Dads need to go outside and play in the fresh air too, apparently

Now that warmer weather is dipping its toes into our part of the world, the children want to be outside, which is generally a good thing but sometimes inconvenient.

At seven, Big Brother is competent to be outside by himself. Out of context, this would be a really good thing. I could tell him to go outside and play whenever I need a minute to think, or not be pestered by 1,000 questions about tornadoes, or rekindle the romance with my wife. Okay, I may need as many as two minutes.

In context, Big Brother has little brothers. The moment Big Brother even smells fresh air, Buster is at his heels, and Big Man is forming the conga line behind Buster. It’s like outside is giving away free candy and nobody wants the other kid to get it all.

Our street isn’t a terribly busy one, and Buster and Big Man are good about staying out of it, but it’s still a street and Buster and Big Man are still four and two, respectively. Four and two happen to be some of the least trustworthy ages.

When Big Brother goes outside, it begins a chain reaction, ending with me dropping whatever I’m doing and following everybody else. Outside is good, but it is certainly not giving away candy, and sometimes I have things to do in the house, like studying for my next tornado pop quiz.

I hate keeping the kids indoors, but it can’t always be helped, and we’ll have our own organic tornado if I let one go without the others. Neighborhood kids are good at asking Big Brother (and his necessary coattails) to come out and play at inconvenient times. It’s difficult explaining the dynamics of why he can’t go out by himself, so it’s nice when there’s a handy excuse for keeping him inside. Something like “He’s doing his homework right now.” or “Dinner is in three hours, so he has to get ready for that.”

It wouldn’t be so bad if they would stick together once they got out there, but they have different interests, aside from their monolithic desire to be outside. They all have vehicles to ride and two will want to go different directions down the sidewalk while the third heads out cross-country. The good news is they will all stay in one place when they start fighting over who gets to ride what. Then, there will be tugging and yanking, and maybe some crying, which is a good way to keep track of where they are.

Outside is especially tricky at this time of year when the days are long but school is still in session. It’s mean enough to make a kid go inside, but to then make him go to bed is downright cruelty. I know this because I’ve been told so every night this month. It’s totally “not fair!” I’ll consider that while I wait to get old enough to come and go as I please.

The Tooth Fairy doesn’t work weekends

The Tooth Fairy is due to make another visit. In fact, he’s overdue. A top-notch Tooth Fairy would have shown up sometime last night. Our Tooth Fairy is middling at best.

Lately, Big Brother has been shedding teeth like a hockey player with scurvy. Perhaps our Tooth Fairy has merely been overworked.

Our Tooth Fairy leaves $1, in the form of a golden Presidential dollar coin, under the pillow for each tooth. Our Tooth Fairy gets these coins from his day job, where he buys them from the big bag of dollar coins nobody knows what to do with. Dollar coins are a novelty in the United States, which makes them great for Tooth Fairies, but troublesome to institutions that are occasionally paid them but don’t have a clue how to bundle them for bank deposit.

Our Tooth Fairy is not completely without an eye to the future. He usually buys two coins at a time, but at the rate Big Brother spits out baby teeth, our Tooth Fairy often needs a day’s notice before he can accumulate the wherewithal to visit the pillow. For these same reasons, he doesn’t work on weekends.

We can afford only two teeth purchases at a time.

We can afford only two teeth purchases at a time.

For the first couple of lost teeth, the loose tooth phase was a big deal, no matter how long it lasted. Two weeks of drama, waiting for the final separation was not unheard of. Now, teeth fall with neither pomp nor circumstance. The only reason I knew there was a loose tooth situation this time was because Big Brother complained it was making it inconvenient to eat his corn on the cob at dinner.

Half an hour after going to bed, Big Brother came downstairs with a tooth in his hand. It was a fine tooth, worth every penny of a dollar, and it took all of 30 minutes of wiggling to extract. I told him to rinse out his mouth and go back to bed. Nobody told him to put the tooth under his pillow.

But he did anyway.

This morning he complained the Tooth Fairy had neglected him. We explained that the Tooth Fairy had already set out on her rounds with a strict itinerary by the time his tooth came out. His teeth must fall out before the Tooth Fairy leaves the office, which is, coincidentally, about the same time Daddy leaves work.

I bought two dollar coins today, which will net me two more baby teeth. I don’t have a use or a want for this commodity but nobody ever told me Tooth Fairying was a profitable business or rewarding hobby.

That’s the way with children. You spend money on stuff you’d rather not have. Teeth are pretty cheap compared to all the other crap. With two more suppliers coming up, I guess we’ll go on buying at this rate.

A smart Tooth Fairy would probably just go ahead and buy out the entire sack of dollar coins in one transaction, but I never said our Tooth Fairy was top-notch.


He ain’t hungry, he’s my brother

My boys must sense my parental skills are waning. Last week, Buster stepped in to help me overcome an impasse with Big Man. Not to be outdone at helping Daddy get some parenting accomplished, Big Man jumped in this time and hefted me over a hurdle with Buster.

Saturday morning Mommy went to work. Big Brother, Buster, Big Man and I deserved a treat, so we drove to the place that once was a donut shop and now is a liquor store that sells donuts. Everybody got to pick out the donut he wanted. Some were vocal and decisive, while others gave mumbly, vague answers. Once I had satisfied myself, and the people in line behind us, that every boy wanted the same donut as his older brother, we were able to move aside and let the remainder of our community have a crack at a nutritious breakfast.

A five-minute car ride, including a 10-minute argument over who got to hold the box, brought us home. I served the donuts, leaving everyone much pleased with his treat, except the boy who wasn’t. There’s always one who can’t handle happy times.

Today’s sourpuss was Buster. “I don’t want this kind of donut,” he pouted. It was the only kind we got, because it’s everybody’s favorite. If I’d gotten him a different kind, he’d have fought his brothers for this one. As recently as six minutes ago, he wanted this kind, but times had changed since then.

“You asked for this one,” I reminded him.

“I don’t want this kind.”

My sweet, fresh donut was beckoning me, but my mouth was employed arguing with a four-year-old. I should have picked up some liquor to help me get past this donut brunch.

He would stare at it, but he wasn’t going to eat it. No matter it was his favorite, he was in an argument now, and he meant to stand his ground.

I too was in an argument, but I meant to eat a donut. This I did, even as Buster scowled at me for ignoring the hardship I’d caused him. It was trending toward an angry morning.

There would have been trouble, if not for Big Man’s caring soul. He knew they were good donuts, because he’d just polished off one himself. He picked up Buster’s donut and gently pressed it to Buster’s lips. Buster clenched his mouth shut. Holding the donut to Buster’s mouth, Big Man used his free thumb to pry down Buster’s bottom lip. Buster tried to hold his lips together, but he could not resist the combined appeal of the donut and his little brother’s sincere desire to see him fed.

Buster relented. He took a little bite. Of course, he liked it; it’s his favorite. He took a bigger bite. Big Man patiently held it for him until he was ready to concede stubbornness and just be happy eating a good donut.

By the time I grabbed the camera the battle was mostly won.  Strawberry frosting and brotherly love are powerful foes.

By the time I grabbed the camera the battle was mostly won. Strawberry frosting and brotherly love can be powerfully convincing.

Sometimes only a little brother can save the day.

May they always take care of each other like this.

Grown man seeks help of preschooler to outwit toddler

Big Man is a model two-year-old when it comes to going to sleep at night. Once I get him to his room and lay him down in his bed he goes right out and sleeps until morning.

The disagreeable part is getting him to his room when it means leaving behind his family, who could potentially still have fun without him, in the living room.

It’s my job to put him to bed, and the moment he realizes I mean to do it, he runs straight at Mommy. As much as she wants him to get his rest, Mommy relishes this moment. Big Man is often too busy hiding TV remotes and telephones to be much of a snuggler. But as soon as Daddy says it’s time for bed, he dives for Mommy’s lap like she’s the last chopper out of Saigon.

The words, “Time for bed,” signal Big Man that he should do something endearing, making desirable his continued presence in the land of the conscious. Everyone understands the game.

The other day, Big Man and Buster were playing LEGOs. We have a big, basket/bag hybrid container full of sundry LEGO pieces from the many sets we’ve built and smashed as a family. In years to come, when the boys inquire about their college funds, I will point to that basket; it’s all tied up in precious LEGOs.

The dreaded LEGO basket/bag. It doesn't look like a lot, but underneath the three big pieces are 999,999,997 tiny pieces.

The dreaded LEGO basket/bag. It doesn’t look like a lot, but underneath the three big pieces are 999,999,997 tiny pieces.

There are like a billion LEGO pieces in that basket. When a substantial portion of them gets dumped out it becomes a daunting clean-up project. Having the entire basket dumped out makes me want to put a For Sale sign on the house and let the next people deal with it.

On this particular day, Big Man and Buster had a fraction of the contents on the floor at clean-up time. Buster, being the biggest brother at hand, was in charge. He began to do his duty. Big Man, however, donned the “I’m too young to be expected to pick up after myself” attitude.

It turns out Big Man does know how to pick up, especially when it's time for bed.

It turns out Big Man does know how to pick up, especially when it’s time for bed.

For the record, Big Man is not too young. He is often astute at picking up. Buster knows this about his little brother, and was rightfully irked by the idea of picking up by himself.

Buster appealed to me to intercede, but it can be challenging to compel a two-year-old to pick up LEGOs when he has no mind for it. I tried many forms of soft coercion, all to no effect.

He even knows where things belong, but only when it's time for bed.

He even knows where things belong, but only when it’s time for bed.

That’s when my genius four-year-old dealt me an ace. Buster whispered to me: “Tell Baby he has to go to bed if he doesn’t help.” (Big Man is still Baby to him.)

I turned to Big Man. “You don’t want to pick up LEGOs?”

He shook his head.

“Well then, I guess it’s time for bed.”

Big Man dropped whatever useful device he was trying to pry the batteries out of and darted to the LEGOs. In five minutes the floor was clear.

Everyone understands the game, and some have figured out how to play it.