Monthly Archives: June 2011

Quiz Show

 

Guh... nnghhaaaahh? Wha? No more questions!

My little nephew is constantly asking why-why-why, but that’s because he’s 2. That’s what he does. You could give 27 different answers and it makes no difference to him. My 5-year-old daughter, however, asks questions that twist my brain into pretzels – usually while I’m driving and can’t pay full attention anyway.

Sometimes it’s all I can do not to holler, “Jesus H. Tap-Dancing Chr— I don’t know, Carla!”

The questions all flow out of things that happen in our world and bubble up later – such as the escalator we rode three days ago at Macy’s, the GPS stolen from our neighbor’s car in 2008 or when I broke my arm. In 1983.

I drove our dog Roxanne to a kennel before our family vacation last week – it took an hour and a half – and here’s a glimpse at Carla’s Quiz Show during the ride.

 

Daddy…

Why doesn’t the kennel open until 4 p.m.?

How many nights will we stay at the beach?

How do you break your arm?

Did a dog bite Roxanne before?

How do you make an escalator?

How can dogs die?

Can burglars get into our car? How?

How do you make sand?

Why was Eddie’s baseball coach’s truck so loud?

How can oil spill in water? Like in the Gulf of Mexico?

Can a chicken fly?

Why did you turn when that sign said no turn on red?

 

And now that school’s out, Eddie got in on the act today, asking, “Dad, has our country ever lost a war?”

Advertisements

Eddie Wants A Raise

In the "proposal," Eddie proposes to clean me out.

Eddie has been pestering us for months for money for important things like Wii games and Under Armour shirts. Under a freshly inked deal that nets him a hefty raise for house jobs, my Lovely Bride and I get an 8-year-old housekeeper – and a trip to the poorhouse.

It’s not fair, he’s said for months, that his 5-year-old sister gets 25 cents for unloading the silverware out of the dishwasher, while he gets 25 cents for unloading all the plates and cups. (Good point, but Mommy insists equal work merits equal pay. And Carla was too little to handle the breakables.) We’ve told him countless times that he needs to make a proposal. How much should we pay him and for which jobs? Lovely Bride can still remember her father making her write a budget, where she proposed spending on candy, church giving, and so on.

Well guess who learned excel at school this year? (Thanks, Mrs. Clark!)

And the child included hyperlinks to a text document. And a bar graph. And snazzy arrows that I don’t even know how to put in. So today, on the last day of second grade, we signed his proposal, aptly titled, “proposal,” which sets out a price list of 16 house jobs and a weekly pay schedule.

Eddie proposes spending his dough on important things, such as Wii games and Under Armour shirts. At least it's not for new wheels and cologne.

If he does all the jobs once in a week, he’ll get almost $10.

Hey, I want a raise, too.

I believe that some jobs a kid just has to do. In our house, you don’t get paid for setting the table or brushing your teeth. And if you don’t pick up your room, I’ll put your stuff in The Trash Bag.

I like a housekeeper who charges only 50 cents to vacuum a room, but the quality needs a little improvement.

When my dad told me to collect the trash, I had to collect the trash. I did get an allowance – maybe $5 a week in high school? – without having to do much of anything. I think I got paid for cutting the grass, but it took an hour on our huge riding mower. I just don’t recall wanting to buy much of anything, except tickets to the movie theater 20 miles away.

Eddie wanted two bucks for walking the dog around the block, and we rejected that. Maybe I’m spoiled with having him occasionally walk her for free – but almost always under duress, with loud grumbling. For mopping the kitchen floor, we actually upped the pay from 75 cents to a full dollar – this task requires training and some attention to detail. Maybe this will motivate him to help out more. But something tells me that he’ll eventually choose to ride his bike and not wash windows. Instead of vacuuming, he’ll read a book. And because the new pay-for-work list is optional, I worry that this gives him permission to stop contributing around the house.

And then there’s the question of quality control. After today’s half-day of school and celebratory ice cream, he chose to wash the windows instead of play for half an hour before going to visit Mommy at her office. I never do windows, so I can’t complain about Eddie’s doing 11 windows and seven rooms, even if they do end up a little smurchy.

I can easily suck the joy out of things, so this time I’ll try not to.

Wii Rage

I'm blame YOU, Evil Wii!

I’m a blamer. A big Blame-itty Blamer. It’s just easier that way. It sure beats trying to (1) understand my child’s nuances, (2) anticipate conflict with a thoughtfully developed strategy and (3) calmly stick to the plan. So who to blame for the Great Wii Meltdown Of 2011?

How about the full moon?

I first felt a disturbance in The Force when 8-year-old Eddie invited his pal Caleb to come after school for snack. Apparently Caleb thought the deal included some Wii time. Wrong-o. (Rats! How much screen time did Eddie have in the morning?) Not wanting always to be Mr. Rigid, I hedged and said that if they played outside for an hour, they could play Wii from 5:15 to 5:30.

Out they went. Eddie even put on his watch so he could remember. Progress!

By 5:20, Eddie tells me he wants to play Wii instead with his buddy Harris, who lives two doors down from Caleb. This he tells me in view of both boys’ parents, who are outside chewing the fat and now watching for my response. I know Eddie’s not going to like my answer.

“Either invite both Harris and Caleb in to play Wii, or invite neither of them,” I tell him. “We can discuss this later – not in front of your friends. And their parents. Those are your only options.”

“But Daaaa-aaad. I wanna play Wii with Harris…” he whines.

I don’t budge. He tromps inside with both.

Ten minutes later, he’s back outside.

“Daaaa-aaaad… Caleb and Harris won’t let me play with the Wii. And where’s the Lego Star Wars disk, anyway?”

Uh-oh. I’m in trouble.

“Oh, I hid it.”

I’m sick and tired of this mindless, endless, incomprehensible video game. Rather than discuss with my Lovely Bride how we should deal with the zombie-like stare and loss of IQ points any time he plays Lego Star Wars – or try to explain to Eddie why games with no end make it so hard to, well, end – I unilaterally decided to hide the disk. Yup, I’m the grownup.

You what? Dad, that’s MY game! It’s MINE!”

I start thinking, did he save up and buy it, or was it a present? Hmmm… I’m willing to let him play it some, but really, there are only five minutes left before it’s all over. And by the time the kids fire it up, then I’ll have to send Harris and Caleb home for supper, and I can already hear the whiny protests from all three. I tell Eddie that after they go home maybe he can play Lego Star Wars for a few minutes. I hand over the disk.

After the other boys go home, I hear the sounds of some Wii baseball game coming up the basement steps. Whaddya know – he doesn’t play Star Wars after all. I call downstairs with the 10-minute warning. When time is up, I follow with my standard warning: “You can turn it off, or I will.”

No response.

I march down the steps, and Eddie’s standing there, mouth agape, making no motion toward turning the thing off. I stomp over to the TV, eject the disk, and shut off the TV.

“Eddie, do you want to lose a day of Wii tomorrow?”

Begin Meltdown Level 1.

“Daaaa-aaadddd! I was play-iiiiingg! It’s only the first inn-iiiiiinngggg” he cries.

“Yes, but I told you it was time to stop. And what’s with all this mess down here? You need to clean this up.” There were flashcards everywhere, things pulled out of cabinets, and the place looked ransacked.

“We were looking everywhere for Lego Star Wars, and YOU HID IT!

“Eddie, you don’t need to make a mess looking for things. Now clean this up.”

He shouldn’t have to clean up his friends’ messes, he says, and he can’t understand why I won’t let him call them to come back and help clean up. It’s too late and they’re probably eating supper now, I tell him. Plus he’s responsible for what his friends do in his house. If I had known the three of them made such a wreck, I really would have made them all clean it up. Had I actually thought to look, I could have headed this off at the pass and our story would end here.

“Why did you let them leave the basement like this?” I ask.

No answer.

To avoid certain disaster, should I let the ransacked basement go? Am I to blame for hiding the disk? Was there another way out where neither of us lost face? And I still felt like the in-control parent? If I the kind to think on my feet quickly, maybe we would know. But I like rules, deadlines and lines in the sand. Mix Eddie’s tendency to get lost in his play and my inclination to interpret such as disobedience, and it’s like throwing gasoline on a fire.

Commence Meltdown Level 2.

I force him to clean it up himself, and I threaten to get The Trash Bag for what he doesn’t pick up in 10 minutes. Combine that and a whole lotta lip from Eddie, and he ends up with no Wii for three days. At this point, he’s so angry he can hardly talk. He moans like a wounded animal, and tears roll down his cheeks, which look like they’re about to burst. I try to make him calm down by just sitting in our comfy chair in the living room, and he moans “this is boring.” I try repeating myself and talking through how he ought to be grateful that he even has a Wii and a bike to ride and nice friends to play with and a good house to live in with plenty to eat. And if I had known his friends made such a mess, I’d have made them clean up, too. The whole meltdown, calm down and cleanup goes on for an hour.

Sigh.

Through it all, somehow, I hold on as the Zen master and don’t mirror his meltdown. I try to remember a sermon I heard once about dealing with anger by remembering how thankful I should be that I even have two children. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude, I tell Eddie.

He scowls at me.

When my Lovely Bride gets home for supper, I tell her not to mention the whole thing at the table. Eddie rats me out, of course, and starts to melt down all over again. By the end of supper, however, I manage to get him laughing by making a funny fish face. He can’t quite copy it, but his attempt is even funnier than mine.

Sometimes I wonder why I provoke Eddie like this.

I’m trying to teach him that he’s responsible for what goes on in his house. That there are consequences when he talks back to his parents. That he has to follow directions. That he has to calm himself down. That there’s more to life than a video game.

So my execution is clunky.

Can you blame me for wanting this?

Pool Moms

Just when I thought I was fully secure in my seven years of at-home-dadness, my pioneer spirit abandoned me. I’ve been the only at-home dad at playgroups and church groups and playgrounds and eventually found perfectly pleasant women who became close friends. But this time, I had to integrate yet another group: Pool Moms.

When I walked in to the pool we just joined, I asked the gate attendant where to go for swim class.

“Down there at the right side of the shallow end,” she said. “By all the moms.”

I followed her gaze and spotted a clump of 30-something mothers waiting with their little children. Then I looked around and saw groups of moms on the steps in the shallow end, under the umbrellas, by the kiddie pool. All in their little tankinis and stylish sunglasses, with ponytails under their golf visors. (I buy my sunglasses at the drugstore, never for more than 10 bucks. And my swimsuit is Old Navy circa 2008.) Except for the prepubescent lifeguards, not a man in sight.

This, I thought, is going to be worse than seventh grade.

I found a chair and slathered red-headed Carla with SPF 700 sunscreen and handed her over to Mr. Bruce, the buoyant swim teacher, and looked around some more. So what pool do the at-home dads go to in this town? When I finally spotted some 50-ish guy traipsing around, I figured he was some unemployed perv. (Jeesh, what a hypocrite. I know people make the same judgment about me all the time.)

We almost hadn’t made it to swim class at all. It was at 2:30, which still ought to be naptime, as far as I’m concerned. Plus, Carla didn’t want to go.

“Oh come on, it’s blazing hot out,” I told her during the car ride there. “The water will feel great! Why don’t you want to go? Because the water is cold? You don’t like the teacher? It’s hard to hear?” (Once when someone had to repeat instructions to Carla in a louder voice because it was a noisy indoor pool, she thought the person was yelling at her, so she broke down and cried. Ugh. Girl-drama.)

“No, Dad, because you have to go and go without stopping,” she finally said. Ohhhh… no breaks.

Bottom line was: we were going to the pool, and she was going to swim class. There’s no other time all summer that it really suits, and the instructor already cashed my check. I tried to find some patience and a calm voice and explain that you can’t have 15 minutes of swim class and then do something else for awhile before the last 15 minutes because the whole thing would take far too long and use up your whole day. Finally I found the short answer: yes, you do get breaks. When the other students take their turns, you get to rest.

That answer did the trick, and into the pool she went.

As for me, I dodged the Mommy-Scrums and opted for a chair where Mr. Bruce couldn’t see me spying on the class. (It was like skirting land mines, but I didn’t want to have to give a big fake smile and make small talk with people I’ll never see again, after I explain that no, I’m not unemployed and no, the nanny’s not sick today.) It turned out I knew one of the mommies from one of the first playgroups I integrated years ago. And then walks by the preschool director at our new church, who chats me up.

Before I even have time to sit down, swim class is over and Carla comes bounding up to me.

“Come on, Dad! Let’s go play in the pool!”

I avoided asking how swim class went, for fear she’d say it was terrible and she was never going back. At supper that night, my Lovely Bride asked instead.

“Great!” Carla said. “I’m gonna go tomorrow, too!”

Goodbye, Preschool

Today was Carla’s last day of preschool, and I’m grieving for the loss of the place and people who, except for my Lovely Bride and my firstborn, have been a constant in my life longer than anything else in the seven years we’ve been in Baltimore.

This place has outlasted friendships, jobs, cars and even our previous church stint.

It’s hard to let go.

Less than a year after we moved here, I started thinking about preschool for Eddie. I checked with the school at the church we had joined, but I got the frosty response that most people apply for preschool a year in advance. (I later learned this was true all over town – they weren’t just being snobby.) The church preschool said they were all full up and would only have an opening if a kid – and all his younger siblings – dropped dead. I visited a handful of schools – not really sure what to look for – and finally chose one where some playgroup pals were headed, just over a mile away. As a bonus, it actually had a diverse community of kids, which is hard to come by in Baltimore County.

Aside from marrying the woman I love and not renting a car to drive in Jamaica for New Year’s 2011, choosing this school has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

The school’s not perfect. There was the badly-handled biter in 2007. And the school office looks like a “before” shot on one of those TV makeover shows, though they never lost one of my checks. And despite spates of teacher turnover, they school always finds great replacements.

The solar system according to my preschooler's artistic rendering. I'm still grieving for Pluto, little Pluto. It's the farthest planet (not any more) from the sun. (Sorry, Interplanet Janet.)

The 4s class was ideally suited for the 4-year-old boy. To learn body parts, they traced themselves on butcher paper and adorned their Flat Stanley bodies with plastic bags for lungs, straws for the esophagus (and got to learn how it was different from the trachea), long balloons for the “big intestine” and “little intestine” and blue play-dough for poop. Especially at the supper table, Eddie loved getting to talk about poop. They also learned about planets and bugs and the ocean. Not to mention how to sit still for more than 10 seconds and not hit each other. And thanks to Miss Candace, they are fully versed in 80s pop music, which they would listen to each day.

When Eddie headed off to kindergarten and Carla came along for the 2s class, she toddled in without looking back. I think it broke my wife’s heart. But she had been going to school since my wife’s maternity leave ended, and I hauled her there twice a day in her car seat. Then when she got to the 4s class, I realized bodies and bugs and space were perfect for girls, too.

I’ve driven to this school every week for six years, and I’ll miss the incredible flexibility it offered. When I had more freelance work, I just had to ask that morning if my kid could stay for lunch bunch. They didn’t even ask if I had paid yet; they always said yes.

I’ll miss the parents I sat with on the playground after school, shooting the breeze about the typical parent stuff: naptime, sibling rivalry, where to go to kindergarten but eventually working our way to infertility treatments and how to train grandparents. I love that I figured out that once they’re 4, they can bring home friends after school without the other kid’s parent. And typically, they would keep each other busy enough for me to balance the checkbook. I regret that I didn’t bring more of Carla’s friends home to play.

I think the teacher I’ll miss most of all is Miss Annette, a relentlessly happy part-time yoga instructor. I haven’t had a kid in her class in more than a year, but she’s the first voice you hear when you come to school. She answered the door buzzer most of the time, and whether I was on time (rarely) or late (more likely), her voice brightened my day.

Bzzzzt.

“Good morning, who is it?”

“It’s Will M. … a little late with Carla for school.”

COME on in, Will M.!”