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.

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 road to Hell is paved with Pampers

Diapers. When will I see the last of them?

I’ve got one kid still in diapers, and he doesn’t seem in any big hurry for us to move on.

The amount of money I’ve spent on diapers makes me a little sad that my boys will have to find a way to pay for college on their own. If only I’d followed my instincts and raised these kids in a barn, with a shovel and a hose, we might be able to pay for college one day. Instead, we enjoyed years of warm, dry bottoms. Who can say if we did right?

Big Man wears a size 5 diaper. He’s worn a 5 since he was about six months old. That was two years ago. I can’t bear to get him a size 6, because the kid on the size 6 box looks like he’s about eight years old. I don’t want to give Big Man any ideas about how it’s okay to just do your own thing if it feels right. It’s not okay. He’s going to have to make some tough decisions before community college slips out of reach too.

He’s not even 3 yet, so I don’t want to rush him, except I want to rush him. I’ve been buying, changing, and smelling diapers almost constantly for 8+ years. I’m ready to put them behind me, figuratively, for the few years I’ve got left before I have to start putting them behind me literally. God knows I lack the resources to afford Pampers and Depends concurrently.

"You toss him up in the air and I'll catch him in this."

“You toss him up in the air and I’ll catch him in this.” (Image: Esther Bubley, U.S. Farm Security Administration)

Big Man seems very content to remain in diapers for the foreseeable future. Once in a while, he will tease us by asking to go on the potty, but this is not an evolution so much as it is a precious chance to toy with our emotions. The only smell better than the aroma of one’s own dirty diaper is the smoky odor of burnt parental hopes. It’s a toddler thing.

My wife is not as eager to get out of the diaper trade as I am. She would start all over again with a new baby in a heartbeat. If she had her way, she would always have an infant in the house, which is the definition of insanity. She’ll keep wanting new babies while she’s playing bingo in the Sunshine Home.

I like babies too. They’re cute and nice to hold for a little while, but when it comes to owning any more of them, I’m cashed out. I’m too close to the light at the end of the diaper tunnel to turn back. I’m so close I can almost not smell it.

All I need now is for a certain little boy to get serious about earning an Associate’s Degree.

Then it’s a few good years of freedom, and off to the Sunshine Home. Unlike my wife, when I get to the Home, I’m not giving a single thought to changing another diaper, not even my own.

The right man for the job

We had some heavy snow in early December. Around Christmas, it warmed up. Then, it rained. Our sump pump saw all this melt and rainwater coming and tried to run for the hills. It didn’t make it to the hills, but it shuffled just far enough to unplug itself. I can’t even blame this on a kid; I’m convinced the pump worked its own plug free of the outlet.

Hours later, the pond on the basement floor alerted us the pump’s cowardice.

When your basement floods, it’s good to have friends. Thanks to my wife, we have these. (I’m in charge of the gas and electric.) Good people stepped up with loans of wet/dry vacs and fans that helped us get things cleaned up in a much shorter time than I anticipated. For that, we are thankful.

A flooded basement also affords you a good opportunity to assess the general helpfulness of your children. Yeah, they all want to help make cookies, but who’s really ready to get down and dirty in a crisis that doesn’t result in treats?

Big Brother went bowling with his buddies. I can’t really blame him. If I could have gone bowling while somebody else cleaned up, I would have.

Buster played on the Kindle. I’m sure he was playing a flooded basement game to collect useful restoration tips for me.

Big Man was the true first responder of the day. As soon as he woke from his nap and got word of the trouble, he called for his boots. All his years of training on the family vacuum cleaner had been building toward this day. There was water on the floor and a shop vac to be manned. It was his moment.

No task is too big; no boots too cute.

No task is too big; no boots too cute.

I’m not upset at the other boys for not rushing to help. This kind of event is not the same adventure for boys their ages as it is for Big Man, and I certainly did not need all three of them underfoot as I cleaned. In the end, Big Man helped out more by providing spiritual comfort, cuteness, and perspective than by the amount of water he sucked up. He was the right guy at the right time for the right job. That’s why he came to help. Children have a way of knowing these things.

I’m glad the others kept out of the way of my cleaning and of Big Man’s cheering me up. It worked out perfectly. Well, almost perfectly. It would have been just a little better if the other two were upstairs helping somebody make some cookies for when the basement work was done.