Of stinkbugs and men

I have three rough and tumble boys. They play sports; they wrestle each other; they leap off furniture; they catch toads; they do stunts on their bikes. They are little men’s men, daredevils spurred on to great feats of bravado by unpredictable rushes of testosterone.

They are rugged, undaunted envelope pushers, at all times and in all situations, provided none of those situations involves insects in the house.

A moth in the house sends them scrambling like they’ve heard air raid sirens. A spider elicits high-pitched wails, like they’ve become air raid sirens.

They run to Daddy, known for his skill as insect trapper and disposer. He produces his most reliable tool: toilet paper. With a little wad of paper, he catches the bug and flushes it, because, as every schoolboy knows, insect Heaven lies beneath the swirling waters of the potty.

Insects are pulling out all the stops when it comes to sneaking into our house.

If Daddy is not home, they make the best of the situation by running to Mommy. Mommy takes a more distant view of insect disposal. Mommy sprays bugs, notwithstanding the fact there is rarely bug spray in the house. Mommy will spray whatever bottle is closest at hand on a bug: Windex, antiperspirant, Pledge, poster adhesive. If she can’t kill them, she’ll certainly make them spotless, confident, lemon fresh, and sticky.

I’m no great fan of insects, but I have learned to take a measured approach to finding one near me. Mommy has been known to challenge Usain Bolt’s 100 meter time when confronted with a bee. Of course, that was before she had children to protect. Now, she throws the troops to the ground and covers them with her body as if shielding them from exploding shrapnel. It’s all very heroic.

I’ll let you decide where the boys inherited their reaction to insects.

This year, our plague is stinkbugs. Five years ago, I’d never heard of stinkbugs. Now, they are everywhere. Despite their name and ubiquitous nature, I’ve never smelled a stink bug. They only stink when you squash them. This should serve you right if you are the type to shoot bug guts all over your walls and countertops. Even odorless bug guts make for poor décor, and squashing them deprives them of their basic right to ride the maelstrom down the pipes to Valhalla.

You stink, and your mama dresses you funny.

Stink bugs are relatively harmless (unless you are fruit), but that still doesn’t mean I want them in my house.  The boys don’t want to imagine big, ugly beetles crawling on them at night. Unfortunately, a stink bug’s second favorite activity, after mowing fruit trees, is to come into our home in autumn, and the boys’ window AC unit is the easiest place for them to do it.

This leads to cries for rescue. Daddy charges in, armed with his lethal toilet paper, and whisks the offender off to the Great Swirling Reward. The unwanted stink bug is gone, the area is secure, and my own three cherished little stink bugs can go to sleep.

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Once we master wheels we can move on to laces

My wife says there are three childhood milestones parents would pay somebody else to teach their kids: potty training, riding a bike, and tying shoes. There may be others, but these three are a good intro to the world of parental frustration. Multiplied by three kids, we tallied nine hurdles of child rearing.

Six are behind us.

3 children potty trained

2 children riding two-wheeled bikes

1 seasoned veteran of shoe tying

Our most recent cleared hurdle was Buster learning to ride a bike. For a while we thought we might get a two-fer on the bike riding. Alas, despite Big Man’s attempts to catch up to Buster, his parents weren’t equal to the challenge of teaching him to ride.

When Buster was learning, it was difficult to get him to pedal continuously. He was tempted to put his feet down and keep himself from falling, the natural result of sitting on a dubious contraption with a propensity to tip over. He went too slowly and had trouble finding his equilibrium. He also kept looking backward to make sure the Parent on Duty hadn’t let go. He wasn’t fully vested in the idea that riding a tipsy two-wheeler would be worth the effort.

One day, a switch flipped in Buster’s little noggin. He decided he was going to ride his bike, and he wasn’t going to need any help doing it. He practiced on his own, refusing to let anyone hold him up. At the end the day, he could ride a bike.

It got much easier when he stopped looking over his shoulder.

Seeing this, Big Man demanded to have his training wheels removed. Being an obedient father, I complied.

Recalling how Buster’s skinny legs rarely peddled faster than I could walk, I didn’t bother to change out of my plastic sandals as I prepared to walk alongside our newest learner. This was the undoing of the whole endeavor.

Big Man has strong, pudgy legs. When they meet a pair of peddles they create a dynamo unlikely to be matched by middle-aged feet in plastic slip-ons. Also, his bike is low to the ground while my spine is old and composed of dried up chicken bones. It was an uncomfortable race to the end of the block for me.

By the time Stooped-Over Daddy became Stooped-Over Daddy Sucking Air, we’d determined that Big Man was an expert peddler. Balancing was a skill of secondary importance to him. Mommy came to relieve Daddy, but was quickly left just as ragged and dirty.

Even Buster stepped in to take a turn as spotter for his wobbly little brother, but he went heavy on expert advice from his deep well of experience and light on willingness to have his thicker brother fall over on him.

“Let me give you a few tips before I let go.”

It was a good workout for the whole family, but in the end Big Man had to go back to his training wheels until his worn-out family can recruit their strength.

Maybe we’ll work on tying shoes while we catch our breath.

 

Local boy avoids 257 bone fractures in one day

My wife has discovered local swap meet web sites. This can be useful, like when she scored us a free elliptical machine, or not as useful: “Do you need 160 square feet of patio pavers? It’s only 50 bucks for the whole pile.” I admit, that would be a good deal if we had a patio, or even a potential patio area, but as it stands, we’re holding out for further price reductions.

On the useful side, we bought a bunk bed frame for the kids. When we went to look at it, the nice lady selling it gave Big Brother a pair of roller blades her children had outgrown.  Recalling the length of time, and the voluminous gnashing of teeth, it took for this kid to learn to ride a bike, I was unsure of the usefulness of the roller blades. And how much would these free blades cost us in pad purchases?

Chalk up another useful application of the Internet. Within two days, my wife had located a complete, never-been-used set of pads for $10. The only piece left to be put into place was the boy’s willingness to fall repeatedly in order to learn a skill requiring real effort.

The first time he put the roller blades on his feet, he practically had to be carried out to the driveway. Up and down the sidewalk, he rolled a little, clung to me a lot, and fell down most of all. The clinging wasn’t helping him master his balance, so I cast him off. He started making two or three strides in between falls.

Stride goeth before a fall.

His mother, proud of the bargain she’d found on the pads, and wanting to instill in him the necessity of wearing them, but mostly proud of the bargain, commented after each fall. “If not for those pads, your elbow would be completely shattered right now.”

I thought these comments might intimidate him, but he seemed to like thinking of his joints as shatterproof. It encouraged him to try again. He put together a few more strides, then tumbled.

“Your knee would be in shreds right now, except for those pads.”

The indestructible boy grinned and climbed to his feet. He took four strides before the next fall.

“Your wrist would be toast right now. Completely mangled. Thank goodness for those awesome pads, right?” He was wearing his old bike helmet, so she didn’t bother to crack his skull.

He went at it until dark. The next day he made it to the end of the block on one tumble. It’s been nothing like the slow agony learning to ride a bike was.

It just goes to show that kids can surprise you with their drive to accomplish difficult things. It also shows how Dad can always learn from Mom. I clearly didn’t talk enough about broken bones during bicycle training. Maybe if I encase him in bubble wrap and throw books at him it will make him a more avid reader.

Skate away. That’s all.

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.