Friday, May 25, 2012

Crabby

Yesterday, the boys (all 3) were excessively crabby and irritable. Pretty much all day, particularly after I got home, they were handsy, punching and kicking each other and us. Neither of the older boys went more than about three minutes without trying to start a fight with someone else. That made the night really quite difficult. Ultimately, it stemmed from them being over-tired; they both got to bed a little later than usual for most of the week, and they were both up multiple times per night for most of the week. That's unusually, particularly for Little Bear, who sleeps mostly like a log.



We've done a pretty good job of kicking The Boy back to his own room before 2 or 3AM, assuming that either one of us is awake enough to notice his ninja-like stealth. Last night, we kicked him back twice, once at 11:30 and once at 12:30, and he stayed until I woke up him running on the elliptical. We need to get him a digital clock that he can read in the dark, so that we can train him "not before 3:00." It's on the to-do list.



I'm actually kind of proud of the way I handled him yesterday afternoon. He was starting to throw a tantrum with no visible provocation: he kicked Little Bear in the stomach (they were both in the "fort" on top of the swingset) and threw a bucket off of the side that hit The Baby. Not acceptable. I tagged The Wife into play (she was changing some sheets), grabbed him, and walked him upstairs into his room. He was throwing an absolute fit about being taken inside and up to his room, where he (obviously) didn't want to go. I deposited him onto his bed, and, screaming, he threw a book at me. I left him alone and waited in my room. After a couple of minutes, I went back in. He was still mostly hysterical, so I picked him up and hugged him. He calmed down, and I asked him, "Are you ready to talk to me?" He said "No," and cried for another minute or two. I asked him again, and he said yes. I sat him next to me. I lead him through the events that brought him upstairs and asked him what we could do to make things better.

"Say I'm sorry, give some hugs, and try not to do it again?" Yup.



I wanted to give him a few more minutes to calm down, so I instructed him to build a helicopter out of his Trio blocks. He wanted to build a robot instead, to which I agreed. When he came downstairs ten minutes later, he gave me the robot, gave hugs to his brothers (who had forgotten about the whole thing), and continued on his merry way.

That marvelous feel-good parenting moment was shattered about fifteen minutes later when he hit Little Bear in the face with a book, but it was a start. I'm really, really trying to deal with things positively, with positive emotions and feedback, instead of reacting off-the-cuff and negatively. I would love for my sons to think about things rationally and to learn to let the initial emotional response pass before acting or saying anything. That took me until my 30's - and somewhat post-diagnosis - to get a handle on, and I want them to pick it up faster


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Behavior

Sometimes, your kid is THAT kid. Sometimes, they're perfect little angels. The trick, as a parent, is to love them during both times, remembering that they're human: not as bad as their worst moments, and not as good as their best. Managing them during those down times can be challenging and is a topic worth exploring.

This past weekend, my father came to visit. I'm really, really happy about the reception that he got from my children; even The Baby recognized him and warmed up to him quickly. Thank you, Apple and FaceTime, for making sure that my father has been a part of our lives on a regular basis! They "see" him and hear from him several times per week, so they know exactly who he is and how important he is. When he arrived, the kids bounced up and down excitedly for about twenty minutes, wanting to pull him from room to room to show off a precious toy or drawing.



We went out for a nice dinner on Friday night, which was a service and a picnic at Rodef Sholom. The service was an abbreviated one, consisting mostly of songs with a couple of prayers in the middle. Afterwards was a wonderful, wonderful picnic: hot dogs and hamburgers, chips, Italian Ice from Rita's, cake, croquet, "Mike the Balloon Guy", and lots of friends for the kids to pester. The balloon guys were thorough and epic with their constructions, allowing each kids to have as many balloon structures as they desired.






On Saturday, we had a very nice lunch sitting outside at the Eat'n'Park near the Monogahela River. It was nice, particularly since those seats allowed the kids to wander a path along the river while we waited for our food. That night, The Wife, Grandpa, and I sang a three-part quartet for Little Bear at bedtime, and Grandpa read The Boy a story.

That afternoon, I took Grandpa and The Boy to the Hot Diggity Dog Diggity Days Festival in Canonsburg - the town in PA where Perry Como was born. My quartet sang in the afternoon, so I sang while Grandpa and The Boy ate popsicles and watched. Afterwards, The Boy expended some energy on some cool inflatable things, and I ate a sausage sandwich. Dinner back home was bbq style and was followed by much outside time and playing. Sunday morning, we had a nice breakfast at the Bagel Factory, and then we went for a nice walk before Grandpa got into the car and went home. All in all, it was a blissfully boring and uneventful visit.



So, the big trick was managing the children on Saturday at lunchtime. They were a little overtired and overstimulated, and they did not want to sit down for lunch. They were not cooperating, not using any sort of table manners, and starting fights with each other. Even The Baby was crabby and irritable!

What do you do when your kids are misbehaving? The easy trick is to fall back to parenting "standards": yell, scream, threaten, and escalate threats until they're more afraid of you than they are of the consequences. I've seen a parent go from annoying behavior to a month without tv in a heartbeat! Does this describe you, or your parents? It doesn't work, does it? Certainly, it doesn't make a difficult situation easier to manage. Even yesterday morning, I found myself going from an annoying little misbehavior to "no iPad or tv for you today." Talk about the punishment not fitting the crime! Responding to misbehavior with threats and punishments doesn't necessarily teach what we want it to teach.



From a teaching perspective, you only get once, maybe twice, per year where you can yell at your kids and have it mean something. After that, it becomes background noise and part of the game that they play. Once or twice a year, the response is, "Oh, snap... he's lost it. We must have really screwed up." After that, the kids roll their eyes, hide under the desk until the tantrum passes, and plot the next way to bring out the next one. As a parent, then, that translates up a bit - maybe 3 or 4 a year, where you can yell at your kids and actually have them pay attention.



Kids know when their behavior is really off and when you're overreacting to something. There's a different response to the tones of voice - when it's really important, for the most part, they freeze, look at you with wide eyes, and retreat. If it isn't, they'll ignore you and keep doing what they're doing. Of course, there are times when they ignore the important ones, too. They're children. So, how do you deal with an uncooperative child in public without screaming at them or whacking them upside the head?

Great question. I haven't figured it out yet. Neither has The Wife, and she's had more time with them recently. Some days, one technique will work. Other days, it won't. I've found that removing the children from the situation tends to have the most immediate response, but that's not always possible. I don't want to send a message that a little fuss and bother and they'll be taken somewhere to play; but, at times, it's easier to take Little Bear to another place and let him expend his energy.

I think the biggest fallacy in parenting is that every single action must have an immediate and predictable consequence, and it's a parenting failure when you capitulate and let them win a round of misbehavior. It's somehow "wrong" to let your kids act like fools in public, as if it's a reflection of your personality. It's not. Kids are foolish. It's why they're kids. If they were mature and rational and able to think things through, then they wouldn't be children. Frankly, the failure is not in failing to control your children's actions; the failure is in putting them in a situation where failure is the most likely option.

Every action that kids have does not need to have an immediate and predictable consequence. Some surely need to be instant: when your kid makes a dash towards traffic, or the baby approaches an uncovered power outlet, or your toddler starts dancing on top of a glass table, then you'd better move quickly. With that understanding, there aren't too many other things that need an instantaneous and irrevocable response. Taking your kid out of a crowded restaurant so they can run around on the grass is not going to teach them that, 100% of the time, bad behavior gets them the reward (playing) that they desire. Sometimes, they'll willingly stay. Others, they desperately need to get out of the situation and run around.

"But, you need to teach them the real-world consequences of their actions!" I'm not so sure that that argument holds any water. True, if you show up late for work, you'll lose your job, for instance. Let's reframe that: if you show up early, and if you stay late, then your employer is more likely to notice your hard work. Do you want your kid running to their job because they're afraid of losing it, or because they're eager to work hard and show their talents? Subtle difference, true, but an important on


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Friday, May 18, 2012

Prime Directive

A friend of mine, on Twitter, asked, "What is the Prime Directive of parenting?" For those of you living in pop culture limbo, the Prime Directive is from Star Trek. It's the first rule of Starfleet, the quasi-military organization that runs the good guys' part of the universe. The Prime Directive, in a nutshell, states that a Starfleet representative should never, ever interfere with a planet's normal development or political situations, until a planet has been deemed advanced enough to request Starfleet membership. In other words, "Do no harm." Don't stop at a planet with medieval level technology and leave a couple of phaser pistols or automobiles lying around.

Before any arguments start: I'm aware that Captain Kirk violated the Prime Directive is practically every episode. That's true. It's evidence as to why zero-tolerance laws never, ever work: every situation is different. Every sentient being does require different treatment. You'd like to treat your kids the same, but you can't. They are different people, and your family situation is different as well.

My response to her was: "...try not to let your personal issues and prejudices impact your children." To put it more succinctly, don't f*ck up your kids with your mental and emotional baggage.

That's a pretty broad brush with which to paint. At an extreme level, look at cases of child abuse and neglect. Usually (not always, I know, but usually), there is a family history going back several generations of abuse and mental illness in a family. Just often enough, you read about an individual that gets the help needed to break the cycle of abuse for the next generation. From a more subtle arena, look at many of the example of racial and ethic prejudice that exist in society. How many people develop severe prejudices without those prejudices existing at home?

(Mental illness, here, does not necessarily count. It can happen, frequently, that a person develops a mental or emotional illness that didn't exist in their parents. Different situation, here. Here, I'm just talking about a parent's duty.)

I have been blessed in my life. I have been given three beautiful, healthy (now), smart, and creative little boys. They learn at a frightening rate, My children do not need me to draw conclusions for them. They do not need me to tell them how the world works. They do not need me to fill them with my ideas, my philosophies, my limitations, and my emotional issues.

My children need me to guide them towards their own conclusions. My children need me to point out the flaws in their logic, to show ideas that they can challenge, to give them a stable enough home life to explore the world on their own. In short, they need me to get out of the way and allow them to develop their own personalities. They don't need me to catch them when they fall. We all need to fall sometimes, we all need to fail sometimes, and we all need to scrape our knees or break our arms in order to learn lessons about life. They do, however, need me to pick them up, brush them off, kiss any boo-boos, and get them running and laughing again.

I've done an awful lot of therapy for my emotional issues, and it took me a really, really, really, really long time to grow up. I've also read an awful lot of stuff about personality development, and philosophy development, and how beliefs and societal mores are imprinted on one's personality. In other words, I am deeply aware of my own personality flaws and the gaps in my own philosophy. If I possible can, I would like my children to avoid some of those pitfalls and issues that prevented me from growing up for as long as they did.

Think for a second. What are your personal issues? What are the things that make you really, really angry, and why do they make you angry? Do they make you angry because they challenge parts of your personal philosophy, for which you have defense but "That's how it is!" Do you know where your prejudices are, and what's your rationale behind them? More importantly, are you passing them on to your children?

I know that, no matter how careful I am, I'm going to pass on some of my own issues and shortcomings to my children. However, if I strive to become more aware of those shortcomings and pitfalls, then maybe I can give my children the tools they need to overcome them. Look, for instance, at the racial issues during my parents' lifetimes: the Great Depressions. World War II, with its worldwide anti-Semitism. Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Brown vs. the Board of Education. White Flight. Race Riots in the 60's. Fast forward: Barack Obama gets elected president. My parents' generation, and my generation, has moved the bar somewhat in the right direction. If Obama is re-elected, my oldest son will be 9 by the time a new president is elected. This means that, for the first time in American history, he will have no memory of any American President that is NOT black. Isn't that amazing? I'm not saying things are great, rosy, and equal. I'm just saying that things are better than they were 100 years ago.

My children deserve to grow up without my personal issues. I think that your kids deserve the same right. (And, don't get mad at me because you think you have no emotional issues. You do. It's part of being human. Being unaware of your issues is worse than knowing what they area.)


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Monday, May 14, 2012

Competition Weekend

So, the competition went off spectacularly this past weekend. The chorus finished 5th, but - far more importantly - we got an amazing reaction from the crowd. In my opinion, I think we "won" the whole day - I don't think anybody had a stronger (positive) crowd reaction, even the winning chorus! I'm very, very proud of my ladies, and I know - and hope - that this is going to be the start of something truly magnificent.



As far as the rest of it went, the family muddled along in my absence with the accustomed... well, grace isn't quite the proper word, but it'll do. My wife is absolutely wonderful at keeping the children busy, and my in-laws really stepped up to the plate (as they usually do) for the boys. I didn't get much of a chance to speak with the kids while I was away, mostly because the hotel was nickle-and-diming everything we did. That meant that wifi cost money, and I'm not going to pay or to ask the chorus to pay just so I can Skype with my kids and check baseball scores.

(Side note: if we ever get to International, the chorus can pay my wifi for the week. I'll accept that as a reward.)

Still, it was a nice weekend. I treated myself (okay, technically, the chorus treated me, but I did ask for permission first) to room service for breakfast, which was really nice. Really, really expensive - I usually pay less when I take the family out - but it was worth it. Yummy pancakes, yummy sausage, and the knock on the door also served as my wake-up call for the morning.

The Wife kept me in the loop with the kids' activities while I was away. The Baby's fever seems to have left, and he's been in much better spirits since then. Little Bear was... well, two, and he spent much of the weekend in The Boy's room, drawing on the chalkboard and practising making his s-shapes. The Boy spend much of the weekend as a super hero, with a brilliant picture of him as the mighty Thor. The heartbreaking part? He must have asked The Wife, at least a dozen times, "Where's Daddy?" "Daddy's away. He'll be home on Sunday." "Oh. Where's Daddy?"



I got home around 11 on Sunday morning, and The Baby enthusiastically greeted me. "Da! Da! Da!" He has these huge, fun, lip-splitting smiles when he sees me for the first time in a day... He and I played, because the older boys were out with Grandma buying Mother's Day presents and treats. We had a nice picnic lunch, eaten inside because it was pouring rain. The boys came back, and we had some nice fun together before lunch. After lunch, Little Bear went down for a nap, and The Boy built structures with Lincoln Logs, and The Baby fell asleep on my lap. The Wife left for a performance at the local library. The Boy crawled up on my lap soon after, and the three of us had a nice half hour nap before The Baby woke violently and loudly. The Boy remained asleep for a while. Mom came home soon after, and we had a nice romp through the house before dinner. After dinner, we did normal bedtime stuff, although the night did feature three separate visits from The Boy until he settled in with us at about 2:30AM.



Funny The Boy story: on Saturday night, he ninja'd his way into bed with The Wife and The Baby at some point in the middle of the night. He's quite stealthy when he wants to be. The funny bit? He stripped himself down butt nekkid before climbing into bed. No reason; his night diaper and pajamas weren't particularly wet. He just got naked. Silly boy.


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Friday, May 11, 2012

Medicines

Over the last few days, The Baby has had a mild fever and some fungal infections, one in a diaper area and the other in his mouth. This has made him grumpy and out-of-sorts, as you can imagine. I feel worse for my wife than for him, though - she's got to juggle a baby that needs lots of comfort with two active and creative preschoolers. When they went to the doctor's office, he measured literally off-the-charts in height, and about 70th percentile in weight. That's about right - long and lean, like most of us in my family. None of the other boys were this tall, although I think Little Bear was heavier at this point.



Of course, at this point in The Boy's life, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Sometimes, it's really hard to look at The Baby and think about what it was like at that point in The Boy's life. The Baby is SO little, SO precious and fragile... and, at this point, we removed a 2.5 pound tumor from The Boy's belly and proceeded to pump him full of toxic chemicals for the subsequent 20 months. As my wife said in her blog yesterday, The Baby and The Boy look so much alike right now that it's hard not to become a little scared as we approach his 10-month age. I know that I "tickle" his belly every couple of days and hunt for lumps.

The medicine that we need for The Baby's fungal infections wasn't available at our local CVS, so we had to go to the one in Oakland. The doctor and the pharmacist screwed up the medication - they accidentally prescribed and prepared a big, big pill that is supposed to sit in the mouth until it dissolves. Yeah, not so much. When they actually figured out the age of the patient, they had to do a different pill. Of course, that was when I had made the 20-minute drive into town to get the medicine. Whatever. I asked them to give us a buzz when it was ready, paid for the medication that they did have, and left. I was talking on the telephone with my friend G, who said, "Wow. You really handled that like a gentleman. I think I would have exploded."

Yeah, well, it isn't cancer. A fungal infection is unfortunate, and it's certainly uncomfortable for the entire family. However, it will go away in a few days with the right medication. Cancer... is a little more difficult. A 20 minute drive each way is annoying, but it could be a lot worse. It's amazing how something like that can be put into perspective, isn't it?

The boys do keep amazing me, each and every day, with their accomplishments. The Baby harkened back to his oldest brother yesterday. The Boy, when he was a baby, would crawl into the bathroom, sit down, and poop his diaper. This was a regular occurrence all the way through the diagnosis. The Baby did that yesterday, which was really funny. He's also starting to do a little bit of playing with the iPhone and iPad. I have an app called "Alphabet Blocks," which has brightly colored blocks appear on the screen wherever you touch it. The blocks come in the order of the alphabet, and a voice says the letter. He seems to understand that the letters appear when you touch it, and he does play with the iPhone for almost 15 or 20 seconds before he tries to eat it. Progress towards goal.



Little Bear, yesterday, figured out how to draw a real S and spent a good chunk of the day writing his name. That's not bad, for 2 years and 10 months. He's also starting to draw real shapes, like squares and triangles. The hexagon is a little tricky for him, though. He and I play a fun little game involving a bear pillow and a pig pillow and pretending to sleep and wake each other up. He is entertained that his nickname is Little Bear and he has a bear-shaped pillow.

The Boy has been making some nice developmental strides lately also. He's started to explore his own interests a little bit: he's cruised through the Netflix "recommendations" lists on my iPad, and he's found a new show ("My Big, Big Friend") that he really seems to enjoy. He's watched a half dozen episodes of it this week, and he's pulled some things from that show into his role playing. In addition, in the "Avengers Assemble: Captain America" app/book on the iPad, he's been playing one of the minigames which involves fighting alien guys. Captain America throws his shield, Hulk throws giant ice balls, Iron Man blasts with his repulsors, etc. He likes the challenge, even if he's not very good at it yet.

In the weird and a little scary part, he read the book out loud to me the other night. I do NOT mean that he memorized the words and repeated them. He read them and made corrections when I pointed the word out. He was imitating Stan Lee in some of the delivery, which was really cute, but the book is a solid 2nd or 3rd grade level. Not bad for 4 years and 8 months. I am really kind of excited to be able to share books with him, soon enough - to be able to see him enjoy and love some of the books that I've read, and to learn about new books from him.


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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

FCBD

On Saturday, after work, I took The Boy and his friend C to the comic book store. It was Free Comic Book Day, which meant that every comic book store (pretty much) in the country had big stacks of comics to give away for free. The Boy has started calling C his best friend, which is really cute. I like this kid - he's a smart kid, around the same size and maturity level of The Boy, with parents who are smart and interesting as well. Side benefit: they just moved in to a new house about three blocks from ours. The Wife had the boys while the family was moving the big heavy stuff (and I was at work), and when I got home, I got the boys into costume and to the comic book store.



The neat bit? An artist, Dave Wachter, was there. He was very generous with the boys, and he did little sketches of Batman and Robin (which reflects the costumes they wore). After we got our comics, the boys and I sat at the Starbucks down the block, read comics, and drank juice (coffee for me). It was really quite cute. Many people took their picture, so I wouldn't be shocked to see them appear on Tumblr at some point.



That night, we went out to dinner at Eat 'n' Park with Grandpa, and it was one of those nights that gives us humility as parents. The Boy was perfectly well-behaved at the table, sitting politely (for the most part), and behaving well. The Baby was... a baby, but quite cute. Little Bear was two. He wandered around too much, didn't want to sit down, didn't want to eat (only kidding about that one... he always wants to eat), but didn't want to behave. No big deal - just one of those nights where he was behaving like That Kid. You know, some nights your kid is great. Other nights, your kid is That Kid. More good days than bad, we hope.



Sunday morning, The Wife was home for the first time in six months or so. She's been teaching Hebrew School at our temple, so she's normally out the door at 8:00 or so and home at noon. I taught a couple of lessons, so we exchanged jobs for the week. She then left soon after lunch, with her orchestra playing a shorter matinee performance. I put Little Bear and The Baby down for naps (the latter with Grandma), and The Boy and I went upstairs to watch Batman while I vainly tried to rest. I sent him downstairs and went to the concert.

The concert was nice, and it included The Wife playing a solo bass part during a jazz piece. I livetweeted most of the concert, which is fairly classless but it amused me. The concert had lots of Leroy Anderson, and I am a fan of any performance that has Leroy Anderson in it. After the concert, I got home to find The Boy curled up into a small ball on the easy chair, and Little Bear and The Baby playing upstairs with Grandma. I played with them for a while until The Wife got home. The Boy woke up long enough to relocate himself on my lap, and the two of us fell asleep until a little after 6 o'clock. My quartet came over to rehearse, and The Wife put the younger two kids in bed.



I'm entertained that my sons know enough music to enjoy asking for a barbershop tune when my quartet(s) come over to sing.

The Boy was awake until around 10:30 or so. He and I watched a little tv, and he built some structures with Lincoln Logs while I paid the monthly bills. He finally went up to bed, made a few trips back and forth to the bathroom, and went back to bed. I was awake somewhat later, doing a little bit of reading and straightening up and such.



No movement yet on what I'm going to do with the Ireland trip. Based on subsequent conversations with others, I'm pretty well certain that The Boy isn't going to go with me. A full week's worth of touring, and historical sites, and museums, and such is not likely to be in his best interest, performances notwithstanding. The Wife has given me her blessing to go, without The Boy. Friends from the chorus have given me their blessing to stay home and be with my family. Sigh. Still not sure what I'm going to do. It rips me up to think about leaving for a week, and it rips me up to miss such a great opportunity to travel. Lord knows when - and if - I'll ever get to travel overseas again in my life.


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Friday, May 4, 2012

Role Playing

In my ten years as a teacher, I learned a lot of very difficult, very cruel lessons. One of the most important was that words are powerful, actions are powerful, and casual and off-handed comments and actions can have a lasting (and negative) impact. For the most part, the things we plan to do, and the things we do intentionally, tend to move the overwhelming majority of your classes forwards, in a positive manner. (At least, I like to think it's positive. I can't imagine anyone getting into teaching these days with the intent of displaying negative energy.) It's the thoughtless little things, the thoughtless little mannerisms, that cause all of the damage.

As a parent, The Wife and I struggle to live by that lesson as much as we can. We both understand that we are our kids' whole world right now. Our attitudes, our behaviors, our interactions all indelibly shape their lives and their thoughts. We project our ideals, our visions, our issues, our prejudices, our frustrations onto our children. I am aware of that responsibility, and there are days when the burden of it weighs me down significantly.



The Boy has started expanding his imagination recently. He's begun role playing - attempting to be other people, whether it's a teacher, or Steve from Blue's Clues, or Olivia from the Olivia cartoon. That role playing is a necessary part of his emotional development; children use that role playing to start imagining what it's like to be other people. This can, hopefully, develop into a certain amount of empathy; if you can imagine that your behavior will hurt someone or make them sad, then you can avoid those behaviors. This being The Boy, it means that he carries it to an extreme.

At issue is his bossiness combined with the role playing. He doesn't comprehend that other people might not want to play in his games when he wants to play them. Sometimes, people like to play super heroes or Olivia or Blue's Clues. Other times, they don't. He got into a fight with his friend at school a couple of days ago, because the friend didn't want to play Olivia any more. Considering that he's finally found a friend of the same general age (within a month) and maturity level, we (as his parents) would prefer he not blow the friendship based on forcing the kid to play games he doesn't want to play.


The other issue is that it irritates the crap out of his brother(s) and his mother. Little Bear doesn't necessarily want to be called Ian (Olivia's brother) all of the time, and The Wife doesn't necessarily want The Baby to be called William (Olivia's baby brother). It doesn't bother me very much, but I'm not around the kids more than a couple of hours a day.

This morning, The Boy decided that he was going to play Blue's Clues. He wore a long sleeved, striped green shirt like Steve, and he started calling Little Bear by the name of Joe, who is Steve's brother in the show. This irritated The Wife, who told him that the game is over, that Little Bear didn't necessarily want to play that game anymore. She and I spoke about it at that point, just kind of getting at the underlying philosophy (do we take a break from Blue's Clues for the same reason? We'd keep the television off for a few days, but that might send Grandma into cardiac arrest) and trying to figure out what the best response should be.



The sign that we might not have handled it correctly? He sulked for the rest of the morning and yelled at Little Bear, who wanted to play superheroes in the car, "I don't want to play that game. It's not the right time to play that." Basically, he echoed back The Wife's words back at us. He was obviously ticked off and upset about being censured.

Ultimately, we do need to strike a balance. The Boy needs to expand his imagination and do all of the role playing that he needs to do, in order to create that understanding of other people vs the self. Also, he needs to understand that other people want to play their games, also, and they don't necessarily get fixated quite like he does.

I really understand this. When I get something that strikes my interest, I'm all in. I went through 7 seasons of Buffy in about three months. I went through the first two seasons of Lost - that's 48 episodes of 45 minutes - in a week. I spent 171 hours on Final Fantasy XII. I read the entire 500 issue run of Daredevil in about a week and a half. He gets his obsessive behavior and concentration from me, without a doubt. In many ways, this is a good thing - I tend to work faster and better than most people because of that need to get things done. In many other ways, it isn't a good - other people just don't understand it, and people of normal obsessions don't necessarily want to be around it.

How do we get around this? I don't know. It's definitely a work in progress. I have a feeling that the majority of the role playing will be with me, because of the annoyance factor. I'm just not around it all day, and playing that game for a few hours at night isn't a big deal. Making the game of Olivia or Super Heroes or Blue's Clue to be a "Daddy Thing" is not the worst fate in the world. I'm used to being "Joker Daddy" or "Lex Luthor" or whatever. I think we will be limiting his television time to Grandma and for nap time (Night Kitchen or Wild Things at bedtime might be an exception; we'll talk about it).

Wouldn't it be nice if the boys could avoid a couple of the interpersonal issues that The Wife and I possess? If they were able to avoid some of awkwardness, if they could avoid some of the difficulty we've had in finding friends, then hopefully their quality of life would be a step better than ours


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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Travel Plans

So, last night at the friends and family performance night, The Boy and I had a "dry run" for the trip to Ireland. My current plans have him coming with me for the chorus' week-long trip to Ireland, which includes some rehearsal times and 3-4 performances of approximately 30-45 minutes each. The dry run, in terms of dealing with him, was a spectacular failure.

Understand, the blame comes from the lack of a plan, not from The Boy acting like... well, a boy.

For the first part of the night, while I was rehearsing with the chorus, he stayed in the auditorium and ran around, drew some pictures, and played with the iPad. No problems, there. For the fifteen minutes that I was rehearsing with my quartet, he made a beeline outside for the pond behind the building. Not good. Although he's taking swimming lessons, he's not nearly good enough to be able to keep his head above water while fully clothed. Thankfully, one of the chorus folks grabbed him before he made it to the pond.

During the actual performance, he was inconsolable. Thankfully, N was there, to sit with him and to take him outside to play for a while, although it took a few minutes to get that organized and going. He kept trying to come up to stand with me, which was really, really distracting to the audience and performers, definitely out of place for the evening. That's not good. He sat with me quietly enough when the other groups (quartets, etc.) were performing, and he sat quietly while my quartet sang. Just, when I was directing the chorus, he wouldn't take no for an answer when it came to being with me.

This, of course, begs the question about the Ireland trip. If he was to come, we would need to arrange someone who will sit with him and take him out of the performance if need be - and it probably will be necessary. That's a pretty big deal, as most of the people I'd trust with that are going to be performing.

The easiest answer is, of course, to not take him. I don't think I can do that. The Wife and I talked this through a couple of weeks ago, because Grandma - and The Wife, honestly - was quite curious as to why I was so gung ho about taking him along. Truth to be told, I hadn't done a lot of introspection about it. It's just something that occurred so naturally to me. If I'm going away for a week, I want to take at least one member of my family with me.

The reason why stems back to November and December of 2009, so let's enter the wayback machine. At the time, we were in the most difficult stretch of The Boy's treatment. He had been in the hospital continuously, for infections and similar, for around six months at this point. My supervisor at school had told me that I wouldn't be returning to my job the following September because of my non-relationship with the then-high school marching band director. (Side note: he was let go at the end of last year. Two years of finishing dead last after finishing second, and of declining numbers in the entire program, will do that. Looks like it wasn't my fault after all, although he'll never believe it.) I was also being systematically harassed by her and my building administration and by my union - the story that sticks was getting written up for taking a sick day (family sick day) because The Boy was in intensive care with a blood pressure of 60/30.

We told Grandma that we were moving to Pittsburgh, and I gave my notice for January. I wanted to get through half a year and to give them an opportunity to find a qualified replacement. I brought the family and our belongings to Pittsburgh at Thanksgiving, and then got in the car by myself and drove back to New Jersey to finish the work on the house before I left the job and our house. I was home for about three days by myself before I caught the flu, and was laid up for the next three days with a fever around 102 degrees - extremely high for a person with a normal temperature of 97,1, who never gets fevers. Three days after that, the bomb dropped: they found spots on the ultrasound & x-ray and needed to bring him into surgery as soon as possible to excise what was - most likely - another tumor. I'd done enough reading to know what that meant.

What was left unsaid was that, most likely, a third tumor during this chemotherapy was a death sentence.

The next week was a blur. I honestly don't remember most of it, except for the generousity of my friends and family and a bunch of strangers. More than 50 people came through the house to help, even if just for an hour. I finished the concert to rave reviews, and 12 hours later, was on my way to Pittsburgh. The fallout from my three week absence from the family was fairly severe, and it took a long, long time to repair the family relationships and the family dynamic. The good news, we know: the spots were merely scar tissue, which never happens, and we were given a new lease on life.

There's some other baggage that I carry around, from earlier in life, where there were some significant family member health issues that results when I was away from them. My brother D, my mother... where, suffice it to say, I'm not eager to leave my family behind for any length of time. A night, maybe, but that's not willingly or easily done. Again, my issues, but it's one reason why I don't travel well.

Again, the basic interpretation here is that, when bad stuff happens when I'm away, it affects me more severely. I guess that's true for everyone, but I've had a plethora of Bad Stuff happen.

So, how does this relate to Ireland? That's an awesome question. What I know is that I have a deep, negative, visceral reaction to being away from my family, by myself, for a period of time. As a matter of fact, I'm really, really struggling with staying away two nights at next weekend's contest - I'm giving serious thoughts to hitting the road after dinner, to get home for the second night, for that same reason. Being away for a week? Can't do it. I actually feel a little bit ill, thinking about it. My first gut response is to turn down the trip because of that.

So, what can we do? The times when I'm not performing aren't an issue. If I'm there, things are okay, for the most part. It'll be challenging, but not insurmountable. It's the times that I'm rehearsing / performing that are an issue. He's very little. He's not old enough to sit by himself in a public place, and he's not old enough to keep himself out of difficult and dangerous situations (read: the pond). The choices, as I see it:

1) Keep him home. Stay home with him.
2) Keep him home. Go on the trip and deal with it.

These two are likely the easiest choices. Both have consequences. The first has political consequences in the chorus and greater Sweet Adelines community. I'm honestly not sure what the general reaction would be, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be good. The second has consequences at home - mostly making a really, really difficult week home alone with three kids for my wife. Hopefully, by then, we'll be settled in our new house, so it won't be devastating; but, it will be hard for her. From further discussions with her, she has made sure to remind me that I have her blessing to go; the decisions are mine and my neurosis alone.

3) Bring him along, Duct tape him to the bus seat when we're performing.
4) Bring him along, work with a couple of non-singers to walk with him when we're performing.

#3 is okay, but I'm not sure about the child-duct taping laws in Ireland. The latter has the difficulty of finding and training that person and The Boy to stay together during the performance. This kind of makes it difficult for whomever - or whomevers - to enjoy the performances. The Boy is cooperative, but he likes to wander and explore. Again, he's little. I'm honestly not that uncomfortable about asking someone else to help with that. It just means that we're going to need to work at it a little more and find someone who's willing to work with me on that.

Again, those have consequences. I'm honestly not sure what the general reaction is going to be from the Ireland attendees if I ask their significant others to help with my kid, but I'm pretty sure it's not going to be good.

Hmmm... Reading that back - I'm typing in between calls at work, which means I get about two sentences, then a call, then a half hour of steady work, then another minute or two. I guess I'm feeling really good about the trip right now. Last night kind of shook me up a little more than I expected. I honestly thought that The Boy would sit and watch the show - he was right in the front row, had some paper to draw with and an iPad to play with. I didn't expect him to wander as much as he did, and I didn't expect him to cause the fuss and distraction that he caused. I know it's not intentional - he's a good boy, but he's little. At the same time, I am scared out of my mind (perhaps irrationally, but there is some history there) about being away from my family for any length of time.

I'm not sure what to do, here. On one hand - trip to Ireland. On the other hand - I have enough psychological issues. If I went away by myself and something happened, then I'd never, ever be able to forgive myself. Gripping hand, I can't go away and have me perform without help. Any advice?

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Nighttime

Yesterday, after dinner, I chopped a branch off of a tree in the backyard. It was mostly rotted through, so this was the sort of thing that was a "cut it before it fell and landed on a child" activity. After, I cleaned most of it up and mowed the lawn. I'll get the rest next week - there's just a handful of materials and sticks that need to be picked up. I might bribe the children - every five sticks gets a piece of chocolate. We'll see.



I got inside to hear two of three children crying. The Baby was crying because... well, he's a baby. That's what they do. Little Bear was in his room, quietly playing with his train table. The Boy was sitting on the floor of his room, screaming at the top of his lungs. The Wife told me that he dumped the lincoln logs on the floor, played with them for a minute, then walked away from them. She requested that he picked them up, he told her no and left the room. So, she took the lincoln logs and his Trio blocks away from him until he cleaned up his room. He responded by falling on the floor, wailing, rending his clothes, and gnashing his teeth.

Not literally on the rending and gnashing. I just wanted to get dramatic, to see how it felt.

I went into his room, sat near him, and waited until he stopped crying. "You want to tell me what happened?" "I was playing with the lincoln logs and stopped playing with them and then Mom took them away!" After a little while and some prompting, he acknowledged that he could get the lincoln logs and Trio blocks back if he cleaned up his room. "Daddy, will you help me?" Well, yes, but I was sweaty and gross and covered in grass clippings and sawdust. I advised him two simple things to do, and he kind of did them while I cleaned myself up.

Afterwards, I directed him around his room, cleaning things up, and we had some fun with it. By the time we were done, he had forgotten about the building things. Bath time followed, then stories and bed. After he went to bed, I went downstairs and finished cleaning the dishes before I had a snack (lowfat cottage cheese with grape jelly, and a glass of juice). I came upstairs to hear him reading a book to himself and to find our bedroom door closed. Apparently, he came down the hall, told my wife that The Baby had woken him up, and closed the door to minimize the sound.

(This from the kid with hearing aids. Wiseacre.)

Honestly, I'm not sure if he fell asleep before I did last night. Probably not, judging from the big black bags under his eyes this morning. I did go in and have a conversation with him after the door closing; I let him know that, if he was having trouble sleeping, it was okay. I told him that I usually solve my sleeping issues by reading a book for a little while. He was happy to hear that. I don't particularly care if he wants to stay up reading on nights where he's having some trouble. Lord knows I've had enough sleepless nights spent with a book or with a good movie.

The other two boys had a decent evening and night. Little Bear did what Little Bear usually does, although he had a couple of 1AM wakings last night, unusual as that is. The first one, I took him to the potty, the second one was for a drink of water. He wasn't really awake for either one. He went to bed without any issues, as he usually does.

The Baby had a really good day yesterday. He's really good at pulling himself to standing using the coffee tables, although he's not sure how to dismount from them at this point. He likes saying "Da! Da! Da!" when he sees me, which makes coming home a true pleasure and joy. He was awake about four times last night, which wasn't fun.


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