Thursday, March 31, 2011

Super Boy!

Grandma left a neat little towel that had the letters of the aleph-bet on it, arranged like a seeing eye chart. She figured, correctly, that he would like seeing the letters that he loves. However, an interesting thing happened when he found the towel: "This is my superhero cape!" he announced.

The Boy might be somewhat familiar with super heroes. Besides my comic book obsession and the fact that he's dragged to the comic book store every week with me, he's also had numerous cardboard books with superheroes on it. He's watched a large number of hours of superhero shows, such as the "Batman: the Brave and the Bold" cartoon and the "Super Hero Squad" cartoon, among others. So, The Boy knows his heroes. He's also loved an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, where Goofy puts on a towel-cape and decides that he's Super Goof! The gang helps Goofy show off his powers in various ways.

So, yesterday, like Super Goof, he spent about two hours showing off his super hero cape and flying to the rescue. He decided that he had three super powers: he can fly, he can run really fast, and he's super strong. I helped him "fly" around the house, and he can already run pretty fast for a dude with stubby little legs. He lifted various things above his head, like his beanbag chair and a bucket full of little toys, to show his super strength. And, first thing this morning, he tracked down his cape and wanted to bring it to school.

YouTube Video

There's few things more adorable than a little boy with his hand stretched out in front of him "flying" around the house. It's such a wonderful, normal, fun thing for a little person to pretend. Plus, it's important for the development of imagination (something that might be a priority in the Musical household) for him to start pretending and role playing.

It's been an interesting couple of weeks for him, because I really think that he's hit another level, developmentally. His speech has become clearer and more full: his sentences are beginning to parse correctly, and he's filling in all of the words instead of leaving off part of the sentence. He's responding to requests more fully, and he can follow multi-part directions quite well without further prompting. (Example: "The Boy, will you pick this up, take this into the kitchen, and put it in the sink, please?") He won't necessarily do it, but he's capable of it. He's also been eating like a horse lately, which is likely the precursor to a growth spurt.

Or he's just really liked dinners lately. Either or.


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Baseball Season: Predictions Blowout!

After the long, cold, dark teatime of the soul, baseball season is finally here! There are few things that get me quite so excited. I'm fanatical about the game and about my Yankees. It's ironic that I now live in Pittsburgh, which is the polar opposite, baseball-wise, from Yankeeland. Baseball is in its 18th consecutive losing season, which is a baseball all-time record and, I'm fairly certain, an all-time record surpassed only by the Washington Generals. The Pirates have seen player after player fail spectacularly; when the players succeed, they are traded out of town for prospects.

This offseason, the Yankees spent $130 million on free agents, and it was considered a slow offseason. They resigned Jeter and Rivera, signed Soriano to shore up the bullpen, and retooled the bench with ... well ... the sort of players that the Pirates are using as starters. The Pirates, on the other hand, picked up a handful of castoff pitchers from other organizations, and those pitchers are now the foundation of the starting rotation. The amount of money that the Pirates have spent on their entire team is less than the left side of the Yankees infield. This was actually kind of an exciting offseason for the Pirates.

Yankees, 2011: expected to win the wild card, contend for the division, and fight to get into the World Series. Pirates, 2011: hoping that some player continue to develop enough to win 70-75 games and finish in fifth place out of six teams. Yankees: best rivalry in sports with the hated Boston Red Sox. Pirates: next best rivalry in the NL Central with the team called "95 losses."

Anyway, onto the predictions. The predictions have been influenced a little bit by several different prediction systems, but it's mostly based on my gut and intuition. To be honest, picking the baseball winners is much like picking your bracket in the NCAA tournament: you're not going to get it right, so have fun with it.

AL East: Boston, New York (wild card), Tampa, Toronto, Baltimore

Boston is not that much better than the Yankees, contrary to popular belief. The mix of Gonzalez and Youkalis will not likely put up significantly better numbers than Beltre and Youkalis did last year, although Crawford will be an upgrade. The rest of the team is not likely to be as injured; last year's Red Sox were freaky-unlucky in injuries for the year. Offensively, the Yanks and the Sox are similar with a slight edge to the Yanks. Defensively, they are a push. Pitching, Boston has a slight edge over the Yanks with the potential of a huge edge. Tampa's still a very good team, but I think the time to shape a bullpen is going to be disastrous in their division hopes. Toronto is an exciting and fun team, but not quite good enough to make a difference. Baltimore will be better than previous years but don't have the pitching to be an issue.

AL Central: Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota, Cleveland, Kansas Ciy

I'm going with gut here. I just think Detroit is due. Minny and Chicago are likely better teams, but I think Detroit will put it all together. Minnesota seems to be doing it with some smoke and mirrors, and I don't think they will be able to hold off improved teams. Cleveland is that unfortunate state of mediocrity that is just difficult to fix, and I think it's going to get worse before it gets better. KC has what is widely regarded as the best farm system in the game, and they will be a fun team to watch this summer when the kids come to play.

AL West: Oakland, Texas, Anaheim, Seattle

Seattle might just be the worst team in baseball this year - even worse than the Pirates, although they have the best pitcher in Felix Hernandez. I don't see how they've gotten any better than they were last year except in the reason that it would be difficult to replicate such futility two years in a row. Texas without Cliff Lee might still win the division, but I want to root for Oakland. Oakland has a great young pitching staff and an interesting team. I want the underdog to win, here, even though it would be kind of cool to see Texas do a better job in the World Series than they did last year.

NL East: Atlanta, Philadelphia (wild card), Florida, Washington, New York

The Mets might have one of the most boring large-market teams in the game. David Wright is a boring superstar. Jose Reyes is exciting until he's hurt and missed two months with various hamstring issues. Etcetera. Philly has, on paper, one of the greatest starting pitching lineups in the history of divisional play. I just don't think they are going to keep it all together, without even mentioning the bullpen issues and offensive woes - the loss of Utley might be devastating. Florida is an interesting team every year, way overachieving.

NL Central: Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Houston

Here's a couple of hope-me picks. I want Milwaukee to do it, because they've been so mediocre for so long. I want Marcum and Greinke to be healthy and effective all season long. I want Fielder and Braun to be monsters at the plate. There is so much than go wrong that is a low probability pick - but I want it. Cincy has a better team and a better staff. Chicago has a more-upside potential team. St. Louis is St. Louis - always going to be in contention. But, I want Milwaukee to do it. Please also note that I think Houston will be last this year, as I hope Pgh takes that last step forward before an interesting 2012.

NL West: Colorado, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona

I actually think that this might be the most compelling division in baseball. Any of the top four teams could pull this off, I think. Every team has a strong part and significant weak parts. Frisco has great starters, but not bottom rotation guys and offensive players. LA has lots of career underachievers, although I love Don Mattingly and hope he does well. San Diego was a game or two away from winning the division. If it wasn't for that pesky ten game losing streak in September...

World Series: New York vs Milwaukee, New York in five.

Most Valuable Yankee: Brett Gardner
Most Underachieving Yankee: Mark Teixiera
Most Improved From Last Year: AJ Burnett
Most Age Ignoring: Mariano Rivera
Aging Before Your Eyes: Derek Jeter



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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Journey's End

Tuesday morning, we went to a restaurant called, "The Train Diner," which was exciting for The Boy because he could read the words in the restaurant's sign. Train is a word he's learned from Super Why. After breakfast, we got to the bris at 9:30 for a 10:00 start. No problem.

The bris, for those that don't know, is the ceremony in which a new baby boy is circumcised. It's a short ceremony, run by a mohel, who leads the praying and does the choppy-choppy. It's always done on the eighth day of life.

Of course, that 10:00 was 10:00 Newfoundland time, which meant a 10:30 start. That extra half hour was absolute disaster, as our boys started behaving like bored little boys: running around, jumping around, climbing on stuff, getting hungry when they saw the food... In short, our kids became "those kids." Sigh. Win some and lose some.

When the ceremony started, things became close to normal. Little Bear wandered around and tried to climb onto the bimah (altar for you goyim) numerous times, despite pleas of, "Little Bear, if you climb up there, they might go nuts and try to do yours again!" The Boy was his usual nice self, staying with The Wife all the way through the service.

The reception was quite nice, and the boys played with some of the half dozen other small children and we ate very tasty food. We left after a while, after I got my little baby fix and held the cute little man. Compared to my children, the new baby seems even smaller. Going from the 30-ish pounds of Little Bear to seven-ish pounds of new baby is startling!

The boys were quite good during the drive to Harrisburg. They slept for the first hour then were quite pleasant for the remainder of the drive. They were singing along with the songs, which was really cute! The Boy is actually starting to put words, notes, and rhythms together in almost-singing. He was even working on getting the clapping and spelling in the BINGO song! Little Bear isn't quite there yet, but he does do all the body and hand motions during the Wheels on the Bus song.


The Boy even told us that he had to go to the potty during the trip! We stopped at the next exit and went inside to use the potty. We got to Aunt M's in time for dinner, then the boys had an amazing time playing with Aunt M and Uncle B and cousins. I'm pleased and happy that The Boy is starting to play very nicely with other people, even playing some games!

We got up this morning and drove back to Pittsburgh by lunchtime. The boys were wonderfully well behaved during the trip, with good potty visits and good behavior in the car. We sang songs together. The Boy played with a memory game toy from Grandma for most of the trip, and Little Bear played with some books and listened to music.


All in all, it was a nice, simple, and easy trip. The best thing about being unemployed is that we can travel to see our friends during their good times. Seeing a bris - taking part in the introduction to the world of a friend's new baby - is something really, really special for us. Most of the time, we have these quick trips because of a funeral; it's nice to see friends during the other end of things.


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Monday, March 28, 2011

Travel Along, Singing a Song

Today was spent driving from Pittsburgh to my father's house in New Jersey. Tomorrow morning is the bris for a great friend's first baby, Ad we are attending. I mean, why not? It's not like we have to take off from work.

Sigh.

Anyway, we loaded up the car last night, got up nice and early, had breakfast at home, then left. The first chunk of the car trip was really quite nice. We played the end of the album by the group Max Q, called "For the Children." The end has a great bit with a medley of songs that we all know: "Sing a Song," "The Alphabet Song," and "Itsy Bitsy Spider," among others. The Boy sung along with all of the songs, even trying to get the timing and spelling in BINGO correct. Little Bear tried to keep up, as well, getting some of the clapping and stomping done with enthusiasm if not accuracy.






Long story short, through Harrisburg, we made it without any issues. No irritation, no arguing, just fun singing along with the music, listening to the stories, taking quick naps, and having a very nice snack. Harrisburg was a great rest stop - Aunt M had a delicious lunch waiting for us, and the boys were so excited to see her! The Boy was positively bouncing up and down to see her, which is so nice to see.



The rest of the trip to NJ was... difficult. Not horrendously so, just trying and difficult. The boys were fighting constantly, and they wouldn't allow themselves to be pacified. None of us were particularly comfortable in the car, particularly the boys trapped in car seats and The Wife six months pregnant.

Getting the boys to bed was also a challenge. The Boy went down watching Batman on the iPad, but Little Bear wasn't having any of it. He outlasted The Boy by a fair chunk, and he's outgrown the cripple in which he's sleeping. We're fairly sure he's going to vault out of it at some point tonight. Sigh.



The rest of the night was wonderful. Uncle B stopped by for dinner and a visit, as did my brother and his family. The boys got lots of wonderful attention and got to show off how much they grown since January, when they saw them last. It's always interesting when we bring The Boy around people who haven't seen him much since his remission started. There's such a stark difference, both in his physical activity level and in his mental development.

He is sleeping in his own bed, though likely not for long.

Best statement of the night came from Uncle B: "Congratulations, Musical Daddy. You've gotten what you've always wanted: normal boys."


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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Little Bear

Today, I had a nice, big chunk of time to spend with Little Bear. It was really, really nice to spend it with him, because he's such a nice, sweet little man. He's growing up so quickly, and he's learning new skills and things every day.


I enjoy the fact that he takes more interest in the musical side of things. He loves poking his head into my quartet rehearsals and sitting on my lap while we sing our songs. He requests songs from us, will shake his head when we try to sing something different, and he will ask us to sing it again and again until he's gotten enough. He also does a nice job filling in words on familiar songs. Interestingly enough, today, he recognized the Elmo Song when I played it on the piano, and he asked for it by name a few minutes later.

When he's played outside the last couple of times, he's asked to go in the swing, where he's stayed for twenty to hurry minutes at a time. He gets mad when you take him out of it! He does do a great job of climbing the ladder, playing with the ship wheel and telescope, and sliding down the slide without any help. I'm proud of him for that. I remember wht it was like for The Boy at a similar age, and it's lightyears apart. The Boy couldn't get up the ladder without help at that point, and it was still difficult for him at 24 months. Little Bear does it at 20, and he does it without any problems.

Little Bear is starting to talk in two and three word sentences.


He'll ask, "Where's Mum?" and he'll say, "The Boy over there!" It's really quite cute. He's quite verbal, much moreso than his brother. I'm not sure if the cancer treatment has anything to do with it - I think it's just his personality. He likes the sound of his voice and he likes to talk.

The other fun thing about him is how he loves to wander from room to room, usually carrying a piece or two of food with him. Tonight, he carried a slice of orange in each hand as he went around the house. He goes into a room, reads a book, plays with a toy, tries to get into something he shouldn't, then moves on to the next room. It's kind of exhausting trying to keep up with him, but he always has a big smile.

Bedtime is fun with him, also. He loves stories, and he loves when you read to him. He likes to watch some Goodnight Moon on video before ed, and if he doesn't get his song, he won't sleep.

He's an interesting little boy, and I can't wait to get to know him better!


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Sing a Song

Over the last couple of weeks or so, we've noticed a very pleasant change come into The Boy's development: singing! Specifically, requesting certain songs that he prefers and singing along with the words. In addition, he's started to sing songs while he colors or plays or does puzzles or walks, just like his parents tend to do. This is a wonderful development, because of a number of reasons: the fact that we enjoy singing even mores when we can sing with a boy or boys, and because his hearing is still at a point that allows him to start learning and appreciating music.

This afternoon, he started singing the words to the muppet song, "Sing a Song." I'm certain that it's been done by other people, but that's the performing group most known by it. It was spontaneous and unprompted - The Wife and I were shocked, because we didn't think that he knew that song. When we got in the car to drive to the Pittsburgh Mills mall, I played the tracks from the wonderful Max Q album, "For the Children," and The Boy started singing along with the songs that he knew.

He's done that in the past, most notably with "You've Got A Friend in Me" and with songs from Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog, but not with this much rhythmic and pitch awareness. It's really nice to hear! He's not singing in tune, yet, but he's doing quite a good job for his age.

Little Bear has been developing along the same path as his brother, just a bit more accelerated. He's reacting to songs more, and he requests songs on a regular basis. He loves when people sing to him, and he will frequently ask for a song to be sung "again!" He doesn't like going to bed without Mom or Daddy singing him a song, usually the barbershop standard, "Story of the Rose (Heart of my Heart)." He doesn't sing along, but he does an exceptional job at filling in words when you pause and let him think about it for a second. That leads me to believe that he's singing along, albeit mentally.

I need to do some ore research and reading on young children's musical development and see what milestones are ahead for my kids. I'd love to accelerate them, because I'd love to be able to bring my kids to a barbershop afterglow and sing a tag or three with them - I know that they'd appreciate it and be the center of all the attention that they could possibly want, if I could teach them a couple of tags each.

No, I don't intend on being one of "those" parents who pushes a performing career on their children. I just want to share something that has been so meaningful and brilliant to my life and the life of the rest of my family.


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Friday, March 25, 2011

Mixed Messages

While The Boy was at school today, I took Little Bear down to the JCC for their little persons' Shabbat celebration. We had a very pleasant surprise: three (including me) of the seven parent/grandparents there were men! It's nice to see other dudes like me, who have a Sugar Momma that takes care of them. At the end of the little service, three went home, leaving me, one man, and two grandmas. One of the grandsons was older than Little Bear by six or seven months (needless to say, my kid was bigger and stronger than that one, which turned out to be not-so- relevant to the discussion but still fun to point out), and this little boy was a biter. He bit one of the littler girls, whose father took it in stride and comforted the girl. It's unfortunate, he knew, but it's what happens when groups of children get together. They act like children.



The grandma absolutely flipped her lid, yelled at the boy and carried over to the corner for a time out. She remarked that she wanted to wash the boy's mouth out with soap, but the boy's mother wouldn't let her. This spurred the discussion of the various times that the parents of the previous generation or two beat the living tar out of the people there, usually richly deserved and warranted. After various posturing by parents there about what they'd do to their kids in various situations ("If my girl ran out into the street, I'd beat the crap out of her. That'd teach her not to do it again!"), I finally spoke up.

"I'd like to think that I can find a better way to discipline my children that doesn't involve beating them."

Gentle Readers, most of you know me well enough by now to know that I am, by far, not a violent person. Far from it - I'm a Teddy bear, all bark and very, very little bite. I'm a big, strong weight lifter, who'd rather break a fistr smashing a wall than dare to attack another person, much less my beloved sons. I will confess the occasional desire to backhand one of them when they're being particularly malicious and mean, but I'm more likely to soak my head in a used toilet bowl than to follow that irrational impulse.

I was asked what I would do if that were my kid. The answer is, I'm not entirely sure. Biting is a phase that many, many kids go through, and most of them outgrow it before high school. It's an attention thing. His mom is pregnant, and the house is consumed with preparing things for the new baby. He's likely feeling that pressure and tension and trying to get the stable, familiar living situation back. The only way he can control things is by biting. That is my dime-store psychological assessment. I told them that I'd first remove the boy from the situation and talk it through with him. When he was calmer and more rational, I'd ask him to apologize to the little girl and promise not to do it again.

He'd do it again, for sure. It's something that he needs to outgrow. He needs to find another outlet for aggression and another way to get the attention of the people around him. It's possible that washings his mouth out with soap might cure him of the habit - if he relates the soap to the biting. I think it more likely, at two years old, that he doesn't white understand the connection between the punishment and the action. Given enough times, he'd figure the connection out, but how many times is that - 10? 15? 50?

My older son still has a hard time deciding to stop his activity and going to the potty, because that one extra piece of the puzzle is worth having wet pants. That might be a losing proposition.

And, where does it stop? If you wash his mouth out with soap for biting, what do you do for hitting? Hit his hands? Hit him? What if he pushes a kid in school? Gets in a fight? Cheats on a test? At what points does the physical violence against the child become too much? When do you, as a parent, decide, "Well, it's not working when I beat the he'll out of kid, so let's find an alternate solution?"

Taking the other tack: what if it is the most efficient and effective solution? What if smacking The Boy on his behind when he has an accident is the best motivation? Fear, and fear of failure, is the biggest motivator in my life. Well, that and proving wrong people who've thought little of me, which amounts to the same thing. Is it right or wrong to help encourage that very necessary dollop of fear into my sons' lives? Is extrinsic punishment a fitting complement to intrinsic reward?

I don't really have the answer to that statement. I hope that I'm doing the right thing in the way that I'm choosing to raise my sons. I hope that unconditional love, a calm and steady household (ha!), positive reinforcement of habits we like, a redirection or ignoring of habits we don't, and a love of learning and reading and exploring and fun will be enough to mold my sons into fine, upstanding young men who are ready to succeed on their own merits.

Or to be like me: unemployed, living in their wife's parents house, writing blogs about children who are finally sleeping in their own room.

Sigh.

If you're interested, people started looking kind of uncomfortable when I said that I wasn't so into beating my children to punish them for things that they might not quite understand. The topic turned to discipline in the classroom - the aforementioned grandma was also a school teacher. Sigh. She would have been the classroom teacher that absolutely hated me. I can tell that. I eat people like her for lunch, and the kids know it, and she knows it.


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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pyrrhic Victory

With wakeups and freak outs at 12:30 and 2 (the last one including a crying boy for nearly 90 minutes), The Boy spent the entire night in his room.



Let's hope night three will be easier.


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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nighttime Number Two

So, The Boy is now asleep in his own bed, in his own room. I tried a slightly different tact tonight: when I got home from my meeting, I did a puzzle with The Boy downstairs, then did upstairs things like teeth, then he asked to watch an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which is one of our favorite television shows. He was asleep before the middle part, when the Music Meister (ably voiced by Neil Patrick Harris) sings the punk rock song about the death trap in which he's placed Batman. I left him in the bed and came downstairs.



I do feel a bit dishonest, as my wife put it last night, about getting him to sleep and then sneaking out of the room. I understand that, long term, it's not the way to do things. He needs to know what's going on, and he needs to be a part of the decisions. Right now, he feels alone and powerless when it comes to the bedtime things, and that doesn't help. He's also having a hard time dealing with the change in sleeping habits, and The Boy is not one who adapts to change easily.

That's not entirely true; most of the big, big changes have caused no more than the expected trauma. But, this is the first time we've changed his status quo in quite some time. He's treasured his sleeping time, and he's treasured his snuggle time with Daddy in particular, and that's making this whole process more challenging.



Regardless, he'll get used to this. I think it's the best thing for all of us - and that's me being a selfish father, because I really want some measure of control of my life back. I'm willing to be Daddy 23.5 hours per day. I'd love the extra half hour of post-bedtime adult time, where I can be husband, friend, recording artist, reader, or just plain Musical Daddy.

Last night, he made it until 2am, Grandma said, not 4. Apparently, he was wandering around downstairs, looking for us, when she found him. Tonight, we put the gate up and shepherd him into our room. We love when Grandma helps, but we'd prefer it NOT be lost and found.


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Limited Success

If you had the over (see last post), you'd be correct. The Boy made it until around 4am, when he came out into the hallway and was thinking about going downstairs. Grandma intercepted and put him back to bed, which lasted another 45 minutes. He spent most of that time playing with his chalkboard and letters and reading his books, then he came into bed with us and fell asleep for the rest of the night.

Now it's time for breakfast and getting a tired little boy off to school, then I'll spend a chunk of today working with the contractor before The Wife goes to orchestra and I go to a board meeting of my chorus.


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Monday, March 21, 2011

The Grand Experiment

So, The Boy's new room is about 75% done. The bed itself is built, even though the drawers that go underneath aren't completed yet. The armoire is built, even though we're still waiting on the doors and drawers. No big deal, because it's all custom built furniture and takes a little bit of time. The door and new wall are done and painted, the hvac is updated and comfortable, and he has a shelf full of books, a bean bag chair, and a wall mounted chalkboard. Everything a letter-obsessed three year old could possibly want!

We've been pushing the idea of him sleeping in his room and in his new be for a couple of weeks now, ever since Grandma nailed down the contractor time. He's been excited and anxious to move into his new room for some time, and he asks several times per day to go into his room and play. (He needs adult supervision right now because the adjoining room - the rest of the sun room - has tools and tiles and two by fours and things that are put away but accessible to a motivated child.)

We were given the okay by the contractor to move The Boy into the room, so we immediately started the "tonight's the night!" spiel. Even when I got home from barbershop and retrieved him from Grandma, he was excited. We did teeth and potty, we picked out a couple of books from our room (creating a nice bridge of the bedtime routine, I thought), and went into his room. He wanted a few minutes of play time, which I was more than glad to grant. We got into his bed after he said he was done, and I read him a half dozen short stories, then I turned his light out,

Freak out! Like, epic freak out.

Long story short, the lights in his room are hundred watt flourescent bulbs, four of them in recessed lighting. He wanted those on, despite a couple of night lights. Okay. He cried until Mom relieved me, read another story or two, then fell asleep and stayed asleep when she left.

So, it's now 11pm, and for the first time in almost a year, The Boy is sleeping by himself in a different (non-Grandma-snuggling) room. We figure that the over-under for him to come find us is 1am, which is fine. For me, I really need that post-bedtime adult time. I need that time to spend talking with my wife (not too much talking, because that seems to lead to more children, and 3 is fine for now), watching television, doing recording projects, learning music, playing some games... you know, doing stuff that is not child-related.

It's weird having this much room in the bed. I wonder if he'll wander down the hall into the bedroom or if he'll just sit in bed and scream?


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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dead-on Accurate

The Boy finished his business on the potty this morning, and I was in the living room chasing after his little brother. He pulled his pants up and came inside after us, and I intercepted him and pulled him back into the bathroom to clean up. I told him I was going to wipe his bum, and the following exchange happened:

"No, Daddy, you don't want to wipe my bum!"

"True. Wiping your bum is not high on my list. However, it's higher than dealing with dirty clothes and rashes."

"I don't need to wipe my bum!"

"Sigh."


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Location:Reynolds St,Pittsburgh,United States

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Substitute What?

Ah, substitute teaching: all the joys of regular teaching without the respect, money, benefits and vacation days. With just 60 college credits, you too can enjoy working for $75 per day, no paid sick days, no benefits, no actual communication from the schools (in regards to snow days, etc), no respect from teachers and students and administration and parents, and about a 30-70 chance that the teacher did not leave any plans to guide your day. There's a good chance that the plans are at least two months out of date, meaning that the students will be even more irritated because they're doing activities that they did before Christmas.

Can you tell that I'm not particularly excited about substitute teaching? Even after the exciting and informative substitute teaching seminar and information session? Granted, this particular district pays fairly well: $90 per day, with no chance of increase after the usual 40 days in one assignment. Do that math, folks. If you work 180 in the school year (assuming no snow or sick days, remembering that you get paid half for half days, even though half days are actually 2/3 days in terms of hours worked, then you are pulling home approximately $16,000 per year.

The estimated poverty line in the US for 2011 is $22,300, according to Wikipedia.

True, your day is over at 2:30 or 3:00, but you've also started working at 7:00 in the morning. That second job, which might run from 4 to 10 or 11, doesn't seem quite so attractive. Necessary, if you want those little luxuries of food, electricity and water, and a place to live, but not attractive.

Ah, please sign me up. That's something that I'm looking forward to doing. True, there's the potential for being hired out of your time as a substitute teacher. There is a non-zero chance that competently substitute teaching will positively impact your potential employment in the district. We all have heard the stories of people subbing for a few years in a district before finally landing their dream teaching job. Hopefully that'll be the case for my wife or myself.

I'm not optimistic. I'm more expecting doing a thankless, difficult job for little money while being teased with the potential probability of later full-time employment. At least while temping, the other workers don't try to make your life more miserable.


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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

School Daze

Today was one of those interesting days where you're not sure why, but the day seems to have been a crappy one. It started out well, with a nice family breakfast and an uneventful dressing of children. It went downhill from there, with both children throwing stereo fits while we packed them in the car to take The Boy to school.

The school is a nice place. It's in a reform temple, in a huge campus in Oakland. The classroom is a typical sort of toddler room: a reading rug in the corner, a train table, Legos, some tables for eating lunch and doing art projects, and teeny little potties in a side room. Outside in the hallway are the little cubbies for hanging jackets. Each kid has a picture or pictures hanging there. There's also a plastic case for holding pencils and pens and such on the top of the cubby.

The Boy had no problems staying at school when we left, even though Little Bear wanted to stay. The Boy's teachers remarked that Little Bear would have absolutely no problems staying at school for a couple of hours!

The Wife dropped me off at home, and she took the little one to the store. I took about two hours to clean off the top of my dresser and shoe cabinet. I smoothly transitioned into organizing six months's worth of personal papers.

The biggest deals are the hospital papers. There's two different insurances, the doctor's bills, the hospital bills, the emergency room doctor's bills, assorted other bills, assorted other medical test results. I'm not looking forward to getting those in order, as well as resuming the good fight with stupid and undertrained billing workers. The Wife has been handling that lately, but it's my turn.

Anyway, we went to pick up The Boy from school at the appointed time. We fed the boys lunch, and we tried to settle down for naps. It was with mixed results, and I eventually gave up to go get my fingerprints in order for teaching and taught a lesson.

Putting the boys to bed was more difficult than it should have been. Bottom line, Little Bear decided to stay up later than his big brother, and it made bedtime a little more interesting. That's never a good time,

It's hard to figure out why today felt like an overall negative. The Wife was tired and a little stressed out today, which probably didn't help. I accomplished a little bit of stuff off of my to do list, but not enough for me to actually make a difference. Still, progress towards goal and all that.

We'll see. Tomorrow, I'm spending a chunk of the day helping fix up The Boy's new room. It should be interesting.


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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ice skating

Today, we tried to take The Boy ice skating at the Shenley Park rink. It's an outdoor skating rink, and the day was perfect for it: around 40 degrees, with no sun.

The interesting thing about the whole experience was how excited The Boy was. He was talking about it all day, which was unusual for him. Usually, he's resistant to going anywhere at all, because of our aforementioned sense of momentum. The Boy was talking about going ice skating all morning, even talking about it to Grandma and Grandpa. Normally, he complains bitterly about going anywhere.

So, we drove and hunted for the rink. Neither of us had been at this particular rink before, and I haven't been ice skating in around 25 years. (Side note: it's odd that I'm talking about things that happened over a quarter century ago,) The Wife had done it slightly more recently than that, but it had been more than fifteen years for her,

We got The Boy a set of double bladed skates, which in retrospect turned out to be a bit of a problem. What we should have gotten - didn't know that it was available - was a set of the skates that attach to the bottom of his shoes. I know that ice skating purists (are there those?) are likely cringing, but we're first looking to get The Boy comfortable and having fun before we start to teach him proper ice skating form. We got our skates as well (mine just never tightened enough, and I always felt like my ankles were in imminent danger) and brought The Boy on the ice.

He was so excited about the whole thing, at first. He was even intrigued by walking in the skates. It's a different balance system than his normal walking, which made it somewhat interesting for him. Once we got about twenty feet onto the ice, he started to really panic. It was slippery, it was hard, and he was absolutely out of his own control, despite being held firmly by Mum and Daddy. He had a complete breakdown about three quarters of the way around the circle.

The day was somewhat salvaged by treats at the rink and at Dunkin Donuts, but he was quite loud and vociferous about his dislike for ice skating at the end of the day and at bedtime. I'm not certain if this is something we're going to be able to do right now. Discretion being the better part of valor, we will probably wait until next year, when both boys can go.

And, we'll get the skates that strap onto his shoes.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Television

This is not about my children, so feel free to go to the next or prior entry. The last one was about how funny The Boy is, and the next one will be tomorrow after going ice skating with him,

I'm watching some recorded stuff from my TiVo right now, and I'm stunned at the sudden realization that I just don't give a crap about most of it. I'm watching a handful of shows that have run in the last couple of weeks: Fringe, Chuck, Smallville, Tosh.0, and Young Justice. These are all shows that I usually really enjoy, and yet I have had no motivation to watch them over the past couple of weeks.

The hard bit is figuring out why I feel this way. The recent ones might be because I bought an iPad yesterday, and I'm considerably more interested in playing with it than I am doing anything else. Some of it is the fact that, by the time that I help get The Boy to bed, I'm exhausted and ready to sleep. Some of it is due to the fact that the networks have been moving around the shows and skipping weeks, breaking me entirely out of the momentum of watching the television shows.

I understand that, for the most part, appointment television is dead. When I was watching the last season of Lost, I made time to watch it live. When we watched Battlestar Galactica, we made time on Friday nights to watch it live. Nothing since, really. And, when there just seems to be better things to do, it's really hard to sit down for forty-five minutes and watching a show that isn't interesting enough to begin with.

Chuck has been disappointing this season - crossed the line from campy fun to just campy. Fringe has been great, as usual; I'm just no investing in it because it's now in Fox's death slot on Friday nights and will likely be gone fter this year. I watch a lot of Tosh, and I'll usually watch the cartoons (Young Justice, Clone Wars) because I can have them on while the kids are playing in the room. But, for the first time in a while, I'm noir wtching the Simpsons or Family Guy, and it took me nearly two months to watch the last couple of episode of South Park, one of my favorites.

It's priorities, I guess. I've been spending so much time at work, with the boys, and doing lessons and barbershop stuff. Watching television has not been a high priority. Neither had blogging, really, but the iPad makes it a lot more palatable. I've been trying to do more reading lately, and I've been trying to actually talk with my wife for a little while on a regular basis. Sigh.

What do you guys no longer do, that you used to be near-obsessive about?

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Children

So, this morning we had the fun experience of taking The Boy to breakfast. His brother came also, but he's generally a lot easier to get out of the door. The Boy, on the other hand, loves to make a huge fuss about everything.

Mom felt like going out for pancakes this morning, so we headed out to the new IHOP that opened up on the other side of town. We were all up at 7:00 or so, so we had plenty of time. Little Bear got dressed with minimal fuss. The Boy started complaining right away: "I don't like pancakes! I don't like going out for breakfast! I want to stay home!"

"Mum wants to go out, so we're going out." "NO! I don't like Mum! I want to go to the living room!"

So, we threw him into the car and went to IHOP. Once there, he got very excited. "Daddy! We're going for pancakes! I love pancakes! I can't wait to have pancakes!"

And, of course, he got mad when we had to leave the restaurant. Sigh. He's a creature of momentum, that's for sure. Once he's moving, he's great. Until then, it's difficult.


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Friday, March 11, 2011

Cruelty

Tonight, the four of us went to the JCC for a Shabbat dinner. The JCC does this every other month or so - might even be every month, but it's been a couple of months since we've been able to go. It's pretty well attended by the local Jewish community, with a nice mix of parents and kids from all walks of life and branches of Judaism. Plus, they have challah bread, which might be my favorite.

Anyway, next week is the holiday Purim, which is one of those "they tried to kill us, they filed, let's eat" holidays. Not important, but not unimportant, you know? Kind of like a social occasion as much as anything else. The kids all get dressed up in costumes and everybody has lots of fun. At the dinner tonight, they had costumes and masks for playing, geared towards the littler ones. The Boy had a wonderful time with the masks, putting them on. And making appropriate animal noises while playing with his brother.

Anyone know what sounds a giraffe makes? Just wondering.

Anyway, two of the kids there started to make fun of The Boy because he wanted to wear the butterfly mask. I didn't witness this, but The Wife did. I guess they were calling him a little girl or some such nonsense. The Boy didn't understand that he was being mocked' which was just as well. There's plenty of time for that later on in life, so I'm not sad that he's taking a while to understand that particular aspect of social relations.

As a parent, I understand my duties in situations like that: steer The Boy away from the idiotic parties and towards a more positive set of circumstances. Ignore the children until they say something really offensive. Let their parents know you don't approve of their behavior if it won't exacerbate the situation. Don't fight for the child unless asked or unless they're really in over their heads, as any parental involvement I'll make the situation worse for him, long term.

Children are amazingly cruel creatures to each other. Adults aren't much better, but we've evolved centuries of traditions that create certain expectations when entering into negotiations with other adults. Kids are trying to feel that out and to create their own pace in the world, which leads to some interesting results. Adults are just as cruel; they are just usually more subtle about showing it publicly.

So, how does one prepare one's children to take part in that world? I don't know. I responded to that by becoming a smart aleck and by learning how to cultivate a couple of friends in most social groups. Therefore, I become funny enough that I was usually left alone. The Wife had a much harder time than I did and had a particularly difficult time at her first middle school because of the private religious school environment. Transferring her to the public school solved many of those issues.

What she and I both have in common was that we were raised by unconditionally loving parents in a. Supportive environment, where cruelty and insult were not part of the daily routine. Sure, we both got the business from our siblings, but that's normal sibling relations and not anything extraordinary. We were both taught to use our own abilities and accomplishments to build our self-esteem and to find our own friends and our own niche, without society necessarily locking us into onje particular place and tine.

I think I can do that for my boys. I can teach them to watch out for each other, to stick up for each other, and to help each other on a daily basis. I can teach my children how to fight their own battles, knowing that they are going to lose their one fair share of them. I can provide my kids with unconditional love and support, and I can make their home a safe environment for them to develop comfort and security. I can try to model good interpersonal relations, to show them different solutions for dealing with difficult people and to show them how to deal with people mocking them or insulting them.

I can teach my children that fighting is a last resort - but, if they have to, to have their brother watch their back and to knock someone into next week. Robert Heinlein, in s sardonic fashion, put it best: "The quick and brutal application of violence has solved more problems than any other method in human history. [sic]" We don't en courage fighting but we do encourage winning the fight if it happens.

I still think that Little Bear is going to wind up being the brawler in the family. Just a hunch.

I'm not looking forward to the day that The Boy realizes that people are mocking him. I just hope that I'm ready for it.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Daily Life

Wednesday, I took a day off from work. Grandma and Grandpa were in the shop getting their respective oils changed / tires rotated / wiper blades and headlights changed out, and Mom was teaching, so I stayed home and took care of the boys. I was looking forward to getting a chance to sleep later in the morning: waking up at 7:30 with the boys is a far cry from the normal 5:15AM. Of course, they had other plans.

The Boy and I both fell asleep around 9:15 / 9:30. It was glorious. Yes, I would have liked to have watched some of the backlog of television shows that TiVo has saved. The sleep was apparently more important. He woke up at 1AM, basically screaming in pain and almost entirely nonverbal about it.

To a large extent, here's where being a cancer parent has paid off. Young parents would panic, and a trip to the emergency room might ensue. Certainly, a much more dramatic reaction would have occurred. Instead, we took him to the potty, assuming that belly discomfort is the likeliest explanation. Nope. So, I soothed him back to sleep, eventually, and then took care of him the next two times he woke up until 4AM, when he fell asleep for good. I did, too, but the "damage" was done - no sleep for Daddy.

He had a recurrence of the ear infection from a week or two ago. The doctor prescribed a different antibiotic for us. This is to be expected; after all, he hasn't been around other kids until this January, so he's going to pick up two or three years' worth of infections all at once. Plus, I feel that having the hearing aids in his ears for hours at a time contributes somewhat to the possibility of infection. Not a huge contribution, but a contribution nonetheless.

Lucky us.

So, my plans were: sleep a bit later, have a nice breakfast, take the kids to an indoor play area until lunch, then nap, then comic book store, then play until bedtime. Real life: no sleep, feed one child breakfast while chasing the other, switch, take The Boy to the doctors' office for a nice 45-minute wait, go to the drugstore, have a short rest, chase after the boys, take one to the comic book store, play and soothe until bedtime.

Life is what happens to us while we're busy making plans.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Progress Towards Goal

This week, Grandma is making some minor construction improvements in the house in preparation for the arrival of the new baby. In the upstairs "Sun Room" (the room that is most sun-facing in the house, which is basically all windows that don't open but create a wonderful atmosphere), we're going to fence off half the place, build a bed / armoire thing, a bench around the windowed area, a new drop ceiling, and a wall. This will create a new little room, suitable for: The Boy! We're actually going to try to give The Boy his own room, and he's starting to get excited about it.

He excitedly showed me the construction drawing, saying, "That's going to be The Boy's new bed, Daddy! This is for The Boy's room!" Granted, there's a big step in between getting excited about the concept of something and him actually sleeping in his own bed for any length of time. However, this is what we call "Progress Towards Goal," which means that this is the first time that he's been excited about having his own bed since... well... forever.

I wonder how much of his refusal to sleep by himself has to do with his natural needs, my natural needs, or the negative memories created by our forcing him to use his own bed earlier? We don't force the boys into making choices - we try to mold the environment so that they gravitate naturally towards the positive choice. This has dramatic downfalls at times, but it seems to create happier, more motivated children - at least in our classrooms. Still, our kids are nice, and they're smart, and the behave like any other kids their age, so I don't think we're ruining them yet.

I do love little boy snuggles. I love when The Boy sticks his thumb in his mouth, looks up at me, snuggles in, smiles a bit, then closes his eyes and goes to sleep. It's a nice feeling. I'm not eager to lose that. But, I wouldn't mind getting through a night only getting kicked by my wife instead of by my wife and at least one son. (We had two boys in bed the other night, which is also good but makes space at a premium.)

I know it's only a short period that they get to be our babies. I just have every intention of enjoying it as much as possible. I mean, we've fought for this...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cough Cough

The boys have a really, really nasty cough right now, which means that no one in the house is sleeping particularly well. Little Bear, in particular, is sleeping quite poorly and had a few late night wake-ups.



The above picture is The Boy wearing his hamper on his head.

Interesting moment last night: I went out to pick up my car from a Pontiac recall, and I left Little Bear in his crib asleep (I thought) and The Boy nesting with Grandma. When I got home, they were both asleep in Grandma's bed. That's really rare, because Little Bear usually only likes sleeping by himself.

On top of all that, they've been real pieces of work all week. They've been fighting and misbehaving every chance they get. Wednesday night, Little Bear was following The Boy around the house, saying "Push!" while pushing him. The Boy was trying to play alphabet on the iPhone, and he kept walking away from Little Bear. Eventually, The Boy got fed up enough to push Little Bear to the ground. I had a hard time being angry at The Boy. Still they apologized to each other and hugged each other, but that's what's been happening around here.



But, my Dad's in town for a couple of days so things will be better for a bit. They should be excited to see him - I know that I am!


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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Parenting Fun

So, last night, The Wife was at a paid rehearsal, and I stayed home from my barbershop chorus to take care of the kids. Grandpa was out of town and Grandma is sick (nothing serious, Thank G-d). So, it was fun. Little Bear started rubbing his eyes and yawning at around 5:30, which meant that we were trying to keep him awake until at least 7:00, so that he would sleep past 5AM. The Boy, on the other hand, napped from about 4:00 until 5:45, so he was nice and awake during the time that he was supposed to be settling down for the night.

Did I mention that Little Bear was grumpy all evening, continually going for stuff that he knew he wasn't allowed to do? The Boy was slightly better, but not by much. They were as grumpy as I was.

The Boy started to settle down at 9:30, and he finally fell asleep around 10:00. Five minute later, as I was settling in to sleep, Little Bear woke up inconsolable. I brought him in bed with us, and he screamed louder. Brought him downstairs, and he started to calm a little bit. He wouldn't take water or a bite of a treat. (Didn't try juice. Should have gone right for the juice.)

It's still frustrating to me, the fact that I have such a hard time consoling that little boy. I know that we have a great relationship - he loves playing with me, he loves reading books with me, he takes baths for me, and he loves playing "peek a boo" with the shower door when I'm trying to get clean. He just doesn't like getting snuggled by me, particularly when he's upset.

This is strange, because I'm normally Mr. Baby Tranquilizer. Babies love me. More often than I can count, I've heard the words, "I've never seem him/her be so calm with anybody!" or "He never falls asleep on someone like that!" It's like clockwork, pretty much. Every baby I've been around loves snuggling with me, except for Little Bear.

Bis brother, obviously, has the opposite feeling. He doesn't like sleeping without me. (I understand the feeling.) I'm positive that the new baby will feel similarly. Little Bear? It's a problem, particularly if - say - The Wife is the one working next school year while I'm home with babies. It's hard to spend nights and days with a baby that doesn't see you as a source of comfort.

I figured that that would change as he grew and matured. It isn't. Anyone have any suggestions? I'm figuring to just deal with it, but it's not fun.