Dante Month 46, 47, 48, and 49 (2/3/2007)
The Pacific Northwest has been ravaged by apocalyptic weather over the last few months. While October was still somewhat peaceful, the beginning of November brought weeks of rain and flooding. The Hays home was an island among rivers and lakes of muddy waters. Daddy was stranded at work one night despite attempting a multi-hour circuitous drive via back roads that only led to dead end after dead end. Despite the high ground at home, the gutters were simply not designed for such torrential downpours and water pooled in through the front door, drowning the front hall in several inches of water. Mommy valiantly tried to stop the leaks and discovered that what she thought were “too many” towels actually came in handy. Dante “helped” too, contributing whatever towel-like material he could find in the linen closet, with some less amusing substitutions such as Mommy’s beautiful Polish table cloths. Going to school proved to be impossible, as Mommy drove down the hill, turned north to Monroe, and found herself suddenly stopped in front of a lake crossing the highway. The highway south to Duvall was similarly blocked. Dante was not happy to be deprived of all of his activities.

A great deal of damage was done to the homes and properties of friends and surrounding neighbors, and many cattle were in danger of spontaneously developing gills. However, there is always a positive aspect to minor disasters. Unable to communicate with Mommy while driving and in danger of getting stuck in mud or worse while driving in the dark, Daddy concluded that it was time to improve upon his Luddite lack of cell phone. After aborting the attempt to get home, he promptly drove to the mall and purchased new phones and plans. Now, of course, he can read his work email while stuck in traffic on the drive home! Dante, quite capable of calling Baba Yaga and Daddy on the phone now, (using up minutes with idle chatter!) will probably need his own phone sooner rather than later.

Dziadzi came for a short visit right before Thanksgiving, which was spent at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Dante eagerly took Dziadzi to school with him on “bring a special person to school day”. Apparently there was a bit of confusion when Mrs. Dean asked Dante if Dziadzi was his Grandpa. Dante answered “No, he is my Dziadzi” then carefully explained that Dziadzi was his Mommy’s Daddy. Mrs. Dean tried to convince him that meant Dziadzi was his grandfather, but Dante insisted she must be kidding.

Just as the waters receded, the roads reopened, and life threatened to put on a semblance of normality, the end of November brought the first snow. Those of you in Poland and in New England scoff at anything less than a couple feet of snow. But here in the Pacific Northwest, anything over 2 inches causes the entire area to shut down due to a combination of steep hills and nobody owning snow tires. Snow plows from as far away as Montana were appropriated for the roads. There weren’t enough for the High Rock area, though, which was covered with about 6 inches, and Mommy, Daddy, and Dante were trapped at home for several days. Snow, as everyone knows, is quite different than rain when it comes to children. While Mommy and Daddy moaned about slippery ice, dangerous roads, downed trees, destroyed plants and broken structures, Dante found himself enjoying sledding, snowball fights, snow angels, making tracks in the snow, and typical childish delights. Most everyone thought it was the end of the weird weather.

The beginning of December threw everyone into a pre-Christmas panic. Mommy was still ill at ease about the weather, so she decided to get a tree early. Dante helped decorate well into the night. He was determined to see the task through to completion, as he was told that at the end he could place candy canes on it to his heart’s content. Dante and Mommy also went to see the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker with Taya, Dana, and a bunch of friends from Duvall Performing Arts. This year Dante could hum most of the music as he had been dancing to it in preparation for the Nutcracker tea at DPA. Dante and Mommy(!!!) both performed, and Grandma and Grandpa came to chuckle through the Sunday performance. Afterwards, Santa Claus arrived to congratulate the children on doing a fine job and was eager to hear what they dreamed about getting for Christmas. Dante, who refused to be in the same room with Santa Claus the year before, was the last child to finally agree to sit next to Santa. As the poor terrified Dante spoke with great reverence to Santa, Mommy and Daddy watched him clutch and wring his hands, visibly distraught. Later, after leaving, Mommy asked Dante why he hadn’t wanted to sit on Santa’s lap and only agreed to sit next to him. Dante’s response was “Because I only feel comfortable sitting on laps that belong to my family”. Clearly, Santa belonged in the “stranger” category.

Two weeks into December, Mommy and Dante drove to Agnieszka’s house after gymnastics class. As Mommy and Ciocia Tina tried to phone each other, lightning strikes kept dropping their connection, and sheets of rain made visibility impossible. Dante found the rhythm of the rain, the whooshing of the wind and the rocking of the car relaxing and promptly fell asleep while Mommy tried to ascertain if the trees around Ciocia Tina’s house would bend or break and fall on the car. The power flickered on and off several times as she watched. Ciocia Tina finally arrived, after being stuck in traffic for two hours, and the storm seemed to have abated. After a short visit, Mommy and Dante headed home, only to find that many roadways were covered with water. Vehicles stood abandoned at onramps to Hwy 405. Several small cars bravely attempted to drive through water-filled streets and Mommy watched in horror as they simply stopped, their engines waterlogged. Never having driven through waters of this height before, Mommy was a nervous wreck, but somehow, with a few detours along the way due to “Road Closed” signs, they made it home, though the normally half hour drive took over an hour. And just as they made it onto Rimrock Road, the lights on both sides of the road went out.

That night Daddy managed to get the generator running without any problems, but the next morning it refused to start. Convinced that “in civilization” things would be more normal than in the middle of nowhere, Daddy, Mommy and Dante drove towards Redmond for Mommy’s photo facial and Dante’s FasTracKids class. Their first obstacle was the giant tree lying across the road just past their driveway at the bottom of the hill. Thankfully, someone had chainsawed a section of it so a car could just barely squeeze through. Snapped power lines were lying across the road everywhere. There were many such trees on the way down to Highway 203. Several still had not made it all the way to the ground, poised on top of power lines that had somehow managed to sustain their wet weight.

Driving towards Duvall, Mommy discovered there was no cell phone signal. Anywhere. And traffic was crawling as town after town had no functioning streetlights (every intersection was treated as a 4 way stop). Needless to say, neither Mommy’s photo facial nor Dante’s class occurred. They drove even to Bellevue, hoping for signs of power. There were none. The malls were closed. They even witnessed a car accident as someone did not pay attention at an intersection and drove right through without stopping. And then they noticed that even the gas stations were closed, and those that had emergency power were so busy that the lines of cars were reminiscent of gas shortage times in the 70s. After spending 5 hours in the car looking for food and gas (Daddy noted they could have driven to Spokane for breakfast in that amount of time), the tired family drove to their cold home, in which the fridge could not be opened, toilets could not be flushed, and showers could not be taken, but which thankfully had a wood stove to keep everyone warm through the night.

The next day (Saturday), Daddy, Mommy and Dante decided to head north. Surprisingly, Monroe was in considerably better condition than the southern cities. Lines for gas were only about 20 minutes long, and Denny’s had power. So did the movie theater! After dropping off the non-cooperating generator at a repair shop, getting gas, going to their previously scheduled annual Hays family eye doctor appointments, eating a warm meal, and picking up a hopefully functioning generator, Daddy, Mommy and Dante went to see "Charlotte’s Web”. Dante enjoyed the film, but it was a bit long for him. On Sunday, the family spent most of the day clearing their driveway of branches. The burn pile was 7 feet tall. They had dinner in Monroe again, and this time went to see "Happy Feet", which had Dante dancing in the aisles.

When power returned on Monday night, Dante was ecstatic, but for weeks would continue to ask if it was ok to flush the toilet. Various friends in Duvall were even more unlucky, as it took almost a week to restore power there. But on Wednesday, Mommy went down to the basement and discovered that a pipe had broken and that the basement was filled with water. The plumbers were scheduled to arrive on Friday morning, though they were late. This turned out to be a good thing, as once again the power went out for about 6 hours.

Baba Yaga arrived amidst the powerless-waterless chaotic pre-Christmas pre-birthday madness. Somehow she survived that last power outage and spent a whole day preparing Wigilia (Christmas Eve dinner) with Mommy and Dante, who enthusiastically helped make pierogi. After sacrificing only a few of Baba Yaga’s Polish Catholic standards for the benefit of her son-in-law (who dislikes both cabbage and mushrooms in any form), Wigilia was a joyful evening filled with Christmas music, traditional Polish Catholic wafer-sharing, beautifully presented new tastes for the boys, and old tastes to satisfy some long harbored cravings for Mommy. Dante received the job of helping bring down presents and putting them under the tree. After completing this rather daunting task he was allowed to open one present and was shooed off to bed so that Santa Claus could visit.

Overnight, Santa Claus filled all the stockings with knick knacks and goodies and even left a few special presents (wrapped in special Santa wrapping paper) which Dante had requested when not sitting on his lap. On Christmas morning, Dante woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed and dragged everyone out of bed screaming with delight that Santa had come as he saw the bulging stockings. Opening presents at home took about 3 hours and then Mommy, Daddy, Baba Yaga and Dante headed off to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for “horse hooves” (hors d’oeuvres), a Christmas cookie decorating party, Christmas dinner, and more presents.

While attempting to get ready for Dante’s birthday bash, the area was once more blanketed with snow. Trapped again due to icy roads, Dante had a bit more fun sledding at Annie’s house but the snow melted in time for last minute birthday party preparations. Although he hadn’t watched an episode of Blue’s Clues in months, Dante insisted on a Blue’s Clues cake and was adamant about there being a treasure hunt involved. Mommy and Daddy were hard pressed to design and implement an age and venue appropriate treasure hunt for 24 kids at Jump Planet in the midst of all the weather chaos, but managed to piece something together.

When the children were about to enter the play room filled with inflatables, they stood in line and were each handed a “handy-dandy-notebook” with a crayon and their first clue scribbled on the first page of the notebook. The clue was the color of their crayon. They were told to find a balloon and an animal with a pawprint matching their clue color. Each balloon was anchored by a metal cowbell with a pawprint of the correct color on it. Plush animal hand-puppets were scattered on the inflatables themselves. Each pawprint contained a letter or two. Once both a balloon and puppet were found, the children, with the help of their parents if necessary, were to put together the letters to make a word. For example, Dante received a Green crayon. He found a cowbell with a green pawprint that had the letters “ST” on it and a tiger puppet with a green pawprint that had the letters “AR” on it. He quickly put the two together and wrote “STAR” in his notebook. The parents held on to the toys and clues while the kids jumped, slid, crawled, climbed, and chased each other until everyone was moved to the party room for food and cake. The idea was that upon entering the room, each child would seek out a plate upon which a “treasure chest” was sitting with the correct item displayed upon it (for example, Dante sat at the green star). Unfortunately, the staff at Jump Planet dropped the ball and the room was not ready when the kids began to file in and sit wherever they wanted to and open up the treasure chests. After a bit of chaos, most kids ended up with the correct chest, though a few made do with non-matching ones due to overzealous eating of some of the treats inside. The adults were at first reticent to eat (as everyone claims they are always on a diet). Yet somehow, out of 4 pizzas, a large plate of croissant sandwiches, a plate of wraps, a fruit plate, a vegetable plate, a large plate of sushi, and cases of juice and water, there was only a small plate of leftovers to bring home. Surprisingly, less than half of the Blue’s Clues cake (a spice cake with Boston crème filling surrounded by a fringe of red hots) remained.

Dante was very happy to be able to celebrate his 4th birthday with 3 grandparents and with so many of his friends from play dates, from his Polish group, from dance class and from school. After the party, Grandma and Grandpa came over to visit and help open presents. Amazingly enough, this year only one entire evening was required for the task, though it was slow going. Dante was particularly enamored with hand made cards or cards his friends had signed by themselves. So Mommy taped all his cards onto the inside of the door of his room and now every day he looks at a few of them and tells Mommy about the person from whom he received the card. He is very thankful for all his gifts and has not had time to play with all of them yet! Grandma and Grandpa bought a brand new 16 inch bike for Dante, which Dante proceeded to try out in the garage. As he is waiting for better weather, he frequently asks Mommy not to park in the garage so that he can practice riding around on his new wheels.

With Dante’s birthday completed, Mommy, Daddy, Baba Yaga and Dante celebrated the New Year on New York time (at 9 pm Pacific) with a few fire works, “but not too many, and not too loud ones”.

And then Baba Yaga began the difficult and tedious job of unpacking the condo with Mommy and Dante’s help over the next week. One day, in her desire to occupy Dante, Baba Yaga for some mysterious reason decided a large block of styrofoam and an allen wrench were appropriate toys for Dante. Perhaps she envisioned him poking interesting designs in the Styrofoam block (like Mommy would have done at his age). Mommy was already laughing inside, but simply had to let the scene unfold. Dante, ecstatic that he was (unknowingly) being given permission to make a mess, proceeded to shred the styrofoam into its individual tiny bubbles. Which of course clung to EVERYTHING. Knowing that she would soon be unable to contain herself, Mommy decided she would go pick up a stool at the store and let Baba Yaga sort it all out. When she returned almost an hour later, the nearly atomized Styrofoam had managed to clog Baba Yaga’s vacuum cleaner and was now on both upper and lower floors of the condo. Though Dante's hair was visible again. The moral of the story is: every child is different, so don’t assume that your grandchild will do he things your child did or would have done!

Baba Yaga remarked that she felt she was being rushed by Mommy, who for some reason felt the need to keep opening “just one more box”. Perhaps she subliminally knew what was coming. The following week Baba Yaga was once again stranded on High Rock. This time there was over a foot of snow. The view was extraordinary. The play was phenomenal. It is a miracle Baba Yaga left for New York at all, as the roads were so iced over that a trip down to the highway took over 20 minutes, as opposed to the usual 3.

The snow has finally melted. But all this cataclysmic weather has taken a toll on everyone. Between missing school and all sorts of classes and activities over the last few months, everything feels uncoordinated and everyone is drained. Clearly it has had an impact on Dante. At his 4 year doctor’s appointment, Dr. Griffith asked him some basic questions like “what do you do if you are cold?” Dante first answered shyly “You get a blanket…” then suddenly became very animated and said “But if you are cold and there is no power because a tree fell on the power lines, then you have to make a fire, but if you can buy gas, then you can get Daddy to turn on the generator so you can also have hot water to wash your hands to make them warmer, but only if the generator works”.

So enough about the weather. Dante has been changing in many ways, as always. He continues to love school and his activities. He can practically do a cartwheel and is almost strong enough to do a pull-over on the beam by himself. The gymnastics pictures in the gallery are some of Mommy's favorite shots, however, it should be noted that Dante's moments of gymnastic brilliance are currently few and far between, rather than the norm.

Dante’s library continues to expand, even though Mommy endeavors to get rid of books that are no longer appropriate. Dante himself now declares books to be “too easy” for him to read. He has begun reading Scholastic level 2 readers and a few level 3s. He is still very much a context reader and tends to read entire sentences by simply recognizing words rather than sounding out individual letters or letter blends. Mrs. Dean and Mrs. Edelbrock’s attempts at getting him to sound out new words and learn blends seem to have merely increased his memorized vocabulary instead. But between school, reading at home, reading in computer games, and reading at FasTracKids, Dante is learning more and more about language.

He has also begun to show more interest in numbers and especially coins, thanks to the cash register he received from Baba Yaga for Christmas. Dante “sets up shop” and sells his toys to Baba Yaga and Mommy for hours on end. Between Baba Yaga’s teachings and his Economics classes at FasTracKids, Dante the Entrepreneur points out details of packaging, gives reasons one would want to buy the item, and places (frequently absurd) monetary values on his things. Due to his kind heart, however, he frequently gives things away as a “bonus” or “for free”, which drives Baba Yaga crazy, as she is a firm believer in the principle that “nothing in life is free”. When Dante asked her if she would like to get a dance, computer, or piano “lesson”, Baba Yaga happily consented to being “taught” but began giving Dante dollar bills in return for his services, which naturally Dante began to expect whenever anything was required of him. When Mommy found 4 dollar bills in Dante’s pant pockets (about to be put into the wash), Mommy, Daddy and Dante had a talk. Next time Baba Yaga attempted payment, Dante demurely told her that he would only accept “pretend coins” for lessons.

Dante completed his JumpStart Pre-School Jumbo Workbook and has just begun working on the Kindergarten version. Preoccupied with progressing in levels he insists he is ready to go to Kindergarten as soon as “Mrs. Dean and Mrs. Edelbrock are done with me”. He also wanted to try 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade computer games. Amused, Mommy allowed him to install the games to show him that they are beyond his abilities. Unable to solve the more complex problems, Dante has, however, become intrigued by different game genres, story lines, user interface issues, types of puzzles, mapping, differences between 8-bit Nintendo, 16-bit Super Nintendo, Playstation and PC platforms, and occasionally makes surprisingly astute comments about how he would have done things differently. While he is not immune to differences in graphics quality between the platforms, he is primarily interested in game design and finds good quality games on all platforms enjoyable. Still a bit uncoordinated for the console games, Dante insists that Daddy play them for him while he watches. Thus, he is able to concentrate on the details of the game paradigm rather than simply on the mechanics of hand-eye coordination. Daddy has let Dante know that there are people whose job it is to make games. Dante’s interest has been sparked...

As an assignment for FasTracKids, Dante was told to create packaging for a cereal box. He was given a piece of paper with various pictures. His task was to decide which pictures would be appropriate for the box and why (and to put them there). The point, of course, was to encourage the kids to choose positive images to sell the cereal. Dante, however, insisted on using a picture of a sad mouse, a picture of a cereal bowl, and a picture of a happy cat (perhaps due to his sudden interest in Tom and Jerry cartoons while Baba Yaga was visiting). Dante decided to put the cereal bowl near the happy cat and the sad mouse on the opposite corner of the box. He wrote "Sad" next to the mouse and "WOW" next to the cat. He explained to Mommy that the mouse was sad because it didn't have any cereal, while the cat was happy because it had cereal. Thus, if you buy the cereal, it will make you happy; if you don't, you will be sad. The beginings of a great marketing strategist?

Mazes and roller coasters continue to be a favorite activity. Dziadzi bought Dante the Quercetti Skyrail Glow-in-the-dark Marble Roller Coaster for his birthday. Daddy has been recruited to constantly come up with new roller coaster set-ups, preferably with as many upside down loops as possible. Dante is still too young to appreciate the physics-related aspects of the toy, but he enjoys building with Daddy and "testing" the path as they make progress.

Since Dante is now more coordinated, he can do the thinner-pathway mazes in maze books for 7-9 year olds in the car. Mommy discovered that part of the problem was his inability to see the difference between the walls and his own path when using a pen or pencil. Now, Dante does mazes with thin brightly colored markers. For his birthday, Dante received some Polish computer games from his second cousin Julia in Poland. Amidst the many exercises, Dante discovered a game that held his interest until it ran out of levels for him. The object of the exercise was to traverse a maze of roads as a car. The roads, however, can be blocked by gates, to which one must find a correctly colored key. Keys can be obtained by the front doors of houses of the same color somewhere within the maze. As the levels progress, houses are blocked by gates, the paths become more and more contrived and the number of steps required to unlock the gates in order to get to the end of the maze increases dramatically. Unfortunately, not dramatically enough. Dante squealed with delight as each level became more interesting, and was quite unhappy when he had reached the end of the road, so to speak.

Dante has also reached the end of the road with regard to diapers. Although he has been diaper free during the day since he was about two and a half, he sleeps so deeply that diapers have still been necessary at night. Mommy has been a bit annoyed by this as no diapers on the market, even with diaper doublers, were absorbent enough to keep Dante’s bed from being soaked through every few nights. She was sick and tired of changing the sheets all the time and told Dante that by the time he turned 4, he should be done with diapers. Apparently, Dante took this to heart. As soon as Dante turned “3 and eleven twelfths”, he started going to the bathroom every 10 minutes. Not only did this drive everyone around him crazy, but Mommy was naturally worried that perhaps he had an infection, kidney problems, or some sort of sugar-related problem. At the doctor’s office, Dante was disturbed by having to pee into a cup, but was found to be perfectly healthy and the doctor suggested it was probably related to his anxiety over the no-diaper "deadline". As he woke up with a dry diaper several days in a row he began requesting to sleep in his underwear. And thus, by his 4th birthday Dante had trained himself out of diapers completely. Hallelujah.