The case of the missing chicken, and other family conspiracies

If you know children, you know people who aren’t very good at keeping track of things. Our boys are always asking if we know where their wallets and piggy banks are. After Big Brother’s last baseball tournament, Buster and I had to walk from the parking lot all the way back to the farthest diamond to retrieve some LEGOs he’d left on a picnic table. Even such precious things are difficult for children to keep.

On Friday, Buster had a baseball game. My wife brought home chicken tenders and burgers for a quick dinner before we went to the park. Everyone ate all their food, but after the game Buster came home thinking he had saved a strip of chicken for himself. He was distraught to find no chicken awaiting him. His disappointment turned to tears, then anger, as he accused everyone he found of throwing his intended post-game feast into the garbage.

On Sunday, Big Man went grocery shopping with me. He had a birthday dollar and was allowed to spend it on candy. He picked out a little box of those taffy strip type things. He ate some after lunch, but soon lost track of the remainder.

Meanwhile, proving she can also be a kid at heart, my wife looked for some leftover biscuits she’d made the day before. She wanted them with dinner, but couldn’t find the dish. “Did you guys eat all my biscuits?” she asked us.

“Don’t you remember? You served them at lunch,” I reminded her. She never loses sight of her piggy bank though.

After dinner, Big Man remembered his candy, but he could not find it. “Somebody took my candy!” he announced.

“I think I saw some on the floor by the coffee table,” I told him.

He went to look but came back just as much a crime victim as when he left. “It’s not there. Somebody stole it!”

Before this turned into a courtroom scene between him and his brothers, Mommy went with him to look again. They came back with the remaining candy, retrieved from under the coffee table.

Mommy shook her head. “You kids always think somebody’s taking your stuff, when you just can’t keep track of it. Buster thought somebody threw out his chicken. You think somebody stole your candy.”

Big Man folded his arms and gave her his best Too-Big-for-my-Britches look. “And you think somebody ate your biscuits.”

“Did you hear what he said to me?” she asked me.

“Yup,” I replied. “He nailed you on that one. As the boys would say, you just got roasted.”

You got Roasted! (It’s a more literal definition for chickens.)

 

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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.

The best disappointing loss we ever had

In the small frame, this post is about basketball. In the bigger picture, it’s about learning life. I’ll try not to go into the weeds of basketball getting to the larger point.

Our university’s basketball team advanced to the NCAA Final Four this year. We’ve been spoiled by going to the Final Four eight times in the past 20 years. However, our team has brought home the National Championship only once in those eight trips. This means we’ve had seven instances of build-up and high hopes, followed by bitter disappointment.

Our last Final Four was four years ago, when Big Brother was six years old. He was just becoming conscious of the game called basketball, and wasn’t interested in it as television viewing. The words “Final Four” meant nothing to him.

Since then, he began playing organized basketball. This past winter, his 5th grade team had a challenging season, but turned their fortunes around at the end by winning their league tournament. Not only did Big Brother learn how much effort and determination it took to win such a tournament, it stirred his interest in our university’s team.

He began watching the NCAA tournament games with increased interest. For me, this was a long-awaited perk of fatherhood: watching sports with a child who cared about the game.

It’s a double-edged perk.

Even in 5th grade, it takes long hours of practice.

On Saturday, we watched the National Semi-final together. The game went back and forth, until the opposing team pulled ahead. Then our team came back and got within one point, but the momentum switched again and the other team held on to win.

It was another case of high hopes leading to disappointment. I’d been there before, but it was a new experience for Big Brother. The final buzzer left him lying face down on the couch. I rolled him over to find tears in his eyes.

At that moment I felt proud, which seems a little odd, but I was glad he could develop a passion for something beyond his own person. I also felt a tinge of guilt at my role in turning him into a sports fan. Sports leads to disappointment more often than not. Even the good seasons mostly end with a loss. Nobody likes to see their children disappointed.

But we have to see them disappointed. The character moments are born of disappointment. I talked to Big Brother about keeping perspective. There are so many things in his life, more important than basketball, to be happy about. We talked about disappointment, and how you have to move past it, get on with life, and be ready for what comes your way next.

I didn’t cheer him up much that night. He’ll have to see it for himself. Life is back to normal, with more pressing things that need attention (e.g. school assignments). If my words can just hang out in the background until the next disappointment life hands him, perhaps they can help him see it’s probably not the end of the world.

I would have preferred a victory, but as far as disappointing losses go, this one may have been the most useful.