Monday, August 17, 2015

Raspberry Park

            Earlier in the week, my son asked me if we could please go to “Raspberry (Asbury) Park” this weekend. Usually he refers to the ocean as the up-down beach but this time he was specific. In previous trips, we generally went to Long Branch. Overall, we find it a nicer beach. But last month, my spouse had wanted to check out Asbury Park since we had never gone swimming there and my spouse wanted to try something new. It just so happened that our first time at Asbury Park was also my son’s first experience with a boogie board. The conditions were perfect. Low tide and the presence of a sand bar ensured that the waves were gentle, low and not intimidating. My son, who a year ago was afraid to put his head in the water, loved boogie boarding. However, our following trip to the ocean, this time to Long Branch, was during high tide on an extremely windy day. The current was fierce, the waves brutal and after ten minutes my son lost all interest in being in the water. Hence, on Monday, when he requested a trip to the ocean, he specified his destination.  At first we were hesitant to go back to Asbury, but the little man was so insistent that we didn’t want to disappoint him.

            When we arrived late this morning, the tide was low and it was still going out. My son could barely sit still long enough for me to put sunscreen on him before racing down to the water, boogie board in tow. He didn’t dither or dawdle at the water’s edge; he dove right in and caught the first wave that came rushing towards him. The wave crashed down on top of him, knocking him under, but before I could rescue him, he came shooting out of the water, riding the breaker towards the shore. As soon as his momentum stopped, he jumped up – a radiant smile on his face - and dashed back into the water. Again and again he rode the waves. A few times he wiped out, falling off his board and getting tossed around in the surf, but each time he stood up, wiped the water from his eyes and searched for the next wave. Nothing shook his confidence. Instead, his pleasure seemed to increase with each ride. By the end of the day, the tide was coming in. The waves were nearly as ferocious as they had been when at Long Branch, but they didn’t deter him at all. In fact, once he rode a big wave - the water pounding his small frame, his little head emerging from the water, eyes closed and cheeks puffed up from holding his breath – he had no interest in the smaller ones. He would wait impatiently until he could see a towering crest looming in the distance. Then he would hop on his board and fly. If the wave was strong and the ride bumpy but long, he would leap out of the water and exclaim, “That was epic.”

            At one point, he announced that he wanted to swim for awhile instead of ride his boogie board. Last year, he used to cling to me, petrified of the smallest wave. This year it was a struggle to get him to hold my hand. He wanted his freedom. He loved jumping over the waves and diving under the big ones. Every time a wave broke on his back he squealed in delight.  If he hadn’t gotten cold, he would have stayed in the water all day.

            By five o’clock the wind picked up. Since it was getting late and the life guards were leaving, we decided to fly our kite. But deciding to fly a kite and actually flying it are not the same thing. First my spouse tried. The wind cooperated, lifting the dragon high into the air, but after fluttering around for a moment or two it crashed onto the sand – time and time again. I took a turn. I was no better. We could get the kite in the air, we just couldn’t keep it there. Obviously it was us. We were doing something – or many things – wrong since all around us kites flew high, rippling in the wind and taunting us with the success of their flight. Soon my son demanded a turn. The poor little guy was very determined. Each time the kite lifted off, he ran as fast as his little legs could carry him, kicking up clouds of sand. And the kite would cooperate, until its nose bent and it angled down towards the sand . My son was devastated. He kept it aloft longer than either my spouse or I did, but not long enough to make him  happy. I felt terrible.

            Despite the tragedy of the kite, it was a fantastic day at the ocean – our best one yet. By the time we got in the car it was late, so we decided it would be best to eat before hitting the highway, especially since the Parkway is always jammed with traffic. But what to eat is always a difficult question in our family where none of us like the same foods. Breakfast, however, is the least complicated meal and I so I asked my little man, “Would you like pancakes for dinner?”

            “Oh yes, I would love that!”

                                                  photo by Kati Jaeger

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Country North of England

A friend, who I will call Charlotte, and I had gone to visit my parents. After dinner, we sat around the table playing Catch Phrase. For those of you who have never played, it is a cross between hot potato and pass word. A beeping disk presents one player with a word or phrase, and that player must give his partner a clue or clues so she can accurately guess the words. When the partner guesses correctly, the disk gets passed to the next team. Which ever team is caught holding the disk when the buzzer sounds loses a point. My father and Charlotte teamed up. I sided with my mother.
            Some words and phrases are easy, others are more challenging. Sometimes you expect your given word to be easy but it proves to be impossible. Scotland was one such word. I passed the disk to my dad. He read the word, and glanced at Charlotte, “The country north of England.” Expecting an immediate response, he had already begun to pass the disk to my mom. But Charlotte stared blankly waiting for another clue. My dad repeated, “The country north of England.” The stare intensified. My dad looked incredulous, “The country north of England.” When Charlotte finally spoke the words were not what he had expected, “I don’t know.” Exasperated, he raised his voice, as if volume would somehow illuminate the answer. “THE COUNTRY NORTH OF ENGLAND!” Charlotte shrugged. Dad tossed the disk. The buzzer sounded.
            Sadly, Charlotte is not alone. I have encountered many Americans who seem disinterested or uninformed about world geography, culture and history. I can’t forget the teacher who had never heard of Machu Picchu. Nor can I forget the friend who excitedly exclaimed, “I’ve always wanted to go to Italy,” when I told her I was going to Nepal. Then there was the neighbor who thought all Koreans live in straw huts. I blame the school system, the same school system my son will be attending full time in the fall. I don’t want my son to grow up ignorant of the world. I want him to have a fundamental understanding of world history and a basic interest in foreign places. I want him to know that other places and people matter as much as we do. But how could I begin to supplement the curriculum at home and make it fun for a five year old? Michener novels are too long and they don’t have any pictures to anchor a child’s interest. And textbooks are boring for just about everyone. However, all kids love to receive mail. My son in no exception. When he gets mail his entire face glows. So I put out a request for postcards from abroad.  The response has been overwhelming. Family, friends and even strangers have been kind enough to pick up postcards on their excursions overseas. My son loves getting them and meticulously pinning them to the map in our living room.
            Through the postcards, he has learned to identify where certain countries are located in relation to others. But the project has grown to incorporate other aspects of curriculum he will eventually encounter. Recently, he started graphing the distance from New York to the capitals of the countries from which he has received a postcard. He is also researching and writing books about various countries. The research is simple. We look at pictures and talk about whatever snags his interest. He loves statues. Whenever he sees one he needs to know who it is and why that particular person is important. We also read picture books, fairytales and folktales which he greatly enjoys. Stories about Baba Yaga in Russia have become his favorite. We checked out every Baba Yaga book in our library – who know there were so many - and he makes me read them over and over again until the different plots becomes embedded in his brain. Following the research, he writes his book. The books are short, consisting of five pages with only a sentence or two on each page, highlighting the facts he found most interesting or appealing. For Italy, pizza and gelato took precedence over the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Coliseum. Lastly, he cuts out pictures to illustrate his words. Today, he informed me that for his next book he wants to attempt a fictional story that takes place in a factual land. He has already stolen two of my characters and seems to breathe life into them more easily than I do.
            Last week, he was writing about Denmark. No book about Scandinavia would be complete without Vikings. One picture he looked at showed a map of all the places in the world the Vikings explored, conquered or pillaged. He was enthralled by how far they traveled and how much they had seen. In the middle of writing a sentence about them, he looked up at me and declared, “Some day I want to be just like the Vikings.”
            “You do,” I said, a little taken aback, hoping he didn’t have dark intentions of ravaging Europe. “How so?” I asked.
            “I want to explore the whole world.”
            “Really!” I was excited, silently patting myself on the back and congratulating myself for the success of the project. He wanted to know more about the world. Mission accomplished! What more could I want? But then my mouth betrayed me. It opened on its own, “And where would you like to go first?”
            “Back to Disneyworld,” he answered, his smile wide, his eyes dancing in anticipation.
            Oh well, I sighed to myself, he is only five.
            At least, I can take comfort in the fact that Legoland in Denmark, with a side trip to see the Little Mermaid, is second on his list.
            And, unlike Charlotte, he does know that Scotland is the country north of England.