The affection police are coming to hug you away

Some things from your youth flow into becoming part of the family culture you build with your children. From earliest childhood I was taught to stay out of the way. Doctors have their “first do no harm” principle and farm kids have their “first get out of the way” maxim. You don’t have to be doing the most important chore so long as you aren’t hindering the person who is. My boys aren’t farm kids, but I try to stress this awareness. I can’t teach staying out of the way as well as an 800 pound bull can, but I try.

Other parts of your upbringing you reconsider with your own children. I grew up in a non-huggy, non-kissy environment. My wife, who has far fewer Germans in her lineage, is all hugs all the time. While I am still not a confident hugger of adult people, I’ve adopted her system with our children.

I can’t imagine not hugging and kissing our children every day; it’s become so routine now for me to do it. Also, our children will not suffer themselves to be robbed of their rightful hugs and kisses. Mommy’s warm blood seems to have conquered my aloof genetics within them.

They are the affection police.

At bedtime I have to give three hugs and three kisses to make the world right for sleeping. Big Man’s kiss is actually a carefully choreographed series of kisses. He takes my head firmly between his hands and stamps my lips upon his face as he turns his head side to side. If I pull away before the process is complete, we have to start over. The same goes for Mommy.

This old picture of them kissing each other is more appealing than a new picture of them kissing their crusty old dad.

At 3 a.m. one morning I awoke to a boy standing beside my bed. I expected to hear the sad tale of a bad dream. Instead I heard mournful reality. “You didn’t hug me when I went to bed,” Buster lamented. That is, I didn’t hug him to his satisfaction. The midnight raid was just so I understand who is privileged to interpret the law.

Going to work is another ripe occasion for hugs and kisses. There is a program for this as well. Big Brother gets his at the table where does his reading. The little boys go to the door. Big Man is very particular about where he gets his hug and kiss. He will position me at the threshold if I am lax in my staging.

Mommy is last to get her kiss. Once, when I gave her only a quick peck, Big Man stepped forward, giving me a stern glance. “And a hug,” he demanded. I gave Mommy a proper hug and was allowed on my way.

Big Man isn’t always pro-hug. If I hug Mommy too long when neither of us is going away, he steps in to break it up. He doesn’t know where it might lead, but as reigning baby of the family, instinct tells him it could be dangerous.

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All this sentimental garbage

I was feeling pretty lousy on Tuesday, so I went home early from work. Mommy and Big Man were leaving to take Buster to preschool. I climbed right into bed, hoping to take advantage of a silent house to get some rest.

Tuesday is trash pickup day for us. A half hour later, I heard the garbage truck stop in front of our house with the associated noises of its hydraulic lift and our bin clattering around.

At the same time I heard Mommy and Big Man return home. Big Man was crying like the end of the world. His wails were so loud I feared he’d had some kind of run in with the garbage truck or its machinery. He’s just the type of kid to want to run and put his hands all over a big, dangerous truck.

I listened to Mommy’s footsteps on the kitchen floor below. There was nothing urgent about them, so I knew Big Man was not hurt. He was most likely crying because Mommy wouldn’t let him go play on the truck.

As she brought him into the house the mystery was solved. “They take our trash away every week,” Mommy consoled him. “Do you want them to just leave all that garbage here?”

Apparently, he did. He was sure he was going to miss that garbage.

Anyone know where I can set up a tax-deferred account for future hoarding therapy expenses?

"I'm sure there's something I can still use in there."

“I’m sure there’s something I can still use in there.”

 

The recliner of brotherly love

You become a more effective parent when you finally realize the true role your children play in your life. For example, I handle the daily irritations my children present to me better now that I understand their job is to gradually tighten the nerves around my skull until my head implodes. It helps to have a consistent relationship with well-defined roles.

Unfortunately, children are rarely consistent. This is the confounding aspect of parenthood. Just when you become skilled at keeping your brain nerves loose, the kids get all cute and make you lower your guard again.

One morning, last week, Mommy and Big Brother had gone to school, leaving me with Buster and Big Man. They were both still asleep and I was doing something in the kitchen. Before long, I heard the sound of little feet tramping about overhead. I wondered which one it would be, bursting into the kitchen and demanding candy for breakfast.

As I prepared to insist upon a nutritious breakfast, like Cap’n Crunch, I heard careful steps descending the stairs. In the next instant, I would be confronted by a boisterous intruder, demanding all the things he couldn’t have, and refusing all the things he should have.

I steeled myself.

No one came.

Instead, I heard soft voices from the living room.

This was curious. Soft voices are uncommon in our house. They cause me to become suspicious.

I tip-toed to the doorway and peeked around the corner. They sat together in the recliner, wedged between their stuffed bears, consulting about which buttons on the remote would best be used to turn on the TV and cable box.

My two little rugged individualists were actually holding a discussion. They were working together to solve a problem. Just knowing they’d made it downstairs together without fighting blew my mind, but now they were cooperating on a task.

Even the bears are playing nice.

Even the bears are playing nice.

They were acting like – dare I say it? – brothers. I mean, brothers like in the root of brotherhood, not in the usual sense of two people confined to the same house who must compete for treats and avoid punishments by pinning trouble on the other.

I ran for my camera to document this anomaly. Otherwise, who would believe me?

Never before seen images of actual peacefulness between brothers.

Never before seen images of actual peacefulness between brothers.

Like every Big Foot witness before me, I only got a couple of poor-quality pictures before they spotted me. Since I’d been discovered, I helped them turn on the TV.

And that was the end of it.

Within minutes, they were acting like brothers again. I mean, brothers in the sense of people who can’t agree on a cartoon and start a tug of war over the remote, not brothers in the mythical sense of people whose familial bonds inspire kindness and consideration.

Once my presence was detected, it was business as usual. That business, of course, being to constrict the nerves in my skull until my head implodes.

At least we had gotten past an awkward inconsistency in our family dynamic.

 

Sibling rivalry: Talking Dogs versus The Loop of Agony

The cooler, wetter weather has caused us to move much of our sibling rivalry fighting indoors. There are plenty of indoor toys, let alone game screens, to argue over, but our latest, loudest feuding has been over Netflix.

Buster likes Star Wars shows, especially those that combine the franchise with LEGOs. What could go wrong when the two most awesome things in his world are combined? These programs may not be very entertaining for adults, but at least they are not fingernails-on-chalkboard painful like his second favorite: Power Rangers. There are many different incarnations of Power Rangers, and some stab at my brainstem less brutally than others. The most plentiful episodes, though, seem to have been produced by a Junior High A/V class under a substitute teacher.

Even Big Brother’s eight-year-old sense of production values is offended by this Public Access Channel version of Power Rangers.

Buster’s greatest Netflix adversary is Big Man, with his weakness for talking dogs.

Big Man loves puppies, a group that includes all dogs, regardless of age. He likes the baby puppies best, but even the old puppies are good. There are lots of tolerable dogs in cartoons, but Big Man doesn’t care for cartoons. He likes live-action movies. While it seems quite natural for Scooby-Doo to talk, I get a little freaked out when I hear Don Knotts’ voice come out of a real dog. Don Knotts’ voice was unsettling enough when it came out of Don Knotts.

Will the real Deputy Fife please stand up?

There are more movies featuring talking puppies than you probably imagine. As a parent who has now watched a good many of them, this makes me sad. The only thing that makes me sadder is that somehow there aren’t enough movies featuring talking puppies.

I’ve learned not to lament the discovery of another talking dog movie. Finding another talking dog movie is a minor miracle. A new talking dog movie gives us a 90 minute reprieve from having to watch the old talking dog movie one more time. That’s something to be thankful for.

Buster might not mind the dog movies if they didn’t take away from his Star Wars/Power Rangers time. As soon as he sees the first hint of closing credits, he’s on the remote. Big Man’s movie is over and it’s his turn to choose. It’s only fair, except that when a Power Rangers episode ends, the next episode starts automatically. This may be the single greatest cruelty anyone has ever done to me. I call it the loop of agony.

power-rangers

Go! Go! Power Rangers! Go! Go! Unplug the TV before the next episode starts!

You might think this would be the perfect time for me to go out into the peaceful, cold rain and read a book. I would be content with that, but the kid who’s not watching his choice isn’t about to let me go where there be mud puddles without sloshing along beside me. Besides, everyone else in my family is counting on me to convince Buster that Power Rangers is really over before the next episode auto-starts.