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 ...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Rejoice! It's back to school!

There was much rejoicing this morning as the school bus entered the neighborhood like a yellow beacon of liberation. I was so giddy I took a picture of the boys as they returned to their institution of higher learning.

It's not that we mind having the boys around 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It's just that we're terrible at planning things to do with them. The usual routine is to wake without any semblance of a plan, wait until they fray our nerves, and then yell at them to find something to do. When those tactics fail, we employ various new tactics. You can guess their effectiveness:
  • "Josh, go outside and run around the house five times."
  • "Josh, get some paper, sit down and write a list of the things you want to do today ... No, lunch does not count."
  • "Matthew, if you aren't dressed by lunchtime, you're not getting lunch!"
  • "Josh, I'm giving you a new chore. You need to open the shades every morning."
  • "Josh, go count how many trees we have outside."
  • "Matthew, get dressed!!!!"
  • "Josh, before you can turn on the TV, you have to put away the clothes I fold ... No, don't throw them! Neatly!!!!"
  • "Josh, go to Nathan's house!"
  • "Matthew, you're not even dressed yet? ... Oh, I give up."
Those were some of the highlights of our Christmas vacation. Yes, we had some presents and a few laughs, but in an ironic twist on Mother Nature, the Christmas vacation days seem like the longest days of the year. Thank you, yellow school bus! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!