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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hanging out with Grandma

Bow and my mother have a pleasant, easy going relationship. When he was very small, she sometimes babysat both my children, and she visits us regularly, about twice a year. When she is not here, Bow hears her voice on the phone, and sometimes he sees her on Skype. Because she has not been a stranger all these years, it does not take Bow long to accept her after he has not seen her for a while.

These days, all their interactions take place through the glass, but it is still a very close relationship between grandmother and grandson.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Waiting for Grandma

My mother arrived late last night, and she told me she might be sleeping in, so I should not wake her for breakfast. I could ring the bell to announce that it was time, but we should not wait for her, and we should proceed without her if she did not come to the pens, because if she doesn't respond it must be because she is asleep.

I have a little hand bell that I ring to let people in the rest of the house know that a meal is ready in the pens. This morning when I rang the bell and my mother did not come, I told Bow that we would just proceed without her, because she needed to sleep.

But Bow was not happy. He didn't sit in his eating spot. He did not take my hand to spell out what food he wanted to eat. He just kept sitting by the door and waiting for grandma for the longest time. To him, it did not seem right to start without her.

When eventually he did agree to eat, he looked a little sad.

But later grandma did join us, long after we had finished our meal, and she had a special present just for Bow. It was some bite sized sausages. "Look Bow, I brought you a gift."

Bow took my hand to spell what he wanted to eat now that grandma was up. But he didn't call them sausages. He just said he wanted  the  "gift." .(מתנה)


Monday, November 19, 2012

Different Points of View: The Grammar of Happiness

This morning, I found that there is a beautiful new documentary about the language of the Piraha people and the linguistic research of Daniel Everett available to view free of charge at the Smithsonian site:

http://www.smithsonianchannel.com/site/sn/show.do?show=141519

I was very interested in watching this video, and I thought Bow might like to see it, too. I am very careful these days what I show Bow, because violent scenes upset him, but I didn't think that there could be anything in this video even remotely resembling violence, and I did think there would be beautiful scenery that Bow might enjoy just as much as I do.

So I brought the laptop into the pen with Bow to watch the documentary together, and I was also filming. When Bow began mild displays every time he saw new people, I was not worried about that. He usually is pretty well behaved around the laptop. And then there was a scene which, from my point of view, was quite interesting, because some Piraha men were speaking to each other in their own language by whistling. To me, this was about language.

But Bow became very upset. He started displaying and vocalizing and threw himself at the laptop. I yelled at him to stop, and actually he did stop pretty fast. The computer was not damaged. Just a little scratched. Once the laptop was closed and the disturbing video was no longer on the screen, Bow was quite sensible and handed me the laptop without any further ado.

But I was a little shaken. Why had Bow reacted that way to a video about the Piraha language? Was there something upsetting to him about their quiet whistling? Only later when I viewed the documentary again did I read the subtitles and see what the men were talking about: they were planning to shoot a monkey with their bows and arrows.

To me, this had been a documentary about language. To Bow, it was a show about humans killing monkeys. It was a very violent video! And he was duly upset.

You see, it's all in the point of view.





Friday, November 16, 2012

Don't Be a Stranger

People sometimes ask me what it takes to maintain a good relationship with Bow. I think the old adage "don't be a stranger" is the key. People say this to each other, and what they mean is: "Don't forget to drop by. Don't stay away so long that by the time you come back again we won't recognize you, or will feel funny around you."

Human society right now is very confused about this issue. We tell our children not to talk to strangers, and yet we expect them to interact with strangers every day. People send their children to preschools where the caretakers are expected to be interchangeable. They go to schools where if the teacher is sick, on leave or in state mandated programs for self-improvement, another person that the children have never seen before in their lives can step in at a moment's notice and expect to get the same level of obedience and trust as the previous teacher. So we tell them not to talk to strangers, but require them to talk to strangers all the time. It's just one of many, many double messages that we send.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to an event at my daughter's school. I sat on the bleachers among a sea of strangers, and we watched one of those rituals that help to weave communities together: a basketball tournament. A hoop queen crowning. Families and children packed like sardines together, and nobody minding that strangers were touching them on all sides.

Nobody made a display to say "I am stronger than you are, so watch out," because that display was ritualized in the form of basketball. And nobody went around saying "I am the alpha female," because that competition was also ritualized.

Meanwhile, in order to leave early to attend this event, I had to have Lawrence come on Thursday to sit with Bow, even though he had just been here on Wednesday. And guess what? Even though on Wednesday, just like every other Wednesday, Bow made a powerful display of his might that lasted a full five minutes before Lawrence was allowed to go in, when Lawrence came on Thursday Bow just shrugged, as if to say: "Yeah, go ahead. Come in."

There was no challenge. There was no rattling of the doors, and Bow's hair did not stand on end. Lawrence could go in, because he hadn't been a stranger. If you came over yesterday, you can come today, too. No problem. Stay away for a whole week, and you are a stranger and have to earn your stripes.

I came home wearing my "cool mom" outfit, and Bow was not impressed. I'm no stranger, so it really doesn't matter what I wear. I'm okay.

That is the secret. There's nothing more to it than that. But  in a society where time is money, few people can afford not to be strangers, even to their own children.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Just Some Thoughts

Bow is not always all that talkative. People sometimes want to know what  he thinks about things he has heard about, but Bow doesn't always share his thoughts with me. Or maybe he doesn't think about everything that I think about.

Someone asked  recently what Bow thought about the election and whether he had a favorite candidate. While I have been pretty vocal about my opinions, Bow has not said anything about his own. He did not express a preference. He didn't share an opinion. Instead, when I became too engrossed in politics, he always directed my thoughts to more practical matters, such as when it was time for a snack, and when I should maybe turn off the computer and put him to bed.


Bow is a pragmatist. He becomes upset sometimes if he feels that something going on in the here and now is not okay. But he does not worry too much about things that have happened far away.

Recently, we heard that Panbanisha has died. It was shocking news to me, for though I do not know her well, I did meet her, and she was someone I sometimes thought of, in the sense that I expected one day soon to see her again. Bow has never met her, but he grew up watching videos of her and Kanzi. He even once said that he wanted Panbanisha to be his girlfriend.

But that was long ago, and when I told him she had died, he didn't say anything. Later somebody asked me: "What did Bow have to say about that?"

I decided to ask him directly today. "You know that Panbanisha died?"

He spelled "yes."

"What do you think about that?"

He took my hand and spelled: למה זה קרה

Translation: "Why did it happen?"

I had to admit that I did not know why it happened. After that, Bow had nothing more to say about it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Windows on the World

This morning, Bow could see through the window in our front door that there was new activity and new faces across the road. So he sent me to investigate.

Some people think we have some kind of camera attached to our house that allows us to be aware of what is going on outside. But no, it's just a front window, and a chimpanzee who hears and sees everything and notices anything unusual that happens.

So off I went with Bow's blessing, to see what I could see. And here is what I saw:


I took a still shot, and I shot some footage and then I took it all back to show Bow.


He looked into my camera and looked at the photo and watched the video. Then I processed the footage and uploaded to Youtube.

After that I decided I would get some footage of Bow looking at the video I shot, so I took the laptop into the pen with Bow to show him the same footage, only much bigger. I wanted everyone to see how this technology gives Bow another window on the world. But guess what? By then he had seen that footage so many times already, that he wasn't interested, anymore. Instead, he got interested in how to use the laptop.


Bow has his own touchscreen computer. A touchscreen should be much easier for him to use, but he never takes interest in the touchscreen, anymore. I keep asking Lawrence: "Did Bow want to use his touchscreen today?" every Wednesday, hoping to hear that Bow has made some progress with his English keyboard. But Bow never asks for his touchscreen and refuses it when it is offered. And he never asks me to use it, either.

Until today, he's been content to watch the videos I select for him to watch on my laptop. But for some reason, today, he found the laptop more interesting than the video.

If only we could somehow harness this fleeting interest!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Life Imitates Art: Bow and Lancelot

Bow is an adolescent male. Not everything he is thinking about is something we are allowed to discuss freely under the Google TOS. Not everything he spells out is fit to print. People sometimes get the impression that Bow is too precious to be real. Believe me, he is not. There's just only so much that I can share. If you are raising an adolescent boy, you probably know what I mean.



All that aside, he can be verbal about things that people assume cannot be articulated. Yesterday, for instance, I was trying to get into the mood to write some more in a swashbuckling type of story that I am working on. I went through my  favorites on  YouTube looking for a song that might express the feelings of my hero. I came across Franco Nero performing "C'est Moi" in Camelot. I put the song on and listened and I was about ready to start writing when Bow started making some sounds of displeasure on his side of the glass.

"What is it?" I asked, going in to check on him.

He took my hand and spelled in Hebrew:       תני לי להרוג אותו
That being translated means: "Let me kill him."

I figured he must mean Lancelot, as there was nobody else he could be referring to. "But why?"

Bow spelled: הוא לא כל כך חזק
"He's not that strong."

Apparently Bow's pride was offended by Lancelot's boast. I couldn't let Bow kill him, but I decided to risk the laptop and let Bow watch the performance close up. Bow responded by displaying his own prowess, but I had to cut out most of that, because it would be "inappropriate." However, I think that you can see by  watching what remains of this video clip that Bow was interested in what Lance had to say, and that he had appropriate gestures and responses in various spots.


Boys will be boys. Displaying, boasting and preening are part of the male repertoire. Someday, perhaps, we will all live in a society that allows us to admit this without losing face or getting in trouble.

In the meanwhile, look at Bow's face at the end of the video. Look at that quiet, knowing smile.  I think he understands the satire.



Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Stranger Outside May be a Cow

This morning there was a commotion among the dogs, and Bow got up on his highest perch that allows him to see best what is going on in the front yard. He seemed concerned that there might be a stranger on our property.

Bow does not like to have strangers anywhere nearby, and it even bothers him if there are people just outside the property line whom he sees as a possible threat to our territorial integrity.

I told Bow I would go out and see what it was. Here is what I saw.


There were cows in the neighboring field, and they were a little closer to our property line than they usually get. That's all.

Fortunately, when I went back in, I was able to show Bow the footage I had shot, and he was satisfied that the cows posed no real threat to our security. All is right with the world!