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.