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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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.

 

A true Superstar delivers the pasta

We have a house full of fleeting superstars. For one week every year, one or more of the boys is the superstar student at his school. Apparently, third graders have outgrown the notion of revolving notoriety, so only Buster basked in the limelight of stardom in his preschool this year.

Being a superstar is not all fun and games. There are responsibilities associated with the honor, and this is what a superstar’s parents are for. Any superstar worth his salt requires a poster board with pictures of himself in all his glory. Parents are usually good for making these, and even when they are not, they can be counted upon to recycle the one from last year into a presentable placard.

As a parent of an annual superstar, the most daunting responsibility is supplying a healthy snack to the class. The key, and vexing, word here is healthy. As the child of a simpler time, healthy snack is the epitome of oxymoron to me. Healthy is an adjective that belongs paired with the noun leftovers. The noun snacks deserves a more appropriate adjective, like sugary. The following sentence illustrates how these combinations were intended to be used in conversation: There are plenty of healthy leftovers remaining in the corner, where we shoved them to prevent their impeding our access to the sugary snacks.

To me, a snack is an item 90% of kids will readily eat. I don’t know how to make anything healthy that meets this criterion. I’ve heard some parents know how to make healthy both fun and delicious by constructing adorable designs with various fruit bits and toothpicks. I’m not young and hip like those parents. I am just old enough to know that both fun and delicious take a back seat to pain when the toothpick shard hits the soft gum tissue.

Besides, my kids like their fruits segregated, so they can be analyzed, and probably rejected, separately.

This year, Buster chose spaghetti as his healthy snack, proving he is a genius in addition to being a superstar. I was taken aback by the logistics of providing spaghetti to a classroom, but Mommy went with it (after approval from Buster’s teacher), proving where Buster inherited his superstar genes.

spaghetti

Making spaghetti the Superstar way.

Making spaghetti the Superstar way.

She bought disposable bowls, forks, and wet wipes. We cooked spaghetti and cut it up into short strands. This, with a bowl of warm sauce, filled up the insulated bag, covering the two secret packs of Oreos tucked underneath. Every superstar keeps a an ace in the hole.

Buster’s teacher reported the spaghetti a success, but wondered why Buster didn’t want any for himself. Here’s the thing about Buster: he’s a forward-looking superstar and spaghetti was yesterday’s idea.

He confirmed he didn’t eat any spaghetti. “But,” he said, “I ate an Oreo.”

Judging by the empty containers, his classmates feasted on spaghetti and Oreos. They and their teachers are all superstars, allowing us to get by with a more-or-less healthy snack, unsullied by the mockery of me trying to stab blueberries with toothpicks.