Vastness of father’s ignorance inspires child to stay in school

Big Man graduates from preschool tonight. It will be a proud and happy moment for his parents. Proud because it’s another step completed on his journey to becoming a man of substance. Happy because it means the end of tuition payments. Big Man is learning on your dime for the next 13 years, Dear American Taxpayer. He’s a public school boy now.

That’s not to say we’re turning him completely over to you. We will continue to work with him to master riding a bike and tying shoe laces. And we’ve already done all the nasty potty training stuff. All we really need you to do is teach him Calculus and whatever other sundries he needs to get a full college scholarship. We’d like to make a habit of this not paying tuition thing.

Buster’s preschool graduation day, two years ago. He is currently pursuing a post-Kindergartenal degree in Homework Evasion.

Big Man is mentally prepared for Kindergarten. He’s a boy full of curiosities, who is slowly being disappointed to find his father does not know everything. He is coming to understand that his pathway to knowledge runs through Kindergarten, and then high school. Any information gleaned from Daddy is supplemental at best.

The other day, for instance, Big Man and Daddy were observing a Roly-Poly (a.k.a. Pill Bug) in its travels along the length of a twig. “What do Roly-Polies eat?” Big Man asked Daddy.

I could probably see what it’s eating if I knew which end the mouth was on.

“I don’t know,” Daddy naturally replied. Daddy knew the fascinating fact that Roly-Polies are crustaceans, but he didn’t know the mundane facts of what they eat. Children never ask the right questions.

“How do you not know what Roly-Polies eat?” Big Man asked. (“How do you not know?” is becoming one of his standard questions as he discovers how many basic curiosities Daddy is unequal to.)

“How do you not know?” Daddy asked in rebuttal.

“I never went to the high school,” Big Man asserted. “You went to the high school, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” Daddy confirmed. “I went to high school, but not to the one where they tell you what Roly-Polies eat.”

Big Man shook his head at yet another of Daddy’s maddening ignorances.  “I’ll ask Mommy.”

Now, Mommy is pretty smart, but her knowledge of bugs revolves around how to neutralize them before they bite, sting, or burrow into an ear canal. “Mommy may not know,” I told him.

“What?” Big Man asked in exasperation. “She didn’t go to the high school either?”

If we have many more of these conversations, Big Man may become convinced he is the first generation in his family to graduate preschool.

And since he’s in the first generation of his family that didn’t jump straight into Kindergarten, that little son of gun would be right again.

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.

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.

The joy of no more poopy pants

The three pillars of parenthood are puke, poop, and pee.  Though puke is probably the most difficult to remove from random places within the house, it is encountered least often. Pee is most often encountered. Little boys can make a mess with it, even when their intentions are beyond reproach, if their marksmanship forsakes them. But pee is relatively easy to clean up, and even if you miss a spot, it will dry up and nobody will notice.

Poop is the most problematic of the unholy trinity. It occurs often enough; you know it’s there, even if you can’t see it; and though it cleans up faster than puke, it can leave you with that same sneer on your face and the same resentment in your heart.

Potty training time doesn’t bring any extra quantity of puke, unless it is your own. You are more likely to find pee and poop in places you’d rather not have it. Big Man is on the righteous path now, but just a few weeks ago, he was backsliding in a bad way. It was not pleasant.

In the beginning, Big Man embraced potty training with enthusiasm. We marveled at how easy this third child was. He took to the routine like a pro. We gave away his unused diapers. We smiled. We hugged. We high-fived. Happiness reigned throughout the land.

Then the slacking began. He made it to the potty sometimes, and sometimes he just didn’t bother to try. Some of his underwear were salvageable and some were merely blessed with the sign of the cross on their way to the outside garbage can.

“Okay, which one of you didn’t make it to the potty in time? You have to tell somebody you need to go!”

I am not one of those parents who can keep everything positive with a pat on the head and a “We’ll get ‘em next time, Champ!” I want to know why we didn’t get ‘em this time, and I frown while I’m making my inquiries: “Why didn’t you tell somebody you had to poop?” Over the years, I’ve learned I am a man who is disappointed at finding poop where it doesn’t belong under any circumstances, and I’ve yet to master hiding this disappointment.

A little frown won’t hurt the child. It may help him when he grows up into the real world. I’m sure his future employers will appreciate that he knows how to take correction. Also, they probably won’t want him carrying a load around the office in his pants. So, when I frown at him, I’m really frowning for the good of society, and pleasant smelling workplaces everywhere.

The boy tired of me making faces at him and now he is back on the straight and narrow. The world is right again. My only regret is that the casualties from his underwear drawer will never know they did not die in vain.