Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Dog Whisperer

Okay, it's been a couple of months since I've written anything here, so this blog is just about kaput. Who knew that getting a real job would take up so much time ...?

But the kids are still pretty damn funny, so I'd like to keep writing it. The interruption probably has more to do with me spending less time with the kids than with me spending more time with work. Though the preceding sentence is horribly written, hopefully you get the point. What I'm trying to say is, it's not just that I'm busy, it's that I don't spend as much time with the boys anymore – and that's why I don't find as much to write about.

And that's not a good thing.

So here's a funny one-liner from the master of one-liners that's been bouncing around in my head for a week. We were sitting outside on the deck enjoying a family dinner, when Micky – that's the incredibly annoying dog – began whining with his nose about 6 inches from Matthew's plate. Matthew, who is now 6 (I've actually missed two birthdays since my last post ...), was mostly ignoring the whine.

In a playful mood, I asked Matthew: "What is Micky saying?"

He turned to the dog, looked at him, then looked back at me and said: "I don't speak squeak."

Thursday, May 24, 2012

'I wanna a new pet'

Matthew seems to enter the room when I'm in the deepest of deep sleeps. Last night, he wasn't even in the room when he ripped me from one of those deep sleeps.

Somewhere deep in my dream state, I heard sobbing. I jolted awake, discombobulated, half-conscious of my surroundings. The clock said it was 4:48 a.m. I slid out of bed and stumbled toward the bedroom door. As I reached the door, a small boy, wrapped in his favorite Thomas the Tank Engine blanket, padded down the hallway and into the room while weeping. "I wanna a new pet," I heard him cry. "I wanna a new pet!"

"Go to the bathroom," I told him.

No, it's not the typical response to a weeping child in the middle of the night, but I am endlessly practical. I didn't want him climbing into my bed and falling asleep with a full bladder. Without question, he turned, walked into the master bathroom and peed, crying the whole time.

As he walked back out, I decided to follow my own advice, and I headed into the bathroom. As we passed, I said, "we can talk about a new pet in the morning."

He instantly stopped crying, looked up at me and said, "What are you talking about? I didn't say I want a new pet. I said I fell out of bed."

"Oh," I said. "Well, go to bed."

Since the tears were over, he climbed into my bed, I followed him in, and we both went to sleep.

I hope he doesn't think I'm getting him a new pet.

Don't shoot McDonald's

Since our family could use some good news these days, I'll try sharing some lighthearted family moments. This one happened a few days ago, when Josh made me smile.

I had taken the boys for a double-fun trip to Target and Lowe's. The highlight of the Lowe's trip was the purchase of a line trimmer, so I can finally knock down the two-foot-high grass around our yard. The machine was packaged in a long narrow box that didn't quite fit in the carriage, and it kind of resembled a large cannon.

The older boys were pretending the box was a huge gun, and they were shooting home improvement objects throughout Lowe's. Colin just stared at them in bewilderment, and they kept blowing things up.

When we loaded the huge gun in the car, it draped from the third row (where Josh was sitting) into the second row (where Matthew was sitting). That gave Matthew perfect access to point and aim the gun wherever he wanted. He was targeting and destroying things along the way, while Josh had his head buried in a book.

In perfect Josh fashion, without looking up from the book, he said clearly, "Don't shoot any McDonald's, cuz those are my favorite places."

Friday, May 11, 2012

Colin was a rock star today

I find unexpected moments to be proud of my children. An insightful comment, a surprise gesture, a challenging question – all can trigger silent pride.

Today, it was a trip to the doctor.

Colin went to see a pediatric cardiologist because another doctor detected a heart murmur during a recent exam. We've been told heart murmurs are relatively common in children, but there was some anxiety nonetheless.

Colin was a rock star.

We spent nearly two hours in the office. Three doctors listened to his heart, silently moving the stethoscope over his bare skin. They stuck eight or more sensors to his chest, stomach and legs for a complete EKG. They put him through a 15-minute echocardiogram, asking him to lie on his back with blue jelly smeared on his chest while a technician watched his little heart beat, beat, beat.

My pride swelled during the echocardiogram. I'll never forget the image of his little body, suddenly looking so long from head to toe, stretched on that table.

Colin was wearing gray corduroy pants, with gray socks. His shoes were off. So was his shirt.

His tiny, bare chest showed the scars of his young life – the one-inch slice where a G-tube once protruded; the strange, purple-blue mark that's been there since birth; the outie belly button that guarantees he will never be a swimsuit model. Lying on his back, still as can be, he quietly looked around the room as the woman slowly circled his torso with the magic wand. For a full 15 minutes, he did everything she asked without a whimper. He sat up. He tilted his head back. He straightened his legs. He lay back down.

Colin has always amazed us. This kid spent nearly three months in intensive care. He went under full anesthesia half a dozen times. He had a double hernia repair. He had a G-tube. He had supplemental oxygen, a helmet, full leg casts, a bar between his feet, a walker, ear tubes, physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Now he has a heart murmur.

All those trips to doctors, all those procedures, all those pokes, pricks and prods, all have toughened him up. All prepared him for a two-hour trip to the cardiologist.

Colin was a rock star today. Once again, he made us proud.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Josh is so helpful. He was working on a puzzle a minute ago and Colin was having a great time kicking Josh's puzzle pieces. "Stop it, Colin!" Josh yelled. "Stop it! Stop it!"

Then he solved the problem by picking up Colin, carrying him across the house into the bathroom and handing him the toilet plunger. I turned around to find Josh instructing Colin on how to plunge the kitchen floor.

"Okay, Colin?" Josh asked.

"Yaaah," Colin said.

And Josh ran back to his puzzle quite satisfied with himself.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kids are weird

An hour ago, the two older boys emerged from their bedroom, post-shower, in identical, green truck pajamas. "Daddy, can you tell us apart?" asked the boy who was six inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than the boy standing next to him.

"No, I can't," I said.

"Well, I am so hungry all the time I could eat all the food in the whole entire world," the big one said.

"Well, that sounds like Joshua," I said.

"Yup, that's me," said Josh, then he ran downstairs to make himself dessert.

Matthew followed him down, and before Colin and I could get there, dessert was well underway. They had taken out a half-gallon of Breyer's vanilla ice cream and were scooping it into separate bowls. Then Matthew took his bowl, put it in the microwave and set it for four minutes. He stopped it with 3:20 to go. "Wow, it's never been hot before," he said while staring down at the soupy mix.

Next came oyster crackers. As I watched in awe, Matthew pulled a package of oyster crackers from the drawer, ripped it open and dumped it in the ice cream bowl. "Really?" I asked him. He just looked at me. Next he got out the gallon of milk and poured milk on top of the ice cream and crackers. Finally he sat down to eat.

Josh followed his lead, also putting the ice cream in the microwave and then pouring milk on top of it. No oyster crackers for Josh. After two bites, Matthew said to himself, but loud enough so we could all hear, "Actually, this isn't very good."

"Mine is so good!" Josh said while devouring his vanilla soup. Colin of course screamed for his own bowl. I set him up between his brothers with a nice dish of cold ice cream and a plastic spoon, but a minute later the spoon flew across the room and hit me. Apparently Colin was having a hard time scooping cold ice cream with plastic, so I forgave the spoon-throwing and helped him finish the bowl with a fresh metal spoon.

The final noteworthy moment was at the very end of the night. Jenn was upstairs with Josh and I was downstairs working on the kindergartner's homework. Colin climbed down the stairs, saw us doing homework, and wandered into the kitchen. He came back a moment later with the electric mixer.

When we finished Matthew's homework, I told the boys it was time for bed. Up we went — me, Matthew, Colin and the mixer, firmly lodged in the boy's grip. I said goodnight to Matthew and brought Colin into his room. He walked to the crib, lifted up the mixer and dropped it over the bars, onto his mattress. I turned out the light, sang one verse of "Twinkle, twinkle little star," then put Colin into the crib. In the dark, he reached out, pulled the mixer close to his chest and curled into a ball. I fluffed out a blanket, let it fall over the boy and the mixer, said good night and left the room.

I haven't told Jenn about it yet. I probably should before she goes to check on him and discovers a kitchen appliance in the crib. But I won't. It'll ruin the surprise.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Josh makes a funny

I took the two older boys to a crowded Target on a rainy Sunday afternoon. We made a deal. They had to behave in the store in order to get a treat afterwards – Skittles for Josh, lollipop for Matthew.

They behaved exactly as expected. They ran through aisles. They elbowed each other for carriage positions. They grabbed boxes I told them not to. They fought. They wrestled. They bumped into other people. They blocked aisles. They screamed. They left me. They rolled on the floor. They knocked things off shelves.

They were the most rambunctious children in the superstore, but all things considered (rainy day, distracted father, loads of temptations), they were fine. I wanted to drag them by their ears only a couple of times, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

Once we were settled in the car, they asked for their treats. I said no. I told them they hadn't really earned them. They whined, so I told them they could still earn them by doing two things. They had to help me carry the bags into the house. And they had to solve a riddle.

"What's the riddle?" Matthew asked.

Before I could speak, Josh said, "What's mean and grown-up? And has three boys that don't listen?"

Friday, April 20, 2012

Goodbye to a family friend

The heart of this story begins about a year ago, not long after my parents bought four goldfish plus a tank for the boys. We were changing the water in the tank one day, a mildly complicated procedure that takes place in the boys' bathroom.

We were nearly finished, and I was ready to transfer the fish from a metal mixing bowl back into their tank. Matthew asked if he could do it. Since he's a responsible young man, I allowed it. Using a net, he scooped a fish from the bowl, but he scooped too hard. When he lifted the net, his adrenaline surged, and he flipped the fish, end over end, about five feet in the air. It landed with a thud on the tile floor of the bathroom.

I quickly scooped him up in two hands and dropped him into the tank.

Things didn't look good. The fish twitched occasionally but mostly floated in the tank. He drifted through the water, nearly upside down, with one fin lightly moving. If not for Matthew, I would have ended the fish's life right there. I assumed he was dead or dying, and there was nothing we could do about it. But Matthew as so distraught, I couldn't dare flush him down the toilet right then and there. I told Matthew we'd wait and see, but I had absolutely no hope. I expected to find the fish floating dead the next morning.

Amazingly, we found the fish swimming the next morning, and over the next couple of days, he recovered. He was clearly damaged – his body swelled in the center, and that broken fin never really worked again. You could easily recognize the fish. He looked like he had swallowed a marble. Matthew called him the short, fat one. But he lived.

He lived for the past year, in close quarters with his three friends, swimming awkwardly, but swimming. When I watched him, I knew he was struggling – struggling more than a tiny goldfish should. But he lived.

Yesterday morning, I was in the shower when Matthew came into the bathroom. "Daddy," he said. "That fat fish is acting funny. He's swimming to the top and then floating down."

"That's what he does, Matthew," I told him. "He always swims kind of funny."

Matthew left, I got out of the shower, got dressed and went through the day. I completely forgot about the fish, and we never checked on him. It wasn't until bedtime, when I was tucking in the boys (Jenn was at work), that I thought about the fish. I looked in the tank and there he was, floating upside down, no life at all.

Matthew saw me looking. "What's he doing" he asked. "Nothing," I said. "He died."

Matthew was quiet, then he started asking questions. "What happened to him? Are you sure? Which one is it?"

We talked, and I told him I had to take the fish out of the tank. "Is that okay?" I asked him. "Do you want to watch?" I told him I was going to flush the fish down the toilet. He seemed remarkably okay with that, so I got the fish net and scooped up our short, fat, broken friend. But as soon as the fish was taken from the water, things changed.

Matthew rolled over on his bed and began sobbing, tears pouring into his pillow. I sat down next to him, the dead fish dripping water onto the rug and began rubbing his back. I knew I couldn't flush this fish; he needed a proper burial. So I stayed there on the bed and talked to Matthew.

"You know what I do when someone dies?" I said.


"I think about all the good things," I said.

"Like what?" he said between sniffles.

"Like about how this fish was a survivor. He was a fighter. How we thought he was dead, and he fought and he fought and he fought, and he lived. He worked harder than the other fish to swim. He worked harder than the other fish to eat. But he lived. He was a fighter."

"Is that the fish that fell on the floor?" he asked.

"Yes, it was," I said.

"How did that happen?" he asked.

I couldn't believe the question. It was like he had distanced himself from the event. "Well, it happened when we were moving him back into the tank. It was a mistake," I told him, without reminding him that he was holding the net when it happened. That news unleashed a new torrent of tears, his head again buried in the pillow.

Listening to his brother weep, young Colin climbed up on the bed and wrapped his arms around Matthew's head. From the other bed, Josh began trying to console Matthew, in words oddly familiar.

"You know what I do when animals die?" Josh asked.

"What?" he said, face still buried in the pillow.

"I think about good animals, and how good they are, and the good things they do." Josh said.

"Like what animals?" Matthew sobbed.

"Like fish that fight," Josh said. "And dogs that are good. And rabbits ..." The speech unraveled a little bit, but Josh's heart was in the right place. He was being sweet.

By now, Colin had stopped hugging Matthew and was mostly stepping on his head, so I pulled him off his brother and told Matthew I'd be back in a few minutes to check on him. I put the fish in a tupperware container, put Colin to bed and went back to the boys' room. Both were asleep.

At breakfast this morning, I told Matthew I was going to bury the fish. I asked if he wanted to help. He said no, but he asked where I was going to bury him. "I'm not sure," I said.

"Will you bury him deep and put a circle of stones on top?" he asked.

So that's what I did. In a hidden corner of our yard, under a circle of small stones, lies the toughest goldfish I've ever seen. Matthew seems okay and appears to be moving on. He asked if Grandma and Grandpa would buy him a new goldfish. I expect they will. But he won't be like this fish. This fish was one tough son of a bitch. May he rest in peace.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

'You two make babies?' ... Ummm ...

I should know better than to joke with Matthew around. But sometimes I can't help myself ... and look where it leads me.

At dinner tonight, Colin was having another of his screaming bouts, where he wants something, and to get our attention, he shrieks until we can't ignore him any longer. This time, he was screaming that he wanted more milk. We were able to figure that out because he was slamming his empty milk cup on the table.

As we slowed him down and reminded him to use sign language, he cooperated somewhat. He signed: "more" and "please." He skipped the "milk" sign, but we let it slide.

Matthew delights in pointing out absolutely everything in the world around him, so he made it known that Colin skipped "milk." "How do we know what he wants more of?" Matthew asked. "He only said 'more please.'

"Maybe he wants more brothers," I said. This is the conversation that followed:

Jenn: "Well, that's not going to happen."
Matthew: "Why?"
Jenn: "Because this is it. This is the whole Pickering family. There won't be any more of you."
Matthew: "How do you know?"
Me: "Because we decided not to have any more children."
Matthew: "You two don't make babies."
Me: "Yes, we do."
Matthew: "How?" ...
... [painful silence] ...
Me: "... Um ... We ... Ummm ... "

Then I just gave up. I laughed and looked at Jenn. She was laughing at me. She offered a vain attempt at an explanation, something having to do with God blessing us with children and we deciding we didn't want any more, but she couldn't get through it. She started laughing, too. Matthew stumped us again. The question was never truly answered. We moved on to critiquing Josh's table manners.

I gotta go now. I need to find that parent instruction manual; the one that tells you how to handle those types of questions from a child like our 5-year-old.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Since Colin joined our family, we've always said it's a blessing that he has two older brothers. Given his challenges, it's nice to have two older brothers to push him (we didn't mean literally 'push' him, but of course that happens a lot), two older brothers he could aspire to be like.

It turns out that's happening. Colin aspires to be like his older brothers. Yet I wonder if that's always a good thing.

I snapped this photo at breakfast this morning. As I've written about before, Matthew has developed a slightly bad habit of sitting in front of the heating unit underneath the kitchen sink in the morning. His older brother gets dressed first thing in the morning, but Matthew stays in pajamas until the bus is minutes away. It's gotten to the point where Matthew actually eats his breakfast on the floor, in front of the heat, under the sink, in his pajamas, demanding that we fill his cereal bowl and hand it to him. He eats bowls of cereal, bagels, English muffins, bananas, etc. while sitting on the floor. And I've let this happen.

As of this week, Colin is a full-fledged student. So Colin is now on the same schedule as the older two. Unfortunately, he's also following some of the same routines as the older two. This morning, when I gave Matthew a banana to start his breakfast, he took his usual seat on the floor. Colin demanded the same privilege. As a pushover, I obviously gave in.

The photo shows Colin and Matthew starting their day eating breakfast on the floor. Little brother is taking after big brother. Bad habits continue. Dad enables them.

When it came time for a bowl of cereal, we were able to get Colin into a seat at the island. He sat next to his brother Joshua, and I was glad to see a more proper form of eating.

Of course, the brotherly influenced continued, and the two of them – the massive 7-year-old who looks 10 and the tiny 3-year-old who looks 2 – began fighting. Colin grabbed Josh's spoon. Josh yelled at him and gently hit him. Colin hit him back. Josh yelled. Colin grabbed his spoon. Josh gently hit him. Colin hit him back ... I began to think maybe Colin would be better off on the floor, for a quiet bowl of cereal next to his other older brother.

Older brothers ... are we still sure this is a good thing?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Another milestone for a very special boy

Our youngest son reaches a milestone this week.

When Colin turns 3 next Monday, he will transition from the care of Early Intervention Services to the Rehoboth public school system. This morning, his physical therapist, Lorna, came for the final time. It was emotional.

Lorna began working with Colin when he was just a few months old, just weeks after he came home from an extended stay in the hospital. You see, Colin spent the first 10 weeks of his life in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Women & Infants Hospital. It took about six weeks to diagnose that Colin has a somewhat rare genetic disorder known as Myotonic Dystrophy.

When he arrived home, Colin was strapped to a Pulse-Ox monitor so we could always track his pulse and oxygen level. A tank of oxygen sat close by, along with a suction machine so we could unclog his airway if necessary.

In those days, Colin was just a limp, tiny body of arms and legs on the floor. Jenn and Lorna would like on either side of him trying to get him to turn his head, then to lift his head. It took months.

Lorna would lift his dead arms and dead legs, stimulating the muscles, making him work for the first time. She saw him wear his first set of leg braces, to stretch his Achilles tendons and position his feet correctly. Then came a larger set of braces. Then full leg casts, which went mid-thigh to his toes. He looked like the victim of a horrible car crash.

She saw him pull himself up on the couch for the first time. She saw him grasp a walker for the first time. She watched him slide along behind it, then finally learn how to hold himself up and take his first steps. She saw him walk his first true steps unaided. She saw him start to "run" – a kind of hip-swinging, knees flailing, teetering-on-disaster gait that is all Colin.

Today she watched him run around the family room, kick a soccer ball, step over obstacles and duck through a hoop. She led him across a balance platform. She pushed him to go further.

But today she mostly played with him and laughed with him. It's an emotional day. Lorna says goodbye to Colin today.

Early Intervention works with children like Colin until they turn 3, then the public schools take over. A week from today, Colin will be a full-fledged student, receiving heavy doses of speech, physical and occupational therapy at the same elementary school where his two older brothers go.

It's an emotional day for us, too. Lorna has done wonders with Colin, and Colin has done wonders with us. On Saturday, the family took part in the 2012 Muscle Walk for the Musular Dystrophy Assoc. Colin walked a lap and a half around the indoor track at Providence College. Several other young boys rode around the track in motorized wheelchairs. I nearly cried a few times watching them drive and Colin walk.

The line between walking and riding is fragile. We had no expectation for Colin. He could easily have been the one in the wheelchair. I thank God he's not.

I also thank people like Lorna, my wife Jenn and the rest of the team who pushed Colin to where he is today.

I hugged Lorna goodbye a minute ago and then came back up here to finish typing and wipe away the tears. We've come a long way together. Thank you, Lorna.

And thank you, Colin.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why are kids sometimes so funny when they're so bad?

Josh and Matthew dumped their box of Matchbox cars – which is about 200 cars – at the top of the stairs. Sitting in my office I heard the unmistakable 'bang,' 'bang,' 'bang' of cars bouncing down the stairs.

"Guys, I don't want you throwing cars down the stairs," I called.

"I'm not," Josh said.

Having played this game 100 times before, I know how it goes. The choice of verb is critical. In his mind, he's not "throwing," he's doing something else. Until you specify the right action, he won't stop.

"Okay, I don't want you pushing cars down the stairs," I said.

"I'm not," Josh said, as another 'bang,' 'bang,' 'bang' echoed into my office.

Already tired of this, I cut to the end: "Okay, Josh, what ARE you doing with the cars?"

"I'm just getting them down the stairs."

Friday, March 23, 2012

I'm sorry, son. Please don't put me in timeout.

After the big yellow bus brought the day's shipment of child-sized mayhem back to our quaint, quiet neighborhood today, things started to get a little rowdy. That's not unusual. Things typically get a little rowdy in the streets and yards, particularly on my property.

Today, a gang of half a dozen young people, including my two oldest, were playing a variation of their favorite game. I don't think it has a name, but I can somewhat describe it. It features pirates/zombies/leprechauns who chase/hit/shove each other while screaming/crying/insulting in my house/yard/garage. Select any combination of the preceding words, and you get a good sense of what it looks and sounds like every day between the hours of 4 and 6 p.m. at the Pickering estate.

In today's game, the sacred object was a video camera which apparently started in Josh's possession but then ended up in Matthew's possession. After the swarm circled the house, ran into the garage, left the door to the kitchen open, tore through the house, spilled papers on the floor, ran out the front door, left that door open, circled the house again and ran up the deck stairs, Josh had had enough. He stopped, grabbed a three-foot heavy log from the pile of firewood, lifted it in two hands above his head like a weapon of Medieval destruction and started pounding up the deck stairs in search of his brother.

I'm not sure if he intended to scare his brother or simply bash his skull in, but at this point I opted to intervene. I asked him to stop. He didn't. I ordered him to stop. He didn't. I screamed at him to stop. He didn't. I unleashed the ultimate-Daddy-scare-the-crap-out-of-the-kids scream. He stopped. I told him to put the log back into the pile. He hurled it into the grass. I screamed for him to put the log back into the pile. He did.

A couple of hours later, after more zombie, screaming, crying, hitting "fun," it was time for dinner. The boys were now inside and I was trying to clean up the junkyard that is my property. I had just wheeled Josh's bike from the next-door-neighbor's driveway back into our garage (I know, I'm an enabler), and parked it in the corner with the helmet hanging from the handlebars, when I saw the very same bike lying in the backyard. One of our boys' delightful friends had decided to hop on the bike, ride it through the yard for no apparent reason and dump it out back before running inside to watch TV. (And if this all sounds like borderline chaos, it's only because it is.)

So let's just say I was a little peeved when I stomped over to the bike, hopped on it and decided to ride it back into the garage. As I turned the corner into my driveway, where my next-door-neighbor friends were enjoying a cold one (yes, I had one too at this point), the pedal snapped off the frame of Josh's bike. I tried to fix it, but it was bent and busted. I felt a little stupid, but these things happen.

When trying to settle the boys down for dinner, another version of Josh-hit-Matthew, Matthew-hit-Josh, Josh-hit-Matthew unfolded. As Matthew ran away from him, Josh picked up an arrangement of dried flowers and hurled it at the fleeing middle son. That's when I snapped for the second time.

My loud, screaming speech made a lot of good points about the logic of throwing household objects and the pointlessness of endless vengeance, but most importantly, it included one of my favorite lines, which apparently I use too frequently. "Josh," I said. "Think with your brain! Was that a smart thing to do?"

The point of this whole blog post is coming soon, so thank you for sticking with me this long. Later in the night, when Josh was cleaned, dried, dressed and charming, he asked me to go downstairs with him so he could have dessert. I agreed and we went down to the kitchen together. While he was eating two Oreos, I had to go into the garage, which reminded me of his bike.

"Josh, I'm sorry I broke your bike pedal tonight," I called to him. "But I can fix it."

"How did you break it?" he asked.

"I was riding it, and I shouldn't have," I said.

"Daddy, think with your brain!" he yelled.

I laughed out loud, walked over and hugged him. I told him that was one of the funniest things he's ever said, and he's right, I wasn't thinking with my brain. I have no idea what got into me.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Random Matthew conversation of the day

The conversation while driving to Saturday morning gymnastics class:

Matthew: "Do bus drivers drive buses all the time?"
Me: "No."
Matthew: "What do they drive?"
Me: "They have their own cars."
Matthew: "Why don't they drive the buses?"
Me: "Because they don't own the buses."
Matthew: "Who owns them?"
Me: "The school owns them and it pays the bus drivers to drive them."
Matthew: "So someone tells the bus drivers they have to drive the buses?"
Me: "Yes."
Matthew: "Does the principal tell them they have to drive the buses?"
Me: "Yes, she does."
Matthew: "So Sue doesn't own the bus she drives?" Sue is his bus driver.
Me: "No, she doesn't."
Matthew: "Some people own buses."
Me: "No, they actually don't."
Matthew: "Yes they do. We drive by a house, and there's a bus in the driveway."
Me: "Well, yes, I guess some people own buses."
Matthew: "I knew they did."

Friday, March 16, 2012

How do you fit a square post in a round hole?

Here's the Matthew question of the night:

"Daddy, why are we the only ones in the neighborhood with a lamppost?"

"Because your mother wanted one and we paid a lot of money for it."

"How much?"

"A lot."

"How did you dig a square hole for it?"

Pause. Big smile. Laughter.

"I didn't. I dug a hole, then put the dirt around it. It only looks square."

"Oh, yeah. That makes sense."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I am a living, breathing broken record.

I never wanted to be the proverbial broken record, but I am. Here is a 100% true and accurate accounting of the things I say every single day of my life. Every single day. Every. Single. Day.

6:30 a.m.: "[In a loud, angry whisper] Guys, be quiet, Colin is still asleep!!!!!!"
6:32 a.m.: "[Still in a loud whisper] Quiet down!"
6:40 a.m.: "Josh, turn down the radio. It's too loud!"
7 a.m.: "Josh, you can't carry down 30 books every morning. Five books!!"
7:01 a.m.: "Josh, you can't pour the cereal that high. There's no room for milk."
7:10 a.m: "Josh, stop reading, you need to eat."
7:15 a.m.: "Josh, stop reading, you need to eat."
7:20 a.m.: "Josh, stop reading, you need to eat."
7:25 a.m.: "Josh, stop reading, you need to eat."
7:30 a.m.: "Matthew, you need to eat breakfast."
7:35 a.m.: "Josh, stop reading, you need to eat."
7:40 a.m.: "Matthew, you need to eat breakfast."
7:45 a.m.: "Josh, stop reading, you need to eat."
7:50 a.m.: "Matthew, you're running out of time. You need to eat now."
7:55 a.m.: "Guys, at 8 o'clock, breakfast is over."
7:56 a.m.: "Matthew, eat!"
7:57 a.m.: "Josh, stop reading and eat!"
7:58 a.m.: "Josh, what are you doing?"
7:59 a.m.: "No, Josh, it's too late for a second bowl."
8:01 a.m.: "Matthew, get dressed."
8:02 a.m.:  "Matthew, get dressed."
8:03 a.m.: "Josh, make your bed."
8:04 a.m.: "Matthew, get dressed."
8:05 a.m.: "Josh, your bed."
8:06 a.m.: "Guys, the bus is coming soon."
8:07 a.m.: "Matthew, get dressed."
8:08 a.m.: "Josh, your bed. And teeth. Bed. And teeth. Bed and teeth. Bed and teeth!!!!"
8:09 a.m.: "Matthew, get dressed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
8:10 a.m.: "Josh, your teeth."
8:11 a.m.: "Josh, don't suck on the toothbrush, brush."
8:12 a.m.: "Josh, brush!"
8:13 a.m.: "Josh, where does your toothbrush go?"
8:14 a.m: "Josh, get your coat on."
8:15 a.m.: "Matthew, hurry up!!"
8:16 a.m.: "Matthew, get on your coat, put on your shoes."
8:17 a.m.: "Matthew, the bus is coming! Coat! Shoes! Now!!!!!"
8:18 a.m.: "Guys, stop it!"
8:19 a.m.: "Guys, stop it!"
8:20 a.m.: "Josh, don't kick the mailbox!"
8:21 a.m.: "Matthew, don't kick the mailbox either!"
8:22 a.m.: "Josh, stand still [as the bus is approaching and he's running into the street in front of it]. Josh! Stand still!!!!"
8:23 a.m.: "[Muttering to self as bus rolls away] Sweet heaven, thank you."
8:25 a.m.: "What, Colin?"
8:26 a.m.: "What, Colin? What do you want?"

Fast forward to the end of the tranquility, when that bus rolls back into our lives.

3:44 p.m.: "Hi guys, how was your day?" Silence. Not even a hello.
3:45 p.m.: "Josh, you can't walk around the house eating crackers. Sit down in the kitchen."
3:46 p.m.: "Matthew, where do your coat and shoes and backpack belong?" [They are typically strewn about six inches inside the front door, as if a force field yanked them off as he sprinted through the doorway.]
3:47 p.m.: "Josh, sit down when you're eating."
3:48 p.m.: "Matthew, put your shoes, coat and backpack away."
3:49 p.m.: "Josh, two snacks is enough."
3:50 p.m.: "Matthew, do what I ask! Now!"
3:51 p.m.: "Josh, no more snacks!"
4 p.m.: "Josh, we have to start your homework."
4:02 p.m.: "Josh, we have to start your homework."
4:04 p.m.: "Josh, we have to start your homework."
4:06 p.m.: "Josh! Homework! Now!"
4:07 p.m.: "What, Colin?"
4:08 p.m: "What, Colin? What do you want?"

Fast forward to bedtime.
7:30 p.m. [A naked Josh is dancing around his room.] "Josh, put on your pajamas."
7:31 p.m.: "Josh, can you put on your pajamas please."
7:32 p.m.: "Josh, put on your pajamas please."
7:33 p.m.: "Matthew, put on your pajamas please."
7:34 p.m.: "Josh! Pajamas!"
7:35 p.m.: "Matthew! Pajamas!"
7:36 p.m.: "Josh, where do your dirty clothes belong?"
7:37 p.m.: "Matthew, please put your dirty clothes in the hamper."
7:38 p.m.: "Guys, clothes!"
7:39 p.m.: "What, Colin?"
7:40 p.m: "What, Colin? What do you want?"
7:55 p.m.: "No, that's it. That's enough books. Time to brush teeth."
7:56 p.m.: "Guys, let's go. Brush teeth."
7:57 p.m.: "Matthew, get down here and brush your teeth!"
7:58 p.m.: "Josh, don't suck on the toothbrush, brush."
7:59 p.m.: "Josh, where does your toothbrush belong?"
8 p.m.: "Matthew, let's go, get into bed please."
8:01 p.m.: "Josh, we don't need that many lights on."
8:02 p.m.: "Josh, that's too many lights."
8:03 p.m.: "Matthew, please settle down."
8:04 p.m.: "Good night, guys. I love you."

I realize I sound like a horrible father, who nags and screams and yells too much. That's only because I am. And they're the reason I am. I hope when they read this someday, they'll realize how they turn me into a horrible person. And then they'll decide they never want to become broken records, too. But they will. It's inevitable. Gotta rest now. I have a full day ahead of me tomorrow.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Matthew Mind

The fact that I drove Matthew to school today is a story in itself. The short version is that the most stubborn child this world has ever seen, decided 30 seconds before the bus arrived that he needed his red gloves. I told him the gloves were in the car. He ran to get them, found only one, and refused to get on the bus. I began dragging him down the driveway toward the bus, but gave up. He literally dug in his heels and refused to move, so I waved the bus driver away.

Fifteen minutes later, still fuming mad, I was driving him through Rehoboth's country roads to school. We passed the Christmas tree farm where we tag and cut our tree every year and Matthew said, "Do you think they're planting new trees?"

"I'm sure they will soon," I said.

As soon as I said it, I started thinking about their re-planting program. I wondered how they decided where to plant, whether they planted an entire field or one tree at a time, and how they planted with all those stumps and roots in the ground. Matthew broke my train of thought with this question: "Why do they leave all the stumps in the ground?" I paused, surprised by the realization that my 5-year-old was going through the same thought process I was.

"That is a great question," I said. "They must take them out. But they probably wait until the spring, when the ground is a little warmer."

That answer satisfied Matthew and we rode for a few more minutes in silence. As we approached the school, there was a long line of buses and minivans, so we had to stop and wait.

"What do the bus drivers do after they drop off the kids?" Matthew asked.

"What do you mean?" I responded.

"After they go to school and all the kids get off, what do they do the rest of the morning?" he asked.

"Maybe they go home and wait," I said. The answer probably did not satisfy him, and I expect someday he'll ask the bus driver what she does all morning. That's just the way his mind works – the most stubborn, inquisitive, infuriating and fascinating mind I've known. That's the Matthew Mind.

The big boy and the baby brother

I've mentioned before that our oldest son, Josh, is fond of TV. He's so fond, we've implemented strict TV routines. The television is totally banned from Monday to Thursday. Josh can earn Friday TV by doing his homework throughout the school week, and on Saturdays and Sundays, he can watch a couple of hours max.

On Sunday, Jenn was working all day, so I was balancing the demands of all three boys. Josh was nagging me to let him watch a movie, but I made a deal. I told him he had to do family stuff first (a trip to the playground) and then he could watch TV during Colin's nap.

After lunch, Colin was contentedly playing with a baseball bat and ball when Josh decided enough was enough. He grabbed the ball and said, "Colin, do you want the ball? Do you want the ball, Colin? Come on, baby. Come get the ball."

I was still cleaning up dishes from lunch, so I allowed Josh to lure his baby brother upstairs. After five minutes, I decided to check on them. While walking up the stairs, I could hear Josh singing: "Baby, baby, come with me, let's learn our ABCs. A, B, C, D, E, F G ..." I turned the corner into Colin's room and found the scene pictured above, with Josh "rocking" Colin to sleep. Colin's face held a mixture of fascination and terror.

I thanked Josh and took over from there. After 176 books, Colin went down for his nap. Josh turned on his movie. Matthew and I sat in the dining room to play Monopoly (yes, a kindergartner crushed me in Monopoly, bankrupting me in about 20 minutes, so much for business school ... ).

When Josh's movie ended, he pounded over to our Monopoly game (it was round #2 and Matthew was once again dominating), he tried to play banker, but he got bored. After making 16 trips into the pantry and refrigerator for snacks, Josh disappeared upstairs. I thought he had gone to his room, but then I heard heavy footsteps on the stairs. I looked up to see Colin's body, held like a sack of potatoes, carried step by step down the stairs and deposited in the front foyer. Josh had woken him up, dragged him out of the crib and carried him down.

Colin looked bewildered, but he wasn't crying. I paused for a moment, torn between anger (I wanted to scream at Josh) and amusement (the two of them were so cute together). I calmly asked Josh if he remembered how I felt the last time he did this, when he woke up Colin an hour early. "I checked the clock and it was time for him to get up," Josh said.

He was right. It was close to time for Colin to get up. So Matthew went back to world domination in Monopoly, I went back to forking over millions in rent payments to my 5-year-old, and Josh took Colin into the kitchen to give him some snacks.

It's kind of nice to have a little helper around the house, but I can't give Josh too much credit. After all, his actions are entirely self-motivated. He lured Colin to sleep because he wanted to watch TV, and he dragged him out of the crib because he was bored. Colin is basically a plaything for his older brother. But at least he's a protected plaything. Despite his enormous strength and brute will, Josh is gentle with his baby brother. So we've got that going for us.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

'We should not keep this boy'

Just heard the best line of the day from Josh. He was taking a shower, and from the other end of the house I heard him yelling. It wasn't a panicked yell, so I took my time getting there. When I entered the bathroom, I could hear better.

"Daddy! Daddy! Look what Colin's doing. He's putting them all in here!"

"All what?" I asked.

"Look at what he's done!"

I pulled back the curtain and saw a pile of sopping towels and facecloths piled on the bottom of the tub. Colin had been opening the linen closet, grabbing piles of clean towels and cloths, and tossing them into the shower.

"Coliiiinnnn!" I yelled while laughing. Then Josh chimed in.

"See, Daddy. He is not a good baby. We should not keep this boy."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Compliment one, insult the other — Dad makes amends

I hurt my son's feelings tonight. I knew I had. I didn't know it consciously, but I knew it.

We were driving home from dinner at TGI Friday's, all five of us in the minivan, and I was telling everyone how helpful Josh had been the last couple of days. Josh, the oldest, has been doing little things to help, like making pancakes, letting the dog in or out, cleaning up toys or carrying things from one floor of the house to another. Yesterday, because I was bored, I cut down a damaged tree, chopped it into logs, hauled it out of the woods, split it and stacked it. Near the end of the process, I dragged the older boys outside to help haul and stack.

"Josh, you've been so helpful," I said. "And yesterday with the firewood, you were my best helper."

The car was totally dark. Colin was in the second row, and the older two were in the back row. There was a blue glow from the corner of the car where Matthew was sitting, head down, staring at his Nintendo DS game console. He doesn't play a lot of video games, but for some reason he got hooked on 'Super Mario' today, and he played for about five hours, off and on, whenever he got a chance.

As soon as I called Josh "the best helper," my eyes darted to the rear-view mirror, and I saw Matthew's head flick up quickly, then back down. He went back to playing and I went back to driving.

We arrived back home, unloaded the leftover food, the coats, the shoes, the bags, the boys and ourselves, and almost everyone went upstairs to get ready for bed. Matthew stayed downstairs playing Nintendo by himself. I was getting out pajamas and closing curtains when I felt an urge to find my 5-year-old. But as I turned around, he walked into the room and flopped down on his bed. We were alone in the room.

I lay down beside him and said, "Tell me about the game. Are you getting far?"

"It was so weird," Matthew said. "I beat the king and got to the next level, but then it put me back at the lower level."

I told him I'd check it out the next day to see if we could figure out what was happening, then I wrapped my arm around him and said, "You know I love you, right?" I felt his head nod underneath my arm, then he said, "It hurt my feelings when you said Josh was your best helper."

Knife to the heart, twist, remove, stab again.

"I'm sorry I hurt your feelings," I said. "I didn't mean to. It's just that Josh was a great helper yesterday, and well, you went and made mud castles ... But that's okay. That's what a boy is supposed to do. And that's what you love doing. Making mud castles is more fun than carrying firewood, so I understand. I love you, and you've always been a great helper. I'm sorry I hurt your feelings."

We lay on the bed and talked some more, and I talked a smile back onto his face. He went to bed happy.

Thinking back on it, I realize how much Matthew means to this family. Because of his personality, Josh commands a lot of attention. Because of his needs, Colin commands a lot of attention. Matthew is so damn easy, he gets a lot less attention, and we sometimes take that for granted. Just by being himself, Matthew's a great helper. I should tell him that more often.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

One illness, one hero

Okay, since my bedmate won't stop talking about throwing up ("what if one of us throws up on your laptop, Daddy?"), I might as well keep writing about the traumatic event. It's actually amazing that it is a traumatic event in our family. I know other parents deal with kids throwing up regularly. Each of our three boys has thrown up once or twice in his life. This may be Matthew's first time. We're extremely fortunate.

Let me tell you about the hero. While Mom was changing her nasty clothes, Matthew was stepping in the shower and I was trying to assist, Joshua, the oldest boy, grabbed paper towels and tried cleaning up the mess in the downstairs bathroom. It was totally unexpected and beautifully selfless. He's a good kid who doesn't get enough credit for it.

Thanks, Josh. It's nice to have another set of helping hands in the family.

Two guys, one illness

I'm lying in bed right now, sipping Ginger Ale, trying not to be sick. Moments ago, Matthew joined me on the other side of the bed. He just threw up an hour ago, while Mom was carrying him, with him facing Mom ... Yup, that's about as nasty as you can get.

Anyway, he and I are sick, so he just crawled in to join me. "What are you doing?" he asked. "Are you writing a blog?"


"Write one," he said.

"About what?" I asked.

"How about me throwing up?" he answered.

Yes, I'm sure people will love to read about you throwing up, Matthew. But he was so cute, I took his photo and made it into a blog post. Here's to me and my sick companion. May we not infect anyone else in the house.

Friday, February 17, 2012

What? Another school vacation?!!!!!!!

Jenn and I were just sitting here at home talking about life when she made a startling observation. The bus arrives in nine minutes, signaling the official start to February school vacation.

"Do you realize when they get off that bus, we have them for nine days? Nine days!"

Oh, dear. Nine days ...

Are we ready for this?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A month of dead presidents can be confusing

On nights like this, I barely have the will to think, nevermind write a blog post. Jenn's working late, and the boys were ... challenging. The only way to describe an evening like I just experienced is to imagine herding 17 cats through a water-filled tunnel with mice running in the opposite direction. That's how things felt tonight.

But I must admit that the bedtime conversation a few minutes ago was memorable. I had already tucked the two older boys into their beds and was putting the finishing touches on Colin's bedtime routine. This involves quietly singing songs to Colin while rocking him in the dark room – and yes, I just admitted that I sing nursery rhymes and made-up songs to my child.

While I was rocking and singing, I could hear voices, then louder voices, then screaming voices. Thankfully, Colin flopped into the crib and I slipped out of the room. I went back down the hall to visit the two debaters and before I could even ask what they were arguing about, out it came.

Matthew screamed, "Josh thinks President Obama is dead!" I assured them both that the president is alive and well, I asked them to please stop yelling, and I tucked them in for a second time. As I was walking away, I realized that Josh's confusion probably comes from a month of schoolwork devoted to dead presidents. Since Jenn and I haven't progressed very far in our explanations of world geopolitical systems, Josh has a limited understanding of how the nation's government functions. Since Lincoln and Washington are dead, he might assume all presidents are dead.

A minute later, I was in my office when the debate resumed:

Matthew: "Josh, he's not dead!"

Josh: "Yes, he is."

Matthew: "Josh, didn't you hear Daddy? He's not dead."

Josh: "Well, Abraham Lincoln's dead. George Washington's dead. Presidents die. So Obama's going to die."

Matthew: "Yeah, Josh, but then they'll get a new president."

They continued on for a while longer before puckering out. On another night, I might have visited them again to explain things in great detail and eliminate the confusion. But I didn't. I didn't have the strength. Not tonight. Tonight I just wanted them to stop talking. Blessedly, they have.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Confessions of a dirty kid

Matthew and I were discussing which of the three boys would take a bath tonight. I suggested that it should probably be Colin and him.

"Josh and Colin took baths last night," Matthew said.

"They did? Okay, then I guess you should take one tonight," I responded.

"Well Colin is welcome to join if he wants," Matthew said.

"That's awfully nice of you," I told him.

"It'll be a bath party," Matthew said. "We'll have water. And soap. But I never use the soap. I only pick it up when you come in the room to make it look like I'm using the soap."

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A boy and his comb

This is what happens when Matthew decides to style his hair. I was in the shower this morning, when he entered the bathroom, told me he needed my comb and ran out the door.

I didn't realize he had also taken a bottle of hair gel – and used about half of it – to fashion his own version of a mohawk. So I ask you, who's cuter, my son or David Beckham?

I know, it's no comparison.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Crisis - no pancake mix

I just made a terrible discovery. We're out of Bisquick. Nearly every Saturday morning for the past seven years, I've made blueberry pancakes. It may be the most lasting tradition in our household (aside from asking boys to please pee in the toilet).

Now we're facing a crisis. I just announced the problem to the boys, and Josh was first to react.

"Daddy, we'll have to get up early. Let's get up at 6 and get in the car ... We're going to Target!"

I offered to buy Bisquick during the day tomorrow and have pancakes on Sunday, but they're not going for it.

"Okay, guys, so we'll have pancakes on Sunday," I said.

"No," said Matthew.

"What do you mean 'no'?" I asked.

"N. O. N-O means no," he said.

Jinkies. So now I have to drive to Target in the morning? This parenting stuff is tough. It would be so much easier if I could say N-O to them.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A busted lip – Dad's fault

I busted my son's lip today.

Put down the phone and don't call social services. It was an accident. I was trying to herd the two oldest boys out the door and didn't see tiny Colin walking behind me. He was making a trip from the laundry room, toilet plunger in hand, apparently trying to clean the kitchen floor.

I took a step back, bopped into him, and he did a face-plant on the hardwood floor. The tears were immediate, but I didn't think he was really hurt. I let him cry for a few seconds before I picked him up to console him. That's when I saw the mouth full of blood.

That's also when I handed him to Mom.

I didn't totally abandon him. I got a facecloth, put it on the bleeding lip, apologized and left to usher the other two out the door. As we were heading outside, I remembered something one of my good friends, a mother of four, once told me. After I had described the scene where I nearly hit my son when chopping down a 40-foot tree in the backyard (a totally true story, but put down the phone again, I have since learned how to properly fell a tree), she said: "It's always the Dads who hurt the kids."

She said her husband caused stitches, bruises, bleeding, tears and injuries routinely when "playing" with their kids, especially their three boys. I suppose it's true. I remember back to my own childhood. Who slammed my sister's head into the ceiling while tossing her in the air? Dad. Who slammed her finger in the car door when she was a toddler? Dad.

Who "wrestles" with my boys and occasionally applies too much inertia? Yours truly. And yes, who nearly crushed his middle son with a crashing tree trunk? Yup, that was me.

It's not that we're careless with the kids. Sometimes we're just moving too fast to take all precautions. Sorry about that, boys. And sorry about the lip, Colin.

But don't worry about Colin, he'll survive. And he'll be tougher for it. It's just part of growing up. Right?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

It's true - the kids grow up so fast

I realize this will be two "sad" posts in short order, but I can't help it. This was unexpected. I went looking for old photos of Matthew because he's the "Star of the Week" in the kindergarten class next week, and I found these old pictures. Both are of our oldest son, Joshua, at age 2.

The first was taken on a day when Jenn and I took him to Colt State Park, and he and I were playing soccer together. The second was the bedtime routine for Josh and I, back in the days when I read him five bedtime stories.

I opened these photos on my computer and immediately started crying. It's amazing how quickly time has passed.

I don't cry. Ever. I have actually gone years without crying. But these photos struck a chord.

This beautiful boy is now a complex 7-year-old. Like any child, he has issues. Like any boy, he isn't great at communicating with his parents. And like any parents who are juggling three kids, jobs, finances, childcare and the complexities of life ... we just don't have as much time for this beautiful boy as we once did. And that breaks my heart.

I love you, Joshua.

The bad stuff is crystal clear

It's easy to see the bad things. We see them in our friends. We see them in our spouses. We see them in our world, our jobs, our homes and our lives. We definitely see them in our kids.

Consider my oldest two, who typically get downstairs before I do on school mornings. On an average morning, in the 15 seconds it takes me to leave my bedroom, glance in the boys' bedroom, pass the bathroom, descend the stairs and walk into the kitchen, I can see the following:
  • The bedroom light left on
  • Pajamas on the floor
  • An unmade bed
  • The bathroom light left on
  • The toilet seat up
  • The toilet unflushed
  • A stack of 20 books spilled on the stairs
  • A bowl of cereal poured to overflowing
  • Four family room and kitchen lights on
  • Another bathroom light on
  • The refrigerator door open
  • The pantry doors open
  • Five boxes of cereal on the island
  • Seventeen CDs strewn on the counter underneath the radio
  • Cereal spilled on the floor
  • The cap left off the milk
  • And the dog whining to go out without either boy even noticing.
As I walk, the bad-things counter keeps ticking in my head, so when I actually see the two loves of my life, I immediately unload the list of things they screwed up. My first words on this beautiful, sunny morning are heavy-handed complaints about how they need to do things better.

What I fail to notice is that a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old have:
  • Gotten themselves out of bed;
  • One of them is dressed;
  • One made his bed;
  • Both started breakfast without their parents;
  • They're not fighting;
  • They're cooperating on cereal and milk;
  • And they're in a generally happy mood.
Yet here comes Dad to hit them with a list of failures. It pains me to think about how many times I complain to my kids; criticize them; tell them to be better. Would it hurt me to compliment them on all the things they've done right? Could I start the day with a list of great things they did?

The question is painfully rhetorical, because of course I could. Of course I should.

We all should. How often do we see the negative? How often do we share the bad stuff? How often do we see what's wrong, instead of all that's right?

Kids need to see those things, too. And they need to know that you see them all the time.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

'For the love of peace!'

Actual conversation with Josh and I five minutes after he got off the bus. He was quite distracted by playing with his brother and his brother's best friend, Ethan:
"Josh ..."
"Josh ..."
"Josh ..."

He turns his head slightly toward me: "What?"

"At 4:15, we're gonna get started on your homework ... Okay?"

"Josh ..."
"Josh ..."
"Josh ..."

He turns his head toward me again: "What!"

"Did you hear me? What did I say?"
"Josh ..."
"What did I say?"

He stomps his foot, turns toward me and screams: "At 4:15, we're gonna start my homework, for the love of peace!"

Oh, okay ...
For the love of peace?

Monday, January 30, 2012

'I'm making my face sick'

Matthew, the 5-year-old, had a 103-degree fever Saturday night and a 104-degree fever Sunday afternoon. We gave him Tylenol Sunday at around 5 pm, and we were shocked when his fever was gone at bedtime. He had transformed from a puddle of red-hot misery sprawled on the couch, to a feisty kid hitting and chasing his older brother.

Of course Matthew knew the stakes in this transformation. A kid with a fever stays home from school; a kid without a fever goes to school. Based on his bedtime demeanor, we expected him to get on the bus Monday morning.

So this is what I came downstairs to find Monday morning: Matthew tucked into a ball beneath the kitchen sink, his face pressed against the heater. He looked up at me.

"I'm making my face sick," he said.

Before coming downstairs, I had already gone into his bedroom and found his covers oddly tossed around the bed. Something hadn't appeared right.

"And, Daddy, I covered myself with my Thomas blanket, the big blue blanket and all the sheets, to make my face sick," he said.

Despite the charm, I wasn't buying it. He was fine. When the warm air stopped blowing from the heater, he joined us, ate breakfast and goofed around like normal.

He went upstairs to get dressed and stayed longer than normal. After 15 minutes, I went up to check on him. He was half-dressed, standing in a dark room and crying.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"I don't know. I just feel like crying," he said. I went down the hall, got the thermometer and took his temperature – 99.9. Sick enough to stay home from school. He finished dressing and went downstairs, tears still running down his cheeks. Needless to say, the bus came and Matthew stayed at home.

And surprise, surprise, as I type this, he's in my office, talking incessantly, goofing around, playing with his younger brother, grabbing every gadget in here and behaving nothing like a sick child. Magically, the tears have stopped.

Tomorrow, I'm not falling for it. He can shove his face in a heater all he wants. Tomorrow he's going to school.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A near-miss from the tooth fairy

I arrived home last night after the kids had gone to bed. Shortly after I got there, my wife told me about how Josh had lost a tooth. The little voice inside my head said, 'deal with the Tooth Fairy right now,' but we didn't. I ate a late dinner, we watched some TV, and we went to bed. I didn't think about the Tooth Fairy until 5 in the morning.

First Matthew appeared at 4:15 to say he was scared. So in he climbed. Half an hour later, I heard Josh enter the room. "What's wrong?" I asked. He started talking loudly about a door making noises, but I cut him off and led him back down the hall to his room. "I'll sleep in here in Matthew's bed," I told him, "so you won't have anything to worry about."

As Josh was settling back into bed, he pulled the plastic tooth case from under his pillow, shook it and said, "The Tooth Fairy hasn't come yet."


I stayed awake for a while, considering my options. I could wait for him to fall asleep and then attempt a Tooth Fairy visit. We could wait for the morning, assume his tooth got onto the Tooth Fairy's list too late and hope she could get there the next night. I could wait until he got up, then try a quick Tooth Fairy swap while he wasn't watching – a highly risky move if he was just a few feet away.

The pressure was incredible, and I tossed and turned while wrestling with the stress. After an hour, when I could hear Josh breathing heavily, I snuck downstairs, got a dollar and stuffed it into another tooth case in case there was an opportunity for a quick swap. The problem is that Josh was sleeping directly on the pillow above the tooth. The swap was still a high-risk option. I decided to wait.

When the sun broke the horizon and Josh woke up, he pulled out the tooth case immediately, shook it again, heard the rattle of a tiny tooth and said, "The Tooth Fairy didn't come."


"Well, maybe you got on the list too late," I said.

"I guess we'll have to wait until tonight," Josh said.

I got out of bed and took a shower while Josh went downstairs to get his breakfast. When the shower was over, I tiptoed down the hall, made the swap and went back to the morning routine. I knew Josh would discover it while making his bed and believe the Tooth Fairy arrived during breakfast. I thought everything was fine as Josh, Matthew and I ate breakfast, but Matthew vanished for a few minutes and then came back downstairs. I asked him where he had been.

"I went to go see Josh's dollar," he said.

"What do you mean?" I asked the meddling kid.

"I looked under his pillow but I didn't see anything," he said.

"What do you mean? There was nothing there?"

"Nope," he said. "It wasn't there."

"I know," said Josh, "the Tooth Fairy didn't come."

"Well the tooth must still be there," I said to Matthew.

"Nope," he said. "It's not there."

Now I was totally confused. No tooth, and no dollar? What was Matthew trying to pull here? Did he steal the dollar? Josh was getting distraught.

"So now my tooth is lost and I don't get a dollar?" he whined. I had no idea what was going on but we waited until breakfast was over to investigate.

When it was time to make beds, Josh threw aside the pillow and found the case with the dollar. While he was getting excited about all the spending possibilities, Matthew was confused. "It wasn't there before," Matthew said. "Are you sure," I asked. He nodded his head and said he was positive. I don't know how Matthew missed it, but I promise it was there. Then suddenly Dad had an idea.

"Wait a minute," I said. "Matthew, what if you came in here while the Tooth Fairy was in the room? Maybe she had taken the tooth already but hadn't left the dollar, when you surprised her."

Matthew stared at me, then slowly broke into an astonished smile. "I wonder if she hid while you were in here," I said. He looked down at the bed and grabbed some stuffed animals.

"Maybe she's still here!" he said. He yanked aside a bear and said, "Maybe she's under here!"

She wasn't.

Josh wasn't too concerned about the Tooth Fairy travel schedule; he cared more about the dollar. But Matthew was mystified by his close encounter with the Tooth Fairy. I'm guessing I bought a few more years of faith in the Tooth Fairy through a couple of sly moves and some quick thinking.

You see, these are the maneuvers they don't write about in parenting books or talk about in counseling sessions. These are the moments when parents are pushed to their limits, faced with no-win situations and forced to act, swiftly and decisively. These are the moments when parents earn their stripes.

I'm proud to have earned my Tooth Fairy stripe last night.

Monday, January 23, 2012

'There's more to life than TV'

By halftime of Sunday's Patriots-Ravens game, the boys were bouncing off the walls. We had a few guests over, but no one was entertaining the kids. The adults were enjoying food, drinks, conversation and the game, but the boys seemed to be having a little less fun.

Matthew had been asking me for the past two hours to go sledding. During the AFC Championship game?!!!!!!! I've been waiting all damn week for this game!!!!! Yet I'm a sap for a cute face, so at halftime, I agreed.

"Okay, Matthew, let's go! Hurry, hurry, hurry!"

He suited up in snowpants, boots, jacket, hat, gloves, and we hit the slope on the side of our house. Josh joined us a couple minutes later. It was actually pretty good sledding, and I had fun shoving the boys down the side of the hill. I was enjoying myself, even as my internal clock began screaming that halftime was nearly over. In fact, it was. The game had re-started and I was still outside.

I began telling the boys, "Okay, last run." Which was followed by six more pronouncements of, "Okay, this is the last one."

I was about to walk inside when my oldest, Josh, said the most amazing thing, out of nowhere, totally unexpectedly ...

"Daddy, you and Mommy are right. There is more to life than TV," he said.

Dumbfounded, I watched him for a few moments before muttering, "Like what?"

"Oh, you know," he said."Like playing with friends, and having fun with Mommy and Daddy."

This is a boy who has been banned from television during the school week. This is a boy who can recite every line of his favorite movies. This is a boy who absolutely LOVES the television. This is the boy who tells me there's more to life than TV.

So I stayed outside. How could I do anything else? I pushed him and his brother down the hill a dozen more times, and we had a great time. I missed the whole third quarter, but it was worth it.

I just hope all the snow melts before the Super Bowl. After all, a man has limits.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Matthew Mind strikes again

Three boys are at the kitchen island, and this Dad is hustling around on the other side to get dinner served. I ask Matthew how art class was today and take note of the "Wild Things" monster he painted. I notice the monster has two differently colored eyes. "Kind of like the monster in our house," I say.

Matthew looks at me quizzically. "Like Micky [the dog]. He has two different colored eyes," I say.

"Oh, right," Matthew says.

He's quiet for two seconds then asks: "Where did the first dog come from? I mean, how did they have a dog baby if there were no dogs?"

I stare back in astonishment. Panic begins. How do I answer? Religion? Science? Humans? Creation? Evolution? Adam? Eve? Sex?

"Where did that question come from?" I ask. Aha! Stall! Brilliant!

Josh interrupts on another topic. Conversation shifts. Dad's panic subsides. Question hangs in the air unanswered ... I'll have to return to that someday. Just not tonight.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Buried in homework – and it's only second grade

The single-most difficult task in our family, without a doubt, nothing even compares ... is our second-grader's homework.

It shouldn't be that way. The homework assignments should take, at most, 30 minutes. But they don't. They can easily take more than an hour, and that's not the biggest problem. The worst is the agonizingly painful process – the huffing, the groaning, the whining, the fidgeting, the complaining, the sighing, the slamming and yes, the crying – actual tears hitting the homework sheet – that accompany each night's homework.

I can't imagine he behaves this way at school. In fact, I know he doesn't, because we asked his teacher and she was stunned to hear our description of the Josh homework session. "I can't even imagine it," she said. "That does not sound like Josh."

Well, that's Josh. He detests doing homework and rails against it every day after school. It's so bad, Jenn and I dread the hours after the boys come home, because we know we have to jam in homework, dinner and bedtime, and the homework will consume all time, energy and patience we have available.

The biggest problem is that we can't walk away. Leave his side for 15 seconds, and Josh is dropping his pencil, slamming the table, yelling, walking away, or all of the above. So we can do virtually nothing else, other than supervise and coerce the homework. We can't work on dinner, play with another child, soothe the toddler's tantrum or talk on the phone. Imagine the challenge when only one adult is in the house, as is the case this week, with Jenn working late three nights.

Last night, Josh came home with two significant assignments, as did Matthew, the kindergartner. So I was juggling the agony of homework from two children who needed one-on-one attention, dinner preparations, and the charming toddler who kept driving his four-wheeler into every immovable object in the house and screaming for me to extricate him.

This sounds like one long complaint – which it is – but it's also a plea for help. Do other parents struggle with the same challenges? How do you deal with it?

With the guidance of Josh's teacher, we've established a routine with a week-long reward structure. If Josh gets started on his homework right after school, follows all the steps and finishes it, he earns a checkmark on the sheet taped to the refrigerator. A week of checks earns TV on Friday evening. Nonetheless, the homework requires constant urging, constant encouragement, constant reminders, constant threatening.

What will this look like in five years? If the family is already overwhelmed by a 7-year-old's homework routine, how will we deal with three boys bringing back homework? Will we have time to help Josh if he can't help himself?

I'm worried. This homework is brutal. And it's not even brutal yet.

What do you think? Tell me below in the Comments.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Serves him right ...

It's been a few days since I've posted anything here, so here's a quick-hitter. I had to laugh at my oldest son today for getting what was coming to him.

At the bus stop this morning, Josh started stomping around in slush-filled puddles. I asked him to please stop. He didn't. I got a little mad and asked him again to stop, explaining that he would be spending the day in school with soaking wet shoes and socks. Of course, that logic is wasted on someone who's in the middle of having too much fun stomping in puddles. Actually, it's lost on young boys all the time, since stomping in puddles is hard-wired into the DNA of every male child.

So forgive me if I laughed when my wife called less than an hour later to say she was driving to school to bring Josh new pants. He fell when getting off the bus, landed in a puddle and was completely soaked. "Ha!" I thought. "Serves him right!"

Yes, I'm a terrible parent. I forgot to even ask if he was hurt. He wasn't.

Friday, January 13, 2012

I can't make this stuff up - part 2

Now it's bedtime and I'm sitting on Matthew's bed, with all three boys sprawled around me as I read a book. Colin is restless and rarely sits still for these books, so he tends to climb all around, off the bed, on the bed, over his brothers, onto the bureau, onto the other brother, etc.

Tonight, as Colin is stepping on top of Matthew trying to grab something on the bureau, Matthew screams: "Owwww, Colin!!!! He's stepping on my pee-pee and all that stuff."

I can't make this stuff up - part 1

It's post-dinner time. My wife is out with friends. I'm on the phone. The boys are running wild and unsupervised.

From the corner of my eye, I see Josh slam open the freezer, grab a green popsicle and discard the wrapper. Colin immediately begins screaming for his own popsicle, and while I'm getting one for him, I lose track of Josh.

Just to be clear, eating popsicles in January is not unusual in this house. It's also not unusual to spin around in circles in the kitchen while eating a popsicle, guaranteeing that colored popsicle drops splatter throughout the room. This bizarre popsicle spinning routine is what prompted the new rule that all popsicles must be eaten while sitting in a chair at a table.

So as I set up Colin in a chair to eat his own popsicle and continue with my phone conversation, I begin to notice that the green popsicle and the boy attached to it are missing. I walk to the bottom of the stairs.

"Josh," I call upstairs. "You have to come downstairs with the popsicle."

"I can't," he answers. "I'm naked."

Of course you are.

Tell me lies, tell me sweet, little lies

It's 7:30 a.m., and I walk into a dark bedroom with lights off and shades drawn. Lumps in two beds stir slightly as I step on a couple of toys and find my way to the window. As I reach to open one shade, something crinkles beneath my feet. I look down and find the plastic wrapper from a package of peanut butter crackers.

"Wow," I say out loud. "I wonder how this could have gotten here."

It's gray and rainy outside, so only a small area of light penetrates the dark room as I lift one shade. From the 5-year-old's bed I hear a muffled: "Joshua."

"No," I say. "Josh would never take a snack out of the kitchen, eat it in his bedroom and leave the wrapper on the floor."

"Joshua," the 5-year-old lump says again.

Finally, the 7-year-old lump starts to stir.

"Oh no," I say. "It can't be Joshua. It must have been Ethan [the next-door neighbor who was at our house the night before]."

"Yup," says the 7-year-old likely culprit, speaking for the first time. "It must have been Ethan."

"No," says Matthew, slightly annoyed. "Ethan and I didn't have a snack yesterday. It was Joshua."

"Well," I say. "If it was Ethan, I guess he can't come over here anymore."

Now Matthew is incensed that his best friend might be banned from the house. "Joshua!" he screams. "Stop lying! It was you!"

Josh pauses. "Well, it couldn't be me, because I throw my wrappers in the trash."

Matthew: "Jossshhhhh! Stop lying!"

Josh pauses again. "Well, maybe I put it in the trash and it flew up here," he says.

I think about that for a moment. "No, Josh, I don't think that could happen. The trash is locked [with a child safety lock]. I don't think it could get out."

"Well," Josh says, still lying facedown in his pillow. "Maybe I just left it on the table and it flew up here."

I say, "Okay, let me see if this wrapper can fly." I lift it above my head, let go and watch it float down on top of Josh's bed. "Nope," I say. "It doesn't fly."

Without hesitation, Josh is ready. "That's because it has invisible wings, Daddy. You can't actually see it flying."

Oh. Well that makes sense.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Have you looked at yourself through your child's eyes?

 I went to another parent counseling session yesterday, which again has me believing I might know something about parenting. In this case, I think I actually do.

As I listened to another discussion about how to discipline children, a light bulb finally clicked. So much of this stuff - the stressful, exhausting existence of a parent - could be mitigated if we occasionally saw things from the child's perspective. I'll give an example I shared with my wife last night.

I asked her, "What do you hate about when you come into my office, you want to talk to me, and I'm working on the computer?"

"I hate when you don't turn around and look at me and make eye contact," she said.


"What do you think we do to our kids all the time?" I asked.

Picture the scene in the house pre-dinnertime: we're running around the kitchen, in the refrigerator, at the stove, reaching into cabinets, the phone's ringing, the dog's barking, the toddler is grabbing our legs demanding attention, the second-grader is climbing on the counter to get a CD and the kindergartner is politely trying to tell us a story from school that day. What do we do?

The last thing we want to do is stop getting dinner ready and listen to the kindergartner. Because if we stop, all the trains derail. If we stop, dinner will be delayed, homework will be delayed, bathtime will be delayed, storytime will be delayed, teeth-brushing will be delayed, and bedtime will be delayed. And if bedtime is delayed, the boys have a shorter night of sleep and that's the last thing we need on a school day ...

So we keep going. We try to listen to the kindergartner, with our back to him most of the time, occasionally sharing an "uhu" as we dart around the room. So we've just done to him the same thing we hate ... Can we really blame him if he gets frustrated and expresses it in a totally unrelated way, like refusing to eat dinner or yelling at his brother or being rude to everyone around him?

I'll give another example that popped into my head when I was thinking about this. A couple of months ago, our family plus my parents went to Disney World. We had just arrived at the airport and were waiting for our bags in an extremely crowded terminal when our oldest son, Josh, vanished. A ripple of panic spread through the four adults, but about 30 seconds later, I spotted him near the entrance of the baggage carousel, where the suitcases emerge from that dark, mysterious cave. My mother immediately shrieked his name, startling those around us, and the rest of us scolded him for wandering off.

Two months later, it occurred to me what Josh might have been doing. Jenn, a former flight attendant, has seen about 10,000 baggage carousels. My parents and I have seen hundreds. Josh had never seen one before, and it must have been fascinating. This bizarre, twisting machine with an endless train of luggage was like nothing he had ever seen before. Maybe he was just curious, and he wandered off to explore it.

I'm not forgiving him for wandering off without saying anything, but I forgive him for the natural curiosity that led him to explore. And I'm ashamed it took me two months to realize what he was doing. You see, as an adult, I was so wrapped up in my own anxieties about getting all the luggage, getting on the right van, getting to the hotel, so we can make that night's dinner reservation, without losing any of the kids and avoiding fights with all the adults ... that it was difficult - hell, it was nearly impossible - to see things from the child's perspective. But we'd be better parents if we could.

If we could look at the world through their eyes - even a couple of times per day - we might have an easier time understanding why they do some of the horribly maddening things they do. We might see that they're not always being bad kids; sometimes they're just like us.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Wow, the house is so much quieter ...

Not that I get waves of feedback on this quaint, little blog, but I get some. A few of you e-mail me. A few of you talk to me directly. Without question, my 2012 resolution to stop yelling at my sons has generated more feedback than any other post.

People tell me I'm brave for even trying. Fellow parents say there is no way they could possibly stop yelling. Relatives have told me they agree completely with the pledge. Others say parents today are too weak – that there's nothing wrong with yelling at kids, they won't suffer irreparable psychological harm.

For all of you with different opinions on the topic, here's an update. Seven days after I challenged myself, I have outright yelled only one time (which I divulged to you last week). I've raised my voice maybe once a day. And that's it. I have basically eliminated screaming from my disciplinary repertoire, and the family is functioning quite well.

The first thing I eliminated was screaming between rooms. Now when I want them to hear me, I walk into the room and draw their attention first. I'll admit that a couple of times I grabbed them by the shirt and forced them to stop what they were doing and look at me, but then I calmly told them what they needed to hear. A couple of times I started to yell, then caught myself and changed direction. A couple of times I took deep breaths, pulled them into a quiet place and waited until they talked to me.

Believe it or not, this stuff is actually working. I don't know if the boys even notice the difference, but most importantly, I do. I feel better about myself. Try it. You might too.

Tell me what you think in the Comments below, and please, please, please, sign up for e-mail alerts of this blog if you like it (at right). Thanks for reading!

A smile on a rainy day

The boy who once could not walk, now clomps into my office in yellow rain boots that have been twice handed down by his brothers. Blame Dad for the terribly mismatched outfit; I dressed him this morning. Blame Colin for the fashion sense to mix yellow boots with a green shirt and blue, also twice-handed-down sweatpants. Nonetheless, he's pretty cute.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

More musings from a 5-year-old

Spending a day with Matthew, I have difficulty keeping track of all the odd, insightful, comical, unusual or unexpected things he says. As this day draws to a close, I can recall just a few of them.
  • We're driving on Interstate 195 East, going over the Washington Bridge from Providence into East Providence. From the back row of the minivan, Matthew asks: "Why is that bridge up and no one uses it?" I look left and see the old, rusted span he's talking about. "That's an old railroad bridge and they don't use it anymore, so they keep the bridge up so the boats can go by," I say. "What's wrong with the train?" he asks. "I don't know, they just stopped using it," I say. Matthew thinks about the situation for a few seconds, then says, "Daddy, remember Colin's doctor, near the railroad tracks?" He's talking about an office on Allens Avenue in Providence near the waterfront. "Yes," I say. "Well, maybe the train track near that office goes to that bridge. They don't use those tracks anymore." He thinks some more. "Maybe they ran out of tickets for the train," he adds. Now I have to think about that ... "Well, I don't think that was it. They could probably make more tickets," I say. "How?" he asks. That's it. I don't have an answer. I turn on the radio and smile.
  • A few minutes later, we're driving down Route 6 in Seekonk. Again from the back row: "I just saw a Curious George store." I ask, "What are you talking about?" He says, "That store over there." I look left at the Chris Gasbarro's liquor store. It has a large sign across the front facade, with the "Chris" and "Gasbarro" in red, cursive lettering. I think he's crazy, but then he explains. "Curious George's name is always red with letters like that," he says. Maybe he's not that crazy, I think. And then it hits me: Curious George and Chris Gasbarro have the same initials. That kid's brain never stops.
  • Finally, I'm sitting at my desk and he walks in, marches right up to my face and draws my attention. "Daddy, I never told you this before, but I'm never hungry, I just eat." I turn and stare at him, wondering what the heck he means and what the heck I'm supposed to say. I have no idea. I turn away from him and start typing.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The death of a dust bunny

This morning, Matthew was playing with his Nintendo DS, and the background music was a slow, steady melodic song.

"Daddy," he said. "This music is like that Bill Harley song, except it's not by Bill Harley, and it's sad about a boy who got a bunny and then he lost his bunny." He said it with pain in his voice, like he was about to cry.

"What song?" I asked.

"It's on that CD that we listen to. Hold on, I'll get it," he said.

He shoved a kitchen island stool across the room, stepped up on it, climbed on the counter, opened a cabinet, shuffled through some CDs and found what he was looking for. "Here it is," he said, climbing down, leaving the cabinet door open, leaving the stool out of place and moving to the other side of the kitchen. He pushed a second kitchen stool across the room, climbed onto that one, climbed up on the counter and put the CD into the under-cabinet stereo. Turns out the singer is Keith Munslow, who's kind of like Bill Harley, since they're both men who sing children's songs.

"It's the second song," he said. "No, this isn't it. It's the next one. No, this isn't it, it's the next one. No, this isn't it, it's the next one. No, this isn't it, it's the next one."

It was track #6 on the CD "Homemade Fun." The song is called "Dust Bunny," and it's about a boy who finds a dust bunny under his bed and asks his Mom not to vacuum it up. He loves the dust bunny because it's soft and fluffy and it's his special friend. And, yes, the song is kind of sad, with a mournful tune. The boy goes looking for his dust bunny one day, can't find it, and asks his Mom where it is. She tells him the bunny must have run away.

As Matthew and I listened to the song, I asked him if he knew what a dust bunny is. "What?" he asked.

"You know those huge dust balls we get sometimes in the corner of the kitchen, with Micky's fur and dust and everything?" I said.
"That's a dust bunny."

He thought things over for a moment and smiled. "His Mom must have vacuumed it up," he laughed.
"You think?" I asked.
"So do you still think it's a sad song?" I asked.
"Because it was his best friend."

Friday, January 6, 2012

Random Matthew conversation of the day

I should probably post one of these every day, since you never know what will come out of this boy's brain. An hour ago, I was driving the two older boys to get flu shots, when the following conversation unfolded.

Matthew: "Daddy, I have two things to tell you."
Me: "Okay, tell me #1."
Matthew: "No, I'm going to start with #2."
Me: "Okay, #1 that used to be #2 ... Go."
Matthew: "Where are my drum sticks?"
Me: "Is that what you wanted to tell me?"
Matthew: "Yes."
Me: "I don't know. I haven't seen those in a while."

The conversation then took a turn when Josh jumped in to complain that he doesn't have any drum sticks. "Well, those were a birthday present for Matthew," I said.

The boys went back to playing Nintendo DS and I went back to driving.

Me: "Matthew, you never told me the second thing."
Matthew: "Oh, that's right. When I was in the bushes, I got stuck and a bee stung me on my hand."
Me: "When? Today?"
Matthew: "No, in the summer."

Silence ....

Me: "Matthew, why did you tell me that in the middle of January?"
Matthew: "I don't know."

P.S. This one's for one of my big fans, Toni. May it bring a smile to your face.

Okay, I yelled – so what!!!!!

Some of you will remember that a couple of days ago I resolved to stop yelling at my three boys. I actually made it through a day and a half, before charming little Matthew pushed me over the edge today. I am here to make a full confession and rededicate myself to the no-yelling pledge – sort of.

It all started with a hectic morning. Both of the school-age boys were about 10 minutes behind schedule in getting ready for the bus. As an aside, I've never been able to figure out why the boys consume an entire lunch in the 7 minutes allotted to them at school, and they shovel dinner in their mouths before Jenn and I can even sit down, but breakfast can easily last 30 minutes. Josh can pour a bowl of cereal three times higher than the top of the bowl, spill milk with every bite, yet somehow scoop only one or two cereal pieces per spoonful. Matthew, on the other hand, simply wanders around the kitchen 17 times, talking the whole time, while wrapped in his sleeping blanket and wearing his pajamas. Charming but maddening.

While those scenes were playing out this morning, Jenn was upstairs getting ready for work, Colin was screaming for more food, and I inexplicably failed to load the coffee maker properly – which I discovered when the machine began spewing coffee grounds and boiling water across the countertop.

We eventually got through breakfast, but with the bus about three minutes away, both boys were still wandering around upstairs, beds not made, teeth not brushed, shoes not on, jackets still in the closet. Josh was at least near the bathroom, playing around with the toothpaste tube. I asked Matthew to get in there and brush his teeth.

He said, "in a minute ..." and I exploded.


As soon as I yelled, I remembered my pledge. I calmly told him to get in there and brush his teeth. He did so, they put on their shoes and coats, and we made it outside as the bus was driving through the neighborhood.

Here's what I noticed. After not yelling for a day and a half, my one-word scream was pretty damn effective. Matthew immediately responded to it. So maybe I won't eliminate all screaming, I'll just really, really, really cut back on it, to save it for I most need it. How's that for resolve – 48 hours later, and I'm already cracking.

A special boy and the big 'D'

As I type, our youngest son, Colin, is in the next room with a speech therapist. Colin will be 3 in April and he says only one word: "ya." He uses it all the time, sometimes with different intonations, and though we can typically understand what he's trying to communicate, there are daily frustrations. He can't talk to us, we often can't understand him, and there are regular fits and tantrums.

But I'm not complaining. After all, Colin is our miracle baby. For those of you who don't know him, here's a quick recap. Colin was born not breathing. Within minutes, he was fully intubated, with a machine breathing for him. He weighed 4 pounds.

He spent 10 weeks in intensive care, underwent a double hernia repair, had a G-tube put in, stopped breathing and turned the most sickening shade of blue I've ever seen, and was diagnosed with a genetic disorder that we never knew existed in our family: myotonic dystrophy. He came home to us with the G-tube and an elaborate feeding machine. He was hooked up to a monitor for his heart and lungs. We had an oxygen tank close by in case he needed intervention.

From that point, everything got better. Colin ate so well that we gave up on the G-tube and had it removed. We stopped using the monitor. We sent back the oxygen tank. He grew stronger, and his weak little cry (like the soft "baaah" of a lamb) turned into a real baby's cry.

Every stage of development was months behind the "average," but he eventually got there. While his peers would run around the room, Colin could only sit in one place and watch them. He could not crawl, nevermind walk. Then one day he crawled.

A few months later, he began pulling himself up on furniture, and months after that, he actually walked. I taped those first few steps with tears rolling down my face. The kid who we thought might spend his life in a wheelchair was walking across the family room rug and collapsing into Mom's arms.

Today, he runs around the house, pushes cars into walls, climbs up and down the stairs and kicks a soccer ball. His favorite game is chasing his two older brothers, and he doesn't mind that he can never catch them. While they run away like he's the "bad guy," he laughs and laughs and waddles his little body after them.

So while I wish Colin would start talking, I really can't complain. Everything we get from Colin is a bonus. A week ago, we had a breakthrough with speech. Colin made a "D" sound. Just to hear anything from him other than "ya" is incredible. Now he's making "h" sounds and "D" sounds, and he's using some of them in combination with the sign language we've been teaching him.

I'm now certain that Colin is going to talk to us someday. And like his brothers, he'll probably get to the point where he never stops talking. For now, we're happy with the Big 'D.' Or at least I am. After all, we all know his first word will be "Dad." Just like his brothers :)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I hereby pledge to stop yelling!!!!!

I went to my youngest son's playgroup this morning, where the kids play while the parents get counseling on being better parents. The topic this week was "Discipline." This may be the most challenging topic for any parent; it certainly is in our house.

Our discipline systems are varied, inconsistent and often ineffective. We've used timeouts, strikes, red cards, sending them to their room, threats, some guilt, a very little bit of spanking, and my personal favorite, yelling. I yell all the time. Every day. I yell mildly. I yell from room to room. I yell to be heard. I yell to scare. I yell to intimidate. And though I've been subconsciously bothered by how much I yell, it wasn't until this morning that I felt really, really, really badly about my yelling.

The counselor said, "Try to avoid yelling. I know it's difficult, but it's very demeaning to a child. When you yell at them, you lower their sense of self-esteem and self-worth."

She went on talking, but I couldn't get past those words. My stomach churned and my heart hurt. I bet that since my oldest son was 2 years old, I've yelled at one or all of my children at least once a day. That's nearly 2,000 days of screaming at them. For 2,000 days in a row, I've been hurting their self-esteem. Think about that for a moment ...

So I'm done yelling. I'm not big on New Year's resolutions (I don't think I've ever tried one), but I am this year. This year, I resolve to stop yelling at my children. I will talk to them. I will punish them. I will discipline them. But I will try my damnedest to stop yelling at them.

They step off the bus in two hours, and my patience will be tested immediately. I'll let you know how it goes. And please, tell me how you deal with discipline. I'd love your feedback, your ideas, even your scolding if I deserve it. As always, thanks for reading. Join the discussion below ...