Category Archives: Bunnies

the Association Principle


No, this isn’t about the sixties pop group. It’s about the ability of a human being to create new ideas by combining two old ones. It’s about understanding the interconnection of things, and about relationships.

As strange as it may seem to some, the ability to associate needs to be taught (at least in most cases that I’ve seen). Seldom does a child come up with an example on his or her own. They have to be taught that “this” associates with “that”.

Here’s an example, from this evening’s conversation with our young one, after she had left the room and my wife and I were unable to prevent the smallest cat from eating the peanuts out of her teeny bowl of trail mix.

My wife-“Bright Eyes ate the peanuts out of your bowl. And she licked the almonds.”

The child reaches into the bowl and prepares to put some in her mouth.

Me-“You really are DeeDeeDee, aren’t you? The cat had her tongue in that bowl. You know where that tongue’s been. Why would you eat that?”

The Look…that blankly hostile look, with the jaw thrust forward, the bottom lip pouting, and the eyes ready to roll.

Me-“You don’t understand, do you?”

Child (in really small voice). “no.”

Me-“You really need to speak up (The hesitant childishness is a behavior that must have earned her cute points or something in her previous life, but doesn’t operate under her new laws). If I can’t hear you, I’ll ignore you. (I know this seems cruel, but so many of her “things” are attention-getting mechanisms that are leftover from when she was two or three years old. Stated in these terms, this gets HER attention).”

The Look softens a little. I am ON Her Side, after all. I Mean Well.

The Mrs.-“Cats lick their ass with their tongue. That’s where that tongue has been.” Aside to me-“She doesn’t “get” germs.”

“I know. Brook, do you understand about germs?”

A slightly louder No.

“Okay. Germs are invisibly small critters. The thing that made me and your grandma sick is a germ.”

That she has successfully made this association is obvious. She “gets it”. Her eyes fill with wonder as a few of the chains of association that come with this small epiphany cross her mind.

“So when the cats lick their asses, those germs are on their tongue.”

Wife-“It’s why I don’t like dogs to lick my face.”

“You see,” I say, turning to the child. “You don’t really want to eat that, do you?” An emphatic nod-NO! “Good. Go throw that out.”

“Ew,” says the child, hastening on this errand.

Precious stuff. I want to give her the universe.

It’s true. We’re trying to get her to learn to want to read. She hasn’t yet gotten it into her head that this skill gives her the universe. She thinks tv and dvds do.

It gives me a sad. She really isn’t far advanced from where she was at four, when we last saw her, in terms of her skills and her interior life. She’s been surfeited with Dora the Explorer, who is several years too young for her, and similar pablum, and bought off with a constant supply of snack crackers and candy, with the occasional ice cream and soda pop.

Ghastly. We just tell her we’re not getting things anymore. I’ll tell her we’re just going to buy water, since she’ll slip off to Circle K any chance she can get and download a 44 oz. Code Red.

When she first arrived, she had a taste for coffee. Her version has three tablespoons of sugar, about 1/4 cup of high fructose-corn-syrup-laden nondairy creamer, and 1/2 a cup of milk. A liquid truffle, more or less.

The first thing I did was cut out the sugar, after seeing how she crashes off the stuff. Want a bitchy kid? Make her vibrate in place for 20 minutes after imbibing something like that, and then watch for the crash. As soon as she yawns, try to get her to do something.

Good luck with that. She learned all of this lunacy from her mother, who is her role model, gods forfend.

While we were at the bookstore, the child stopped me in my tracks by explaining that her mother used to read to her.

Selections from “Twilight Saga”.

My knees buckled. Here we are trying to work with Black Beauty, and My Friend Flicka, and this former victim of pedophilia has been subjected to that travesty, in both book and video form.

Woof to that warp. We got her those, and a handsomely illustrated sorta Cliff’s Notes version of the Secret Garden. And a couple of jigsaw puzzles.

My wife has even gone further. She is buying the child a Kindle. One, because she’s tired of giving up her laptop so the kid can watch idiocy on Netflix, and two, to help further her education. I know how to work the controls so that she gets so much reading time, so much video time, etc.

My part was in picking up a recorder, a set of small drumsticks, and a pitch-pipe. She wants a Hannah Montana guitar for her birthday. I’m going to try to change that to something that will last a bit longer and cost less, just in case she tires of it. I’m about 90% certain that it will, and then it’ll pass to me. I’d just as soon not have to refinish the thing.

I’ve begun playing things like Simon and Garfunkel, Neil Young video content for her, just adding them to her daily audiovisual diet, in the hopes that she’ll retain that association when we begin to try to find her musical horizon.

I know that she has excellent pitch from her happy-girl warbling, and I can work with that. She wants to learn guitar and piano…but she really doesn’t understand how hard it is to be good at playing a musical instrument.. She’s never had to work for or toward anything. So it’ll be a matter of not letting her frustration cancel out her talent.

She loves my song “Blutopia”. That one’s easy enough to teach her. I have lots of sheet music and tab books.

That’s the plan.

This weekend, I’m finally feeling well enough to maneuver the various boxes and instruments and equipment from one room to another, and she’ll have her own room by Monday night. Her and the bunnies.

Then I can get myself resettled and get back to work. It’s been a long time comin’-I can’t wait. My workday is cut down by an hour on each side, because of the child’s schedule. I’ll only be able to swing 3 hours writing/3 musical…but at least I have that, and can be productive under that arc.

A short story a week and a song every two is the aim. I’ll put them up here, at least temporarily, when they’re done. The first ones will be next weekend. I have three instrumental tracks and two short stories/articles justaboutthere.

Then, with any luck at all, I’ll have some things featuring the kid. I’m out looking for tambo, maracas, wood flutes, anything that’s cheap and will make noise, and I’ll drag out my acoustic instruments and usb drumkit. Perfect timing as the arthritis has been letting up and the pain in my shoulder isn’t as bad as it has been. I need practice at any rate.

And nothing teaches discipline and confidence like making music. I look forward to it. I hope we can get the Mrs. to play too.

 

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Degree of Difficulty


Second day of eight-year-old walking herself home from school. I step out onto the front porch to see her coming, wave, and then duck back in to make sure the cats, who have been bunching up around my ankles, are all still inside.
This leads to trying to silence the dishwasher, which has suddenly begun clanking. I find the lost spoon and place it in a reservoir, thinking “that child oughta be here by now”. Had an oxygen tank from earlier errands, still half-gassed, so I strapped that on and popped out to see if something shiny had happened.

Child was nowhere to be seen.

“Maybe she came in the back way,” I say, and unlock the patio door. I step out through the back and follow the sidewalk to the mailbox nook, where the open back gate is.

No child. I retrace my steps, go back through the place and up the walk toward the main drag.

I find her two doors away, facing a closed door with a blank look on her face.

“I was knocking,” she says, clutching a half-sheet of paper with our address written on it.

I indicate the paper, and then the address on the door she’s facing. “Not sure if those folks are home. Our house is over here.”

We repair to our rooms. Okay, so she flubbed. No big. Her all red-faced, clasping a giant soda to her skinny little chest. We sit down at the kitchen table-homework comes first.

“I was on “green” all day today,” she announces (she had been in small trouble the previous three days, for talking while the teacher was talking, and refusing to do the classwork).

“Very good,” I say.

She’s pulling her “agenda” notebook out of her backpack. No homework folder. I ask after that item.

“I forgot it,” she says. I’m a little suspicious. I open the agenda notebook, to see what the homework was supposed to be. Word cards, she was supposed to make word cards, like math flash cards. I smell a rat.

The girl does not like reading. She is not very good at it. But she did well yesterday.

“Well,” I say, “we’ll read some. Your assignment says 20 minutes a day. We should be able to finish your book (Good Enough to Eat, by Brock Cole) today. I started yesterday–you start today.”
She begins, haltingly, sounding the words out to herself, sort of. It takes a lot of prompting to get through the first page. Then my turn, and the next. We never finished her next turn.

She had a “make-me” fit. Gave me the face, told me “reading is hard. Things are hard. It’s too hard for me to walk home from school. I was tired before I left.”

She’s rubbing her eyes and staring at something invisible in the near distance, alternately, making the pouty face.

“Soooo, reading is hard. And things are hard. Everything is hard until you do it for a while. Then it gets easier.”

I understand what she’s trying to do. She’s trying to create an excuse, to be let off the hook, like she has some kind of medical condition. She indicates several small scratches, two on her chest and one on her thumb, that she says Buster gave her, unprovoked. “I showed these to my teacher today,” she announces.

“And why did you do that?” I ask.

Stone face. Prompting eventually elicits the “I-dont-know” response. “They hurt,” she says.

“Scratches sometimes do,” I reply, not unkindly. “So why did Buster scratch you?” Maybe I could get at the truth.

“He just did.” Buster isn’t that kind of cat. He doesn’t scratch unless he has a good reason.

“I see. So what do you suggest we do about the walking-home thing? I’m not able to come and get you. Do you want me to meet you at Main st.?” (this isn’t the name of the street, but you get the idea)

“Yes.”

Thursday is when my oxygen tanks are delivered. There isn’t any particular timetable-they’re not that organized. I wait whole days, sometimes. This is why she’s been set to the task of walking herself to and from school in the first place-I can’t leave the apartment.

“I guess I’ll just have to watch for you from the door. I can’t leave because of the tank delivery.” She knows this. “You know that.”

She makes the pouty face.

I make the pouty face back. “Are we gonna have a staredown now?”

She looks away. “Okay. So we’ve established that you don’t want to watch tv or go to the pool today,” I begin. “And we’re starting to work on the special thing (the scooter I’ve ordered for her).

“So tell me, what is it that you want to do? You wanted to learn to tap-dance, right?”

She nods.

“And learn Karate. And Spanish. Are you under the impression that these are all easy things?”

Realization waps her between the eyes.

She looks at me, with a tear beginning to form where she’s been rubbing the eye.

“Yes. To me they’re easy.”

“I see. So you don’t need to learn them then. Fine.” I sit back in my chair.

“And songs,” she continues. “I want to write songs. That’s easy for me.”

I stifle a laugh, mostly.

“Sing your song for me,” I say.

“I wrote half of one,” she says.

“Sing it to me.”

“I don’t remember it.”

“Don’t you think you should learn to read and write so that this doesn’t happen again?” She can print some, but doesn’t have any real facility.

“Yes. But it’s hard. I can play guitar, that’s easy.”

Picture me incredulous. “Cool. I’ll go get my guitar, and you can show me.”

“I can play a couple of notes,” she says.

Reality has intruded yet again.

“I can see that we’re done reading for the day. You have chores.”

She has an erasable whiteboard with two chores on it. Her job is to sweep the bunny area and under the birdcage, and to feed and water the bunnies.

“Sweeping is too hard.”

I can see where this is going. “So what task would you rather perform?”
“Mopping,” I’m told.

“You have to sweep first,” I point out.

Pouty face.

“Get the broom.” I go turn off the tv, for there won’t be any Disney or Nick Jr today. Probably no swimming. I’d opt for go to bed without dinner but that’s not an option these days.

Kids.

Wakin’ up is hard to do


We’ve been spending much time this last week trying to figure out how to best insinuate the idea for “good taste” and “taking on a little more responsibility” into the life of our eight-year-old girlchild. She’s pretty independent, definitely a bit of a dramamama, definitely intelligent though just as definitely not as book-learned as she should be.

She loves the pets…so feeding/taking care of the rabbits has become her main job task. Playing with Buster is one of her favorite things. I suspect he likes it too, but he’s still suspicious of this small interloper. He has also taken on a great degree of independence, and is very good at making his wishes known (for example, the litterbox was let go a couple of days too long. He took the paper garbage bag, tore a hole in the side of it, pissed about a quart of ammoniac boycatpiss into and onto it, and then sidled over to give me a quick headbonk.)

Took half a roll of two-ply to fix that. Hard to be mad at him though. I’d feel the same way.

Which brings us to the subject of empathy, which the child does not seem to have much of. She’s been shuttled about so much that a lot of her feelings are locked up. Eventually they’ll surface-I imagine it’ll happen when hormonal challenges start setting in, a couple of years down the road.

We’ve banned the viewing of Spongebob, which I just can’t stand, and have severley limited the viewing of “baby shows”, i.e., programs that are way below her age level. Mind you, they’re not below her reading or ‘rithmetic level-but that’s the point. The child can barely add, and hasn’t yet learned the technique of sounding out words to produce the result. Nobody has ever taken the time to work with her on these things.

At least until recently. I’ve begun working with her on reading and on math skills, trying to show the relationships between numbers and methods so that she’ll have a good overview, and alternating pages of books. It’ll be a while til there are results-she seems to enjoy the process for the most part, but gets all stubborn and pouty when pressed. She puts on the “Can’t-Make-Me” face, which some kid is one day gonna slap right off 0f her.

Bad attitude, directly inherited.

I work on a reward system. Yesterday she walked halfway to school  by herself, as the daily round trip is too hard for me. Today she went all by herself. I don’t anticipate any problems. Once she’s past our block of condos, there’s the main intersection, with a crossing guard who already knows her, and another a block away by the driveway into the school property.

For making the half-trip, she was rewarded with a giant Mountain Dew slurpee, which lasted until almost 8 pm with a trip to the fridge for a couple of hours to stay cold.

Homework and chores come first after arrival. This is agreed to by all. I try to take a little extra time to explain things, and to exercise more patience than I ordinarily would.

She’s doing okay…and the daily trip will get easier in a week or so when her scooter arrives. Provided that she continues to act like a young lady and not a spoiled brat, she’ll get the thing right away.

Brattiness isn’t treasured, nor is drama. But that’s her wake-up routine. I’m not an easy waker either-if I don’t feel that what I was awakened for is worth being awake for. Otherwise I wake immediately and head for the medicine cabinet.

The child squalls or won’t get up. We’ll work on that.

Could be way worse. She says “I love you, grandpa”, at least 20 times a day. Hard to get tired of that.

It’s an Eight-Year-Old’s World


(and I live in it).

We’ve recently become custodians of an eight year old girl, my wife and I. It’s unusual to have one at such an advanced age (I’m 52, she’s ageless of course), but that’s the situation.

We make the best of it. The care and feeding of a young being require much attention to detail, and one must pay especial attention to consistency, since one is going to be called on it constantly.

“A deal’s a deal,” I was informed one afternoon when that worthy was being told she could go to the pool after all. I daved this situation in my memory bank, knowing it would come in handy.

Sure enough, the next day, she wanted to avoid sweeping the living room, under the birdcage, as she had done before, and announced that “this is what I do”, while performing said deed.

Making mention of this omission severely dented my momentary rapport with the child. I was favored with a pout.

She likes to pout; she’s a bad sport. Correcting both behaviors and keeping them corrected will take time. I just do a little course correction from time to time. That’s my job-I’m the designated driver.

I am the dreaded lecture dispenser in our household.

I refuse to babytalk and “I don’t know” is not an acceptable excuse. So there are lots of little standoffs. I do believe that the child thinks these are contests of will. To me it’s Pavlovian. I just don’t use a bell.

She loves attention-it comes with the territory. But lectures swiftly turn out to be unwanted attention. Especially when they contain the dreaded unanswerable question. Each lecture has one, it’s in the contract.

Today it was why should we let you keep a bunny and have it for your very own when you don’t actually care for it?

The desired answer was “I”ll care for it. I will water it and feed it promptly and properly, and the other rabbits, too.”

She does, when asked. She volunteers at other idiosyncratic times. She is always going to ” check on them” but doesn’t always address the food, drink, and litter situation. Heavens know what she is actually doing.

This was addressed. “If you go in to ‘check on the bunnies’, you should see if their water bottles are full, if their dishes are empty. You can let them out far enough to pet them, but don’t pick them up. They are fragile.”

My wife maintains that I am nitpicky. I don’t necessarily deny this accusation.

It’s about the welfare of the child. I feel that she’ll fare much better if she has her wits about her. Developing a sense of humor can come later.

I’ve devised math homework for the first time in years, a couple of tables of figures that show the relationship between “added numbers” and “multipliers”, to use two of the terms from the assignment.

The child cannot do her multiplication tables, but says math is easy.

It does come easy to her, seemingly, but she still has to learn it. Her peers will, and she knows that now, and that’s a righteous tool.

Monday we are doing more. I’ve come up with another couple of pages of notebook paper, in which we discuss the previous, and work with fives and tens before seguing into simple subtraction by introducing story problems.

That’ll allow me to branch into book-reading later.

I have a final two days left to relax and recuperate from my recent (successful) surgery. Today I didn’t feel so well and so was uncommunicative to the world at large. I watched baseball, and am heartened by my Cubs, who bear every earmark of the .500 record except the actual numbers (yet). They have some good young players.

The child hates the baseball. She likes cartoons and the things that the Disney and Nick channels offer only, and her attention wanders when anything else is presented.

This is often when she indulges in cleaning and sweeping and the like, a practice which I am loath to discourage, though it’d be best to follow after her with a little broom and collect the remnants. Attention to detail is not her specialty. Oh, wait, was that nitpicking?

Until now, I had for years enjoyed children most when they were going to go away. This is different. I have to change, but I don’t have to surrender.

More stuff about kids and pets and other oddities tomorrow.