Dante Month 37, 38, 39 and 40 (5/6/2006)
Mommy was proud of herself for being so nice and concise last time. The operative word being concise, not brief! There were so many things to write about and she figured everyone wanted to hear what they were, and not the endless details and running commentary. To her great surprise, several friends actually noticed the change and indicated they felt cheated of their Dante-Blog fix. She shamefacedly read and faced comments like “What happened?”, “Why so dry?”, “Where did all the usual humor go and where were all those tiny details that make it all worth actually reading the whole darn thing?” etc. Mommy’s only excuse was that it was an attempt to keep the text shorter for those who might actually read some of it if it were less verbose. Clearly, one cannot please all the people all of the time. But after a great deal of soul searching, Mommy has decided that she will aim to please those that matter to her and those who actually seem to read and enjoy what she has written thus far. And if time is at a premium, hopefully the captions and pictures will keep the rest of the population amused.

The first thing you will notice is that DanteWeb has moved to a real hosting site. Or actually, you shouldn’t really notice anything different in the way the site works, but things have been rearranged into a more logical chronology based upon years and not upon how much space was being used on our Earthlink account (10 MB per email address and the Hays family was running out of email addresses). Now, for about $40 a year, Dante has 1 GB of space!

After all the Christmas and Birthday hullabaloo died down, Dante returned to school and his usual plethora of activities and playdates with Misia, Agnieszka, Bobby, Taya and Radha. By this point Ciocia Tina was getting noticeably bigger around the middle and Dante kept asking when Baby Nicholas (Mikolaj) was going to arrive. He expected Baby Nicholas to arrive Dante-sized and ready to be played and wrestled with. Much to his surprise and dismay, Baby Nicholas finally arrived as the rest of us would expect… a baby. Dante is still getting used to the fact that Mommy likes to dance with Baby Nicholas (like she did with Dante). He is visibly jealous of the attention, but has decided that if he cannot beat the opposition, he can at least embrace it. Now when he runs over to get validation hugs from Mommy he simultaneously hugs Baby Nicholas, who seems to enjoy being with Mommy as long as he is not hungry. Ciocia Tina thus gets a few moments of respite. Through Ciocia Tina’s pregnancy and discussions in school about siblings, Dante began searching for his “family” and thanks to his buoyant imagination, has created for himself a “brother in Spokane” (presumably because he knows Daddy’s brother lives there) and numerous older sisters, whose names change daily.

With the search for the meaning of family and the school-initiated talk about Dr. Martin Luther King for MLK Day, Dante was introduced to the concept of death. He stunned Mommy somewhat when he began grilling her about who had died and who was alive. Although this was not the first time Lynette (Daddy’s mother) has been mentioned, this was the first time Dante seemed to understand that he actually has three grandmothers, one of whom is no longer alive. Of course when discussing the issue, Mommy tends to refer to people as “having died” or “no longer being alive” rather than “being dead”, so when he visited with Grandma and Grandpa and the conversation somehow turned to Great Grandpa Tom (Grandpa’s father) and Grandpa said that he wasn’t here anymore, Dante immediately asked “Is he died”?

Dante also vehemently declared to Baba Yaga that she was part of his family while being smothered in kisses and hugs in… Florida! Mommy and Dante “went on FOUR airplanes” (2 each direction) to see Baba Yaga at her condo in Lake Worth for almost two weeks. All four plane rides were characterized by typical Dante flirtation with whatever females appealed to him (the pretty ones, of course) when he wasn’t asleep. The return flight was a bit complicated by the fact that the first flight from Florida was delayed and Mommy and Dante’s itinerary was completely redone. Unfortunately this meant that on the last leg there were no adjacent seats available and Dante and Mommy had to sit apart for the first half hour while the flight attendants tried to make people feel guilty enough to trade their seat (everyone nearby had “a good reason”, which ranged from claustrophobia and needing to take valium to being 7 feet tall and not having enough leg room, etc to not give up their window or aisle seat). Finally a nice gentleman who “knew what it was like to fly with a 3 year old” (and was wearing a Microsoft jacket) got the ball rolling and set up a GRE logic problem so that everyone would end up mostly happy in the end. Dante was actually asleep through all of this and woke up between Mommy and the 7 foot tall African American gentleman who was clearly single and not so thrilled with the idea of sitting next to a 3 year old (but he got to keep his aisle seat). Dante of course found the pretty flight attendants much more entertaining and spent some time in the back of the plane sucking on ice cubes and telling the ladies about his adventures and scaring them with the threat of scorpions and lobsters (more on that later). Nevertheless, he did engage the gentleman in conversation and Mommy was relieved when the man informed her at the end of the flight that “that was a lot better than he thought it would be” and that she has “one smart little bugger for a kid”.

Upon their arrival in Florida, Baba Yaga wanted to show Dante everything. Mommy, on the other hand, was intending to use this vacation as a means of catching up on some much needed sleep. As a result, Baba Yaga naturally didn’t show Dante everything she intended to, and Mommy didn’t get quite as much sleep as she would have liked, but in the end, both were mostly satisfied. Dante was thrilled with the new experiences and constantly wanted to know “what’s next”, “what’s after this”, and would wake up groggy in the morning and start asking “where are we going today?” Dante enchanted Baba Yaga’s neighbor and liked to run off to her apartment “to talk to Ciocia Ina”. He exhausted Baba Yaga with his endless energy, running around, climbing and jumping off of furniture, and boyish yells. Baba Jaga, used to her “good quiet little girl that ran like clockwork and was capable of occupying herself on her own” was a bit at a loss about how to control this high maintenance category 5 hurricane, but stepped up to the task with formidable determination. As to who was more persistent, you will probably get a different answer depending upon whom you ask!

Since the sun was quite strong in Florida, and Dante has already begun to show signs of freckling, Mommy was naturally insistent upon making sure Dante was smothered with SPF 60 every few hours. Dante did not enjoy the application process at all, so Mommy had to threaten him with “turning into a red lobster”. Dante had no idea what a lobster was and when Mommy explained it was an animal that looked a little bit like a scorpion, but bigger, Dante was determined to find a lobster. Dante’s fascination with scorpions began at the Pacific Science Center and has continued over the last few months. The thought of discovering something similar to his favorite animal plagued his little mind. As luck would have it, there was a fresh seafood store not two blocks away from Baba Yaga’s condo. On a whim, the three adventurers entered the store in search of clam chowder (Dante’s favorite soup) and found a giant tank filled with lobsters. But to Dante’s great dissatisfaction, these lobsters were, of course, not red. Dante accused Mommy of trying to trick him, so Mommy explained that lobsters only turned red after they are cooked and that it takes a long time. Dante watched the bubbling tank for a while and then the trio left on some other adventure. But every time they left the condo, Dante wanted to look at the lobsters and he would stare and stare at the tank. The lobsters were mostly motionless, though alive, so Mommy could not fathom what was so interesting about them. Dante calmly stated that he was waiting for them to cook since the water was boiling and that he wanted to see them when they turned red!

Aside from numerous visits to the beach and downtown Lake Worth, where there was a Street Painting Fair one weekend, Dante, Mommy and Baba Yaga also visited the Palm Beach Zoo, where Dante was most excited to feed the egrets, ride the carousel, and zoom around pushing his stroller along the many winding paths. Baba Yaga was intent on showing Dante some flamingos, but Dante had other plans and ran off. Due to the twisty-turny-branching nature of the paths Mommy and Baba Yaga soon declared Dante to be lost (though who was actually lost is debatable) and began to panic. Dante found them in due course, received a thorough tongue lashing for running off and earned himself a time out which meant he was confined to his stroller for 5 minutes while Mommy and Baba Yaga looked for the flamingo area. Bemoaning his predicament to amused passersby, Dante yowled “but I’m not in the MOOD to see flamingoes!”

After the zoo, the adventures continued at the South Florida Science Museum. Although not nearly as big or entertaining as the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, this museum had one thing the Science Center didn’t have. Its main exhibit was called Maze-A-Palooza. Since late January, Dante has been obsessed with mazes of all kinds. Mommy has recently found herself scouring the Internet for mazes, printing them out, and watching Dante as his maze techniques have evolved. Dante now has two basic maze paradigms. The first is the traditional draw a line between walls and get from the “start” to the “exit”. When he first began doing these, he would sit and stare at the maze for a minute, finding the way through with his eyes. Then he would pick up a writing implement (in his left hand!) and proceed to very carefully avoid all of the correct directions in the maze, finding all the dead ends, and then he would finally choose the correct direction when all the other avenues had been exhausted. Upon filling up the entire maze he would declare “Mommy, this maze has [insert correct number] dead ends”. This went on for a few weeks. Soon Dante began to realize that the dead ends were not quite as exciting as they used to be (he enjoys pointing out “Dead End” street signs too) and he then adopted a new method of doing mazes in which he would stare at the maze until he figured out the way through, and then would simply draw a line from beginning to end, omitting all the dead ends. That went on for a few weeks. In his current approach, Dante has abandoned all cogitation with respect to the task and he simply picks up a marker and starts drawing. It now takes him about 20 seconds to complete a maze with about 2 detours on average in which he was simply not able to think ahead of himself fast enough to predict the dead end.

Perhaps it was the mazes that also inspired Dante to start actually writing. He seems to have converged upon using his left hand to handle all writing implements. Remembering how painful it was to make Valentine’s Day cards last year, Mommy decided to start early this time. She began cutting out construction paper hearts in late January and hoped that by decorating at least one or two each day, Dante would finish his “homework” in time for the school Valentine’s Day party. Needless to say, Mommy was quite silly for making such a fuss, since all the other Moms just bought pre-made cards. Nevertheless, after the first two cards or so, Dante decided to dedicate a card for his friend Nova. Then he thoughtfully turned to Mommy and asked “but how will my friend Nova know this Valentine is from me?” Mommy told Dante that they would write his name on the back of each card so that it would be clear. Dante looked mildly perturbed and said “Show me, Mommy”. So Mommy proceeded to find a marker and demonstrate the procedure on the back of a card. Dante reached for his card to Nova and said “Mommy, go away!” After chastising him for his over authoritative style, Mommy did indeed go away and left Dante to his own devices. A few minutes later, Dante handed her a heart… with his name written on it (in chalk, of all things!) on three separate lines, but readable. He was still holding the chalk, so as he handed it to Mommy, the chalk made one more additional line, adding a bit of confusion to the text, but not obliterating it. Sorry Nova, Mommy decided to keep this Valentine for herself!!!

Apparently Mommy found a dead end and needs to back up a bit. The second basic maze type that Dante adores is one in which he takes a marker and simply starts somewhere and draws what most people would probably consider scribbles. He does this quite deliberately and draws loops in what can only be described as a “kinetic fashion” because you can see his body twisting and turning as if he is living the “roller coaster” of the line as he draws. He makes a very sharp and fast “exit” and then requires Mommy or Daddy to “do the maze”. This means the adult must take a marker of a different color and “follow” Dante’s marker across the page from the start point to the exit. He watches intently with his fists tight and his face red. He is thrilled when the adult proclaims they are lost and tries to reroute them. And he announces his approval and pride when the maze has been “completed” with phrases such as “I’m so proud of you” and “Good job”, and “You win a ribbon” or “You win a gold star”. Naturally, as the mazes grew more complex and harder to follow, Mommy and Daddy were frequently at a loss as to where they should begin and where they should end. So, Mommy suggested that Dante mark these extremely important points. So Dante began to write “Start” and “Exit” near what could be construed as discontinuities in the muddle. For some reason he did not like Enter or Finish, though Mommy has been trying to impose upon him the linguistic parallelism of Start/Finish, Enter/Exit and Begin/End. Most recently, he expressed frustration with the fact that writing the word “Start” took up so much space that it frequently interfered with the maze itself. Coming up with his own solution, he now writes In and Out, instead!

Speaking of linguistics, Dante’s Polish continues to deteriorate, though perhaps not as badly as Mommy thinks, for he has begun asking her for the meanings of words in the Polish songs he loves to listen to. He has, on the other hand, learned how to say please and thank you in Russian, and is thus under the impression he’s mastered that language. For some reason he feels he only “speaks Polish a little bit” but that he “knows Russian”, much to the great mirth of their Russian friends Dana and Taya, whom they’ve been spending more and more time with as they live so close by. Another friendship Dante and Mommy hope will continue to evolve is with Dante’s friend Aaron from school (and Aaron’s Mom Deb and older brother Max) who it turns out live 5 minutes away. Deb is a firm believer in letting the boys run outside until they drop if they need to get their aggressions out and as such Dante has discovered the amazing joy of chasing and being chased nonstop for hours. He was also incredibly surprised to find that when he toppled Aaron to the ground the event was greeted not with typical female shrieks, disdain, or melodrama, but instead, with great laughter. Now whenever he goes to the park he runs around like a madman yelling “Chase me, chase me” at the top of his lungs until someone obliges. Unfortunately both Aaron and Max go to school full time every day, so it has been difficult to match schedules, but with the summer coming soon, hopefully the boys will be able to be boys.

But being a boy and not a toddler has its own set of responsibilities and mile markers. Dante has moved up to a “big boy car seat” and now can strap himself in with some difficulty (and unstrap himself in 2 seconds flat). He can reach the sink handles to wash his hands all by himself. He is required to participate in the chores of gathering garbage cans on garbage night. And of course, the ever important male-validation-event, Dante now almost exclusively uses “the standing up potty” unless he has more serious matters to attend to. While usually a good boy about shutting the top lid after he is done, Mommy still has issues with Dante’s forgetfulness about lifting the middle section of the toilet and the resulting drips. He is required to “clean his messes”.

And messes are pretty much… everywhere. Dante has taken to doing “experiments” with toy mixers, blenders, measuring cups, bowls, measuring spoons and all sorts of cooking ingredients usually enhanced with food coloring. He discovered that oil does not mix with water, that instant coffee dissolves in cold water but non-instant coffee does not, that adding sugar to pretty much any concoction makes it taste good, that plastic mixer blades don’t work on ice, but that metal ones do, and that adding salt to anything he is planning on drinking usually ruins it. One day he found a pie tin in a cabinet, took it to the spice rack and proceeded to open all of Mommy’s spices and pour just a tiny bit (amazingly enough) of each spice into the tin. After mixing everything together dry, he started adding various liquids (water, milk, oil, juice) to the spice mixture in various cups and bowls. Mommy has tolerated these invasions into her kitchen with amusement and she chuckles to herself every time Dante says he’d “like to do an experiment”. Recently Mommy took things into her own hands and together they made their first real cooking experiment: a cake! Dante read the instructions on the box and told Mommy how many eggs, how much water, etc, was needed. Mommy did the egg cracking. Dante did pretty much everything else including the pan greasing, the color picking (can you guess what color the frosting was required to be????), the mixing, the pouring, the bowl licking, and the final decorating - he chose to use the cookie decorating kit Mommy had received from Grandma Sandy a couple years ago, where he had to try almost every type of sprinkle, but then dismissed everything once he discovered the red-hots. Dante had picked a lemon flavored cake, so Mommy’s only real contribution was that she added lemonade concentrate to the frosting and both Dante and Daddy agreed it was a fabulous idea.

Detouring a bit, on April 17th, Dante came home from school and calmly declared that he has a new favorite color: purple. A few days later it was blue. He has most recently changed back to green, but apparently he is still “trying on different colors” and says he “likes to change his mind”. Dead end.

Dante, well indoctrinated by his dental hygiene unit in school, of course noticed that the cake contained sugar. He now frequently asks if something he is eating has sugar in it, because he has developed a rather hilarious aversion to “sugar bugs”, a concept introduced to him on a school field trip to the dentist’s office. He insists that he should go brush his teeth after eating sugar-filled substances. He also promises to brush his teeth when he is denied sugar-filled substances because he thinks that Mommy and Daddy are afraid of the sugar bugs destroying his teeth. Mommy and Daddy have been attempting to provide him with other reasons for not being able to have candy. With only mild success. Having said that, Dante actually refused to take a tic-tac (which he really likes) from a gentleman on an airplane on the way back from Florida because he didn’t have his toothbrush on the plane and he didn’t want to get any sugar bugs on his teeth! He also loves to floss. Actual teeth brushing didn’t always go as smoothly as Dante refused to spit and was getting more and more squirmy. Recently Daddy gave birth to yet another character (and he claims he doesn’t have a creative bone in his body!) called The Toothbrush Man, who is converging upon being an Australian/English bloke, who has discovered a way to ensure that every nook and cranny is scrubbed thoroughly at night, including the tongue. Dante brushes reasonably well by himself in the morning but is still generating more chewed toothbrushes than is affordable.

Candy and Ice cream are a favorite treat and are thus quite useful for bribery of all types. Strangely enough, they have also become great mathematical teaching tools. Mommy purchased a Scholastic Book Club game called “Ice Cream Math” (for 5+ year olds) for which Dante has a great fondness. On April 7th, Dante’s previous memorization of a few addition problems suddenly turned into full fledged finger addition. He began to spontaneously pose addition problems to himself and then solve them using his fingers and toes. He even came up with problems involving multiple groups of numbers (such as 5 + 5 + 1 + 1).

So while arithmetic took a leap forward, reading took a bit of a back seat for a while. Since it is primarily a bedtime activity now, Dante was frequently too tired to read on his own at night and just wanted to be read to. When it is Mommy’s turn to do the bedtime ritual, she insists Dante read at least all the English words in one book. Dante discovered a way to circumvent the requirement by searching out only Polish books for her to read to him. Torn between the desire to increase his intake of Polish and the desire to improve his reading skills, Mommy opted for the Polish for a while. Clearly, Dante felt pressured in the reading department. This was mostly due to the introduction of the sh, ch and th letter pairs. He had a hard time remembering which is which and frustrated both himself and Mommy when he mixed them up. After a couple of weeks of frustration and loss of desire to read, Dante renewed his interest when Mommy created a new routine: Mommy reads one “hard” book and then Dante reads an “easy” book, repeat until Dante can’t read any more because he is too tired. This usually results in Dante reading 2 or 3 entire Scholastic Sight Word or Phonics books (Clifford or Dora) each night it is Mommy’s turn. His progress has been quite amazing. In addition to reading stories, Dante has shown an interest in story-telling. Since his imagination is active non-stop, Daddy has chosen to add a new twist to the bedtime ritual by giving Dante a choice between reading the last book and being told a story that Dante “directs”. Eager to inspire his son with tales in which Dante’s “alter ego” is a participant, Daddy has created a cast of leading men whose first name is Max (since Dante’s middle name is Maximillian). Their last names determine their archetypes and type of story one can expect. So far, Daddy has introduced Max Velocity, Max Veritas and Max Anonymous. Max Analysis, Max Venue and Max Entropy are planned to be released sometime in the summer of 2006.

Speaking of releases, Dante attended his first full length feature film at the theater with Mommy and Daddy on April 8th. He sat through Ice Age 2 with only one potty break in the middle. When questioned about his favorite part of the movie, he replied “The Fish Monsters” with great gusto. When questioned about his favorite characters, he replied “The Fish Monsters” with even more conviction. Of course, while “The Fish Monsters” were actually on screen, Dante’s head was usually buried in Mommy’s chest. Go figure. Dante also saw The Wiggles with Grandma and Grandpa, and Rumplestiltskin at the Kirkland Performance Center with his school.

As for other passive activities like television, Dante has completely abandoned Dora and Blue. His Diego and Little Einstein phase was quite brief. It was followed by a mild interest in Little Bear and total infatuation with Franklin which lasted several months. In Florida, Dante was introduced to the concept of live television. In other words: you can’t record a show and make a show selection at any moment in time, you can’t pause to go potty, you can’t play the same show over and over again, and you can’t skip the 10 minutes of commercials at the end of every show! He did, however discover Dragon Tales and now frequently chants “pee bee esss kids dot org” for no apparent reason. On a recommendation from a Kindermusik Mom, Mommy decided to record the Backyardigans. Franklin has been mostly abandoned and now Dante is obsessed with the musical/dancing/imaginative/adventurous creatures. We’ll see how long this one lasts.

But in general, Dante prefers to be active. Whether it is running outside, climbing every park structure he can, jumping on Taya’s mattress, hiking through the woods, or just taking walks to the mailbox, Dante lives in a state of almost perpetual motion. His favorite class by far is his dance class. He even considers going to dance class a reward for good behavior, and has frequently asked Mommy things like “If I am a good boy and don’t [do whatever naughty thing is currently on his mind] can I go to dance class afterwards?” Even if he doesn’t always participate as obediently as he should in class, he then brings his “moves” home and practices them with the CD player. He has finally accepted the need for the existence of slow and soft music beyond that of “needing to catch his breath” and has started gliding, turning around slowly and tip toeing with an assortment of hand motions. He invents and names new moves and positions such as the “split splat” and the “whip spin”, and his dream is to perfect a pirouette (which of course he thinks he already has). But fast and loud music with a good beat is still his favorite. He was thrilled when for Grandma’s birthday he was able to pick 50s music on Grandpa’s jukebox and dance with Grandma and Grandpa until they all were ready to collapse (some earlier than others). Most recently he constantly asks for Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (“the bump bump bump ... BUMP song”) and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker in the car!

At Bobby’s Mom’s suggestion, Jean, Mommy decided to join yet another Mom’s group: the Eastside Moms Club. They meet regularly on Thursday morning at all kinds of venues and do many different things together. For example, Dante was able to pet a Chinchilla at the Denny’s Pet World tour. He watched and ran after thousands of bubbles created by the Bubbleman, and he explored the inner workings of the Woodinville Fire Station. The EMC even held its own Easter Egg hunt, which Dante enjoyed in addition to the other 3 hunts he attended: one at school, one at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and one at home.

And for a few more laughs, here are some examples of recent conversations:

While eating dinner…

After Ciocia Marzena’s Birthday Party, the following conversation occurred in the car:

And on and on and on…

It has become obvious even to Mommy that she has as usual over compensated and that this Journal is insanely too long. She is distressed that she has forgotten many important occurrences and details, but perhaps the rest of the events of the last 4 months will simply have to be left up to the imagination of the reader.