In a perfect world every child would get their own cow eyeball

Who doesn’t love neuroscience? For a couple of hours, every spring, we can’t imagine anyone not having fun with brain studies. These are the hours we spend at our university’s annual neuroscience fair.

The boys get to see some fun exhibits and collect a little free swag. I get to revisit my theory about the neurons in the heads of little boys. In a nutshell, this theory posits that random testosterone spikes surge up the spines of boys to the brain neurons, causing entire lunchrooms full of synapses to have violent slap fights, resulting in periods of frenzied naughtiness. I have yet to get any of the science fair officials to endorse my Theory of Frenzied Naughtiness, but it’s only a matter of time.

The big draw at the fair is the cow eye dissection. You have to sign up in advance of one of the dissection programs – cow eye supplies are limited. In the past we’ve always arrived after the sessions were full. This year we got there early and secured a pair of eyes for our family.

While we waited for our session to begin, the boys touched some brains, did some surgery, and invested in the longevity of their own fledgling cerebrums with free bike helmets. Free bike helmets and cow eyes – and I always thought the only perks early birds got were worms.

Ever wondered what a Zombie buffet looks like?

He preferred performing surgery on the cherry flavored brain.

Wrapping up some precious little noggins.

In the dissection room, we donned our rubber gloves. If you can get a two-year-old and a four-year-old into rubber gloves before the event is over, you earned your cow eye. Nobody deserved those eyes more than we did.

Big Man and Big Brother shared their eye with Mommy. Buster worked with me. You might think an eyeball would be a hard nut to crack with a little pair of scissors, but if you squeeze that bovine peeper tight in your other hand, you can snip your way into the gooey center without difficulty. It helped that a couple of strategic slits were pre-cut for us. I had to wonder who got the plum job of scoring a hundred eyeballs. They should get an A on their freshman midterm.

We put our two best surgeons on this case.

Look: there’s a toy surprise inside.

There were nice, big placemats for us to work on, but every time Big Brother had a question, he would carry his preservative-dripping eye over to me, trailing eyeball juice on the table. The scientists were tolerant; this must not have been their first experience with young surgeons.

Knowledge gained, we left the operating room to go paint a brain. I don’t know a better way to wind down from a tense operation than with a little light brain painting.

A little orange makes it think better.

Then we sampled a magical berry extract that makes lemons taste sweet. It was interesting, but I’m not sure I want sweet lemons. I’m just an old prude, clinging to my traditional values about citrus. Before I could break into a rant about how the younger generation and their newfangled science was ruining tart, my family took me home.

If you have any housework that requires throwing stuff, I’m your man

A while ago, I wrote about how our older son likes to “help” me with my chores around the house. More recently, I posted about our younger son’s love of throwing things. Today, I can happily report that the little boy has adopted his brother’s penchant for helping. He has melded it beautifully with his hunger to throw stuff.

Whenever we take a load of laundry out of the dryer, we take the basket upstairs and dump it out on our bed for sorting. This is perfect for the little boy, because not only does he love to throw things and be helpful, he also loves to be on our bed. Once established on our bed, he swings into action in his desire to serve his parents.

Goals are important to this little helper, regardless of how far afield his goals stray from ours in completing the task at hand. His goal in helping us with the laundry is to throw it all on the floor as quickly as possible, and thus help us make our bed look neat and tidy again.

Winding up

A strong wind-up is important to a good throw.

Follow-through

The fundamentals of the follow-through are important too.

running start

Sometimes, a running start can help improve velocity.

checking his handiwork

There are still a couple of open spots on the floor.

Heart and soul throw

You’ve got to dig deep and pour all your heart and soul into it.

The level of industry he displays in helping us cast our clean laundry to the floor is admirable. The bed looks fresh and new in no time. That would be enough for most children, but our boy goes above and beyond. Everybody knows that pillows are an unnecessary eyesore that all parents wish removed from their beds, if only they could find someone who could complete the job cheaply and efficiently.

pillow time

Okay, laundry’s done. Now let’s dig these pillows out of here.

flood of pillows

You could drown in all these pillows – definitely unsafe.

the core of the pillow mess

Found the root of the pillow problem.

Well, while you struggle with the unsightly mound of pillows blemishing the aesthetics of your bed, my boy takes all these daunting worries out of his parents’ way. It is quite a heavy weight off of our shoulders to know that we will not need to call in a professional to do this work for us. Who says kids won’t make your life any easier?

so long, nasty pillows

Sometimes a hearty shove is as good as a toss.

Don’t look a gift dad in the mouth

My son has quite a little collection of Matchbox cars. He likes to line up all his cars in the manner of a miniature used car lot. It’s a way to organize his ever-expanding empire and make its growth quantifiable.

The miniature car lot: Bad credit? No problem! Just go work your charm on Mommy or Daddy.

One day, while he was lining up his cars, a burst of generosity overcame him. “Here, Daddy,” he said. “I have a surprise for you.” He held out his hand in the way a child does when offering an imaginary gift.

I took his pretend present eagerly. I was happy that his head was not so turned by the success of his car dealership that he had forgotten his poor old dad.

“It’s a transformer,” he told me as he handed the gift to me.

“Oh good,” I said. “I love transformers.” I made some turning motions with my hands and some transformative sounds through my teeth. “Schwitt, schwitt, schwitt,” I said as I twisted the air between my fingers. “It’s a truck. Schwitt, schwitt, schwitt. Now, it’s a robot with a laser canon.”

The boy laughed. He was pleased with how well I understood the workings of his gift to me. “Do you have a surprise for me?” he asked.

“Oh yes, I certainly do,” I replied. I could give the kid these kinds of toys all day long. They are imaginative and economical, and that is just the sort of world I need to live in, even if it is make-believe and only lasts until our next trip to Target.

I quickly put my empty hand behind my back and pulled it out again, offering him all the treasure it held. He took the wonder from my hand. “What is it?” he asked.

“It’s an airplane,” I said, happy that I could give him something so nice.

All good things must end. What caused our precious moment to end is hard to know. The best I can guess is that a surge of petulant testosterone spiked up his spine to that reptilian spot in the brainstem of all little boys. Who can say for sure what it is that transforms the pleasant Master Jekyll into that nasty Hyde urchin in the blink of an eye.

He flung my gift away. “I hate airplanes,” he huffed. His cerebrum does not hate airplanes in the least, but a spastic, testosterone-drenched medulla oblongata is liable to hate anything and everything.

“Oh,” I said. “If that’s what you do with my presents, I guess you don’t need to get any more from me.” I looked meaningfully at his array of die-cast cars.

He followed my eyes to his cars. I could almost see self-interest tamping down the testosterone at the top of his neck. “Wait,” he said. “Can we do that again? Here’s another surprise for you.” He held out his hand. “It’s another transformer.”

“That’s so nice,” I said. “I love it.” I drew out the word love as I gazed my meaning into his eyes. “And here’s another surprise for you.”

He took his present out of my hand. “What is it?”

“It’s another airplane.”

He stared at his hands for a moment, too proud to love his imaginary present and too wise hate it. “Let’s play with my cars,” he said after he had given the problem in his hands just enough time to evaporate.

Somewhere between pride and humility there lies a sanctuary of comforting die-cast vehicles. Diplomacy is a complicated playroom.

I’m waiting for you to become a reasonable human

My well-behaved, three-year-old punched me in the chest the other day. We were sitting in our recliner together when I gave him that look a father gives his son that tells the boy he should punch the old man as hard as he can. I’m not sure what that look looks like. I’m not in any position to see it, and then I have no idea when I’m giving it, until I get punched.

For the record, I must point out that the boy never hits his mother. Apparently, she doesn’t know how to give the “hit me” look. He’s pretty good around other kids too. He seems to save up all of his best testosterone surges for me.

Huge, anthropomorphic pigs are very scary, yet he'd never dream of lashing out at one.

I figure I must have given the boy some non-verbal cue that I wanted a good, hard punch. What other reason would he have to haul off and slug me in the midst of what should have been a tender moment of father-son togetherness? To punch me without any provocation would be almost irrational, and this would be completely out of character for a three-year-old boy.

Not realizing that I had commanded him to punch me with my hypnotic eyes, I demanded to know why he would do such a thing. My tone was not at all repentant, as the tone of the one responsible for all the trouble should be. In response to my unfair question, the boy donned his victim costume, puffed out his pouty lips, and declared, “You hurt my feelings.”

I end up hurting my son’s feelings whenever that urge to lash out strikes him. This is mostly because I am petulant and unreasonable. Little boys have a need to punch, kick, throw elbows, and head butt every once in a while. There are secret cues throughout the universe that control this need and compel little boys to act upon it without warning. The little boys have no say in the matter. A more reasonable dad would probably take this into consideration.

Some of these cues come from the strange, electromagnetic fields surrounding other little boys in close proximity, but most of them come from the universe seeing an opportunity to get a clear shot at one of Daddy’s soft spots. In the ultimate addition of insult to injury, the universe makes Daddy the transmitter of its cue to strike.

It can be a fleeting moment of eye contact that tells the boy, “Kick me in the kidney.” Sometimes it is just the hint of a squint that communicates my desire to have his forehead slammed into my nose. And nothing says, “Ram your boney little elbow into my gut,” like Daddy letting his eyes fall closed in sweet repose.

The first time I gave him that "hit me" look. You can see him wondering why I would want him to do such a thing.

By now, I should understand that my boy is not responsible for the cosmic forces that I am channeling at him. It is very unreasonable of me to scold him for things beyond his control. This causes his feelings to be hurt, which in turn causes him to stand, head bowed, with his back to me while he waits patiently for me to grow into a reasonable human with which one might expect fair dealing.

He is an extraordinarily forgiving soul though. It may take a while, but he always comes around to giving me another opportunity to show my growth as a human being with his fist, foot, or elbow. I only hope that I can evolve into such an even-keeled creature as he is some day.