Monthly Archives: July 2012

Choose Your Own Adventure vs. Spanish Inquisition

Is this what Eddie’s Lego stop-action movie looks like? Wouldn’t YOU like to know! So would I.

If I could think of a way to get my 9-year-old son to actually open a window into his brain and share some of what’s inside with the rest of the world, or, say, the people who love him, or even those of us who happen to live in the same house, I would bottle that process and sell it and make a zillion dollars.

So far, that miracle method has eluded me, so I pepper him with questions.

“How was your day?” gets nothing.

“Good,” he mumbles.

Even if the school cafeteria served star-shaped chicken nuggets (ick, but his favorite), they had a 3-hour recess and the Ravens quarterback signed autographs while the school gym burned down, I’d get the same response.

“Good.”

At some point, I barked, “‘Good’ is no longer an acceptable answer!”

It’s like what it took all of second grade to pound into Eddie’s head: give a topic sentence and then some supporting details. It’s not like every conversation needs to come in the form of a short essay, but ya gotta corral your thoughts and share them in some way that connects you to the rest of the world.

Open-ended questions elicited blank stares, and yes-or-no questions somehow got an answer of “Good.”

I developed a cross between the Spanish Inquisition and a choose-your-own adventure novel.

“Did you have art today or music?”

“Did you sit next to Peter or Luke?”

“Was your teacher in a good mood or grouchy?”

My hope was that it would eventually trigger release of some whisker of a detail, which might lead to an actual conversation. There’s a new kid in the class, I don’t like what we’re reading, we’re starting bowling or ping-pong in gym class. Whatever. Anything! Just give me a hint! Usually whatever comment I would elicit would have to do with something that happened three days ago. Or last year. And usually having to do with some stupid video game.

I know that brain of his is working, just not on my timetable.

Sigh.

When my Lovely Bride’s coworkers when they went out for drinks recently, one woman I met has two teenage sons. I latched on to this woman like white on rice. Eddie and I had been battling that day, and I unloaded it all on her and made her my therapist. Her boys fix their own lunches and do their own laundry. Her mission as their mother, she said, was to equip them with life skills. That and a sense of embarrassment and horror at the prospect of moving back in with mom after they finish college. Right on, sister!

Finally she asked me, why all the questions? How about for three days not asking him anything at all? Maybe he’ll start talking.

I told her I’m not sure I could do that.

I’m such a perfectionist/defeatist that I immediately put up obstacles in the form of even more questions.

Does that mean I don’t ask him if he wants to invite a friend over to play? Does he know where his shoes are? Did he make his bed? Take a bath or shower? Want to go to the library or pool? Prefer peas or green beans?

This week, Eddie is going to a half-day “Lego Stop-Action Moviemaking” camp at the local community college, and I’ve decided to apply the silent treatment to this one thing. He seemed pretty fired up when I dropped him off on the first day, so you’d think something that exciting would trigger some type of voluntary comment.

You’d be wrong.

I want to ask, who’s your partner? What’s your movie about? Do you need to bring a video camera? What’s your counselor like? Is it fun? How many kids are in the class? Is the room hot or cold?

But I’m not.

And it’s killing me.

P.S. He did volunteer that he got a cinnamon roll for morning snack with the dollar I gave him.

Well, super.

Me Time Mayhem

I recently got a clue that a little husbandly communication would have gone a long way in my Lovely Bride’s and my dealings with our little litigator, as Eddie continues to test out when he can and can’t negotiate. We’re learning that we need to be specific in the extreme. And even then, our 9-year-old will look for a loophole. Especially when he disagrees with the fiat du jour. Or when he forgets, which happens a lot.

The latest tussle came after I had horse-traded for a couple hours to myself. My swim trunks predate the Obama presidency, and my sunglasses just broke again, so it was time for Daddy to go shopping. I sweetened the offer by offering to schlep the dog to the kennel before we leave for the beach.

After a surgical strike, I’m feeling pretty good. I swing by the house to fetch the dog and am met by my dripping wet, fully clothed 6-year-old daughter trailing wet footprints from the back door to the front. Eddie has just shot up the back of the house – and half the kitchen – with the garden hose set on turbo. And the moment my wife comes downstairs from packing, our daughter starts to cry.

We both wonder: what the hell?!

I’m alone with our children all the time, so I know what they’re capable of. They can wreck a place in an instant. A sandbox sojourn can turn into sand on the scalp the minute you turn your back. Having been away from the little darlings for not quite two hours – aaaah, perspective – I can actually see the humor in the mess.

If only I had told my Lovely Bride about the new rule with the hose. I skirt the kitchen puddle and bellow out a soaked back door to Eddie:

“Children are not allowed to touch the garden hose!”

“They’re not?” he asks.

“No! I told you this the other day!”

“But Da-aaaad, you said we could put water in the sandbox to make drip castles.”

“That’s right, but let me clarify: Children are not allowed to touch the garden hose under any circumstances. Whatsoever.”

 That ought to cover it, right?

“Now get up here on the back porch and sit until I decide what to do with you.”

Then I turn to Carla, still dripping wet by the front door. It seems that she had told her brother he could squirt her. Turns out she didn’t like getting squirted in the head.

I can see how squirting turbo into the sand might be fun. Squirting your sister in the eyes might not. But who’s to say?

Lovely Bride gives Carla a dog towel and tells her to start wiping up. But Carla falls to pieces because of the Catch-22: in wiping up the footprints, she’ll get the floor even wetter. Ugh, details. I peel her down to undies and tell her for the thirty-seventh time: get on hands and knees and start wiping.

As for the hose: a neighbor kid unrolled it at least three times the other day, and then he and Eddie took turns blasting it into the sandbox. Who doesn’t love a roiling river of sand flowing down our sidewalk, but I thought that I was pretty clear that day about kiddos not using the hose. Forcing the kids to use the rainwater barrel would slow things down and give them a limited supply. But either Eddie disagreed on the hose business or he just plain forgot. Because he disagreed.

I realized I was in trouble on two points.

  1. The Rainwater Barrel Edict had not yet been tested on the Mud Pit, which is our tiny, parentally sanctioned patch of muddy summer goodness. I firmly believe that kids need mud. But I’m also a control freak, so they only can have mud in the designated zone. Until now, however, nobody had used the Mud Pit yet this year.
  2. I had failed to mention the new Hose Rule to my Lovely Bride.

Now onto the punishment phase. I keep reading that punishments should be relevant and timely. My wife was so hacked off with the kiddos, I thought she was going to rip their heads off.

“Early bedtime for you, Eddie!” Lovely said. “7:30!”

“But Carla told me to squirt her!” he whined.

Ugh. Sometimes I just want to knock their two little heads together. I chivalrously offered to drag Eddie and Carla along on the 30-mile drive to the kennel, hoping it would buy me time to think of a suitable punishment.

Then it hit me:

“Eddie, you have to wipe down the back door, too,” I told him. “And when we get back from the kennel, you have to wash all the downstairs windows. For free.”

We live in a rowhouse, so we have two windows in the front and two in the back, plus one in the kitchen. Not the worst punishment ever, but at least it fits the crime. Window washing is one of Eddie’s optional paid jobs, so I figured we’d hit him where it hurts: the wallet.

Timely and relevant.

No more calls please, we have a WINNER!