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.

 

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.

 

The best 10 years, so far

Ten years ago, this happened.

She was young and beautiful. She’s still young and beautiful. I’m still short on hair. I wouldn’t want to go changing on her.

She’s given birth to three boys since then, which makes her youth and beauty even more amazing. The boys alternate between aging me and making me feel young. Somehow she always manages to stay young.

Do we drive each other crazy sometimes? Yup, that’s part of being married. But after 10 years, we have a good understanding of why this happens. We have different perspectives on some things, and these perspectives are bound to clash sometimes. At the heart of it, we have similar core values, which keeps the clash of perspectives from getting out of hand.

Most importantly, we can be confident we are not being driven crazy out of malice. When you know there’s no malice involved, it’s much easier to move past any disagreement. She’s never made me angry enough to forget how much I love her. She’s never come close to that.

Mostly, we drive each other happy. I know that’s not a real saying, but I’m trying to keep up a consistent theme. It’s why I’m not coming home wearing a toupee out of the blue. I’m trying to be consistent. Plus, toupees are kind of creepy. I think I can speak for my wife when I say that’s a core value we agree upon.

Five years ago, I commemorated our anniversary with this post: Five Years of Trading Bacon. I probably said it better back then than I am now. After a while, it gets harder to find new words to express how you feel. Also, we don’t trade as much bacon anymore. Three hungry children don’t leave us much bacon for anything. I’m sure bacon is one of the boys’ shared core values.

So how do I find fresh words to express a love that’s been the bedrock of my life for this long? I guess it’s just a matter of bigger numbers and greater degrees.

Happy anniversary to the love of my life. After 10 years, I am more happily married and more in love with you than ever before.

Keep your jelly beans in perspective and your thumbs where you can find them

When we were potty training our first child we fell into the trap of offering him a toy as a reward to motivate him to use the toilet. This quickly became an untenable strategy; we are made of neither toys nor money. The boy had to learn a hard lesson about terms being subject to change without notice. It’s like when the cable company made you get a separate tuner box for each TV, advising you not to worry because you were not being charged for the extra boxes, and a few years later you find yourself paying $6/month/box. Potty training is good practice for dealing with the cable company.

Now, well into potty training the third child, we have lowered our game. This boy scored a few jelly beans or a tiny Tootsie Roll for doing the right thing. Using the potty is becoming routine for him, which means earning a candy reward for each occurrence has become unsustainable. It’s not that we’re yanking away his reward; we’re helping him realize using the potty is its own reward. If you think this is parental double talk, try pooping your pants at your next social gathering. The privilege of using a toilet beats three jelly beans any day.

Rewards should be reserved for accomplishments that are challenging. Remembering to go to the potty is no longer challenging for Big Man. It is nothing compared to the formidable challenge of keeping his thumb out of his mouth. He sucks his thumb when he’s tired or anxious. It looked like he was kicking the habit, but the stress of potty training must have made him fall off the wagon.

In the olden days, Big Brother adored his pacifier. It was a relatively easy addiction to break. The pacifier magically got lost one day. That was the end of that. I’m not sure I’m ready for Big Man to lose his thumb, so we’re working on other ideas.

Winding down with a good movie and a little snack.

The other day, he was incessantly reminding me he was due some candy for his pottying exploits. I explained that this was an obsolete reward system and then I made him a new offer. He would earn a piece of candy if he went the entire afternoon without putting his thumb in his mouth.

I didn’t think he could do it. We had to drive to pick up his brothers. The car makes him sleepy, and that’s when the thumb goes in.

He didn’t get sleepy that day. He kept himself awake the entire trip by chanting, “I want candy!” at me from his car seat of whininess. Annoying? Yes. That was an added benefit to him. Annoyance is the smallest wage I deserve for my duplicity.

He earned his candy. And then he felt free to suck his thumb. As extra tired as he was, he couldn’t stop himself. He’d missed his car nap after all.