Friday, September 19, 2014

Picnics










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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Bully




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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Monday, September 8, 2014

First Practice

This week is a big week for the boys. Tonight - specifically, right now, as I type - is the first baseball practice for The Boy and for Little Bear. It's a once a week thing, on Monday nights, and they have enough for four small teams to play. I'm going to talk to the coach, to see if they need/want an extra grownup who owns a mitt.






The boys did pretty well. Little Bear smacked a nice ground ball through the second base hole - pulled it pretty good, and he was one of the few lefty batters. The Boy wound up hitting off the tee - he fouled off a few pitches, then hit a grounder to short.






There are no outs, no strikeouts, no score being kept. They're just watching the kids throw and hit and run. There are a handful of adults and older kids who are walking around the field and playing catch with the kids in the field to keep them into the game. I'm pretty happy with how this looks. Once they hit, they run the bases regardless of what's happened, which is fun.

Baseball is a tough game. It's the most skill-reliant, in that you need to learn to throw, to hit, to field, and that natural ability helps speed the learning process but does not circumvent it. I know that, when I was growing up, they didn't let us play recreation baseball until third grade.

What do I want from this? Hard to say. I want the boys to get an appreciation for how the game is played, and I want them to be able to tell who the first baseman, second baseman, third baseman, and shortstop are when we're watching a game. I'd like them to have a basic knowledge of the rules of the game. That's about it.

First chorus rehearsal for The Boy is Wednesday night. It's the start of a new boys chorus in town. That's pretty cool, too. Little Bear might join, if it's a younger group, otherwise it'll just be The Boy's thing.

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Update, post-practice:

Little Bear got to play "second base" during the second inning - meaning the second time the other team got to have all ten players bat. He was magnificent! His hustle was really something special to watch. He was sprinting after every ball, and he was the first or second player to every ball hit - including those hit to third base, second base, and left field. He charged hard at all the balls, which was awesome to see.






The Boy did well, too, playing catch and throw with one of the coaches in a small group of four or five boys.


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Friday, September 5, 2014

Viruses 'n'at

Did you know that "Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease" was a thing? I didn't, until yesterday when Little Bear and The Baby were diagnosed with it. Sigh. LB has been feverish off-and-on and had a terrifically sore throat, to the point of him not eating. That's odd, because Little Bear loves his food. The Baby started coming down with it on Wednesday night and spent Thursday and Friday convalescing on Mom's lap.






This, of course, means that nobody in the house has slept since Monday night. Even The Boy - who has come down with nothing as of yet, knock on wood - was awake at 2:30AM this morning, playing with his action figures. (The Tooth Fairy brought him Green Arrow on Tuesday night, when he lost another tooth.) Green Arrow and Captain Marvel were having some wonderful adventures on top of Daddy's back at that early point in the morning, which nearly lead to action figures (attached to a little boy) flying out of the second story window. Cooler heads prevailed, and this morning The Boy had some instruction to NOT bring toys into bed with Daddy and Mommy.

Besides, they hurt to roll over.

Little Bear made it through most of the day on Wednesday and the full day on Thursday. We haven't heard anything from the school on Friday, yet, and no news is good news. The Baby doesn't actually start school until this coming week, so all is good.

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The Boy's afternoon class at the gifted center is going to be photography. I'm kind of excited about that for him, particularly since it might mean that I start to get the occasional picture of myself. In our iPhoto library, there's like 5,000 pictures of The Boy; 4,500 pictures of Little Bear; 3,000 pictures of The Baby; 3,500 pictures of The Wife, and 16 pictures of me. I realize I'm not as photogenic as the rest of the family, but - come on. Still, considering that I'm the one that takes most of the pictures (and am darn good finding well-framed and interesting shots), my expectation aligns with reality in this case.






The Wife and I are getting new iPhones when the new ones are announced next week, using money from her new position. We're really excited about it. I think we are going to remove the SIM cards from our iPhone 4S, and we'll give one of them to The Boy, specifically for use for photos, books, and games. Netflix and other videos will not be allowed, I think, for the time being.

I'm not prepared to make it an active cell phone, at this point, mostly because he doesn't have a use for it. He doesn't talk to friends on the phone or make his own plans, yet, and he's not involved with huge amounts of activities that will be a "call us when you need a ride home" sort of thing or a "I want a cell phone on you at all times so I can find you" sort of thing. Still, I don't think we're that far off of that time.

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If I were especially motivated, I'd write something about how we should be training kids to use their smart phones intelligently in school. I mean, we want them to be technology-enabled, right? Why don't we train them how to use their phone for normal, everyday tasks, like we do? Show them how to properly research on the web, instead of quoting Wikipedia verbatim; show them the math and geometry resources that are there; the how-to sections that exist; the amazing helps and lifehacks where their technology makes a difference?






But, I'm not especially motivated. You know my general feeling towards education today (Common Core: bad curriculum designed by people who have never actually taught which prepare kids to take tests that don't actually measure anything useful; incompetent, reactionary administration is the norm; over-pressured and under-respected teachers are told that the idiots among them represent them instead of the wonderful, caring professionals that also exist), and you know that I'm an early-adopting geek (well, as early-adopting as a limited, barely-above-poverty-line income allows).

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For those of you that are the praying sort, please add my niece to your prayer lists. She's had a rough summer - very ill with an autoimmune disease, lost her job because of it, and is just starting a long, difficult road to recovery that will, more than likely, take years. She's a great kid (not a kid anymore, 3 months from her 24th birthday - ugh. A kid.) and deserves better. Fortunately, her family and her fiancee have pulled her into their care,

I understand what she's going through - losing my job because of a serious illness, losing my house, having to move back with parents to recover, and taking several years to get back on my feet. It's hard. But, we Musical folk are made of tough stuff, and I know that she's going to pull through a lot faster and better than I did.



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Birthday (The) Boy




On Saturday, The Boy turned 7.

We didn't do a whole lot of unusual activities for the weekend. Friday night, I took the boys to services, where they were having services in the garden. They did pretty well for themselves - they're becoming accustomed to attending services, so they know what's expected. I've taken them to services by myself a few times, so they could hear The Wife singing, and we're good like that. I like the fact that she's becoming respected in the congregation, and having her boys come around and behave well is something that reflects well upon her.

Saturday, the day of the birthday, dawned clear and warm. After a nice morning jog, the boys and I hung around the house until we got ready to go to the farmer's market and then to play minigolf at the Family Park. The boys didn't do a good job at the farmer's market - fighting and wrestling on the little rocks in the parking lot (displaying no common sense at all) and culminating on The Boy wiping his sticky, strawberry-popsicle-red mouth on the middle of my nice, clean, white t-shirt. So, we went home and did some house cleaning until Mom got home. Daddy don't play that way.

Shockingly, the entire family (except The Boy) napped for the next hour and a half or so. The Boy played with legos in the next room while the four of us passed out. When we woke and stirred (two different events), we went to T's 40th birthday party. Wwe had an absolutely brilliant time, and we wound up staying until after 9:30!!!



There was a little girl there, about The Boy's age, and T has a 3-year old son. So, the kids were running around the house playing games and fighting epic battles against villains for hours and hours. When those games finally wavered, we had dinner and cake, and then the kids discovered the karaoke machine in the basement. So, we sang karaoke for a couple of hours.



The Boy and I played some chess, as well, which was pretty awesome. He actually beat me in the first game! I'm very proud of him. I am - at best - a journeyman chess player at this point my life, but I was not intentionally playing down to his level. (Although, I did point out a couple of bad moves when he made them - reminding him to look for my pieces' abilities to attack before deciding on a final move.) Guru helped him, too, which was also nice. Not telling him where to move - but reminding him to check where my pieces were before moving and trying to help him think a move or two


in the future.

The boys passed out on the way home from the party, as you'd expect.

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It rained all day on Sunday. The Boy picked breakfast at IHOP, and then we hung out around the house for much of the day. I made a lego table for the boys - took their train table, flipped over the table base from the painted-train side, and glued Lego plates to it. I used small Legos to make sure the spacing between plates was even, and I even had to trim down a few sheets to that the edges matched the edges of the table.



We had dinner at a hibachi place near home, which was The Boy's choice and Grandpa's treat. They love talking to the chefs and watching them light stuff on fire. It wasn't a great evening - a few personal conflicts with which I was dealing prevented full concentration on the children - but I enjoy any time time I can spend around the boys.



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On Labor Day, I labored. We had a big tree with huge, big, sharp thorns; I took it, chopped it into tiny, tiny bits, and disposed of it, only leave a stump and four branches that were too thick to really cut back any more. I still need to do some more work back there - replace some railroad ties that are a retaining wall, trim some bushes - but I have some time before winter sets in.



As I've been reminding myself, I'm raising three small boys. I'm not raising a garden. I'm fairly sure that spending time playing games with them and building with them - and teaching them to use a baseball mitt (another big project for the day) - is going to be something I remember for years. I mean, compare the numbers. What do people say more: "I wish I had spent more time with my kids," or "I wish I had trimmed the bushes more regularly?"



We did get to the Family Park yesterday, and we did play minigolf. We swam for a little while before it started REALLY raining, so we went home. The rest of the evening was playing catch with the boys and traumatizing Little Bear by watching the Doctor Who episode, "The Name of the Doctor," which had some really scary bits and creepy monsters in it. He was really bothered by it - was crying about it a couple of hours later - but, to his credit, he did stay in the room until the end of the episode. That's an improvement for him. He's a skittish kid.

Granted, The Boy's response was, "Was it that scary? I want to see it! Daddy, can we watch it together?" That's my boy. The Wife doesn't like horror / thriller stuff like I do, so the kids' dispositions might follow both of us.


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Saturday, August 30, 2014

First Day of School!

Before:






After:






Little Bear started school yesterday. My manager was generous enough to let me work at home so that I could walk the boys to the bus in the morning, which was really special to me. (Side note: one huuuuuuge thing that I like about my position is that I can work at home sporadically, which lets me do things like this, or go to the Halloween parade, or something similar to this.) He was so, so excited about going to school! He has the same kindergarten teacher that The Boy had, and he was looking forward to getting there.

It was a good day for him, although interrupted for an hour or so (he missed recess) because of a doctor's appointment. I'm not entirely sure why the doctor's appointment was the first week of school - likely scheduling issues, because it's tough to get the immunization appointments close enough to the start of the school year because everybody needs them.






I have mixed feelings about full-day kindergarten. That's a LOT of time for 5-year olds to be in school. Then again, due to the economic necessities these days (single parent homes and two-income homes), half-day kindergarten is a difficult and costly option. But, it's fairly exhausting to kids like Little Bear and The Boy, who were used to half-day preschool before starting full day kindergarten. I distinctly remember the conversation with The Boy last year: "I'm not going back, Daddy. It's too long." The kindergarten at Minedeo does a nice job of mixing up the day so that they're not sitting still TOO much. Little people - particularly little boys - need to move around a lot. It's in the genetics.

The boys got home from the bus at the normal time, around 4 o'clock. Little Bear was an absolute little hellion, giving a lot of attitude and picking fights with his brothers, so The Wife sent him upstairs to calm himself down. After about 15 minutes, we hadn't heard any noise from upstairs, so I went up to check on him, and he was asleep on the bean bag chair. He woke briefly when I was giving a bath to The Boy and The Baby, went to the bathroom, drank some water, and put himself back to bed, this time in his bed. Around 4:45, he came into our room, climbed into bed with us, and slept until a shade after 6:30. Not too bad - 13 hours of sleep after his first day of school.

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The Baby's response, up until a week ago, to my question, "What did you dream last night?", was "Elephants and Batman!" Last weekend, he started coming up with actual stories which might be descriptions of real dreams. This morning, he dreamed that he and I (he named me particularly) went for a walk to the playground and played super heroes. That was what we actually did last night, so that's cool. Yesterday morning, he said that he and I went to the zoo, which is what we did last weekend, so that's also cool.






His bedtime and potty training have also turned a huge, huge corner. He's started taking himself to the bathroom on a regular basis. He still has some poo accidents, but they're less frequent than before. Yesterday, he took himself to the potty twice to go #2! Bedtime has also been easier. When I've put him to bed this week, I've read him a few board-book type stories, we talked about his day, and then I gave a big hug, turned on his music, and left the room. When he wakes up - which he will inevitably do, around 9 or 9:30 - once he gets slightly calm - he'll drink some water and go back to sleep.

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