A Spider, A Bag of Oranges, Two Strange Kids; Fighting Nature With Nature and The Birth of A Champion for Mother Earth: A Super Hero Origin Story

My son hurt nature. My daughter said so.

We had an unseasonably warm afternoon a few days ago and let the kids out to burn off some “winter wiggles” while they had the chance. My wife and I watched from the window as we cleaned the kitchen and prepared lunch. After a while, the kids moved past the portion of yard we could see from the window (our yard is fairly large and fully fenced. Also, our Mastiff stays close to them and could easily pin a grown man. As long as we can hear them, we don’t worry too much about their safety, but we do poke our heads out the back door every few minutes if we aren’t out with them for some reason. Rest assured, they are not neglected or ignored.) and we suddenly heard the seven year old girl scream “YOU’RE HURTING NAAAAAAAATUUUUUUUUURRRE!”

As she was screaming she was running toward the house. We met her at the back door and, red-faced and out of breath she reiterated “Brother hurt nature!”

After we finished giggling and trying not to look like we were laughing at a little girl, we got the full story. My son, who is five, had somehow come into possession of a bag of oranges. I didn’t know we owned a bag of oranges. My son is basically a hairless squirrel so it is likely the oranges had been under his bed or in his closet long enough that I’d forgotten we’d even bought any.

He used said bag of oranges to beat a small spider to death. It is highly likely the spider came out of the bag of oranges. Still, if you ask me he was simply fighting nature with nature. However you define it, his dispatching of the potential threat with a potential food source severely traumatized his sister. She is a tree hugger. I used to think she was only literally a tree hugger. She wanders around the yard by herself, dancing, singing, talking to invisible entities and hugging trees. She actually wraps her arms around them and squeezes them. I now know that she is also figuratively a hugger of trees. She’ll grow up to delight in cleaning the ocean, sweeping rocks and searching knot holes in trees for fairies. She’s basically a fairy herself. Freckles across the nose and she’s lucky if she weighs 15 pounds.

Look out nature hurters. There’s a new super hero in town.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…encourage your children whatever their interests. Unless they take their bag of oranges after innocent creatures that couldn’t hurt anybody anyway.

A don’t…Step on their sensibilities. They are who they are. Guide them, teach them, let their true selves develop.

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Robots, Clues, Caramel Mustard and Various Mind Numbing Endeavors -or- Love Your Kids at the Risk of Losing Your Mind; Board Games vs. Bored Games

Do you enjoy board games? Do you have children? If you answered no to either, you may not understand this post. By continuing to read, you risk wasting precious irreplaceable minutes boring yourself with nonsense. It’s up to you.

It is our Christmas tradition for “Santa” to bring our family a board game. We all open it together then play it together until the wife and I hate “Santa” for having brought it. It is getting much easier now that the kids have moved past the “junior” versions of most games. Have you ever played the little kid version of Candy Land? Maybe it’s the actual version, I can’t remember that far back into my childhood with much detail. Either way, it numbs the adult mind. You draw a card, move the number of spaces indicated, and on and on and over and over and it never ends until you can convince them there are better things to do.

Don’t get me wrong. I love playing games with the kids and I treasure the time we spend doing it, but I need to involve my brain at least a smidge. This year our family game was Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. Admittedly, it doesn’t require much in the way of conscious thought, but at least there’s frenzied action. It is more satisfying than Monopoly Junior Frozen Edition, in which you can’t even place houses or hotels, by a far cry. Robot fights have become our new household decider. No more arguing about who has to take the first bath. This used to be an endless conundrum because somehow every child in this house took the first bath last time. I don’t know if their memories are really that defective or if they’re just vehemently opposed to taking the first bath. Logical reasoning doesn’t work on them. They don’t seem to understand that they’ll have to take a bath either way and getting it over with makes at least a little sense. Thankfully it isn’t a worry anymore. Neither is “There’s only one fruit snack left and I don’t want a granola bar.” or “I had that seat.” or any of the countless other arguments that they somehow come up with.

What I really want to talk about, though, is the fact that I got Clue from my wife as one of my regular Christmas presents. The kids love it, even though the younger two, aged 7 and 5, aren’t quite mentally ready to enjoy all the intricacies of game play. My daughter, the 7 year old, whispers in a voice that can barely be classified as a whisper, the legends writ upon her cards as she marks them off on her little deduction sheet. My son, the 5 year old, takes the cake with his gameplay.  First, he always grabs the Colonel Mustard token, (my favorite, by the way. He forces me to begrudgingly adopt the persona of Professor Plum. I know there are other options but the way I see it, if I can’t be a Colonel, a professor is better than a mere mister) and moves it erratically around the board between turns, visiting every room that holds a murder weapon, confiscating it and then stockpiling them all in a random room of his choosing. When it comes his turn, he rolls the dice, counts the pips, then plunks his token down in whichever room he wishes and declares, “It was Caramel Mustard in the room an’ ‘e used the shotgun!”

I’ve told him over and over that the “shotgun” is a revolver. We’ve had many a heated debate over that simple fact. I inform him that a revolver is a type of gun and it just happens to be the type of gun that plays a part in the classic case of who-dun-it in which we now so frequently engage. He alleges that since it has a trigger, it is a gun. Guns have triggers, no, no, there’s a trigger so it’s a gun, it’s a shotgun. I guess we’re making progress because he used to refer to all manner of firearms as “shooty-guns”. I’ll take what I can get.

If you think I’ll ever try to correct him on the “Caramel Mustard” thing, you’re quite mistaken.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…enjoy quality time with your children. Even if it numbs your mind, the silver lining here is that you’re building memories and engaging in important family bonding time. All this for the low, low price of your ever receding flow of sanity.

A don’t…be a huge stickler for the rules. You never know what inventive methods of rule breaking a child may employ.

A Lump of Coal for Christmas?: A Possible Explanation

In honor of the fast-approaching holiday, I’d like to explore a bit of yule-tide trivia. It isn’t smarmy, but it could become so, I suppose, should I lose my nerve and wax sentimental. I’ll try not to do that.

The aforementioned holiday is Christmas and the trivia is coal in the stocking. I’ve done no research on this whatsoever, so we’re bobbing on the crests of waves of conjecture and hear-say here. My ideas might be completely historically inaccurate. Don’t expect to learn anything from this.

Coal in the stocking is not a new idea. I’ve heard it proclaimed since I was young that a bad boy gets a stocking full of coal. And I didn’t only hear this from my parents or others in their age range. I heard it from my grandparents and even from older folks at stores and restaurants when it’s cold outside and garland hangs from every indoor precipice and some youngster isn’t being quite obedient. “Better straighten up there, young person. Wouldn’t want Santa to stuff sooty rocks into you goodie sock, would you?” The preceding is not an exact quote and should in no way be construed as something I’ve actually heard someone say. But I’ve heard a lot of things said along those lines.

I’m assuming that, for the older folks, it isn’t (or wasn’t) a new idea either. I don’t think the idea came into being around the time I was born. I believe it to be older than 34 years. Here’s why I say that. My grandpa was a coal miner for some time. He had issues with black lung. He never talked about it but, through the family grape vine, I heard he didn’t much care for coal mining. Understandable. But, for someone who sacrifices his health and happiness to dig the stuff out from under mountains, is it really something to joke about? Now, if grandpa said “Be good or Santa will chain you up to a bunch of other naughty kids and drive you down into the dark to mine coal.”, that would’ve shown some sort of fearful respect for the idea. Instead he’d say what everyone else says. Be good or get a stocking full of coal. This makes me think that it’s also something he heard as a child, before he knew the horrors of coal mining,  and it meant no more to him than saying an apple a day keeps the doctor away or some other such folk wisdom. He’s heard it, he says it, it’s a habit, he doesn’t consider what it means. To him, it was just what you say to a cranky or disobedient grand kid. The idea is older than Grandpa.

The preceding paragraph is hear-say and conjecture. No solid evidence exists, that I know of, to support my thesis.

I’m just guessing here, but I think that coal used to be a highly sought after gift. In the Dickensian era, and other such similar eras, when coal was perhaps harder to come by and even harder to procure unless you were affluent, a lump of coal in a stocking could’ve meant a great deal to a child. “Coal! Coal! Mother, Father, observe it! We shan’t this cold Christmas day die of exposure within our own dear domicile! Oh, Mother, Father, what a good boy I must’ve been! Come now, let us set it ablaze that this blue hue might fade from our extremities and our cheeks might lose this waxy quality and assume again a rosy glow! Merry Christmas!” Once again, not a direct quote.

Another guess, here: when coal based heating was phased out and replaced with gas or oil or whatever it was that came after coal, people, excepting perhaps the blacksmiths and goldsmiths and various other smiths who forge metals, didn’t want coal anymore. And no one wants a stocking full of gas or oil. That idea seems cruel, even for the naughty children. “Here, son! You’ve been less than exemplary this year. Have a sock full of dangerous combustibles! ‘Tis no less than you deserve. Just don’t go near the fire with that, or we’ll all come to know the Christ whose mass we now celebrate much sooner than we’d hoped.”

So I guess, once coal was no longer sought after, folks could get it easier and more cheaply so they continued to put it into stockings, now as a punishment rather than a reward. I think the logic went something like this: Coal is cheap now. I’ve been getting coal for my kids every year from Soot-eye Steven. I’m not so creative as to be able to deduce a better gift and Steven’s business isn’t doing so hot (Saints forgive me the pun) right now. I’ll keep getting them coal, but tell them it’s because they didn’t finish their figgy pudding. We all must keep up with appearances and eat that stuff. Elsewise how will future generations know that we were true Dickensian Londoners? Perhaps when they receive a filthy rock we’ve no longer a purpose for they’ll get the idea.

Then somehow the idea stuck.

Maybe.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…enjoy Christmas for what it is. A hodge-podge of strange traditions that, while making little sense, brings loved ones together.

A don’t…fill stockings with electricity. It is a prevalent source of heating these days, but now they have programs to help those who can’t afford a warm home.

Ties and Sickness and a Lump on the Couch; A Rant, a Rave and an Exploration of an Unpleasant Fact of Life

Is there any moment in life more gut-wrenching than having to “hurt” someone to help them?

I think not. Or if there is, I haven’t experienced it personally.

This evening my son appeared in a Christmas program at his school. He was a little fussy as I straightened his tie. I didn’t attribute this to sickness. It seemed perfectly normal to me to fight the tie, even though he really wanted to wear one. Wanting a tie and liking a tie are two different things. Everyone wants to look nice. No one wants to wear a tie.

But, for some weird reason, in order to look nice (that is, if you are male) you must first button the top-most button of your shirt. This simple act is a crime against nature. I’m convinced that the Adam’s apple is God’s indicator that you aren’t supposed to constrict your throat area. But we do it anyway and, simply by fulfilling the prerequisite of tie-wearing, you’ve already limited your throat’s little defender’s range of motion.

Now, as the button compresses your larynx, you must flip up the collar, thus untucking your shirt. Next you voluntarily wrap a potential noose about your neck, fumble around to get the knot right and make sure it’s straight and that the thin back part isn’t longer than the presentation surface of the adornment.

Now, with all that done, you sentence yourself to a term of discomfort all in an attempt impress people you probably don’t even know for a short period of time during which they, in their own self-inflicted, self-absorbed state of discomfort, couldn’t care less how well you are dressed.

Who wants this? Of course I didn’t associate his fussing at the tie with illness. I was actually comforted by it. Oh look, I thought, I’m raising a normal boy!

He coughed a lot on the way home. He fell asleep on the way home. When we got to the house, he sat on the couch, blanket over his head, to eat his cheeseburger dinner. a few minutes later his small hand emerged from the fuzzy lump on the couch clutching a crescent shaped burger remnant. The hand placed the scrap on the coffee table and scrounged blindly for a moment until it closed around a small cellophane bag of cookies. The hand and treats disappeared back under the blanket. The lump on the couch collapsed on its side and began to crunch slowly and methodically. A few moments later a partially full bag of cookies was weakly ejected from under the blanket and the lump on the couch fell still and silent.

When we approached the lump with a thermometer, it willingly disgorged the boy’s head and he allowed us to take his temperature. 100.4. Not too concerning, but definitely worth keeping an eye on. My wife went out for Tylenol.

The lump remained still and silent as I helped my daughter with her homework and notified my boss that I shan’t be working upon the morrow.

Suddenly, the lump again disgorged a child. The child stood, walked silently toward his room, stopped before disappearing into the hall, offered a weak wave and went to bed a full half-hour before bed time. Now I was concerned.

I asked him if he was going to sleep and he said that he was. I asked him if he could stay awake until the medicine arrived. He said he couldn’t. I told him that when the medicine got here, he’d have to wake up and take it. He nodded and went to sleep.

When my wife and I went to wake him up, he began to kick (shameless book plug here, it was his trait of kicking wildly at anything and everything when upset that inspired the main character in my book “How Sir Donkey Legs Became a Knight”) and fuss and literally cry. We tried to comfort him. We tried to convince him. My wife even picked up a small gift for him and the bribe of opening a small toy wasn’t enough to crack his delirious resolve.

We finally had to force it down his throat as he kicked and cried and fussed.

We’ve found that a cupful of generic lemon-lime soda generally makes the medicine go down, so we allowed him that amenity. At this point he became once again the sweet-mannered young man he truly is. He opened his toy and was excited. He was even more excited to learn he’d be staying home from school in the morning. He went once more to bed, smiling now despite his infirmity.

Though it all ended well, those few moments of forcing medicine upon him felt to me like the equivalent of controversial water-boarding tactics. There was no way I was letting him go back to sleep without something to break his fever. The ends certainly justified the means, but it still didn’t feel quite right to force needed medicine on a sick, squirming, crying, kicking, miserable five year old boy.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…force medicine on your kids when they need it. It isn’t water-boarding, no matter how much it feels as though it is.

A don’t…water-board anyone. Or anything. The only exception being when you are in dire need of a wet board.

Re-purposed Costumes and Child Prodigies: A Proud Father Horrified

A couple of quick insights before we get into the meat of this post:

  1. Halloween costumes are cheaply made (the ones we buy are, anyway) and might as well be re-purposed.
  2. I am aware of the dangers of trampoline ownership and usage. We monitor the kids closely when they use it and have had no trampoline related injuries in the 2 years we’ve had it. Well, no injuries to the kids, anyway. I’ve pulled several muscles moving that ridiculous thing out of the way so I can mow under it. Oh, and also the blood blister from trying to stretch those extremely stiff springs during setup.
  3. Bicycles the size of the ones my 7 year old daughter and 5 year old son use are not equipped with kick stands. I take this to mean that the manufacturers do not expect that children that young will need the training wheels removed. What it likely means is that they’ve already spent money installing training wheels and don’t want to spend more on manufacturing and installing a kick stand.
  4. I choose to believe that my son, despite the bicycle manufacturers implied assumption, is a bike riding prodigy. I choose to believe he will be the bike riding equivalent of Beethoven and/or Mozart.

With all that said, let me explain the intent of this post. My son can ride a bike. He enjoys riding his bike to an extent that horrifies me because, the more confident he gets, the more risks he takes.

Before he learned how to turn, his risk was to get as close as possible to the trampoline before stopping. As his turning skills improved he decided he simply MUST try to ride around the lotus pond.

This caused me much consternation. I didn’t want to discourage him, however, I especially didn’t want him to fall into the stagnant, odiferous muck that inhabits the pond now that all the blossoms and leaves have fallen into the water. This stuff is very nearly alive and I rue the windy and overcast day that it finally burps up some strange, dripping, glob-like life form.

Side-note: I refuse to clean out the lotus pond in the fall because not only will the lotus grow up and hide it in the spring, but he muck makes a wonderful addition to mulch and I want it to get as mucky as possible before I scoop some out in the early spring to schlop onto the garden.

As soon as I saw him headed toward the pond, I took off running. He rides with his knees out to the side and I don’t know how to describe the sight, but he pumps his legs so fast that the sight of those knees bobbing out on the sides of his bike is very comical. So I laughed as I ran. Just as I caught up to him he executed a perfect turn mere inches from the edge of the pond.

When he stopped his bike by intentionally running into my theoretically evergreen tree I lectured him on the dangers of what he had just done, implied there would be consequences if he did it again and sent him off to ride a different route.

He was proud of his turn, though, and kept bringing it up. “Hey Daddy, did you see, I, I, did you see me I turned and didn’t splash?!”

Apparently this gave him confidence and, feeling that he had mastered the challenges of turning before riding into a pond, he decided it was time to tempt fate another way.

When he disappeared into the house, I figured he had to go to the bathroom. Instead he came back out in his Halloween costume and decided it would be fun to horrify the dogs and his sisters as he rode after them helter-skelter, cackling and crashing into obstacles he couldn’t see through the inadequate eye holes of the Halloween mask.

Here’s the moral of all this: There may be many ways to repurpose a Halloween mask. Bike helmet is not an acceptable option, even though it has the potential to be hilarious.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…allow you children a few eccentricities. They are good learning opportunities for you as well as them. While sometimes scary, they can also be hilarious.

A don’t…feel guilty if you monitor them closely when they have their “good ideas”. In most cases, they are envisioning positive outcomes that only exist in the realm of the miraculous.

 

A Day in the Yard or When Work Isn’t Work; Cherish it While You Can

I have three children. Of the three I have two accomplished bike riders and one aspiring. Strangely, my oldest at 9 and my youngest at 5 are the accomplished. My 7 year old is still aspiring. She’s a bit of a free spirit, though, and nothing holds her attention for very long. She’s getting very close to taking the training wheels off for good.

There’s no rush, I suppose. I know adults who never learned to ride a bike.

Anyway, the other day there was no school and the weather was perfect and after breakfast we went outside and I watched them ride bikes for about two hours. When their legs finally began to get tired and they drifted to other activities I got the wheel-barrow and rake and started loading up needles and leaves.

We moved into this house two summers ago and I thought I had an evergreen in the back yard. Apparently either I don’t or it’s very sick because last fall and again this fall, the needles have browned and fallen just like the leaves on our sometimes-greens. This tree drops so many needles that it covers the ground beneath it so thickly that it feels like walking on a shag carpet. Maybe the tree is an evergreen, and it’s simply a nostalgic sort of tree, pining away for the ’70’s.  A ha ha ha.

Ahem.

As I was raking and loading and trudging and dumping the loads of leaves and needles on my garden spot the kids began to follow me. They took my rake and began raking their own piles. They took my wheel-barrow and began carting loads themselves. They asked for rides and I gave them, at first in the empty barrow back to the trees and later (after my son was hit by a bolt of inspiration) in the leaf laden barrow en route to the garden spot.

Needless to say, by about 11:00 we were a bit hungry. I had worked up a sweat and I couldn’t think of anything better than sitting down in the cool kitchen for lunch. My oldest daughter insisted on a picnic. The electric company recently cut down a tree in our yard that threatened their lines. I asked them to leave the wood and they left slabs perfect for stools and a nice short, wide one that makes a fine table. As I performed one last task and maneuvered these into place, the kids ran inside to find their old Easter baskets.

We loaded the baskets with sandwiches, chips, “juice” pouches and dog biscuits.

I sat on a rough chunk of tree surrounded by kids and dogs and had the best grilled cheese sandwich and cup of coffee it has ever been my privilege to consume.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…let your kids help you work. I hear it won’t be long before they realize it isn’t fun. It is, actually, but only when you’re very young or getting old.

A don’t…blame your trees for pining for the ’70’s. The air was much cleaner back then. No wonder my evergreen wants to hold its breath for the winter.

 

Sweet and Then Sour; A Five Year Old Imitates a Popular Gummy Candy Although the Order is Reversed

I habitually call home as I leave work. I do this because I love my family and I can spend a few extra minutes interacting with their minds, even though we aren’t physically together.

A couple of days ago my wife was busy straightening up our board game cabinet. (We are huge board game people. Our Christmas tradition is to buy a game for the family. This year is going to be Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots and I couldn’t be more excited.) She was a little stressed so she handed the phone off to the five year old boy we love so much.  I asked him how his day went and shortly after this conversation petered out he said “You’re my favorite sweet-pea.”

I responded with similarly sappy drivel and said “Thank you, buddy! You’re my favorite sweet-pea too!”

I drove on for a few seconds reveling in the pure love my son had just expressed. My son was silent also and I could hear muted conversations in the background over my son as he breathed right into the phone.

I was nearly startled off the road when he snarled “I’m going to fight you.” It sounded as if a demon had stolen the phone and spoken to me from the depths of the appalling Inferno envisioned by Dante. I was understandably taken aback and remained silent for a moment before uttering a tentative “What?”

“I’m going to fight you!”

“You’re going to bite me?”

He wasn’t speaking clearly and my brain was busy composing a “The power of Christ compels you!” type of speech.

“No. I’m going to fight you!”

“But…wh…wh…wh…wh…why?” I stammered, confused.

And then, in a sweet, nearly sing-song voice he said “Because you’re my favorite sweet-pea!”

“Why would you fight your favorite sweet-pea, buddy?”

“Because,” he said, “you’re my favorite sweet-pea!”

I’m still pondering whether or not to contact some Catholic authority.

I bid you adieu…and a don’t.

Adieu…enjoy your family despite their occasional demonic quirks.

A don’t…forget the look up the Pope’s address. You know. Just in case.

P.S. Here’s a demonic quote from my seven year old daughter, just so you understand my concern: “I’m thankful for the dead people because they died.”

Sweet dreams fellow bloggers and blog readers. I hope your family is much less demented than mine apparently is.