Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sibling comparison difficulties

An interesting little discussion followed my post about parsing out my sons' natural abilities. One commenter said that her two sons follow a similar pattern of the older one having the long attention span and the younger one being a more of a wildman (or at least a wildcard). (If that's not what you were saying, L, my apologies; assuming that's what you meant sets up this post nicely.)

The thing about comparing my two children who are four years apart i
s that they are four years apart. When we were expecting the child who turned out to be Teddy, we heard folk wisdom that whatever the first child was like, the second would be the opposite. In some ways, that feels true, but in others, they're actually very similar. But the age difference makes it pretty difficult to actually compare them. When I look at 3-year-old Teddy, I can't conjure 3-year-old Charlie very easily because I'm looking at and experiencing 7-year-old Charlie.

Sometimes, I actually get out the photo albums or videos we have of Charlie at Teddy's current age and try to jog my memory. When I looked at this picture of Charlie from the spring he was three and three quarters, I was struck by how chubby his little cheeks are. Obviously, he didn't always have zero body fat like he does now.

Why does it matter? Why do we compare siblings to each other? For one thing, our own children present the most accessible developmental milestones - "Now when exactly did Charlie learn his alphabet?" Because our boys are exactly four years apart (plus three weeks), they hit the holidays and seasons in a useful sync. For another thing, the older child's behavior gets to feel more predictable, and I think it makes us (me?) more impatient with a younger sibling who may be acting perfectly age appropriate (even if the behavior bears no resemblance to appropriate behavior). Finally, on the flipside of the first reason, I attempt to extrapolate from Teddy's personality now to how he'll act when he's Charlie's age. It lacks much predictive accuracy, but that doesn't stop me from doing it.

Mostly, the comparison game remains just a game. As a competent parent, I work hard to value each one as his own person with a unique set of likes and dislikes, tendencies and quirks. Of course, little brothers relating to big brothers as they do, kind of invite it. When Charlie puts on his Penguins jersey, guess what Teddy wants to wear? I'm just saying.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Recipe Improvisation: Mexican Baked Ziti

Although lots of people do, I don't really cook without a recipe. Since I went part-time and have been the primary cook in the family, my frequency of cooking and menu planning has helped me relax and see recipes as helpful parameters within which experimentation sometimes works.

Blah, blah, blah. What I actually want to say is that I found myself faced with some ingredients I needed/wanted to use and modified a recipe into something rather successful. While no one would call it a huge leap, the result satisfied me and my primary customers.

I had:
  1. Cottage cheese that was nearing its "use by" date
  2. Chorizo from a pretty new Mexican grocery/carniceria in one of our favorite Pittsburgh eating neighborhoods
  3. Fresh cilantro from the same.
I modified an Italian baked ziti recipe with sausage to use these ingredients. If I were doing it again, I might try to find some Mexican cheeses to substitute for the Italian cheeses I had on hand. Parmesan and Mozzarella were plenty yummy, but authentic cheese might make the dish more unique. Not that baked ziti needs a strict recipe under any circumstances, but the resulting recipe would look something like this:

2-3 T. olive oil
1 lg. onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. chorizo
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 C. dry red wine (I used cheap burgundy cooking wine)
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 T chili powder
1.5 T cumin (spice measurements very approximate)
1 C. cottage cheese
1 C. grated parmesan
1/3 C. chopped fresh cilantro
1 lb. ziti
1/2 lb. mozzarella, cubed

Preheat oven to 425. Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish. In a large skillet, heat about 2 T. olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and loose (not in casing) sausage, saute till sausage begins to brown. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drain fat if necessary. Add wine, let boil until almost gone. Add tomatoes. Cook uncovered, at lively simmer, for about 10 minutes. Sauce will thicken slightly. Add chili powder and cumin. In large bowl, mix cottage cheese, half the parmesan and cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, cook ziti til al dente. Drain well and toss with cottage cheese mixture. Add sausage and sauce and mix again. Add mozzarella and toss gently. Pour into baking dish and sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Bake uncovered till lightly browned and bubbling, about 20 minutes.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"You're a natural"

Recently, when a wily veteran of asking people do to things asked me to do something, she said "you're a natural". It worked. I said yes. It made me think about myself some and my kids more. My friend's tactic worked because I actually agree with her; she was asking me to lead a discussion group of my peers. Whether I'd go so far as to say I'm a "natural" at that, it's certainly in my wheelhouse now given my personal and professional experiences. If she'd been asking me to, say, file a tax form or play a flute solo, I'd have had firm arguments about my fit with the assignment.

Anyway, it started me thinking about activities at which I and others would label either of my kids a "natural". It's no simple coincidence that I threw The Natural movie poster (great movie, btw) into this post. I do think my Charlie has natural baseball hitting ability, and Teddy has thrown strong and straight since he was about 16 months old. But beyond that, what abilities will carry them into vocations and avocations?

It's probably too early to tell. Nonetheless, I can think of a few. They're both hams of the first order. Someday they'll find the gene for that, and a blood test of everybody from my dad's side of the family will show swollen ham genes. On a practical level, the fact that they're hams mean that they're both comfortable with people in a lot of different settings.

Charlie remembers people and notices them when we're out and about. From school or a summer camp or really any group of kids he participates in, he ends up knowing people and reconnecting with them. At a recent musical downtown, a seventh grader in the lobby said "Hi Charles". After greeting her, he told us about how she'd been a fifth-grader when he was in Kindergarten. This trait, by the way, probably descends from me. I - the perpetual new kid - probably developed it as a survival strategy: "that person was friendly to me once, and I know nobody else in this school".

Charlie also can focus intensely when he wants to. When he's reading a book he likes, good luck getting his attention. When he was 3 or 4, he'd entertain himself for hours playing with Thomas the Tank Engine. He has a car trance that (when I don't fear it) I envy. He just sits back there silent but awake while the miles stretch away on road trips.

Charlie's memory also enthralls even as it frightens. "Dad, remember last season when the Pirates beat the Reds 4-3 in that game where Matt Capps almost blew the save with two outs in the ninth?" Uh, no.

With Teddy, I wonder if frowning can be characterized as a talent. It's beyond a frown with him, though; it's the full double-eyebrow stinkeye. At three, it really is hard to spot talents that aren't physical. His mood does change extremely quickly and seemingly capriciously. When that means he's going from happy to blood boiling angry in a moment's time, this pattern presents challenges. When he snaps himself out of a funk into Sunny Jim with an equal lack of warning, it looks like a very useful ability to get over things quickly.

I look forward to their natural abilities manifesting themselves as they develop. With any luck, someone will tell them how good they are at something one day, and they'll think "You know, that's right. I am a natural."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Guest Book Reivew: All Abount Sam

Charlie, my second-grader, reads like crazy. This week, he eschewed the comics at breakfast to read All About Sam by Lois Lowry. Then he proceeded to giggle and snicker all the way through breakfast. Since he's a boy who reads a fair number of Pokemon books and Bone books and other graphic novels, I really enjoyed seeing him get into this book. Lois Lowry is, of course, a genius. I still remember being spellbound and touched to the core by A Summer To Die when I was maybe going into eighth grade. More recently, we had a terrific time as a family reading The Willoughbys, a more recently-published irreverent romp that both children and adults can enjoy.

In the video below, I interview Charlie about the book. Watching it, i realize that I have a determined inertness on camera that will prevent me from being a balding white male Oprah (a longtime personal ambition). But the boy reviewer is the star of this show.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sunday Haiku: Second Grade Spring Break

Spring Break sounds like fun,
but partway through, it feels like
too much Saturday.