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.