Learning Tower

Historically, Griffin has been quite the helper in the kitchen. Well, maybe helper isn’t quite the right word; maker-of-messes-and-interested-in-doing-whatever-I’m-doing-in-the-kitchen…helper. He’s also a monkey and climbs on everything and anything, and while his sense of balance is really quite amazing, he’s had a few tumbles in the kitchen off of chairs and step stools that have made me think that this nifty invention called a Learning Tower is just what we need. Basically, it’s a sturdy platform with railings on all sides that enables Griffin to get to counter height to watch and help without me worrying, in addition to making sure he doesn’t touch the hot stove, sharp knives, glasses, coffee maker, toaster, etc., that he’ll fall off a wobbly step stool or chair. We have the room for one in our kitchen now and I’ve been coveting one ever since I found out that they exist. Only thing is, they cost over $200.

Enter Grandpa Jeff.

My dad’s a handy guy. I have lots of memories of making things with him, and while I wasn’t totally into the graph paper and Pythagorean theorem, I did enjoy making things and felt a lot of satisfaction out of the many projects we’ve done together. I mentioned the Learning Tower to him on a recent visit, and he thought he could tackle the project sometime this summer. A quick “DIY Learning Tower” Google search turned up a surprising number of plans, many of which seemed even better than the original. I was psyched to know we’d soon have one for Griffin to climb on!

Well, Grandpa Jeff came by our house today on his way Up North and had a surprise for us in the back of his car: a handmade learning tower! He said he just couldn’t wait until summer to make it and knew that Griffin would put it to good use immediately. Griffin knew exactly what to do with it and climbed up to do a little dance on the platform. We are both so excited to use it and I am grateful to have such a handy (and thoughtful) dad, Pythagorean theorem and all.

Griffin watches "Grm-pa" use the drill to attach the last of the legs.
A little snack for all the hard work.
"Yippie! I can reach the sink!"
Griffin dances on his new tower.

Winter is Underrated

We’re in the dregs of winter these days—below freezing most nights, relatively warm most days with rain more frequent than snow.  Additional snow, which we expect, has lost its ability to intimidate (unless you live in a flood zone).  Our formerly unassailable snowpack is melting daily, revealing bedraggled lawns, silty sidewalks and forgotten snowman accessories.  It’s messy, wet, and muddy.  The remaining snow (of which there is still a good bit) is crusty and dingy gray.

As much as I am looking forward to the beauty and warmth of spring and summer, I will truly miss winter.  It feels like sacrilege to say this around here (where everybody is completely sick of it), but I loved the snowy coldness of it all.  My pre-dawn walk to work in the bitter cold has been one of my most treasured times of day.  For one thing, it is stunningly beautiful outside.  It is dark, but the snow reflects so much light that it never feels gloomy.  After a fresh snowfall, everything is white, even the middle of the street.  All the urban grime is replaced with glittering silver.  As I trudge through the sidewalk canyons, flanked by thigh- or shoulder-high snowbanks, my inner geek goes wild: I’m listening for Mr. Tumnus in Narnia or avoiding storm troopers on Hoth.  (Little do my students know that “Mr. Roy” regularly takes out imperial AT-ATs with his lightsaber before school.)  If I’m lucky enough to catch the moon still up, I get the visual treat of moonlight through ice-limned branches—the light refracts in such a way to make the straight branches look like they bend to encircle the moon.

On these walks I am often surprised by how life-affirming this dead time of year is.  No matter how dark and cold it is, there are always rabbit prints in the snow ahead of mine, and often the rabbits themselves.  What do they eat?  I have no idea. Then, as the eastern stars fade away, the birds start emerging.  That just boggles my mind—how is it possible that the tiny, delicate things don’t freeze solid overnight?  But they’re out, chirping happily and heading to their favorite birdfeeders.  Cool.

Then there’s the cars-as-ballerinas effect.  To understand this you need to understand that I don’t like cars.  I think they are great tools, and I can appreciate (I suppose) a particularly well-designed automobile, but for the most part I hate them.  They are dirty, noisy, and usually in my way.  This is true whether I’m in a car or on foot, but as a pedestrian they are especially annoying because they are so much more dangerous and so much less respectful.  Winter helps with this on a number of levels.  First of all, drivers are all freaked out.  The roads are terrible.  It’s tough getting out of your driveway, not to mention managing to stop at a light or start again afterwards.  Everybody is sliding every which way and their confidence is shot.  (Forgive me for getting a bit of amusement out of this.)  Add to that the fact that the snow and my layers of scarves and hats also dampens sound.  Put together the combination of slow driving, relative silence, lights reflecting off the snow, and the oddly graceful slip-sliding of tires and you have a transformation of the banal reality of winter traffic into an ethereal ballet.  I kid you not: I have been stopped in my tracks by the silent beauty of oncoming headlights through the snow.  (That is until I have to cross a street, when beautiful or not, they revert back into me-hunting demons.)

Finally, on some days it is just about sheer survival.  On the very coldest mornings, when windchills have dropped into the negative 20s or worse, I’m not thinking about lightsabers or birds or ballet, I’m just focused on making sure my eyes don’t freeze shut and watching where I put my feet so I can get to school as quickly as possible.  Arrival, under these circumstances, feels like a victory.  And that’s not a bad way to start a schoolday.

Not quite a gamer yet…

Griffin loves going through the cabinet of board games in the basement. He dumps out the cards, plays with the dice, buzzes the buzzers, and wreaks havoc on the box corners. While he was doing this today, he started playing with a die from some game that had colors on each face. My gamer instincts kicked in and I thought, “We could actually PLAY a real game together… something with colors… he knows colors, and he kinda gets rolling the die.” So I came up with a few possibilities involving various collections of colored objects that matched the colors on the die. I wasn’t sure exactly what we would do, but something like “roll the die, then put the green thing into the box.” Not super sophisticated, but it would be a real game — with rolling dice. Yay!   (Of course we already play lots of great games together — making faces, hide-and-seek, knocking towers of blocks down, etc. — but they are a different sort of game than the type with dice and moves.)

Griffin was thrilled that I was getting into it with him, but I think the logic of die-rolling or multiple steps of play still evades him. After a while, I could see the look on his face, “Daddy, why are you messing up my game???” So I let him get back to stomping on the boxes and folding up all the cranium cards. But soon, soon, he’ll be ready for the next step!