Thursday, October 30, 2014

House Work

So, the best way to motivate the boys to do yard work: have them young enough to enjoy making a huge leaf pile and jumping in it, but old enough to wield a rake with purpose.

A couple of times over the past few weeks, they've set to work in the back yard. The first time, they brought up the one decent rake we have and the metal rake - which is good for breaking up ground but terrible for actually raking leaves, not to mention dangerous. So, we made a trek to K-Mart (which is next to the Eat 'N' Park that we frequent) and picked up another normal-sized rake and a little-sized rake, which was The Baby's.

In our back yard, we have a HUGE oak tree - like, way bigger than our house huge. So, when it sheds, it fills our little, tiny back yard with leaves in a pool about three inches deep. I love letting the kids crash around in the leaves for a couple of reasons: 1) it's really cute, and 2) it smooshes them so they take fewer bags. If they want to rake their own leaf pile? Even better.

The tree is about 75% empty now, which means only one more full yard of leaves before the end of the season. Sigh.


Last night, I had quartet rehearsal, and The Wife had a PTA meeting at school. The neat thing they do: they have play-time with the kids, and they hire / use older kids (middle and high school kids) to supervise the general playing. The boys had a great time, because they don't see a lot of their school friends outside of class. I think that's going to be a long-term thing. The nice thing about The Wife's current employment: it allows her the luxury of being in the school regularly and being an active member of any parents' groups she chooses.

I have a handful of friends who have no children or whose children are grown , and I enjoy living vicariously through them. I vaguely remember what it felt like to sleep late, and to go to an actual gym with actual machines than the (quite nice, really) home gym, and to play video games and watch sports on the television. When we moved into our house in Scotch Plains, it was before children; and it wasn't an issue to spend 8 hours at work and 8 hours working around the house. So, even though I'm not the most talented handyman, we always had a clean, straightened, organized house, even as I had my video games and tv shows.

Now? Pshaw. I still watch tv - I watch one show per day, in the morning when I exercise - and the house is occasionally, and briefly, organized before the kids get home. I occasionally get to watch a few minutes of a game, here or there, and once a month or so I can play video games on the Playstation. But, you know what?

I'm not raising a Playstation. I'm not raising a yard. I'm not raising a dust-free, dirt-free home. I'm raising three beautiful, brilliant, mischievous little boys. Most of the time, re-painting the kitchen can wait - I have to read bedtime stories. Most of the time, pruning the bushes and cleaning up the hills in front or in back of the house can wait - I have to take little boys on a bike ride to the playground. Playing my Final Fantasy 13 #2 (to which I have a total of 25 minutes logged)? That'll wait, because I can play Lego Batman WITH The Boy instead of making him watch.

The yardwork and housework will get done, eventually, albeit not as often as I'd prefer. But, it'll get done. I'm banking that the boys would rather have memories of their father reading them books and running in the park with them. I know that I should show them the value of working around the house, and how to paint and to fix the things that I know how to fix, but that just doesn't seem as important.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Every morning, my little boy routine has been the same: "Good morning, sweetheart! (hug) How are you? Did you have a nice rest? Did you have nice dreams? What do you dream about?"

The Baby's answer has been the same for the past year or so: "Elephants and Batman." He refuses to elaborate. It might be Batman riding elephants, or Batman fighting elephants, or him riding on elephants with Batman in the Batmobile.

The Boy has been getting steadily more creative as time goes on. This morning, he was lost in a forest, by himself, with no family, and he ran into Doctor Doom. He ran away, was chased by Dr. Doom, and along came the Rescuebots to save him. They fought Dr. Doom together, drove him away, then went to the fire station to relax. (The Rescuebots, if you haven't met them yet, are small child-friendly Transformers that are a fire truck, police car, helicopter, and bulldozer. They don't fight Decepticons - they fight fires and earthquakes and malfunctioning power plants and rescue animals and stuff like that. The boys love them.)

Little Bear is the only one of the three boys that regularly seems to have scary dreams, which usually revolve around him being left alone, or being unable to find us. Monsters sometimes come out, but mostly it's being left alone. His normal dreams, at least the ones he tells me about, usually consist of him teaming up with Superman or Batman or the Justice League to fight against whichever bad guy is on his mind.


Last night, Little Bear spent the entire night in his room, without sucking his fingers, for the first time. I'm glad of that, because, as the boys are growing, it's difficult to fit everybody in the bed. We can still do it - they're still little, particularly The Baby, and Little Bear folds into easily portable shapes - but it's not as comfortable as it was two years ago.

The Boy, in particular, has hit another growth spurt over the last month. I noticed it a while ago - when we went out to breakfast and he ate a second breakfast an hour after we got home, followed by lunch two hours later. Sigh.

Costco is going to be our good, good friend later in our children's lives.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014


So, I confirmed it with The Wife: she told Little Bear that she was going to put the yucky stuff on his fingers if he didn't stop; when he ignored her, she put the yucky stuff on his fingernails and, cold turkey, he stopped sucking on his fingers. Neither one of us even saw him try to put them in his mouth, but - considering he wouldn't put his fingers in his mouth even at 3am on Saturday night, would stay awake & cry & thrash - I'm guessing he did, at least once.

The trick in avoiding long-term issues, we think, is in our reaction to his struggles. The finger-sucking was a real source of comfort for him; whenever he was stressed or emotional (and he's the sensitive kid in the family), he would go to work on those fingers. Now that he doesn't have that, he needs to develop new comfort mechanisms and strategies. We are giving him extra snuggles and extra hugs at night, and he has spent Sunday night and Monday night (as well as the infamous Saturday) in bed with us. If we are patient and kind, and we treat his stress with extra comfort and understanding, hopefully he'll develop those coping mechanisms that will be more productive than sucking on his fingers.

Hard to say, of course. We're certain he's going to need enough psychological help when he's older - Lord knows that The Wife and I have dealt with depression issues on and off throughout the course of our lives. He's exceptionally, brilliantly intelligent and quite emotionally sensitive; that's not a great combination for mental health. Contrast with The Boy, who is brilliant but has the emotional sensitivity of a stump. He's so self-directed and self-assured that the concept of depression, at this point, is a non-issue.


The Baby, despite two accidents over the course of the weekend (Friday night and Saturday morning, when I was watching him, naturally), has turned the final corner when it's come to potty training. He's now 100% pee-trained, and about 95% poo trained. As long as we keep to the standard routines - requiring potty visits whenever leaving the house or arriving anywhere, potty visits before and after meals, and that sort of thing - he's really good. I haven't heard about any accidents at school yet.

Of course, we've been asked a few times - you have three boys, what about trying for a girl? Honestly, the potty training thing is the biggest reason we're likely done with having children. We're ready to be parents that don't have to carry a diaper bag everywhere we go. Pregnancy, labor, giving birth, baby issues, juggling a larger family, trying to prevent #3 from treating #4 like #3 treated #4 in my family: those are issues that we're prepared to handle. Potty training for a fourth time? No, thanks. The Boy and The Baby fought us so hard and so stubbornly that we're burnt out.


Parent-teacher conferences were last week. It was nice timing, because my father was in town for a weekend visit. Little Bear's teacher said the usual things - smart, a good reader, helpful (with the one bullying exception from last month), and sensitive. She also noted that, after watching Little Bear, she understood why we held The Boy back a year from kindergarten: LB is very much a little boy, with all of the squirminess that that implies. He's perfectly appropriate for the class, and he'll start to calm down as he matures, but she noticed the difference between the 6-year old boy last year and the young 5-year old this year. Gifted testing is in another couple / few months; we're sure he's intelligent enough, but the question of "will he sit still for the 90 minutes of testing" is a very valid one.

The Boy received the sterling conference for which we hoped. He is smart, motivated, kind, a leader in the class, and helpful to everybody. At this point, he doesn't have "enemies" in class or anyone who's trying to pick on him - even the kid on the bus who was an issue isn't an issue any more. Not much else to say other than that; all of his teachers love him.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Show Weekend and No More Ringers

This past Saturday, we had my chorus's annual show, which went swimmingly. I'm satisfied with how the chorus sang, with how my quartet sang, and impressed with how The Wife's quartet sang. The show ran smoothly, even with the personality conflicts that inevitably arise under the stress of performance. We were breaking in a new venue, which was great despite its extreme distance from our house - about 90 minutes, plus traffic. Still, easy parking, a perfect size auditorium, great lighting & sound systems....

The boys spent the day with Grandma and Grandpa, which went reasonably well, all things considered. We had to cut our dinner short - the afterglow was a sit-down dinner - which was disappointing, because there were a half dozen people that I really wanted to see and a half dozen songs that I wanted to perform. However, considering that G&G were doing such an amazing thing for us by taking the kids from, basically, 10 to 10 on a Saturday..... no complaints, for sure.

The biggest issue was that night. We've been trying to figure out how to break Little Bear of his habit of sucking on his fingers. It's really not a good thing in school age kids: touching the desk and then putting your fingers in your mouth is a great way to make sure you stay sick for a couple of months, which he more-or-less has. This would be less of an issue if the cold didn't travel between the kids and parents with such fervor. So, we've finally resorted to the "painting the finger nails with yucky tasting stuff" stage of things, which seems to be working. Saturday was the first night where he was not able (because of the taste) to suck on his fingers.

To say that it went poorly was an extreme understatement.

So, here I am, having spent the entire day under the stress of management and of performance (which I handled marvelously, if I do say so, myself), had a nice, relaxing dinner, took my medication (which knocks me the heck out because of the various drying agents), and then Little Bear started fussing, rolling, kicking, flailing, and crying. The WIfe fled to the baby's room and spent the night with him. I was awake until a shade before 4 with Little Bear - with him staying still just long enough to drowse before getting kicked / head butted / hit awake, and he was absolutely inconsolable. Compounding things was the extreme amount of caffeine I had consumed earlier in the day, for which I was feeling a caffeine hangover already.

So, we fell asleep for good, finally, around 4. The Wife and the other boys were awake at 6:30, which meant that I was awake at 6:30. The Boy went to early Sunday School with The Wife, and Little Bear stayed asleep until around 10:30AM. I stomped on something at some point - either a nail or a stick or a thumbtack or whatever, because there's a small hole in my heel that makes walking difficult.

The Baby and I hung out around the house and watched tv in the morning, and The Wife let me nap a bit in the afternoon. I spent the rest of the day in front of the football games, which was the first Sunday I did that this year. We did a little bit of housework, including leaves in the backyard with the three boys raking a big pile and stomping around in it. (Ironically, this makes the bagging of the leaves easier, because it mushes them and requires fewer bags.)

It's been more than a month since I've written, for which I apologize. I'm going to try to do better.

Friday, September 19, 2014


So, The Baby has really turned a corner in regards to his potty training. This morning, he got up out of bed, by himself, and said, "Gotta run run run to the potty!" and did both possible items, all by himself. That's a huge, huge step. His nighttime sleeping is starting to improve, too: he gives no resistance to going to sleep by himself, as long as he has his music playing. We use the Austin & Austin "Deep Sleep Melodies." His middle of the night is still not smooth - he wakes up screaming, like an infant, and screams until somebody comes to get him. We'd love it if he'd actually get out of bed and come into our room by himself, like The Boy does.

We don't have an issue with kids sneaking into our beds; we do have an issue with kids who are screaming for no good reason, when they're perfectly capable of climbing out of bed and coming in on their own.

He's doing well in school - apparently has not had a single accident so far this year, and it's been two weeks. He has the same teachers as last year, with which we're cool; they're neat people and our kids love them.

"Daddy, would you like to play a game with me? It's a game called SESAME!" He says that, carrying the Sesame Street playhouse with him. He likes playing one character while you play the other, and the characters walk around the playset and talk to each other. He carries those guys - he calls them his "Sesame Street Friends" - with him all the time. Last week, at my chorus picnic, he had the bag with Telly Monster, Cookie Monster, Rosita, Zoe, and Spider-Man (who was on Electric Company, not Sesame Street, but I'm not going to crush his dreams) on his shoulder all day, without fail.

He's been unhappy since Wednesday, because he can't find Cookie and Telly. They're likely in Grandma's car, which they rode because our car had a flat tire.


The Boy is giving us some pushback about his homework and practicing his violin. It's not that he can't do it, but he's a procrastinator. If he doesn't feel like it, he'll sit at the table and stare at it for an hour, whining the whole time, until finally taking the 3 minutes that it takes to finish the worksheet. In the morning, if he doesn't feel like moving, he'll sit in his underpants on the beanbag chair for twenty or thirty minutes without getting dressed.

We're been reading "Bone," the fantasy adventure comic by Jeff Smith, that my brother bought for me twenty-ish years ago. It's an amazing comic: funny, slapstick humor, great use of visual and written words to show motion in the story, and great, deep characters. He's really into it; we finished chapter four last night, and he's "threatening" to read ahead while I'm away at the Sweet Adelines event this weekend. I'm cool with that. He didn't let me get far into Harry Potter, which does - in fairness - have a lot of words.

Guess it's going to be a while before he lets me read him Tolkein.


The chorus picnic last weekend was amazing. My chorus ladies are incredible people, uniformly: warm, friendly, and inviting, and they have been unfathomably patient with my little boys. We had the picnic at a church in Butler, which had a picnic area with overhang, and a soccer field right next door. We brought wiffle balls and bats, other people brought soccer balls, nerf guns, and frisbees. There was an 8 year old boy - just a year older than The Boy - and a 12 and 13 year old there. The 12-year old, who bears more than a passing resemblance to my niece, J, played with the boys all afternoon. They played baseball, soccer, frisbee, various shooting games with the guns, and sometimes just sat in a circle and talked. It was really pretty awesome.

(Little Bear, on the ride home, said, "I liked playing the K because she looks just like Cousin J. I miss Cousin J and can't wait to see her again." Very sweet. But, I digress.)

I did play with the kids on and off during the day - pitching when they were playing wiffle ball, and chasing them when they needed a monster, and getting tackled by a large group when necessary. That's what I do, right? But, it was still nice to be able to take the kids somewhere like that, by myself, and not have to hover over them all day. I'm ready for the next stage in parenting, I think. I love babies and I love my babies, but I'm ready to deal with little kids instead of infants.

Little Bear did NOT want to leave at the end of the day; he had such a fun time that he was willing to stay even if everyone else left. I feel for him; he was a real star at the picnic, and there are not many areas where the middle boy stands out above the first or third.

Shockingly, the boys did not fall asleep on the way home, but all four of us were asleep before 9:00. As it turns out, I was already pretty sick by the end of the day, but I didn't know it yet.


The next day, there was an Apples and Honey Festival at Anderson Playground, sponsored by the local Jewish Federation. It was on a big field adjoining to the castle playground, and various groups had booths with treats, apple-themed arts and crafts, snacks and drinks, and one booth with a small, live beehive. The day was a little chaotic, as I took the boys by myself and none of the three children chose to stay with me for any length of time. I tried my best to keep The Baby within arm's reach, but that was easier said than done. Still, all three kids had a great time and ate lots of apple-type things (and candy and honey). We saw their friends (and our friends) from preschool and Sunday school, which was pretty cool.

All three children made it home without incident, although I didn't really enjoy hunting for them in the HUGE crowd of kids.


Monday and Tuesday, I was sick. I am so, so, so, so thankful that my boss lets me work at home occasionally. In my position, I don't have to actually talk to people - so a sore throat is not necessarily an impediment to work. I was able to nap during lunch and still get my 8 hours of work in on Monday, and I took a half day on Tuesday - worked around a long rest in the middle of the day. I have good people above me in my job, and I'm happy that they're looking out for me.

This weekend, I'm headed to Cleveland for a Harmony Weekend. It'll be nice to NOT be woken by screaming children, and being sick (still not feeling well) is a great excuse to go to bed at, like, 9.

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Bully Followup

So, as the more rational part of my mind suspected (but wasnt allowed to voice, because the emotional, reactive part of my mind is far more entertaining to read), the situation with the bus kid seems to have worked itself out. The Boy took our advice, and when the kid was starting stuff the next day, he made a game out of it.

The kid was making faces, so The Boy made them back. Then the kid started laughing (my child is very silly when he chooses to be), and the ice was broken. They played a silly game like that on the bus ride home, and had no interaction the next day on the bus.

The situation with the larger kid on the bus from the gifted center remains to be seen. But, it's not a kid that The Boy sees on a regular basis, so I'm wondering if it'll continue to be a problem on Wednesdays.


It's funny, how I / we react differently to things that our kids experience. Our reactions to The Boy, because of all of his prior issues, have a much shorter fuse than with the other kids. Perfect example: he has a cold, we bring him directly to the doctor's office for examination, and they see him reasonably quickly.

The Baby goes down a slide wrong and breaks his leg? We let him walk on it for a few days before getting a follow up x-ray. No concerns.

I suppose that it's always going to be like that. We've fought a lot harder for that one - we sacrificed a lot to get him through his treatment, and I think we bear permanent scars for it. Little Bear hasn't had the luxury of getting babied and pampered like his brother - he had to grow up and become independent, and he had to do it quickly and under the most stressful conditions imaginable. He learned to sleep by himself because he had to, not because we wanted him to. He had to learn potty early because he didn't have a choice.

The Boy falls down? We might not rush over, but we're carefully watching. Every stomach ache, every pain or pull, every limp or sigh is examined. Little Bear? Nope. "Get up and keep moving, kid." The Baby? Less so, but he's not following The Boy's path.

I hate myself for thinking it, but if Little Bear was in that same situation (which I'd be shocked - he's a social creature, and I have a hard time seeing him as prey in the schoolyard), I'd be more likely to let him suggest solutions and take care of it. One of the reasons that we're happy that they're in adjacent grades is because, when they're older, I think Little Bear is going to need to take care of his brother in social situations. Besides Little Bear is bigger and stronger than the other kids, and he's got pretty good athletic ability. They'll choose easier targets.

Jury's still out on The Baby.


Thanks for all of the well wishes and suggestions from the last blog entry. I do appreciate it, and some of them made it into the talks that The Boy and I have had since the issues on Wednesday. You're a wonderful community of people, and I am blessed to have such friends!!!

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Thursday, September 11, 2014


In this day and age of bully awareness, how do you teach your kid to handle getting picked on in school? Particularly when said kid is kind of your stereotypical definition of a nerd: smarter than everyone else, three grade levels (at least) above the rest of the group, into traditionally "geeky" things, loves reading, is social awkward, has glasses and hearing aids, and occasionally has a hard time saying things (thinks too quickly. Happens to me, too, which is from where he got it).

I clearly remember a time, soon after we moved to Pittsburgh, when I took The Boy to the Blue Slide Park to play. He was still mostly bald at that point, and very small and very thin. He did his usual thing: ran around, climbed on stuff, went down slides a hundred and fifty times, and played a lot of "Daddy get me" games. There were some bigger kids there, probably around 8 or 9 years old, lead by a little girl, whose face and voice I will not soon forget. The Boy tried, on an occasion or two, to go up and say "Hi!" to them, but they pointedly ignored him, and I steered him away from them as often as I could. They started a cruel game of "Avoid the Froggie," to which they added a verbal soundtrack mocking the child. When I hit my limit, I approached them and asked them to lay off - he is a cancer patient in recovery, and his sickness was an contributing factor. The Boy never figured it out, as far as I could tell.

Yesterday, The Boy got into it with a neighborhood kid on the bus ride home. The kid - who is in kindergarten, but with the maturity of a 3-year old (in reality, having seen the kid before, there are some mental issues going on) - was calling him "poopy" and "yucky" and similar names. After a while, The Boy lost patience and decked him. The other kid was standing in the aisle and not letting The Boy get off the bus. Little Bear, meanwhile, squeezed past and cheerfully exited the bus. (Sigh. So much for having your brother's back.) The two boys eventually came off the bus crying.

Earlier in the day, on the way back from the gifted center, one of the bigger kids was throwing something at The Boy, to irritate and mock him. The Boy responded by throwing the thing on the floor, but the kid got it back and chucked it again.

So, how do you tell your kids to deal with that?

Growing up, I wasn't bullied often. My mom was a councilperson in town, so the teachers kept an extra eye on me. I had a few friends in different social groups, so nobody really hated me because of territorial reasons. I was also bigger than most of the kids, and because of my older brothers, I had a much, much, much sharper and vicious set of comebacks than most kids my age. Kids that tried to pick on me had a difficult time doing it - I made them angry far, far easier than they made me angry, so they would generally pick on easier targets.

The Wife had a hard time in school. She spent some time in private school, which was an awful fit for her. She was bullied constantly, and her teachers didn't really like her enough to intercede. When she'd respond by slugging someone, inevitably, she was the one that got in trouble. She has a fast wit, similar to me, but she lacks my ability to attack viciously.

It's going to be hard for The Boy. He's a sweet kid, and he's been a bit sheltered. The Wife encouraged him to use the old "So?" question, with accompanying shrug and grin, when other kids mock him. She encouraged him to talk to teachers or the bus driver if somebody's really giving him the business - I'm not necessarily a big fan of that, as getting a reputation as a tattletale is not so good for you. I encouraged him to make jokes about it and to be funny - people generally don't pick on the class clown. I don't know how well that will work for him, right now.

If this were thirty-five years ago, I'd get him lifting with me in the morning, and after a few months, he'd kick the s**t out of that kid. Problem solved. Nowadays, you can't - hit a kid where a teacher sees it, and you have a three day vacation. Which might be the solution - if you can provide enough of a response to a bully or something, maybe they punch you in class and get suspended. Down part is, if they're smart enough, they'll hold off in public, and you'll need to watch yourself every time you go to the bathroom.

The other secret, I guess, is to surround yourself with a lot of friends, all the time. There is safety in packs. I think he's still one of only one or two in his grade going to the gifted center, which is an issue.

Man, this is a tricky one. I know he'll figure it out. I just wish I could prevent him from experiencing this.

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