Tuesday, December 9, 2014

New Jersey Travel







So, the trip this weekend was a rousing success. All were on good behavior and treated each other with gentleness and kindness throughout the whole weekend. The kids were good, too. It was an immensely positive weekend for everybody, and the boys really outdid themselves all weekend with good behavior and excitement.

Honestly, it was what I expected: there was no impetus for them to misbehave at any point in the weekend. The weekend's activities were set up to be interesting and exciting: we don't do a Christmas tree at home, so it's exciting for them to decorate one. They were seeing relatives that they don't get to see often, and we were visiting with friends that we see rarely. Still, they are little boys, and I was by myself as a parent for 72 hours.






On Thursday, we loaded the car and left right after work, around 4:30. We stopped at the first rest stop because of little bladders, then stopped at the second rest stop to eat. We stopped at the third rest stop because of little bladders. So, this is 3 rest stops before 6:30. The Baby fell asleep about fifteen minutes after the third rest stop, and the other two fell asleep about an hour later. The Boy briefly woke when I stopped for gas in Harrisburg, but they slept until we arrived at Grandpa's house at about 11PM. 350 miles in six and a half hours is really, really good time - no weather or traffic related stops.






Friday morning, we had a nice breakfast at a bagel shop, where I introduced my oldest boy to the fact that bagels in New Jersey are the best in the world. The kids played in the yard for a couple of hours (including whacking each other with sticks, which explains the scratch on Little Bear's forehead, I discover after the fact), then we went to the Christmas Ice Caverns. That's a beautiful animatronic Christmas display, and the boys went through a couple of times to see all the stuff. Friday afternoon, we watched a little of television, played more, and had a pizza dinner with my brother's family. We all slept well that night.






Saturday morning, we had an easy breakfast and played around the house until it was time to see Uncle B. We had second breakfast with him, then he came back to hang out for a little while. It's awesome to see him, and the kids get along well with him. After he left, I went to pick up my Aunt F while the boys played with my father and niece, and I got back to find a nice, full house. We had a wonderful (early) Christmas dinner of turkey and mashed potatoes and vegetables and a couple of different pies and cookies and brownies. While the rest of the family was cleaning the dishes, the boys and I stayed out of the way, and The Baby fell asleep.






He stayed asleep on my lap until after the presents were done and the house was emptied. The older boys did a great job of keeping control during presents time; The Boy even helped me distribute them! That's always been my job, but he might take over. We'll see what Hannukah brings. The boys got a nice haul: fire trucks (which was a HUGE hit for The Baby, as he has been carrying his truck around with him since Saturday night), some stuffed things, some Spot It games, some stuff from me & The Wife (including a blu ray set of all the Christopher Reeves Superman movies for Little Bear, which is a highlight for me)., and some assorted sundries which - as usual - wound up being favorites, particularly little light-up rings that project colored lights. They played with those until they broke.






Eventually, the boys went back to bed, and I packed to get ready to go. The next morning, Grandpa, my brother & his family, and we had breakfast at the pancake house, then we left for Scotch Plains. We had lunch and played with D&L and their boys, an almost-4 and a newborn. It was pretty darn awesome, although kind of ironic: their new house is about 200 yards, as the bird flies, from our old house in Scotch Plains. We did stop at the comic book store, which was a highlight.






The trip home was as easy as the trip out: already being in Scotch Plains cut 30 miles from the trip. We had a potty break in western Jersey, then a stop at the Dunkin Donuts near the Cabela's along 78 (exit 29). The Baby slept for the hour before Harrisburg, and we stopped there. I was nodding at the wheel, so I gave the three boys iPhone, iPad, and old iPhone, and I closed my eyes for a fifteen minute catnap. Then, we had a snack and potty break in the Harrisburg JCC, then played in their playground for a half hour or so. All three boys fell asleep about a half hour out of Harrisburg and slept until we got home.






Things that need further discussion: Christmas & Christmas trees in a mixed faith household when one spouse makes their primary living in worship; how much better pizza and bagels are in northern New Jersey; and the benefits of planning travel time around little boys' nap times.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Packing List

Boys Clothes:



Underwear & socks, two per day per older boy, four per day for the younger boy.
Pants, shirts: two per day per boy, extra pair of pants for the youngest, reasonably nice outfit for "Christmas" dinner on Saturday.
Comfortable walking shoes.
Sweatshirt,jacket, hat, gloves for playing outside (as little boys like to do).
No stroller - The Baby is a bit too big, I think - but I'll pack the back carrier just in case I need it.

Kids' backpacks:



Coloring book and crayons
Two or three reading books
Action figure or two (or a handful of Sesame Street friends for The Baby)
Random toy or costume
Activity books for the older kids - mazes, dot-to-dots, word searches, that sort of thing

Grown-up stuff:

Box of presents & extra activity books for the trip home
iPad, old iPhone, new iPhone, power cords x 3
Maybe bring an Apple TV or a connector to the regular TV?
The Boy's medicine, children's Tylenol (just in case), band aids, antibiotic cream for cuts and scrapes

Food:



Box of cereal and almond milk (too complicated to convey what we eat to people who don't know)
Bars - granola, cereal, et al, both for the trip and for snacking
Fruit for the trip out (figuring my father will load us for the trip back)
Dinner Thursday night - likely turkey wraps, cucumbers, carrots, maybe some yogurts

So, we're leaving tomorrow after school, right around 4. I figure we'll stop for dinner around 6 - or when two kids wake up if they all fall asleep quickly - for a half hour or so, to let them stretch out a move a bit. Probably a stop near Harrisburg after that, then the next stop at the Dunkin Donuts near the Cabela's along route 78, then two more hours to my father's house.

Friday, we're "scheduled" for breakfast at a bagel place near home, then home to decorate his Christmas tree. Lunch at CostCo, then hang out for the rest of the day. Saturday, we're seeing Uncle B in the morning, then dinner with my father and brother's family for presents. Sunday, I'm seeing my friend D in the morning, then leaving right from his place in Scotch Plains / Fanwood. I figure we'll stop in Harrisburg in the mid-afternoon, then home around 7 or 8 or so. I'm not working on Monday - going to work around the house instead - but the kids do have school.

If anyone else in the northern New Jersey area is around and would like to see the kids, text me. Friday night is looking pretty good, although we might nip over to the Turtleback Zoo to see the light display.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Discipline & Setting Expectations

So, Sunday night, The Wife and I had a very long, deep discussion about The Boy. The topic of the conversation is probably best summed up by our parenting philosophy: "How can we manage his day-to-day life to put him in the best situation to succeed?" This general, overall philosophy is how we manage crowd control and discipline with the boys: if we are doing our jobs correctly as the grown-up, then we should be able to put our kids in situations that reward them for making good choices, as opposed to punishing the bad choices. Fear of failure and consequences is not the greatest motivator, particularly for someone who inherited awesome stubbornness from both of his parents.

He's been very difficult for The Wife to handle lately. Nothing so awful like physical altercations or abusive situations or things like that: just mouthing off, resisting requests, selective hearing. Typical kid stuff, but not especially usual for our family situation. He's taken off and sprinted away from us a couple of times: once in the JCC (he turned left and ran towards the car instead of joining us turning right and heading for the Eat 'n' Park for lunch) and once from me in K-Mart (where I didn't find him for about 10 minutes, when he finally found me).

So, how do we set expectations for him, to prevent these things from happening? I made the point that neither one of us had specifically stated that he needed to stay close to us. While he is 7 and should be able to follow us without immediate prompting, he's also not a mature 7. We kept him back and started kindergarten a year late for a reason, after all. The Boy is heavily script-based, and if he goes off-script, all heck can break loose. We generally don't have to tell Little Bear (at 5) to stick close to us, but in thinking about it, I frequently call for his hand whenever we leave a general area. I don't WANT to have to continually remind him of something that simple on a repeated basis, but I need to parent the kid I have rather than the ideal kid I imagine.

(Freudian slip - I first typed "I don't WANT to have to continually remind me of something." That's probably more meaningful that one would think.)

Here's what was really nice about the conversation: we were able to have a nice, rational discussion in which we did not necessarily agree with each other's points. However, because our general philosophy was the same, we were able to negotiate a compromise in terms of a plan that might actually work. After all, if one of us had the definitive plan, then that person wouldn't be having issues.

I'm not complaining about The Boy's behavior, believe me. He's a fairly easy kid, all things considered. He's specific and direct, and he likes things set up according to plan. He gets off-track if the plan gets off-track, but that's part of growing up. G-d knows that it took me until my mid-thirties to develop the ability to bounce back quickly. In school, he's an ideal student for his grade level - his personality perfectly matches the expectations of his teachers. So, we don't have much to complain about - however, it's important to keep abreast of things before them become real issues.

This weekend, when I have the kids by myself at my father's house, is going to be a big test. They're going to be around adults with which they're not normally around, and in a permissive environment. There's no REASON to misbehave because everybody around them wants to give them EVERYthing. We'll see what happens.

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I do wonder how much other parents talk about their kids - whether they have regular "steer the ship" discussions (like we try to), or whether they wait until there's an issue and try to diagnose and fix things. I'm fairly certain that my parents were of the latter opinion - which worked fine for three of the four of us, mostly because our issues didn't affect schoolwork much.

I think the philosophy of "put your kids in the best situation to make good choices" philosophy is not new. Parents have done that for thousands and thousands of years. I haven't READ that much about it that wasn't written recently, so I'm thinking that stating the philosophy is something relatively new. I hope it's something that catches on. I kind of like disciplining my children without beating them or making them afraid of me.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Thanksgiving




Thanksgiving Weekend was, fortunately, considerably less interesting than the preceding week or so.

Tuesday night, at chorus rehearsal, the ladies decided to have a shortened evening and send everybody home around 8:30 or so, which was greatly appreciated. Amazing how 48 hours over 3 days in the hospital - combined with, basically, not eating for 5-6 days - can knock you flat on your back. My asthma cough started up that night, adding steroids to the maintenance cocktail that I'm already taking. My body basically decided to add that, because f*** you, that's why.

For the record, I'm very happy that November is over, so we can turn the page and move on.

Thursday, we had Thanksgiving dinner at my in-laws' house. We had two other families - and another guest or two - come for the meal, which was wonderful. Little Bear loves one of the little girls that came - I mean, actually, seriously, full-body head-over-heels in love with her. I'm cool with that, as the little girl in question is a really cool chick - the sort of person that I like to befriend. I also got a nice baby fix, alternating between holding her younger sisters (twins, 6-8-ish months old) for the meal.


I forgot how quickly babies' hands move when there are sweet potatoes to squish and splatter.

Their parents offered numerous times to take her - but it isn't as if 1) I get to hold little, tiny, squishy babies often enough, and 2) I've eaten more meals with one hand than I'd consider, and that includes with my older boys. Besides, it isn't likely that I'm going to make another little baby any time soon, so - unless my sisters-in-law get started - I don't know when I'm going to get to play with babies.

Dinner went off without issue, the only blemishes on the day was forgetting the green beans and a misunderstanding involving a 3-year old and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In other words, we were good. It was a real, honest pleasure to share the holidays with our friends and family like that. The kids were on their best behavior, and the grownups were fairly decent, as well.

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I worked on Friday and Saturday. Grandma and Grandpa took the boys for most of the day on Friday, going to see the latest kids' movie. That let me have lunch with my wife on Friday, which was the first meal that she and I shared (by ourselves) in a month or so. That was a really, really nice treat. Friday night, we watched the latest episode of The Flash, which is the show that the boys and I watch together. It was the best episode since the pilot, with real suspense, real consequences, and some wonderful character development: I think all of us hid our eyes at some point during the show, which was cool. I'm glad to share that experience with my kids.

Friday night, the boys and I had a nice Shabbat dinner while The Wife was singing, and events lead us to this picture in the middle of the blessing of the wine & bread:



I'm not really sure what happened before, but I will note that our "wine" for the night - the only juice we had in the house - was prune juice, and they were each fighting to get more. No, I do not know why The Boy lost his shirt. The Baby was preparing to say the bread blessing.

We went shopping to Home Depot and the comic book store for Black Friday and came home with new garbage cans. I took advantage of clean, new cans to take Oscar the Grouch pictures. If I was motivated, I would photoshop the kids to have green faces, but I'm








not:

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Saturday was a beautiful day, and we spent a couple of hours at the Blue Slide Park. I did my best to chase around things 2 & 3, while The Wife and The Boy went for a nice, long walk along the dog trail in the park. We found a friend at the park - which was neat, because Little Bear told me (in no uncertain terms): "One of my friends is GOING to be at the park today, Daddy." We hadn't made plans, so luck favored us.



Saturday night, we watched the movie "Robots," starring Robin Williams and Ewan McGregor, among others. It's a wonderfully unappreciated, silly adventure story. The boys enjoyed it.

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Sunday was another wonderful day, and we spent much of it putting up the Christmas lights outside of the house. The boys did a fairly decent job helping out - helping me straighten strings of lights and put them where they were supposed to go. One notable exception was The Boy and Little Bear playing skip rope with a new string of icicle lights (which promptly broke); that was annoying. Other than that, they helped me set up the inflatable guys, pound in the support stakes, and wrap the lights around the railings.


I love doing outside lights. My only disappointment is that my part of the block gets absolutely no traffic, so noone will actually see what I've done, but that's okay.



We took a break in the middle of decorating to go to the JCC to run around for a little while, then we came home and finished. The boys spent some time at Grandma's house in the afternoon while I rested, then we had a nice, leisurely end-of-afternoon and evening dinner and play session around the house.

We're dealing with some attitude issues with The Boy, but this post has gone long enough. I need to think about how to post about those.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My Hospital Trip

So, the story starts the morning after Cleveland although, to be honest, it is entirely unrelated to Cleveland.

Saturday morning, when I woke up (about four hours or so after falling asleep after the long drive), I was not feeling particularly well. Congested, headachy, that sort of thing - likely related to the cold that'd been going around the house most of the week. The Wife let me take a nap, which helped.

Sunday morning, I woke up somewhat worse and spent most of the day in bed. I worked from home on Monday so I could take a nap during lunchtime. Tuesday morning I woke up feeling better and made the trek to work. Tuesday night, you see, the chorus had a performance at a senior home up north, followed by a normal rehearsal at that site. I surely wouldn't miss the performance for something like a cold.

Tuesday afternoon I texted The Wife: "Man, my stomach just suddenly starte killing me." I thought it might have been the food I ate at lunchtime, but an examination of the rest of the leftovers at home showed that they were fine. Over the next two hours, the pain - which felt like the ache after someone has repeatedly punched you in the stomach - intensified, and my ability to concentrate on anything else evaporated.

I started to drive to the performance, got about ten minutes from the office, and realized that I wouldn't make it. I made the appropriate calls, then drove myself to the hospital, checked into the emergency room, and curled myself into a fetal position for the next couple of hours until they came with pain meds.

Long story short, the next twenty four hours contained a whole heap of blood draws, viewing machines, and every kind of poke and prod and press that you can imagine. EVERY kind. The good news: they ruled out all of the awful stuff (cancers, kidney stones, et al). The bad news: they had no idea what was causing the pain.

Wednesday night, they had decided that my digestive system was just backed up (confirming what many students and colleagues have thought of me for many years, that I'm full of sh**). They backed off the pain meds, which turned out to be a colossally bad idea. I had an awful reaction to the ibuprofen based medicine they gave me and spent the next five hours in greater agony than Tuesday night, until someone took pity and gave me medicine that worked.

Thursday, they took me downstairs and did their best to clean out my insides with medicines and a device that, I'm pretty sure, has its roots as a fire hose. I'm fairly sure they dumped enough fluid (pun intended) that my eyeballs started to float independently. I'm also fairly sure that my breakfast from the day before floated back into my stomach for re-digestion.

Talk about doctors with a crappy job.

They sent me home Thursday night with a prescription for a mild painkiller. The only problem is that, at that point, my lower back was in as much agony - maybe more - as my stomach, caused by 48 hours of immobility. Instead, I took an alleve pill, which calmed the muscles in my back and let me sleep.

I'm doing better now - I'm probably at a solid 30, 35% of normal. If I'm careful and slow, I can do most of my normal stuff without any pain or discomfort. The only issue is that I'm not sure where my limits are, and when I go past - ouch. My body violently lets me know.

Best part of the hospital, UPMC Shadyside: the nurses were fabulous. Friendly, caring, quick, and universally funny. Plus, the two main nurses I had - Wednesday and Thursday day shift and Tuesday and Wednesday night shift - were geeks like me and loved talking about the comic book shows and movies. My PCP was also amazing during this - came by a couple times a day and maintained strong contact with the doctors at the hospital.

Worst part of the hospital: sleeping like a baby. Meaning, you get an hour of sleep here, then get woken up. Two hours, then woken for tests. Forty-five minutes, then another intrusion. 90 minutes here, then a random resident comes to visit. When it hurt to talk, one does not want to tell a frightened bunny the same story again,

Worst part, part deux: some bastard told the dining department that I was allergic to caffeine. That meant no coffee and no chocolate chip cookies. If that was a practical joke, it would have been the most amazing one ever. Thankfully, my nurses gave me the cup of coffee or two that I needed to avoid the worst of the caffeine hangovers.


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Home Free Day!!!




Last Friday, the 14th, I took a half day from work to take The Boy and Little Bear to see the a cappella group Home Free perform in Cleveland. It was a truly epic day and a real "Dad Level Up" kind of moment!

Now, I had been planning this since August, when I bought the tickets. We did not tell the kids that they were going on this trip - I wanted it to be a surprise, because this was the primary Christmas/Channukah present for them. (Side note: wouldn't it be great if the presents that I was able to give my kids revolved more around an experience like that, as a family, instead of toys? That deserves some more thought and exploration, but I digress.) mission accomplished - everyone involved (me, The Wife, their teachers) managed to keep their mouths shut long enough.

I left work at noon, came home, and napped for an hour. I got to the kids' school at two, and we were out the door at 2:20. After we left the school, I sat down on the bench and told them where we were going. The Boy's jaw dropped to the ground, and he began bouncing up and down with excitement. Little Bear, being of cooler variety, merely nodded his head: "Cool."



We got in the car for the roughly three hour drive to Cleveland. As I hoped, the boys fell asleep fairly quickly and slept for a shade under two hours - for a concert that starts at eight (which is around their bedtime) they needed to be well-rested. They woke up in time for a gas and potty break, then we completed the drive into Cleveland.

The concert was in the Ohio Theatre in Playhouse Square, which is a nice theater district in town. We drove around a bit until we found the theater, then we found a parking spot about two blocks away. We walked to the theater, picked up our tickets, and used their potty.


We spent fifteen minutes looking at the restaurants before choosing Otto Moser's restaurant. It was a forty-five minute wait, and we spent the time playing on the various iDevices I brought along with me. Dinner was sandwiches, and we had a nice conversation with the couple in the table next to us.



When we settled in the theater seats, we did a little more playing and some talking with the people around us. The theater was packed full - I did not see any empty seats around us, and we were about halfway to two thirds back from the stage.

Then, the show started. Wow, those boys can sing.



Home Free won the Sing-Off in December 2013. They're a country and pop a cappella group from Minnesota, and they are our family's favorite singing group right now. They do a nice mix of country covers, pop/rock songs, and original tunes. Some of their better songs include covers of Cruise (Florida-Georgia Line), Colder Weather (Zachary Brown Band), Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash, with an unbelievable bass solo); original tunes Wake Me Up and Champagne Taste (on a Beer Budget).

They sang songs from their debut album, Crazy Life; from their YouTube channel (they have been releasing a video or two every month for a while now - we are Patreon subscribers to support this); from their brand new Christmas album; and from their Sing-Off performances. One of the highlights was a neat arrangement of God Bless the USA, which we hadn't heard before. The boys love that song, particularly since last year's kindergarten flag day ceremony.

The boys were rapt listeners and watchers for the whole concert, which is a feat for two little boys and two 45 minute halves. They sang along with a bit of it - since they know the words to all of the songs, they could have sang everything, but I don't think they did.



After the concert, the Home Free guys did a handshake / autograph line for the fans. We had bought concert t-shirts and pictures for them to sign already. The guys from Home Free were gracious and friendly to the kids, who were obviously star-struck and couldn't speak: the guys had a kind word or question for both the boys. The crowd was too big to pose for pictures with them, but I tried anyway.



When we got back to the car, the boys wanted to listen to - you guessed it - more Home Free for the ride home. Little Bear was asleep before we left the parking deck, The Boy about five minutes later. We arrived home around 1:15am from an immensely successful concert trip.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Home Free Eve




24 hours from now, we'll be somewhere in Ohio, travelling to the Home Free concert. With luck, the boys will be fast asleep - a nice afternoon nap means that they'll be able to last the entire concert without an issue. I expect to arrive in Cleveland somewhere around 5, 5:30 - find the theater & park - find a place to eat reasonably close to nearby. With any luck, I can find a backstage door and see if I can shake any hands. I think the boys would absolutely plotz if they could meet the Home Free singers. I know that >>I<< am geeking out over the prospect, so I hope to make that happen. I have a feeling the crowd will be too large, but you never know.

I'm still trying to decide what we're going to do after the concert. We have family in the area, and we could probably stay the night there, but I'm waffling between driving home (arriving in the neighborhood of 1 or 2AM) and staying somewhere. I am going to bring a bag, and if we feel like staying - or if the driving becomes dangerous - then we'll stop. I don't mind spending $50 on a hotel room, mostly because we NEVER do crazy things like this.

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The Boy has chosen "Witches' Dance" for his talent show violin piece this year, so he performed it for us. It's a little rough right now, but he's got a few months. The quartet was appreciative, but that's because they're cool guys and it's really cute seeing a kid that size play an instrument.

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Little Bear's chin is healing quite nicely. We're still keeping it covered up, even though the cut has mostly scabbed over, because we don't want him playing with it. He's also doing a decent job of dealing with his finger-sucking, albeit grudgingly. We're trying to find substitutes that will calm his anxiety - sleeping with a blankey or a teddy bear, or chewing gum when he's awake. (...and G-d help him if I find gum stuck under any furniture in the house!)

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Tonight, The Wife has quartet rehearsal, and we'll do baths and snuggles while watching "The Flash" as a group of boys. We like the show a lot, although it might be a shade too scary for Little Bear. He usually falls asleep 2/3 of the way through. The Baby rarely makes it past the credits. The Boy watches like I do - rapt attention and good response at the appropriate beats.

Now, if I could only get them into Doctor Who....


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