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.

Thumbs up for thumbs out

His preschool classmates know him as a mild-mannered boy. They would describe our Big Man as a happy, friendly kid. They would be shocked to discover he has a demon.

Big Man’s demon descends upon him when he is tired or worried, when the stresses of a four-year-old assail him. His demon presents itself through the opposable digit on his left hand. Big Man has an addiction. It resides in his thumb, which he can’t keep out of his mouth in time of stress.

As an infant, Big Man used the combination of thumb-sucking and hair-twirling to earn renown as our best self-soother. To this day, he recovers quickest from upset and is far less likely than his older brothers to become a career criminal out of pure stubbornness or chronic opposition to authority.

We haven’t made concerted attempts to end the thumb-sucking before because we wanted to let him work it out by himself. Besides, he looks so relaxed and contented with his thumb in his mouth, I’m tempted to take up the habit myself. I always carry a couple thumbs with me; if I could turn just one of them into an instant Chill Pill, the work day would pass much more pleasantly.

But thumb-sucking is not a good look for Kindergarten, which is only a handful of months away. Kids can be cruel about perceived babyish habits. Even though his brothers have burned the midnight oil attempting to harden him to the mockery cast at the thumb-sucker, it’s getting time for an intervention.

Yes, it’s a tasty treat, but it’s also very useful for making gestures.

Mommy offered him a reward if he didn’t suck his thumb for a whole day. He was more than equal to the task through the daylight hours. Even his hawking brothers couldn’t catch him with his thumb in his mouth.

Everything difficult to endure is more difficult to endure at night. You know this if you’ve ever listened to the Blues or endured something difficult past sundown. At bedtime, Big Man asked me, “Did Mommy say I couldn’t have my thumb at going-to-sleep time?”

Mommy was out, and I didn’t know the details of their contract, but I’m always wary of backsliding. “I think she doesn’t want you to use your thumb at all,” I told him.

His eyes fell. Tears came. Going to sleep without that calming thumb was the ultimate challenge. “I don’t know how to do it!” he cried.

I hugged him and gave him encouragement. “Put your hands under your pillow,” I advised. He got angry. “I told you I don’t know how to do it!”

He went through all the stages of grief and a good many symptoms of withdrawal before I got him quiet in the bed.

He woke up his old, happy self in the morning. I don’t know if he had to take a quick dose of thumb to fall asleep. It didn’t matter. His bedtime tears told us he was giving it his best shot, and that’s all we needed to know.