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.



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.


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.

Onward Christian toddlers

Big Man found Jesus.

He discovered the New Testament, anyway. If my Catholic youth doesn’t fail me, that’s the part of the Bible about Jesus.

Back when I was in college, a troop of elderly gentlemen would periodically spread out to the various corners of campus and hand out copies of the New Testament to passersby. One day, I came home with a dozen New Testaments in my bag; I just couldn’t say no to those kindly old men, and the echoes of my Catholic youth warned me against saying no to Jesus.

The New Testament Men don’t come around as much anymore, but I did run into one of them a little while back. As any one-time Catholic worth his salt would do, I graciously accepted the book, took it home, and immediately forgot about it.

Last week it turned up in Big Man’s hands. Big Man has taken a shine to books. Having seen the eagerness with which Daddy sneaks a minute of reading here and there, and watching the erudite Big Brother read his 20 minutes a day (most days), Big Man has become captivated by the secrets within books.

Up until now, Big Man’s favorite books have been the ones with pictures of babies, or animals, or preferably, baby animals. But there’s something about this New Testament he’s taken a particular shine to. Maybe it’s the right size, or the feel of it is just right, or maybe he’s been touched by the Holy Spirit. I’m not wise enough to say. What I can say is he carries this book around with him more religiously than he’s ever toted a teddy bear.

Reading the Good Word.

Reading the Good Word.

On Saturday, he and I ran some errands. He insisted on bringing his book. He carried it through four stores. When he held it up against his chest, he looked like the worlds shortest preacher man marching through Target.

In the fifth store, he rode in the shopping cart. He set his book down on the toddler seat beside him, leaving him hands free to reach for cookies, but as soon as we moved to the pasta aisle he checked to make sure it was still there.

Little preacher man.

Little preacher man.

There was a moment of panic when we got back home. He asked, “Where my book?” I couldn’t remember taking it out of the cart, and God only knows when someone will hand me another New Testament. But a miracle saved us; I found it in Big Man’s car seat.

I could read something exceptionally spiritual in a two-year-old’s sudden fondness for the Bible, but this kid has a history of glomming on to unusual objects for a couple weeks before progressing to his next obsession. It’s a unique choice for a security blanket, but none of his choices are straight out of the Toddler’s Manual of Style. And if it does have a deeper meaning than I appreciate, well, I suppose there are worse people for him to be hanging with than Jesus.

Gone Boy

It was just like one of those horrible Lifetime movies my wife makes me watch with her on Sunday afternoons when we could be viewing something culturally redeeming, like football.

I was just about to step into the shower before work when my wife opened the bathroom door and asked, “Where’s the baby?” He’s still the baby at two and a half.

I scanned the tight quarters of our bathroom. “He’s not in here.”

“He’s not in his bed,” she said. She smiled when she said this, because Big Man has been known to wake up early and go downstairs to start his day without telling anybody.

She went out and I turned on the water. Big Man was surely downstairs getting his crayons out, setting up to draw on some important papers or maybe the living room wall.

Something made me stop. I went out, meeting my wife coming up the stairs. “I can’t find him downstairs,” she said.

We went into the boys’ room. The blinds were down so it was still pretty dark. We could see enough to recognize Buster, sleeping peacefully in his bed. Big Brother was all knotted up in his blankets. Big Man’s bed was empty.

Everything I saw when I first looked at his bed.

Everything I saw when I first looked at his bed.

We went downstairs and began turning on lights. The illumination revealed my total nakedness (don’t dwell on this image; your mind’s eye might go blind) but no sign of Big Man. Maybe he was in the pantry, foraging some breakfast. Nope. He might be under the dining room table, concocting breakfast from escaped bits of last night’s dinner. Nope. There was no sign of him downstairs.

“All the doors are locked,” my wife reassured me. Neither of us was smiling anymore. I’m sure she was recalling the same news reports I was of children being stolen at night, right out from under their parents’ noses. We’d viewed these reports with skepticism, until now.

A search of the guest room revealed nothing, except that my heart was beginning to beat faster. I returned to the boys’ room and turned on the light, no longer concerned with disturbing anyone’s sleep. Big Man’s bed was still empty, but in the light I saw what I’d missed before.

From behind the skirt, hanging down below his bed, protruded one toddler-sized foot. I lifted the skirt and there he was, zonked out like a happy little fugitive, underneath his bed.

Upon closer inspection . . . If not for that protruding foot, he would have only been discovered by the K-9 Unit.

Upon closer inspection . . . If not for those five protruding little piggies, he would have only been discovered by the K-9 Unit.

My heart rate slowed as I took my shower. When I got out my wife reported that our roving sleeper had found his way back to the top side of his mattress.

As I was getting dressed, he sauntered into our room. We asked him where he’d been. He trotted back into his room and pointed under his bed, as if that were the most normal place to be.

We asked him why he was sleeping under his bed. “Wawee under there,” he replied. Wawee is what he calls Buster.

Typical boy. Blame it on your brother.