Saturday, October 30, 2010

He Said What?

One thing that helps make up for all of the whining and fighting and stinky body fluids involved in parenting two boys is the fact that kids are just so darned funny. I think that’s by design—it keeps us from chucking them to the curb when they hit the teenage years. The best stuff comes when they’re trying to be dead serious or when their innocence and cluelessness run smack into their firm conviction that they know it all.

So, in the spirit of enjoying my boys as the goofballs they so frequently can be, here are my top-five (or at least five I can remember today) things my kids said or did that made me laugh.

#5. Yeah, Mom… you’re hilarious (looking)
The other night at dinner, my 13-year-old gave me this one: “Oh… you want your blog to be funny? It’s only supposed to be funny for, like, other 40-year-old moms, right? Yeah. Cause you’re nailin’ it.”
* Life lesson #4263 - Remember that Mom has a never-ending stash of  
       those pictures when you start popping off at the dinner table. And she blogs.

#4. What does a duck say?
Both of my kids had some enunciation issues early on. Austin had a little trouble with the “qu” sound, which he pronounced as “ff.” Why does it seem like every board game and book we had back then asked the oh-so-provocative question: “What does the duck say?” His response? “FFaaack! Fack, fack, fack, fack, fack…”

In a similar vein, Caden decided that his favorite song—right at the time he couldn’t pronounce his N’s—was “Play that Funky Music White Boy.” Oh, boy. He also switched his B’s and D’s, so we heard an awful lot about him playing with his “doll” and his “dike” for a while. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

#3. Douche!
When Austin was just learning to talk, he had a few multipurpose words that applied to more than one thing. The fun part was trying to decipher what he really meant. One of these oft-used words wassadly“douche.” Really. It meant both “shoes” and “juice.” I remember many, many trips to the mall that were punctuated by loud drawn-out cries of “Doooouuuuche! Dooooouuuche!” He’d keep up his Summer’s Eve chant until I could figure out if he was thirsty, had lost his baby Chuck Taylors, or just wasn’t feeling springtime fresh. “Dooooouuuuuche!”

#2. Bone stickers
Back when my oldest was about seven, the boys were watching one of those funny home video TV shows, and a clip came on showing a toddler with panty liners stuck all over his head. The audience was roaring with laughter, and Austin turned to us and said, “I don’t get it. What are those things?” His little brother looked at him and replied with the earnest conviction of a knows-everything three-year-old, “Those are bone stickers!” [Duh!] Austin looked at us quizzically and answered, “I still don’t get it.”

And finally, my number one favorite kid giggle…

#1. Hey, Dude!
Some of you have seen this before, but this may be my favorite kid-mispronunciation of all time. It’s Caden back in about 2004, earnestly singing that Beatles classic, Hey Dude. It still makes me smile every time I see it.

So, what do your kids say and do that makes you giggle? Please share! (Really... down there in the comments. It'll be fun for everybody!)

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Recess Doodies

To be fair, I’m pretty sure the actual term for the women who police the fields and playground at my son’s school is “duties” (referring to instructional assistants on “recess duty”), but the homophone epithet is just too perfect to ignore. Long before kids are able to dole out truly nasty put-downs, they toss around words like “doodie-head” to lash out at the bad guys in their world. And if you listened to either of my kids describe their interactions with these playground patrollers at our local elementary school, you’d understand that the lazy pronunciation is really not an accident.

I’m sure these women are perfectly lovely human beings (really), but they seem to have forgotten something fundamental about elementary school: recess is the kids’ domain.  Or at least it should be. It’s their one chance to run and play and be imaginative and silly in a school day that has become more and more about preparing kids for standardized tests and less about allowing kids to be… well… kids.

Recess is where we all learned to navigate the challenges and politics of daily life. Bobby won’t play nice on the kickball field? Good luck getting picked for a team tomorrow. Molly won’t share the tetherball? Have fun playing solo, kid. This is our children’s best opportunity to develop negotiating skills and the ability to problem-solve their own small life crises. As parents, we know that we aren’t helping our children when we jump in and solve all of their problems. How did the school miss the memo on that?

The playground rules seem infinite and arbitrary (at least to my independent, raised-in-the-70s inner child). Want to take a turn on the swing? Any other kid waiting can count to twenty and you’ll have to get off. (Can you even get a good knee-pump going in twenty seconds?) Flag football, which was my son’s favorite game at the start of the year, has now been divided up into official teams. You can only play on certain days, and then only on your designated team. The “doodies” have split up pairs of friends (because they might pass to each other more than they do to the rest of the team); best buds are scheduled to play on opposite days. My son doesn’t play flag football anymore.

Basketball and tag are both forbidden (people could get hurt). Foursquare has an adult moderator who will send you walking if you stay in the server square too long. “Bump” (a basketball-ish game) has been renamed “shoot” because the grownups don’t like the ball-bumping required for the original game. Transgressions of any degree will earn you a recess “standing on the wall” (which kind of reminds me of this).

The wall’s purpose is twofold: to force kids to stand still during a time when they should be moving, and to hold them up to the ridicule of their peers, who know only too well what it means to stand “on the wall.” ("Ooooooh! You're in Trou-ble!") Do either of those sound like logical consequences for playing unfairly in a soccer game or serving up an illegal hit in wall-ball?

Is it any wonder the kids are a little antsy when they get back to class? The adults have stolen their free time and turned it into a regimented outdoor disappointment. Grownups have usurped their opportunity to learn how to interact without strict guidance.  The kids can’t play tag, for crying out loud.

Believe it or not, I used to be a teacher. I do understand the need for some order and control on the playground. But I also believe that we can do a better job of using misbehaviors as teachable moments and retain some of the fleeting time that kids get during the day to actually move.

I’d like to hear your ideas. What has worked at your kids’ schools? What do you think? Please join in the conversation!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Health Baby Mea Culpa

I failed as a Health Baby grandma! My son earned a 97% for the time he spent watching the “baby” (with only one small mistake), but during my short stint babysitting, I managed to almost kill the kid. On the time-stamped computer printout, I was busted for letting the baby’s head snap back three times, missing a diaper change, and even neglecting to feed the little guy within the four-minute window.

How did my own boys survive me?

Truthfully, I feel terrible, but not for little JaKobe, who I think should learn to be a little more patient on the diaper change thing. My real kids had to man up and tough it out on occasion while I navigated the slalom course of our life to get to the source of their discomfort. But I do feel terrible for my real son, who slumps and slouches through the day at school to mask the fact that he is, in fact, proud of his straight-A average (which is now in serious jeopardy). If he had a timed computer printout gauging my performance, it would have shown a major downward blip right about sixth period as he received his Health Baby report.

You see, I made him go to his refereeing gigs that day. I insisted that he leave the “baby” with me (“I parented two kids of my own! I can handle a doll… jeeez!”). It’s his first job, and I thought that canceling on his employers because of the Health Baby set a bad precedent. And really, how many dads can just quit their jobs because having a baby at home is too hard? (Thoughts on paternity leave would make an interesting future post, though…)

And then I blew it as the Health Baby’s grandma. Damn. I really thought parenting imaginary kids was one of my fortes. Little Jessica and Jennifer, my imaginary twins (whom I named back in 6th grade) are doing splendidly. They never fight, they keep their rooms clean, and they have never once told me “I hate you”, no matter how badly I screwed up. [Sigh] Imaginary kids are so sweet!

Back in reality, my other real-life kid spent the weekend moaning on the couch with a 102º fever. I cooled his brow, brought him juice and Tylenol, and—in the moments when he felt a little better—played cribbage and battleship on a TV tray by his sickbed. I read him stories and gave him hugs, and when he was finally feeling better last night, he gave me a big squeeze and said, “You are the best mom in the world. Thank you for taking such good care of me while I was sick.”

I guess I’m one for two for the weekend. That’s not so bad, really. But I wouldn’t ask me to babysit your baby any time soon if I were you.

* Update: I went to conferences yesterday (arena-style at the middle school), and every parent I ran into already knew the sad story of my failure as a doll-watcher. You could see the reproachful chuckle in their eyes. My conference with the health teacher started with, "So... the baby..." I'm infamous for my ineptitude as a pretend baby-grandma. Jeez.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lessons from Health Baby

Health Baby has come to visit for the weekend. This computerized simulator is here to convince my son that parenthood should be postponed until he no longer values sleep or—really—any uninterrupted time to himself. Little JaKobe (as my son has named him) cries and fusses frequently. As soon as he starts, you rub a magnet over his chest to trigger a timer that tests how quickly you can figure out which of four things might be wrong with the little guy. Is he hungry? Does he need to be burped or rocked or changed?

JaKobe sleeps for hours (you can listen to him breathing), and then he eats like a locust until he tires out again and naps, saving up his energy for the wee hours of the morning. It’s good to see a little realism written into the program. When he needs a diaper change, he’ll scream piercingly until you rub the magnet in the new diaper across his little tush, at which point, he’ll instantly coo with contentment. (Isn’t that just exactly how it went for your babies?)

It’s funny to watch a teenage boy growing more and more panicked as he struggles to decipher the baby’s cries. “What’s wrong with you?” he pleads. I so remember asking that more than a few times in the years before my kids could tell me where it hurt. Health Baby is (as you might imagine) much easier than a real child, though. I babysat the little doll this afternoon as my son went to his job as a soccer ref, and it was reassuring to know that there was always an answer to the “what’s wrong” question. (I wonder what the neighbors thought when they walked by and saw me patting the little half-naked baby against my shoulder in the living room.)

But really, Health Baby could go a long way toward being more realistic. Those changed diapers are completely fragrance-free. I want little JaKobe to give my son a realistic, full-fledged messy blow-out. You know, the squishy yellow-brown smear that goes up the back, soaks through the onesie, and leaks all over your last pair of clean jeans.

As my son nonchalantly changes that magnetic diaper, I’d like JaKobe’s little anatomically correct penis to do what little boy parts do when you remove the diaper (they don’t just make these for the fun of it), and for him to realize that that’s going to be the closest he’ll get to a shower all day. So when his sweet “Health Wife” gets home at the end of the day, he might be standing there weeping just a little, with a yellow smear on his jeans and dried pee crusting in his hair.

I don’t know if I ever realized how much of parenthood would revolve around other people’s bodily functions. Of course I knew there’d be diapers, but I didn’t think about the fact that they’d still be in diapers when they were eating solid food. Or that corn doesn’t change in any noticeable way after it’s been eaten by a child, so that when it’s running down their leg at the park, you can clearly see last night’s dinner. And I didn’t know that some kids could be champion-grade pukers either, so prone to vomiting that a simple cough can set them off. As the real-life parent, you get to be the one wiping it off and washing it away, while at the same time comforting and kissing and loving the producer of all that stomach-churning goo.

More than just the absence of excrement, though, Health Baby falls short of reality in one very fundamental way. Baby JaKobe only has four reasons to cry. That’s it. My son knows that if he tries each remedy for a minute, one of them will eventually work. Every parent who’s ever spent a long, dark night walking the halls with a squalling baby—wondering what’s wrong, aching over the cries of the child, begging the little one for a clue—knows that sometimes babies just cry. Sometimes they can’t be consoled. Comforting a baby sure as heck doesn’t happen in the span of a four-minute countdown. And it doesn’t end on Monday. Real babies don’t get turned back in to the health teacher at the end of a long weekend.

Still, I’m pretty sure I won’t be babysitting for my son again any time soon. So, really, this is the best health assignment ever.

* For an update on the Health Baby experiment, see Health Baby Mea Culpa.

Friday, October 22, 2010

What I Learned from the Boy Wonder

The picture was taken about seven years ago, and I distinctly remember laughing as I took it. There, fighting the forces of evil in our suburban backyard, were Batman Beyond and his faithful sidekick, whose name (I discovered later) was “Not Robin”. It was even abbreviated in paper letters on his chest: NR.

When you look at the picture, the first thing you notice is the disparity between the two caped crusaders’ getups. Batman is dressed in the finest post-Halloween authentic made-in-China polyester costume, complete with a mask and flowing red bat wings (or whatever those are supposed to be). His poor little brother is dressed in what can only be described as… well… tinfoil chaps.

Not Robin (NR for short) was happy to be wearing his invented disguise, complete with a small stick (for what purpose, I can only imagine). The ragtag, second-string nature of his costume was a perfect foreshadowing of the years to come. He is a boy with a closet bulging with a never-ending assortment of slightly worn tee shirts, pants and pullovers. I take him to buy new things every year… I do! But we both get to the store and shrug, realizing that his brother grew out of the same exact stuff the year before. He doesn’t seem to mind yet. For a ten-year-old boy, a shirt is a shirt is a shirt.

On a deeper level, my second son is living his whole life sporting a not-quite-as-complete little boy costume. He was born missing some parts, a topic that I’m sure will fill other posts as I explore the many ways parenthood has been a surprise. The most obvious difference for my son is his little left hand. He has only three fingers, and they don’t bend the way yours or mine do. He is different, forced by the circumstances of his life to be the one not in the standard costume. But the great thing I’ve learned from my confident Boy Wonder is that it’s really OK.

He loved being different when he defiantly proclaimed that he was Not Robin back at age three. He loves being different now, as he waves his “lucky” hand at his classmates, knowing he will never be the kid they just can’t place in their yearbook.

When he was born, I thought he might be defined by what was missing. I worried that all the other kids had the expected gear and the right appearance to make their way as painlessly as possible in the world, but my son would have to struggle to find his place. I wanted to buy him the whole ensemble, to give him my own if I could. But I couldn’t, and he taught me—and I will share with you more in the future—that it is OK to delight in proudly wearing your own handcrafted tinfoil chaps. Every Halloween, you may see a hundred little Batmans, but I’ll bet there’s only one Not Robin.

A Separate Piece

Last Friday, my older son called to say he’d missed the bus home from school and wanted to walk over to a friend’s house to hang out until the football game that night. My husband took the call, and I heard him start to say goodbye with a quick, “Be careful crossing the highway.”

My heart froze, and I felt that tear-fighting squeeze at the back of my throat. I leapt up and heard myself shrieking, “No! You will not cross the highway! No! Give me that phone!” The conversation that followed, predictably, deteriorated from there as my almost fourteen-year-old son responded with typical middle-school disdain as I dug in my heels and threatened ridiculous months of grounding if he so much as set foot on that road. He’s a good kid, the responsible type who typically enjoys a lot of freedom and has plenty of experience getting around on his own. But there I was going apoplectic on him because he wanted to cross a street without me. “God, Mom, chill out!”

I remember when I first brought him home from the hospital. I felt like the most fragile and precious piece of myself had been thrust out into the world, becoming this separate being with nothing to shield it from harm. Before that, if someone had asked me what the most awful thing that could ever happen in my life would be, I would have offered a list of physical catastrophes that could happen to me: cancer…paralysis…death. After he was born, though, the worst things in my world had nothing to do with me and everything to do with this fragile, separate being. Why on earth were they sending him home with me? I didn’t know anything about keeping him safe! Our car had never seemed as powerful or as ominous as it did on the day we strapped him in for the very first time to drive home from the hospital.

Several years ago, when I was still working as a teacher, I had a student named Aaron. He was a bright, mischievous, redheaded ten-year-old with a big, friendly smile. One day, he and a buddy walked down the street near where we live to grab a snack at McDonalds. He stood waiting at the light, and when the walk signal told him to go, he stepped out into the crosswalk spanning the highway (yes, that highway). His friend was just about to step out behind him when a car came speeding through the red light, killing Aaron and then driving away.

I often think about Aaron’s mother, about that separate piece of her heart that was horrifyingly run down that day. I think about her face, about the pain and numbness I saw there after the accident. I think about her brave decision to donate his organs so that another mother’s worst days could be forestalled. I wonder how she got out of bed the next day. And the day after that. And how she faced all of the tomorrows filled with the hollow echo of the milestones and celebrations her son would never see.

My son thinks I’m a freak, if I believe what he said on the phone Friday afternoon. I’m lame and weird and completely unhinged. Maybe he’s right. But there is this vulnerable, separate piece of me walking around out there, battling the torments and pitfalls and trials of adolescence. I think I should get a pass on the occasional freak-out. Of course I’ll let him fall sometimes. He has to fall to learn to get back up. Of course he’ll make mistakes. He has to make mistakes to appreciate the times when he gets it right. But as long as the worst thing that could happen in my world is so awful that I can’t even think about it without feeling this tightening in my throat, I will sometimes step in and be the embarrassing, lame, mortifying and overbearing bad guy. I have to.