The Little Backhoe Who Was a Big Helper

Edit to add: Bear in mind that this story is for a two-year-old. Toddlers love and need repetition, so if this seems repetitious, well… that’s because it is repetitious. Did I mention it repeats itself? Just so you know, it does that. A lot.

Once upon a time, there was a little backhoe. He was a very little backhoe, but he was a good helper. One day, he went to a construction site near his house and watched all the big construction vehicles doing their jobs. The huge excavator scooped dirt into a gigantic dump truck, which carried the dirt away and dumped it into piles that the bulldozer smoothed out and moved around. The cement mixer twirled  all around the site, pouring cement from his chute wherever it was needed, while the mobile crane lifted beams and things into place with his long boom. The little backhoe was very excited to see all this work, and after watching for a while, he wanted to go help.

So the little backhoe went up to the big excavator and said, “Excuse me, Mr. Excavator, can I please help you? I’m a good helper.”

The big excavator looked down at the little backhoe, with his tiny scoop, and said, “No. You’re too little to help me.”

The little backhoe felt sad about this, because he had really wanted to help the excavator; but he didn’t give up. Instead, he went to the bulldozer next.

“Excuse me, Mr. Bulldozer,” he said, “Can I please help you? I am a good helper.”

The big, strong bulldozer looked at the little backhoe’s tiny blade and said, “No, you’re too little to help me. Stay out of the way.”

The little backhoe felt discouraged, because he really wanted to help the bulldozer. But he didn’t give up; instead, he went to the dump truck.

“Excuse me, Mr. Dump Truck,” he said, “Can I please help you? I am a good helper.”

The gigantic dump truck looked at the little backhoe and said, “No. You don’t even have a bed to carry dirt. How could you help me? Besides, you’re too little.”

Well, the little backhoe felt even more discouraged, because the big trucks were all rejecting him because he was too little. But he didn’t give up; instead, he went to the cement mixer.

“Excuse me, Ms. Cement Mixer,” he said, “Can I please help you? I am a good helper.”

The cement mixer looked down at the little backhoe and said, “No. You can’t even carry cement. Besides, you’re too little.”

At this, the little backhoe felt very, very discouraged. He was just about ready to give up and go home, and in fact he was driving off the construction site, when he went by the kind mobile crane. The mobile crane saw him looking very sad, and said, “Little backhoe, come over here. I’ve seen you going all over the construction site, trying to help.”

“Yes,” said the little backhoe, “But nobody wants my help. I’m too little.”

The mobile crane said, “You’re never too little to be a helper. Here, come help me. I could use someone to help me move my materials.”

At this, the little bulldozer was very happy. He zoomed over to the mobile crane and began helping him. He worked very, very hard and proved himself to be a good helper for the mobile crane. The other big trucks noticed the little backhoe helping the mobile crane, and they smiled, seeing the little tiny backhoe’s boom reaching as high as it could, helping the mobile crane’s long, long boom.

Well, it happened that the big excavator was digging a trench, and near the end of the trench, he found he needed to dig in a spot that he was just too big to reach. He tried and he tried, but his scoop was just too big. So he went to where the little backhoe was helping the mobile crane, and he said,  “Little backhoe, I’m sorry I said you were too little to be a helper. I need help digging my trench. Will you please help me?”

Because the little backhoe was a good, kind backhoe, he forgave the excavator. He said, “Yes, Mr. Excavator, I would love to help you!” Excitedly he followed the excavator to the trench, and he used his little tiny scoop to reach into the little tiny space and scoop out dirt that the big excavator couldn’t reach. The excavator said, “Thank you, little backhoe! You’re a little backhoe, but you’re a big helper.”

And he was very happy.  The little backhoe was a big helper for the mobile crane and the excavator.

Well, a little bit later, the bulldozer was moving dirt into a big pile, and he found that the pile was so tall and steep that he couldn’t push dirt to the top anymore. He was too big and heavy! So he went to where the little backhoe was helping the excavator, and he said, “Little backhoe, I’m sorry I said you were too little to be a helper. I need help moving dirt to the top of my dirt pile. Will you please help me?”

Because the little backhoe was a forgiving and understanding backhoe, he forgave the bulldozer. He said, “Yes, Mr. Bulldozer, I would love to help you!” Excitedly he followed the bulldozer to the pile of dirt, and he used his blade to help the bulldozer push dirt up, up, up to the very tippy-top. He was so small and light, he could drive right up the side of the dirt pile where the big, heavy bulldozer couldn’t go! The bulldozer said, “Thank you, little backhoe! You’re a little backhoe, but you’re a big helper.”

And he was very happy. The little backhoe was a big helper for the mobile crane, the excavator, and the bulldozer.

Well, a little bit later, the dump truck was driving along with a full load of dirt, when he hit a patch of very rough road. He went bump! bump! bump! and the dirt in the back of his truck all spilled out. He tried very hard to clean the dirt up himself, but he didn’t have any way of picking it up. So he went to where the little backhoe was helping the bulldozer, and he said, “Little backhoe, I’m sorry I said you were too little to be a helper. I need help cleaning up the big mess of dirt that fell out of my truck bed. Will you please help me?”

Because the little backhoe was a good boy, and he loved dump trucks, he forgave the dump truck. He said, “Yes, Mr. Dump Truck, I would love to help you!” Excitedly he followed the dump truck to where all the dirt had spilled out. He used his little blade to push the dirt into one small pile, and then he used his little scoop to scoop the dirt into the back of the dump truck. It took him 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 scoops to put the dirt into the truck bed — it had only taken the excavator 3 big scoops — but he was persistent and kept scooping until it was all back in the dump truck. The dump truck said, “Thank you, little backhoe! You’re a little backhoe, but you’re a big helper.”

And he was very happy. The little backhoe was a big helper for the mobile crane, the excavator, the bulldozer, and the dump truck.

Near the end of the day, the cement mixer was pouring cement when she got to a patch where the molds weren’t smooth on the bottom. They were all uneven. She couldn’t pour cement in there, and she couldn’t fix it herself, either! So he went to where the little backhoe was helping the bulldozer, and she said, “Little backhoe, I’m sorry I said you were too little to be a helper. I need help smoothing out the bottom of my molds so I can pour my cement. Will you please help me?”

Because the backhoe loved twirling cement mixers, he forgave the cement mixer. He said, “Yes, Ms. Cement Mixer, I would love to help you!” Excitedly he followed the cement mixer to where the molds were all lumpy. He used his little scoop to scoop out and smooth the bottom of the molds, and he made them all smooth. The cement mixer said,  “Thank you, little backhoe! You’re a little backhoe, but you’re a big helper.”

And that night, he told his mommy all about helping the mobile crane, the excavator, the bulldozer, the dump truck, and the cement mixer. The little backhoe’s mommy said, “Good work, little backhoe. You worked hard and you were persistent and you forgave the trucks. I’m very proud of you. You’re never too little to be a big helper.” With that, the little backhoe snuggled up with his blanky and fell asleep, and he dreamed all night about how he would help the big trucks the next morning.

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A Heck of a Week

And it’s only Thursday morning. Monday always feels busy, because I have a work meeting in Bellevue and that compresses all our morning routine into a tighter schedule. This Monday, Ian also missed his bus – it’s a new schedule and new drivers, but also we left late and hit the really long traffic light at the wrong time, so we saw the bus go by the stop as we impotently stood on the other side of the street. Then Ian and I had a fight about missing the bus, Benji got upset, and although we calmed down and talked it through, I spent most of the rest of my morning with Benji explaining what happened. The rest of the day sort of went up from there, but not dramatically.

It rained, but that didn’t stop Ian and Benji from playing in the mud at Nana’s house.

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Can't let rain stop us.

Tuesday we had dance class at North Kirkland Community Center, and we went way early to play in a park and drop Ian off at a stop for a different bus  along the way. The sun came out and the park was very fun…

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Any park with sand and trucks is a win in our book.

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…except for the marauding squirrel, which at one point made off with my Tupperware lid, and only let it go when it discovered that it wasn’t food.

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Any food here? Huh? Huh? Huh?

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Eventually it did go snack on maple tree whirligigs, leaving us alone.

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Squirrel doing dangerous tricks in the tree.

Dance class was fun, but in the afternoon when Benji and I tried to make cookies, we discovered the oven wouldn’t turn on. I cooked the cookies, surprisingly successfully, in micro-batches in the toaster oven. It took a inf time.
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Wednesday we went for a walk, but Benji had a meltdown about leaving the house, about not seeing trucks, about not having the crackers he wanted… And that set the tone for the day. He did get better when Grammy and Papa Gary came over.

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Grammy made Benji an apron and oven mitt!

But after nap he was a complete pill. Fortunately we had our first speech therapy session, so we had another person around to distract him. He seemed to really like her, which was good. But as soon as she left, it was back to the same thing. Upset because he asked for some apple and I gave him some, upset because he had to wear shoes in the mud, and so on.

I admit I left Ian holding the baby and went out for a bike ride. Ian took Benji and our pizza fixings and cooked the pizza at my parents’ house.

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Oh no, an Oventastrophe

Benji has been super in to cooking lately, so this afternoon when I have him a choice between making cookies and going for a bike ride, I was unsurprised (but still a bit disappointed) he choose cookies.

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Hooray!

… Except that, when I went to bake said cookies, the oven simply refused to turn on. Oh no!

My very slow solution:

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Two at a time, with liberal cookie dough snitching to reduce the overall time spent cooking. If using a toaster oven to bake does, in fact, even count as cooking.

Speech

Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts.
James 3:13ish

I keep trying to find ways to talk about Benji’s talking — typing different introductions, waiting a day or so, then deleting them. Nothing’s working for me, so I’m just going to jump in. Benji doesn’t use words to communicate much.

He does communicate, usually using elaborate pantomimes complete with sound effects (his way of saying “excavator” and “cement mixer” are hilarious and effective), throwing only a very few words in. When he does “say” something, it’s usually a minimally-articulated syllables, so “more, please” comes out “muh puh yes” (he does say “yeah” and “yes” quite clearly, and alas, has just this week added “no” and “nope” to his repertoire). Most of the time I have to interpret for him; only Ian, my mom, and Ian’s mom usually have a good sense of what Benji’s getting at. Even then, sometimes I have to help out there, too. Worst of all, from Benji’s perspective, is when I don’t even know what he’s trying to communicate. Then things get really frustrating.

All the same, Benji’s doctor — a family practice doctor at Virginia Mason, not a specific pediatrician — wasn’t concerned. Some kids just take their time getting there, he said, but they all get the same place in the end. So what if at PEPS all the other kids are using sentences? Benji will talk when he’s ready. I’m sure this is true, but shortly after Benji’s second birthday, I received a phone call that galvanized me into action.

Some quick background: For the last year, we’ve done a word-use survey for the UW ILABS. They provide a long, long, long — I’d almost say comprehensive — list of words Benji might be saying, and I select which ones he actually does say. This survey always vaguely depressed me, because I never got to check off many of the words, leaving many sections entirely untouched. But, I reassured myself, we’ll get there eventually. I’m sure we’re not that far off.

That’s where I was wrong, and this phone call came in. A staff person for the ILABS called me around Benji’s second birthday, shortly after I completed the survey for that quarter. She told me that Benji’s word use was in the bottom 6% to 7% for his age, and that although they weren’t a diagnostic facility, they recommended we have him checked out to see if speech therapy would be helpful. Would we like any resources? At first I said no, thank you, he’s normal in every other respect and we’re not worried. But after I hung up the phone, I started thinking and comparing him to all his peers. We see quite a number of other kids Benji’s age, thanks to PEPS and playdates, and I realized that my perception that Benji didn’t talk much compared to his peers was really true. He didn’t. Should he? Was he way off? Was I just underestimating and under-reporting his word use on the survey? How could I tell?

A discussion with my friend Christy, a physical therapist for the Northshore School District, helped crystallize it for me. She recommended that we go to the Kindering Center to have him evaluated. They would run a bunch of tests on him (disguised as play, those sneaky devils!) and compare him to his peers in a variety of areas. If he was well below normal, we would qualify for government assistance to help Benji come up to speed. Although internally I cringe to see him lumped in as “developmentally delayed,” I arranged an assessment, and we did it on September 15. They gave us the results immediately: The speech therapist agreed that he was well below normal in word use, and that he could use speech therapy; and, surprisingly, the physical therapist said she observed a delay in his gross motor skills that qualified to be addressed with physical therapy, too.

The speech therapy qualification I just accepted. No news there. But the gross motor… Benji did start walking long after most of his peers, between 16 and 17 months, but he’s walking and running easily these days. He doesn’t climb or jump, and has trouble going up and down — especially down — stairs the way his peers do, but I assume that’s because he’s six months or more behind most of his peers in practice time.

In any case, we are starting speech therapy next week and physical therapy some time soon. Although I’ll be sorry to lose the sound effects, I’m looking forward to helping Benji have words for his experiences and needs.

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Lessons in Homeownership: Mulching Edition

I don’t know if you recall my much-beloved rain garden; I may have mentioned it now and againonce or twice (or maybe three, four, or five, or, OK, a lot of times) before. We did the hard work of building it back in 2011, but my rain garden care guide says it needs annual mulching to remain healthy. Needless to say, I haven’t mulched since we made it, and admittedly the amended soil has seemed to get harder and more clayey over time (clay being, alas, the composition of the rest of the yard).

This year I finally decided to do what I should have a long time ago, and I ordered a delivery of mulch. While we were doing that, I also figured we could to the other garden beds, such as there are. I measured the area to be covered and estimated we’d need four cubic yards of material. When I called, however, the gal I ordered from said, “But wait! There’s a deal if you buy six yards!” And, foolish inexperienced dirt-hauler that I am, I said, “Sure, what the heck. We can just spread it deeper.”

My first inkling of trouble came when the delivery dump truck dumped its entire load on our driveway.

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A dump truck visits our house, and Benji wasn't even here to enjoy it.

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This is 6 cubic yards of mulch occupying our entire driveway.

Note to future Katie: FOUR YARDS IS ENOUGH.

Sunday, Ian and I moved mulch before church. Then, after church during Benji’s nap, Mom and Dad came over and helped me move more mulch while Ian did errands. When Ian got home, he rested a bit, changed, and moved more mulch.

I kept Benji occupied and out of the deeply alluring but regrettably prickly pile of dirt. Benji loved the idea of Ian being an excavator (piling dirt in the wheelbarrow), then a dump truck (pushing the wheelbarrow and dumping it), then a bulldozer (raking the mulch).

Anyway, after all this diligent mulch moving, we’ve mulched just about every square foot in the yard that could possibly take it. Yet here we are.

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What's left after we mulched the yard to death.

Sigh.

On the bright side:

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The back yard and rain garden, freshly mulched.

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Mulching really shows where there are gaps in the rain garden.

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Front yard.

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Recipe for an Amazing Morning

Ingredients:
1 Toddler
1 Mommy
1 Nana
1 Car

Instructions:
Combine all ingredients between 7:00 and 7:30 am. Drive to Kenmore Air Harbor. Observe activity for 30 to 60 minutes, or until bored.

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Yes, that is a fork lift carrying a sea plane.

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This is a vintage 1924 float plane, the only one of this type in the world still flying.

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When bored, walk 1/4 mile to Cemex factory. Find safe place to observe cement trucks.

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When thoroughly chilled, return to air harbor, use bathroom and warm up. Observe mechanics repairing planes. Watch out: Toddler will likely start getting very hungry, and express this problem vehemently.

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Drive to breakfast, eat a huge pile of eggs and toast, and change diaper. Go to Blyth Park to play on the tire mountain. Coincidentally, you may encounter another child you know from church.

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When tired of the park, return home to find street repair crew working on patching the road a block from home. Go observe, taking care to examine backhoe loader carefully.

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Mommy may be required to put toddler down for a nap 30 minutes early, due to extreme tiredness.

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Practically Perfect

It’s real tough going around here these days, let me tell you.

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Ian and Benji wear hard hats while playing construction site, a game inspired by all our visits to…

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…a real construction site. Benji was oddly thrilled when a bored excavator driver, waiting for dump trucks to come back, pulled out and ate a banana. We immediately had to eat a banana while wearing a hard hat when we got home.

This morning we went for a fairly easy trailer ride, and the conditions were exceptionally nice. Benji tolerated our time on the trail, but perked up when we got back on the road with all the cars and trucks. If we could, he’d probably have me ride on the freeway. In lieu of that, as a compromise, we ride busy roads that have bike lanes.

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My phone does some auto-HDR when it detects the appropriate conditions.

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I have a cold, but honestly, I’ve got nothing to complain about. Life is good.

OH! I meant to add this: We must be a really weird family. This morning Benji asked (through pantomime and sign) about how the washer and dryer worked. So I drew him a picture on the chalk board:

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As I drew I narrated the story (by the way, this is a summary. My story to Benji was way longer and more detailed): First you get your clothes all dirty; then you put them in the washer with soap, turn it on, and water comes in and swirls it around; when it’s clean, you put it in the dryer, where it’s spun with hot air blow drying it.

Fine… But then somehow I ended up explaining how soap works. I had Benji acting as dirt, while I was soap; I grabbed Benji and some water (in a sippy cup) and off we went to have adventures. I drew it in the diagram, too. And included a real water molecule with two hydrogens and one oxygen. Somehow I don’t think normal parents do this with their 2-year-olds.

Dulcius Ex Asperis