The reluctant kindergartener

Please welcome back our occasional guest blogger, Buster, aged 5.

I’ve been telling them, ever since the end of preschool, I didn’t want to go to kindergarten. Maybe they thought I was just trying to be cute. Whatever. I don’t have to try to be cute.

See, preschool was fine: three hours a day, then right back home to play.

This kindergarten is a whole new ball of wax. Did you know it goes all day, from like early in the morning until God-Knows-When in the afternoon? I’m not ready to make a commitment to that.

And then there’s all this pressure to learn tons of crazy stuff. I mean, I mostly know it already, but these people are sticklers for the details. A B C D E F G blah blah blah. I got the general gist of it. I don’t know why I have to be weighed down with minutia.

Counting? I can count to 20, give or take. If I leave out a number in the teens, big deal. Where I am is more important than how I got there.

Taking the leap into that great unknown called elementary school.

The worst part is they want you to talk . . . out loud . . . to other people. That’s just not my style. I made it through two years of preschool without having to open my mouth much, and that’s the way I like it. Give me some paper and a bunch of crayons and I’ll whip you up some top-notch art. Most of the coloring will be inside the lines too. But here’s the key part: I must not be disturbed. Don’t come around asking me questions about what I’m making. I’ve got no time for chit-chat; I’m creating.

Man, the teacher’s probably going to call on me and everything this year. What did I ever do to her?

Then there’s the whole lunch thing. They don’t even know what I’m in the mood for. The first day, they had pizza. I was totally ready to mow on some chicken nuggets. The second day, I was like, “All right, I’m down with your pizza.” Was there any pizza in sight? No. They had some kind of waffle thing. Didn’t anybody tell them I don’t like waffles?

Oh, but I had the option of getting the “fun lunch” which is like yogurt and celery or something. Fun lunch? False advertise much? Two hands full of M&Ms – now that would be a fun lunch. Let’s get that on the menu.

I haven’t had homework yet, but I bet they’re going to oppress my civil liberties with that any day now. I’ve seen my brother do homework before and it looks like torture. I’m just going on record right now as somebody who wants no part of that.

The first week is almost over and I’ve survived so far. I guess that’s a testament to my indomitable spirit. Isn’t that what they call it when your parents take you to school and make you stay there all day and you don’t even cry?

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The joy of no more poopy pants

The three pillars of parenthood are puke, poop, and pee.  Though puke is probably the most difficult to remove from random places within the house, it is encountered least often. Pee is most often encountered. Little boys can make a mess with it, even when their intentions are beyond reproach, if their marksmanship forsakes them. But pee is relatively easy to clean up, and even if you miss a spot, it will dry up and nobody will notice.

Poop is the most problematic of the unholy trinity. It occurs often enough; you know it’s there, even if you can’t see it; and though it cleans up faster than puke, it can leave you with that same sneer on your face and the same resentment in your heart.

Potty training time doesn’t bring any extra quantity of puke, unless it is your own. You are more likely to find pee and poop in places you’d rather not have it. Big Man is on the righteous path now, but just a few weeks ago, he was backsliding in a bad way. It was not pleasant.

In the beginning, Big Man embraced potty training with enthusiasm. We marveled at how easy this third child was. He took to the routine like a pro. We gave away his unused diapers. We smiled. We hugged. We high-fived. Happiness reigned throughout the land.

Then the slacking began. He made it to the potty sometimes, and sometimes he just didn’t bother to try. Some of his underwear were salvageable and some were merely blessed with the sign of the cross on their way to the outside garbage can.

“Okay, which one of you didn’t make it to the potty in time? You have to tell somebody you need to go!”

I am not one of those parents who can keep everything positive with a pat on the head and a “We’ll get ‘em next time, Champ!” I want to know why we didn’t get ‘em this time, and I frown while I’m making my inquiries: “Why didn’t you tell somebody you had to poop?” Over the years, I’ve learned I am a man who is disappointed at finding poop where it doesn’t belong under any circumstances, and I’ve yet to master hiding this disappointment.

A little frown won’t hurt the child. It may help him when he grows up into the real world. I’m sure his future employers will appreciate that he knows how to take correction. Also, they probably won’t want him carrying a load around the office in his pants. So, when I frown at him, I’m really frowning for the good of society, and pleasant smelling workplaces everywhere.

The boy tired of me making faces at him and now he is back on the straight and narrow. The world is right again. My only regret is that the casualties from his underwear drawer will never know they did not die in vain.

 

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.