A true Superstar delivers the pasta

We have a house full of fleeting superstars. For one week every year, one or more of the boys is the superstar student at his school. Apparently, third graders have outgrown the notion of revolving notoriety, so only Buster basked in the limelight of stardom in his preschool this year.

Being a superstar is not all fun and games. There are responsibilities associated with the honor, and this is what a superstar’s parents are for. Any superstar worth his salt requires a poster board with pictures of himself in all his glory. Parents are usually good for making these, and even when they are not, they can be counted upon to recycle the one from last year into a presentable placard.

As a parent of an annual superstar, the most daunting responsibility is supplying a healthy snack to the class. The key, and vexing, word here is healthy. As the child of a simpler time, healthy snack is the epitome of oxymoron to me. Healthy is an adjective that belongs paired with the noun leftovers. The noun snacks deserves a more appropriate adjective, like sugary. The following sentence illustrates how these combinations were intended to be used in conversation: There are plenty of healthy leftovers remaining in the corner, where we shoved them to prevent their impeding our access to the sugary snacks.

To me, a snack is an item 90% of kids will readily eat. I don’t know how to make anything healthy that meets this criterion. I’ve heard some parents know how to make healthy both fun and delicious by constructing adorable designs with various fruit bits and toothpicks. I’m not young and hip like those parents. I am just old enough to know that both fun and delicious take a back seat to pain when the toothpick shard hits the soft gum tissue.

Besides, my kids like their fruits segregated, so they can be analyzed, and probably rejected, separately.

This year, Buster chose spaghetti as his healthy snack, proving he is a genius in addition to being a superstar. I was taken aback by the logistics of providing spaghetti to a classroom, but Mommy went with it (after approval from Buster’s teacher), proving where Buster inherited his superstar genes.

spaghetti

Making spaghetti the Superstar way.

Making spaghetti the Superstar way.

She bought disposable bowls, forks, and wet wipes. We cooked spaghetti and cut it up into short strands. This, with a bowl of warm sauce, filled up the insulated bag, covering the two secret packs of Oreos tucked underneath. Every superstar keeps a an ace in the hole.

Buster’s teacher reported the spaghetti a success, but wondered why Buster didn’t want any for himself. Here’s the thing about Buster: he’s a forward-looking superstar and spaghetti was yesterday’s idea.

He confirmed he didn’t eat any spaghetti. “But,” he said, “I ate an Oreo.”

Judging by the empty containers, his classmates feasted on spaghetti and Oreos. They and their teachers are all superstars, allowing us to get by with a more-or-less healthy snack, unsullied by the mockery of me trying to stab blueberries with toothpicks.

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 recliner of brotherly love

You become a more effective parent when you finally realize the true role your children play in your life. For example, I handle the daily irritations my children present to me better now that I understand their job is to gradually tighten the nerves around my skull until my head implodes. It helps to have a consistent relationship with well-defined roles.

Unfortunately, children are rarely consistent. This is the confounding aspect of parenthood. Just when you become skilled at keeping your brain nerves loose, the kids get all cute and make you lower your guard again.

One morning, last week, Mommy and Big Brother had gone to school, leaving me with Buster and Big Man. They were both still asleep and I was doing something in the kitchen. Before long, I heard the sound of little feet tramping about overhead. I wondered which one it would be, bursting into the kitchen and demanding candy for breakfast.

As I prepared to insist upon a nutritious breakfast, like Cap’n Crunch, I heard careful steps descending the stairs. In the next instant, I would be confronted by a boisterous intruder, demanding all the things he couldn’t have, and refusing all the things he should have.

I steeled myself.

No one came.

Instead, I heard soft voices from the living room.

This was curious. Soft voices are uncommon in our house. They cause me to become suspicious.

I tip-toed to the doorway and peeked around the corner. They sat together in the recliner, wedged between their stuffed bears, consulting about which buttons on the remote would best be used to turn on the TV and cable box.

My two little rugged individualists were actually holding a discussion. They were working together to solve a problem. Just knowing they’d made it downstairs together without fighting blew my mind, but now they were cooperating on a task.

Even the bears are playing nice.

Even the bears are playing nice.

They were acting like – dare I say it? – brothers. I mean, brothers like in the root of brotherhood, not in the usual sense of two people confined to the same house who must compete for treats and avoid punishments by pinning trouble on the other.

I ran for my camera to document this anomaly. Otherwise, who would believe me?

Never before seen images of actual peacefulness between brothers.

Never before seen images of actual peacefulness between brothers.

Like every Big Foot witness before me, I only got a couple of poor-quality pictures before they spotted me. Since I’d been discovered, I helped them turn on the TV.

And that was the end of it.

Within minutes, they were acting like brothers again. I mean, brothers in the sense of people who can’t agree on a cartoon and start a tug of war over the remote, not brothers in the mythical sense of people whose familial bonds inspire kindness and consideration.

Once my presence was detected, it was business as usual. That business, of course, being to constrict the nerves in my skull until my head implodes.

At least we had gotten past an awkward inconsistency in our family dynamic.

 

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.