Friday, October 24, 2014


You know you are a book nerd when your four year old child wants to be Beowulf for Halloween.  Despite my son’s love of mainstream superheroes, he completely bypassed Superman, Batman, Green Lantern  – the usual -  and went straight for a classic hero instead.  The tales of Beowulf’s heroism have captivated my son ever since I first read him the story back in April.

It all started when my cousin suggested that I read him folktales from around the world as a stepping stone into historical fiction – a genre that my family tends to be a bit fanatical about.  Since I love culture and anything international, I immediately headed to the library to see what sort of folktales they might have and which ones might interest my son. As I was browsing the shelves, my eyes fell upon Beowulf and the English major in me did a little dance. Really, I thought, and even though there wasn’t a mirror in sight, I knew my eyes were glowing with enthusiasm.  A kids’ version of Beowulf – what could be more spectacular than that? I grabbed the book. I turned to the first page and then scanned the rest of the pages to assess the picture to word ratio.  Too few words to a page and the story ends too quickly. Too many words and boredom will likely whisk my son away to dreamland. And the absolute last thing I want is for my son to think that reading has the potential to be boring.  My initial evaluation was that the story might be too long, but I checked it out anyway. My son loved stories of adventure and was at that age where heroes are the equivalent of gods. Why not give it a shot? The worst that could happen was that he hated it, but that was the general consensus in high school anyway. At best, he might learn a little something. From the first page, when Beowulf slaughters the sea serpents, my son was hooked. The highlight, of course, came later when Beowulf rips Grendel’s arms from his body and blood pours from the severed limb.  So enamored with the book was my son that he brought it to preschool for show and tell and recounted – in great detail - the gruesome scene to his classmates. 

In midsummer, after having renewed and reread the book so many times both my son and I practically have it memorized, my son declared that he wanted to be Beowulf for Halloween. What an awesome idea, I thought. No other kid will have the same costume. Exactly, no other kid would conceive of being Beowulf, but that meant we couldn’t easily pop into Party City or Costco to pick up a costume. The law of supply and demand pretty much guaranteed that Beowulf would not be sold anywhere. We couldn’t disappoint our son – not when he was in the midst of idolizing a literary legend (albeit one very few people knew or even remembered from their boring high school days). And that is when my spouse decided that she would make the costume – tunic, pants, armor and helmet - from scratch. The project started in August and occupied her for nearly three months.  Yesterday, my son even expressed a bit of anxiety when he asked me, “Do you think Mommy will finish my costume on time?” And his concern was well founded. My spouse is the Queen of finishing projects ten minutes after they are due. But Halloween is a week away, you might say. And it is. But my son’s school party was tonight. Therefore, with no extra wiggle room, my son needed his costume to be completed by 5 o’clock this evening.  He was not disappointed. My spouse stayed up until well after midnight last night to ensure that the finishing touches had been added.

My son – as uncooperative as he was during the fitting process – was super excited to wear his costume this evening. And with Grendel’s arm proudly tucked under his, he headed off for a night of sugar, pizza and games. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

"The British Are Coming"

Last year I took my son to the Lord Stirling 1770s Festival in New Jersey and he enjoyed it so much that, even though he was only three, he remembered it and recently asked if we could go again. It was the old fashioned cider press that enthralled him most – helping to make fresh apple cider and then being able to drink it. The festival makes for a fun afternoon, and offers children a glimpse of what life was like nearly two and half centuries ago. There are colonial toys and games that they can play with and a hay ride that all kids seem to enjoy. There was a butter making station where my son got to pour cream into a small jar. The volunteer told him to shake it vigorously for ten minutes and the cream would turn into butter. Of course, ten minutes is too long for a four year old and after about two minutes he handed it off me, insisting that I keep shaking until the tell tale lump finally appeared. 

A five minute chat about maple syrup had my son begging to go back in February when he’d be able to watch a demonstration on exactly how the syrup is made. During the presentation, the woman giving it asked the kids what kind of syrup they eat on their pancakes. My son was very quick to point to the real syrup and say, “My mother eats that one, but Grandpa always has that one,” and he pointed to the fake kind.  “Well, that is understandable;” the woman said sympathetically, shaking her head, “Corn syrup is a lot cheaper than maple syrup.” So I had to clarify that it wasn’t a matter of cost, Grandpa always buys the good stuff for his grandson, it’s a matter of taste. Grandpa’s taste buds just aren’t sophisticated when it comes to syrup.

Moving on from the syrup, my son enjoyed writing his name with a feather quill and painting with stencils, but the clay he found distressing. Kids of all ages were eagerly molding and kneading the brown blobs in front of them. My son tentatively touched the clay, but the brown slim was too much for him. “My hands are dirty,” he cried, holding them out to me, a pained look on his face.  “It’s okay,” I assured him, but he wanted no part of the clay after that and ran off to submerge them in a vat of water.

Throughout the afternoon, a colonial dressed town crier made announcements, two musicians played the guitar and sang songs from the Revolutionary time and a blacksmith demonstrated how horseshoes used to be made.  Two men gathered the interested children, give them each a Quaker gun and show them a few basic musket and marching drills. My son thoroughly enjoyed this, although he kept mixing up his right and his left.  There was a stockade, for kids to pretend that they were small time criminals.  My son couldn’t understand why it was a punishment when he thought it was the coolest thing hanging out with everyone commenting about how cute he looked. In fact he kept going back for more and at one point asked, “Mama, if I don’t listen to you, will you put me in the stocks?”

The highlight of my son’s day was dressing up like a minuteman and pretending to fight the British. He wore clothes and a hat – alternating between a three corner hat and a coonskin cap – from the colonial days, picked up a gun and started shooting. Giving him a quick history lesson, I explained he was dressed from the time of the Revolutionary War and that if he was going to battle he was only allowed to shoot the British. Super excited about the prospect of being a hero, he rallied the troops, recruiting other boys and girls into his imaginary play. Shouting, “The British are coming, the British are coming,” he waved the kids over to the wooden split rail fence, and lining up against it, they started an assault on the British hiding out in the trees across the street.  The British were soon defeated, but when the festival ended my son was terribly disappointed to have to return to the present.