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Starting Drivers’ Ed A Little Early

, , , , , , | Related | January 10, 2022

When I was young, my mom picked me up at my preschool, but after taking me to the car, realized she needed to talk to the teachers about something. I didn’t want to go back in, so she told me I could stay in the car for a minute while she ran to ask my teachers a quick question so long as I promised not to leave the car.

Excited to be alone, I immediately headed up to the front seat and pretended to drive, as any young kid would do. I pushed all the buttons and pulled all the levers I could find, and one of those was the parking brake. Somehow, I successfully pulled it while playing, not realizing that it did something even when the car was parked. The next thing I knew, the car went rolling backward down the hill the parking lot was on.

It only rolled a little way before coming to a stop — we weren’t on that steep a hill — but I was still scared. Not wanting to be caught, I immediately crawled back into the back seat and buckled myself in, hoping no one would notice.

My mom seemed to take forever to come back out while I waited anxiously. In fact, she did come out almost immediately, but I’d rolled far enough back that she could no longer see the car behind the daycare building. She had run back in to ask for help when she thought the car and I were stolen before eventually coming far enough out to see where the car had rolled to.

She came and freaked out when she saw me nearly crying from worry. I tried to play it off as if the car had always been where it was and I didn’t know why she was concerned, not that she bought that for a second.

Luckily for me, she was so thankful I was okay that she didn’t care enough to punish me. And besides, I technically never did leave the car, as promised! However, it was quite a while before I was trusted to be alone in a car again.

It’s Sure No Walk In The Park

, , , , , | Related | January 8, 2022

When my sister and I were still young — I think I was still in elementary school — my father had read something about part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal being opened up as a hiking path. He thought it would be good exercise and history for us to walk from a starting point into town, pick up dinner, and walk back to our car. He estimated it would only take a few hours based on how long it usually took him to walk that long a path.

Unfortunately for all of us, my father is not the best planner. His first mistake was confusing the length of the path from our starting point to town as being the full round-trip length, thus underestimating the full length by half. He also failed to account for how much slower tired kids walked compared to trained military men.

Thus, we got to the city later than he had anticipated the entire trip would take. It was already starting to get a little dark by the time we had found someplace to get dinner and we still had a long walk back ahead of us. My father had the bright idea of cutting through the woods to the nearby road to find a quicker way back to his car. I’m honestly not sure what he planned to do even if he did beat us back since cars couldn’t go on the walking path. Meanwhile, my sister and I were sent along the path with our mother.

Us kids got slower and slower as we grew increasingly tired and it grew darker, further delaying the walk back. Eventually, it was nearly pitch dark out. Despite the path being more than large enough for the three of us to walk abreast as it grew dark, my sister started to get afraid that she would fall into either the river on one side of the path or the now drained canal on the other side, so I let her take the middle spot, leaving me, her two-years-younger brother on the side near the canal and my mother to brave falling into the river. My sister also demanded frequent rest breaks as time went on, not that I minded these, as I was also pretty exhausted.

During one of these rest breaks, we suddenly noticed some moving lights. We eventually realized they were flashlights and called out to find a small group of two or three folks who had been hunting for us. They encouraged us to manage the last tiny bit of the walk to a small off-road car — which looked more like a golf cart — with emergency markings on it. 

It took us to a nearby parking lot where we found both an ambulance and a fire truck parked and waiting, lights still flashing.

Apparently, once my father got lost trying to take the shortcut to the car, he knocked on a door to ask for directions, only to find that the house belonged to a volunteer firefighter. Upon hearing my father’s explanation, he had called in the cavalry, despite my dad protesting that it would be overkill. We apparently had multiple search teams out looking for us across the canal.

We got to ride the ambulance back to our car, which little me found rather interesting, though hardly worth the torment of the evening for the experience. My legs and feet were sore for days after from the forced marching. From that day on, whenever my dad tried to plan anything at all, the family would remind him of the Canal and insist that my mother do the actual planning.

The Toddling Adventures Of The Baby Whisperer

, , , , , | Friendly | December 22, 2021

I’ve been volunteering with both special needs and neurotypical kids for years, which means any time I’m visiting family or friends and there are children that need to be taken care of, I’m naturally the one left in charge of them. That’s fine with me since I really do love kids and enjoy watching them.

It’s pretty common for children, especially kids with delayed speech development, to be taught some basic sign language to help them express simple concepts without words. I’ve been around kids taught to sign long enough that I’ve picked up all the standard signs through osmosis.

I’m at a pool party at a friend’s house. I’ve offered to keep an eye on one toddler so her mother can get into the pool. The girl is very communicative, babbling nonstop, and surprisingly good with her signs, given her age. At one point, she approaches me, babbling unintelligibly the entire time.

Me: “Did you want something?”

She signs for food.

Me: “You want to eat something?

She nods.

Me: “What did you want to eat?”

The girl takes my finger and pulls me along to where she has been sitting, and I see there is a can of toddler-bite-sized snacks sitting on the table near her. I pick them up and show them to her.

Me: “Is this what you wanted?”

She starts babbling more excitedly, reaching up toward the snack can in what is a clear “I want” gesture regardless of not being a proper sign. I quickly get confirmation from her mother that the girl is allowed to have more before returning to the girl.

Me: “Your mommy said you are allowed to have some. Do you know how to say, ‘Please’?

She signs, “Please.”

Me: “Oh, very good! I’d be happy to help such a nice girl.”

I pour some more snack bites on her plate.

Me: “Do you know how to say, ‘Thank you’?”

Surprisingly, considering how hard it is to teach “thank you” to such young kids, the girl manages a decent approximation of the gesture.

Me: “You’re welcome!”

As I return to my seat, I see one of my friends staring at me as if impressed.

Friend: “You can understand her? That just sounds like gibberish to me.”

I realize he thought I could understand the girl’s constant babbling. I consider telling him the truth but decide that would ruin the fun.

Me: “Yep, that’s me: the baby whisperer.”

For the rest of the day, he would occasionally ask me to “translate” the toddler’s babbling out of curiosity. Instead, I translated what she was probably thinking based on her body language and actions. He never caught on that I couldn’t magically understand babbling.

The Real Party Starts When You Get To Learn About Dinosaurs

, , , , , , | Friendly | December 20, 2021

I was attending a Fourth of July party at a friend’s house years ago. Since I’m a gigantic man-child that loves kids, due to their being closer to my maturity level, I was relegated to watching the kids in the playroom while the proper adults did adulty things. I didn’t know most of the kids there, as they were the family of my friend’s new wife. I’m surprisingly terrible at guessing kids’ ages given how much I hang out with them, but I’d say the kid in this story was probably around six or seven.

Me: “Yeah, I like dinosaurs. They’re awesome. In fact, I was listening to a few of them this morning.”

Kid: “You were? On TV?”

Me: “No, outside, while I was walking to my car to drive here I was watching and listening to some of them.”

Kid: “There are no dinosaurs outside.”

Me: “Sure, there are. They just look a bit different than you’re thinking of.”

Kid: “You’re joking?”

Me: “Nope. The dinosaurs ended up evolving into birds, so whenever you look at a bird, you’re really looking at a flying dinosaur in disguise!”

Kid: “Oh, so you mean they de-evolved?”

Me: “There is no such thing as de-evolving, except in really bad TV shows.”

Kid: “Huh?”

Me: “You think evolving means getting bigger and stronger, right?”

Kid: “Yeah.”

Me: “But that’s not what it means. Evolving means getting better at surviving and having kids. Sometimes the best way to do that is to be bigger and stronger, but sometimes the best way is to get smaller and weaker. But that’s not de-evolving; it’s evolving to be weaker because that’s the best way to survive.”

Kid: “Why would you get weaker?”

Me: “Because then you don’t have to find enough food to feed your big strong body. All the big dinosaurs probably froze or starved to death after a meteor hit the earth, but some of the small ones were able to find ways to survive and find enough food. So being small and not needing as much food was better than being big and strong and starving.”

Kid: “But couldn’t they evolve to not eat as much without getting weaker?”

Me: “Everything costs something. Sometimes animals find ways to evolve to be more efficient, to be better at something without giving anything else up, but usually, animals need to give up something to get better at something else. And usually, being stronger means eating more or taking longer to grow up, but that can be a problem for other reasons.”

Kid: “So they became birds when the meteor hit so they wouldn’t starve?”

Me: “Kind of. There were already dinosaurs that looked a lot like birds today when the others died out. In fact, part of the reason the dinosaur birds survived may have been because they had a beak that was better at getting and eating the kind of food that was left after the meteor. But those dinosaurs continued to change for millions of years before they became the sort of birds you’re used to.”

Kid: “Millions of years?!”

Me: “Yep, I think it was around sixty million years or so, but I’m not really sure.”

Kid: “That’s a long time!”

Me: “Yes, it is, but all that really matters is that those dinosaurs turned into birds. So, now, whenever you hear a bird singing, you should tell your friends you just heard a dinosaur!”

Later that day, once the rest of the guests arrived and the pool party moved out to the pool, I heard the kid talking to his parents.

Kid: “Hey, Dad, did you know birds are dinosaurs?!”

I’ve since attended many parties hosted by this friend; his new wife is very sociable and their mini-mansion with a pool makes a good party location. I’ve run into this same kid many times, and every time since our first conversation he always ends up asking me some sort of question about animals or evolution. I had only meant to mess with the kids a little, but I’m happy to have instead sparked a real interest in learning about evolution and science in a child.

Now I just need to get around figuring out how exactly he’s related to my friend, or perhaps what his name is?

This Reminds Us Of A Britney Spears Song

, , , , , , | Related | December 17, 2021

I didn’t have a car when I left for college, so I wasn’t able to travel back to visit my family except when my father came to pick me up for special holidays. Thus, on Thanksgiving, I was looking forward to finally seeing my family again.

When my sister and her family arrived, I was a little surprised to see that my sister was, well, slightly fat. She wasn’t huge, but compared to her usually quite skinny build, it still was noticeable enough to stand out. Not knowing what to do, I pretended not to notice anything and went along with family activities until I managed to corner my mother alone a few hours later.

Me: “Hey, Mom, is there anything interesting about [Sister] you needed to share?”

Mom: “Huh? No, I don’t think so. Why?”

I struggled with how to phrase this delicately.

Me: “Well, she just looked a bit different than usual.”

Mom: “What do you mean?”

Me: “She put on a little weight.”

Mom: “Yeah, but that’s pretty normal when you’re pregnant.”

Me: “I’m pretty sure that counts as something interesting that needs to be shared!”

Mom: “Huh? You knew she was pregnant.”

Me: “No, I didn’t! I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out whether or not she was for the last three hours! I mean, she sort of looks pregnant, but I figured there is no way no one would have told me this long if she was.”

Mom: “We really never told you? Oh, I’m sorry!”

My mother was quite apologetic about their failure to notify me of that little detail. In fact, now, half a lifetime later, my mother still gives every piece of news she shares with me a joking caveat: “Sorry if you’re the last to know.”