Puzzling

Maxon was introduced to word searches during our vacation by watching his cousin make sense of a big block of letters on the back of the kids’ menu. He diligently worked on his word search despite the fact that he can’t actually read the words he was looking for. The ambitious kid just matched each and every blessed letter in the word. We tried to find a word search book in the airport shops on the way home but we ended up with a more grown-up version that would be far too difficult for a 5-year-old. Or so we thought. During one of Cooper’s ski lessons, we sat out to the side and tried to find at least one puzzle that he could start with. On this particular one, not only did he have to match the letters, but they would not be in a straight line or diagonal. Not even backwards. These were in a square.

To be fair, he did get a fair amount of direction and clues. But, you know... he's five.

To be fair, he did get a fair amount of direction and clues. But, you know… he’s five.

The other “word searches” that he could do were equally laborious. One had international city names that were so unusual that I first thought the letters themselves were mixed up and had to be solved before you could find them in the puzzle. As it turns out, literacy was probably a hindrance since Maxon just doggedly matched each letter the same way he did more common words. The other word search was missing all the vowels in the puzzle so he would have to pick a word from the list and then guess which vowels fit in the space… after a brief lesson on what a “vowel” is and a quick-reference key written at the top of the page.

He also got into doing some simple math last year by way of an Android app and significantly improved his addition skills in the last few months with his obsession with basketball and keeping accurate running totals of his 2- and 3-point shots during a “game.” When watching real games, he would constantly ask the difference between the two scores to see how big the lead was. One day while getting ready for bed, he was giving me two 2-digit numbers and asking me to add them together. I’m not too shabby in that department but he blew me away when he gave ME the answer before I figured it out! I asked him how he knew, say (because of course my 37-year-old brain doesn’t remember the actual numbers), 47 and 39 added together is 86 so quickly. At first, he said he “just knew” but after asking again, he said something like 47 and 40 would be 87 but then he subtracted 1. Such a proud and terrifying moment to know that my ability to help him with his math homework might just end well before high school.

Mike has been trying to introduce more advanced math skills since Maxon was so interested. Well, advanced for a pre-kindergartner. Since Maxon could add single and double digit numbers together, he taught him how he could do really HUGE numbers. It has opened a new door for Maxon’s entertainment. So much so, he entertains himself by making his own math problems!

The concept of comma placement is still in process. He also doesn't actually know how to "read" the total amount. Slacker.

The concept of comma placement is still in process. He also doesn’t actually know how to “read” the total amount. Slacker.

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Just Like Riding a Bike

Mike and I thought it would be no big deal to teach Maxon to ride a bike. After all, he’s been on his Strider bike since he turned 2 years old and was easily balancing on it shortly after and taking it all over the bike path. When he began outgrowing the Strider, we got him a big-boy bike to start making the transition on his fourth birthday. First of all, the Strider bike weighs roughly the equivalent of a feather so imagine our surprise and Maxon’s difficulty in keeping a sturdy, heavy-framed bike upright. Second, it quickly occurred to us that Maxon hasn’t had much experience in pedaling much of anything. He had no idea how to coordinate moving the pedals with his feet on top of keeping his balance. This was going to take a bit longer than we thought. We reluctantly put the training wheels on his new bike so he could at least get used to the weight and pedaling his bike. Over a year later, he was still schlepping his bike with the training wheels around with no interest in taking them off. Because of Maxon’s cautious nature, we realized the battle cry to remove the training wheels would have to come from Mommy and Daddy.

We picked a warm sunny day for Maxon’s first lesson and headed down to the large parking lot at the Justice Center down the street. I took Cooper down to the creek to kill some time and Mike got Maxon started with the typical holding-the-seat approach, also what I call “the Back Breaker.” Maxon was definitely having fun but he was definitely not doing any actual work. Mike’s tall frame was begging for mercy. We traded on-point duty with the kids but really, at the end of that first session, the only progress made was that Cooper discovered a stash of really awesome rocks to throw in the creek. We called for a lunch break and vowed to come back later that day.

Disappointed by how little ground we covered that morning, I decided to totally geek out and Google “how to teach a kid to ride a bike.” Don’t laugh; it was useful and so simple. One of the sites I read said to start off on a small hill so that the kid could get used to balancing without having to move any pedals. That made total sense to me and lucky for Maxon, he already knows how to balance on a bike. He just had to remember how.

After lunch, he and I went back down to the parking lot and I outlined my “lessons” for him. Lesson #1 was riding down the small hill that went into the parking lot. It was short enough not to be daunting but steep enough to get a little momentum. I told him he could use his feet at first but when he was ready, he could lift his feet up so that he could balance on the bike. On that very first run, his balancing instincts kicked in and he sailed down the hill with glee. He did half a dozen more runs, starting a little higher on the hill each time. For the next run, I told him he was ready for lesson #2. I suggested that while he was rolling down the hill, to try to find the pedals on his bike with his feet. If he didn’t, no big deal; we’d do it on the next turn. It took another half a dozen times but he eventually got his feet smoothly on the pedals and started to turn them!

Now that he had a little confidence plus the concept of balance back in his brain and the motion of pedaling, he was ready for lesson #3: putting it all together for distance. We headed down to the parking lot and I went back to “the Back Breaker” position where he worked on trying to pedal fast enough where he could keep his balance after I let go. There was much trial-and-error, frustration, and some tears, but at the end of that day, I only had to hold him long enough for him to gain a little speed and off he went!

Lessons #4 (starting off by himself) and #5 (making turns) came the following weekend. I think these lessons are going to take a little longer but look at this kid go:

Cooper on Skis

When Daddy took Maxon up to the mountains last week for another ski lesson, I thought that Cooper should get in on the fun too. There is a local gym called Shredders where they teach kids the fundamentals of skiing but in an indoor setting. They start taking kids at Cooper’s age (and younger) and put real ski boots and skis on them and have them work on moving around independently. Unfortunately, for us, our progress ended before they could get Cooper in ski boots. They had taken him to the back room to fit him for equipment and shortly after, I could hear his wails and hacking coughs from across the building. Since they had said they preferred the parents to stay in the front, I anxiously stood in the parent area waiting to be beckoned. There was no beckon. However, there was a certain little long-lashed boy that had apparently broken free from the back room and sped across the instruction floor directly into my arms. Yes, that was fun while it lasted.

Determined to get a little more out of the experience, and also to not let the instructors off the hook so quickly, I calmed Cooper down and asked if he would just like to watch the other kids ski and he agreed. I sat in that mysterious back room with Cooper and one other little boy that we actually knew from daycare a while back that also did not seem to be so sure of today’s experience. The other kids had their boots and skis on and were practicing waddling around and playing with playground balls. After a few minutes, I asked Cooper if we could just put on the ski boots but still just sit at our seats. He acquiesced. The other little boy already had his ski boots on but that’s where his progressed stopped. A few more minutes passed. I asked if we could get his skis on boots but still just sit at our seats. Again, he acquiesced, but even better, cracked a smile when he realized his skis made his feet slippery like ice skates. The other little boy was also convinced to try his skis. Success! As the other kids filed out of the back room into the main instruction area, Cooper finally found his confidence and started walking around the room to chase after the playground balls.

A few minutes later, as Cooper was trying to tell me he was all done now, I convinced him to at least walk out to the main area so we could sit there to watch the other kids. The other kids were working on side-stepping up a mini-hill and slowly sliding down the other side. That piqued Cooper’s interest and off he went to stand in line to wait his turn. As he got to the top and managed his way down with a huge grin, I could tell that we now have another skier in the family. Welcome to the club, Coops!

Cooper Turns Three

Ah, yes. The curse of a winter birthday runs through this whole family. We’ve had some luck planning outdoor-oriented parties with decent weather but we were not so fortunate this year. After a very warm start to the month, the week preceding Cooper’s birthday party was filled with snow and bone-chilling temperatures that ensured that the snow wouldn’t go anywhere. Luckily, we decided to deviate from our usual party script of letting the kids run rampant in the backyard to hiring the music teacher from their school to entertain the kids (and the adults!). Despite the fresh 15 inches of powder that dropped over the weekend, we had a great turnout, thanks to our wonderful and hardy Boulder friends.

As for the birthday boy himself, he is definitely not one to let weather or inconvenience get in his way either. While slight in build, he is big in everything else. The smiles are from ear to ear and ready to unleash on anyone. He can be on the brink of laughter at any moment, yet the tantrums can come on quick and loud and the disappears quickly with the slightest distraction. The dinner plate is refilled and emptied. He wants to do everything himself and is determined to do anything that Maxon does. His imaginary world is big, too. Although Halloween is long past, he insists on wearing his puppy costume often, although he experiments with being other animals that require petting. His Matchbox cars and Sodor’s finest tank engines have running commentary. One of his favorite games is to build houses and stations for his animals and trucks.

To our dismay, potty training came to a crashing halt and then a severe rewind since our breakthrough in January. We all but gave up for a good month but he’s started to show some interest and confidence again since he’s figured out how to pee standing up so hopefully we can hop right back on that potty train. It’s not a question of “does he know how?”, but more “does he feel like it?”

The coolest development I’ve seen in recent weeks is his writing skill. And please know I am referring to a toddler’s version of “writing.” He has more of a vision of what he wants to create and is able to put it to paper, even if it’s not quite in the right order. Here are some of my favorite creations:

I know we have a big year ahead of us with this cool little dude. I can’t wait to see what comes next!

When Your Dad is a Tarheel

…he will build you a Dean Dome. Finally, a game that doesn’t come with a billion pieces to lose or step on!

Preparing for free throws have gotten elaborate.

Practicing some defensive moves.

And when a little monkey brother sees and he also wants to do, you try to give him his own space.

Maxon assigning hoops

Maxon assigning hoops

Maxon has also come up with some snazzy names for the people on his basketball team. He’s even named those that are on the opposing team and some have specific positions. Generally, these are one-and-done players but some have had some significant time on the court. Here is the list as of today (spelled phonetically; Maxon didn’t specify spelling):

Delicate Shawner
Minijae Edgar
Harold Mirage (plays for Louisville)
Fist Bonner
Alex Neader
Mark Forner
White Brown (plays for Georgia Tech. Usually assigned to Daddy)
Sallin Michael (call him “Sal”)
Crist Bonner (plays for Louisville. No relation to Fist, curiously)
Michael Graver
Oscar Grover
Kyle Blake (plays for NC State)
Cobb Cabber (plays for Georgia Tech)
Miles Calisto (on the bench)
Scott Stillman (plays for New York)
Earthorn Marson (plays for Lousiville)
Clam Slibber
Junior Cactus (plays for Michigan State)
Rattle Justin (plays for Stanford)

A Cooper Jelly Sandwich

It really shouldn’t be that hard. I knew gluten-free, egg-free, and dairy-free bread existed but the one brand I knew about had all of these warnings about eating the bread as soon as possible, freeze the rest that day, and for God’s sake, don’t put it in the toaster oven to reheat because it might catch on fire. What the heck is in that thing?!?! That’s just too weird.

Sunflower seeds have been in a couple of recipes and I knew Cooper was okay with it but I’ve never actually used sunflower seed butter on anything I’ve given him because, well, the bread issue I just mentioned.

And jelly…we already knew that sugar was fair game! Absolutely, wonderfully fair game.

It’s the little victories in life that can bring such joy. And relief.

A New Allergy

And it’s not who you think. Did you know that a person can be allergic to over-the-counter triple antibiotic ointment? No? Join the club.

It all started when a certain two-year-old decided to take a bite of his big brother’s shoulder late last summer. Maxon was wearing a shirt and the bite didn’t break the skin so we thought that was the end of it. After tears and ice, of course. But a few weeks later, Maxon complained that his bite still hurt. Upon closer inspection, the area was still a bit red but it still didn’t seem that it had scabbed over or any indication that his skin had broken after all. Just in case, I decided to put a little generic Neosporin on it and stuck a band-aid on it so that Maxon wouldn’t be able to scratch it.

A few days later, the little bit became a blistery mess. Worried that it was not infected, we headed straight to the doctor. It did not appear to be infected and he seemed more puzzled that more redness was actually more under the adhesive of the band-aid than the bite itself. He concluded that he was having an allergic reaction to the latex in the band-aid or the triple ointment itself. He recommended getting an allergy test to confirm which one was the culprit and to not use either product on Maxon until then. And ooh, ooh, lucky for us (read: “lucky”), we already have an allergist on staff and we made an appointment for the first availability, which was not until this past week. I probably would have shrugged off non-food allergies in any other case, but I have heard a latex allergy can be a big deal considering medical and hospital personnel primarily use them. We wouldn’t want the scenario where an emergency causes another emergency.

We started off with the same “scratch” test we did for Cooper but this time, less for food allergies and specifically for latex and the triple ointment and also common environmental allergies. The scratch test yielded very little, but most notably positive for a moderate allergy to cat hair. Oops. Suspecting this may be the case, the allergist recommended doing a “patch” test for latex and triple ointment since these kind of contact allergies tend to show up days later, while the scratch test results are checked after 20 minutes. We left the office with a dime-sized sample of both products stuck to his skin and secured with a large bandage to keep them in place and had an appointment to remove them three days later.

And his skin was absolutely perfect prior to this test.

And his skin was absolutely perfect prior to this test.

What we found three days later was that his skin was reddened and blistered under his bandage, even extending past the dime-sized sample into an area about 1.5 inches in diameter. There was even a spot at a corner of the bandage where there should have been nothing but the doctor concluded it was cross-contamination from when they applied the original patch and a smudge must have been left on the nurse’s glove. What’s alarming about that one was that he had taken a shower and worn several sets of different clothes by then but that first instance of contact was enough to disrupt his skin. Here we are four days later and his skin still boasts a wide red patch, although not blistered anymore.

While this is not a food allergy, it is still a cause for concern. The antibiotic components that make up the triple ointment can be found in other antibiotics, whether in oral or injectable doses. This was just applied to his skin. Who knows what havoc it can wreak when broken down into the bloodstream? We may go back in and test for each specific kind of antibiotic just so we know for sure which one(s) is the culprit and which one may be safe. I’m not sure which one is better: not dealing with the everyday realities of another food allergy or having to remember at some point in the future when I want to apply first-aid or he has to take an oral antibiotic for sickness (he never has) that we need to take to check and double-check the ingredients in the medication. Either way, my brain is already maxed out!