Monday, December 23, 2013


I've been playing through Kingdom Hearts again; mostly because, when our Playstation passed away a few months ago, the new Playstation wouldn't take the old saved games. Kingdom Hearts is an older game - 2004 - that combines the Walt Disney universes (Hercules, Tarzan, Alice in Wonderland, Nightmare Before Christmas, et al) with the Final Fantasy universes in a brilliant, fun, chaotic mismash. I finished 100% of the game when it first came out, and I decided to start again because it entertained the children (and The Boy asked). I'm playing on the "hardest" level, because 1) I'm good, and 2) why not?

Most of the time (and I've played for 10 hours over about 8 weeks), I'm playing in front of the children. Being a perfectionist and having less control over my mouth when I'm playing the games, I have a tendency to let slip a "Oh, sh&&," or "Oh, fu&&." This earns me The Look from The Wife; occasionally, The Baby will repeat something that he's heard. We are very careful about not reacting to it, because stimulus = response, and we don't want to encourage it.

Last night, I was playing, and my character died in a particularly unexpected way. "Oh, sh&&," I said, which was repeated promptly by The Baby. About fifteen minutes later, I died again but refrained from commenting.

The Baby looked at the television screen, saw the death picture, and said, "Oh, fu**."

Well, I guess it's a better reaction than throwing the controller across the room.


Tonight, The Boy and Mom are going downtown to see The Nutcracker at the Pittsburgh Ballet. They've been listening to The Nutcracker in the car playlist for a few weeks now; Little Bear has even learned a bit of the march on violin (the dum-da-da-da-dum-dum dum-dum-daaaaaaaa part). Little Bear was offered the opportunity to go but declined. I'm assuming that they're going to go out for dinner on the way to the show, and I'll be meeting 2&3 at Grandma's house. That's cool. If I do, maybe we'll go to the JCC and play in the playroom for a little while - just to get them out of the house. I like the JCC playroom, although for some reason The Baby always thinks we're going to leave him there. Weird.

Still, The Boy is excited about going to see The Nutcracker and going to the ballet. Personally, I'm lukewarm. I enjoy ballet as much as the next guy (ha!), but I'd really rather stay home and play with the other two children. Besides, Mommy rarely gets one-on-one time with the older boys. I missed my normal "playdate" with 2&3 on Sunday morning, when I went singing instead of stayed home with them. We'll see what happens. Maybe the younger two will not have napped and be exhausted by the time I get there; not likely, but possible. The Baby has been resisting his naps lately.


The Baby has been calling The Wife "Mama" lately. At bedtime, if he's irritated with me, he cries, "I want my mama!" "There's my mama!" etc. I think it's interesting. The Boy will occasionally use "Mommy," but I think that's a "that's what everybody at school" does thing.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Weekend Update Redux

Well, the battle plan is only good until you actually make contact with the enemy. At that point, things rapidly start to disintegrate as per usual.

Friday night went pretty much exactly as planned. No worries. The snow hadn't started, The Wife joined us after services, and bedtime was easy. Th Baby hadn't napped, and he fell asleep on the car ride back home and never really woke up again until the next morning.

Saturday morning, it was just starting to snow a bit by the time we all left for Mispacha Music, so we had more of a crowd than I expected, frankly. The boys tore around the multipurpose room, turning it into a mini-WWE arena, which we allowed on the condition that it stopped once more friends arrived. The other two families that came brought all boys, which meant that the royal rumble proceeded unabated. Sigh. They sang the songs and played the games, and we made some new friends. It's always good.

The rest of the afternoon went smoothly. We did little else than play video games: Super Smash Brothers and Super Mario Brothers, some Kingdom Hearts, some iPad games. I napped with the baby for a while. The snow continued, changed to rain, back to snow, and finally to ice. We decided that I would stay home with kids, and The Wife would go play the concert. No sense taking two cars out with solid sheets of ice. She loaded Herman into the car, said goodbye, and walked back in the house ten minutes later. The street is solid ice, and the car couldn't make it up. Sigh.

We watched some of the Sing-Off, had dinner. Little Bear had a major meltdown right after dinner, and he was sent upstairs. He crawled into bed and fell asleep; he woke up in time for bath, some stories, and then back to bed. The Wife, at the school book fair, bought easy chapter books of Superman and Phineas & Ferb for the boys, and we made some headway in those. The Baby was still awake late, so I took him downstairs and let The Wife sleep. He fell asleep to the hypnotic music of Pixeljunk Monsters, and I watched game of Thrones before sleeping.

Today, we managed to get up to the top of the hill and do our Sunday stuff as per normal. 1 and 2 are in swimming lessons now, and then we're going to Barnes and Noble to see the chorus from The Boy's school sing. There might be frozen yogurt in our future tonight. We'll see; the boys have been grumpy and mean, and those types of boys don't get treats.

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Weekend Update

This is a relatively uneventful weekend - particularly considering how busy the last couple of weeks have been. Granted, it'll be easier than last weekend, if for no other reason that my health is improving - meaning I won't be out-of-play all weekend. Not that I'm close to 100% yet, thanks for asking; but it's getting better. The cough has a tendency to last for a few weeks once treatment starts, but it's at a low-level for the last couple of weeks. It's just the first week, week and a half that sucks.

Tonight, The Wife is singing at services. I'll pick up the children at Grandma's house. They'll probably already have eaten, which is a minor annoyance; Grandma is the Ultimate Jewish Mother, which means that the children are extremely well-fed. If they cast a hungry look at something, Grandma has a plate of delicious food for them. I like to eat with the family, but the boys are ready to eat dinner before I'm home from work. Whatever - if that's the biggest annoyance with which I deal, then I'm doing fine. I'll eat whatever's left over after the children demolish the plates, throw the kids in the car, and head home. I'm planning on introducing them to Super Smash Brothers tonight, assuming that they're old enough to control the characters. The Wife will be home around bedtime. We will either watch the Sing-Off or a movie.

Tomorrow, The Wife is doing Mispacha Music - it's the Saturday services, specially designed for little, little children and babies. The boys and I will go. They'll sing some songs and play some games, have some fun, and drink juice / coffee (for grownups) and eat muffins. In the afternoon, we have nothing in specific - naptime, I hope, and maybe some playing outside in the snow. Tomorrow night, I'm playing some percussion with The Wife's orchestra at their show, then jetting out early (I'm only on one piece) at heading home to bed. Well, I'm going to bed; she's going to an afterglow for a different show.

Sunday is Sunday School and the JCC Open Gym (for the three of us, Little Bear - The Baby - and me), then the boys and I play while The Wife goes carolling at the VA. The evening and late afternoon are going to be some nice, event-free family time.

I'm looking forward to it. The next weekend is busy, with a trip to Ohio to sing for my bass's mom's church, and then we might be heading to New Jersey for New Year's. We'll see.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Santa Claus and Black Eyes

Little Bear - the same boy who so bravely took five stitches in his chin after jumping off the top of the slide at preschool - was playing cusions at Grandma's house on Sunday when he slipped (or so he said), giving himself a black eye. Sigh. Two injuries in the face in the same week? I'm expecting a call from CYF (Children, Youth and Family Services) any day now. This boy needs to learn not to lead with his face.

Side note: the other night, he read the entire book of "The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid Of Anything" to me. It wasn't just memorization; when he made a word mistake, I'd point the word out and he'd correct it. There were some words that he was kind of sounding out / slurring through, but it was pretty darn impressive for a 4 year old. I love having smart children.


Yesterday, I took a sick day from work because of asthma issues. Long story short, I wound up meeting The Boy at the bus at the end of his school day; he came off the bus in tears. The kids had been talking about Santa Claus at school that day, and the teacher was talking about her version of the Elf on the Shelf. (If you don't know the elf, look it up. It's kind of cute, but outside the purview of a Jewish family.) It finally hit him yesterday, that Santa Claus wouldn't be coming to his house to bring presents. This was causing a bit of an existential dilemma to The Boy, as he knows he's a generally good kid that SHOULD be getting presents from Santa. The disconnect of not getting Santa presents, as a good kid, because he's Jewish kind of broke his brain for a while.

Santa Claus is firmly my wife's territory. Santa was the hardest bit for me to concede when we decided to raise the kids Jewish, and I've avoided any mention or explanation of Santa. Frankly, I'm still not sure I agree with the decision to remove him from the equation, but if that's the worst objection to raising the kids Jewish (and it probably is), then I can live with it. However, she wasn't there and wouldn't be there for another couple of hours. I'm not going to let that child cry over that.

I got him calmed down by reminding him that, on Channukah, he got presents every night for 8 nights, then he also gets presents from me (and my father) on Christmas Day. He was okay with the quantity of present-giving days over the whole Santa thing. It winds up being a tricky thing - how do you explain Santa in a way that does NOT single him out for being "differently" Jewish? You kind of don't; you wind up telling him, basically, that Christian mommies and daddies tell their kids that to keep presents on Christmas a little bit more magical. And, you tell him that in such a way that he is NOT tempted to ruin Santa Claus for the first kid that's giving him a hard time this month. "Oh, yeah? Well, Santa doesn't exist! It's your mom and dad!"

This, of course, begs the question about how to tell him about Santa (so it calms him down) without ruining the Tooth Fairy. The Wife and I are 95% certain he knows that the tooth fairy is me - okay, the Tooth Fairy brings HIM comic book action figures. The rest of his friends get a buck or so. The trail of bread crumbs is not challenging to follow. He's playing along nicely, partially because it's fun, and (I'm sure) partially because he is sure that the flow of loot will cease once he spills the beans. I'll find out later.


I had some nice The Baby time yesterday afternoon. He was going to go with Little Bear to Grandma's work party, but he had a nasty stomach issue crop up immediately before leaving, so he stayed home with me and my wracking cough. He was grumpy, anyway; I know he would have fallen asleep in the car before it left the driveway. He wouldn't fall asleep while watching an Elmo show, so after that I decided to play Playstation with him on my lap. Pixeljunk Monsters - which has very hypnotic music and simple, fun graphics - wound up knocking him out. He was asleep during the game, the drive to Grandma's, picking The Boy up at the bus stop, and discussing Santa Claus.

I was struck with the rarity, nowadays, of The Baby falling asleep on my chest. He still curls himself into a tight little ball on my lap - the Little Ball of Boy, I like to call it. He's so sweet, and so precious - even though he's a big man now (almost 2 and a half!!!), he's still our little baby. He's still sleeping with us full-time, but he's starting to fall asleep with stories and snuggles instead of just shows and Mom. I realize that these snuggles and these times are fleeting, and once they're gone, they're gone; but I'll enjoy them as much as I can.

We're removing him from the 100% gluten-free diet now; he's only mostly gluten-free at the moment. We still don't want him eating much of it, but we've decided it's more the crazy oils that are giving him the stomach issues. It's helping a bit - he's making poo on the potty once every other day or so, which is a much better average than before.

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Bedtime Redux

Bedtime is evolving into a nice, stable series of routines for the kids. Even The Baby is starting to (finally) level off and adjust to the nighttime thing.

Routines turn out to be a very important thing for the kids. Giving them a clear, unambiguous set of commands and actions to follow allows them a level of comfort and satisfaction as their day begins (or ends, in this case). Morning routines like getting dressed, teeth brushed, hair brushed, and hearing aids in (as appropriate) before heading downstairs has allowed The Wife to keep an organized and forward-moving morning, rather than having to chase the children back upstairs and around the house to get ready to go to school.

Bedtime starts after dinner. The boys practice violin while Daddy cleans the kitchen. After violin, we might have some dessert, depending. We go upstairs for bathtime, and most nights, all three boys go in the tub. The Boy, recently, has decided that he wants his own bath because he's bigger than his brothers. That's fine. The boys pick their pajamas and get dressed, and there is usually some planned chaos-time after bath, where they run around, play with some toys, build some things, chase each other, read books, etc. We don't guide that, just allow it to develop naturally.

Less often than we used to do (by a long shot), we will have family snuggle time in bed while we watch a show. That used to be the primary feature every night; not so much, any more.

When I'm home, I take The Boy and Little Bear into their room for stories. Sometimes, we'll do a story on the iPad - either reading a comic book or one of the books on iBooks. Lately, I've been sending them to the bookshelves in the playroom to pick a book out. This is my preferred option at this point, because it encourages some variety and the rare occasion where they pick an entirely new book. While it's fun to read the same things because of the security they provide, I want to encourage them to read lots of different things.

I sit up in the bed with Little Bear and read his choice, first. When I'm done, I ask him about his day, and he tells me the best thing that happened in school and the best thing that happened after school. I sit down in bed with The Boy next, and read his story and ask the same questions. The Boy still needs and likes a few extra snuggles after storytime; Little Bear just wants to cuddle in his blankets and go to sleep.

The Baby snuggles with Mommy. They'll read a story or watch one of the book-shows (like "Dem Bones" or "Bugs Bugs Bugs" by Bob Barner, through Scholastic), sing some songs, and go to sleep. He doesn't like going to bed for me, and he will resist while The Wife is at home. If she's gone, he doesn't have an issue; if she's around, he won't.

Little Bear seems to be the "sleeper" of the bunch. He enjoys going to bed and will loudly proclaim it: "Daddy, I love going to bed. I love my comfy jammies, and I love my blankets." He definitely takes after my wife in that regard. The Boy is like me - late to bed and early to rise, ready to go. Jury's still out on The Baby.

Bedtime had been getting kind of rough over the summer (when there was no real structure or routine to their days, so there was no structure or routine to their nights) and in September, when we were all trying to adjust to The Wife's new work schedule and the kids' new care schedule. It's definitely straightened itself out. I honestly have no idea how families with two working parents can handle it with little children - although, most of those families are probably not directing a Sweet Adelines chorus, singing in a quartet each, playing in an orchestra, teaching Sunday school, and a lay cantor at their local temple. That's kind of a rough outside-of-work schedule, so trying to cram in 40 more hours of full-time employment with the little kids (who are more time-intensive in terms of direct attention) was hard.

I'm glad that my children have inherited some of my OCD in their attention to the routines.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Last night was my chorus's holiday party. It was all kinds of awesome, as it is every year: just a nice night, good food, good companionship, some singing, and people saying nice things about each other, to each other. The highlight of the night was the first annual ugly sweater contest. We had three categories: ugliest; most creative; and YIKES! The winner of the YIKES! category:

I'm overwhelmed by the gifts that my chorus gives us every year. Living in a 1-income home, it helps more than I have words to express. We have been so blessed, through the course of our journey, to find people who have helped us in great and small ways. Finding this group of ladies was an incredibly fortunate event, for sure.

Last night was the official (and temporary) breaking of my gluten-free fast, as I had the cajun chicken pasta and a cupcake for dessert. I've been gluten-free since a bit before Halloween, and it's made quite a big difference in my life - digestively, breathing-wise (delayed my normal October attack into December), energy-wise. I could tell a large difference in my energy and feeling last night after eating, and this morning kind of knocked me for a loop with some stomach issues. The food was great - absolutely loved it - but there is a price to be paid afterwards. Oh, well. Back to gluten-free.

I'm kind of lucky in the food regard, as my gluten-free makes things easier but isn't strictly necessary. I don't have an allergy, just a sensitivity. So, if I do choose to break from it - a dinner like last night, the occasional cookie, bread at a religious ceremony - it is something that will bother me for a day or two but not past then. Kind of like if a mildly lactose intolerant person has some ice cream - not fatal, just uncomfortable for a bit. Sometimes it's worth it. Last night definitely was.

The kids have been getting into the gluten free thing, as well. Grandma has been stepping up the plate big time - providing g-f options at meals and trying to find a great cookie recipe. The boys help her make the g-f cookies, which is a treat for all. This morning, The Boy wanted to share frozen waffles for breakfast. We had the gluten-free ones from Trader Joes and the regular ones. He specifically asked for the gluten-free ones.

The Boy, himself, has been on a reasonable health kick lately in terms of his eating. He's been talking about the "My Plate" that they use instead of the food pyramid nowadays. He's trying to figure out the connections between the food he eats and how healthy his "My Plate" is. He's making the connections between calcium (dairy) and bones, protein and muscles, that sort of thing. That's not to say that he doesn't eat his fair, normal share of sweets and things; he is a child, after all. He just is starting to develop a nice understanding between the relationship of food and health.

He's still in line to be tested for the gifted program at school. There's no reason why he hasn't been, other than where his name falls on the list. The interesting thing? The social worker / school psychologist who does the testing is pretty sure that The Boy is the smartest kid in the school. That's nice to hear. I'm not surprised by it - I always was, in my situations, and The Wife has days where she might actually be ahead of me. (Her father and brother are, likely by a half-mile or so.) Genetics, occasionally, is not a harsh mistress.

He and I have a nice time in the mornings together. He wakes up early - not quite as early as me, but not too far off the mark - and we spend the mornings together before I leave for work. It does tend to put a crimp in my normal workout television watching - usually, I watch my shows like "Arrow" and "Revolution" and such, and that's not exactly the best stuff to have a 6-year old watch. However, I can use the morning opportunity to steer the television towards something that he might not otherwise watch. "Okay, we'll watch a little of your program if you'll watch a little of mine." It's just nice to have some pressure-free time together - not rushing to do homework, clean up after dinner, get to bed, going here, going there. Just hang out - talk a bit, or not, eat a bit, or not. Easy intimacy, which is the relationship that I'd like to have with my sons.

When I got home from the party last night (a bit earlier than I usually do from Tuesday rehearsals), The Baby was still awake. He was watching Phineas and Ferb on the iPad, on Grandma's lap. Grandma: "So, The Baby, Daddy's home! Are you going to go say hi to him?" Him: "No, I too busy." Sigh.

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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Anatomy of a Surprise

So, The Wife had a piece premiered by the Edgewood Symphony Orchestra. It's a neat little arrangement of Rock of Ages, a traditional Hannukah-type song that they graciously agreed to perform. The performance went quite well, although I think that the dress rehearsal went somewhat better:

YouTube Video

There were a couple of other cool things that happened as a result of The Wife's piece being performed. The first is that, with the assistance of the conductor, Walter, we had a very cute moment of the three boys running up to give (silk) flowers to their mom after the piece was concluded. The levels involved with that:

1) getting the time to sneak the boys to Michaels to pick some appropriate flowers without arousing suspicion;
2) stopping at Dunkin Donuts on the way home to erase the memory of buying the flowers. The boys talked about donuts when they got to Grandma's house, not flowers. (Daddy level up);
3) figuring out how to get the flowers into the concert hall, while riding in the same car as The Wife, without her knowing. In this case, I hung my hat over the stems sticking out, figuring (correctly) that she wouldn't question why my hat was resting a solid six inches away from the rest of the bag;
4) grabbing Walter in the pre-performance chaos to find out which side of the auditorium in which to sit, so the transition would be easier;
5) having enough adults and coloring books available to keep the kids quiet and well-behaved through the first half of the concert, when they were playing selections from The Messiah;
6) getting the right flower to the right kid, getting them pointed at their to her, then getting them immediately offstage so a cute interlude doesn't become cloying.

Mission successful. She was surprised and pleased.

The other deception involved with the concert: her quartet mates telling her that they had stuff to do and couldn't come to her premiere, then showing up, surprising her, and spending a good chunk of the night at an after party singing. I had a minor hand in that: letting them know that tickets would be available at the door, helping sell the deception by expressing disappointment, then promptly "forgetting" about it so it would be a cute surprise.

The boys were not as well-behaved as I would have preferred, but to be fair, they have been sick and exhausted for a few days, as have I. They played their parts with their normal flair and complete lack of self-awareness (i.e. stage fright). Still, they cooperated getting in the door and to bed at home, allowing The Wife to go to the after party and stay as long as she liked.

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Quick Trip to Children's Hospital

So, yesterday Little Bear jumped off the top of the slide at school, landed funny, and split his chin open. 5 stitches later, he was good to go. This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened, and I'm certain that it will not be the last. I know that my older brother, The Boy's namesake, was the one in the family that was constantly injuring himself doing something stupid, and it looks like Little Bear inherited that part of the Musical genetic code. Sigh.

His teacher was agonized over it. "I should have stopped him!" Yeah, right. As if she had a chance to do that. By the time she would have gotten over there, spoken to him, and had him pause long enough to listen, he would have been in mid-air. It happened just as quickly when I was watching him a couple of years ago, the last time he seriously split his chin open. Granted, this doesn't let her off the hook - next time I see her, I have every intention of opening the conversation with, "So, why are you throwing my kid off of the playground equipment?" I will gleefully bust her chops for a couple years or so.

He was a very good patient - stayed still while they applied the numbing cream ("Daddy, they made my chin go to sleep!"), stayed still while they stitched him up, and did not freak out while they waited. It really helped that The Wife (who took him to Children's Hospital) was not panicking or freaking out - Lord knows that we've been through much, much worse. A cut-up chin and some blood is not going to freak us out.

When I got home, I cuddled him up and asked him about it, and he told me a nice story about the incident and the hospital. I laughed with him a little bit, saying, "If I were you, I wouldn't do that again." He doesn't seem to be affected by it, as he tried repeatedly last night to leap off of the couch. The couch is a little better than the slide, but it isn't ideal with stitches in your chin. He'll be taking standing-up baths, without his brothers, for the next couple of weeks. That's not the worst thing in the world.


The Boy has been waking up earlier and earlier in the morning, to come downstairs and "exercise" with me. He'll sometimes "lift weights" - mimic what I'm doing, with an empty 5-pound dumbbell bar, or something like that, but mostly he wants to watch television with me. It's fun, because he does ask about the exercises and what they do and how they make me stronger. Most of the time, we'll watch Phineas and Ferb, but I've been able to convince him to try other things as well. The 1973 Disney Robin Hood - the one with Robin Hood as the fox and Little John as the bear - has been a big hit recently. That movie was one of my favorites growing up, and I must have watched it 150 times; I'm glad that he's enjoying it as well. It's a little frustrating sometimes, because I want to watch Breaking Bad (and it's not quite appropriate for him), but that's life sometimes.

He's been very calendar-centric lately, as well. "Daddy, we've got 28 more days until the new year!" "Daddy, we've got three more days until Hannukah is over!" "Daddy, there's 22 more days until Christmas!" The school week is a 6-day cycle - so, Monday is day 1, Tuesday is day 2, etc., and the following Monday is day 6, then Tuesday is day 1, etc. This lets them have a reasonable division of extra activities : they have gym days 1, 3, and 5, and art and music the other 3 days. (I know, I know - kids in Kindergarten should have gym and music/art every single day, but that's besides the point. Education in America is entirely broken, and I'm not getting started on that today.) He's been writing "The Morning News" at school every day, which he does on the weekends: sometimes on paper, sometimes on an iPad. He might have a guest post soon.

He lost one of his top front teeth a couple of days ago. The tooth faity dipped into the large well of action figures donated by Uncle B to give him a Mongul action figure - I try to alternate good guys with bad guys, to keep it balanced. Good guys aren't as much fun if they have noone to fight. Best part of that: the tooth fairy forgot the first night, and forgot the second night - fortunately, The Boy was downstairs eating breakfast (rest of the family was asleep) when the tooth fairy visited. Whew. I think he knows the true identity of the tooth fairy at this point, but I'm not saying anything.

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