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.

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.

highway

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.

How neglecting lawn maintenance killed the dinosaurs

I’ve figured out why the dinosaurs disappeared.

The answer lies where the lawn meets the sidewalk.

In a word: edging.

Long after the dinosaurs disappeared, I came along. Being a country kid, I didn’t know much about sidewalks and their struggles with the encroaching Earth. Hence, I believed the dinosaurs were probably killed by an asteroid or something ridiculous like that.

As a suburban adult, I’ve had my eyes opened about how rapidly a hungry lawn can overrun the sidewalk. The Earth is a devourer of all things immobile or complacent.

The dinosaurs grew complacent. This is why their bones are found deep below the Earth’s great lawn.

But why? What made the dinosaurs give up their vigor to the point of allowing the Earth to swallow them up?

Dinosaur children.

The Lesson of the Dinosaurs: become complacent and this world will devour you.

Evidence for my hypothesis:

Over Memorial Day weekend, my family embarked upon an edging project. Day one consisted of a little bit of edging and a great deal of children being in the way. By “being in the way” of course I mean “helping.”  They helped by demanding to be allowed to use tools they were not strong enough to lift; misplacing the tools they could carry; fighting each other for the right to misplace them; bringing their disputes to the edger-pushing parent every minute on the minute; tangling electrical cords; placing themselves exactly in the way of progress; and rendering similar forms of useful assistance.

On the second day, I got smart. I let the boys play video games. The big boys didn’t even notice me go outside. Only Big Man held his interest in helping. This left him no brothers to fight. The only one to argue with was me, and once I got it through his head that he wasn’t running the edger, the pace picked up considerably. We finished the job in no time, freeing the concrete from the amazing amount of sod that had overrun it in just a year or two.

Don’t think it could only happen to dinosaurs. Seen any saber tooths  lately?

It all makes sense:

The Earth will eat up anything that stands still long enough.

The beginning of the end for the dinosaurs came when they abandoned their edging and became complacent homeowners. The Earth covered over their sidewalks and then it overwhelmed the dinosaurs themselves as they waited for the children to grow up and move out so they could straighten up the place.

The dinosaurs gave up on their edging because they had too many dinosaur children helpers frustrating their efforts.

The dinosaur children were always underfoot because there was nothing consistently reliable to distract them from helping.

These facts lead us to:

The core causality of the Great Extinction:

Dinosaur culture crumbled for the lack of compelling video games. That long ago, they couldn’t have had anything more sophisticated than Atari.

Think about that next time you lament your child’s affinity for screens.

A group of non-extinct animals demonstrate the safety of a properly edged walk.

 

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.