Tuesday, May 31, 2011

5 Things About My Wonderful Son

I would've called him "beautiful," but he has informed me over the years that "handsome" is the more appropriate term. ;) Therefore, my handsome son is a GREAT kid who has loads of character and his own unfiltered charm. He is a ton of fun and a wonderful addition to our family. We are all better people because of him, as he has a natural ability to keep things light and mindful (in other words, he helps us be present and chill!).

Cuddling with Scout -
Thing 2 totally set up this little bed/blanket area

He is our resident goofball -- he's funny, he keeps us laughing, it's often difficult to keep a straight face when talking to him. But he is so much more than that and also takes things very seriously. He is a kind, sincere, polite, sensitive soul with many other great characteristics and qualities. He, like his sister, is a joy to be around. Here are 5 things about Thing 2 that I'd like to share:

1. He is free and generous with his compliments. If he thinks something and wants to share, he says it. This is his M.O. whether what he says would be considered a compliment or not. He's honest. He says what he thinks and isn't afraid to tell it like it is. He doesn't just casually say passing things; he consciously shares meaningful things. He often, at the most unexpected times or during the most mundane tasks, comes over to me and tells me that he loves me or that he thinks I'm the best mom in the world or that he thinks I'm pretty. In fact, just this past week, during the American Idol finale when they were doing the J Lo tribute and talking about how she was voted the most beautiful girl in the world, we had this conversation:

Thing 2: She's not the most beautiful girl in the world.

Me: No? Who's prettier?

Thing 2: You.

My son thinks I'm prettier than Jennifer Lopez?!? I love this kid!!

Me and Thing 2 at Thing 1's spring violin recital

2. He is just as comfortable with adults as he is with teenagers as he is with younger kids as he is with babies. He is so very comfortable in his own skin and has no qualms whatsoever striking up (or not) a conversation with anyone, anytime. When we're at a store or out to eat, he speaks directly to clerks and wait staff without batting an eye. When he's playing baseball, he talks to every coach as he waits on each base. They stand there and talk like old buds and Thing 2 doesn't even seem to know that an age difference exists, let alone allow it to deter him at all.

There's a funny story from when he was about 4 and we were all having dinner at a restaurant with a family here that really took us under their wings. The dad (who was in his 50s at the time) was eating his food and our son said, "Oh, that looks good. Can I have some?" I was mortified and began to scold him when the dad waved me off as he busted up laughing. He was totally tickled that he felt so comfortable to ask. Some time later, we were eating take out at their house and Thing 2 did the same thing again. At that point, I recognized that's just him. Acceptance is a beautiful thing. I was about to say something but then saw the look on the dad's face telling me not to worry about it; so, I shrugged my shoulders with a smile, and the dad and I laughed together.

Giving a presentation with Jake on Three Mile Island -
I love how Ellie is looking at him!

When we've talked about these sorts of "manners" in what we say or don't say, he doesn't really always appreciate nuances of what's considered acceptable or not. He figures that he is saying what he means, so what's the problem? The other day, he invited himself over to a friend's house for dinner. When I tried to explain that that's not polite, he countered, "What? We invite people to our house." I said that's different and he countered that he was just asking and that they can say no if they want. He's VERY matter of fact, logical, and unfiltered. He doesn't like to be referred to as a contrarian, so we try not to do that, but we do often joke that he is our resident skeptic, always logical and quite a realist. The gears are always turning. And it's really quite refreshing to see the world through his honest, call-it-as-you-see-it eyes.

And part of this comfortable-in-his-own-skin quality that he has, includes knowing when he needs some down time for himself, too. One day, a couple of years ago, he was playing hard with all his friends outside at a park. I didn't see him and when I went looking for him, he was sitting quietly under a tree, just resting. I asked if he was okay and he cheerily and jauntily responded, "Oh yeah, I just needed some quiet time, so I just sat here and meditated for a little while by myself. I feel better now." I wasn't surprised. During his own birthday party when he turned 2, we went looking for him at one point and he had gone downstairs to the basement to sit quietly by himself while he watched some "Bob the Builder" even though his friends were upstairs. I used to think he'd be a shy kid, but that's not one bit the case at all. He is incredibly social and really, really enjoys being around all kinds of people. And already, at a young age, he knows himself, and knows how to balance the fun with some quiet introspection. He is a good example to us in that.

Thing 2 and his buddies, Rich and Brennan

3. He loves and knows music. He has always had really good rhythm and an interest in learning about bands and songs. As he's gotten older, we've noticed that he also picks up lyrics very easily (a genetically passed down talent from his mother). He plays piano and tinkers with the ukelele/guitar as well as percussion (with whatever he can find). He also sings. A LOT. He sings as he walks around, he sings while he plays, he sings in the shower -- it's like he has a running soundtrack. He's got his opinions on what music he likes (Europe, Beatles, Bruno Mars) and what music he doesn't like (country). He enjoys watching American Idol, listening to the radio, practicing piano (I don't even have to ask him to do it -- he just does), playing for anyone anytime, talking about music, learning about music, and singing to himself.

Apparently, he also enjoys singing in front of his sister and his friends. He recently told me as much when he came to me one-on-one the other day and told me there was something he wanted to do for me. He told me that he sings in front of others but hadn't sung in front of me yet (though I've heard him when he sings in the shower and under his breath as he plays, etc.). He seemed kind of self-conscious and asked me to go first, so I did (can't remember what I sang now). Then he sang a couple of lines from "Raise Your Glass" by Pink (the radio version). His lyrics came out way better than the original's when he said, "Slam! Slam! Oh hot jam!" He has a very nice voice and I love that he loves and appreciates music. I'm excited that he has been expressing an interest recently in learning how to harmonize and sing a cappella music. He really likes to hear a cappella covers of songs he knows and wants us to try doing it ourselves.

I love that he knows music. When I hear something on the radio and ask, "Who sings this?," he knows. And when I'm singing a song and can't remember the lyrics, he helps me out. And when I can't remember a song and just explain what I do remember, he knows what it is. It's like having our own resident music trivia buff in the house. It's great!

4. He is crazy smart and a wiz at all kinds of games! He is a super creative and inventive kid and is constantly inventing all kinds of games - strategy games, card games, outside games, board games, group games, video games, you name it. He has always done this. He can take just a few items and turn it into some kind of game with rules and objectives. As he gets older, he is getting clearer on rules (earlier games used to resemble something akin to Calvin Ball) and we are also all getting more chances to win (he used to win just about every game he'd teach us).

Playing Yu-Gi-Oh with his teenaged friends at the park
(There are several Jake pictures on this post -
for the record, he is looking healthy
like he does in this picture
and his hair is totally growing back).

Playing Yu-Gi-Oh at home with a buddy

We love to play games as a family and we often break out games that you'd think were well beyond him because of his age and their age suggestions, but it doesn't matter. He catches on really quickly and just GETS it. He can jump in on any game and play really well and quickly figure out good strategies and tricky moves.

He appreciates the value of a good challenge. He enjoys playing games with people who are really good at them, so he can learn new skills, be challenged, and get better at them. And yet, he is patient with those who are learning when he is the more expert player, and takes time to teach others about games he's long played.

Some of our favorite games to play are Settlers of Catan (all versions), Ticket to Ride, and any of the "10 Days" games. He is excellent at all of them. Those age recommendations have nothing on our 8-year-old!

His absolute favorite game is Yu-Gi-Oh and he always seems to have at least one deck (usually multiple decks) on him. Whenever we get together with any friends anywhere (the park, the YMCA, our house, their houses, restaurants, wherever), there are always many, many Yu-Gi-Oh duels with kids of all ages. And it is a really complicated game (most of the parents have no idea how to play). What's astounding is how quickly he learns the strategies and really advanced math skills in these games without anyone formally teaching him how. He does all kinds of crazy hard math to keep track of his scores (and sometimes those of his opponents as well). It's a testament not only to the wonders of natural learning but also to Thing 2's personal talents, likes, and abilities.

Playing Yu-Gi-Oh at a restaurant with friends

Late-night Yu-Gi-Oh fun with his sister and more friends

I have a couple of funny stories (of course) that sort of address this point as well as the 2nd point on this list.

A few weeks ago, he and I went on a date to a candy store and a park. We took Travel Scrabble with us and played for part of the time. He was just learning to play so I was trying to give him suggestions and help him come up with words. At one point he said, "I want to do it myself!" and then caught himself, looked at me, and said very sweetly, "It's not that I don't appreciate your help; I just want to try it myself." Seriously, you can't help but smile when you're with him!

See? Here I am smiling during our Scrabble date.

And just today (May 30th), I heard him asking Mark to play chess and I said, "Hey, I thought you wanted to play with me!" to which he responded, "Um, I'm not trying to be mean or anything, but Daddy's more of a challenge." Such unfiltered honesty.

5. He is a natural leader and a very good friend and people really enjoy being around him. It seems that every time we go someplace, he is the one introducing us to someone he knows. He makes and meets friends EVERYWHERE. I'm totally not exaggerating. He has a very easy manner and strikes up a conversation so easily and people just seem to gravitate toward him. At baseball, Tae Kwon Do, the YMCA, the park, our house, at a store, at Thing 1's track practice or group violin, at the beach, at a playground, on a bus . . . doesn't matter where, he makes friends. There is often an exchange of phone numbers and information and they'll talk on the phone or play Wi-Fi video games together. I mean, he knows all about online and in-person safety, so he's smart about it, but he is totally uninhibited about meeting new people and making new friends.

There he is - right in the middle of all the action,
friends all around him

When we go to Park Days (and other places as well), we always joke that he has an entourage of kids all around him. Every time we see Thing 2, there are usually 6 or 7 more little boys following him around and playing with him.

Thing 2 and a bunch of buddies at Lazer Tag

Thing 2 with a whole bunch of buddies
at a minor league baseball game

And what's really sweet is that he totally looks out for the little kids. If he sees someone taking advantage of a smaller child, he steps up. He doesn't take advantage of the little kids nor does he let anyone else. He is gentler with the littler kids when they're playing battle games and he is careful in his Yu-Gi-Oh trades to do what's fair. His buddy Rich, who is older than Thing 2, told us just this weekend that our son is always fair and honest in his trades. He said you can tell when he kind of wishes he could do a certain trade that would benefit himself, but he closes his eyes, pulls back his cards, and says, "No, I can't. That's not a fair trade." We weren't surprised, but it was REALLY nice to hear that kind of high praise from one of his peers.

Thing 2 with one of his younger friends
playing a video game together

And he play video games with older kids, too.

He's like a big brother to his buddies as well as a friend. One of his favorite friends is a little boy who just turned 6 in March. And if you ask him who his friends are, he'll mention kids younger than he is and kids older than he is, including several teenagers, and the list has both girls and boys, people who live close to us and people who live far from us. It doesn't matter. He simply enjoys people.

He even makes friends with college-aged kids -
Here is he at Penn State THON with a new friend

And here he is with even more college-aged friends!

Just a few months ago at the YMCA, he came over to me and told me that there was a little girl who kept hitting him and kicking him. We've talked to our kids about not starting fights but defending oneself if necessary. I told him to sternly tell her to knock it off and to let the gym instructor know if she didn't stop. He came back a little later and just sat by me and said he wasn't going back in the gym. He wasn't scared or crying; I could tell he was trying to cool down and had just had enough. I asked what was up and he told me she'd knocked him to the ground and kicked him again.

The mama bear in me came out and I saw the mom of the little girl exiting the Y. I ran up to her and said, "Excuse me. Your little girl keeps hurting my little boy." What followed was one of the strangest exchanges I've ever had. The little girl immediately took one step forward, apologized to Thing 2, and then stepped back. The mother looked at her child and said, almost in passing, "We don't hit" and then turned to me and said, "That's just how she shows she likes him." WHAT?!?!? I am not often at a loss for words, but I didn't even know how to respond to that. I was totally flabbergasted at her nonchalant attitude about the whole thing and wondered why on earth she didn't teach her daughter new ways to show she likes someone and of course I wondered what on earth the kid did to show she didn't like someone.

Later, when I talked with Thing 2 more about it, I asked why he hadn't hit her back. I mean, I wasn't encouraging him to do that, but I wondered what his thought process had been and what had helped him hold back and not haul off and hit her after she wouldn't stop. He looked at me and said with such sincerity, "Because she's little and I don't want to hurt her." That's why he had come over to me and just stopped himself from going back in the gym. He is such a sweetheart.

And he is a cutie, too. Another time at the Y, right around this same incident, I was standing near him when a little girl (a different one who had apparently learned appropriate ways of showing you like someone) ran up and whispered, not quietly at all, in his ear, "I think you're cute!" and then ran off. He knew I'd heard it (it was kind of hard not to) and so he grinned at me and said, "That was weird. No one has ever said that to me before," and kept shaking his head and laughing. I tried not to, but I couldn't help it -- I kept giggling and smiling and he said, "What?" And, as I stood there thinking about how I am SO not ready for this, I said, "Well, I think you're cute, but I'm your mom!" Mark and I often joke around and say, "We are in SO much trouble with this kid!" (Well, both of them actually - Mark's ready to pummel anyone who so much as thinks about Thing 1 as anything but a friend).

Thing 2 loves spending time in groups and he also VERY much enjoys one-on-one time. He absolutely LOVES spending time with his sister and considers her his best friend. In fact, I often think she probably knows him better than anyone! And he loves one-on-one dates with me and Mark as well. He often talks our ears off when Thing 1 is at a friend's house (he almost seems lost when she's out), but he also enjoys the individual attention, too. Wherever we are, whoever is over at the house, he is not ever at a loss for company.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 - best friends.
My Mom sent Waldenbooks gift cards just because
and they went on a fun book shopping spree!

Because he is a natural leader, we've talked with him about what that means with regard to integrity and how he acts around his friends, especially the younger kids looking up to him. While none of us are responsible for anyone else's actions, nor is it fair to carry some kind of duty to be an "example" to others, "it is good to be good to be good" as we say around here. We simply feel it's important to "Be the best 'you' you can be and make the world a better place." And that's exactly what he does. The world is a better place simply because he is in it. I hit the jackpot in the family department -- great husband and great kids. I genuinely, genuinely enjoy them.

Me with my handsome son,
celebrating Mother's Day

I love my son and feel so very lucky to get to be his mother!


Zelia said...

That was so great. I have told my frinds how he has an entourage where ever he goes, that follow him around.
He looks so handsome in these pictures.

Lindsay said...

I was totally smiling when I read about his love of games. He taught me how to play a couple of them and I just played along, pretending that I understood everything about what we were doing. It was really cute. He really does say it like it is. Such a cutie pie (And you can tell him that I said that). Miss you guys

the emily said...

Another reason to homeschool: I've read that little boys think their mom is the most beautiful person in the world until they meet their kindergarten teacher, and then it switches to her! Since you ARE the kindergarten teacher, it never switched! :)

I like the stories of him with kids older and younger than him. It reminds me of my brother--everyone just gravitates to kind, honest, fun people. I have really liked these two posts, getting to know them better since I've only met them in person a few times.

Jimmy said...

Stacy these are great posts. You appreciate the most important "Things" about life.

Cristin said...

What a great post! I think it's so neat that he gets along with kids of all ages and is so friendly......both of your kids are just great kids. (You already know that! : P)

Mom said...

Good one Jimmy. Great post, Stacy. Thing 2 is growing up so fast, thanks for helping me keep up.

The Magic Violinist said...

I think Maxim's the most BEAUTIFUL brother ever. ;) (I hope he reads this comment).

Dave Johnson said...

I am so thankful for Maxim - he really took Rich and Brennan under his wing when we first arrived in Harrisburg, taught Rich how to play Yu-Gi-Oh, hung with them at the Y and the park. I'm so glad they've become friends because it's really made the distance from friends in Arkansas so much easier to bear, and it's made our first travel experience wonderful for the boys. YOU ARE AWESOME, MAXIM! (He also does a quite stunning Yoda portrait as well...)

J Fo said...

He really is charming! It's just the way that he sees the world and how he treats people. I just want to squeeze him! :)

bythelbs said...

So great that you took the time to write such thoughtful tributes. Your kids will so appreciate these in the future (and now, too, I'm sure)!