The Story So Far, Again

A couple of weeks ago, Dante decided that he wanted to read some entries in his blog. This has happened before, and it’s fun. This time, though, he decided he wanted to read ALL the entries in his blog. He started at the end, and rewound post-by-post all the way back to the beginning. Since then, he’s been using the Random Post button to jump around in time. For instance, tonight he wanted me to read some of it with him, so we read Piglet! and Love And Affection and Don’t Mind If I Do. In the latter, he asked me to explain the Simpsons joke, so I did.

As a result, he’s re-living lots of childhood selves. He’s asked me to play games with him that we played when he was a baby. He asked Grandma to make him some rigatoni. Tonight he asked for extremely cold water with ice kuh-yoobs. It’s like he’s a greatest hits compilation of himself.

It’s a funny thing, having this artifact of his earlier stages (and mine too) for us both to revisit. He has an older perspective on the stories, but not yet an adult perspective. For instance, he apologized to me for his peanut questions in Trick Or Treat, Take Twelve, and when I asked him why, he said it was because he felt like he’d done something wrong. I explained to him that far from doing anything wrong, he was doing just the sort of thing we usually want him to do by watching out for peanuts, and that the story wasn’t about his behavior but rather about the somewhat absurd situation of this one weird night where suddenly the rules about asking for candy from strangers are suspended, but the social expectations remain in place, as do the allergies, and how you can’t really expect a 5-year-old to negotiate all that by himself. Also, I pointed out to him that the progression of the story was based on his success at learning something new from every encounter, and his sincere attempts to do what he was supposed to.

I have no idea where all this is coming from. Maybe it’s because he turned 9 last month, and the birthday put him in a retrospective frame of mind. It’s been quite a nostalgia trip, in any case. He even wanted to visit the park near our old house, where I used to take him for swings, sand, and derring-do. Now he scampers up those bump stairs without hesitation, zips on the zip line, and even climbs up twisty ladders that intimidated him as recently as this spring. It’s a wild juxtaposition, watching my 9-year-old Dante leaping over all his tinier ghosts, even as he recalls and imitates what remains of them as it got preserved here.

Summer Reruns 2014

Time once again for that cherished summer tradition, the yearlong recap of Dante anecdotes posted to Facebook:

September 5: Laura is dropping Dante off at school today. They see the principal, Mr. Cochran, who is wearing bright Broncos orange.
DANTE: Where do you get all those crazy shirts?
MR. C: At the crazy shirt store!
DANTE: [Remembering, I swear, Mr. C's Halloween costume from 2 years ago, in which he dressed as Muppet Babies' Animal.] And where did you get those big footie pajamas?
MR. C: From the big footie pajamas store!

Dante and Laura wave goodbye, head for the door. On the way, Dante says to Laura, sotto voce, “That is a store that is GUARANTEED to go out of business.”

October 19: Dante: “I don’t get why they say about a baby, ‘bouncing.’ What is with the boing? You should not introduce a boing that early on.”

November 15: Dante spontaneously decided he wanted to write some interactive fiction. We broke out Inform 7 and made a little game from the POV of his teacher’s dog. He then said he wanted to play one of my games, to see what a finished one was like, so we played through Earth & Sky.

So yeah, that was really, really fun.

Selected comments:

[Paul O'Brian] The teacher played through Dante’s game with her husband. Best comment: “We also appreciated the irony that when we gave the command to ‘sit’ or ‘roll over’ that we were told ‘this is not a command I recognize’. So true. So true.”

December 19: Doing homework:
ME: What’s the capital of Georgia?
DANTE: G.

January 13: And now, another episode of “Dante argues with the classic hits”:

TEMPTATIONS: I don’t need no money, fortune or fame.
DANTE: You need *some* money.

Selected comments:

[Adam Cadre] How long before he’s ready to read The Dispossessed?
[Rachel Wright] So glad he’s taking a pragmatic approach to life!
[Paul O'Brian] Adam: I give it three years. Right now he’s all about Dahl, Eager, and Pokemon handbooks.

February 12: Somehow I doubt this toy is making kids any smarter.
intellignece

April 6: Dante’s review of Muppets: Most Wanted – “It was pretty good, but there were too many explosions in the first part and too little explosions in the second part. They should spread the explosions out more evenly like they usually do.”

June 3: Dante has been into the Muppets’ Swedish Chef lately, and imitates him all day long, often via repeating something we just said. Thus ensued this conversation:
ME: Man, I feel like everything I say comes back at me in mock-Swedish.
DANTE: What do you mean, “mock-Swedish”?
ME: Well, the Swedish Chef doesn’t *really* speak Swedish.
DANTE: How are you spelling “mock”?
ME: M-O-C-K.
DANTE: Oh, I thought you were talking about Swedish that moves at the speed of sound! In which case, all Swedish would be Mach-Swedish.

July 5: Dante argues with the classic hits.
QUEEN: No time for losers, cos we are the champions!
DANTE: That seems mean to me. I would change it to “Still time for losers, but we are the champions.”

Take Your Dante To Work Day

I work for the University of Colorado Boulder, which is about 35-45 minutes (depending on traffic) away from my home. In our earlier parenting years, Dante saw my workplace quite a bit, because Laura would have afternoon appointments in Boulder, so we’d do a kid handoff where she drove him up to me and then I drove him home while she went to her appointments. However, as she’s started working and various factors shifted, that pattern dropped away, so that Dante hadn’t seen my office for a couple of years. Meanwhile, I’d changed jobs within the university, and I’m in a whole different building than the one he used to visit.

For a few months now he’s been agitating to come see my workplace, so this year we decided to actually take advantage of Take Your Kids To Work Day, which was April 24. Now, Laura’s workplace has a whole awesome deal that they do with the kids, including a scavenger hunt, working with the big library book sorting machine, various activities, and so forth. We tried to tempt him with this, but he was set on coming to see me. My workplace has none of that stuff planned, and in fact I only saw one other parent with a kid there all day. But hey, I was up for it.

Of course, the vast bulk of my job consists pretty much of going to meetings and reading/writing emails. So I knew we’d need to figure out some more activities to put in there. We commuted in the morning — he even agreed to get up earlier than his usual so we could get there on time. I showed him around my office, and he immediately gravitated to some goofy toys I have on my shelves — wind-up robot, sparkly top, bowling pins, and so forth. I’d actually more or less forgotten that stuff was there — I had it to amuse him back in the era when he did come to my office more. Plus, office toys are cool.

I work in CU’s IT division, as the service manager for its web portals — the web sites that students and faculty use to perform various self-service tasks like registration, course activation, bill payment, admissions, and so forth. So I showed him those sites, and talked a little bit about the structure of the university itself: 3 campuses served by an overall “system” office. I drew the whole thing out on our whiteboard, and ended up referring to it several more times throughout the day. He also got to spend some time with my friend and office-mate Tashi, who works as a developer for those portals. Tashi is great with kids, and has always been very kind to Dante in particular, so that was a big plus.

At 10:00, he came to my “standup meeting.” This is a status meeting that happens twice a week, in which everybody literally stands up, the idea being that the collective desire to return to a sitting position will keep the meeting short. Essentially, everybody goes around and says what they’ve done with their last couple of days, what they expect to do in the next couple of days, and cites any barriers they might be facing. In this way we keep in touch with the work of everybody in our group, and sometimes can share insight across tasks. Dante reported his own last 48 hours and next 48 hours, which was excellent. He gave particular attention to the fact that he’s learning “When The Saints Go Marching In” on recorder in his intstrumental music class.

Because speed is at a premium in this meeting, and because I know Dante is always full of questions, I gave him a notepad to write down whatever questions may cross his mind as everyone was talking. As predicted, he had a lot:

2014-04-24 16.39.38

For the record, his questions and the answers:

Why a piñata?
There’s a piñata near where we stand for our meeting. It wears a hat reading “No Bull”, and commemorates a co-worker’s very unfortunate and injurious encounter with a mechanical bull.

What’s UIS?
UIS, or University Information Systems, is the IT organization for the system office which serves all CU campuses. This was another opportunity for me to refer to the whiteboard!

What are darrs?
Dante heard me referring to DARS, which is our inexplicably non-mapping acronym for the Degree Audit and Transfer Articulation System. It’s basically the system that students and advisors use to determine how close somebody is to graduating, and what else they need to do.

Who is the person that is next to me?
List the people here clockwise from you
This I did, but won’t repeat here.

Where’s Tashi?
Tashi and I actually work in different groups, as the developers have a group of their own. Dante was puzzled by his absence at our meeting. Tashi looked at his list and said, “Yeah, those were basically the questions I had on my first day. ‘Where’s Tashi?’ was the hardest one to answer.”

After a bit more email and spreadsheet action, we headed to lunch with the lovely Trrish. That was lots of fun, and featured Dante asking us more interesting questions like, “If you could have any job at CU besides yours, what would it be?”, and “If you could have lunch with any 5 people who aren’t in your family, who would you choose?”

From there, we went to campus and took a walking tour. Because CU is not only my employer but also my alma mater, not to mention the place I met and married my wife, there were plenty of stories to tell. Also, it’s a college campus, so it has lots of fun stuff to look at. Dante’s primary interest was in finding tall buildings where we could ride the elevators. The Gamow tower which houses the physics building was the best for this, but the Engineering Center was pretty good too.

Not only that, the Engineering Center has a section called the Integrated Teaching & Learning Laboratory whose basic purpose is to teach engineering concepts to K-12 kids. Consequently, it has lots of cool sciencey exhibits, including an absolutely fantastic ball machine called the Pythagorean Fantasy. It features a randomizer and lots of different tracks for the balls to travel, as well as some interactivity, such as path-blockers that you can engage with a teammate to make the balls travel down a track where they play blocks, bells, and chimes.

2014-04-24 15.05.20

After that, we walked back to some fountains he wanted to play in, then headed back to the office and home. I thought the day would go slowly, but on the contrary, it flew by! I have no idea whether this trip made him more likely to attend or work at CU, but it did let me show him some of the important pieces of my life that he hasn’t gotten to see. I call that a day well spent.

It’s Clobberin’ Time!

marvelfunbookAs Dante gets older, his milestones start to overlap with my own childhood memories, sometimes so close that they nearly touch. So indulge me a story please — I’ll connect it soon. When I was six years old, I got a present. It was called The Mighty Marvel Superheroes Fun Book. It was your basic book of mazes, word games, puzzles, quizzes, etc., featuring Marvel superheroes. I knew nothing about these guys at the time, though I’d probably heard of Spider-Man and the Hulk. Trying to do the activities in the book showed me that there was a huge universe of Marvel characters, each one of which seemed to have its own compelling costume, superpower, personality, origin story, and so on.

I had to know more. I started pestering my mom and dad for Marvel stuff, and lucky for me, the company was in an expansive phase, publishing a variety of paperbacks (via Fireside Books) reprinting origin stories for various characters (most of whom emerged in the early 1960s) alongside more contemporary tales for some of those same characters. That was how I ended up with Origins of Marvel Comics, and its successors Son Of Origins, Bring On The Bad Guys, The Superhero Women, and so forth. There were character-centric collections too, and about 4 sequels to the original Fun Book.

These books became a cornerstone of my childhood. In fact, I was so fascinated with the Marvel universe that I methodically went through the Fun Book (my original talisman) page by page and devoted a week to every superhero it mentioned. I’d try to learn about the hero of the week, but it would also affect how I dressed, how I played, what decisions I’d make. (“What would Doctor Strange order from this restaurant menu?”) It went deep, and it went on for years. I still love Marvel today.

As I watched Dante approach that same age, I’d offer him the same kinds of things. But he seemed to have very little interest in activity books of any sort, and zero interest in comics and superheroes. In fact, even when I found a copy of Origins for a ridiculously low price at my local comic store and brought it home to him, he literally said, “No thank you,” and it was exiled to his bookshelf to collect dust. By the time he was seven, I’d pretty much concluded that I’d never share superhero stories with him.

Then, last summer, I happened across an online video game that had just launched, called Marvel Heroes. It’s a massively-multiplayer action role-playing game, where you get to choose somebody from a roster of superheroes, then romp through the Marvel universe gaining abilities, gear, levels, and so forth by beating up the bad guys. Oh man it is fun, and I’ve been addicted to it for the past 9 months or so, especially as its fantastic developer team continues to improve it on a weekly basis.

Dante likes to watch me play games sometimes, so he perched by my shoulder as The Thing ran around clobbering various evildoers. He was mesmerized, and started asking me all kinds of questions about the various heroes, as well as the plot points in the game’s story. That story is kind of a “Marvel’s greatest hits”, so I mentioned that the MacGuffin behind the first few chapters (called the Tablet of Life And Time) shows up in the comics, including a story that just happened to be on his bookshelf… in Origins Of Marvel Comics.

DSC01069

So he grabbed the book, and this time he devoured it, along with all my other Marvel Fireside books. He also asked if he could have his own account in the game, and I consented. He chose his account name (“Is ‘3-month-old kitten’ a good account name?”), picked The Thing as his hero, and off he went. My sister bought him a Marvel Encyclopedia, and he dove in, similar to how he’d done with Pokemon in the past. He lost interest after a while, but that didn’t matter to me. He’d learned Marvel, and given us a common vocabulary to talk about this thing I follow.

It occurs to me that Marvel Heroes is the 21st-century equivalent of the Fun Book that so ensnared me. Where 1970s kids had mazes and word games, 2010s kids have incredibly interactive and immersive environments to play in, but they both have that dazzling panoply of characters, costumes, superpowers, and stories. Now that I write it all down, in fact, I’m reminded that almost the same exact pattern happened with Star Wars. So now we play both Star Wars and Marvel games together (including the fabulous Lego variants of each), and in fact he’s recently undergone a Marvel Heroes renaissance, diving back into the game to explore all the stuff that got added after he left.

All I know is that I never get tired of hearing him say, “It’s clobberin’ time!”

The Dante Show: Polyglot

Lately, Dante has added chickens to his interests, and frequently when we wake him up in the morning, the first thing we hear is, “Bok bok!” Either that or meowing.

In fact, he has informed us that he is fluent in five different languages: English, cat, chicken, Ewok, and Dante Language. Skeptical? Let’s go to the videotape:

(There’s an awful lot of rocking and rolling during this interview. Clearly we have to get this kid some media training. Or a very quiet electric guitar.)

Economics: Fair?

We’ve had a long, lovely winter break, and now Dante is back to school. The year’s half over, and I’m realizing I haven’t written much at all about how 3rd grade has been for him. However, last time I asked him what I should write about for this blog, he said, “You should write about the economics fair!” So that will require some school context.

The short answer is that school is going very well indeed this year. He’s got some good friends, one of whom is in his same homeroom class. He’s got a teacher that our family loves, who really gets him and who tailors curriculum to meet his needs. And he’s got a lot less homework than in previous years, thanks to this same teacher’s approach — one of the reasons why we love her. It goes beyond his teacher, of course. That school is full of people who care about Dante and do whatever they can to give him the best possible experience.

Leading up to winter break, the whole 3rd and 4th grade had a big, multifaceted joint project: an economics fair, in which every child started a (very) small business. Each kid brainstormed product ideas, then did market research, chose one idea, made a prototype, and then made 25-50 instances of the product. They “rented” storefront space from the teacher (all the money was Stargate currency, of course — not real cash), and did cost analysis on how much it cost to create each instance of their product. They made signage and advertising, created a slogan for their business, and so forth. Finally, when all the products were made and the stores prepared, they became each other’s customers, as well as selling to the 1st & 2nd graders, teachers, and parents. The main requirement for the products was that they must be handmade — no value-added reselling allowed. :)

Dante’s ideas were all for paper products: paper puzzles, paper airplanes, paper pockets, paper Christmas trees. In fact, they had him do the brainstorming first, and then he was quite crestfallen to discover that he wouldn’t get to make all his products, but rather had to choose one. So he chose the paper puzzles, but decided that the pictures on the puzzles would be of the other products he didn’t get to make. So he created puzzles with pictures of:

  • Christmas trees,
  • paper pockets (basically a triangle),
  • paper airplanes (a longish isosceles triangle with a line down the center),
  • and finally, the words “Paper Products”
A sample puzzle as sold

A sample puzzle as sold

There was one picture per puzzle, so buyers had their choice of images. In addition to the different pictures available, he also offered a variety of difficulty levels — puzzles in 4, 7, or 10 pieces. The special twist he put on things is that his puzzles lacked the typical knobs and sockets of familiar jigsaw puzzle pieces. Instead, he cut straight edges (with some surprise corners) on the pieces, requiring solvers to match the picture up carefully based on subtle clues. (Surely this was his aim, rather than just avoiding the work of cutting out knobs, right? :) ) In fact, his business slogan was, “Know no knobs.” Yes, the trademark Dante penchant for wordplay is alive and well.

He did his market research, and lo and behold, his potential customers were far more interested in Christmas tree puzzles than in pockets, airplanes, or “Paper Products.” Moreover, they heavily favored 10-piece puzzles over the easier ones. He made a prototype with tiny (Tic Tac sized) pieces, and then determined that the whole thing needed to be a lot bigger.

So he embarked on making his wares, with a considerable preponderance of 10-piece Christmas trees. The topper for our family Christmas tree is a dove (white-winged, naturally), so Dante drew a dove at the top of each of his Christmas trees as well. Except, he’s slightly obsessed with chickens right now, so each dove had a speech balloon containing some chicken vocalization. (Example: “bbok!”)

There were a lot of puzzles to make, and not enough class time to make them all, so he needed to branch into his home time to do it, much to his consternation. He’s drawn a bright line between home and school, and resents every intrusion of school into his home time. We talked about what he needed to do in order to have enough puzzles ready on the day of the fair, and settled on making 3 per night, including weekends. It was a big bummer to him to work on the weekends, but it was the option he selected rather than loading more puzzles onto weeknights.

Assembled version

Assembled version

Many times a day, he would remind us that he was feeling overwhelmed, and would seek validation with the formula, “Can you understand why I’d feel overwhelmed by this?” Laura was great at giving that to him. I had to remind myself not to immediately try to “fix” his feeling. Eventually, I settled on pointing out (over and over, as it came up constantly) that he’s got far less homework overall, that this is a big project, that he’s making the choices how to structure the work, etc. I also focused on making sure he understood the real-world value of doing a project like this.

Finally, the day of the fair arrived, and it didn’t go well at first. Not many people were interested in Dante’s puzzles, despite the bargain-basement prices he gave them. He got very frustrated based on how much work he’d put into making them, and the fact that he wouldn’t be able to lower the price any further without taking a loss. He compared his product to what other kids brought and said unhappily, “No one would take them even if they were free.”

Happily, the post-recess sales period went better. His teacher helped him with some ideas, such as having a demo puzzle out for people to try, and his mood picked up again. He was even more excited about the other students’ products than his own, and spent much of his time talking to potential customers about the cool items they could buy from other kids’ stores. :)

Then there was a second day of the fair, which parents and other teachers could attend. His teacher and others did a good job of sending business his way, and he did sell out by the end of that second day. I think he ended up proud of what he’d done, despite the somewhat unhappy experience of actually doing it.

I have some more thoughts about this fair, and about the state of his schooling in general today, but I think I’ll save those for a password-protected post in the near future…

Ebala oooooooooO

In case you’re wondering, “Ebala oooooooooO” is Ewok for “Happy Halloween,” at least according to Dante. He was quite specific that the final word has ten o’s, the last one of which is capitalized.

So, a very Ebala oooooooooO to all of YouuuuuuU, and here are some pics of our little Ewok.

DSC01119

DSC01178

DSC01136

This last is with a friend and a counselor at school whose Leia costume was partially inspired by the Star Wars games Dante plays at recess. Stargate is rocking it this year, but that’s a post for another time…

The Dante Show: This Is The Endor

Ewoks are the thing nowadays. Dante’s Star Wars fandom has zeroed in on those fierce and adorable alien teddy bears. I remember a certain amount of disdain and derision going around when the Ewoks appeared in Return Of The Jedi. Kids my age, who were 7 years old when Star Wars came out, had reached the far more sophisticated age of 13 when Jedi emerged. How dare these fuzzy cutie-pies sully our majestic space opera? Well, Lucas must have known what he was doing at the time, because the 8-year-old in my house can’t get enough Ewoky goodness.

In fact, he’s created his own version of Endor, the Ewoks’ home planet (okay nerds, I know it’s actually a moon.) In fact, he’s been good enough to give us a tour:

(The dancing letterbox is apparently YouTube’s way of compensating for my handheld shakycam. Thanks, YouTube!)

He’s also elected to dress up as an Ewok for Halloween this year. Pictures coming soon…