How we’re spending our early, and extended, summer vacation

Hello, Blogosphere. It’s been a while. The last time we talked, the world was kind of almost normal. That seems like years ago.

I’ve been keeping busy over the past four months, or ten years, or however long it’s been since the good ol’ days. I am fortunate to have been fully employed. Keeping three boys academically engaged has been a challenge, one upon which my wife and I hope never to be judged.

Fortunately, our 7th grader has been more than willing to coach our 3rd grader and our 1st grader. Consequently, they are now all playing Fortnite at grade level.

Big Brother has been honing his basketball skills in the driveway. He can almost dunk on an 8.5-foot rim. The standard basketball rim is 10 feet high, so once he gains a foot and half of lift, he’ll be able to show the world how he can almost dunk.

I don’t know if the boy will ever get beyond almost dunking. I’m afraid he inherited my farmer’s legs. If you don’t know about farmer’s legs, try to imagine the last time you heard a sportscaster mention Old McDonald’s amazing elevation on his vertical leap. That’s all you need to know.

Buster and Big Man have been reading with me every day. Never have pride and pain worked hand in hand as they do on me when I listen to the boys read. Did you know a kid can read a word perfectly four times in a row and then be completely baffled by it the fifth time his eyes meet it? Did you know his slightly old brother can tackle a serious of four-syllable words with aplomb before being defeated by a single-syllable word with no phonic irregularities?

The reading is easy compared to the paperwork the school sent. It’s not particularly difficult work; it’s just hard to find motivation to do schoolwork when the TV is so close, especially when you’re sure there is at least one channel showing Sponge Bob, regardless of the time of day.

When you are distracted by the thought of missed cartoons, you make mistakes. When my children make mistakes on their papers, it is sorely aggravating to me. It’s not that they made a mistake, or even that they made it from carelessness; what drives me up the wall is the way in which little boys erase their pencil marks.

erasing

What number is this? Whatever number answers the problem.

I have three boys, and not one of them can erase a pencil mark worth a damn. They take two half-hearted swipes at the paper with the eraser and then write the new answer overtop the mangled result.  After the first attempt, I must assume they found the correct answer, because something in the tangled carnage of pencil scratches is bound to be right, at least approximately.

The big takeaway from the current situation is I should not be the one charged with educating my children. They don’t respect my credentials, and I’m not as engaging as Sponge Bob. That last part stings.

Tree goes up; alcohol consumption goes down

Putting up the Christmas tree with children is inspiring.  In past years, it has inspired the Daddy to raise his voice multiple times, need a scotch break or two in the midst of decorating, and write a post summing up the entire misadventure.

The boys must be getting more mature. This year I could count on two hands the number of times I had to yell at somebody, and I made it through the entire process without an ounce of liquor. I begin to wonder if the event merits a post at all.

Well, it’s part of a tradition, and we’ve already lost the scotch break, so let’s just see if having conscientious helpers for once ruins the whole story.

We have a fake tree, against which I expect the boys to rebel at each new season. This year makes another in which my expectations were wrong. They like the fake tree. Perhaps it’s because the tree needs to be built every year, like a construction set, which may seem like fun to foolish, young people. Also the tree comes out of a rather large box, the likes of which you don’t get to climb into very often.

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When your fake tree gets enough years old, it sheds needles just like a real tree.

Part of me is concerned these boys aren’t clamoring for a real tree. That seems like what boys should do. But that concern is quelled when I think how convenient it is that I can fetch the tree in my slippers. It shouldn’t be surprising children don’t pine for a real tree, considering how much of the world they live in is virtual.

Big Brother helped me assemble the branches of the tree. He was more help than hindrance, the first signal of the demise of my traditional scotch break and cooling off period. He helped me test the light strands, only neglecting his duties long enough to check in with the game he was playing on the computer.

Buster and Big Man helped with the lights too, this year with the understanding that the main purpose of the strings was not to be used in a tug-of-war. Another nail had been struck into the coffin of my period of scotch and deep breather exercises.

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Working together in harmony, mostly.

Once the lights were up, the boys hit the ornaments with gusto. Only this year they kind of, almost, sort of, nearly worked together as a team. Big Brother handed the others hooks from the tangled, rat’s nest wad of wire, they selected their ornaments and hung them all in a three-branch radius at the bottom third of the tree. Big Brother picked up the slack higher up the tree, and I, barely necessary any longer, placed one or two bulbs at the very top.

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A very popular, and easy to reach, spot for ornaments.

Last came the garland. Buster and Big Brother were eager helpers, overcoming their instincts to strangle the tree in a shiny, boa necklace with minimal intervention.

And just like that it was finished. They’d made a delightful tree. I’d needed neither alcohol nor soothing meditation. What’s become of this world?

Quit making me laugh; I’m trying to be mad at you!

My son has reached the age when he wears his emotions on his sleeve. It’s not that he can’t control his emotions, or hide them if he wanted to, he just wants to make sure Mommy and Daddy notice the terrible effects that their horribly unfair actions are wreaking upon his tender psyche.

He turns his back and stomps off like an old pro. He has a flare for the dramatic that would make the Booth boys proud. His motivation to play the scene goes something like this: “When Daddy sees how his decision to not let me draw on the walls has turned me into a miserable wretch, he will be crippled by guilt. Then he will relent and let me deface whatever I want, and maybe even offer me some candy for good measure.”

John, Edwin, and Junius Booth. The first family of 19th century American drama.

My little pouter. The first boy of 21st century American drama.

So, he lowers that cross stare over his face, fold his arms tightly, and sits down hard upon some object that is not a chair. He roosts on a spot that is far enough away so that I can feel the emotional gulf that my unreasonable edicts have opened between us, but close enough so that there is no danger of me not seeing him. Thus begins my punishment. Sic semper tyrannis.

I have never been much for histrionics, and I don’t enjoy sitting in the radiation of waves of guilt powerful enough to cripple. I have to defend myself; I have found no better way to do this than by making the pouting little thespian laugh. This completely ruins his performance and saves me from becoming a man broken by guilt.

It is rare that I can make the boy laugh so hard as to forget all about his grudge, but I can often make him laugh just enough to make his grudge a burden to support. It is difficult to exude crushing guilt vibes when you are giggling.

Even though he can’t always keep himself from giggling, my son does not like it one bit when his grudge is thrown out of focus by laughter. As soon as he can stifle the giggle, he makes his face look meaner than ever and grunts his displeasure at me. I understand that, in the short term, I am doing little to soothe his anger. In the long term, maybe I am teaching him that the power of the pout, although seemingly immense, will almost never get him what he wants.

If little Johnny Booth had ever outgrown his pouting stage, he might have avoided breaking his leg during this ill-advised leap from the theater balcony. This is not the sort of dramatic personality I want my son to become.

Before anyone gets the idea that this method of attacking the scowl with laughter has given me the upper hand over the child, I should make it clear that he uses the same strategy on me. I’m sure other parents have experienced this: The kid does something naughty. You’re ready to give him a stern talking to and lay down the law. The problem is that the thing that was naughty is also hilarious, and you can’t even look at the child, let alone speak to him, without bursting.

This is an especially volatile situation if Mommy doesn’t think it’s funny, because then Daddy is implicated in the naughtiness. Mommies know how to punish daddies as well as children, and Daddy can’t make Mommy laugh away her cross face, no matter how funny his jokes are.

But, there are plenty of times when Mommy is laughing right alongside Daddy, and neither one of them can manage to turn a stern face toward the boy. My son uses humor to try to turn a dicey situation to his advantage quite regularly. It is a peculiar disposition of his. I don’t know where he gets it.