Wednesday, August 17, 2011

From drowning-man to Aquaman in no time at all

This year, there is a three-week window between the end of preschool and the beginning of Kindergarten. This window coincides with when The Missus is required to be back at work, so I’m flying solo on parenting from 9-5 until the first week of September.

Which is working out pretty much as I expected. It’s awesome and awful at the same time.

Awful is trying to find time to squeeze in all the shit that makes me me, shit that precludes The Boy’s active presence. Like writing, for instance. Or getting any work done. Or trying to strangle recognizable tunes out of my guitar.

It’s leaving me burning the midnight oil, in addition to [burning] the candle from both ends.

The awesome part is everything else.

I’ve got three weeks to crash-prepare him for the Big Kid world of Kindergarten, where he’ll be rubbing elbows with young ’uns from his age all the way up to eighth grade. In most areas he’s ready to go, but there are a few chinks in his social armor still, and I plan to weld them together before I release him into the wild.

Toward that end, I have a loose agenda for every day, which naturally, circumstances have conspired to keep me from hewing to. Day One, Monday of this week, fell apart when a Pal of The Boy’s from preschool came over to spend the day at the last minute. His Mom was in a scheduling pickle and the boys really like playing together. What could I do? Split the difference. We hung out with the Pal all day, but just added him to selected parts of our already-scheduled agenda.

After Cars 2 (Pixar, please: Sequelize The Incredibles! The kids would be teenagers now; the script would write itself) we went to a restaurant where I let the boys wreak havoc because of the low customer count at 2pm at this particular place.

Then we came home where more havoc requiring my full attention ensued, as well as comedy: a friend gave us a magnetic Jesus for the fridge, with different magnetic suits of clothes to dress him up in. From the front room, I overheard this conversation coming from the kitchen.

The Pal: Who’s that?

The Boy: That’s Jesus.

The Pal: Who’s he?

The Boy: He’s dead.

Then The Boy went on to explain that Jesus has super-powers, where he lost his audience entirely. The Pal can’t believe The Boy has never seen an episode of Sponge Bob, and The Boy can’t figure out how his Pal could have grown up without watching superhero cartoons.

Hey, they’re a good fit, not a perfect match. Not that The Boy knows that. He still thinks he likes all his friends equally. He has yet to have a friend fuck him over for sport… but he does start Big Kids’ school next month, so that day is coming.

Tuesday things stuck closer to The Plan, a quick trip to the vet for our constipated pooch notwithstanding. As promised, there were superheroes right after Mommy left for work; there was an hour for me to play guitar; there were puzzles and games and not a damned lick of work accomplished.

But we did play chess, he for only the second time ever. And the damned kid—he’s five—remembered where every piece went and how they all moved, even the Knight. I was delighted. Then it was all about strategy. By the end of the game, he had grasped the concept of thinking a couple of moves ahead, and it was terrific the couple of times he captured my pieces when I didn’t see it coming.

Now I am no kind of chess ace. I kept having to check the rules for even the most basic things, like what is up with all the weird rules for how a pawn can move and capture. The game also got more interesting when The Boy asked what happens if his pawn makes it all the way over to the other end of the board. After a quick trip to The Google, we had a ball capturing and re-capturing each others’ Queen.

I didn’t let him win this time (figure I’ll go about 50/50 until he is beating me honestly every time, probably in about six months) and we spent an awful lot of time after that working on losing (and winning) gracefully. That part is still a work-in-progress, and is the weakest part of his game at the moment.

But chess is important in developing tactical thinking, and so far The Boy has had absolutely everything handed to him so he has never had to learn to be crafty. And getting ahead, or even getting by, in this world requires a certain level of craftiness.

We also watched the brand-new Lady Gaga video. Heads-up, fellow parents: Not entirely appropriate for five-year-olds, but The Boy loved it just the same.

The other thing I was/am determined to work on during this period is playing catch. The Boy has a mother of a throwing arm, but until yesterday had only ever caught a ball thrown to him by sheer luck. I still remember not being able to do sports as well as the other boys when I was in school, and decided he’d suffer the same fate only over my dead body. Especially since I had three whole weeks to work on it.

It must have been funny for the neighbors, watching us in the front yard. Him, trying to figure out how to avoid the ball being tossed to him, and me, the guy who never met a sport at which he didn’t suck, trying to teach something I myself am no good at.

But even though I know fuck-all about sports theory, I do understand systems. If I study something long enough, I’ll begin to see patterns emerge and strategies will form to exploit those patterns. Thus it was I taught my son to catch.

I watched the mechanics of every dropped ball, and one-by-one addressed and redressed them. Approaching it as a systems analysis instead of a sports exercise was the key. Eventually, I honed my instructions to, “Keep your eyes on the ball, and think about your hands.” And I’ll be damned if he didn’t catch it every time he applied that formula.

Every single time.

We have taken our first giant step toward making sure our son is not the kid who is picked last for every team sport in P.E.

And now it’s almost time for swimming lessons, where in the last three weeks he has progressed from being afraid to put his head underwater, to nailing every challenge that is thrown his way, except where physical grace is called for. But when all that is required is bravery, The Boy is stepping up admirably.

And today he played a crappy game of chess, but I played even worse and lost to him.

We’re only three days into the three weeks of 24/7 cohabitation, but so far, confidence is high. Based on his performance so far, I expect by the first day of class next month, this kid will be prepared to not only succeed at his new school, but run the damn thing if that’s what he decides he wants to do.


Blogger Lee Riggs said...

Where were you 40 years ago when I was the tall, skinny kid with glasses getting picked last for PE?

4:14 PM


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