Hi, I’m Grumpy, and this is my brother, Sleepy – and this is my other brother, Sleepy

I know it’s going to be a difficult morning when I go to wake Buster. Buster is the closest kid we have to a morning person. After one week of school, I’ve formed the habit of getting him up first. I start off easy and work my way up to the hard cases.

It’s Tuesday morning, after the long Labor Day weekend. Last week went all right, but now they’ve had a four-day weekend to consider things and realize they dislike school just as much as they ever did. The new year hasn’t changed the fact that “The Man” is still holding them down with classroom rules and homework.

They’ve gone for the gusto over these four days off, trying to relive the entire summer in a long weekend. It’s time to pay the piper.

Buster (2nd grade) doesn’t sit up when I put my hand on his covers. I try to rub him awake. “I can’t,” he groans. “I’m too tired.” I pull the covers off him. He pulls them back on.

I move three feet below to the lower bunk. I don’t have high hopes for waking Big Man. Big Man (Kindergarten) is sleeping upside down. This isn’t a good sign he’s well-rested and ready to face a new day. He does not respond to any of my gentle attempts to rouse him. The lower bunk is like a bear cave. I contort myself to squeeze under the upper bunk without banging my head (which I’ve already done twice in 3.5 days of school). I grab the cub’s toe and drag him out of his hole.

Leaving Big Man in the bathroom to brush his teeth, at least the front ones, I return to Buster. All the tumult in the bunk below has made it impossible for him to get any rest. His spirit is broken and he allows me to carry him to the bathroom.

It’s now time to tackle the biggest Billy goat. At least Big Brother (6th grade) doesn’t have a bunk bed, so I won’t bruise myself waking him. He is larger though, so I have to pull by booth feet to drag him from the bed.

Downstairs, I offer the little boys breakfast. Buster answers all my overtures with grunts. Big Man says he isn’t hungry, but I don’t want to send them off with empty bellies. Big Man finally condescends to accept some bread and butter. I’ve got to get these kids off and get myself to work, so I don’t have time to negotiate him into a heartier meal.

I give Buster and pad and pen. I tell him to write what he wants to eat. He doesn’t know how to sound out grunts, so he writes Nothing. It’s spelled right.

I hate to send him to school like this, but he might learn a lesson from a hungry morning. Plus, he spelled Nothing right. It’s too early in the morning not to accept the victories these kids hand me.

This one’s all ready to go. Good work, Dad!

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Two good reasons why your pizza can’t be pepperoni

Buster (1st grade graduate) and Big Man (preschool graduate) were playing a video game together. From what I overheard, the game allows players to create and name their own pizzas to sell to the customers in the game. Big Man was designing the pizzas and Buster was helping him type the names of them into the iPad.

The first pizza was not at all controversial. Big Man decided to name it “Ham” and Buster typed the name. Everybody is happy, presumably even the virtual customers.

The second pizza was more problematic. Here’s what I overheard about this troublesome pie:

BUSTER: Okay, what do you want to name this pizza?

BIG MAN: Pepperoni.

BUSTER: You can’t name it pepperoni.

BIG MAN: Why not?

BUSTER: Two reasons.

BIG MAN: What?

BUSTER: First of all, it’s not pepperoni. And second of all, I don’t know how to spell pepperoni.

Sorry. Wrong pizza. We’ll just take that one back to the kitchen.

I think they ended up naming it “Apples”. I don’t know if it had apples on it, but Buster, after some mental strain, reached deep back into first grade and remembered he knew how to spell that.

The beasts awaken

Mommy’s new job means she leaves the house each morning before we four boys wake up. Mommy is the big winner in this new reality, because none of the men she leaves behind wake up pretty.

The first to wake up is Daddy. He is not a morning person, but he has seen enough dawns to realize the world wasn’t designed for night owls, and he must suck it up, even as he bounces off the bathroom door frame, which he walked into sideways.

After Daddy showers and shaves, he wakes up Big Brother. Big Brother is also not a morning person. He knows 7 a.m. is a horrible time to wake up. This makes angriness a constant part of his morning routine. Big Brother shuffles to the bathroom to assemble his many complaints for the day and do an inventory of all the aches that, in a just world, would keep him home from school.

Next to rise is Buster. He is less of a non-morning person. This is not to say he won’t be in a bad mood in the morning, it’s just that he is equally likely to be nudged into surliness in the afternoon or evening. Buster often wakes up by himself. He gives Daddy a nice hug, and it all goes downhill from there. Making him brush his teeth could be the thing that sends him into a funk. Or it might be the criminal lack of donuts for breakfast. Asking him to write out his spelling words before the test is a surefire way to send him into a spiral of grunts and foot stomping.

Children who study their spelling words can win handsome plaques. Or maybe it’s for clean teeth. Probably not a donut-eating award. Image: Harris & Ewing

Big Man is the wild card. Sometimes he wakes up early and sometimes he pushes sleep to the limit. Big Man is unlikely to be angry. He’s just very sleepy. Even when he gets up early, he often drags his blanket downstairs to curl up on the floor. He likes to stay in his pajamas, regardless of where he needs to be. He takes his time about getting around to breakfast. Big Man’s saving grace is that when he puts up a stink, at least he argues using English words instead of grunting his rebuttals like his caveman brothers.

Of the four, only Daddy shows any urgency about getting people where they need to be on time. The poor, hopeless man struggles against the current of chronological apathy every day, and every day it comes near drowning him in tardiness.

It is a maelstrom of his own making. Who gave Big Brother a nature that recoils from the rising sun? Who gave Buster the expectations of a prince in the robes of a pauper? Who gave Big Man the English language, to spout in endless explanation of why it’s not yet the right moment to put his shoes on, instead of just putting his damned shoes on?

I don’t know. Maybe it was Mommy.

A Big Little Big Man

For classification purposes, we have two categories of children: Bigs and Littles. If you know we have three children in our house, you may wonder how both of those labels can be plural. We should have two Bigs and a Little or a Big and two Littles. Instead, we have Bigs and Littles.

This is possible because our middle child, Buster, is a size chameleon. When the conversation is about who has a full day of school and who has a half day, he’s a Big, burdened with long hours of 1st grade learning. When the issue is who should use a booster seat, he’s a Little. This is how we squeeze two Bigs and two Littles from three boys.

Big Brother is always a Big, and Big Man is always a Little. It’s only Buster who turns the majority in favor of one side or the other.

Big Man understands he is always a Little. He also understands other things that sometimes make us wonder if he is not the truest Big in our house:

Over Spring Break, our babysitting situation was cast into flux. We had to quickly come up with a new babysitting schedule for when school resumed. As my wife scrambled to fill in the gaps of the work week with coverage, she ran her plan by me.

The new plan relied upon multiple sitters with varying schedules, meaning I would have to adjust my schedule to make it work. It meant the Bigs would also have to adjust their morning habits to get to school on time.

As we discussed the new plan, we were sitting at the table with Buster and Big Man. My wife asked if the new schedule worked for me. “I can make it work,” I answered, “but how will the Bigs feel about it?”

“I don’t care how they feel about it at this moment,” she replied. “First I need to find something that works.”

Big Man’s mouth fell open. He looked from one unfit parent to the next. Imagine a four-year-old, eyes wide in disbelief, arms extended, hands held out in bewilderment at our callousness. “One of the Bigs is sitting right here!” he pointed out, nodding toward his older brother. “And you say you don’t care how he feels? He can hear you, you know.”

Sometimes he appears older than his years, and with more facial hair.

For the record, Buster was not nearly as outraged as his little brother was outraged for him. But Big Man is right: you should send the children from the room when the façade of household democracy needs to be torn down by the parental oligarchs.

Mommy explained that we all care about Buster’s feelings, but there are sometimes when everybody in the family has to make some sacrifice for the good of all. That conversation was sweet and sensitive, and not entertaining, so I’ll move on to the point.

For a Little to put himself in somebody else’s shoes, and speak with empathy for that person, is a pretty Big thing.