Saturday, January 24, 2009

Play Days

Yesterday was “a grandma day,” my 3-½ year-old grandson Maddox told his aunt. That’s synonymous with play day for Maddox although some of the pain-in-the-neck things like taking a nap still apply. And since the birth of baby Ione, now 4 ½-months (newborn in the pictures here), play is more complicated. We are stuck inside, not able to go to park or playground, and juggling Maddox’s high energy with Ione’s schedule (and grandma’s lengthening age) is a bit of a trick.

On Thursdays Maddox is at pre-school, so I have only Ione to adore. The smile that lights her face when I appear in the morning or as she wakes from a nap or as I change her diapers is worthy of adoration; a deep love tugs inside me. Ione, whether due to natural temperament, gender, or birth order (and I suspect all three), is more laid back than her brother even as a baby…which, of course, doesn’t mean there aren’t a few times when she positively throws patience to the wind and screams for her bottle.

On Fridays it is a delight to enter the world of a three year old once again. I enjoy watching Maddox grow and learn about life. And I remember three as a wonderful age of conversation with my own kids. Three year olds are beginning to learn a little about being sly, but for the most part they are open and unequivocal about their observations and opinions. And at three, even little boys are chatterboxes; they haven’t lapsed totally into the male habit of understatement, although they already dislike being pumped: “What did you do at school?”… “Nothing.” Only later does he offer, “Ben fell down, and people ran over him. He had mud on his face, and he was crying.”

Maddox is rambunctious—always. His first choice of play yesterday was to repeat a game about dinosaur lairs. He builds his lair by moving half of his bedroom furniture into his parents’ bedroom (Ione is asleep in the room they share) and throws a pillow on the floor for mine. My role is to sleep and snore. After a very short while, he plinks on his guitar strings to wake me up. I must wake up startled and shaking my head in dismay; this delights him. When he switches from guitar to drums, however, Ione wakes up, and this game is over.

He next builds two castles in his room with his Bob the Builder tools (all of which he can name and use appropriately), leaping up and down a pyramid of wooden storage boxes as he works so the castles rise to the figurative sky. Everyone knows castles should be built on hills. One of these is for Princess Ione; the other is for Princess Fiona, one of several of his imaginary friends (most of them older, beautiful girls).

Maddox and Ione are lucky kids; they have a mother and father who love them and teach them how be behave and be responsible (well, mostly lessons for Maddox so far). Dad participates fully in their care. Yes, he even changes dirty diapers. Saturdays (and Thursday and Friday evenings) he has the kids alone, allowing Mom a three-day workweek. And then their Aunt Lala, Uncle Damian and Nanna and Papa Dave and a slew of boisterous boy step cousins live nearby…and Uncle Dale and Aunt Cris (another of Maddox’s heart throbs) visit each year from London. This isn’t the largest extended family possible, but more than my own kids had close by as they grew—alas.

Family is, I think, the biggest determiner of how well a child gets along in life. It certainly is more important than financial resources, temperament, or even native ability. Some exceptional people survive chaotic childhoods, but too many don’t. This is the best thing about having the Obama family in the White House. Unfortunately, many of America’s truly dysfunctional families are black. The reason for this isn’t racial; it’s social: fathers are absent from the home (and also unfortunately absent in a large number of homes with white and Hispanic single mothers). Having a loving, intact black first family sets a good example for all of us.

Stressing education (the Obamas chose an excellent school for their daughters) is another big plus. Here’s what Deroy Murdock, a black columnist for Scripps Howard News Service, had to say: “Too many black men serially impregnate women who are not their wives, spawning a 67.8 percent black out-of-wedlock birth rate. Obama’s daily presence in the White House finally may repel this foul tide. He also may unravel the ‘Acting White Syndrome,’ wherein young black students who do homework and speak proper English are mocked for ‘acting white.’ Light years more than white racism, this is the biggest cancer facing black Americans.”

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