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.

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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.

In 1975 backpacks were for hikers and all my school supplies fit in my pocket

Elementary school starts on Monday, which means we will be spending the weekend completing the scavenger hunt known as collecting the supplies on the school list. Big Brother is entering 3rd grade. I suppose that makes him an upperclassman in his school. I’m sure this will be reflected in his maturity level going forward.

Big Brother is expected to show up at 3rd grade with a veritable bounty of supplies. I showed up for my 3rd grade with a shirt, pants, and shoes. Everybody was fine with that. Eventually, I acquired a pencil, and after that, an eraser. They need a lot more stuff to write with now. Maybe they’re more furious writers; they probably press down harder on the pencils.

Our supply list consisted of the clothes on our backs and anything useful we could find in the woods. (Image: Lewis Wickes Hine)

Our supply list consisted of the clothes on our backs and anything useful we could find in the woods. (Image: Lewis Wickes Hine)

They need a bunch of sandwich bags too. If sandwich bags hadn’t become a staple school supply I believe the zip-lock people would be out of business. What American eats a sandwich small enough to fit in a sandwich bag anymore?

Buster starts preschool in a couple of weeks. This will be his last year there before Kindergarten. How can I be sure he’ll be ready to move on to Kindergarten next year? Because the public pays for Kindergarten, while I pay for preschool. So if Buster can’t read by this time next year, he’s officially a taxpayer liability.

Big Man will start preschool next fall, which is another reason Buster has to be out of the pipeline by then. Do you think Frank and Jesse James were allowed in the same preschool concurrently? Some things are just too much to ask of society.

I’m not sure Big Man will need two years of preschool, and my wallet tends to agree with me. I never went to preschool and I learned to read and write somewhere along the way. I’m mostly all caught up to the other readers in my age group by now.

My knowledge of letters and numbers was of little concern to my preschool teacher. It was more important that I have soft hands. (Image: Frances Benjamin Johnston)

My knowledge of letters and numbers was of little concern to my preschool teacher. It was more important that I have soft hands. (Image: Frances Benjamin Johnston)

My wife says she wants him to start preschool mostly for socialization reasons. He’s pretty good with other kids already, and sometimes I think she almost agrees he doesn’t need it. But then she takes a good, hard look at his social train wreck of a father and is reaffirmed in her conviction to spare no expense in preventing that tragedy from happening again.

It’s hard to argue with her when uses visual aids to convince me: like a mirror.

Once I get over the adjustments required by the new school year, I will settle down to the knowledge that Buster goes to a very fine preschool and Big Brother’s elementary is equally good.  The tuition and the supply hunting are a small price to pay to cement my children’s futures – though Big Brother is about to find out his future can be cemented just as well with a 24 pack of crayons as with a 64 pack.

There’s nothing you can do with antique fuchsia you can’t do with heliotrope.

This too is an important lesson in his education.