Driving lessons from a preschool graduate

With the warm weather, we’ve pulled out the Power Wheels convertible. We bought it second-hand for Big Brother’s birthday, five years ago. He’s wanted to bring it outside since March. It’s cute how much he loves that car. Too bad it’s sad how he won’t accept the reality that he’s too big for it now. His knees stick up over the windshield when he drives it and I think I hear the electric motor gasping for breath.

Once Big Brother gets over his emotional attachment to the car, he’ll realize his bike gives him much more freedom than any rechargeable 12v battery can. It’s just that it may take him another five years to get over his emotional attachment.

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Blast from the Past: Big Brother taking Buster for a spin, circa 2014.

The car needed new battery. New batteries cost more than we paid for the car itself. I’m not sure I would have coughed up the cash to see Big Brother squeeze himself into the driver’s seat one more time. I was thinking more of his little brothers.

While Big Brother was finishing up his last weeks of 3rd grade, Buster and Big Man got in some valuable driving time. Buster has an aptitude for driving the car. He doesn’t over-steer and he understands the principles of a three-point (or nine-point) turn. His little brother isn’t quite there yet, but this does nothing to stop Big Man from demanding his turn behind the wheel.

He gets his turn, because practice makes perfect – perfect, in this case, meaning less likely to run over your father’s foot. Buster slides into the passenger seat and assumes the role of driving instructor.

It’s a comedy on wheels.

Buster’s mentoring is laced with annoyed impatience. He doesn’t understand why Big Man can’t follow his simple instructions, never appreciating that Big Man is not listening to instructions, simple or otherwise. Big Man is enjoying the freedom of the sidewalk, then the lawn, then the sidewalk, then the lawn again, then the sidewalk, then Daddy’s foot, then the lawn, and eventually the sidewalk again. It’s peddle to the metal and damn that buzzing in his ear.

If Buster knew any swear words his little brother would be buried under them. I must try to remember to forget all my best swear words before the boys get behind the wheel of a real car in 8-13 years.

In the end, cooler heads prevail, which means I rescue Buster from apoplexy by informing Big Man his turn is over. With the application of various threats and incentives, Big Man accepts the change and they switch seats. Buster executes a multi-point turn and they embark upon a straight-line cruise down the sidewalk, letting the highway breeze soothe frayed nerves.

The Corvette is passed to a new generation: Buster and Big Man hitting the road in 2017.

They are friends again, for as long as Big Man refrains from any terrible notions of it getting to be his turn to drive again.

I have nearly eight years before the real fun with cars begins. I should spend some of that time practicing keeping my feet out of the way of tires.

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The affection police are coming to hug you away

Some things from your youth flow into becoming part of the family culture you build with your children. From earliest childhood I was taught to stay out of the way. Doctors have their “first do no harm” principle and farm kids have their “first get out of the way” maxim. You don’t have to be doing the most important chore so long as you aren’t hindering the person who is. My boys aren’t farm kids, but I try to stress this awareness. I can’t teach staying out of the way as well as an 800 pound bull can, but I try.

Other parts of your upbringing you reconsider with your own children. I grew up in a non-huggy, non-kissy environment. My wife, who has far fewer Germans in her lineage, is all hugs all the time. While I am still not a confident hugger of adult people, I’ve adopted her system with our children.

I can’t imagine not hugging and kissing our children every day; it’s become so routine now for me to do it. Also, our children will not suffer themselves to be robbed of their rightful hugs and kisses. Mommy’s warm blood seems to have conquered my aloof genetics within them.

They are the affection police.

At bedtime I have to give three hugs and three kisses to make the world right for sleeping. Big Man’s kiss is actually a carefully choreographed series of kisses. He takes my head firmly between his hands and stamps my lips upon his face as he turns his head side to side. If I pull away before the process is complete, we have to start over. The same goes for Mommy.

This old picture of them kissing each other is more appealing than a new picture of them kissing their crusty old dad.

At 3 a.m. one morning I awoke to a boy standing beside my bed. I expected to hear the sad tale of a bad dream. Instead I heard mournful reality. “You didn’t hug me when I went to bed,” Buster lamented. That is, I didn’t hug him to his satisfaction. The midnight raid was just so I understand who is privileged to interpret the law.

Going to work is another ripe occasion for hugs and kisses. There is a program for this as well. Big Brother gets his at the table where does his reading. The little boys go to the door. Big Man is very particular about where he gets his hug and kiss. He will position me at the threshold if I am lax in my staging.

Mommy is last to get her kiss. Once, when I gave her only a quick peck, Big Man stepped forward, giving me a stern glance. “And a hug,” he demanded. I gave Mommy a proper hug and was allowed on my way.

Big Man isn’t always pro-hug. If I hug Mommy too long when neither of us is going away, he steps in to break it up. He doesn’t know where it might lead, but as reigning baby of the family, instinct tells him it could be dangerous.

We got game – family style

Big Brother just finished his second season of playing organized basketball. He seems to have found a sport he loves. He’s pretty good at it, much better than at soccer. This is not surprising since he seems to have good hand-eye coordination but is not a natural athlete. Soccer limited the use of his best asset; at least he was allowed to use his eyes.

We have a hoop in our driveway and he often wants me to play with him. Sometimes I do, but sometimes, like in February, it’s too cold for old folks to be shooting hoops outside. And sometimes there’s a good basketball game on TV, where we old men play most of our sports. These days, my best athletic moves involve transforming from the upright to the reclining position.

Meanwhile, the boy has received, as gifts, at least three small, indoor hoops that hook onto the top of doors. Mommy shudders every time he gets one, because he always wants to hang them from the door of his bedroom. This ignites the age-old conflict between moms and playing ball in the house. For my part, I see Mommy’s point, but I also remember how fun playing ball in the house could be, so I have mixed emotions.

As a compromise, Big Brother was allowed to hang a hoop over a door at the bottom of the basement steps. When he has a friend over, they can often be found playing basketball in the basement. This is doubly good, because not only does it keep the big kids from in front of any game I might be watching on TV, it encourages the little boys to go downstairs and play in the toy room there.

I’ve grown accustomed to hearing talk of slam dunks from the bottom of the stairs, but last weekend I heard something new. After the friends had gone, there was still the noise of kids playing basketball in the basement. Big Brother was sharing the sport he loves with his little brothers. “Is this a three pointer?” I heard Buster ask. Big Brother explained the rules; he was actually teaching them.

I love this on lots of levels: first, I love that no one was fighting – that’s always a plus in our Itchy & Scratchy household. I love that the little boys are developing an interest in basketball. I love that admiration for their big brother is the cause of this. I love that Big Brother wants to share one of his favorite things with them.

I called the boys to come upstairs for dessert. Big Brother and Buster came up, but Big Man kept practicing. He needs to stand on the second stair to get the ball near the hoop. I asked him what he wanted for dessert. “Nothing,” he replied, “I’m paying bassetbaw.”

There he stayed, practicing his second-stair shot. I’ll remember this day when he’s swishing three-pointers. I hope Big Brother does too, so we can be proud together.

 

"Paying bassetbaw."

“Paying bassetbaw.”

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With a two-step handicap.

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Is better than cookies.

 

 

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.