Monthly Archives: June 2010

State of Grace

It was a night to remember.

About an hour ago, I was prepared to sit down here and amuse myself, and possibly you, with some of the finer details of my night here with the kids. Because it was a doozy. But the truth is, in the end there was very little that was funny about it because the boys were so overtired after an awesomely busy first day at camp that they pushed themselves and me well beyond The Limit, which stripped it of its humor.

Oh, okay, fine. I’ll give you this one vignette.  It’s a small token of my affection for you. Just remember, it was only about 10-15 minutes of a scene that went on for about an hour and a half.

When Matt’s out of town I either take Gus out on a short walk right after dinner or as soon as the boys are asleep. I was so busy torturing them by making them shower and get to bed on time that I decided to wait tonight. Finally, I thought they were asleep after quite a lot of carrying on from Lyle, and so I headed out.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get farther than the front sidewalk before I realized I was hearing Lyle screaming my name through the open windows of the house.  Gus did his business quickly and I ran back in with him. There was some insanity about both boys needing to switch beds and THERE’S VELCRO ON THIS COMFORTER COVER AND BUTTONS ON THAT OTHER ONE AND OH MY GOD SO MUCH DRAMA but finally I had them tucked into one big bed together, happy as little clams.  UNTIL Lyle said something about loving me until I die (of course he had to say it that way, for he is Lyle) and then before I knew it the two of them were sobbing their hearts out about me dying. Baxter took it all to a new level, asking why I even BOTHER TO WORK WHEN SOMEDAY MY CLIENTS WILL ALL DIE AND WHAT WAS THE POINT OF SPEECH THERAPY ANYWAY IN THAT CASE?! and he also managed to work the iPhone into it, with something incoherent (remember THE SOBBING) about the inventor of the device dying and then WHAT WOULD BE THE POINT OF THE iPHONE and I made the mistake of wondering aloud what the connection was and so Lyle started to go on and on about the apps I use at work.

This is all true, Wonderfriends.

Even the dog was freaking out, running downstairs (where he isn’t allowed) to see what the commotion was all about. At least that’s what I thought at the time, although later when I got back upstairs to the kitchen I realized that the desperate look in his eyes and unusual mad dash to find me in the forbidden downstairs probably had more to do with the fact that he ACTUALLY HADN’T FINISHED HIS BUSINESS outside after all and had left me quite a treat on the kitchen floor. (Which reminds me to tell you I also learned tonight that a dog bears a very spooky resemblance to a human when ashamed. And that there are a great many benefits to having plain old hardwood floors in your kitchen.) Believe me, I was not mad at the dog, the poor guy has needs after all, and god knows they weren’t being met by this family tonight.

So anyway, that was just one small scene from the evening’s show. It got worse from there and escalated to the point where two exhausted boys were screaming at the top of their lungs at each other over bedcovers and I stormed down there not exactly at my best anymore. (TWO PARENTING LOWS IN ONE MONTH: SCORE!!)

And in the end, when they came back up to find me for the eleventy billionth time, both of them with circles under their tired, red-from-crying eyes, I realized that desperate times had called for desperate measures. “Pull up a couch, boys,” I sighed, and handed them sheets from the laundry basket in the living room. I set them up on couches with throw pillows under their heads and a sheet over them. I turned off the lights and Gus and I settled at Lyle’s feet on the longer couch. An incredible cool summer breeze was coming into the room and as their little sobs slowed I repeatedly told them that I wasn’t mad at them, everything was just fine, and that I loved them very much. Gradually they calmed, and even with an unbelievable amount of city noise coming into the room – for some reason, a great many emergency vehicles and even a hovering helicopter were all within a half block of us during this time – they both drifted off to sleep.

At that moment I was reminded that in the end, this scene tonight was not about who showers first, bothersome velcro and buttons, itchy tags and rashes, lights on or off, or even who’s hogging the covers of the bed you begged him to share with you. It’s about the need to be at peace in your heart after a long day in a new place with lots of unfamiliar kids and counselors and no parents, needing to know that your family is not going to stay mad at you no matter what, and a reminder that you can all be together cuddled on couches with a dog at your feet and a brother and a mom who love you close by, even when the world right outside the window is loud and frightening. I don’t know how we managed to come to that state of grace, but I’ll take it.


Summer Break Day 1 Fail

It’s the first day of the summer and we are in big trouble here, people. I was so happy to have a loose day finally, even though we had so much to do. It’s been a super crazy few weeks.

The boys spent the better part of the morning (while I tried to clean up the kitchen and get some laundry going) arguing in the playroom downstairs. Matt and I stared at each other in disbelief at how they were acting.  Within three minutes I turned off the monitor so I didn’t have to hear it, but before long it found its way to me. Lyle had produced a “magic balloon” which was said to create imaginary, invisible toys overnight that only belonged to him and couldn’t EVER be seen by Baxter.  For his part, Baxter went completely bananas over this.  He is, um, literal. And sometimes less than flexible.  He couldn’t handle that Lyle kept taunting him, saying, “It’s REAL, Baxter!”  This, by the way, made Lyle a “liar”. No one could let it go and I could not stand the inanity of it all.

Before too long, we left to go on some All-Important Secret Mystery Errands. (Let me remind you: Father’s Day is Sunday, June 20.) One or the other of them complained bitterly the whole way there, which only indicates to me that they haven’t had to go on enough shopping trips lately. Guess who’s going to a LOT of stores with me this summer? Ahem. Anyway, there was a lot of attitude from both of them along the way, but they soon realized they only got to play Angry Birds between errands if they’d behaved themselves in the store.

We had a decent stretch for a while there, eating lunch and taking Gus out for a walk that ended at the playground.  Lyle climbed a tree and Baxter played on the swing for ages, and there was peace in the kingdom. But on the walk back home, conversation turned to summer camp, which begins for both of them the second week of summer break. Lyle has never been, but has always loved it when we dropped off and picked up his brother. Furthermore, he was so excited at the camp orientation that he wanted to start the next day.  But somehow between that night in May and the transition of kindergarten ending, he has not only lost enthusiasm but seems to believe his life will end the day camp starts. He bitched. He moaned. He raged against camp and us and the entire world, calling all of it “stupid”.  He won’t go, he’ll stay home. When I pointed out that we’ll all be at work or camp, he yelled that he’d call 911 and the police would come take care of him (!). He was acting like an out-of-control spoiled brat, to put it bluntly, all the way down the sidewalk.

Then he began kicking as he walked, and I sternly warned him to stop because he had almost kicked Gus in the head. Sure enough, along came another kick that DID catch Gus in the head.  The dog who is already incredibly uncomfortable with a few hot spots and is going to the vet later today. I blew my top, friends.  I angrily hauled Lyle back next to me by the arm and moved him over to sit on a grassy lawn next to us. There was a whole camp group leaving the beach walking past us so I wanted to get him out of the way fast so that I could deal with him. It is possible that I let loose with a “Goddammit” as I did so, but I cannot be sure. He was shocked and outraged by being moved in that way. I never manhandle my kids. I felt horrible and he was infuriated, but I was still at the end of my rope. He suggested afterwards that instead of grabbing him I should’ve “stuffed a donut in [his] mouth”, which broke the tension for Baxter and me but our laughter only upset him further. He mouthed off the rest of the way home.

When we got home he was sentenced to time out until he calmed down. Later, we talked about all the changes going on for him right now and how nervous they make him.  I had tried to bring that up when he was raging about camp, sure that anxiety was the root cause of his misbehavior (it usually is), but he was already too far gone at that point. He admitted to being sad about kindergarten being over. He loves school and his friends, and said it’s not as much fun to be home. I suggested that this is why kids go to camp in the summer, to play with lots of kids again and have fun, and he didn’t argue this time. However, he did tell me afterwards that if we talk about camp again he’s going to go into the bathroom and flush himself down the toilet. He’s not at ALL dramatic.

I don’t know how I can still be blindsided by this behavior when we’ve experienced it so many times before, but it’s just impossible to believe it’s around the corner when he’s skipping merrily along, confident and loving school and friends, looking forward to everything about summer.

So, yes. Day One of Summer 2010 and already a parenting (and child behavior) low. I’m so proud.

These are Days, Too

After I dropped the kids off at school this morning, I was amusing myself as I drove to work by thinking of how much had already been accomplished in the day, all of which was carefully orchestrated last night before Matt and I went to bed.  To summarize:

6:00AM Matt and I both got up;

6:10AM Matt took Gus for a quick walk and I got in the shower; when Matt got home he made Baxter’s lunch;

6:30AM We got Baxter up, made sure he got himself a good breakfast, Matt showered, I unloaded the dishwasher and ran some laundry through that had been put on “delay start” to be ready by this time;

7:00AM Matt got picked up to go to the airport so he can spend the next three days in San Francisco;

7:10AM Baxter got picked up for the before-school band practice (last one of the year!), I got Lyle’s breakfast ready and made his lunch and mine, dried my hair, and packed up for work;

8:00AM Lyle and I took the dog to doggy daycare (Gus was so excited when we got there that he jumped up and put his paws on the car dashboard, ejecting the CD that was in there, much to Lyle’s amusement);

8:10AM Lyle and I picked up one girl to take to school;

8:20AM We picked up another girl to take to school;

8:45AM We arrived at school, delivered a left-behind lunchbox to one of the boys in band, and off they all went!

While I was appreciating the complexity of moments like this in our life, the old 10,000 Maniacs song “These are Days” came on WXRT in the car.  Back in 1993, the spring and summer when Matt and I started dating (17 years ago?!) this was a favorite song of ours. It seemed to be playing constantly, everywhere. I can’t hear it without remembering long walks with Matt around St. Paul, Minnesota between classes that spring and watching him skip down the sidewalk and jump over puddles like a big goon. (You may think I’m making fun of him, but this is actually why I started dating him.)  It always makes me smile.

These are days
These are the days you might fill
With laughter until you break
These days you might feel
A shaft of light
Make its way across your face
And when you do
Then you’ll know how it was meant to be
See the signs and know their meaning
It’s true
Then you’ll know how it was meant to be

Those really were the days for us: carefree and easy, little on the “have to” list most of the time as college was winding down for me, hours and hours to be together.

But listening to the song while thinking about our wackadoodle life today seemed perfect, too. Because these are also the days, days filled with laughter and spring flowers and sun and a husband who will be a full partner in the insanity, making a trip to the grocery store for us before leaving town and initiating a conversation with me before bed to figure out how to make a busy morning work for everyone.

It would have been hard to imagine any of it seventeen years ago, but this is good, too. Really good.

To Bike…or…Not to Bike

On Memorial Day two years ago, I wrote a post about the way we taught Baxter to ride his bike without training wheels.  It worked great and he was able to do it in a single afternoon.  The process involves removing both the training wheels and the pedals and essentially creating your own balance bike (these little pedal-less bikes that have become so popular) because the idea is that once the child learns to balance himself you can then add steering and then pedaling and voila! We wished we’d known to do that earlier and vowed to try it sooner with Lyle.

Last summer we were prepared to try it with him, but he was so freaked out about the upcoming kindergarten year that he declared on an almost daily basis that he wanted to be a baby again, NOT a big boy. (Here’s some proof of that.)  Therefore, instead of taking his training wheels off he went back to using his tricycle, tear-assing on that thing around the bike path like it was his job.

Fast forward to this weekend. Lyle was desperate to take his bike out to the park and learn to ride without training wheels. (Yes, he really has come a LONG way; he is also super-pumped about first grade!) And so, Matt took off the training wheels and pedals and once some massive thunderstorms had moved through, we all went to the park.

It started out pretty well.

Getting ready…

The send-off… Look! Feet are off the ground!

He was a little unsure of the landing in the grass but only his pride was hurt.

But then things started to go downhill – and not just his bike. We saw the look on his face and knew things were taking a turn for the worse. After only a few tries we had to take a break on a bench to collect ourselves.  And by “ourselves” I mean “our child”.  We were kind, we were understanding, we tried to figure out what we could do differently to help him. Then we were cheerleaders, letting him know HE COULD DO IT! and YAY HOORAH HOORAY! as we walked back to the top of the rise.

He staged a sit-in.

If you listen hard enough, you can hear the loud wailing. I’m sure of it.

I really wanted Lyle to try again, not because I care if he learns to ride his bike without training wheels this summer but because I know him – and I was pretty sure that if he left the park without some sense of success it would be a very long time before he would attempt it again. But he would not try again. The training wheels went back on.

On the walk home he and I talked about it. I praised him for trying and being so brave, and reminded him of all the times he picked his feet up off the ground.  Lyle confessed that he thought it was going to be easy – I’m sure it looks that way when other people do it.  His expectations were too high. I explained to him that when Baxter did it he learned so quickly because he was 7 1/2 – a full two years older than Lyle is.  That seemed to help a bit.

We’ll see if he’ll try anytime soon but we made sure he knew that anytime he wants to attempt it again we’ll take the training wheels off.  In the meantime I’m focusing on how many ways Lyle has come out of his shell this past year and moved out of his comfort zone.  Only he can control that, and that’s the way it should be. The rest of us just need to sit tight and enjoy the ride.