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Jackie and McLain and I spend 30-45 minutes reading good books every night. Why did I italicize good? Because this nightly reading time doesn’t just belong to my children. It’s my time, too. I love it, as long as we read the more interesting, fresher books in our home library. And, considering that I’m the only one (until recently) who knew how to read, I had all the power.
It used to be easy. I’d ask Jackie and McLain to each pick 3 books for reading time. When McLain returned with Duck Soup (which we’d just read the previous two nights), or when Jackie brought me any book with flaps or any other types of moving parts other than the actual pages, I’d send them back to the shelves to try again. My wonderful wife was complicit, comfortable with her authority over most other aspects of our home life.
If a selection didn’t have a plot, I’d reject it. Jackie and McLain, accustomed to making multiple book submissions for approval on any given night, would go back to the drawing board and find something their father would accept (like some of the favorites below).
Lately, reading time is changing around here, though. I’m losing control. The dictatorship is being democratized. My daughter is empowered, and it’s partially my doing.
Last April, Jackie and I started lesson one in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, which is an adaptation of the DISTAR method. She wasn’t quite four and a half years old, but she had been ready to learn to read since she was three. At a rate of about three lessons a week, Jackie was reading at an end-of-kindergarten level by lesson number 75 sometime in September. We stopped following the lessons after she had mastered all of the 40-odd phonemes in the English alphabet.
Now, she’s reading at about a first-grade level. I secretly recorded her with the Berenstain Bears, a book that she was reading for the first time:
Those 80 or so lessons taught me as much about parenting as they taught her about reading. About a one-third of the time, the lessons made one or both of us angry, or at least very frustrated. It’s never easy to correct someone, no matter how old she is or the relationship you share with her; it’s never fun to be corrected, no matter how you slice it. For a child who is extremely bright, it’s important to understand that hard work and dedication trump raw intelligence.
I think Katie and I are realistic about our children’s strengths and weaknesses, just as we acknowledge the good and could-be-better in ourselves. Jackie is a verbal whiz kid. She’s making her own books now, and is quick to remind me that she’s the author and illustrator of these original works. I suppose McLain is next to learn lesson-by-lesson how to take control of storytime (although mini-Charlie Chaplin might be a little more gifted in comedic dramatic arts).
As I get older, and as time flies faster, I find that my happiest moments occur when my interests converge. The more I can combine the things I love, the richer life seems to be.
Of course, the variables in life often disrupt planned convergence; a thunderstorm ruins an outdoor concert on a spring night, or a mundane phone call interrupts a meaningful face-to-face conversation.
Nightly, I appreciate one example of happy convergence at our house:
Kids + Books + Dogs
Every night that we’re home, we read for at least 30 minutes (usually closer to 45 minutes). Inevitably, one of the books we read has a canine protagonist. I’m very critical of kids’ books (and ice cream, and sports-celebrity tweets, and car model names, and most all things), and I decided to evaluate a literary genre that gets a lot of run around our house.
I’ve made a list of our top ten kids’ books about dogs, and I already know what you’re thinking — for some strange reason, this guy is putting his favorites in this list and his kids probably don’t care if the books are about dogs or robots or guinea pigs building sand castles. Well, that’s true. But, I’ll tell you the secret requirement that every good young-children’s book MUST have: adults have to enjoy reading it to them. Otherwise, it’s not as much fun for reader or audience.
Our favorite children’s books about dogs
The Best Pet of All
There’s something about the illustrations in this book that I love, even if I can’t put my finger on it…something about the Californian, 1950’s style. More importantly, I never get tired of reading this one. It has some very funny parts, and the moral of the story is evident from the title.
Go Dog, Go!
If I judge this book by the typical criteria for kids’ or adult books, then it’s a dud. There is no plot, and there are no characters. However, it works as a great beginning and ending to early childhood (bookends, if you can excuse the punny metaphor). It’s simple and colorful enough to engage a baby, and the clear connection between text and images make great material for a child learning to read.
The Blue House Dog
I have read this aloud to my kids only four times total. Each time, I was sobbing uncontrollably before getting halfway through. I mean full-on weeping, unable to speak. Jackie and McLain give me confused looks, and assure me that “it’s okay Dada.” In fact, the last book that sparked this kind of emotional outburst in me was Where the Red Fern Grows. That book, and this one, reveal why dogs are so amazing.
How Rocket Learned to Read
I’m teaching Jackie to read now, and sometimes she’s really averse to instruction. This book reminds me that nothing worth doing is easy, and that anything worth learning requires practice.
This one tops the list of all-time McLain favorites. In fact, it was the first book that McLain requested on a regular basis. It’s a stretch to include it in a list of books about dogs, but one of the main characters is a Saint Bernard named Brody (my first family dog when I was a kid).
The Diggingest Dog
We all like this classic, but I put this on the list for Katie’s benefit — it’s one of her favorites, and Nana tells us that she memorized it when she was 5 or 6. If you want to overanalyze it, I think there’s a theme in the book about how dynamic (and even fickle) childhood friendships can be in group settings. No? I’m reaching? Well, we’ll just have to ask Al Perkins about that.
The plot in this one is too complex for McLain, but I read it to them every couple of months for two good reasons:
1) It teaches how important the olfactory system is to a dog, to the point that the lives of roof-confined dogs are changed when they are given uprooted plants to smell. Awesome.
2) Jackie always has lots of questions about other cultures, and this book provides talking points for the role of animals in other places, in other times.
Another McLain favorite. This one is a fun tongue-twister to read, and the idea of an imagination-crazed cat pretending to be a dog is plain funny. Add Skippyjon to the list of McLain monikers (along with LOB, John C. McGinley, and Budbud).
This one is a nostalgic pick for me. The edition we have was a gift from my Grandmother Jones, with an inscription from her, dated 1982. It’s really just a picture book of puppies, and it almost seems that it was created with the sole purpose of making people see pictures of cute puppies so they will want a puppy of their own. Another interesting fact about this and other animal books from this publisher — there are at least 4 different covers.
For four years, our house has had at least one baby. For maybe a month or so after McLain was born, there were two babies. I don’t think Katie and I slept at all that month, and I don’t think we had a single sad moment or dark cloud in the sky.
Then one day around Christmas of 2010, Jackie told me (in her own words) that she didn’t see how Santa could defy the space-time continuum to deliver presents via billions of chimneys worldwide. I muttered something about magic and reindeer, and then changed the subject. She’s a believer again now, but she hasn’t been a baby since that day she questioned Santa.
Lately, McLain is leaving the baby category behind. He’s different than his sister of course, so it’s not that he exposed the Elf on the Shelf for what it really is. He doesn’t doubt the Tooth Fairy, or any other tall tales for that matter. He talks all the time, and tells his sister angrily, “I’M TALKING RIGHT NOW” when she interrupts him, but that isn’t what qualifies him as a toddler. So what earned him a promotion from babyhood?
He has a legit jumpshot.
He follows through.
And, he shoots about 75% from the 2 to 4-foot range.
Katie and I aren’t planning to have a third child. Our second child is leaving the baby stage, and we need to cope somehow with our growing children and time passing (in general). What do we do to slow down the fleeting of time?
Answer: Don’t cut the youngest child’s hair. Those ends that either curl or stick out in every direction are as old as he is. You can still look at him and see baby as long as he has original locks. It doesn’t matter that he counts to twenty, speaks in sentences, and zones out when focusing on song lyrics; those McLain curls are the trademark of our baby.
One of these days, when his bangs obstruct his vision and he walks into a table or something, Katie will suggest that he get a haircut. I really believe it will take a safety concern for us to take action.
In every orderly house, the members follow a set of conduct guidelines. We try to be good people, and Katie and I practice and enforce the moral standards that we inherited from our parents. But, the golden rule and other tenets don’t always apply directly to certain situations (especially if you are three-and-a-half or almost two years old).
How does a family deal with these situations, that often occur daily, on White Oak Road?
We’ve come up with the following set of principles and accepted truths to help keep our household happy and productive:
- Be sweet to Robah… he never done nothin’ to nobody (and when you recite this rule, use Robah voice). All the rest of us have been mean or rude one time or another, but Robah never done nothin’ to nobody. Here’s McLain, mouth full of eggs, proving why this rule is necessary as he comes close to crossing the line.
- At any time, in any place, JAMS will be played on request. For example, let’s say Cokie Roberts’ Monday segment is on NPR when we get in the car to go to Ms. Rose’s house, and Jackie says, “Play some JAMS, Dada.” Then, it’s goodbye Cokie, hello Bear in Heaven, Guided by Voices, J Dilla, etc.
Note: “Dada” is the keeper of the JAMS, and this is the only situation in which a “please” is not required (see rule #4).
- Always thank Katie/Mama for dinner; we’ve got it really, really good. On the rare occasion that Dad cooks, try washing it down with your milk.
- Manners matter; good manners is an easy way to show respect to your co-eaters. Exception: good manners are postponed if McLain is practicing for his future in competitive eating.
- If Baxter brings you something, and you throw it he will fetch it and return it to you. If you continue to throw it for him, the result will eventually be Baxter passing out or maybe even perpetual motion.
- Every story told to Jackie at bed time must feature at least two of the following characters: a mean witch, a nice witch, a family, mean or nice animals, and girls with pretty dresses (including, but not limited to princesses). The more of these characters you work into the narrative, the more positive her post-story review is likely to be.
- Try not to show off at the playground, even though Jackie might swing better by herself than an older boy being pushed by his mom.
- Any statement that begins with, “I want…” automatically gets the following response: “Oh, you want something? Okay, well, I want a new custom-built home computer and compatible wireless music system.” Please ask nicely for something that you want, and understand that you might not get it.
- If McLain takes off his shirt and runs around the house or yard, don’t be alarmed. He has been possessed with his alter ego, Party Boy. In extreme situations, you can change Party Boy back to McLain by putting him in a bubble bath.
- As you go through life, assist other people (the Kendall Marshall rule). When you’re the recipient of an assist, be grateful and give credit to anyone who assists you (the Dean Smith corollary).
Our daughter has had sushi a few times now, and has willingly tried whatever we put in front of her at mealtime. She tells us she likes tuna, amberjack, eel, and even various roe, but her favorite food on the Japanese menu is clearly edamame. Beans in a pod present a challenge that she seems to find rewarding. Robah and Baxter like it too, because roughly 40% of the soy beans end up on the floor. My guess is that it’s comparable to a stingy piñata for them — as treats fly out one by one, the closest dog gets a tiny snack.
Jackie is not just the source of intermittent treats dropped on the floor; she also provides their real food. Twice a day, after breakfast and dinner, she is eager to complete her first real chore of filling the dogs’ bowls. I look forward to the day when she teaches McLain how to feed the dogs and is promoted to the bigger task of back yard waste management. I’m ready to pass the torch, as well as the official title of Head Pooper-Scooper.
Some two-year-olds are capable of providing for their younger siblings. At least, that’s how the following video begins. Around the two-minute mark, Jackie is eager to escape the awful racket that our mini food processor makes. In fact, Jackie says she wants to get far away from the food processor, “so it doesn’t kill me.” Dramatic? Maybe a bit. But in her defense, that food processor makes a harsh and ghastly noise.
McLain just started eating food other than breast milk last week, and there’s no better place to start than with what I believe to be the perfect food: the North Carolina sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas). He’s since tried banana and avocado, but if he shares his sister’s tastes, a large part of his diet during the next year will consist of sweet potato.
Oh, and it’s March 8, 2011, which marks the sixth birthday of Baxter Burns Jones. Goodness knows we thought our reckless and crazy dog might kill himself long before now, so we have much to celebrate. Baxter is the eldest (and certainly weirdest) of our four dependents. He’s been with us during some drastic changes to our family unit. He usually listens better to the voices in his head than he does Katie and me, but we love him.
Even though our family is now well beyond the transition from only two dogs to two kids and two demoted dogs, the title of this blog remains the same. When I started this little thing, that transition was on my mind.
The adage that says one picture equals a thousand words doesn’t need validation, but it if did, I think this photo by Jessica Lobdell would do the trick. This image is a visual equivalent of this blog’s title.
The holiday buzz has us busy lately, but I will post Burns Thanksgiving and Jones Christmas content soon. Oh, and I’m already plotting my impressions of the best music of 2010.
This year we appreciated Halloween for what it really is — one of the best holidays on the calendar. Several qualities of Halloween make it special, and even virtuous: 1) no gifts are necessary other than treats, 2) it fosters and rewards imagination, 3) Butterfingers and Skittles, and 4) celebrating Halloween, for us at least, means celebrating with your neighbors.
Jackie was into Halloween this year, and consequently, Katie and I were really into it. We decorated the house and carved a total of five pumpkins. Jackie wore different costumes on the 23rd and 31st (lamb and ladybug), as did her buddy Drew (dragon and giraffe). Five Points businesses sponsored a breakfast and trick-or-treating on the 23rd, and the annual parade was held at Fallon Park prior to the main event on the 31st.
Grandaddy and Mama JJ were on hand for Halloween night, and pushed monkey McLain around as he participated in his first parade. We loved having my parents involved in the festivities. McLain might have loved it too, but he slept the entire afternoon and evening.
Here’s a video recap of Halloween day/night.
The following pictures span the last few weeks of October. And, yes, that is a Lil HalloWayne pumpkin (sans dreads).
The second best thing about November, as far as I’m concerned, is the veritable plenty of North Carolina leafy greens. Kale, mustard, the almighty collard…you get the idea.
In case you’re wondering about the absolute best thing about November, it’s the start of college basketball. The Heels host Lipscomb on Friday night. We’ll be having chard for our pre-game dinner.
The photo above shows Jackie leading a leafy-green cheer. The pompoms are new bunches of red chard that came in our Papa Spud’s box earlier today.