Category Archives: 3B

It’s not them, it’s me

I gotta admit…my subconscious mind has found about a dozen other topics to write about and is still trying to figure out ways for me to convert this into a blog post about something else, but I’m determined to see this through. Not that I disagree entirely with my subconscious mind…there have been several fun things to write about since we last met here, including a great ride with some of my PMC teammates, a (almost) Fourth of July parade at our pool, a day at the pool, a dive meet…

There, subconscious mind…are you satisfied?

The other thing that happened was that I had a horrible, no good, very bad day as a dad on Saturday morning. Mama was at the pool to earn us the volunteer points we need as swim team parents, and I was by myself with the kids.

Had I thought about this at all, I would have approached it differently. Instead, I instinctively told myself, “I’ve got this. I know exactly what to do.” The reality was, “I’m not doing all that well myself. I’d better be damn careful about what I say and do.” Unfortunately, I only saw the reality after the damage was done.

Everything started off fine, but I wasn’t really being very PEPish. That’s OK once or twice–we can all sort of muscle through those moments. After awhile, however, I became discouraged by what was happening: constant sniping from 3B, berating and picking on Jewel, and Jewel repeatedly breaking down in huge sobbing tantrums over the most minor events (not, btw, the sniping…but not unrelated to it, I’m sure). And me?

Who knows what the hell I was doing, but it wasn’t working. It wasn’t PEPish; I know that. I would send 3B away for his bad behavior. I vacillated between consoling Jewel through her tears and strategically ignoring them so they would go away. By the time Mama got home, the kids were inside on their own while I was outside in a self-imposed Daddy time-out, so I could keep my cool. As soon as Mama arrived, I took a pulaski to all the weeds around our raised bed gardens, hacking a two-foot wide fire break around them, digging up any living thing in the rocky clay that passes for soil in our yard.

After 20 minutes, I’d cleared one side of the garden and calmed down enough that I thought I could keep my cool for awhile longer. I knew the kids also needed to get outside and get their ya-yas out and so, with Mama’s great assistance, I herded our two non-feline cats out to the car and drove us all over to the pool. Mama stayed behind for the excitement of paying bills and sorting mail.

The water worked its wonders on all of us.

We returned home refreshed, tired and happy. It wasn’t a perfect end to a disastrous morning, but it was a huge improvement over where I’d started. Overall the day served as a reminder that being PEPish takes work. It’s still not a reflex for me as a parent to respond PEPishly. My reflex is far more authoritarian, which works about as well as you’d expect for someone who’s raising two intelligent, independent free spirits–and who encourages them to be that way.

It was also a reminder to watch myself and what’s happening with me. I recently read research on willpower that shows we each have a finite supply of willpower in any given day. There are some ways to boost our reserves, but the best way to ensure we have enough is to limit the number of situations in which we need to use it. Willpower wasn’t the issue here, but I believe that I woke up already drained of other finite reserves of interpersonal strengths and skills, and I just didn’t recognize it.

The kids weren’t the ones who drained me, and they would have no way of knowing that I was exhausted in this way, nor should they care. Even though the causes are unrelated to them, there was a direct effect on them, which is a reminder to myself that I am a whole person–what happens on one side of my life directly affects the other side. It also reminded me that for me to be PEPish, for me to encourage them, I need to be feeling encouraged.

3B asked me over the weekend where Atlas stood to hold up the world. Not that I was holding the weight of the world on my shoulders, but I need a solid place to stand if I’m to hold up my end of the bargain to 3B and Jewel to be a solid parent.

Perhaps that’s why I felt so good after my bike ride on Sunday morning–because it was something I could do…something that I’m, in fact, pretty damn good at. Completing a 40-mile bike ride before 10 a.m. and still having enough energy for the rest of the day reminds me that I am capable of doing something difficult, long-term that requires planning and persistence. Knowing that I’m doing it to raise money for those who need it the most among us–those who are fighting for their lives against an enemy defined by its inability to stop and those among them who can’t afford the fight–makes the ride more meaningful.

(There, subconscious mind, I worked in the bike ride. Happy?)

Good lessons are worth learning several times, and I suppose the one I learned again on Saturday was that to encourage, I need to be encouraged.

Practice makes wedding

Don’t worry, I’ll get back to the yelling–or lack thereof, I hope–soon enough. But there’s still so much fun to share about my cousin’s wedding.

As I said, the kids did great at the rehearsal, though they did run through all of their walks up the aisle. And cut through where the seats would be, but they gave me high fives, hugs and kisses every time they arrived at the altar, so I was happy.

Before we rehearsed, we had to get out of the pool, get dressed and get in the big red bus to get there.

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And then it was on with the show. Given the backgrounds of their parents, I suppose it’s no surprise that both kids handled the hurry up and wait of show business well.

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Perhaps they got their cool from their great uncle, Mom’s brother…

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The groom gave us our final directions (in my case it was “try not to curse into the live microphone”)…

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And then we were at a delightful family dinner. While the kids might say that the pool was the best part of the week, or the beach, or maybe the Balboa bars…

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I might list the family dinners we got to have, including the wedding dinner. Even though I never got to talk to as many people as a I wanted to for nearly as long as I wanted to, that’s how dinners like that go, as do weddings. Overall, though, it was wonderful to be able to spend so much time visiting with family…

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Including my immediate and radiantly beautiful family.

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The dinners were all made easier by either having a pool provided by one Great Aunt across the yard from the table or a bag full of crafting supplies provided by another Great Aunt. I gotta say, the kids were born into a great family.

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Even the aunts who aren’t great according to the family tree are great…as are all of their “big girl cousin”…

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Makes sense that the kids are great too.

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And by this time in the telling, we’re up to five days on vacation with out any yelling from me. We’ll have to see if that continues through the rest of the fun.

Pool, beach, food, repeat

As I explained last time, we dove right into our week in California before the wedding we were there to officate, ring bear and flower girl at.

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The first order of business was to reward the supporters of my 200-mile ride to make cancer history by shaving both my beard and head as promised.

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Hard to believe that I still have this much hair on my head…

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There will be another basin full of hair on my birthday, because I’ve since raised enough money that I have to also shave my legs. That doesn’t mean the fundraising to fight cancer stops, though. My goal is to raise $6,000, and I’m just a little short of that. You can help me get there–and remember that 100 percent of your donation goes directly to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute–donate today.

I took my newly bald head to get a fresh sunburn visit with family at the beach that I grew up spending my summers. After a fun day, we had a wonderful family dinner at my brilliant cousin’s house.

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This was followed the next day by another, larger family dinner at our aunt’s house, where we were staying and playing.

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The bride and groom generously brought a metric ton of ice cream, which we all graciously accepted…

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The next day we ran though the ceremony during the rehearsal–literally in the case of the kids, who ran their routes as quickly as possible. I’ll let you know in another post how that went and whether they did the same at the wedding.

Hitched without a hitch

The wedding was memorable–thankfully not due to anything I did as officiant. The bride and groom planned a beautiful evening that everyone enjoyed thoroughly, including their ring bearer, 3B, and flower girl, Jewel.

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It helped that the two of them were on California time, in every sense of the word, having spent the week swimming in the pool at my aunt’s house where we were staying…

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…her pool has a diving board, so 3B could practice his form for dive team, or something…

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…and they prepared for the wedding at the beach, where my cousin lives…

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There are more tales to tell, to be sure, but for now it’s back to work, both in the office and at home, where the kittehs had their way for the entire week we were gone. Not that they took advantage of that or anything.

As office and home allow, I’ll share more about our week away, though I’ll never fully catch you up on all the happenings. That’s a sign of a good vacation, to be sure. A colleague asked where all my tweets were during the week we were away, but just as dead men tell no tales, vacationing dads thumbtype no tweets.

Ghosts we’ve lost along the way

This weekend we lost all of our digital videos.

I’ve been slowly migrating our digital life from our old iMac, which couldn’t handle our 35,000+ photos and terabytes of video, onto our new Mac Mini. Long ago, we outgrew the hard drive in the iMac and moved first the videos then the photos onto external hard drives. We added an additional external hard drive to backup those drives and the iMac, and on Sunday I discovered that both the drive holding all of our videos and the backup drive were no longer operating.

One would spin up, but no computer would recognize it. I tried serving drinks and crudités, playing some familiar music for them, but they really couldn’t remember ever having met. The other external drive would shine a bright power light and make a faint whine, but it didn’t sound or feel like it was spinning up. When I connected it to the computer, I might as well have connected a plate of spaghetti for the reaction I got out of the computer.

I immediately felt like an idiot. A deeply, deeply sad idiot.

No idea why I felt like an idiot, although I guess I felt like maybe there was something different I should have done. Now that I’ve had some time for my emotional reaction to pass, I see that there’s nothing I could have done, other than perhaps switching to newer drives before these failed. And I see that there’s a lot that I did do, even if inadvertently.

Much of our early digital video was recorded on tape, thanks to a generous gift from the King in Vegas. Neither a better friend nor a bigger fan have my kids had–especially one who they haven’t even had the pleasure of meeting. When you add to all that he’s done for them the fact that he introduced me to Mama, it’s literally true that without him, they wouldn’t be where they are today–in fact, they might not be anywhere at all.

And, thanks to the King, their first moves are still with us because I had most of those tapes converted to DVDs…just in time for Apple to remove optical drives from all their computers such as our new Mac Mini, but that’s a gripe for another blog post.

Because it would be sour grapes to fault Apple for that when they gave us–OK, sold us for a king’s f@#$ing ransom–our iPhones, the video for which is sucked into iPhoto. Because the only external drive left standing is the one with our iPhoto library on it, this means that all of our video since we got our iPhones is still with us.

We are missing anything we shot with our Flip camera–which was a lot–and the finished, edited versions that take out all the curse words, trips, stumbles, and face plants of both the subjects and the cameraman. But almost all of those finished videos are on YouTube, if not always in their highest resolution.

They’re on YouTube not only because I’m inordinately proud of my kids, but also because I live thousands of miles from my family, and it’s the best way I have to share my kids with them–for them to watch 3B and Jewel grow up. So it is that friends and family, as they so often do, saved me. The King’s selflessly generous gift has paid priceless dividends six years later, and my family’s love for 3B and Jewel continues to pay dividends every time I post a video to YouTube.

Of course, those are dividends on top of the real riches that 3B and Jewel reap: knowing that they are loved, even if from afar. That gift is greater than all the gigabytes of video I could ever record. Realizing this brought me to a peaceful place, even before I learned that for another king’s f@#$ing ransom our data could probably be recovered. Probably.

Regardless of what becomes of those bits and bytes, I am thankful for the reminder that it’s the good friends we have had, not the digital ghosts we’ve made and lost along the way that truly matter.

Lessons I learn from my children, part 367

The weekend started with a day in the driveway and ended with a journey across the known world. On Saturday, our community had a yard sale event, which meant that whoever wanted to participate could have a yard sale, while the community did all the advertising for it. Mama had spent the week putting things together for the sale–with growing kids and a recent move, there’s no shortage of things that don’t fit around here–and got them all out on the driveway first thing Saturday morning.

The kids loved the idea, and loved it even more when they started peeling through all the art supplies our neighbor was selling…and then her boyfriend arrived with a box of massive donuts. It really doesn’t get any better than that.

Mama and I followed the lead of our neighbor, whose rule is that nothing goes back into the house, and packed up the car at 1 p.m. to take everything over to our local thrift shop. The kids were excited to come along, although they were too tired from the morning to go pop some tags…or maybe that’s because they didn’t even have $20 in their pocket, having spent it all on art supplies. It was nice to see our local thrift shop, which benefits our local hospital, which the thrift shop is within sight of.

It’s a renovated house, and the donation area is meticulously maintained, and frequented by a steady flow of our neighbors handing off goods to another cadre of neighbors who carefully look them over and sort them. This is not the semi-industrial scene behind the Goodwill or Salvation Army of our old ‘hood, where there was a line of cars pulling up to a production line of workers shuttling goods into the back of a 40-foot semi trailer to ship off for processing in parts unknown. No, at our thrift shop, if you drop it off on Sunday, my guess is that you can see it for sale upstairs on Monday.

Besides the drop off, what was fun for Mama and I was hanging out with our neighbors. We’re all emerging from the winter to stand in driveways, watching the kids play and talking. Although my six-year-old self would tell me I’m being boring, it’s great fun for all.

And on Sunday the fun continued with dear family friends coming over from our old neighborhood for brunch and a playdate. 3B still talks about two or three friends from his preschool days, and this was one of them, and his brother. He and 3B were born within weeks of one another, had some of their first playdates together and are still somehow like peas in a pod, no matter how much time has passed between visits, though our trampoline may have helped with that.

Then again, the trampoline with four kids was probably asking for trouble, which arrived several times. Nobody was hurt, although I believe 3B’s pride was injured, which he reacts to with great anger when it happens in public. My reactions weren’t my best either, but we got it sorted out, though when they were leaving, 3B was up in his room with me because he’d just been starting physical fights. He did go downstairs to say goodbye, and then set off to chase them down the street on his bike, which about gave Mama a heart attack.

I followed on my scooter–and my six-year-old self was jealous to see that I have a scooter–and saw 3B go around the corner of our cul-de-sac and down toward the major street through our town. He pulled up and waited once he saw me, and I realized, for once, that I had a decision to make. He had disobeyed Mama’s call to stay at home and not chase. He had heeded our request to put on a helmet and shoes (OK, flip-flops, but for a half-Californian, those are shoes). He was headed toward a dangerous street, but he was waiting for me.

So I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was going back to Virginia to their house to keep playing. I told him that they were still in the ‘hood, visiting their families, who live near us, but that we could try for Virginia, if he’d like.

We then sorted out which way was south and found a street that heads that way. As we went along, it became less of a chase and more of an adventure to parts unknown. As we went, I pointed out our house between the houses of that street, then his school between the houses, as it became visible. 3B then concluded that to get back home we just needed to find a turn in that direction, and when we found a trail that did turn that way, we took it right into the playground of his school.

He also saw that it led down to our local forested park, and we headed down that way. After about 20 minutes walking through the woods and stream, collecting trash for disposal and recycling, we headed back home. 3B was excited that he’d found a new way to his school, and proud of having ridden his bike so far, so when we got home, he convinced Mama and Jewel to reprise the journey with us.

They were ready in a moment; it was 3B and I, ironically, who took longer to be ready to do what we had just done. Part of that was because I was getting my bike out of the shed, for the first ride on pavement (rather than a trainer) since last year’s PMC.

Maybe it was the mimosas left over from brunch that I poured into an insulated water bottle for Mama and me, but we all appeared to have had a nice ride. Mama and I switched off partnering with either kid on the ride over; we played imaginary baseball on the diamond at 3B’s school, having left our balls and gloves at home; we made it through the forest, over the rocks and onto the playground; we all got a little chilly and headed back home.

The journey, like all good ones, seemed to have taken us not only out of our home, but out of our heads, unmooring us from the thoughts we’re anchored to. It might have started out of anger and mourning, much as the Greeks set out for Troy, but returned us home more settled and reflective. From the playground atop the rocks, I was able to look back on my reactions to 3B while our guests were with us and see where my mistaken steps fell and where I’ll walk a different path next time.

I could see that he had stopped shouting, “C’mon! Hurry up!” and started shouting, “Looks good. You’re doing well!” after I pointed out that criticizing was less encouraging than, well, encouragement. And I knew that he saw the difference it made in his sister, too, even though she still stops as often Spinal Tap tunes their guitars, and for the same reason: because she can. She was the model of consistent persistence–without making a point of it, she just did it, showing me its intrinsic value.

Jewel herself had a reaction to our sojourn that was similar to 3B’s, including pride in making such a long ride and delight at playing with her family all across town, from our house to his school to the park. Mapping it, I saw that she had ridden 1.5 miles or so, which meant he’d done 3 miles in the day, but more important than the decimal places on the odometer was the trip we’d made from our morning to our afternoon, from conflict to peace.

A bunch of pansies

Every week we try to plan and do one family fun activity. Everybody has to agree what the activity will be–which is sometimes the hardest part of this exercise. Then, we have to get everyone together to do what we planned–which is almost always the hardest part.

Last night, however, we got everyone together to pick out flowers for the window boxes that hang outside the kitchen window over our sink, which was what we agreed to do this week. Mama and the kids met me at the metro station and we made our way together to Home Depot to pick out some hanging baskets for our porch and backyard, in addition to a pallet full of pansies for the window boxes.

3B brought his library of books from the car into his cart and Jewel brought her sketch pad from the car into her cart and off we went into the nursery section. He, of course, picked pink and purple, but then also wanted yellow and blue. She, of course, wanted blue. We also checked out some patio furniture, which we were sold on until later last night when Mama checked the reviews and found out the set we liked rusts through.

And we bought another back of chicken crap for the front lawn, in addition to some lime to spread back where the moss creeps in, back where the forest over the cemetery shades our back lawn. By the way, holy (chicken) crap, our lawns are big. With all of that, we didn’t have any room for all the bags of dirt we need for our raised beds. By the way, holy crap, our car is small now that we’ve become managers of a park, farm and construction site.

The best part of the trip was, of course, trying out all the patio furniture. There was a perfect seat for each Goldilocks in the family, and while we were comfortably reclined and relaxed, it was a perfect time for 3B to explain how you shoot a pink elephant. The next best part of the trip was getting home…to bounce on the trampoline.

I told Mama that it’s the best babysitter ever, you know, after the TV, iPad, iPhone and computer. She offered that it was, even if it is a babysitter that sometimes breaks a kid’s arm or leg. Maybe so, but we all do better when we’re outside.

When they did come back inside, it was to a nicely cool house…downstairs, at least. The cool is likely thanks to the insulation we just had blown into the attics. We went from about three inches (or none, in places) to 19 inches in one day. They were also filling the walls with foam…until their foam truck broke down…so we’ve got about half our walls insulated. I think the heat upstairs will wane once they get some foam in the south walls.

And after we get some windows that actually keep cool air in our house, rather than providing it as a service to the birds outside, we might actually be cool. And then we’ll have our PV solar panels put on our roof, to help pay for whatever A/C we do need.

All of which pretty much makes Mama a construction project manager, juggling schedules of all the contractors on top of the kids’ busy days and her work–both her paid and unpaid jobs. All of that makes our family fun activities a bit of a busman’s holiday for Mama, because she’s the one who coordinates them all, down to the detail of bringing me a nice iced carmel coffee yesterday when she and the kids met me at the Metro.

And through it all, Mama is a portrait of grace in action. If courage is grace under pressure, Mama is the lionheart of the family. The rest of us, who whine when our dinner is too hot or nobody brought us a spoon or nobody else is helping spread chicken crap on the grass–we’re a pallet full of pansies in comparison.

Chicken crap and leg shaving

I feel like someone beat me with a hose all weekend. That’s either a sign that spring, with all its allergens, has finally arrived, or that I’m way behind in my training to shave my legs, causing a weekend of manual labor to kick my ass.

Or that my daughter, despite weighing 40 pounds, still believes I’m her trampoline.

One vote for spring allergies arrived in the non-regular who just got on my bus redolent of cologne and sat next to me. Perfume aficionados are like cats: they can sense the allergic and get as close to them as possible. Or it could be that he’s karmic payback for my teenage years, when I applied cologne with a Wagner power painter. Time to bust out the trucker speed Claritin D to test my theory.

And if the cause were my dear daughter, I’d not only be sore, but also be an Easter brunch lighter, since it was yesterday afternoon after tart slice number too many that she used my chest as a pommel horse to vault over onto my belly, sticking the landing with her butt right in my gut. Maybe this was to correct for the night before when she had me army crawl on my belly under her bed with her, then scurried out and, as I was pinned down on her floor, bounced on my spine like a kangaroo trying to catch the moon.

Whoever invented the medicine ball never had a child.

But it’s probably all my fault for not being on my bike enough this year, then spending this weekend in the yard, building our raised beds, placing paver stones and hauling bags of chicken crap around. I’m finally able to get to the raised beds because we got our Amish bookshelves for the family room and Jewel’s room–3B is using the bedroom set that Dad and I used, so he has shelves already. That means that I could decommission the bachelor shelves–cinder blocks and pine planks–I’d been using since we moved in and put the wood to another good use.

But somehow these were the hardest damn pine planks I’ve ever tried to drive a screw through, requiring more effort from my arm than my drill, which just didn’t have enough torque. After which I got to dig holes for each corner post. During this labor I realized that one of our kittehs was alternating watching and napping in the sun on a windowsill above me. Made me feel like an Egyptian working under the watchful eye of a real Bastet. And then the garden isn’t quite level, so I had to rearrange what passes for top soil–clay and stones. Hey, there’s a reason we’re going with raised beds. But life’s not just a bed of baby carrots.

Which is why 3B and I hauled a 40-pound sack of chicken crap home from the hardware store to spread on the lawn. OK…I hauled while he read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but he was in the vicinity, boosting my morale. And while we were at the hardware store we picked up a few things, like a spreader for the crap, a reel lawnmower for Dad to laugh at me wherever he is, a sprinkler to ensure that it would rain yesterday, flower boxes for outside the kitchen window, hangers for all the plants the kittehs keep spilling across the living room floor, and that hose that someone beat me with in my sleep last night.

The pavers I’d gotten on a previous trip, but hauled to the backyard with all of this crap this time around. When we bought them, we learned that 3B can carry a 50-pound paver by himself. Hm. Really? Well, now that we know you can…nothing like parents to suck the fun out of an accomplishment by making it a requirement.

Sort of like taking a sugarfest like Easter and turning it into a boring brunch with the rents’ friends. Only these friends have kids who are also friends with our kids…and who will lead them off into the woods to get lost. Oh well, it got us all outside anyway.

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And when you go outside, sometimes you see something worth looking at.

Besides, the kids could load up on both screen time and playground time as well as sugar and egg decorating while the rents got loaded. Er. I mean, while the parents loaded up on good food, none of which was logged in My Fitness Frenemy. (full disclosure…the “frenemy” title comes from our friend who introduced us to it because apparently she never wanted us to go through another meal without having to do math or feel guilt again)

But today it’s back on the Frenemy bandwagon, because if I’m not going to train enough to ride strong for 200 miles, the hell if I’m hauling any extra pounds in the form of my gut across Massachusetts.

You can help with this too, you know, by making me shed all the extra pounds my beard, hair and leg hair account for–all while making cancer history.

Only you can make me shave my legs–do it today.

Beauty is what you can’t see

Last night I tweeted a picture of 3B and Jewel sitting in front of our (ancient, almost dead dinosaur) computer as they played with Scratch, the drag-and-drop program that allows kids to learn programming basics.

3B was introduced to it at a friend’s house. The friend, who’s older than Solly, learned about Scratch at a computer camp that Solly’s excited about going to himself this summer, so he’s a little more structured in his use of it. What 3B has done in his playing with it is to discover most (all?) of the features, like where to record his own sounds and draw his own pictures, which is what he was showing Jewel how to do in that picture.

But what I’m most impressed by in that picture is 3B and Jewel working together. He is patiently showing her how to use the program. He started by doing it for her, then moved to showing her how to do it, and then to giving pointers as she did it herself–a progression he seemed to make as naturally as if he’d been teaching for 25 years. And, despite her sinusitis and ear infection, Jewel is listening and learning.

After she got bored with this, I suggested that she draw in the family room, which she did. He followed and they both created art in there for another 1/2 hour while I read our local paper (big story: sewer line break flowing into a local creek). There was a little poking and pestering and whining in each place, but for a minute or two out of an hour spent together?

Huge win.

And that’s what makes the picture beautiful to me: all the parts of it nobody can see.

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