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.

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Cows don’t ask for extra desserts

People say cows have three stomachs. This is not true. Cows actually have one stomach, consisting of not three, but four distinct parts. It’s a large, complex stomach, but it’s only one organ.

Why am I, out of the blue, choosing this time to correct the mythology surrounding bovine digestion? Well, isn’t it just a crying shame that cows and their eating habits are so widely misunderstood? I mean, who gets blamed for all the most dangerous farting going on in the world today? Cows, that’s who. It’s so unfair.

Also I’m about to use this intro to transition to a human topic:

You know who does have three stomachs? My kids.

The smallest of the three stomachs is known as the Broccoli Stomach. In some anatomies, this is referred to as the Green Vegetable Stomach, but since the only green vegetable two of my three boys will condescend to eat is broccoli, we call it the Broccoli Stomach.

The Broccoli Stomach is so small as to be barely there. It fills up after the consumption of just a few broccoli florets. Since the digestive structure of these children does not allow any green and/or healthy items to pass beyond this stomach, vegetable consumption is severely limited.

The next stomach is known as the Dinner Stomach. This organ is larger than the Broccoli Stomach. Its main distinguishing feature is that it expands and shrinks, depending upon what’s for dinner. Chicken nuggets, pizza, and burgers with bacon on them can make this into a stomach of useful size. Any food roasted in herbs, or dishes with too many combined ingredients, will make this stomach shrink to the size of the Broccoli Stomach.

“Come along, Bessie. Let’s get you to the dessert line before all the good cud is gone.”

The largest of the three stomachs is the Dessert Stomach. The Dessert Stomach is too large to fit inside a child’s body, but by some miracle of biology, it’s in there anyhow. This stomach has strict standards and will absolutely not accept any overflow from its smaller brethren. Though quite large, it must reserve all its space for sweets.

Though highly discriminating, the Dessert Stomach always has room for more cookies and other treats that fit its strict requirements for entry.  Its motto, “No cupcake left behind!” exemplifies its commitment to provide safe haven to all the homeless sugar in the world.

Through this three-stomach system, evolution has provided children with the remarkable ability to execute their primary functions (bouncing off walls, jumping on beds, and leaping onto napping fathers) without being held back by the weight of too many vitamins or inhibiting proteins in their bodies.

If you wonder how a child can say they are so full to the top that they cannot eat one more bite of dinner, and then ask for ice cream in the next breath, puzzle no more. The miracle of the three-stomach system accounts for this world-benefiting phenomenon.

Nature is an amazing force, and did I really need that nap anyway?

Who’s king around here anyway?

I was sitting at the dining room table when Big Man came up and stood beside me. “How long before I grow up and get to be a daddy?” he asked.

“That won’t be for a long, long time,” I told him. “Do you want to be a daddy?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Well, parents get to tell people what to do.”

This is our relationship through four-year-old eyes. He’d like to get a little taste of the power he imagines I, and Mommy, have. The only problem is he got it a smidge wrong. If he would replace the word get with the appropriate word, have, he’d be much more accurate.

Parents have to tell people what to do. This little change drops parents down from perceived household aristocracy to their true place as household public servants.

If the children did the things they were taught to do, we wouldn’t have to tell them to do much. In reality, we have to tell them to do lots of things:

“Do your homework.” (12 times a day)

“Put your dirty clothes in the hamper.” (16 times a day)

“Take your dishes to the kitchen.” (34 times a day)

“Get in bed.” (>100 time a night)

We even have to tell them what not to do.

“Don’t wrestle at the top of the stairs.”

We don’t like having to say these things. It’s not a perk. I long for the day when Big Man is empowered to chase resistant children to bed.

“How many times do I have to tell you kids to put out your cigars and go to bed?”

In reality, it is children who get to tell people what to do. If you’ve ever heard your little kid yell, “I’m done!” from the bathroom, you know your duty. And you’d better hop to it before the little ruler gets tired of sitting on the throne.

“I need some juice.”

“I don’t like this dinner.”

“MacDonald’s!”

Children are masters at implied demands, and if their desires are necessary, or even reasonable, they usually get us to do what they want. They don’t realize this because their demands are so many, and so often unreasonable, that it seems we acquiesce to a miniscule percentage of them.

“You only bought me chicken nuggets one time when I asked for them about a million times.”

That’s a low percentage of satisfaction.

Having to tell a child to put on his coat 11 times in a row is no fun. On the other hand, children do not feel the fleeting moments of life left to them slipping away with each repetition, which is why they have no problem demanding chicken nuggets with every breath.

At the end of our discussion, I asked Big Man if he were ready to change baby diapers like daddies have to.

“Nobody showed me how to do it,” he answered.

Well, that’s another shock in store for you, kid. No matter how many times somebody tries to show you, you won’t be ready.

It’s Snowdaypalooza!

In the past couple weeks our schools have had at least seven snow days. It might have been more, but I lost count in the delirium of the cabin fever. Being housebound with three boys, preschool through 5th grade, felt like a bad episode of Big Brother at first. Then it began to feel like Lord of the Flies.

Our first two snow days were the result of an actual snow storm. When that got cleaned up, the Polar Vortex saw its chance to swoop down on us, giving us high temperatures in the neighborhood of -3° F (-19°C). I’m glad there’s now an official name for a good old-fashioned cold snap. Things are more dramatic when they have names that are capitalized. People might not understand closing school for an arctic blast, but having the Polar Vortex descend upon you is serious business.

That moment you realize the cold spell you see coming is actually the Polar Vortex.

After two days of keeping kids at home, the Vortex got bored and moved on. The temperatures rose to near freezing. Yay!

Ice storms. Boo!

The ice storms had names too, because that’s how storms roll these days. I don’t think it’s a good idea to name storms. It makes the storms competitive. Every storm wants to be remembered by name, so instead of just enjoying themselves and scooting through on the trade winds, they get as nasty as possible to leave their marks: “Winter Storm Gretchen was here! Boom! Two inches of ice! Power outages! Downed trees! Plus, I made you fall and bruise your ass! Won’t forget old Gretchen now will ya?”

I didn’t learn the names of the storms. I won’t play their games. My ass bruise will always be a nameless tragedy.

Anyway, our house shrunk to the size of chicken coop over the course of the innumerable snow days. At first, the boys were excited at having no school. They expressed their pleasure by running headlong into each other and executing other WWE maneuvers. They screeched for the sake of the noise and balked at any and all activities carrying the least stench of learning on them.

As time passed, they began to expect each coming day to be one with no school. Too often their expectations proved correct. The thrill of the surprise vacation waned. In their ennui they ran headlong into each other and executed other WWE maneuvers. Bored, they screeched for the sake of the noise. In their desperation to live free within their homebound world, they balked at any and all activities carrying the least stench of learning on them.

It got a little tiring, especially since I made them start each day with horrible school stuff like reading, spelling, and practicing the violin. The protests were loud and grating. But at noon we had a lunch fit for three kings to complain about, followed by an afternoon of parental surrender, tablet screens, and PlayStation.

Today we have school again. I deserve a vacation. Maybe going to work will seem like one.