Boys Will Be Boys

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Not this innocent face. No. He would never throw spitwads at church…

The wadded up piece of paper shot across the music area right in front of me while we were kneeling for the Eucharistic Prayer. A minute later, Alex started snorting. I looked at him with a scowl developing, and he whispered, “Was that Michael’s nametag?”

And I realized: yes. Why, yes, it was. My kid made a spitwad of his “nametag Sunday” sticker and flung it across the music area.

Every time I think I’m done being caught off guard by the antics my kids are capable of…boom. There they go.

Fragility and Indestructibility

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This is a post about this boy…

…who yesterday, while I was running siblings to various lessons, punched (yes, I did say punched) the light switch in the kitchen, with this result:

But at three this morning, the cries started up in his room. I hauled myself out of bed and across the hallway to find out what was the matter, expecting a bad dream, but the choking cough alerted me that it was something more serious. My five-year-old has croup. The seal-bark cough, the stridor breathing, the absolute panic of not being able to draw breath.

As I gathered him up into my arms, it struck me how still, his little boy body fits so perfectly against me, like puzzle pieces. He’s all arms and legs now, shooting outward, just waiting for the weight gain to fill them out. But he still likes to snuggle with me—on top of me, although now when his head rests on my chest, his toes dangle past my knees. It’s about the only time of day you can get him to be still, that snuggle time.

He was wailing, panicking, and I thought of the many times we went through this with Julianna, and I felt a deep gratitude, there in the wee hours of the night, that I had those experiences, because I know not to panic. “Michael, I need you to calm down,” I said, holding him close against me. “Crying makes your body need more oxygen. You need to calm down. I’ve got you. As soon as you calm down, I’ll explain what’s happening to you.”

And he did. It took a minute, but he settled down against me, and I was able to convince him he wasn’t dying and he didn’t need to panic. It was a bit surreal, having a child with croup who was old enough to have a rational conversation about it. Even more surreal when you consider that this is the child who rips off drawer faces and considers tackles an acceptable form of greeting.

It seemed rather useless to put on the vaporizer, considering the windows are open and the humidity is already high, but I got some Vicks (well, Target generic) and smeared it all over his chest and back, and set up all his big stuffed animals with his pillow in front of them, and propped him up against it, then tucked him back in.

“What’s ‘oxygen’?” he asked sleepily.

You’ve got to love science lessons at three a.m.

After I explained oxygen and carbon dioxide, I kissed him goodnight and promised him we’d go see the doctor in the morning.

And although his breathing was still raspy, he shot upward and wrapped those long, lean, yet still so very baby-skin arms around my neck and kissed my cheek. “I love you,” he said.

These are the moments motherhood is made of.

Michael Mayhem Graduates Preschool

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Michael, with his toy guitar: “This next song is called “Starlight Can Never Destroy A Death Star So I will Use My Laser.”

I went to his end-of-year celebration at his preschool yesterday, which consisted mostly of him attacking me at frequent intervals with flying leaps and fierce hugs interspersed with little girls coming around to take pictures with him.

It floors me to see how advanced academically he is. He is actually writing messages to us–all caps, no lower case, and asking us how to spell words–but writing nonetheless. Julianna does this app on the iPad for homework. It’s called ST Math. It’s graphic math, with no instructions of any kind, which has on more than one occasion made my head want to explode, but apparently the kids do pretty well with it. She’s doing the first grade curriculum and as we were trying to show her grandparents how this worked on Mother’s Day, Michael watched upside down and then started doing it for her. I had to get pretty firm with him to back off.

In part, it floors me because he’s in a special ed preschool, one where the primary focus of the instruction is the kids with developmental disabilities. We enrolled him as a “peer model” through the school district when he was three to try to develop sensitivity and awareness toward kids with disabilities–because of all our children, only Alex, who witnessed and participated in her early childhood therapies, really has an inherent awareness of and appropriate interaction with her. To her younger brothers, she’s just their sister. They don’t tolerate her desire for hugs, and their power struggles over the iPad and books and so on look like every other sibling struggle. They don’t give her one inch.

There’s great value in having that relationship–Julianna is always trying to get away with things based on her disability, whether she’s doing it consciously or instinctively–but I still wanted Michael to at least be capable of making a distinction.

When it came time to move him to a traditional preschool for his preK year, to make sure he got the needed academic preparation, we found ourselves waffling. He seemed comfortable, and the school was right here in the neighborhood. Often, we bike to and from. The kindergarten teachers at the Catholic school said, “Ah, don’t worry about it. He’ll be fine.” And so we left him in place for a second year.

His teachers at Early Childhood Special Ed have told me repeatedly how seriously he takes his job as peer model, but I always thought that was just teachers being nurturers; I didn’t take it that seriously until one day, Michael and I went out with my friend and her son, who is a couple years younger than Michael, after Jazzercise. The boys jumped around, climbing on and under things and generally being normal little boys while we talked and tried to keep their exuberance (and potential for damage) contained to one corner of the cafe. When it was time to go, Michael’s little friend did not want to go. It was like a switch flipped in Michael. His tone of voice gentled, he helped his friend put his coat on, he held his hand and led him out the door. My jaw hit the floor.

It will be interesting to see how the experience of being a peer model shapes his future character. In the meantime I highly recommend it for anyone looking for an inexpensive and extremely enriching option for preschool. Because clearly, it didn’t harm his academic potential at all.

In any case, such is the world of my littlest guy as the school year closes. I’m having so much fun with him.

Photo Friday Funnies

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If you’re on Facebook, you already saw these, but it’s worth preserving in our family history this way, too. Two nights in a row, this week, we went upstairs to go to bed, checked on the kids, and discovered this:

Boys sleeping_opt

By morning, it looked more like this:

Morning Butts

Happy Friday!

The Thing About Boys…

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Michael AlexThe thing about boys is that they’re confusing.

Like my laundry pile. It makes no sense.

On Friday of one week I fold six loads of laundry (I got behind. So sue me), and nine days later, on a Sunday afternoon, I do the next three. And if the laundry pile is to be believed, in that week Preteen wore nothing but six pairs of socks, while Second Grader wore eight uniform shirts. Even though there were only five days of school.

As Miss Clavel said: Something is not right!

The thing about boys is that they sit down with me to watch the Sound of Music and the big 43-year-old boy whines and makes fun of it as much as the 11-year-old one. And somewhere around the wedding scene, when we turn it off for bed, the 11-year-old asks if this is the end, and I say no, everything’s about to fall apart for them, and he lights up and says, “Is there gonna be an explosion? Is somebody gonna DIE?”

And 43-year-old boy goes on a little riff about helicopters exploding in the movies. Talk about collectively ruining the moment.

The thing about boys is that they get wildly excited about Brain Ice.

Brain Ice

 

The thing about boys is the way they like to climb up on the barrel of a cannon. (And what’s most telling: the ROTC guys don’t bat an eyelash.)

Michael Nicholas cannon

And then, of course, there are the practical jokes. Because what else would you do when forced to clean the bathrooms?

Prank 1

Prank 2

Perhaps you’d care for a closeup on that one?

prank 3

Raising boys. It’s a glorious mystery.

On Sneaking Candy, channeling the flash, and Sucker Punches: Michael Mayhem at Four

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Michael book guitar

He looks innocent when he’s “reading,” doesn’t he?

There comes an inevitable day in every parent’s life when you have to recognize that you can’t treat your baby like a baby anymore.

It’s an organic process as long as you keep having more kids, because real babyhood keeps presenting itself. But although I’ve been aware of, and even partially on top of, this transition with Michael, it’s just since school let out that I’ve realized how far past time it is.

He’s not the sweet, faultless child in every altercation anymore. In fact, as Wednesday’s post should have made clear, he’s got a pretty strong deceptive/willful/selfish side going.

He’s incredibly smart, starting to write letters although we do no such work in our family on things like that, and connecting starting sounds with letters (“S begins with STOP!” is the usual formula). He wants to do homework and have his work hung on the hutch and the deck door with everyone else’s.

He wants to be grown up. He insists upon using the “big boy” silverware (i.e. dinner fork and soup spoon), even though all his older siblings want the small ones, and he’s constantly asking me, “When will I be big enough to sit without a booster seat/play an instrument/drive a car/ride a motorcycle?”

He’s constantly taking things apart, just because he can. The words “Leave it alone! Don’t mess with things just to mess with them!” don’t seem to have any meaning.

He’s throwing and catching balls and running better than any of his siblings did at his age, or two years older than his age, for that matter.

And speaking of running. Oh, the running! He’s really into the Flash right now, and he braces and then launches himself across whatever space he has. Which is not nearly enough, I might add; stopping is almost universally a problem. Let me put it this way. When it comes time to slide into home plate, he’ll have already had lots of practice. In the meantime, he’s mostly bouncing off the walls. Literally.

And oh, that child is causing trouble in sibling land. Other people must share with him, but “that toy is MINE! You can’t play with it!” Obviously, he ate Nicholas’ special candy. I tell him to put away a toy, and not to throw it on the floor, but actually put it on the shelf. Then I go downstairs to find it on the floor anyway. That kind of stuff.

Oh yes, I forgot. The Facebook world heard this gem, but the bloggers have not. And it’s a good one.

He’s been punching lately. It’s not malicious; he’s just playing superhero-bad guy, and the bigger kids, by and large, didn’t realize what kind of monster they were creating until it was too late. Well, Nicholas knew it. But Nicholas wasn’t encouraging him the way everyone else was, either.

Michael loves to get a laugh from people, and the punching thing makes big kids laugh. Until one night at a baseball game he was punching complete stranger kids, and they realized it hurt! I had to make him sit on my lap for the last twenty minutes of the game, because he wouldn’t stop, no matter what I or anyone else said. It was deeply unpleasant for both of us. He is a wiggly, wiggly kid.

But the kicker was last week at the grocery store, when Alex and I were perusing the yogurt options, and Michael caught him completely unawares with a Flash-run and a full-power sucker punch to the sternum. Alex went down in a heap on the floor, trying to control his poor tween hormones and pride while in deep pain. I could see him trying not to wail, scream, or retaliate.

It was hard to decide whether to laugh or be furious. Either way I couldn’t punish, because we were in public. Actually, that turned out to be a positive, because by the time we got to the car I’d had a burst of inSpiration. Michael had to do one of Alex’s weekly cleaning jobs as a consequence for punching his brother. Which, I have to admit, he did with very good grace.

It’s hard not to keep a tender spot for your youngest child, but he has the potential within him to be a holy terror if I don’t rein him in. And it just about has to be me, because he’s got the mama’s boy thing honed to an art form, much more so than the other two boys. Yesterday, he would not hold his daddy’s hand. “I want to hold mommy’s hand!” he said.

“Why not? Do you like me?” Christian asked, grinning at me.

“No!”

“Do you like Mommy?”

“Yeah!”

Four and a half. And still earning the nickname Mayhem.

Boys Have Drama, Too

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Taken a year ago

Taken a year ago

Let no one, me especially, claim that boys come without the drama attached to raising girls.

Every child loves his first grade teacher. It’s an unspoken rule, right? You must be hopelessly, gaga-eyed in love with your first grade teacher.

So when your first grade teacher gives you a bag full of gummy worms on the last day of school, labeled “book worms,” to keep you company while you read over the summer? The worth of such a gift cannot be quantified.

And when, after two late nights in a row (because you were “mascot-ing” for your big brother’s baseball game), you discover that your twerpy four-year-old brother ate them on the sly?

Oh, the drama.

Heartbroken sobs, carrying over the noise of the shower. Piercing the thin walls and sinking like your spirit down the stairs of your broken world, so that your parents are forced to share in your grief.

Seeing your twerpy little brother punished isn’t enough. You must vent your drama by shoving him to the floor, even if that means now you’re in trouble, too. So you go to bed wailing, heartbroken sobs.

I was having trouble sympathizing, but I decided not to push the issue of making him settle down. Let him air his drama. Maybe it’ll arouse some empathy in his younger roommate. Or at least, the annoyance of having to listen to it will be a punishment natural consequence of his actions.

Then, of course, there’s the girl drama.

Said child periodically (usually when overtired) goes to sleep crying over lost (girl) playmates who have moved away or been separated from him by other circumstances.

Let us back up an hour from the loss of gummy worms and drop in on the same child, playing at the kids’ area of the mall. Take note of the light blazing in his eyes when his bestest-estest-estest friend EVER unexpectedly appears beside him. (It’s a girl.) (She’s a year older than him.) Imagine the crushing two-way bear hug.

Drama, indeed. After a half hour’s wild abandon of playing, we finally take our leave. He says to me, “The moment I met her eyes, I just KNEW, because I LO—” A sharp cutoff and reconsideration. “I love my friend! I love her soooooooo much!”

He might not be too happy to know that he has something in common with his twerpy Gummy Worm Thief brother. When I picked up my youngest child from his summer enrichment preschool yesterday, his teacher greeted me with, “Your son, I’m sorry to tell you, has a girlfriend. And it’s very much mutual.” Today? A head shake. “I believe they were holding hands today.”

Ah, well. What would we do if life was drama free?

(Update: twenty minutes later, Michael is yelling at Nicholas to shut up. Natural consequences, indeed…)

Nativity Action Hero

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On the docket for today: More fodder for the “boys are just different” grist mill.

The other day I heard Nicholas playing with the nativity set. Someone was talking to “Dad.” This is what we found long past bedtime that night:

Nativity Action Figures

Why yes, in fact Mary and Joseph are entertaining “a car, a boat, a guy and a gun.”

Not just any guy, either. An angry guy.

Angry Guy

Happy Monday.