April 21, 2012

A Logical Conclusion

"Push me, Mommy. Pweeese? Just five more minutes?"

I'm tired and hungry and maybe a tad grumpy. Dinner's ready upstairs in the crockpot and I'd really rather be up there eating it than downstairs in the den. But I look at Caleb and I know I need to push him on his swing another five minutes. He was bouncing off the sliding glass door and the couch a little while ago, but as I rythmically push his hammock, he sighs and settles back with a pillow and Bear. He's calm, peaceful. I wonder if he could fall asleep here, suspended in the air, swining back and forth. It's one of his favorite places to be.

He would have done well on a pirate ship, methinks.

Caleb's sensory diet is a big part of our daily routine. We wrestle, tickle, chase, swing, and play "Buffalo", where Caleb runs full tilt into a be-pillowed Mommy who sits in a livingroom chair.

"Buffalo" is not one of Mommy's favorite games.

Among Caleb's favorites, though, is his hammock swing which we installed in the den early last fall. It hangs from a supporting beam in the ceiling and we keep a futon mattress underneath for padding in case of falls. We've spent hours in that swing this winter. Sometimes I sing to Caleb while I push him. Sometimes I put iTunes on and we take turns choosing music.

"The Breakfast song, Mommy? Again? How 'bout Big Bad Voodoo Band? Pweeese??"

I make up hand motions and silly dances to go with the songs. Caleb tries to mimick, and he's just so darn cute, I can't help laughing.

Sometimes we're feeling quiet, though. Perhaps Mommy is tired (or cranky). Perhaps Caleb is wound up and having trouble controling himself. Sometimes I just push and push, as the hands on the clock go round and round. We've spent over an hour on the swing before. Half an hour is more common, more routine. Depends on how much he needs. The need changes from day to day.

I know when he's calmed down, though, because he starts to talk. He tells me about his dream last night, and the scary monsters from Danny Phantom (a tv show), and how he wants to be a bug monster ghost for Halloween, and how he's hungry, and could I push him faster?

I love to hear his chatter. He's talking so well these days. The other morning, he gave me his little notebook and asked me to draw water, a ship, a chain monster, and Caleb in the water with the monster. He then proceeded to tell me an entire story about it. How Caleb was swimming and saw the monster. He was very afraid and he swam back to the ship. He was wet, so he changed his clothes and sailed back to town. And the chain monster was never seen again. The end.

I can hardly believe this boy of mine sometimes. His creativity. His memory. His vivid imagination. His active dream life. I know I'm his mom and all, but I'm impressed. I can't believe how much and how quickly he's growing. Blossoming, even.

I wouldn't change him for the world.

Recently, Jason and I made the decision to homeschool Caleb this fall. The local preschool has been a positive experience for us, but our little boy does not (and probably never will) fit the cookie cutter mold that public schools expect and encourage. Our options for kindergarden were limited, due in part to his autism, and after a lot of prayer and a whole lotta conversations, we've decided to keep him home.

I'm one part nervous and two parts excited by this change of plans. There is an amazing homeschooling community on the island, so we won't be alone. Washington State is actually pretty friendly toward families that homeschool, and we'll receive a stipend this fall to help pay for curriculum. Gotta love that!

*Commencing happy dance*

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some googling to do: educational computer games, flash cards, and large maps of the world. In no particular order. :)

April 13, 2012

Silly Stories with Caleb

And now it's time for Silly Stories with Caleb, the part of the blog where Caleb comes out and tells a silly story.

Today we join Mommy and Caleb as they learn a new bible verse. Mommy has put the words of Colossians 4:2 to song and begins to sing:

(To the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell")

"Devote yourselves to prayer, devote yourselves to pray
Hi ho the derry-oh! Devote yourselves to prayer!"

Caleb loves the song and immediately catches on. Only when he starts to sing, something else entirely comes out:

"Demote yoursevles to prayer, demote yourselves to prayer
Hi ho the derry-oh! Demote yourselves to prayer!"

May we all be so demoted. :)

This has been Silly Stories with Caleb. Tune in next week to hear Caleb say:

"Mommy! My foot has a poke!"

April 9, 2012

He came back to "wife"

“Please God, don’t bleed!” My little boy stared hard at the picture of Jesus, crowned with thorns and facing an angry crowd. For a moment I wondered if he would cry. I wondered if I might, too. What was going through his five-year-old mind? Did he understand, even a little, what he was looking at? The story we were reading?

Being a child’s Easter book, the violence of the cross was muted into a watercolor of Jesus with small scratches that only hint of blood. The actual scene at Golgotha, on the next page, is pushed off into the distance where only three small crosses can be seen in the background while sad people cry up close in the foreground. Still, Caleb picked up immediately on the seriousness of the situation.

“Let’s do the crown of forns, Mommy,” he asked every day as I pulled out the Resurrection Eggs and accompanying book. Whatever egg we happened to be on, whichever part of the book, he would flip to that page with the picture and pour over it. “Ouchie, Mommy. Poor Jesus. Not nice!”

He was shocked later to learn that Jesus died. I sensed a storm gathering as he processed the information, but managed to head him off with the Good News, even though that was technically supposed to be a surprise for Easter morning. “It’s ok, little man. Jesus died for us, but then He came back to life on Easter Sunday. He’s ok, I promise.”

“He come back to wife?” (Pardon the lisp).

“Yes, sweet boy. Jesus is alive.” A smile forms on his lips. (Whew. Disaster averted.)

Guess what I heard the rest of the week? "Jesus rose from da dead, Mommy. He's awive."

Why yes, yes He is.

We both enjoyed going through the Resurrection Eggs this year. We did them last year (a big hit then as well), but this year was different. Last year we opened a brightly colored egg every day of Passion Week with a funny little surprise in each one. This year, the eggs and the book told a story. A story that Caleb followed with interest and enthusiasm.

He’s growing up, that little boy of mine.

Yesterday morning, when I got home from early service, Caleb and I had ourselves an Easter picnic in the backyard. Daddy was at late service, the day was beautiful and warm (hallelujah!), so Caleb and I dragged out a blanket, my bible, and some snacks. And the last egg.

“It’s empty!” Caleb looked confused. A little disappointed. “It’s empty because Jesus rose from the dead,” I explain. “The tomb was empty because Jesus is alive!” I read Matthew 28:5-7. About the angels and the women and the Good News.

I’m not sure he “gets” it. But then, he is five. He asks to play with the spear and the rock from earlier eggs, and I let him. He’s grown so much since last year. Understands so much more than he used to. I love watching him learn, especially about God. Between the autism and the developmental delays, it’s a blessing I don’t take for granted.

I hope your Easters were sweet and colorful and full of hope, my friends! He is risen! He is risen indeed!

April 6, 2012

Hungry After the Hunger Games

Just about twenty-four hours ago, I finished reading the Hunger Games books. Each book took me two days to read, spread out over two weeks. Last night, I read the last page, closed the cover, and waited. I sorted out my emotions, went back through the story mentally, and waited some more. Told Jason I had finished the series. He asked “So what’d you think?”

I didn’t know what to say.

“I’m not sure I liked it.” That’s the answer I finally came up with.

I was hesitant to write this post in the face of these books’ enormous popularity. After all the hype I'd heard  about them, I was ready to embrace them, ready to love them. So many of my friends are fans. And yet, I can't say that I love them. I can't say I'd read them again. I don’t want to step on toes here, but I feel strongly enough about this story to share my honest opinion with you.

I liked the first book. I enjoyed the movie, too. A little tough to swallow in places, but an excellent beginning to a larger story. Books 2 and 3? Not quite what I hoped they’d be. Interesting? Yes! Well written? Absolutely. A good story that resonated and inspired me? Weeeelllll . . .

I think what I liked least about the books was the sheer volume of violence. The first book wasn’t too bad, but the author really ramps up the violence in #2 and #3. She invents more and more creative ways to kill people. And they’re always grusome, vivid, and psychologically perverse. If these books are made into movies and continue to stick to the story, they’ll probably be rated R.

At first, I was shocked by the violence. The brutality of it. The senselessness of it. But the “shock and awe” factor soon wore off and I began to wonder why the author needed to tack on so much carnage. Certainly by the time you’re into Catching Fire, you’re already convinced that the Captiol is pure evil. Heck, halfway through the first book, I was ready to launch a rebellion and overthrow the Capitol myself. We’re ready to see the bad guys lose. We’re rooting for the girl and the guy(s). So why the continuous, copious bloodshed? A little goes a long way. Less can actually be more, serving to highlight the evil your protagonist is fighting, instead of bashing readers over the head with it.

That’s how I felt when I finished the book last night. Bashed up. Emotionally gut-punched. In the last chapters, it was like riding one big wave after another. Big bad thing would happen. Character would recover just in time for another big bad thing to happen. Rinse and repeat. And that kind of roller coaster ride leads to another complaint I have about these books: a lack of happy moments.

Throughout most of the books, Katniss is never really happy. At best, she’s grateful for the moments when she doesn’t have to fight for survival (which are few). But she is almost never happy. That presents a problem for the reader because if the protagonist is never happy, what is she fighting for anyway?

Now I don’t want to knock Katniss’ heroism. She fights tooth and nail for the safety of her family and those she cares about. But how much stronger would the story be if the author had written in some happy scenes with those people? Moments that mattered. Moments that made you care about those relationships and to understand why Katniss would fight so hard for them? We barely see her mother or Prim throughout the story. There are some nearly-happy scenes with Gale and Peeta, but they are brief at best and don’t usually end well. The lack of happy moments, and the resulting large amount of difficult, scary, emotional, dangerous moments, is draining after a while. Main characters need a break now and then. To refresh. To remember what’s important. Readers need those breaks, too.

Something else nagged at me as I read. Katniss doesn't really change. She's basically the same character from beginning to middle to end. Perhaps a bit more compassionate. A bit less introverted. But basically the same. And that bothers me, because characters are supposed to change. Look at great stories from the past, the classics, and many best-sellers, and you will see this principle at work: Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter. Eregon. The four Pevensie children who visit Narnia. They each undertake a journey that transforms them. If they were cowardly at the beginning, they are brave at the end. If they were selfish, they become generous. Readers look for such transformations, crave them even, because they give us hope. If a character can change for the better, maybe we can too. I wish Hunger Games offered such a transformation for Katniss.

One last note. Somewhere in the pages of The Hunger Games, I became uncomfortably aware of a masterful stroke of genius on the author’s part. By deciding to read the book, I made myself a spectator of the Hunger Games. Cruel and brutal though they were, I read and was entertained. Just like the Capitol's citizens, watching their television screens, waiting to see what happens next. I don’t like this realization, this position the author put me in. I don’t want to identify with the Capitol. And yet, I voluntarily picked up this book and decided to read it. Even though I won’t condone the dystopian government, neither did I stop watching.

I’m not sure what that says about me, or about the millions of other people who are buying and reading these books. Are we bored with happy stories? Are we hungry for something that feels more “real” and less “fairy tale”? Or have we, like the people in the Capitol, acquired an appetite for blood?

What are your thoughts? Are you a fan? If you are, what was it about the books that you liked? What compelled you to keep reading?