Some recent vignettes from the life of Alan (age 8) and David (age 6):
1) As a prize for reading to his littlest brother (Jacob, age 4), Alan got to watch this clip from an old movie. (Relevance: we were just reading some Greek myths, and did the Perseus and Medusa story.) I say "old movie", but I remember when this came out -- I was a senior in high school.
Anyway. Alan has a vivid imagination, so this was right on the edge of Too Scary. But what kept it on this side was... the monster. About two minutes in, Alan said, "Medusa looks like special effects." This was, I think, partly defensive -- it's a scary scene, Medusa is scary, so reassure your eight-year-old self that it's just a movie. But it was also an effective defensive tactic, because -- I'm really sorry, Ray Harryhausen -- an eight-year-old in 2010 has seen special effects so breathtakingly realistic that a stop-motion monster, no matter how scary-looking, is just not going to wholly convince.
(Oddly enough, this wasn't an issue with the entirely-stop-motion Fantastic Mr. Fox movie. They didn't like Mr. Fox, more's the pity, but it wasn't because of the animation.)
2) We have an old CD player/tape recorder in their room. Mostly they've been playing CDs, but last week Claudia picked up a couple of tapes at the library.
When the tape ran out, Alan was completely nonplussed. "You have to take it out, turn it over -- see? -- and put it in again." "You do it, Daddy."
Also, the tape control buttons. They're similar to the CD controls, but just different enough to be confusing. And you have to push them really hard. "Daddy, you do the controls. They're like, you know, when you were a kid." "When I was a kid?" "Yah, when you were little you had things like this. Right?"
Actually, I first encountered this now-grotesquely-obsolete technology sometime circa 1982. When I was Alan's age, the equivalent of their CD/tape player was my older sisters' Close'n'Play. (And yes, I remember that very commercial.)
Anyway. It's like jacking into the Core Mind! only, backwards.
3) The boys enjoy listening to the Three Question Marks, a set of audio-only dramas involving three boy detectives. They were originally a radio series, but I don't think they've been on the radio for a while. We have most of them now on CD.
And it was fine and they liked it and all, except... they kept wanting to sit in front of my laptop and stare at the screen. I guess it was something like having a radio broadcast out of a blank TV.
4) Yesterday we went for a walk up on the Hochrhoen, the high moor behind the town.
The Hochrhoen is high, windswept patch of land, not good for much of anything except grazing sheep. So back when the German states were establishing boundaries, they ran the dividing lines between Bavaria, Thuringia and Hesse right through it -- basically because it wasn't worth arguing over.
So a century or two later, when Germany got split between East and West, the line ran right across the middle of the moor. Up until 1991, the Bavarian and Hessian pieces were a mix of sheep meadows and nature preserves, while the Thuringian side was a Restricted Zone, accessible only to residents and people with special IDs.
After reunification, most of that became nature preserves too. (Tip for the Koreans: you can instantly bulk up your national park system just by leaving the border zone be.) But there's a spot on the HochRhoen, about ten minutes drive from our house, where they left part of the old border fence.
So there's maybe 50 feet of rusty metal fence with barbed wire on top, in front of a crumbling bunker that's now overgrown with grass. Right behind it is a watchtower, maybe 20 meters or 70 feet tall, with one-way glass around the crow's nest and a big searchlight on top. There's a big map-board showing how the whole area used to look: machine gun emplacements over here, kennel for the dogs back there, land mines and booby traps all along this stretch.
The brilliant part is this: tower, bunker and piece of fence now stand alone in the middle of a huge open meadow. It's all grass and flowers, with absolutely nothing to distinguish one side from another. A hiking trail runs across it. Where once the land mines were buried, now there's nothing more dangerous than the occasional cow pat.
I tried to explain the history to the boys, but it was strangely hard. Two Germanies, one of which kept its people locked up? Just... weird. And anyway, they were more interested in climbing up the sides of the bunker and then scrambling down, over and over.
I'm not sure if it's the surrealistic isolation, or just the Communist-era concrete, but the tower, bunker and fence all look a lot more than twenty years old. I remember East Germany -- I visited East Berlin, back when -- but now it really seems like a completely different era, almost incomprehensible to a boy growing up today.
On the other hand, they think it's cool that I can make a yo-yo do tricks. So there's that.