Soren 2.0

by Dirk on April 22, 2014 · 0 comments

My youngest son is now a full two years old! Much of Soren’s first two years was filled with his jolly disposition and infectious enthusiasm. He ate whatever he was served with fervor and threw himself physically into situations with wild abandon. Sometimes I even fear for his safety, as he anticipates being caught or otherwise accommodated for as he flings himself hither and thither. It’s one of those moments where I wonder if he would be best off being left to take a relatively safe bump in order to establish some discretion. But as he already exhibits far less comfort with me than his mother I’m going to leave that an idle thought as opposed to an adventure in parenting.

Soren is 36 1/2 inches tall and 28.1 pounds: tall and slender. He is cooperative and good at sharing and playing with others. More recently he has begun to show signs of jealousy toward his sister in certain moments – as she has done toward him for quite a while longer – but otherwise play constructively and productively. Over the last month or two Soren has also begun expressing preference in the form of tantrums. If there is something he wants or doesn’t want to do you can bet he is throwing himself on the floor and wailing as if he had been stuck. It is “age appropriate” behaviour – classic terrible twos – but I wonder why, despite the limited communication means at his disposal – there is no incremental effort to communicate preference, instead skipping straight to Defcon 1.

My relationship with Soren has been developing, albeit slowly. Since around the first of the year he has begun seeking me out. Sometimes it is handing me a book to read instead of his mother; other times it is sprinting up to me with delight as I come up the stairs, smiling and demanding “Ing! Ing!” which is his way of asking for a “swing”. While he was initially fearless about swings, and sometimes still is, now there are moments where I can feel his body tense up, followed by his face clouding in worry. I’m never entirely sure what sets off this reaction. Still, when he is enjoying the swings he is REALLY enjoying them. And tickles: unlike his sister who always had a love/hate relationship with tickles Soren just squeals and squeals.

Soren enjoys his books very much and, like his sister before him, has memorized the lines. He takes a more active role than Elena used to in speaking along, gleefully bellowing out the last word of every line or every other line in rhyming books, or jumping on for the parts that he enjoy the most such as a lion roaring or a truck honking its horn. At first this was with his Dr. Seuss books such as “The Cat in the Hat” and “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish”. His new favourite books are the Pete the Cat books. He asks for the “buttons” book or the “shoes” book and happily “reads” along the bits he has memorized and enjoys. While some of the Pete the Cat books are not as good those that involve singing and Pete’s philosophy that “It’s all good!” share being both entertaining and categorically positive in story and message.

Of course, the overriding theme with Soren is that he remains a dedicated momma’s boy. So often, without warning, he will become panicky in missing his mother and scramble to find her, screaming. On his birthday there was a moment where he was alone on the back deck, inching the new little bike he received from his grandma along. I went outside to be with him. As I opened the door and started slowly out he looked back and slightly anxious but continued what he was doing. At the point that I closed the door and stepped down toward him he stood up, in great distress, and headed back into the house crying. Yet, at another moment, he might call out “Daddy!” and be thrilled to see me. I wish I understood it, at least, as it is a continually crushing experience to have my son race away from me as if I were the devil himself come for his soul!

At least at this age Soren is the most outgoing of us – so long as mom is around of course. He get great joy out of being with other people. Sometimes, at places like the science museum, he will go up to all of the little girl who are within a year or two of his age and give them hugs. He also displays mischievousness. Periodically he will do something mean to his sister. He is still at an age where we can’t really tell him what is good and bad, right and wrong. He does not yet understand and be able to interpret that kind of feedback and direction. But sometimes when he does something mean to his sister we sit it: the gleam in his eye, the smile, the little thing that surely seems to indicate there is some little malice on his behalf that we are entirely unable to verify much less shape. It must be nice being two years old!

I remember there was a point with Elena when she consistently preferred or wanted her mother. It felt like it would never end, but eventually it did and now she and I are as close as I imagine we could be. While I don’t expect that with Soren – part of Elena and my closeness is how similar we are in temperament, enabling me to understand her well and fostering that closeness. While Soren’s disposition won’t be more clear until he gets older my suspicion is that unlike his sister he will remain closer to his mother than to me even as he gets older. Regardless, as long as he grows out of crying and running when I approach that will be plenty enough for me.

In the meantime I’m very happy to have him. Seeing him with Sigrid, or with Elena, or just doing his own thing, it is impossible to imagine the family without little Soren!

Elena 4.0

by Dirk on February 7, 2014 · 0 comments

Elena’s fourth birthday was last week. Four…it is hard to believe she was born in Cambridge, MA as it feels as though we have been in Ohio far longer than that. Her entire life has been here, at least from the standpoint of place being discernible in pictures. She is four and I am 40; days roll by in an instant into weeks and Elena grows in ways small and remarkable.

For some weeks now Elena is able to engage in fairly sophisticated bargaining and manipulation. She has figured out to lie if the truth will prevent her from having what she wants – for instance, she will lie about picking her nose or lie about already having had a dessert early in the day to avoid a chiding or missing out on another dessert, respectively. I’m certainly teaching her not to lie earlier than I might have expected! That nuance aside, I can literally watch Elena’s mind move. That’s because I recognize it as like my own. Despite my rarely using those particular skills and tactics in life, and carefully not with the children, I see Elena manifesting the same kind of thought process and asymmetrical instincts that I have. It is so different from her mother’s guileless dealings but native to me. As in so many other things, it gives me a lovely opportunity to parent her from a place of understanding.

It is funny – not in a way I would actually comment or laugh about to Sigrid – how differently Elena is with both of us. When Elena wants something she’s more likely to ask her mother for it. That’s because she is likely to get it. She will carefully choose to persist or to whine or to use logic to wear Sigrid down and get what she wants. Sometimes, I interject in order to steer her away from what she is trying to get. She responds by saying, “Daddy, mommy and I are talking about this.” She knows my will overcomes hers so wants to stay with the easy mark! However, even though in her moment of impulse or desire she tries to bypass me to get what she will, she actually prefers being controlled even at the expense of what she wanted.

For example, today her mother wanted her to clean her room in order to the library. Elena did not want to clean her room and they were at an impasse. Elena surveyed the situation and decided to try and pout and cry. I watched Sigrid get more stressed. The familiar pattern would play out: Elena would continue refusing and shifting her tactics until Sigrid finally gave up and cleaned the room herself. Now it was my turn to exercise the manipulative muscles. I could tell that reason or threat would not make progress. What Elena needed was to see how ridiculous she was, on the ground and whining and fake crying over having to clean her room. Elena very much considers herself a “big girl” and gets upset when I call her “my baby”. So I started laughing out loud, telling her how ridiculous she looked and that she was acting like a baby. After all, big girls would never act that way. Pretty soon she was laughing too, then agreeing with me, and then cleaning her room. I don’t know how long I will be able to stay a step ahead of her, but so far I’m really glad that I am for her well being as well as Sigrid’s.

We continue to be incredibly close. Sigrid signed Elena up for a week of ice skating camp a month ago and Elena loves it. So now every Tuesday evening I take her to ice skating lessons. It is perhaps her favourite part of the week – because of the ice skating, not because of me! – but since she enjoys it so much she really appreciates my taking her there and watching. I’m also now taking her to ballet regularly on Saturdays which hearkens back to a year or more ago when we ran errands together on Saturdays, a routine that I definitely miss. She and I share such an easy understanding, I wish that she and Sigrid had the same. It is such a distinct reminder about how personalities and people have compatibilities and not.

Watching her ice skate has a powerful effect on my own memory and nostalgia. Seeing her learn to skate reminds me of when I learned; I go back and remember making the same moves: stepping, breathing in the cold air, being out of breath, starting to get the hang of it. Elena is so into it: next to the other couple of 4ish year olds in her group she is the only one really alert and engaged in a certain way when the instructor is showing them what to do. On the other hand, when they are turned loose to skate from one side of the rink to the other, Elena often loses focus looking at the older kids to her side skating. While she rarely falls during the structured activities her trying to watch her seniors and their more advanced activities will periodically land her on her butt.

Along with ice skating and ballet Elena continues with her violin. This is her triad of enrichment activities. Otherwise she loves to perform. At night before bed she gets dressed up in her big princess dresses and high-heeled shoes and crowns and other accoutrements and “performs”. A lot of it is just imagination and more noise than anything meaningful. But she relishes the experience of performing. She still likes being tossed around and tickled, but it is increasingly less of these things and more of her tromping around and performing.

Elena naturally views herself in the context of her brother. If I say something to her that she perceives as negative she then says the same thing about Soren. I say “Little El-e-na!” and she is sure to quickly say “Little Sor-en” or, to stay a peg about him, butcher his name “Little Sor-Ben”. She also likes to be first (or last), and that stretches beyond just Soren to Sigrid and I. Getting her food first; finishing her food first; getting tossed first; getting tossed last. Whatever. It is one of many things that we’re pretty sure she has gotten from her preschool. So many things, ranging from a little sounds she makes when she is preparing something “Dunh-dunh-dunh-dunh-dunh” to how she plays with other children. I really appreciate being able to pay attention and see the seams between nature and nurture, having a fairly good sense of what she was born with, what she is getting from us, and what she is getting from others. Much more than with my older sons I see her yearning for external influences, seeking out in the world new secrets and experiences that will make her whomever she eventually becomes. It’s lovely.

Elena does a variety of disgusting things that we assume are just normal for her age: picking her note and eating it, scratching her butt and smelling it, scratching her privates and smelling it. We try to discourage these things without being too negative about it, but not knowing whether things are age appropriate or just weird leaves us in an odd quandary about what to do. Easily the diciest is her liking to rub herself. From a long-term perspective we want to teach her to feel good about and in control of her sexuality. So we don’t want to be too intense or overbearing about it, but we also want her to not be conspicuously touching herself in front of other person. Of all the things we deal with in parenting, this is by far the hardest one for me to navigate. In a couple of years I will be able to explain it to her in a way that makes sense but for now…tell her it’s bad? Tricky.

Anyway, Elena remains a delight and I am grateful to have her as part of my life every day.

To 2013!

by Dirk December 31, 2013

The highlights that I will remember: * Brandon graduated from high school, started university, and announced he would be a father (and, me, a grandfather) * Alexander and I explored universities for him to consider * Soren took his first steps * Elena was on the ballet and violin stages, while learning to ice skate [...]

0 comments Read the full article →

Elena 3.10; Soren 1.7.5

by Dirk December 4, 2013

I haven’t written an update about my youngest children in four months. It has been a matter of not having the energy to reach back in my memory and document. They have, as always, been a joy so I’m not sure where that lack of initiative is coming from. Soren began walking within a week [...]

0 comments Read the full article →

Middle age and grandfatherdom

by Dirk November 24, 2013

So, now I’m 40. Other than some weird stress and acting out around how and whether it would be celebrated – finally it wasn’t, which was my preference – the event was entirely, well, uneventful. In my early-to-mid 30′s I began to feel the edges of middle age, mostly in observing my peers who are [...]

0 comments Read the full article →

On Age and Change

by Dirk August 31, 2013

I’m in the midst of making significant changes to how I live my life. This year, I will also turn 40. While I consciously do not think there is a connection between the two it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge the potential subconscious connection. As I’ve written elsewhere, my adulthood was initially just a [...]

0 comments Read the full article →

On Fearing Death

by Dirk August 24, 2013

The last update I made about my children included the anecdote about how I inadvertently led Elena into a conversation about the idea of death, and my hope she would not become obsessed with and fearful of it at a young age, as I did. So much for that. Elena has articulated a fear of [...]

0 comments Read the full article →

Elena 3.6; Soren 1.3

by Dirk July 31, 2013

It has been a busy couple of months here at Casa Knemeyer, with Sigrid helping the children enjoy many enriching summer activities. I’m startled by how much richer the cultural backbone of my younger children are, with the difference between the generations being the turning of the mother. Indeed, the differences are so stark that [...]

0 comments Read the full article →

On needs and motivation

by Dirk July 16, 2013

Originally published on the Facio blog Chances are you’re familiar with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow posited that there is a sequence of prepotent needs, each of which must be satisfied before a higher level need emerges in the subject’s consciousness. Progressing from physiological, to safety, to belonging and love, to self-esteem, to self-actualization, [...]

0 comments Read the full article →

Tragedy of the cubicles

by Dirk July 2, 2013

Originally published on the Facio blog “Genuine tragedies in the world are not conflicts between right and wrong. They are conflicts between two rights.” – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel Hegel was talking about wars, but the insight is relevant to everyday life. What makes dealing well with other people so difficult is that each of [...]

0 comments Read the full article →