Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Informant

It seems I'm always writing about the oldest boy, Josh, but it's hard not to. He's such a great source for material.

Josh can be a little forgetful with some of life's simpler tasks. Like properly using the bathroom, for instance. I'm not talking about biological issues; I'm talking about the logistics of using the technology properly. To deal with this, I created a list of the 8 Essential Steps to Using the Bathroom. I made Josh repeat them numerous times, and if he fails to follow all steps, he must write them down. They are:
  • Turn on the light.
  • Close the door!!!!!!! (the #1 source of failure)
  • Use the toilet.
  • Close the seat.
  • Flush the toilet!!!!! (the #2 source of failure)
  • Wash your hands.
  • Turn out the light!
  • Leave the door open (for some reason, he always uses the bathroom with the door open, then closes it when he leaves).
Since we started employing the 8 Essential Steps, we've seen progress, though there are still numerous missed steps. Luckily, I have an informant in the house to help enforce this rigorous procedure.

So here's how today began for me. At 7:14 a.m., Matthew (who shares a room with Josh) approached the bed, stood beside my face and said the following: "Daddy, what is wrong with that boy? I just walked past the bathroom and the door was open."

"Is Josh using it?" I asked.

"Poop," was his answer.

I stayed in bed with my eyes closed and listened as Matthew went back out to check on his older brother. "Josh, did you forget one of the steps?" he asked. "Josh, you're forgetting your steps! There's another one you missed ...!"

I probably should have intervened and told Matthew not to be a tattletale, not to be bossy, and not to act like he's a parent. Instead I stayed in bed and laughed. I'm sure I'll pay for my laziness some day – maybe 10 years from now when I'm paying the counselor's bill – but it's difficult to be the good parent all the time. Sometimes you just have to sit back and laugh. The kids can be damn funny.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Labor and love

After my last post, one of my loyal readers gave me a great piece of advice. I wrote about how our oldest son, Josh, is jealous of the attention given to his youngest brother. Vicky told me to try giving him responsibility, investing in his status as the oldest as a way of making him feel important.

I tried that the other day, and it actually worked!

The youngest boy was napping, the middle boy was next door with his best friend, and Josh was moping around the house asking if I would turn on the television. I told him he needed to earn the TV by helping me in the backyard. I said he's big enough, mature enough and strong enough, and I could really use his help. I've been working on chopping, splitting and stacking the massive tree that toppled, and it's the truth – I really could use his help.

So he followed me outside and we got to work. I cut with the chainsaw and split with the maul, while he filled the wheelbarrow and stacked the wood. We spent 30 to 40 minutes doing this, and I repeatedly praised him for the effort. He even seemed happy.

With the sun setting, we packed up the operation for the day, went inside, and I thanked him for being such a great helper. Then I turned on the TV for him.

I knew it had been a successful effort, but I didn't realize how successful until later that night. To set the scene, I need to rewind a little bit. Josh is 7, and for every day of his life, Mom has been #1. Josh and I have never been as close as Josh and Mom. Matthew is my little shadow, but Josh is often my adversary.

Well, on this night, Josh said something I haven't heard in ... well, I can't remember ever hearing it before. We were joking around as a family, Matthew was singing the K-I-S-S-I-N-G song and kissing his mother on the cheek, and Josh said, "I love my Daddy." I stayed calm, but my heart leaped inside. I took a moment to tell everyone what a great helper Josh had been, and at bedtime I gave Josh an extra long 'thank you' and 'I-love-you' tuck-in.

As I look back, I realize this is just a small moment. If I want to be close to Josh when he's 16, I'll need a lot more bonding between now and then. But this is a good start, and it's nice to know my son loves me. Thanks, Vicky.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A scared, little big boy

Early on Christmas morning, I had a rare moment alone with my oldest son, Josh. We were eating breakfast together, and everyone else was upstairs. At that point, the older boys had opened only their stockings and one Santa gift; the rest was on hold until Mommy came downstairs.

To understand this scene, it helps to know Josh. He's a beautiful boy, but he's not a great communicator. My wife and I struggle to get anything out of him. We have almost no idea what he does in school (second grade). We have almost no idea what he thinks most of the time. He often talks to himself, reciting movie and TV lines while going through his day.

But every once in a while, Josh actually comes out and says something. It happens randomly, and you never see it coming. Because it's so rare, we stop everything and listen. What he reveals is often mesmerizing.

That's where I found myself Christmas morning. I was probing to see if Josh was excited about Christmas. I was asking if he was excited about all the presents to open ... no response. What about all the people coming over, and all the presents they'd be bringing ... no response. And then he spoke.

"Everybody who comes over just wants to see Colin," he said, talking about his youngest brother, the 2 1/2-year-old battling a genetic disorder. "They always bring presents to Colin. They never brings presents to me."

I was momentarily stunned.

"Who does that?" I asked.

"Everyone. They always brings presents to Colin, and they play with him, and they tell him how cute he is and how adorable he is, and they hug him ... They always come to see Colin."

A day later, I'm still trying to make sense of what he said. It's not true – that Colin gets all the attention – but that doesn't matter. In Josh's mind, it's true, and I think it opens a real window into his soul. My beautiful, first-born son was showered with attention from the moment he arrived. He was the first grandson of two families, the star in everyone's eyes.

Today, he's a "big boy." He's actually huge for his age – nearly 80 pounds in second grade. Everyone tells him, "you're such a big boy." Well, that big boy doesn't get hugs like he used to. He doesn't get called "cute" anymore. He's not "adorable" anymore. He's not the center of attention. He's not the star he used to be. In a house where the middle boy is magnetically charming, and the youngest boy gets three home visits per week and a constant rotation of caregivers (in Josh's mind, people coming over to see Colin while Josh goes off to school), Josh struggles for attention.

Our 60-second conversation yesterday reminded me that Josh can't always be the "big boy." Sometimes he needs to be the baby again, the first-born, the star in everyone's eyes. That big boy is probably scared of growing up. I know I was for most of my childhood.

So I'll end this post now without a big hurrah. I've written six different endings, trying to uncover the grand truth behind Josh's words, but I can't seem to get the words right. I just know I love that kid so much it hurts, and I want to know more about him. I'll just wait patiently until he tells me a little bit more.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Any gift is special

Parents spend a lot of time planning, talking, shopping, spending and stressing over what to get their children for Christmas. If they can afford it, they include a few "big" gifts, the stuff they save for the end, when the family room is littered with wrapping paper and tissue. The big gifts are supposed to be the signature moments of the day.

Today my son Matthew reminded me that any gift is special. The second gift he opened was this 10-inch, yellow dump truck that makes noises when you press its buttons. It came from Santa, and I'm guessing it cost about $9.95. It was without a doubt his favorite gift of the day. When he opened it, he danced around the room.

"On Friday, at my school, Santa came to our classroom," he said. "And I sat on his lap, and I told him I wanted trucks, and that's how he knew to get me one."

I left the room and came back, and he was clutching the truck, saying "Truck, truck, trucky, truck, I love you truck, truck, truck, truck ..." He then started kissing it and hugging it. I'm not kidding. He was literally kissing the $10 truck.

Moments like that remind you that you don't need to spend a ton of money to give a child a special treat. A gift is a gift. Thank you, Matthew, for reminding us.

And merry Christmas to anyone reading this. I have much more to write about today, and I'm hoping you do too. I'll be back later, gotta get back to the family now.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Saturday morning bakers

It's never good to hear the vacuum cleaner, unless you, the parent, turned it on. But that's what I heard this morning while I was upstairs, Mom was sleeping and the boys were downstairs.

Our boys are not typically helpful. They're destructive. They're messy. And it would be out of character to turn on the vacuum out of the goodness of their hearts. So I knew that vacuum was not a good sound.

I took my time getting downstairs, because whatever damage had been done, was done. This is the scene that greeted me. Josh, giving the Saturday morning pancake operation a jumpstart, had dumped the Bisquick everywhere but the bowl. To give him credit, he was trying to clean it up, first with extensive lengths of paper towels, then with the vacuum. I invited him to leave the kitchen while I finished the cleanup, and 5 minutes later the pancake operation was back in business.

If you have your own children baking stories, share them below. I'm sure some of you have helpful little kitchen workers :)

The snow dance

As I type, the boys are downstairs fighting - literally hitting, chasing and slamming doors - about who has the right snow dance.

It started when Josh decided he wants snow for Christmas. Matthew said, "Okay, I'll do the snow dance." Then he ran off to the bathroom to turn his pajamas inside out (which is apparently necessary for kindergarten-level snow dances).

Josh decided to improvise his own snow dance, which went like this, all of it screamed while shaking his body in some sort of contortion, with his butt sticking out and his hands flailing:

"Snow, we want you to come today!
Snow, we want you to come today!
Snow, we want you to come today!
Snow, we want you to come today,
So we can go sledding!
Snow, snow, snow, snow, snow!!!!"

When he was done, he sat down on the couch and we both looked out the window. After 10 seconds of silence and no snowflakes, we heard Colin crying upstairs in the crib.

"Well, Josh," I said. "I don't see any snow, but I do hear Colin."

"Maybe I wasn't lough enough," he replied.

Can you feel it? The Christmas buzzzzzzzzz

Just got the morning visit from Matthew. He climbed into bed at 6:47 a.m. with excitement exploding from every pore. With his face once again 3 inches from my face, he "whispered" (loud enough that his brothers down the hall could hear him): "I wish it was nightime!"

"Why," I asked.

"Because, you silly goose, Santa is coming!"

Friday, December 23, 2011

Boys and toys (and toilets)

While getting the toddler ready for a bath last night, I spun around to find my oldest son standing in front of the toilet, bowl full of pee, pants around his ankles, with two hands clutching an electronic game. He was staring intently at the game with absolutely no inclination to do anything but play.

"Josh," I said. "Watch what you're doing. Don't play games while you're peeing."

"Why?" he asked. "I'm done peeing."

I thought this might be a random act of boyness, but then our neighbor gave me this suggestion for a blog post: Fishing toys out of the toilet after one of her sons went #2. "Really?" I asked. Really.

It seems her two boys like to bring toys while they're otherwise indisposed on the toilet. And on more than one occasion, the toys have landed in the toilet pre-flush.

I know you're wondering ... um, how does she retrieve the toys? Plastic utensils.

And what does she do with the toys?

I didn't ask.

If you enjoy reading these posts, I'd love to hear from you, and if you have stories of your own, share them here in the Comments section.

Random kid comment of the day (Dec. 23)

Scene: It is 5:52 a.m. in a dark bedroom; hushed silence hangs over the room. A 5-year-old's soft footsteps pad into the room. Dad opens one eye to discover 5-year-old face 6 inches away.

Matthew: "Scared."
Dad: "No, you're not."
Matthew: [Smiling] "Yes, I am."

Matthew climbs into bed, over Dad, digs feet under blankets, dragging his own blanket, fusses, fidgets, kicks, wiggles, elbows, shifts, rolls, kicks, squirms, adjusts, settles in.

Matthew: [Rolling over, whispering in Dad's ear] "Daddy, tomorrow morning, on Saturday, I want a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich for breakfast."
Dad: "We don't have any bacon."
Matthew: "Buy it."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Snack time never ends!

It might be easier if we turned our entire kitchen into one enormous food processor, hooked up our oldest son to a continuous feed and let him ingest food without pause. He's been home from school all of one hour and he's done the following, in this order:
  • Pulled a package of diced peaches and a package of peanut butter crackers from the pantry and started eating both.
  • I yelled that he could only have one snack (which I have now yelled for 792 consecutive days).
  • Five minutes later, I was throwing something in the trash when I saw an open canister of peaches.
  • I asked why he threw them away, and he stared at me blankly. (I of course removed them from the trash and told him to eat them. Which he did.)
  • Two minutes later, he was sneaking around with an apple hidden under his arm.
  • I then came around the corner to find him spooning ice cream into the blender to make a shake.
  • I ended that experiment and told him to stay out of the kitchen.
  • A few minutes later, I found him dumping chocolate powder for an enormous glass of chocolate milk.
  • As I was asking him to please, please, please, please, please, stay out of the kitchen, he grabbed his glass, turned around, stepped on his younger brother, and spilled the chocolate milk directly on his head ... which is the image you see above. Poor Colin, miserable as can be without a full nap, has been crying without stop for more than an hour, and now has a head full of chocolate milk.
People who don't have kids always think I exaggerate or make this stuff up. It's unbelievable. This stuff is not a daily occurrence, this is minute by minute. This is my life :)

And the parents fail again ...

So I was 30 feet high on a ladder, trying to saw through the tree that split in half in the backyard last night, when my cell phone rang. I somehow fished it out of my pocket, held the saw and didn't fall. It was my wife calling from work, telling me the school had called, our kindergartner had an "accident" and needed to be picked up.

So I rousted the 2-year-old after just a 45-minute nap (which will absolutely ruin tonight), loaded him in the car and headed off to pick up the middle son. I admit to being a little annoyed. I didn't get the tree down, Colin lost his nap, and my day was rudely interrupted, all because Matthew waits until the absolute last minute to run like hellfire to the bathroom. I know what you're thinking. I'm an insensitive jerk. Well, I didn't think these things for too long, just a minute or five.

It all changed when I got to the school and the nurse brought Matthew to the office to meet me (see picture above). This is what we had stored in his backpack in the event of an emergency: too-small shorts. Don't they look great with his brown dress shoes and Christmas sweater?

Then he told me how he hid under his jacket in the nurse's office, because the kindergarten class was walking by and looking in the window. I asked why he was hiding, and he didn't answer ...

My heart sank. I'm a terrible father. We're terrible parents. We sent him off to school without even a safety blanket of decent backup clothes, and he had to hide from his peers under a cloak of shame. Damn, this parenting stuff is difficult.

I made him pose for this photo though, so we can laugh about it later. He's a good sport. He'll survive. I just hope I do, too.

Why am I doing this ...?

A few years ago, when I had only one son, I briefly wrote a parenting column that some people liked. Of course, no one liked it more than me. That's not ego talking, that's just how I felt about it. I loved being a dad, and I loved laughing at the comedy as a 2-year-old controlled my life.

Well, now I've got three of those creatures controlling my house, and the comedy - and agony - are magnified. I want to write again. I've got the time. And I've got plenty of material. Thus is born, 'Dad Times Three.'

I was inspired to do this after taking my youngest son, 2 1/2-year-old Colin, to a weekly playground session yesterday. It was my first time taking him; normally my wife brings him.

After dropping him off to play with the other kids, the parents gather in a separate room for a group session on parenting. By "parents," I mean moms ... 14 moms, and me. I stayed mostly quiet and let the facilitator and the moms talk - including a few jabs at husbands and dads, which I chose not to respond to - but I left the session mentally exhausted. Why? Because parenting is a freakin' crazy job!!!

We spent more than an hour discussing the sensory trigger points, both positive and negative, for adults and children. Do they suck on the buttons of their shirt? Do they pick their noses? Do they struggle to sit still? Do they fidget with their hair? Do they like to put cold things on their face? Do they run and bang into walls ... and on and on and on. The lesson is to recognize your child's sensory triggers, be responsive to them and help navigate them.

I thought, 'Are you kidding me?' I don't have time to recognize their triggers; I'm too busy yelling at them to stop doing all those damn, annoying things ... Which is right about the time I realized (for the 10,000th time) how difficult this job is. Because you can never stop it. To do it well, you have to do it all the time. Every day. Every minute they're awake. And a few extra minutes when they're asleep.

It's exhausting. It's humbling. And I hope to get better at it. Times three.

In every post, I will welcome comments, feedback, jeers or advice. Feel free to mock me. Feel free to tell your own stories. Talk to you soon.