A Big Little Big Man

For classification purposes, we have two categories of children: Bigs and Littles. If you know we have three children in our house, you may wonder how both of those labels can be plural. We should have two Bigs and a Little or a Big and two Littles. Instead, we have Bigs and Littles.

This is possible because our middle child, Buster, is a size chameleon. When the conversation is about who has a full day of school and who has a half day, he’s a Big, burdened with long hours of 1st grade learning. When the issue is who should use a booster seat, he’s a Little. This is how we squeeze two Bigs and two Littles from three boys.

Big Brother is always a Big, and Big Man is always a Little. It’s only Buster who turns the majority in favor of one side or the other.

Big Man understands he is always a Little. He also understands other things that sometimes make us wonder if he is not the truest Big in our house:

Over Spring Break, our babysitting situation was cast into flux. We had to quickly come up with a new babysitting schedule for when school resumed. As my wife scrambled to fill in the gaps of the work week with coverage, she ran her plan by me.

The new plan relied upon multiple sitters with varying schedules, meaning I would have to adjust my schedule to make it work. It meant the Bigs would also have to adjust their morning habits to get to school on time.

As we discussed the new plan, we were sitting at the table with Buster and Big Man. My wife asked if the new schedule worked for me. “I can make it work,” I answered, “but how will the Bigs feel about it?”

“I don’t care how they feel about it at this moment,” she replied. “First I need to find something that works.”

Big Man’s mouth fell open. He looked from one unfit parent to the next. Imagine a four-year-old, eyes wide in disbelief, arms extended, hands held out in bewilderment at our callousness. “One of the Bigs is sitting right here!” he pointed out, nodding toward his older brother. “And you say you don’t care how he feels? He can hear you, you know.”

Sometimes he appears older than his years, and with more facial hair.

For the record, Buster was not nearly as outraged as his little brother was outraged for him. But Big Man is right: you should send the children from the room when the façade of household democracy needs to be torn down by the parental oligarchs.

Mommy explained that we all care about Buster’s feelings, but there are sometimes when everybody in the family has to make some sacrifice for the good of all. That conversation was sweet and sensitive, and not entertaining, so I’ll move on to the point.

For a Little to put himself in somebody else’s shoes, and speak with empathy for that person, is a pretty Big thing.

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The best disappointing loss we ever had

In the small frame, this post is about basketball. In the bigger picture, it’s about learning life. I’ll try not to go into the weeds of basketball getting to the larger point.

Our university’s basketball team advanced to the NCAA Final Four this year. We’ve been spoiled by going to the Final Four eight times in the past 20 years. However, our team has brought home the National Championship only once in those eight trips. This means we’ve had seven instances of build-up and high hopes, followed by bitter disappointment.

Our last Final Four was four years ago, when Big Brother was six years old. He was just becoming conscious of the game called basketball, and wasn’t interested in it as television viewing. The words “Final Four” meant nothing to him.

Since then, he began playing organized basketball. This past winter, his 5th grade team had a challenging season, but turned their fortunes around at the end by winning their league tournament. Not only did Big Brother learn how much effort and determination it took to win such a tournament, it stirred his interest in our university’s team.

He began watching the NCAA tournament games with increased interest. For me, this was a long-awaited perk of fatherhood: watching sports with a child who cared about the game.

It’s a double-edged perk.

Even in 5th grade, it takes long hours of practice.

On Saturday, we watched the National Semi-final together. The game went back and forth, until the opposing team pulled ahead. Then our team came back and got within one point, but the momentum switched again and the other team held on to win.

It was another case of high hopes leading to disappointment. I’d been there before, but it was a new experience for Big Brother. The final buzzer left him lying face down on the couch. I rolled him over to find tears in his eyes.

At that moment I felt proud, which seems a little odd, but I was glad he could develop a passion for something beyond his own person. I also felt a tinge of guilt at my role in turning him into a sports fan. Sports leads to disappointment more often than not. Even the good seasons mostly end with a loss. Nobody likes to see their children disappointed.

But we have to see them disappointed. The character moments are born of disappointment. I talked to Big Brother about keeping perspective. There are so many things in his life, more important than basketball, to be happy about. We talked about disappointment, and how you have to move past it, get on with life, and be ready for what comes your way next.

I didn’t cheer him up much that night. He’ll have to see it for himself. Life is back to normal, with more pressing things that need attention (e.g. school assignments). If my words can just hang out in the background until the next disappointment life hands him, perhaps they can help him see it’s probably not the end of the world.

I would have preferred a victory, but as far as disappointing losses go, this one may have been the most useful.

Thumbs up for thumbs out

His preschool classmates know him as a mild-mannered boy. They would describe our Big Man as a happy, friendly kid. They would be shocked to discover he has a demon.

Big Man’s demon descends upon him when he is tired or worried, when the stresses of a four-year-old assail him. His demon presents itself through the opposable digit on his left hand. Big Man has an addiction. It resides in his thumb, which he can’t keep out of his mouth in time of stress.

As an infant, Big Man used the combination of thumb-sucking and hair-twirling to earn renown as our best self-soother. To this day, he recovers quickest from upset and is far less likely than his older brothers to become a career criminal out of pure stubbornness or chronic opposition to authority.

We haven’t made concerted attempts to end the thumb-sucking before because we wanted to let him work it out by himself. Besides, he looks so relaxed and contented with his thumb in his mouth, I’m tempted to take up the habit myself. I always carry a couple thumbs with me; if I could turn just one of them into an instant Chill Pill, the work day would pass much more pleasantly.

But thumb-sucking is not a good look for Kindergarten, which is only a handful of months away. Kids can be cruel about perceived babyish habits. Even though his brothers have burned the midnight oil attempting to harden him to the mockery cast at the thumb-sucker, it’s getting time for an intervention.

Yes, it’s a tasty treat, but it’s also very useful for making gestures.

Mommy offered him a reward if he didn’t suck his thumb for a whole day. He was more than equal to the task through the daylight hours. Even his hawking brothers couldn’t catch him with his thumb in his mouth.

Everything difficult to endure is more difficult to endure at night. You know this if you’ve ever listened to the Blues or endured something difficult past sundown. At bedtime, Big Man asked me, “Did Mommy say I couldn’t have my thumb at going-to-sleep time?”

Mommy was out, and I didn’t know the details of their contract, but I’m always wary of backsliding. “I think she doesn’t want you to use your thumb at all,” I told him.

His eyes fell. Tears came. Going to sleep without that calming thumb was the ultimate challenge. “I don’t know how to do it!” he cried.

I hugged him and gave him encouragement. “Put your hands under your pillow,” I advised. He got angry. “I told you I don’t know how to do it!”

He went through all the stages of grief and a good many symptoms of withdrawal before I got him quiet in the bed.

He woke up his old, happy self in the morning. I don’t know if he had to take a quick dose of thumb to fall asleep. It didn’t matter. His bedtime tears told us he was giving it his best shot, and that’s all we needed to know.

Cows don’t ask for extra desserts

People say cows have three stomachs. This is not true. Cows actually have one stomach, consisting of not three, but four distinct parts. It’s a large, complex stomach, but it’s only one organ.

Why am I, out of the blue, choosing this time to correct the mythology surrounding bovine digestion? Well, isn’t it just a crying shame that cows and their eating habits are so widely misunderstood? I mean, who gets blamed for all the most dangerous farting going on in the world today? Cows, that’s who. It’s so unfair.

Also I’m about to use this intro to transition to a human topic:

You know who does have three stomachs? My kids.

The smallest of the three stomachs is known as the Broccoli Stomach. In some anatomies, this is referred to as the Green Vegetable Stomach, but since the only green vegetable two of my three boys will condescend to eat is broccoli, we call it the Broccoli Stomach.

The Broccoli Stomach is so small as to be barely there. It fills up after the consumption of just a few broccoli florets. Since the digestive structure of these children does not allow any green and/or healthy items to pass beyond this stomach, vegetable consumption is severely limited.

The next stomach is known as the Dinner Stomach. This organ is larger than the Broccoli Stomach. Its main distinguishing feature is that it expands and shrinks, depending upon what’s for dinner. Chicken nuggets, pizza, and burgers with bacon on them can make this into a stomach of useful size. Any food roasted in herbs, or dishes with too many combined ingredients, will make this stomach shrink to the size of the Broccoli Stomach.

“Come along, Bessie. Let’s get you to the dessert line before all the good cud is gone.”

The largest of the three stomachs is the Dessert Stomach. The Dessert Stomach is too large to fit inside a child’s body, but by some miracle of biology, it’s in there anyhow. This stomach has strict standards and will absolutely not accept any overflow from its smaller brethren. Though quite large, it must reserve all its space for sweets.

Though highly discriminating, the Dessert Stomach always has room for more cookies and other treats that fit its strict requirements for entry.  Its motto, “No cupcake left behind!” exemplifies its commitment to provide safe haven to all the homeless sugar in the world.

Through this three-stomach system, evolution has provided children with the remarkable ability to execute their primary functions (bouncing off walls, jumping on beds, and leaping onto napping fathers) without being held back by the weight of too many vitamins or inhibiting proteins in their bodies.

If you wonder how a child can say they are so full to the top that they cannot eat one more bite of dinner, and then ask for ice cream in the next breath, puzzle no more. The miracle of the three-stomach system accounts for this world-benefiting phenomenon.

Nature is an amazing force, and did I really need that nap anyway?