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.