Keep your jelly beans in perspective and your thumbs where you can find them

When we were potty training our first child we fell into the trap of offering him a toy as a reward to motivate him to use the toilet. This quickly became an untenable strategy; we are made of neither toys nor money. The boy had to learn a hard lesson about terms being subject to change without notice. It’s like when the cable company made you get a separate tuner box for each TV, advising you not to worry because you were not being charged for the extra boxes, and a few years later you find yourself paying $6/month/box. Potty training is good practice for dealing with the cable company.

Now, well into potty training the third child, we have lowered our game. This boy scored a few jelly beans or a tiny Tootsie Roll for doing the right thing. Using the potty is becoming routine for him, which means earning a candy reward for each occurrence has become unsustainable. It’s not that we’re yanking away his reward; we’re helping him realize using the potty is its own reward. If you think this is parental double talk, try pooping your pants at your next social gathering. The privilege of using a toilet beats three jelly beans any day.

Rewards should be reserved for accomplishments that are challenging. Remembering to go to the potty is no longer challenging for Big Man. It is nothing compared to the formidable challenge of keeping his thumb out of his mouth. He sucks his thumb when he’s tired or anxious. It looked like he was kicking the habit, but the stress of potty training must have made him fall off the wagon.

In the olden days, Big Brother adored his pacifier. It was a relatively easy addiction to break. The pacifier magically got lost one day. That was the end of that. I’m not sure I’m ready for Big Man to lose his thumb, so we’re working on other ideas.

Winding down with a good movie and a little snack.

The other day, he was incessantly reminding me he was due some candy for his pottying exploits. I explained that this was an obsolete reward system and then I made him a new offer. He would earn a piece of candy if he went the entire afternoon without putting his thumb in his mouth.

I didn’t think he could do it. We had to drive to pick up his brothers. The car makes him sleepy, and that’s when the thumb goes in.

He didn’t get sleepy that day. He kept himself awake the entire trip by chanting, “I want candy!” at me from his car seat of whininess. Annoying? Yes. That was an added benefit to him. Annoyance is the smallest wage I deserve for my duplicity.

He earned his candy. And then he felt free to suck his thumb. As extra tired as he was, he couldn’t stop himself. He’d missed his car nap after all.

We’re not sure how birds or bees fit into the story

Buster has developed quite a curiosity these days. Formerly, the pinnacle of his curiosity was wanting to know where I had hidden the Tootsie Rolls. Now, he has blossomed into a regular preschool philosopher, wondering things like: “How do clouds get up in the sky?”

Wondering about clouds is, of course, a slippery slope leading ultimately to a quagmire of curiosities about human conception. Being the high thinker he is, Buster would never ask such a crude question as “Where do babies come from?” No, Buster has feelings for the old man, and would not just conk him on the head with that one. He demonstrates a certain finesse in softening it to “How do people get to be real?”

If only we could all handle the topic of sexual reproduction in such a mature manner.

Is it a tree or a shrub? My Sex Ed classes left me with more questions than answers?

For the record, I don’t ever recall Big Brother asking about the origin of babies. I suspect he stumbled upon the notion that it had something to do with getting married, which means liking a certain girl, and worse, having everybody in the world know you like her. You might even have to hold hands. It’s just one big downward spiral. After all that, I think he doesn’t want to know where babies come from. If you tried to tell him, he’d probably cover his ears and hum as loud as he could.

Buster wants to know. And since he is preparing to venture into the big world of kindergarten, I figured I better just hunker down and tell him the truth. That truth, of course, is that babies grow on trees. To be clinically correct about it, it may actually be large, woody-stemmed shrubs they grow on. I’m not completely sure of the proper classification.

Babies get big and stinky if you let them hang on the tree too long.

I realize the miracle of birth is hard for a young child to wrap his head around, so if he has reason to doubt my explanation I will show him my visual evidence. He can see for himself the big, ripe children, ready to be picked from the Baby Tree/Baby Woody-stemmed Shrub. Unfortunately, I have no photos of the fresh babies – only the overripe ones. It’s gotten to be late in the harvest season around our parts.

Maybe you think I should tell him the other story of where babies come from, but that’s even harder to believe and I don’t have any pictures to support that theory. We’re dealing with conception one baby step at a time. We’ll stick with the tree hypothesis, at least until the two of us can figure out how clouds get in the sky.

We’d all be sunk without her

I’ve got the easy part. I go to work at the same time every day. I get to have a relatively stable schedule. Occasionally, my day gets twisted around a little bit, having to drop off or pick up a kid here and there or stay home with them when they’re not in school. It may get me frazzled from time to time, but it’s still the easy part.

These many time-twisting tasks fall to my wife on all the days between my sporadic turns. On top of this, she works. She doesn’t have the luxury of working a full-time job, because the combination of children, time, and space won’t allow it. She works part-time jobs – several of them concurrently.

This requires a certain amount of daycare, for any of the boys who aren’t in school at any given time, and when I can’t take time off to be with them. She sets up the daycare. Honestly, it would drive me crazy making all the complex arrangements she manages, but she takes it in her Supermom stride. I don’t know how.

My wife is the most adaptable person I’ve ever met. Not only does she have to juggle jobs while juggling children, she also has to be able to reinvent routines for everybody when the old ones don’t work anymore. With children, things can change quickly, and she might have to leave behind people and places where she had hopes and plans to find a situation that works better for her family. Just the idea of this task daunts me, but she always seems to be able to pull it off. She always bounces back and finds a new way that works.

Don't we make a handsome couple?  And one of us is on top of things, too.

Don’t we make a handsome couple? And one of us is on top of things, too.

She must think I take all this for granted sometimes, and maybe she’s right. I’m human, and sometimes I get lost in my own issues. But I am always amazed at how, when the system seems near collapse, she bounces back and discovers a new way to make things work. I’m not that resilient, and I don’t know anybody else who is.

Our boys have always been the stars of this blog. My wife is funny, too, but that’s not the primary reason she deserves a little ink here. The fact is, our lives would not be anywhere near as fun or funny without her smoothing out the bumps for us. This is why she’s a superstar. This why I love her so much. And this is why we’re all lucky she’s the one masterminding the hard parts.

In 1975 backpacks were for hikers and all my school supplies fit in my pocket

Elementary school starts on Monday, which means we will be spending the weekend completing the scavenger hunt known as collecting the supplies on the school list. Big Brother is entering 3rd grade. I suppose that makes him an upperclassman in his school. I’m sure this will be reflected in his maturity level going forward.

Big Brother is expected to show up at 3rd grade with a veritable bounty of supplies. I showed up for my 3rd grade with a shirt, pants, and shoes. Everybody was fine with that. Eventually, I acquired a pencil, and after that, an eraser. They need a lot more stuff to write with now. Maybe they’re more furious writers; they probably press down harder on the pencils.

Our supply list consisted of the clothes on our backs and anything useful we could find in the woods. (Image: Lewis Wickes Hine)

Our supply list consisted of the clothes on our backs and anything useful we could find in the woods. (Image: Lewis Wickes Hine)

They need a bunch of sandwich bags too. If sandwich bags hadn’t become a staple school supply I believe the zip-lock people would be out of business. What American eats a sandwich small enough to fit in a sandwich bag anymore?

Buster starts preschool in a couple of weeks. This will be his last year there before Kindergarten. How can I be sure he’ll be ready to move on to Kindergarten next year? Because the public pays for Kindergarten, while I pay for preschool. So if Buster can’t read by this time next year, he’s officially a taxpayer liability.

Big Man will start preschool next fall, which is another reason Buster has to be out of the pipeline by then. Do you think Frank and Jesse James were allowed in the same preschool concurrently? Some things are just too much to ask of society.

I’m not sure Big Man will need two years of preschool, and my wallet tends to agree with me. I never went to preschool and I learned to read and write somewhere along the way. I’m mostly all caught up to the other readers in my age group by now.

My knowledge of letters and numbers was of little concern to my preschool teacher. It was more important that I have soft hands. (Image: Frances Benjamin Johnston)

My knowledge of letters and numbers was of little concern to my preschool teacher. It was more important that I have soft hands. (Image: Frances Benjamin Johnston)

My wife says she wants him to start preschool mostly for socialization reasons. He’s pretty good with other kids already, and sometimes I think she almost agrees he doesn’t need it. But then she takes a good, hard look at his social train wreck of a father and is reaffirmed in her conviction to spare no expense in preventing that tragedy from happening again.

It’s hard to argue with her when uses visual aids to convince me: like a mirror.

Once I get over the adjustments required by the new school year, I will settle down to the knowledge that Buster goes to a very fine preschool and Big Brother’s elementary is equally good.  The tuition and the supply hunting are a small price to pay to cement my children’s futures – though Big Brother is about to find out his future can be cemented just as well with a 24 pack of crayons as with a 64 pack.

There’s nothing you can do with antique fuchsia you can’t do with heliotrope.

This too is an important lesson in his education.