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.

 

Conversations with my wife: Early birds

If it’s not the skunks, it’s the birds. None of God’s creatures wants us to get a good night’s rest.

I’ve mentioned before how we have a thriving skunk community in our neighborhood. They like to offer their perfumes to us in the night. If you’ve ever shared property with skunks, you know they can jolt you out of a stone dead sleep without saying a word.

The skunks come around from time to time, but in summer, the birds are out every morning. I have no problem with the birds. I’m a country boy; their joyful chirping doesn’t bother me. My wife, who is not a country boy, is driven up the wall by their chatter. By the laws of marriage (“for better or worse, richer or poorer, through plagues of birds, etc.”) this makes the birds my problem.

Every morning, not long after sunrise, the birds wake my wife, who reacts by closing the windows in our bedroom. Country boys are not accustomed to the noise of windows being closed on a pleasant June morning. Consequently, this wakes me up.

“Close the window if you don’t want to hear the morning announcements!”

 

WIFE: Sorry to wake you, but those birds are at it again.

ME: They’re just letting you know , “It’s morning time!”

WIFE: Could they whisper it? Or maybe wait until 7 o’clock? Let’s just leave the windows closed all night.

ME: It gets too hot in here. I’d likely be a wreck every morning.

WIFE: Let’s risk it.

ME: You know, some people buy recordings of birds singing to relax them.

WIFE: Singing? They call that singing? It sounds more like a brawl.

ME: Do you also hate the sound of a gentle rain?

WIFE: I swear, one of them is about to pull a knife.

ME: What about the ocean surf?

WIFE: The ocean is fine. It’s all one constant noise, not all these different notes and pitches these birds have.

ME: So if we could get more birds, and their noises all blended together . . .

WIFE: Have you ever heard bickering that blended together?

Not in our house, I haven’t. Wife wins that round.