Saturday, April 12, 2014

Training Seals

I am procrastinating. I told myself I was going to make progress donating stuff we don't need in the house. I said I was going to box things for storage so that I can plan the installation of our new flooring. Instead, I caught up on email, I made waffles for my sleepover boys, did a load of dishes, another of laundry, made cookies, and then watched funny cat videos for a while. The boys are hoping for a two night sleepover. We parents haven't committed to that so far. More has to be proven.

Yesterday, I took Nick and his friend to the Seattle Aquarium. It was a lovely day and the boys weren't yet crabby from staying up too late in the night. Did you know that sea lions, especially Barney, the old guy at the aquarium, actually know to pose for photos? They do it automatically. This is Sika. She is a little shy, but she likes being told that she's beautiful.

They also do tricks for their snacks, holding out a flipper, leaning back, or opening their mouths while the handler taps each tooth. The docent said that they get their teeth brushed every day and that they have a number of tricks they do so that the veterinarians can examine them properly. They seemed excited to do these little jobs. I guess the snacks were delicious. Smelled kind of fishy to me.

I'm glad I took the first shift with the boys. They are now headed over to play tennis with another mom while I hang out at home. I had scheduled a contractor to build a new set of stairs leading to the back of the house. These men are working very hard. I like them, but more importantly, I respect them. I wonder what would happen with this sleepover if I had sent the boys outside to work, to haul gravel, to shovel dirt, to rake up any messes that they had made. I don't think it would have gone very well, but it would be good for the boys. I am certain of it. Really, I was doing okay with them until I asked one boy to roll up his sleeping bag. You'd have thought I had asked him to muck out horse stalls and solve the unified field theory simultaneously.

"I don't know how to do that," he said with disdain. That was my cue. Hands on hips, I stood while he hemmed and hawed.

"You can do this. It's not that complicated."

He folded the sleeping bag so that all four corners were aimed in a different direction.

"Nope. You need to do it neater than that. Start over again," I said.

"But I can't," he said. You can't or you won't, I thought.

"Ah, but you can," I said. "I happen to know that you're on the honor roll at school. That means you're very smart. So, I want you to spread out the sleeping bag on the floor and fold it lengthwise first."

He nearly stepped on a remote and a pillow and he threw his sleeping bag on the floor face down.

"You'll need to turn it over. Fold the inside inside." He stepped on a pillow and his foot slid sideways a bit. He looked at me piteously. I know that this boy is not uncoordinated either.

"Why don't you move things out of your way first. It will make it all easier" He stood up and stepped away. I could see that I was losing him, as if I hadn't already. I picked up the remote. He stood there with his arms crossed. I tossed a pillow onto the couch.

"Okay. Throw that other pillow onto the couch and turn your sleeping bag over," I ordered.

There was silence as he stared at me. I stared back. This is game I play with the cat too and I always win. It seemed like longer, but probably thirty seconds passed. He bent over, picked up the pillow, threw it on the edge of the couch, and it fell off. He looked at me. I stayed quiet, but I looked him in the eyes until he looked away. He picked up the pillow and put it on the couch. Then he flipped his sleeping bag. It didn't land flat.

"Okay, great. Now straighten that side." He stood there for a minute. The side was closer to me than to him, but this wasn't about proximity.

"Look, I made you waffles. Did you like the waffles?"

"Yes, but ..." He trailed off.

"Then you can roll up your own sleeping bag. I will tell you how. Now, straighten that side." And I stepped away from that side. He finally managed to get corners to meet and I knelt at the opposite end of the elastic loops and rolled a bit of the bag. He stood back with a smile on his face watching me. He even picked up the controller for the video game and began to play.

"You'll need to put down the controller. Start on that end and roll up the back as tightly as you can," I said as I unrolled the bag and stood up.

He very slowly put the controller down. Then, he bent over and folded the sleeping bag four times and picked it up.

"You can't get the loop over the end with it that loose. You'll have to unfold that and roll it tightly."

He shook out the bag.

"And now you'll have to start over," I said with a smile. It was a bit of an evil smile, I have to admit. We started the whole process again. Then, when the sleeping bag was folded lengthwise, I got onto my knees and showed him how to roll it again. Again, he picked up the game controller.

"No, you'll have to put the controller down to do this," I said. "Why don't you kneel down here so that you can really do it. You can't do this standing up." Finally, he knelt down and rolled the sleeping bag into a loose roll.

"That's not very tight, but it'll do." I knelt down beside him. "Now you'll have to take these loops and wrap them around the bag." I pulled out a loop and let it drop. He was altogether too willing to let me do the rest, but that wasn't the deal. I held the sleeping bag while he pretended to struggle with the loop.

"It's too loose. I have to roll it again," he said.

"No, you'll do fine. You'll figure it out." I held onto the bag even as he tried to unroll it. When the center nearly squeezed out, I pushed it back in. Three tries with the loop. Four tries. And finally, he had the loop around the sleeping bag.

"Now get that loop around the center of the bag. It's not going to hold where it is on that edge." He nearly let the whole thing get away from him, but I held it steady as he fixed it.

Just then, my boy walked into the room.

"Nick, fold those blankets and put your mattress away." I said. Nick picked up a wad of blankets and threw them onto the couch.

"No. I wanted you to fold the blankets. I know you can do this." Nick knows when I get that evil-mom pretending-to-be-patient-sound in my voice. I went into the kitchen with some plates and a water glass. When I came back out, the blankets were folded nicely and the rolled sleeping bag was lying next to it.

"Great job guys!" I said enthusiastically. 

When I'm done with this gig, maybe I should volunteer as a handler at the aquarium. By then, I might have the experience to train some seals. 

Thank you for listening, jb

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