his axe make short work of them. It’s glossed over quickly and isn’t terribly frightening, though that scene does give the book a body count that’s about fifty times higher than the movie. Speaking of the winged monkeys, they may be the most frightening thing in the film — they are pretty freakish and they directly assault the heroes, even tear one apart — but the book actually takes some sting out of them by revealing that they are cursed to do the bidding of whoever wears the Golden Cap. Dorothy gets ahold of it after liquidating the witch and they fly her back to the Emerald City (though they can’t take her to Kansas). While watching the movie, RU asked me when they were going to show the king of the flying monkeys (a character in the book), which I’d say testifies to the depth they are given in the book beyond just being evil henchlings.

So when I told the girls that there was a Wizard of Oz movie, they had something to get excited about.

Once the opening credits were through, they were riveted, even in the beginning when it’s all monochromatic. I’m pretty sure my girls have never watched anything that’s in black and white before**. Then that moment when Dorothy walks out of her house into Munchkinland and glorious technicolor… Well, just like that scene in Empire Strikes Back, this is one of those awesome cinematic moments that’s fun to watch a kid see for the first time. When it happened, and Dorothy stepped out into a new, fantastic world, RU’s jaw literally fell open. She turned to me (while somehow keeping her eyes on the TV) and said, “What country is this?”

Yeah, it was pretty perfect.

*Don’t know what a kalidah is? Count yourself lucky.

**Although, again, reading the book first comes in handy here. Surprisingly (to me anyway), Frank L Baum describes everything in Kansas as being grey, even Aunt Em.

A Long Time Ago, On A Yellow Brick Road Far, Far Away, Part 1: “Your Powers Are Weak, Old Man.”

We showed the kids Star Wars! Following the methods I have previously discussed, we started with, well, Star Wars, the original theatrical version, with the best special effects 1977 had to offer. (Hey, it’s not like kids today need Elmo to be an expensive digital effect in order to buy into him.)

She was excited and we talked it up ahead of time, but her reaction was a little underwhelming. Oh, she liked it. But her attention strayed at parts and she didn’t seem as fascinated with it as she does with, say, Frozen. Her reaction to The Wizard of Oz was much more fulfilling — but more on that in another post.

I suppose I had very high expectations. It isn’t a children’s movie, after all, and it is rather long. Maybe not as long as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but it still clocks in at 11.2 episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. That’s a big stretch of time for a pre-schooler to stay focused.

During the climactic attack on the Death Star, when it cuts to all the Imperial officers and crewmen and stormtroopers hurrying to their posts to repel the rebel attack, RU asked, “Why are Darth Vader’s friends running?” So, even when she was engaged with it, pretty much all of the context for any given scene went just a bit over her head.

With the lights off and the film that comprises the core of my nerd psyche playing on the TV, I flashed back to the movie nights of my childhood. I remembered being a little older than RU is now, struggling to pay attention to movies that I very much wanted to watch; I couldn’t stay on target with Star Wars any better than she did.

In the final analysis, in our enthusiasm to share Star Wars with her, we jumped the gun a little bit. I’ve decided to wait a year before showing the kids The Empire Strikes Back, though if she wants to watch Star Wars again, we’ll do that. I think putting about a year between the films leaves enough room to anticipate the next chapter while rewatching and absorbing the ones already seen. That would put us on schedule to be unveiling Return of the Jedi to them around 2018/2019, when RU will be 7. Baby Z should be 4 by then, which gives him the short end of the stick, so I’ll have to figure out some other movie franchise to schedule around his level of age-appropriateness. Harry Potter? The Avengers-related films? Or maybe when he’s a teenager I’ll show him Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness.

Now I just have to figure out if and when we’re going to watch that Clone Wars show that I’ve heard is actually pretty good.

Happy President’s Day!

Poor RU has been sick, throwing up and having diarrhea throughout the weekend. A finicky eater most days, her illness has transformed RU into something like a Tibetan yogi who can survive solely on petulance and Octonaut reruns. Maybe she’s not that bad, but the Wife and I have been fighting a rearguard action against dehydration and RU’s interest in liquids is purely academic.

She’s not quite over it today, but I think she’s on the mend. At least, she has more of an appetite now. Though, that just means that whatever kind of stomach bug that still torments her now has more stuff to expunge from her body at one or the other end in an effort to spread itself to the rest of us. And, trust me, it’s not being shy about its motives.

I’ve spent the past four days in the house taking care of RU. I expect both of us will come down with a bad case of cabin fever in the next, oh, fifteen minutes or so. Which is really too bad because Winter Storm Octavia has swept in and promises to coat the landscape with half an inch of ice before it starts dumping snow by the crap-load. The temperature isn’t supposed to climb above freezing until after Friday. I’m assuming we will be stuck at home until things thaw.

Given that it is President’s Day, and that this weather doesn’t especially resemble Emperor Augustus’s sister, I’ve heard the Wife and her friends referring to the storm by names like “Martin Van Brrrr-ren,” “Calvin Cool-idge,” and “Richard My-God-It’s-Cold Nixon” (they can’t all be winners). Whatever you name it, it’s work has begun in earnest. But have no fear, Dear Reader! If Theodore Snowsevelt causes us to lose power, I have a couple of posts already in the can for just such a contingency.

In other news, my experiment with Amazon’s Affiliate program is at an end. I think I will likely try it again in the future, and there will be other such experiments as well, but for now I will just focus on writing content. That, and figuring out all this social media stuff everyone else in the first world has been using for the past decade.

Stay warm!

Woodsnow Wilson approacheth
Woodsnow Wilson approacheth

Problem Solving Inside The Box

The other night, we were reading Peter Pan — that is, the Disney’s Peter Pan storybook adaptation. The version we have is illustrated with wonderful paintings that evoke stills from the animated film. The writing tells the story with wit that is only a tiny bit snarky (I roll my eyes at the crocodile wanting a “Hookburger” but the “Peter loved being valiant” is spot-on). However, in order to be concise, it must leave a lot of details out.

So, we’re reading the story. Tinker Bell has been trapped in a lantern by Captain Hook. He explains, in her hearing, that he has left a bomb for Peter that will soon explode. Tinker Bell escapes from the lantern and speeds away to warn Peter. Then —

RU sits up. “How does Tinker Bell get out of the lantern?”

“Oh. It doesn’t say, I’m afraid. It just says that she got out of it.”

“But how did she get out?”

“Well, did we watch the movie just the other day?”

“Yes.”

“Do you remember how she got out in the movie?”

RU thinks for a bit, then shakes her head.

“I don’t really remember how she got out, either. I think I missed that part. But she probably just tried really hard and broke free. Or she could have knocked over the lantern and got out when the glass broke.”

RU doesn’t seem satisfied, but lapses into silence. I get back to the story, where Tink is struggling to get the bomb away from —

“Daddy?”

“Yes, RU?”

“Maybe Tinker Bell used her pixie dust to make the lantern fly. Then she could just fly away, even though she’s still in the lantern.”

Wow. I am floored.

“Honey, that is absolutely brilliant. I don’t think that’s what Tinker Bell did, but it’s exactly what she ought to have done. That’s the cleverest thing I’ve heard all day; Tinker Bell was not as smart as you.”

 

(Full disclosure: if I’ve done it right, the link above should take you to the very same version of the book that we have on Amazon, and if you purchase it, I’d receive a pittance.)