Napoleon, Winter in May, and Silly String

May 14th, 2011

This is just a diary of a random day sort of post. Nothing all that particularly unusual, but then perhaps if I only blog about the unusual, the typical gets lost.

This week started out with temperatures as high at 99F. Today we didn’t even reach 60, and tonight will be cold almost to freezing. It’s Kansas, so while we remark on the strange weather, we’re not particularly surprised by it.

This morning, Jacob and Oliver went over to play across the street. Jacob then went with Terah to a birthday party for one of his classmates, while Oliver helped plant some trees with his grandparents. I was at home this morning, which gave me a small but welcome break from the past week: we had something going on 6 out of the last 7 evenings, and little time to do anything else.

So I got out the Kindle and read from War and Peace. I started at the kitchen table while eating some granola, and then sat on the couch. The day was cold, windy, and overcast, and I like to use natural light, so there were only a few places to sit with enough light.

I sat there reading the account of Napoleon’s capture of Moscow in 1812, the characters lives uprooted by those events, and stories of violent mobs forming. And, of course, Tolstoy’s essays on the mistake of overstating the importance of famous figures in history were common. I am now about 3/4 through War and Peace, which means I’ve read 1,044 pages and have (only) 348 to go.

As I got up to try to find slippers or a blanket for my cold feet at one point, I remembered a conversation I had while eating lunch this week. I was reading on the Kindle while reading, and a person I knew happened to walk past. She asked what I was reading. I said simply, “War and Peace.” There was this stunned silence, so I added, “for fun. It’s great!” Which is true. She said, “Oooookay, John, you just enjoy that then” and went on her way. This isn’t the first time I’ve had a conversation like that about this book. It seems to be held up as some example of long, dry, literature that people are made to read but don’t want to. I think that only “long” is accurate here.

Anyhow, pretty soon Oliver arrived and, much to my surprise, said “Doh!” (meaning “no”) when I asked him if he was ready for lunch. Instead he stood there looking at me sweetly. Taking a guess, I said, “Oliver, would you like to watch train videos?” “Yeah yeah yeah yeah!” So we did. He particularly enjoyed the steam engines today, and eventually was ready for lunch at 12:30. Jacob and Terah got home just as he was finishing. Oliver got his nap, and I played with Jacob for a bit. Ever since he had heard of the British wedding in preschool, he’s been interested in weddings, so I showed him pictures from Terah and me at our wedding. This was a big hit. Then he went with Terah to decorate a Sunday School room at church, so I read a bit more Tolstoy.

Tolstoy’s characters sometimes are prone to not just changes in mood but changes in outlook and worldview — changing from cold, logical, and uncaring to warm and loving, or from despair at the vanity and shallowness of humanity to elation at the simple honesty of a peasant and renewed trust in the human spirit. At first I marveled at this tendency in certain characters, but on reflection, and in consideration of the timeline of the novel, which spans several years, it didn’t seem quite so strange. Things can happen to change the mood of individuals, or even a country; I can remember the national mood changing after 9/11, and again after Obama’s election, for instance. I also felt a contrast with some of the characters who, due to their decisions or circumstances, lost things that mattered while chasing things that weren’t as important. I felt fortunate to be at this place, with Jacob, Oliver, and Terah, and decided that we all ought to do something fun in the evening, but hadn’t quite figured out what.

And about that, the clouds started to break and Oliver woke up from his nap. I went up to his room, and much to his delight, played peekaboo with him for quite awhile. Eventually he was done with that game, but spotted my phone, so I helped guide his finger to launch Youtube and watch a train video over the wifi. This was certainly a Big Deal to him.

After Terah and Jacob got back, I figured it was time figure out something fun to do. And what could be more fun, I decided on the spur of the moment, than a drive into town to pick up some cans of Silly String for the boys, neither of which had ever used it before.

So we went to a restaurant, then bought the “surprise toy” (I hadn’t told them what it would be beforehand), then went to an ice cream place, and finally back home. Oliver loved it. He needed my help to press the nozzle to make it come out, but still had a great time and shrieked with delight.

Jacob then tried out his can, and stood in one place spraying his bright green strings all over the place. Then he took to running around the yard spraying string randomly in every direction until he finally completely emptied out the can. And after that, he gathered up some of the different colors of string and rolled them up into a ball which he was very proud of.

A nice day.

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  1. Tom Murphy

    I love imagining what your son must think of being an adult: you can go get Silly String anytime, and you have train videos in your pocket that you can watch whenever you like.


    John Goerzen Reply:

    That made me smile — yep, it must seem like a lot of fun!


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