Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Love of the Past and a Fear of the Future

The leaves changed colours, and the princes got another year older.  With his five years, Shark Boy had learned to swim, skate, ski and ride, as well as negotiate one new bedtime story per night.  His reading, writing and numbers were coming along, thanks to the Academy.

They celebrated the birthdays in an Enchanted Forest, and the celebration was glorious.  They were joined by friends from their old school and from the new, as well as other friends the Royal Family had gathered over the years.

They ate cake (one of the best the King had ever tasted), and played among the bridges, tunnels, towers and slides of the enchanted forest.

One of the King’s favourite moments of the entire day was when he helped the Lightning Kid and another little princess climb the steps of a tree tower - their legs were too short to get up these steps unassisted.  The King figured if he stayed close at hand, they couldn't get themselves into too much trouble - even if they were too small for this particular tower.

What he hadn't figured on, was being greeted by another princess, half-way up the tower.  You see, this princess had something special about her - her legs didn't work as well as most children’s do.  Having a body that was differently abled hadn't stopped her from climbing, and certainly wasn't going to stop her from delighting herself or others - a story that has been told here many times before, but in a different way.

While birthdays have moments that are sweet - there is also the bitter; the King and Queen couldn't help but be wistful.  Their babies were not really babies anymore and becoming less so as days, weeks, and months went by.

A child like the Lightning Kid could make these feelings seem very conflicting.  On the one hand, they wanted him to grow - physically larger, for one thing.  They also wanted growth in development - so that toilet training, mealtime behaviour, speech and communication could improve.  At the same time, the nostalgia for the baby age was there, only much stronger.  The King often carried the Lightning Kid, even when it wasn't necessary, or helped him get dressed more than he should - rather than helping him learn to do it on his own.  He did this because it was the known, the routine, the most expedient.  When the Lightning Kid was a newborn baby, he wasn't any different than another newborn - and the older he got, the more differences, the more unknowns could crop up. It was both scary and delightful how much fun he still got from playing peek-a-boo...

Three is a difficult, rebellious age, and the Lightning Kid would be the last of the King and Queen's children, so could you blame them for clinging on to the last vestiges of his infancy? Yes, you could. Growth does not come from comfort zones, and as long as they were going to wish for him to be strong, happy and independent one day, the Lightning Kid's parents would have to sacrifice their secure feelings and comfortable routines for new uncertainties - such is the nature of adventure.

Knowing this, however, does nothing to dull yearning for the past nor fear of the future.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Shark Boy Bedtime Stories - Sir Yaps-A-Lot

Inspired by a little boy who wouldn't let his father get a word in edge-wise.

Once upon a time, there were two knights: Sir Silent, and Sir Yaps-A-Lot.  They were summoned to the court of a King, who happened to have a lovely princess for a daughter.  The King told them of a nasty dragon who was terrorizing a village in the valley below the castle.  The knight who slew the dragon would be entitled to the dragon's treasure, a reward from the King, and best of all, he would be looked upon favourably by the princess.

Sir Yaps-A-Lot began to regale the King with tales of all the other times he had slain dragons, and the various battles he had fought in.  Sir Silent got on his horse and rode to the valley below.  When he got into the valley village, he could easily see smoke coming from a nearby forest.  He rode off toward it.

In the meantime, Sir Yaps-A-Lot had finally arrived in the village.  He asked every villager about how big the dragon was, what colour it was, what had it burned, and so on.  Sir Silent in the meantime, was getting a look for himself - he could see the dragon resting at the mouth of a cave.  He watched it from behind a tree and studied it well.  The dragon was covered in metallic scales - from the tip of his nose to the tip of its tail.  Sir Silent realized his sword could never penetrate the dragon's protective hide.

That was when Sir Yaps-A-Lot arrived.  Upon seeing the dragon, he loudly proclaimed how he could defeat any dragon, and went right back into the same set of stories he had told the King.  The dragon was amused by all this, and the loud knight had his undivided attention.

Sir Silent, however, had noticed a spot on the dragon where a scale was missing - the dragon had gotten an ouchie when it was very young, and the scales had never fully formed over the spot.  With Sir Yaps-A-Lot still yapping, Sir Silent went over to the dragon and poked it with his sword, right in its weak spot.  It fell over dead.

Sir Yaps-A-Lot began to complain about how unfair it was that Sir Silent had gone first, and began to yell and call Sir Silent names.  Sir Silent, on the other hand, gathered up the dragon's treasure and rode back to the King's castle.

Sir Silent was claiming the King's reward at the Castle, when Sir Yaps-A-Lot arrived.  He began to repeat his complaints about how unfair it all was to the King, while Sir Silent, in a rare bit of using his mouth, proposed marriage to the princess.  

Sir Silent and the Princess lived happily ever after.  And Sir Yaps-A-Lot is still Yapping.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Academy

Shark Boy had grown old enough to move on from the school that had not only cared for him since the age of one, but also welcomed the Lightning Kid, allowing and encouraging him to be his best, in lockstep with other, more typical children his age.  Shark Boy would need to be in a school that would begin teaching the more fundamental academics of reading, writing and such, and the King and Queen did not want them to have to be driven to locations far away from each other, and so an era was coming to an end.

In the year-and-a-half or so past, the King and Queen had tried to figure out the best choices for the education of both of their children.  They wanted Shark Boy to have as enhanced an education as possible, with an eye toward learning a foreign language.  There were schools that they could easily send Shark Boy to, yet they would not be able to accept the Lightning Kid if he was not in the same program, and he would be forced to go to the closest school.  The details are not important, what is important is that the King but especially the Queen knocked on many doors in the quest to find the right school for both children.  They ended up finding one that would welcome both boys with open arms.

Still, the King and Queen were nervous, since the Lightning Kid had not yet mastered... the elimination of bodily waste in the commonly accepted method.  Nor did they feel he would get through the day without a nap, so they opted to put him in a nearby care centre that was just down the road.  More on that in a moment...

The King and Queen worked all summer long to make Shark Boy both aware and comfortable with the change he would soon be encountering.  He would wear a uniform, stop taking naps and have more expected of him during the course of the day.  What was the most exciting though were the opportunities to learn, especially the chances to have some of his seemingly limitless questions answered.

He took to his new classes with gusto, and soon the usual dance of “Am I going to school today?” “Yes!” was capped off with a “Yay!” rather than the old “I DON’T WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL!”  His teacher was very kind and noticed how inquisitive he was.  He made friends within the class quickly and distinguished himself with his ability to learn (and sing) new songs.

When the Lightning Kid saw Shark Boy’s  new school on the first day, he didn’t want to leave.  Some anxiety at being separated from his parents was expected, but not how badly he’d miss his brother.  The drop-off at the place down the road was shaky the first day, there was no denying it, but they took such wonderful care of the Lightning Kid that by the second day he was acting like it had been his home away from home for most of his young life.

Shark Boy was always tired at the end of the school day, but what he wanted to do most when he got home, was play with his little brother.... and the feeling was mutual.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Interlude - Shark Boy's Bedtime Stories: The Witch and the Vampire

Putting small children to bed is a challenge in any family, whether you are dealing with princes like Shark Boy and the Lightning Kid or not.  While putting the Lightning Kid down to sleep had its own challenges, getting Shark Boy to settle down was a task that took its own magic.

Stories were read, and while the routine after lights out used to be lullabies, somehow the notion of being told stories had taken over, and the prince demanded new stories almost every night.  While the King was sometimes able to recall stories he had heard, seen or read before, and sometimes re-used elements from other stories with slight changes to make them new enough to Shark Boy, he occasionally was able to create new stories from scratch.  These could vary wildly in terms of the quality the King would be satisfied with, but some he considered at least passable.  It occurred to the King that he should record them, so that they wouldn't be lost in the fog of one man’s fading memory.

These stories will be recorded here.  If anyone else was to use them to entertain their own children, it would do nothing but delight the King.  This story is about a Witch and a Vampire (as requested by Shark Boy):

Once upon a time, there was a Witch named Alice, and a Vampire named Bob.  Alice said to Bob: ”It must be nice to be a vampire, you can turn into a bat anytime you want!”

Bob replied: “Sure, but you can fly around on a broom... I wish I could do that!”

“You can disappear in a puff of smoke! I wish I could do that!”

“You can brew potions and cast spells! I wish I could do that!”

“You have a great cape!”

“I wish I had a hat like yours...”

Suddenly, Bob got an idea.  “You know... I can turn you into a vampire.  All it takes is a good bite in the neck...”

“And I know a potion that could turn you into a witch!” replied Alice.  “Why don’t I brew it up now... and when it’s finished, you give me the bite, then drink it?”

They agreed this would be the plan, and Alice set to work on her potion.  When it was finished, Bob bit her on the neck and took a big gulp of the potion.  They began to transform.  Within a few minutes, there stood Bob the Witch and Alice the Vampire.

Alice practised turning into a bat and back again a dozen times. “What fun!” she exclaimed.
Meanwhile Bob flew loops on his new broom.  They passed several hours enjoying their new forms and the magical powers that came with them, but soon they found themselves hungry.

“Is there anything to eat around here?” asked Alice.  “Well... now that you’re a vampire, you’re going to have to find some blood to suck.”  replied Bob meekly.  “YUCK!” shouted Alice.  Bob explained: “It’s not always easy to find... you should start looking now so you can make it by sunrise.  I guess I don’t have to do that anymore.... What do witches eat?”

“Frog and lizard stew! It’s delicious!!” exclaimed Alice.  “YUCK!” shouted Bob.  “That’s disgusting.”  They were both quiet for a few minutes.

“Alice... do you think you could maybe... bite me in the neck?  I could show you how to do it... I think I liked being a vampire, more than I realized.”

“I think I’d rather be a witch too... it looks like there’s still some of the witch-transformation potion left in my cauldron.”

So Alice bit Bob, then drank the potion and they transformed back into their old selves.  The Witch and the Vampire lived happily ever after as best friends.

POSTSCRIPT: Shark Boy wanted the story to be scarier.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Conqueror on a Crocodile

From early in the year, Shark Boy had been swimming.  Visits to various lakes and pools had only strengthened his ability, and made him more Shark-like.  The arrival of summer meant regular visits to the Castle of Summer.  Seeing Shark Boy enjoy the water fully immersed brought joy to the King’s heart since the image was what he had always pictured for his family to enjoy being lakeside.  

The Lightning Kid enjoyed the water too, though maybe not quite as much as his older brother; he didn’t seem very willing to be carried into the deeper, colder water, but he was game for wading under his own terms.  Unfortunately, those terms sometimes meant tripping or being knocked over by a wave, which was a problem.

You might recall that the Lightning Kid had Tiny Titans placed in his ears, and their presence meant water had to be kept out (lest they drown!).  Lake water was especially suspect, since it could more easily lead to problems in the ear.  What the King and Queen didn’t know, is that the Titan of the right ear had long since departed, and the ear had become infected.  The Lightning Kid’s behaviour deteriorated in the middle of the summer, but without a fever to indicate anything, the ear infection went undetected for too long.

When a fever did appear, they took him to a healer who found that the eardrum had been perforated.  With medicine, the infection was cured, and the eardrum healed fairly quickly, but they were more determined than ever to keep water out of the ears.

There were ear plugs that could be used, but they would either fall out on their own, or be removed by the Lightning Kid.  A better suggestion proved to be a magic hat that looked like a piranha.  The Lightning Kid was not happy about wearing it at first (especially because it squashed his face)...

... but soon enough he associated it with water fun, and the King learned to put it on so that his face was less squashed, and it could be used to hold the earplugs in place (by covering his ears).

Still, the King sought to bring the Lightning Kid along on the aquatic adventures he could share with Shark Boy.  If he were to carry him into deeper water, the King did not feel fully confident of his ability to keep the prince's ears out of the water while swimming, even if he could carry him well enough to keep him generally safe.  They set out to tame and conquer a crocodile that the little prince could ride and keep his head well above water.

Once mounted, the Lightning Kid did a wonderful job of staying seated, holding on, and keeping his balance.  So much so, that the Lightning Kid, Shark Boy and the King were able to conquer a floating island.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Speed of Lightning

Due to his small stature, the Lightning Kid was sometimes mistaken for a much younger child.  The way people realized their error was usually seeing him run (though his climbing or socializing might occasionally tip them off too).  He could really move, one foot steadily in front of the other, no flailing.

The King and Queen were very proud, especially because research and conventional wisdom could tell them that less than 8 percent of children with his condition would run at his age.  Of course, royal pride carries a price.  When the little prince decided to head in his own direction away from his parents, it took a long, hard effort to catch him and bring him back into the fold - and quick reflexes were needed to minimize his head start.

Still this new development helped him play with his brother Shark Boy, though the Lightning Kid didn't seem to realize that he would be unable to catch up to his brother - when the latter was riding an iron steed. He was also able to run around and chase with other children.  

The best use of his new-found speed however, was to run races.   The King had been participating in runs through various forests, and the race organizers were always very kind in giving the youngest children a small race of their own to do too.

The Royal family had been to two races this season and one the season before.  In the year before, the Lightning Kid had been easily the youngest and though he gave a valiant effort, he needed to be carried for a good deal of the race by the Queen.  On the same course this year, he not only completed it by himself, but also didn't finish last!

The King had run that race with Shark Boy, who also did very well.  The success of that event gave the King the confidence and curiosity to trade roles with the Queen... at the next race she would run with Shark Boy, while the King would run with the Lightning Kid.

The Lightning Kid's arrival at the race site was heralded by a very important Princess.  The young prince was very interested in greeting anyone he could before the race.

It turned out he was also interested in greeting people during the race, and he found himself getting frustrated at seeing the rest of the racing children (including his brother) disappear into the distance.  This frustration culminated in a tantrum (or two) that only made him lag further behind.  Still, while other tantrums took other children right out of the running, a simple reminder of "Go, go, go!" was enough to keep the little prince moving.  The King took a wrong turn or two in leading him since they were unable to follow the crowd anymore, and there was also a fair bit of carrying going on, but the race was completed and one bystander remarked that the Lightning Kid had won the prestigious title of "cutest racer".

And of course, his many fans were not to be ignored.
Courtesy of
The King and Queen hoped that this would be the beginning of a long love of athletics for the Lightning Kid.  In the meantime, they would have to train to be able to keep up with him...

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Quest For Sleep And The King's Art of Rocking a Child To Sleep

All couples trade in the ability to get a good night’s sleep when they have children.  Before the Lightning Kid was born, it took Shark Boy 15 months to sleep through the night, and when he moved from a crib to a bed, he needed pillows on the floor for padding because he would flip and flop till he fell out.  Of the two princes, Shark Boy was the better sleeper.

The Lightning Kid had 3 angles of attack when it came to destroying sleep:

  • Not going to sleep in the first place.  Frequent wake-ups.  Waking up every 2 hours was not uncommon, and it could get as bad as hourly.
  • Trouble going back to sleep after a wake-up. Tactics include squirming, kicking and poking his parents in the face; these were also useful for the Lightning Kid when he didn't want to go to sleep in the first place.
  • Waking up early.  The Lightning Kid often woke up before sunrise and would not go back down, to the point where the effort to put him back down was longer than the time the Royal Family had before they would have to get up to start their day.  They could get him to sleep, only for him to toss and turn himself back awake again.  Half past five was the most common time for this.

For this last tactic, the King had formed a counter-strategy of taking him to his own bed.  Nestled in the crook of the King’s arm, the Lightning Kid squirmed less, and when he did, the King could arrest the movement so that he wouldn't wake.  While the King couldn't sleep this way, at least he could rest lying down, and it kept the castle quiet so the Queen and Shark Boy could continue sleeping.

Not from an early morning, but serves to demonstrate, nonetheless.

The King, in fact, had developed a whole art of putting his sons to sleep.  Rocking them to sleep was the key to the art, but there were a series of rules and axioms to the art which are codified below:

The King’s Rules for Rocking Unruly Babies and Toddlers to Sleep

  1. Calm thyself prior to beginning.  Thou art irritated at the necessity of this, but thou canst not impart calm on thy child without having it within thyself.
  2. Clear the bedding where thou wouldst put the child down.  Nothing is worse than having a sleeping child in thy arms and the space where the child should lie is occupied by a crumpled up blanket.
  3. Count.  Use an impartial measurement of time to evaluate how long thou hast been trying to rock the child to sleep.  It always seems longer than it is, and if twenty minutes of effort buys you two hours of sleeping child, that would still be a 6-to-1 return on investment, which would be a rich investment in financial terms, indeed.
  4. Lullabies can also be used not only as a means to calm the child, but also as a measurement of time spent (see 3.).  Thou knowest more lullabies than thou thinkest.  Twinkle twinkle Little Star, the ABCs, and Baa-Baa Black Sheep are all the same song - they can be sung in sequence for more continuity and boring the child to sleep.  Music boxes can also be used.
  5. Acquaint thyself with the layout of the room and have a clear exit strategy.  A darkened room is a boon for sleep, and when the child is finally sleeping, thou dost not want to trip on a piece of furniture or toy and spoil the entire effort.
  6. When the child is lying down, spend another few moments making sure they are settled.  Another minute with a hand on the back can make the difference between a sleeping child and re-starting the entire process if the child is prone to restlessness.

The Royals had pursued many avenues in the quest for better sleep.  A wonderful Lady from a faraway land had suggested a weighted blanket to minimize some of the more extreme tossing and turning, and it had been semi-effective but by no means a full cure.  They had consulted healers who suggested changes in diet and supplements might lead to better sleep (not to mention appetite and growth).   They had brought the Lightning Kid in for overnight study and observation; while this had been both an adventure and ordeal for the Queen and the Lightning Kid, the results were still not available as of this writing.

Finally, since he had turned two-and-a-half years old, the King and Queen decided to move him out of a crib, and put him on a mattress on the floor.  The Lightning Kid was no longer a baby, and the crib wasn't really doing them any favours in terms of helping him sleep.  The Quest for sleep would continue...

The crib is no more...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Royal Family Visit A Southern Clime

In the Royal Family’s Kingdom, and many, many others, it had been a long, long, long winter; too long for most, and complaints were heard roundly.  The coldest weather almost anyone could recall, very few sunny days, a plethora of snow, and overly frequent flu and cold illnesses had threatened to overwhelm sanity, which was hard enough to find in the Royal Castle even in the best of circumstances.

Luckily, the Queen had planned a trip to a warmer Southern clime well in advance, and all that remained was to endure the last days of winter until the departure date came.  The anticipation leading up to their departure, held no small measure of fear, however.  You see, as guests in the Southern land, they would share a room, and between the King’s snoring, the Lightning Kid’s frequent wake-ups, and Shark Boy’s rare nightmares the idea of rest and recuperation seemed far-fetched; the poor Queen was the only one who had nothing to contribute to the disruption of sleep, she was solely on the receiving end of such interruptions.

Travelling afar is an adventure, but adventure means adversity: dealing with the unknown, the misunderstood, and the sheer chaos of trying to impose the order required to board and remain seated on a giant flying machine with small children can threaten to overwhelm even the steeliest of nerves.  With reports of great sunny weather, and a burning desire to escape the winter, the Royal Family couldn't help but be a little optimistic nonetheless.

The departure started off right with a friendly coach ride to the port of flying machines.  The good luck seemed to hold as the procedure to get on board was short and quick.  The King and Queen could afford to be a little less apprehensive, since the Princes were fairly experienced flyers for boys of their age.  Well, didn't the boys prove their mettle? The flight was four hours long, and while they didn't sleep, they kept their noise and monkey business to a minimum.  The port of flying machines in the Southern Land allowed for a fairly quick disembarking, and the heat that the family had craved greeted them immediately.  They purchased snacks (at exorbitant prices) for the long chariot ride to what would be their vacation home: The Grand Palladium.

Luckily, the princes slept a little on the long chariot ride there (and it was magically cooled too!).  Disembarking from the chariot, they knew right away that some magic was at work, as they were greeted by large pink birds, and they spotted the first of many dragons.

There was so much to do and learn that the King and Queen were quickly flummoxed as to how to manage their room key, access to restaurants, towels and such.  Still, the fun was beginning! They encountered their second dragon, who lived under a rock near their vacation abode.  They named him Max, and would get to know his siblings well over the next few days, but at first, they wondered how come no one else marvelled at the proximity of such fantastical beasts.  Little did they know they were so common-place around there that they almost faded into the background after a while.


Max & Shark Boy

It was a wonderful environment to explore: the entire grounds were interspersed with little jungles called mangroves which not only played a role in maintaining the landscape against the forces of erosion from the nearby ocean, but they provided much needed shade, and a home for many other creatures.  They did, however occasionally stink, though generally at night, when it was harder to care.



And when it came to the night time, the King and Queen quite simply lucked out.  Walking around all day in the bright sunshine seemed to tire the Princes out to the point where they would go to sleep quickly and easily, and mostly stay that way.  As for the King, the sea air or something must have helped his breathing to the point where his loud snoring was subdued somehow.

As if all the walking around wasn't enough to tire out the princes, there were swimming pools, and water parks to explore.  Shark Boy demonstrated his newly-acquired ability to swim in the shallow children’s pool and would often request to be taken to the park with water slides and beasts that squirted water later on.

The Lightning Kid sometimes treated the water park with some suspicion, but loved being passed from the King’s arms to the Queen’s and back again while in the water.  Even better than the man-made pools, however, was the ocean.  This was where Shark Boy could really demonstrate how far he’d come in swimming.  The King was admittedly nervous watching him be tossed about by the waves; he stayed close by, but he also often had the Lightning Kid in his arms at the same time  While the waves changed the depth of the water from something Shark Boy could stand in to something he couldn't, his head always bobbed up like a cork and he’d smile (sometimes after a gasp for air).  Fun on the beach included racing into the water from the sand, building sand castles, sitting in shallow water and doing flutter kicks at the arrival of each successive wave and simply walking around greeting people.  

After a Face Plant

There were two ways to eat in this paradise: Buffet and A La Carte.  To the King and Queen’s surprise, the buffets had very high quality foods that often included authentic local flavours and a wide selection that allowed them to straddle the healthy and the desirable, even to the Prince’s tastes.  The Queen conquered a fearsome lobster at a Beach Barbecue.  When they tried to have romantic dinners at A La Carte venues, the results were mixed in terms of food quality and speed of service.

Queen vs. Lobster

A Romantic (but hasty!) Dinner before having to pick up the Lightning Kid

In order to have time away from their children, the King and Queen enlisted a ‘Mini-Club’ and ‘Baby-Club’ (for Shark Boy and the Lightning Kid, respectively) which was one of the main reasons they had come to this place for their vacation.  While Shark Boy had been initially resistant to staying there, comparing it to his “school”.  Eventually, as he noticed they did regular outings to the beach and water parks and made friends, he found it more agreeable.  The condition of leaving the Lightning Kid in the Baby Club was to be always nearby (the beach or pool), which nearly defeated the purpose of getting away for the King and Queen; or at least it would have if they obeyed that rule to the letter.  The caregivers were quick to call for the Queen if the Lightning Kid so much as mentioned the word ‘Mama’ so the King and Queen were limited in their ability to undertake any of their own endeavours, though a massage and a short underwater dive were the exceptions.

Chances to sail, try archery, other forms of pampering besides a massage had to be abandoned throughout their short stay, but the King and Queen were consoled by the fact that spending that much more time with their children would create memories (for both parents and children) that would outlast either the thrills or relaxation that the leisure activities could offer.

All too soon their time in the Southern Clime was over, and they had made new friends and great memories.  The trip home went as optimally as the trip there, yet still, it was a bittersweet homecoming, and they held on to the warmth gained from the trip as tightly as they could.