Like Sands Through the Hour Glass…

Our water boy
Our water boy

Oh, boys. Today, Joe had a friend come over to hang out. Everything was going well until they decided to take a hockey stick and hit some home runs using Luke’s Lego models as the ball. The basement survived these antics, but of course the models did not. Luke, who was already feeling excluded and lonely, added furious to his list of emotions. We could not blame him. Demolishing Lego models, while impressive to friends, is not the way to keep peace with your younger brother. Now, we know that 1) Joe was just showing off for a friend and 2) his impulse control is not the best to begin with, but this was not the first time Joe has destroyed some of Luke’s Lego creations. He’s been punished for this infraction in the past. It hasn’t made an impression.

We decided to hold a family meeting over dinner to discuss what to do with the repeat offender. We offered Joe the opportunity to explain himself and argue his case. Then we asked Luke to rate his level of sadness about the loss of the models. With both boys still at the table, Steve and I began discussing punishments. Ultimately we decided that Joe would be allowed to rebuild the models to Luke’s satisfaction to lessen the duration of the punishment, which we determined was a week without his nightly baths.

Yes. It’s odd that our nearly 13-year-old son takes nightly baths in addition to his morning showers. As high as our water bills can be, it’s hard to complain that our son likes to be too clean because I’ve had the opportunity to catch of whiff of some other teenage boys and they smell. Badly. I write off Joe’s water obsession because he’s a Gemini with a Pisces ascendant and a Pisces moon, so water is his primary element. Joe says he’s water obsessed because he’s Sharkboy, and during the day he is just a fish out of water. We knew this would be a rough punishment, but we were determined to make it stick.

When we got home, Joe went to work rebuilding the models. He was able to fix one quite easily. The other one he recreated (albeit with modifications) to earn Luke’s stamp of approval. Joe came before the parole board, and we agreed to lessen his sentence to a meager two nights on Luke’s recommendation. (Luke, god bless his tender heart, hates to see Joe suffer.) The reduced sentence, which teetered on the edge of being way too lenient by our standards, did not appease Joe in the least. Nope. When he realized he still would not get his bath tonight, he perpetrated a sizable meltdown in protest. He wheedled. He argued. He cried. He wrote notes of apology. He wandered in and out of our room muttering curses until we were ready to tell him that although he couldn’t have a bath we wished he would go soak his head. Because we felt too generous already in the sizable reduction in his sentence, though, we held steadfast and refused to cave. He could live with two days’ punishment.

Joe’s meltdown continued for about 30 minutes. Finally I pulled out the Bunny Buddhism book and shared this doozy with him when he again wandered into our room in protest:

The wise bunny knows life is full of suffering and chooses not to create more.

He was not impressed with my bunny wisdom. Joe is the King of Drama. When he was younger and in trouble for a transgression, he would tell us that he wanted to beat himself as punishment. I started to wonder if he had been a member of Los Hermanos Penitentes in a former life and that was why he was advocating self-flagellation. It’s hard to know sometimes if his histrionics are the genuine result of his ADHD-enhanced lack of control or an elaborate ruse meant to elicit guilt. He is capable of working both ways.

I’m not sure why Joe insists on ratcheting his initial Level 3 DEFCON misery to DEFCON Level 1, but I keep hoping that he will learn what the wise bunnies know…that inventing additional suffering is ill-advised. So far that lesson has not kicked in, but I hold out hope. Hopefully he chooses to stop making unpleasant situations into unbearable ones. Hopefully he learns to channel his energy into reducing the drama in his life rather than creating more. If not, I guess there’s always a future on Days of Our Lives. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that. I’ve seen enough of Stefano and Marlena.

Just Keeping It Real

Shouldn't every boy's bathroom come with a portable television?
Shouldn’t every boy’s bathroom come with an iPad television?

Since the school year began, I’ve had several opportunities to volunteer at our boys’ new school. While the main goal of these volunteer sessions has been to meet our household required number of volunteer hours, I’ve had the good fortune to spend most of those volunteer hours with my sons among their new friends. I went on a field trip with Joe to Sports Authority Field at Mile High to tour Broncos headquarters with his classmates. I worked at the annual Scholastic Book Fair and helped my sons select a plethora of new books for our ever-growing library of graphic novels. And, today, I helped the boys and their classmates make pies for Havern‘s annual Thanksgiving Day feast, which will be held this Wednesday during the boys’ regularly scheduled lunch times. The classes make the apple and pumpkin pies that the families will eat during that luncheon. It’s both a cost-saving measure (child labor is cheap, you know) and a way for the kids to gain some new skills while working with the occupational therapy team.

During my volunteer session today, I got to watch Luke in action as he used one of those fancy apple peeler/corer/slicer gadgets that always seem like such an awesome thing until you discover all it really does in your house is collect dust back in the corner of a rarely opened cupboard. So there Luke was, quickly and artfully using the gadget that, frankly, I’ve been afraid to buy for fear of peeling, coring, and slicing off my own hand. I was impressed by how he took to the task and how deftly he was managing to use that thing without requiring dozens of stitches. After Luke had whipped through the murder of no less than six apples without any personal or property damage, it was time to turn the apple spirals into slices for the pie.

Luke’s occupational therapist explained to the kids that they could unwind and tear the spirals into slices small enough to be tossed with lemon juice, sugar, and cinnamon for the pie filling. And so several children began doing just that. I grabbed an apple too and meticulously began tearing a half of each spiral layer off into a perfect apple slice while Luke stood and watched everyone for a minute. At last with great flourish he seized an apple.

“Wouldn’t it go a lot faster if you just did this?” he asked as he simultaneously tore the peeled, cored, and spiral-sliced apple in half lengthwise through the missing apple core. There he stood with half the slices in one hand and the other half the slices in the other hand, looking at us all as if we were daft for not thinking of it first.

Now I’m not ashamed to admit that my 10-year-old son figured out this simple and speedy solution while I dutifully followed the instructions of the person in charge. I’m also not ashamed to admit that his idea never even crossed my mind. I was too dang busy being proud of my baby for not following directions and for instead thinking outside the box and using his incredible spatial reasoning skills to cut through, quite literally, the core of the task. I love how Luke’s mind works. I see it when he looks at a photo of a Lego creation and describes to me how it goes together before ever opening the box or unwrapping one plastic block. I see it when he envisions a completed piece of art in his head and offers me a list of every item he will need to fabricate it. Luke’s spatial skills remind me that his dyslexia is a gift. His brain works differently, and it is awesome.

The career of stay-at-home mom is often thankless, exhausting, and unnoticed. The days when you feel truly invigorated and confident are few and far between. Tonight I was enjoying Luke’s success vicariously by dreaming that somewhere along the line I’ve done something to contribute to his mental growth in a positive, outwardly visible way. Then, in the midst of my gleeful reverie, I heard my name being called loudly from down the hall.

“Mom….Mom??” the cry came from the boys’ bathroom. It was Joe.

“What?” I bellowed back.

“Mom…I need you. It’s important,” he called. And dutifully off I went to the bathroom.

There I found Joe taking his ritual evening bath. He had his iPad propped up against the tissue box holder. I noted with an eye roll that Monday Night Football was on the screen. I love how my boys have turned their iPads into portable television sets. Rough lives they lead those two.

“What, Joe?” I asked without attempting to hide my annoyance.

“Can you hit Dismiss, please?” he asked.

It was then that I noticed that the game was paused because his iPad battery was at 10%. Ugh.  Are you kidding me? Welcome to the story of my life as Mom. Just when I’m feeling validated about my decision to stay home and raise these two school-struggling children into intelligent, decent, and reasonable human beings, one of them reminds me that I’m merely here to keep things up and running. Yep. My boys are all about making sure I’m keeping it real.




One Lego Brick Shy Of A Load

The most creative object on earth

A few days ago I was looking through Halloween costume ideas online. Not exactly sure why I was doing this given the fact that our boys made us buy their costumes about a month ago when the Halloween costume stores began popping up in previously abandoned retail spaces every five miles or so. Joe has his Captain America costume, a costume that fits his personality so well that I think he should wear it 24/7. It’s just my favorite thing ever. Joe is all about being an upright citizen, protecting the innocent, and keeping an eye out for the bad guys. Luke, on the other hand, is the bad guy. He picked an elaborate, black, ninja costume complete with face mask and two swords that attach to his costume in the back. He would also be carrying nunchucks and throwing stars if we let him, but we decided that was a bit more weaponry than is actually necessary to obtain a pillowcase full of free candy.

At any rate, during the course of my random costume search, I came across homemade costumes to match the Lego brand. Luke is a Lego fanatic, so I thought they might interest him. Against all greater wisdom, I showed him some of the costumes and told him that if he liked one maybe someday I could make him one…the operative word there was “someday” because he already had a costume and therefore didn’t need a new one. Then, last night, four nights after my original mention of the Lego costumes, Luke casually mentions that he’s excited to wear his Lego costume. What???? I froze.

“Luke, honey,” I said, “I thought you were excited to be a black ninja.”

“You said I could be a Lego dude,” he replied. “I like that better.”

“Ummmm….I didn’t mean for this Halloween, sweetie. Halloween is in a couple days. I’m not sure I can make a costume on such short notice,” I said.

Oh, what hot glue can do!

His brow furrowed.

“Oh,” he said, clearly disappointed.

I sat there silently loathing myself for bringing it up when I knew there was no way I’d have the time, energy, or inclination to create a Lego minifigure costume with paper maché head in a two short days with oodles of other obligations in my way. That was a rookie parenting mistake. I knew better. Still, Luke looked sad. I hate that. So, you guessed it. I made rookie parenting mistake number two.

“Well…I might be able to make you a Lego brick costume,” I said. “I know it’s not a minifigure, but it would still be in the Lego theme,” I said with doubt in my voice. “Would you like that?” I asked.

“Yes. Definitely,” he said. Then, he added for punctuation, “Perfect.” It was a done deal.

“Okay,” I replied. “If I can find the materials and if I can find the time, I will do that for you.”

So, this morning after I dropped the boys at school, I got to work. An employee at Joann’s was emptying out a box of freight on the sales floor. From half a store away, it sure looked like exactly what I needed. I swooped closer, stealthily eyeing it from an aisle away and sizing it up before approaching the employee and asking if she’d be willing to give it to me. She did. First task completed and for free. After that, I was off to Michael’s for blue, satin-finish spray paint. My last stop was Hobby Lobby, where I found the round boxes I would need. Roughly $37 in supplies, and I was ready to assemble.

Insert child here

At home, I pulled out my ruler, a pencil, some big scissors (although a box cutter would have been much nicer), and my trusty glue gun. When I bought that stupid thing, I had no idea why I would ever need it. It was on sale and someone had told me once that everyone should have one, so I bought it. I have since come to a great appreciation for the beauty of the hot glue gun. It helped me put together a burlesque costume, adhere badges to a Cub Scout uniform, and patch together several book report projects. There’s nothing like the smell of hot glue in the morning. I fired that thing up and in less than an hour of measuring, cutting, taping, tracing, and gluing, had the whole costume assembled and ready to paint. Two cans of spray paint later and she was done. Is it perfect? According to my perfectionist mind…no. There are things about it I would do differently if I had another $40 in supplies and a couple more days to fiddle around with it. But, I don’t, and it’s definitely workable as is.

When Luke walked into the house and saw it, I realized why I had my moment of weakness and made my rookie mistake. My mom sewed our Halloween costumes. I used to think she did it because she was trying to save money. After today, though, I no longer think that. When you make something for your child and you see their face light up when they see it, for just a minute you almost feel like Superman. For a split second, they know you’re amazing. And, as cool as that is, you know that somewhere in the deepest recesses of their minds, they not only know that you are amazing but also that they are cherished and important. And, that’s way cooler.

You Say You Want A Revolution…

Luke shows me a political ad on a Lego video on You Tube

The other day I wrote about the political process and how my children are seeing it play out at school. I got a great comment on that blog from my friend, Ken, who said he is troubled by the notion that children in grade school are becoming involved in the discussions in the first place. I see where he’s coming from, at least with regard to the bitterness, back biting, and general nastiness that seem to accompany politics-as-usual these days. Still, there is a part of me that feels that kids should have some knowledge of politics even if they’re incapable of understanding it in any reasonable depth. (Heck…I wish that same thing for most of the voting-eligible adults in this country.) My main interest in making sure my children are at least aware of the political process stems from a purely educational stance. I want them to learn early on that people disagree and see things differently, yet we still need to find some way to work and live together despite disparate views. Yes. I am highly idealistic. I know.

Today, though, instead of teaching my son a lesson about politics in this country, he taught me one.

“So, who are you going to vote for, Luke?” I queried, waiting for his annoyed response at my nonsensical question.

“I can’t vote, Mom,” he replied with exasperation. “I’m not a grown up.”

“Okay. You’re right. But, if you could vote, what would you be thinking?” I asked.

“Well,” he replied in all earnestness, “judging from the ads I’ve seen lately I don’t think either of them is a very good choice.”

Ummm….excuse me?

“What political ads have you seen?” I asked. This is a legitimate question on my part because we watch very little television in this house, and our boys are subsequently shielded from the disproportionate number of ads via that type of media.

“The ones before the Lego videos I watch on You Tube,” he said.

Ah, yes. The You Tube videos. How could I forget?

“Oh. Well, what are the ads saying?”

“Obama’s weak on terrorists and Romney’s going to break his promises to seniors regarding health care.”

Holy hell. The words, as they spilled carelessly from his nine year old mouth, were not his. He was repeating ad copy word for word. It scared the bejeezus out of me.

“You do realize that you can’t believe everything you hear, right?”

“I know,” he said. Then he changed the subject and reminded me that he would like The Avengers movie on DVD as soon as possible.

The whole conversation gave me pause, though. Why are political ads appearing before Lego videos on You Tube? Who is the mastermind behind that genius plan? Let’s hope that the ads on You Tube videos appear randomly. If this pairing isn’t accidental, then it would seem our political parties are attempting to indoctrinate our children quite young. This would be eerily similar to Hitler’s youth approach, but hopefully without the appalling genocide result.

I swear my life keeps becoming more and more complicated. Now, instead of merely explaining to my boys about the Viagra ads they have inadvertently become the targets of, I also need to deflect obnoxious political commentary. I tell you. I don’t get paid enough for this parenting gig for the amount of work I put into it. I keep trying to stay one step ahead of the game, but I keep getting tripped up when I least expect it. Political advertising on Lego videos. Seriously? Lightbulb! Whoa. Hold the phone. Wait just one minute. I wonder…if I made my own ads about room cleaning and doing the dishes and placed them with the Lego videos, do you think I could start a revolution, a tidal wave of conscientious children creating clean houses? Maybe I could change the world with that approach? Or, at least maybe I could change my own world. Anyone want to go in with me on the advertising costs?


Legos: Just Like Herpes Only More Expensive

My fridge is having a Lego outbreak apparently.

Last week, I opened up the refrigerator, moved a jar of pickles, and found a Lego. A friggin’ Lego. IN MY FRIDGE. Is no place in my home immune to Legos? I questioned the males who cohabitate with me and not one of them had a clue as to how said Lego came to reside in the fridge. Apparently it grew legs and opposable thumbs, opened the door, and walked in there itself. Why not? It doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility when you consider the insidious fashion in which Legos have infiltrated our home.

It’s honestly bad enough that I’ve come to think about Legos as a disease similar to herpes. (Yes. I know. I once referred to glitter as sparkly herpes. Apparently, a lot of things remind me of herpes.) But, Legos are just like herpes, only they’re more expensive. Explore this with me, please.

Children aren’t born with Legos. They catch Legos from a “friend” who shares them without full disclosure about how this one fun encounter will forever change your child’s life. This is when the primary infection starts. The next thing you know, the Legos begin to spread. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pieces of Danish plastic insinuate themselves into your home. This week, for example, in addition to the find in my refrigerator, I’ve found pieces in the living room, the family room, the dining room, the kitchen, the basement, in two of our three bathrooms, in my car, and on the front porch. The poor dog has ingested and subsequently yakked up two Lego pieces in five days. (I’m sure she’s pooped some out too, but I’m not going looking for those so my sons will just have to consider those a lost cause.) The other night, I got into bed, rolled over, and freaked out when I felt something on my leg. Turns out it was a Lego. Lego Jedi Shaak Ti was in my bed. I’m telling you, we’re in the midst of a full-on outbreak in our house.

Occasionally, the infection seems to dissipate because the virus goes dormant. The kids are outside more or become temporarily engrossed in other toys, like the Wii. I no longer find semi-permanent indentations in my bare feet from Lego pieces that have embedded themselves in my flesh. My house isn’t overflowing with Lego cities and vehicles and action characters. I start to think maybe we’re past this. Perhaps it was all simply a bad dream. Then, out of nowhere, there’s a recurrence. Crap.

In the three years since Luke contracted Legos, I’ve learned that there’s no sense denying them or pretending they don’t exist. This is a serious infection. It’s not going to go away miraculously and, quite unfortunately, there is no cure. All we can do is manage the disease. So, we try to do that. We’ve bought him two large plastic buckets to try to contain his thousands of pieces. We’ve talked to him about preventing the spread of Legos. We’ve cautioned other parents about the disease as well. We’re learning to live with it as best we can.

Yep. Legos are a lot like herpes. Perhaps the only difference I can see is that with herpes simplex the primary infection and all subsequent outbreaks come to you free of charge. These small, plastic Danish herpes are costly at the onset and for the entire future of the disease. If I could get back every dollar that has been spent on my son’s extensive Lego virus…um, I mean, collection…I’m certain I could have vacationed in Hawaii twice by now. I find it a bit ironic that if I’d only have gotten lei’d, perhaps none of this would have happened.