Scared fish

(I was going through some old notes and came across this entry I had written in May 2006, just four months after we brought Carlos and Jeremiah home.  Enjoy!)

I am finding out that 4-year olds can and most often will interpret what you say QUITE literally. We were shopping a few days ago and while Sarah did the grocery shopping, I wheeled Carlos and Jeremiah around the store to keep them entertained. Carlos was talking away and suddenly he got excited because he saw some fish tanks nearby with fish in them. So off we went to see the fish.  Big fish.  Small fish.  There were even a couple of little tubs with fish in them ready to be taken home. After a few minutes, Carlos wanted to tap on the glass. I tried to explain to him that this would scare the fish, by saying, “Carlos, if you tap the glass, the fish will be scared, like ‘AAGGHH!!'” (Usually this is exactly what he says when he is scared or thinks he might be scared and is trying to convey the scariness of whatever situation he is thinking of.)  After a minute of thinking about this, he looks at me with a puzzled expression and says, “Fish no say ‘AAGGHH!’ – they’re in water!” Yup, definitely can’t pull one over on Carlos! I finally had to demonstrate by tapping on the tank and sure enough, the fish scattered.  BUT they didn’t say “AAGGHH!”


Stop – Hammer time!

Anyone who knows me well enough will know that I have no problems listening to any genre of music.  The Bible does not put limits on what style of music is “acceptable” and what is not.  As Bob Kauflin points out in Worship Matters, “Scripture doesn’t come with an accompanying soundtrack.”  Music as an art form can be and should be enjoyed across many kinds of styles.

Although music is amoral, that certainly doesn’t mean that it cannot affect emotions, attitudes, etc.  In fact, music that DOESN’T affect us in some way isn’t very good music.  The challenge for me comes in trying to teach discernment to my tween-who-thinks-he’s-a-teen.  For awhile now, he’s been into all things “cool” which I suppose is a very subjective category, but apparently includes any kind of music that is fast.  This certainly isn’t a problem in and of itself.  But with the “all things cool” category came the “I’m too cool for you or your kind of music” attitude.  That’s when the music becomes a problem.  I’ve had to take away some privileges like his MP3 player.  But I think we were both getting frustrated because no ground rules had been set up for the music he is allowed to listen to.  This is mainly because I was having a hard time coming up with something that my very non-abstract, linear-thinking son could “get.”  Then I had an idea.

Carlos has started to be interested in working with tools, banging nails, and building things.  Unfortunately, whenever he uses my tools, he has a tendency to leave them outside instead of putting them away.  Monday evening I took him out on a date to Chick-Fil-A, but first we went to Home Depot to buy a hammer.  As we ate, I told him that the hammer was a gift from me.  Then we talked about the proper ways to use and take care of a hammer.  You don’t go around hitting people, windows or cars and you don’t throw the hammer around like a ball.  A hammer is used for building things.  A misuse of his gift might end up with the hammer being taken away.

Then we talked about the gift of music.  I said that God has given us music to enjoy and to use for lots of different things, but mainly to praise Him.  But just like we can misuse the hammer doing things that it shouldn’t be used for, we can also misuse music, even “good” music.  Music can make us proud, unkind, and arrogant if we let it.  We can use it to praise God for the beauty he has created or we can use it to praise ourselves.

We agreed on three ground rules for music that he can listen to (borrowing a little bit from Todd Stocker’s Infinite Playlists);

  • No songs with lyrics that speak unkindly, uses God’s name in vain, or  talks bad about God
  • If I see that any particular music is affecting his attitude or his interactions with others negatively, I’ll remove it from his music collection.  It’s one thing to have a bad day every now and then, but as a dad, I can tell when his attitude starts to go downhill and more often than not, it’s because he is letting his need to be “cool” control him.
  • If he’s not allowed to listen to it, he’s not allowed to talk about it.  This one is a big one for Carlos.  He LOVES to talk about things he perceives as cool and if they are forbidden, he wants to talk about them all the more.   This only adds to the temptation to break the rules.

By the end of our date, I felt like we had made a connection.  Only time will tell how much sank in and I fully expect to have to go over these rules again.  But hopefully Carlos will better understand and be able to make wiser choices about what he allows to affect him, and be able to hear the gospel in songs that we sing while not giving in to the “I’m too cool” attitude.  And of course, I hope I don’t catch him hammering on his siblings.

World Piece

Hey, this puzzle looks great!  It’ll be a fun thing for the kids to do and educational to boot!

Yeah, famous last words.

When we ordered our school books last year from SonLight, they threw in a free 600 piece world map puzzle.  Tonight, Carlos got it out of the closet and we went to work.  Now, in theory, a puzzle whose pieces are shaped like the actual country is a pretty cool puzzle.  In theory.  The downside is that pieces with irregular shapes do not interlock like a regular puzzle would.  The water pieces interlock and the border pieces interlock, helping to make a frame to keep the country pieces together, but this works only if you actually do the water and border pieces first.  I, of course, went straight for the countries.

I learned several things tonight.  First, don’t pay any attention to kids who complain that the puzzle is too hard while they do the VERY easy, interlocking border pieces.  They obviously aren’t struggling with the complexities of getting Georgia, Turkey, Kazakhtsan and Russia to stay together, much less India, Pakistan and Nepal.  (And yes, I actually spelled Kazakhstan right the first time – thanks Sporcle!)

Second, keep the country pieces away from the seismic activity of a toddler’s feet.  For whatever reason, Jeremiah insisted on putting his pieces together near me.  This wouldn’t be so bad if he also didn’t insist on turning around and around, swiping his feet across Southeast Asia and the Middle East with every turn.  My poor tectonic plates couldn’t handle much more abuse.

Third, when you have a 600 piece puzzle with pieces shaped like countries, many of these pieces will be tiny.  Very tiny.  Liechtenstein tiny.  Combine that with numbers one and two above and things get a little more nerve racking.

Fourth, if you have a 600 piece puzzle with incredibly tiny pieces that when finished (ha!) is supposed to be 3 feet by 1 ½ ft, almost everything on these pieces will be printed very small.  The box picture was certainly no help.  Why?  If the printing on a puzzle that will be 3 feet by 1 ½ ft is small, imagine how small the printing is on a box that is 12 by 8 inches.  I was desperately wanting some kind of magnifying glass to read these labels.  Right about then a one world government was sounding like a good idea.  It sure would make crazy puzzles like this simpler.  It’s a good thing this puzzle was free too.  Now we can put that money towards eye exams.

Educational indeed!

Flashback Week – My son’s understanding blows me away yet again

[originally posted on August 6, 2006]

Tonight, something special happened. Each evening ever since we were united with Carlos and Jeremiah, we’ve read a section from our children’s Bible, which includes illustrative pictures. Carlos would quite often ask me to read about the one that had a small picture of Jesus on the cross, but I would always tell him that we had to read other things first (we are reading from beginning to end). Well, tonight we finally got to the chapter that told about Jesus death on the cross and Carlos was listening intently. After we finished, I asked him if he understood what we read and if he knew why Jesus died. He replied, “Because people do sins.” When I asked him what sins were, he said “Disobeying.” I helped to clarify a little bit with him that sins were bad things that everyone did – Carlos, Jeremiah, Mama, Papa, Abuela Oma – everyone! He pointed to the picture and asked, “God disobey?” “No, in fact, he is the only person who has never, ever disobeyed and sinned.” Carlos: “Why castigar (punished)?” Me: “What if when Carlos disobeyed, Mama and Papa punished Jeremiah instead? Would that be very fair?” At this, Carlos got this look in his eyes that seemed to say “Hey, that’s not right!” He shook his head and said that he should be punished. “Well, even though Jesus never, ever did anything wrong, God punished him for our sins. He did this because God loves us very much and He knew that if He punished us, we would need to be punished forever and ever.”

This seemed to satisfy Carlos and then it was time to pray. What happened next surprised me very much. In his broken English, Carlos prayed: “Thank you God for this day. Thank you for the cross. Thank you for dying on the cross and no punish us. Please help Carlos and Jeremiah and Mama and Papa and Abuela Oma and everyone to always obey. Thank you God for love. In Jesus name, Amen.”

Okay, WOW! As I prayed after him, I couldn’t help the tears in my eyes (and even now as I type, they’ve returned!) Jesus said we should come to Him with simple, child-like faith. I’ve never really and fully understood what that meant until tonight when Carlos prayed. I pray that his understanding and faith will only continue to grow through and even in spite of my poor examples and teaching.

Schooling for the birds

One of the nice things about homeschooling is that you get to do all kinds of cool projects or illustrations with your kids.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We study science in the evenings and lately we’ve been reading about birds. Now, generally birds are, well – they’re boring. No offense to all you feathered fowl out there, but you don’t really lead lives of mystery and intrigue.  At least, that’s what I used to think until I actually started reading about them with the munchkins.  But we’ve learned so many different things about birds, many of which are actually quite interesting.

For instance, Black Herons makes an umbrella shape with its wings, shading the water it wades in to help it look for fish.  (This is the bird of the “Nighttime, daytime!” infamy.  If you don’t know what I mean, check out this video. It’s hilarious.)  Flamingos aren’t born pink, but get this color from a natural chemical in its food.  In general, most female birds are a drab color to help camouflage it and protect it and her young from hunters.  A female Cuckoo will lay an egg in a Reed Warbler’s nest after dropping one of the Warbler’s eggs out.  When the Cuckoo chick hatches before the other eggs, it will shove the Warbler’s eggs out of the nest, even while still blind and naked.  The Reed Warbler feeds and takes care of the Cuckoo chick, thinking that the chick is its own, even when the chick outgrows the adult Warbler.  An owl can turn its head in almost any direction, even upside down!  And then of course there’s the many various and beautiful kinds of Birds of Paradise (like the neon smiley face one).

We’ve had a lot of fun illustrating various things about birds.  The kids curled up in a ball on the floor, pretended to “hatch” and then follow the first moving thing that they saw to learn about how goslings “imprint.”  We tried eating “fish” (a.k.a. marsh mellows) upside down like a flamingo.  We tried tossing up our fish and catching it in our mouths like a Snake Bird.  We tried flapping our wings in a figure eight movement like a hummingbird.  And we saw how much water a Pelican can hold in its pouch.  The videos below lets you join our class for this special project.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Riding the rails

My kids love to play with trains.  So for the past couple of months, I’ve been working on making them a train table as a Christmas present for their Thomas the Tank Engine trains.  Most of the ones for sale in stores are too expensive and rather small anyway.  I wanted something that all four of them could use at the same time and have plenty of room.  I used a 64″ x 32″ piece of plywood as the table top; some 1″ x 4″ wood planks for the sides, support beams and part of the legs; and 1″ x 3″ wood planks for the other part of the legs.  Here are some pictures of the work in progress and the finished table.

First, I penciled an outline of what I wanted the top to look like.  Since just having land would be rather boring, I made a lake with a river “flowing” through the land.  The outline of the water area can be seen below.

After the top was finished, I painted the legs, sides and braces a bright red.  Here is the bottom of the table complete with sides and braces.

Now to make sure the legs are lined up correctly…

And here is the finished table, complete with trains ready to roll!

From the top

If it’s worth doing…

It’s amazing the things that can turn into object lessons.  Take, for example, a house remodeling project.

A few months ago, we decided to put some tile in our two bedrooms in the basement.  “No problem,” I thought.  Considering the other projects I’ve embarked upon in our house, I should have known better.  See, sometime in our house’s past, some remodeling was done by the previous owners and, well, let’s just say the result sucked.

Anyway, I went to work pulling up the old, smelly carpet along with the padding and tack boards (or whatever they’re called).  So far so good.  Except that in one room, a closet had been built and framed ON TOP of the carpet.  Slightly peeved that I could not get ALL the carpet out, I took pliers in hand and worked to pull as much carpet as I could out from underneath the closet wall.  Then I noticed that the baseboards (which had to come out too) were ALSO framed in by the closet.  After giving it some thought, I decided to just tear down the whole closet, take out the carpet and base boards and then put the closet back up.  Once I got the drywall off, I also noticed that the wood used to make the closet was dirty, rotten, and generally looked like it was pulled off a scrap heap somewhere.  So much for a simple tiling project.

All this time, Carlos had been watching the progress in the room, making comments, asking questions and helping out whenever he could.  He asked “Papi, why do you have to take the closet out?” or “Is that supposed to look like that?”  I seized this opportunity to try and teach him that when you set out to do something, you should try to do right the first time.  If not, either you or someone else will have to fix the mistake.  I pointed out the rotten wood and showed him the kind of wood that should have been used.  “Do you think if we do something lazily that we are doing it with all our strength like the Bible encourages us to do?” I asked.  Carlos looked at me as if I were nuts and said an emphatic “No!”

Sometimes I need to be reminded of such a lesson.  Last night, after building the closet frame and putting it in place, I noticed that I had repeated an error from the previous closet – not aligning it with the stud in the wall.  I considered trying to rig it so that I wouldn’t have to take the whole frame down but my own words came back to haunt encourage me, “Do you think if we do something lazily that we are doing it with all our strength like the Bible encourages us to do?”  I was basically being lazy in not wanting to rebuild part of the frame, even when I had enough wood already.  But I knew that fixing the problem and not just covering it up was the correct, albeit harder thing to do.  And by doing this, I’ll hopefully provide an example to my kids of practicing what I preach.