Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Fun Of Seeing Through Five-Year-Old Eyes

One of the ceaselessy charming aspects of being Late Blooming Mom, of late, has been getting clued into my son's  perspective as he tries to make sense of the world.

"Grandma Is Dad's Mom? For Real? You Gotta Be Kiddin' Me!"  This is a direct quote from Thing 1, AKA the boy, after I tried to explain to him that the "mom" his dad kept referring to in conversation is the woman he's come to know as grandma.  I guess we never bothered explaining to him what a "grandma" is, exactly.  And once we tried to, it blew his five-year-old mind.

He simply cannot get over the fact that the person he has come to know as Grandma is his father's mom.  He is genuinely tickled that Grandpa is his father's dad.  And he finally seems to get that his uncles are, respectively, my brother and my husband's.  But he's not quite sure how his aunts are related to him, or what exactly aunts are, even though he has two of them.

The total freshness with which he sees the world -- and the unbridled enthusiasm he has for it -- blow me away sometimes.

He's known for a week that today was the day we'd be going to see the Yankees play the Angels in Anaheim.

Nearly a week ago, he'd already picked out a new (well, hand-me-down, but new to him) baseball jersey and baseball hat to wear to the game.

This morning, he showed up in our bedroom fully dressed in his attire -- and carrying his baseball glove -- at seven-forty-five a.m., like a new blade of grass poking up into the morning light; it was as if you could still see the dew on him.

Later, at the game, he was full of questions about what was going on.  The concept of the bull pen, no matter how many times I repeated it, seemed to thorougly elude him.  The reason for the Yankees wearing gray uniforms, instead of their pinstripes, was laid out several times, but the idea of home versus away games pretty much escaped him too.  Whenever I brought up that Yankee Stadium in New York is the Yanks' home, he wanted to know if the players on the team actually live there, or if not, where their houses are.   He at least seemed sort of interested when I started counting off how many pitches the remarkable Andy Pettite had thrown, or when I pointed out Jeter, A-Rod, or former Yankee Matsui at bat.

But he was more fascinated by the P.R. gimmicks -- hot chicks bedecked in Angels attire shooting tee shirts up into the stands through a plastic gun (which I called a tee-shirt shooter, since we don't approve of guns in our peacenik household), and a man tossing wrapped bubble gum into the stands -- than by much of anything else that happened in the game.  We're clearly years away from any discussion of the in-field fly rule.  But he actually understood that when you hit a foul ball, you get another chance.  He enjoyed the spectacle of it even if there were large parts of the game that were a mystery. 

Then, an Amtrak train zipped by in the distance.  He demanded I grab the camera and take a photo.  Later, he said that was his favorite part. 

His sister Thing 2 couldn't have cared less about what was happening on the field.  Her attention was utterly fixated on the snacks -- pizza bought in the stands from a California Pizza Kitchen vendor (amazingly, the pizza was still hot); blue cotton candy; sips of Late Blooming Mom's chocolate milkshake; dad-peeled peanuts; and spoonfuls of frozen lemonade.  When she was finally lacking for snacks and had even reached her sugar intake limit, if there is such a thing, she demanded we go home, but after much intercession by dad, who kept finding ways to re-engage her, she managed to last all nine innings through the Yankees' victory.

Thing 1 once again showed off how a kid mind works, or at least the unique way HIS kid mind works, when I pointed out snow-capped Mount Baldy in the distance, seen from our seats (we were high up, just five rows down from the top of Angel Stadium).  He suddenly remembered the name of a scary part of Disney's Fantasia, which I've not let him see for more than a mere glimpse -- "Night On Bald Mountain" -- and asked me if this was the same mountain.  Mind you, he probably hasn't watched our battered VHS copy of Fantasia for over a year.  But that's the kind of memory he'll bring up when you least expect it.  Nothing is lost on the boy, every experience filed away for later use.

As for Thing 2, I think aside from the blue cotton candy (I have a photo in which she proudly displays her blue-tinted tongue), the biggest highlight came right when we entered the stadium and she spotted a giant Mickey Mouse statue decked out in MLB attire, an advertising gimmick for this year's All-Star Game, to be held in Anaheim.  Mickey's stature in the lives of my five-year-olds cannot be underestimated.  The fact that Mickey was in the stadium added a stamp of Disney approval that my daughter, well, clearly approved.

Both kids took the greatest delight in climbing atop the baseballs made of cement that surround the parking lot, and the giant red metal mesh Angels hats were way cool for the kids to stand underneath.

Their fresh perceptions of the whole event made it more fun, or "funner," as Thing 1 would say, than games their dad and I have attended on our own, even if it was at times work to keep them occupied and entertained.

We ended the game playing catch in the parking lot with dad's, and Thing 1's, baseball gloves and a soft T-ball good for little fingers to catch.  There were a lot of through-the-legs, Bill Buckner moments.  But a few parental throws were actually caught and tossed back, and when Thing 2 in particular, who has not attended her brother's "Little Base Runners" class, got the hang of using the glove in mere moments, I couldn't help but kvell.

Between that, and her brother's morning visit to the bedroom in full regalia, I've a wholly new appreciation for the joys of baseball ... and how some things never get old when you see them through a five-year-old's eyes.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Alice Is Still Wonderful

As a kid growing up on an enchanted isle called Manhattan, I was taken many times to visit the statue of Alice In Wonderland in Central Park, AKA the Margarita Delacorte Memorial.  Almost from the time I was aware of the book, and possibly before I'd even seen the animated Disney cartoon version, I loved climbing on that statue.  And for those who don't know of it, yes, you read that last sentence right:  Alice is a statue you can climb on.  In fact, you're supposed to, especially if you're a kid.

Flash forward to this year, when my five-year-olds starting seeing billboards for the Tim Burton movie of ALICE IN WONDERLAND.  They were very curious and asked about each of the characters.   I was able to get them to listen to at least a few pages of the book read aloud, and even purchased the Disney cartoon version for them, which they watched on a visit to their grandparents, enrapt.  My daughter is rehearsing a dance number to be performed as part of her ballet school's production of ALICE this June.  Given this confluence of events, a trip to New York, and the gorgeous weather on Easter Sunday, I knew it was time for me to revisit Alice.

She resides, as ever, atop a mushroom, surrounded by a memorable, familiar cast:  her cat Dinah at her feet, the White Rabbit nearby clutching his pocket watch, the Mad Hatter conversing beside her, the doormouse perched to one side on a smaller mushroom, and the Chesire Cat observing the scene from a tree branch.  If you look closely, you can also find other Wonderland denizens, e.g. that inscrutable caterpillar.  The whole ensemble can be found just north of the conservatory, which some of us know as the miniature boat basin, located at seventy-fourth street and Fifth Avenue, on the East side of the park.  (The conservatory is famous for a scene in another children's book, STUART LITTLE.)

On the particular Easter Sunday when we visited, the weather was about as glorious as it gets on a spring day in NY -- bright blue, nearly cloudless, and warm but not yet in the full heat of summer.  And though many a kid and tween and even teen clambered over the statue, it wasn't so crowded that the kids couldn't gain purchase several times and occupy some choice spots.  For Thing 1, that meant sitting atop the doormouse; for Thing 2, that meant sitting in Alice's lap and holding Dinah's paws.

Photos were snapped, and there was much scrambling hither and thither in and around Alice, and on the statue's many plants and creatures.  (I say hither and thither because, well, those words just come to mind when one is thinking about Alice.)  Grandma posed with Thing 1 and the Mad Hatter, and Thing 2 never seemed to tire of smiling for another snap while occupying Alice's lap.

I couldn't help but feel a bit wistful, missing my own New York childhood; since moving all the way across the country in what seems a lifetime ago, pre-kids, pre-marriage, post-college, I've created my own West Coast life, but I can't help but feel, after all this time, it's still a little inadequate.  Sure, I can get my kids to Disneyland in an hour from where I live.  But somehow, the lure of the simpler pleasure of an attraction like that Alice statue remains more powerful, more compelling. 

The best art invites you to interact with it, and by that standard, the Alice statue more than succeeds.  As I perched atop it, alongside Alice, I thought back to a childhood in which the big event of the day was climbing all over that statue, not passively seeing a movie version of the Alice story in 3-D.  I know I'm waxing nostalgic about childhood, and that's such a cliche thing to do.  But there's something genuine at the heart of most cliches.  And for me, watching my kids enjoy the Alice statue was a lovely link between past and present -- something about which it's worth getting sentimental.