My Kids Are Sucking The Brain Cells From My Skull

I’m devolving. In my next photo with other adults I’ll be putting rabbit ears behind someone’s head. Wait and see. It’ll happen.

Summer vacation is a mixed bag for me. It’s hard to give up my freedom when the little monkeys come home for the summer, but I do enjoy sleeping in and not making lunches and not stressing out with them over busywork school projects. Summers have become more of a blessing for me and less of a curse than they used to be. The boys are bigger and more independent. They amuse themselves and grab their own snacks. They play outside with friends for hours on end. There is far more freedom in my summers now than there used to be. I’m truly grateful for that.

Still, even with their absences from home, they’re still around many more hours now than they are during the school year. The decibel level in my house increases exponentially in summer. I had no idea I should expect this. One thing I heard before I had kids is that boys are not as talkative as girls. I can’t believe how misguided I was in believing that tall tale. My boys talk non-stop at me all day…and not always about the same things.

To exacerbate the situation, my sons aren’t talking to me non-stop about topics that interest me. We’re not spending hours together discussing alternative energy or world religions or cultural travel. They’re carrying on about their latest fixation, and I’m trying to stay plugged into what they’re saying because I’m supposed to be all zen and living in the moment. When the summer started, we were into Iron Man. From Iron Man, we went on to discover Thor and then Captain America. Of course, from there we were full on into The Avengers after seeing the movie. From the movie, we jumped to the cartoon series Avengers, which assaulted me for what seemed like years but was actually only about a week. After The Avengers, we springboarded right into the Fantastic Four, of course, before landing where we are now…smack dab in the middle of Skylanders. Yes. I am using the term “we” here because if they’re into it I get to be into it, whether I like it or not.

Today, the boys and I went out for a letterboxing hike. Letterboxing, for the uninitiated, is a hobby where you use written clues to find a treasure box. Inside the treasure box is a logbook so you can record your find and a rubber stamp so you can stamp the hider’s unique mark into your logbook. It’s a simple pastime the boys and I took on last year when I decided they needed to learn how to follow directions. (Don’t ask me how that’s going.) Anyway, we were hiking along in between two separate caches, and both boys were rambling simultaneously about equally mind-numbing topics. Joe was telling me the attributes of his Skylander characters while Luke was discussing inventions he thinks Tony Stark should create and market. At that precise moment I realized exactly why my ability to converse with adults has deteriorated to the point where I get the hives at the prospect of a cocktail party: my kids are sucking the brain cells out of my skull. One by one they are disappearing, vacuumed from my head by my Dyson-like children.

They were still chattering on like monkeys on four shots of espresso when I finally lost it.

“You boys are sucking the brain cells from my head. I’m going to need a drink by 3!”

This tirade caught their attention and for two complete seconds they stopped their spouting and looked at me. Then, Joe laughed and Luke raised his hand waited for me to acknowledge his intent to speak again. I shook my head.

I struggle as a parent to tune into what interests my boys. I don’t want them to think that I don’t care about their world. But, how many times a day can I honestly be expected to hear the words “hot lava” or “gunship” without wanting to hang myself? I know I chose this. I could work outside the home full-time, which would greatly decrease the number of hours a day I have to listen to them quiz each other over “Who would win? Thor and his hammer or four nuclear bombs?” If I were in an office, I could have adult conversations and perhaps then I wouldn’t notice my brain in the final stages of atrophy. But, then I remember that work is work, and I don’t like work. I’d much rather be hiking and then hitting Sonic before playing 18 holes of mini golf. I guess when I think about it that way, it’s really not such a bad trade off….a little mindless chattering in exchange for 7-day weekends. And, truthfully, how many brain cells do I need for mini golf, anyway?

 

Marking Your Territory

The victor and his spoils. Or is it the victor in his spoils? Either way…here is the victor.

My boys are usually the best of friends. For years, I’ve been amazed by their closeness and devotion to each other. Recently, though, I’ve noticed a decrease in their togetherness because some things they used to enjoy doing together they now realize they would rather do separately. One of these items is bathing. Their father and I were thrilled when they decided to stop sharing a bathtub because, quite frankly, they were getting way too old for it and we were a little tired of the bickering over who got “the deep end” and who was hogging the tub. What we discovered, however, is that their new love of privacy at bath time led to other issues, like who gets to shower first, who is taking too long, who used all the hot water, and who stole the clean towel.

Last night, after a long day at the pool followed by playing outside in the 100 degree heat, the boys unanimously decided they needed a bath. Not a joint bath, mind you. Two separate baths. Joe asked first, so he claimed first water rights. He filled the tub, got in, and began to relax. He was in the tub about fifteen minutes when an impatient Luke entered the bathroom and started pestering him to get out. I thought about intervening but decided instead to let them solve their own disagreement. Their bickering back and forth went on for about three minutes. Then I heard Luke take it up a notch.

“Get out, Joe,” he demanded.

“No. I haven’t been in here that long,” Joe replied.

“It’s my turn. Get out or I’m getting in.”

“It’s still my turn,” Joe argued.

“I’m getting in, then.” And, I heard the splash of Luke joining Joe in the tub.

For a few minutes, things were quiet. I was not thrilled they were in there together but, honestly, as long as they were quiet I didn’t see why I should rile them up. Then, just as quickly as the truce had been made, it was broken.

“Mom…Luke peed in the bathtub!” Joe exclaimed.

He did NOT just say what I think he said. I heard Joe climb from the tub. He ran down the hall to my room.

“What did you say?” was all I could muster.

“Luke peed in the tub. I had to get out,” Joe tattled.

I looked at him for a long, hard moment, standing there sopping wet in his towel, shooed out of his own bath. He looked so vulnerable that I nearly forgot that he had been egging his brother on, refusing to get out when his turn in the tub should have been over.

“Well, Joe, I’d like to be angry at him for you, but the truth is that you wouldn’t get out and he found a way to get you out. Next time maybe you won’t push him that way again.”

Joe looked at me, but didn’t bother to argue because he knew I was right. I knew he was no worse for the wear because he was wearing a half smile with his towel. I think he was secretly admiring Luke’s powerful negotiation skills. I did talk to Luke afterward to remind him that he probably could have found a less intrusive way to solve his problem. Luke has always been clever, if a bit devilish. He knows what he wants and can usually find a way to get it. As unorthodox as his tactics may be occasionally, I only wish I’d been as fearless with my young life as he is with his.

I suppose his behavior is not that extraordinary. From the dawn of time, men have found a way to appropriate things for themselves, their family, their faith, or their country. Men have plundered and pillaged and taken what they wanted by force. They have drawn up treaties and placed imaginary boundaries on a geographical landscape. Others have waged wars and coerced strangers into their beliefs. More orderly men filed paperwork and staked their claim. And some courageous men have even gone all the way to the moon and stuck their big, old flag in it. Luke’s behavior today was a childish prank tantamount to licking the last piece of cake to ensure no one else wants it. But, you’ve got to hand it to him. Quite Machiavellian, the ends justified the means and he got what he wanted. There truly is more than one way to skin a cat. You can always pee on it.

My Goal: Sons Who Are At Least One Evolutionary Step Above Primates

Hats off at the dinner table, boys.

I firmly believe in picking your battles. As a mother, I make choices every day about which wars to wage and which ones deserve a white flag. One crusade I’ve chosen is to raise young men who are polite, have good table manners, and are properly groomed. Oh. My. God. What the hell was I thinking when I picked up my sword and marched headlong into this fray? Did I not realize that I have two small primates living in my house? We’re barely one step above flinging feces here.

I spend roughly 2/3rds of my waking hours talking to myself (because no one is listening), repeating suggestions, pleas, and ultimatums all having to do with proper etiquette. I don’t care that much if my sons’ rooms are a mess or if they leave their shoes on the floor by the front door. But, it makes me crazy when they chew with their mouths open, barge into a room without knocking, or fail to flush a toilet. My life is a litany of commands (all of which are normally followed by “please” because I try to practice what I preach).

  • Get your finger out of your nose and use a tissue
  • Wash that gunk off your face
  • Hold the door
  • Say “please”
  • Say “thank you”
  • Say “excuse me”
  • Knock before you open the door
  • Use your fork, not your fingers
  • Use a napkin, not your shirt
  • Brush your teeth
  • Close your mouth when you chew
  • Don’t wipe your boogers on the walls
  • Turn the fan on when you’re in the bathroom
  • For heaven’s sake, flush the stupid toilet already

These words are on an endless, repetitive loop echoing from my otherwise empty head. It’s no wonder I feel I’ve forgotten the fine art of conversation. I don’t know how to talk to someone unless they forget to put their napkin on their lap.

One ritual I absolutely insist on is thank you notes for gifts received. While we sometimes we fail to get cards in the mail to thank a great aunt for a $10 bill slated for Easter candy, birthday and Christmas gifts must be acknowledged with a handwritten note. Steve and I both come from families where these notes are compulsory. (Exhibit A. My 81 year old father-in-law still sends us thank you notes on personalized stationery.) Because our boys’ birthdays are three weeks apart (with my birthday sandwiched in between), we write a truckload of notes before the end of June. My sons hate this with a passion that matches their hatred for American Girl dolls, but I make them do it because it’s the right thing to do. People say they don’t need it, but I bet you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn’t appreciate receiving handwritten acknowledgment of their kindess. These notes, while perhaps antiquated in today’s email and text society, is simply a polite gesture I want my boys to feel is not elective. Someday, when they’re interviewing for a coveted job and they land it because the boss appreciated their gracious, interview thank you note, they will see how truly wise I am and they will thank me because they know they should.

We’ve made some progress. My boys now hold the door open for me when we walk into the house. They voluntarily help me carry in groceries. They ask to be excused from the table and they clear their own place settings. And, if they happen upon a piece of “chewy” steak, they spit it quietly without fuss into a paper napkin (although they occasionally leave the napkin behind for me to find). The whole manners gig is much more difficult for Joe because of his ADHD but, God bless him, he tries. I hold out hope that someday my sons will be the teenage boys who impress their friends’ mothers with their thoughtfulness…and not in that smarmy, Eddie-Haskell kind of way. That’s the goal, anyway. And, if I can’t achieve that, I’ll settle for sons who are at least not the worst of the bunch. In the manners game, anything better than “the worst” is something. Some days are better than others, and it’s like shoveling snow in a blizzard, but we’re making progress. As long as they don’t start picking nits off each other and eating them in front of others, I think we’re on the right track.

Folding Up My Map So My Kids Can Unfold Their Own

Yes. That’s my 11 year old wearing a swim mask in the zero depth pool. He’s cool like that.

You know how you want for your children all the things you never had? I cannot tell you how many times that has screwed things up for me and for my kids. You would think somewhere along the line I would figure it out and stop trying so hard to give them what I missed out on and focus rather on helping them find what they want or need. You would think that. You would be wrong.

One thing I always wanted for my kids was for them to be able to swim well. By “swim well,” I mean the kind of swimming where your face is in the water and you know how to time your breaths and you don’t hit the wall with your head. Basic stuff. I simply wanted them to swim better than I do because the best thing I can say about how I swim is that so far I have managed not to drown. Knock on wood.

To ensure that my kids would be able to swim well early, I had them on a swimming time table from birth. I enrolled in Mommy and Me swim classes with them when they were infants. They were both in regular swim classes when they were 3. They loved the water. Loved it. Yet, they each failed to pass the first level class two times before I decided that the community pool was the wrong place for my kids to learn to swim. I reasoned that the large class sizes, the too cold water at the rec center, and the myriad distractions there led to their lack of swimming success.

Next, I enrolled them at a pricey, private swim school. The water was warm (90 degrees) and the classes were only four students. This was just what they needed, right? Wrong. After a traumatic incident where Luke fell into water over his head during class and bobbed for a while before being safely recovered by his teacher, he refused to go back. Honestly, my confidence was then shaken too. I figured my dreams for them to become great swimmers were just dreams. I tried to move on, determining they would learn the way I did…over time with lots of informal practice. It wasn’t what I had envisioned. I pretended to make peace with it.

For the past four and a half years, our boys have been allowed to view the water as fun. They’ve slowly gotten braver and a bit more skilled at swimming on their own. We didn’t push them. They merely began to figure things out. Still, they have not become truly proficient swimmers. So today, once again pushing my luck, I enrolled them in a different swim school. This move was precipitated by our upcoming trip to the Galapagos where being able to swim and snorkel will be a really good thing. They’re 9 and 11 now. I was certain they were ready, but what is more important is that they were certain of it. You know what? They LOVED practicing in the pool with their instructor today. As we were leaving the school, they excitedly mentioned they wished they could go back again this week. I smiled as they told me all about the class I had witnessed via video camera from the lobby. Finally. Now we’re getting somewhere.

It’s okay to want things for your kids. It’s even okay to set them up to discover more about the things you want for them. But, it’s not okay to push them into what you want according to your time schedule or your plans for them. When my kids failed to pass out of swim class that first time, I should have backed off and realized they weren’t ready. I didn’t do that. Instead, I forced the issue, which then led to a worse situation from which we spent years trying to recover. We all want the best for our kids. Sometimes, though, we forget that what’s best for them will only be uncovered when we allow them to decide what interests them when they’re uniquely ready for it. If your child gets accepted into Harvard because you nagged, pushed, and henpecked them into living your dream, I suppose you can count that as an accomplishment. But, wouldn’t it be better if your child got into Harvard because it was what he wanted and worked incredibly hard on his own to achieve? I guess that if I want my kids to find their own way, I’d better stop handing them my map.

How To Survive Chuck E Cheese

The birthday boy practices his Skeeball skills.

Eleven years ago, when hubby and I were the definition of semi-young, urban professionals living in Denver without children, we swore up and down that you would never catch us in Chuck E Cheese. We would drive by one and shiver. Why would anyone purposely enter an establishment with mechanical, singing characters, an underpaid dude wearing a large mouse suit, sub par food, and way, way too many noisy and germ-enhanced children. Ewwwwwwww. When we had our boys, we vowed we would never take them there. Never.

It turns out never is a really long time when you have a 4 year old and a 6 year old who have been invited to a birthday party there and don’t want to miss it. In fact, it’s amazing how quickly “never” becomes “imminently” when you’re listening to your children whine non-stop about a place they’ve never been. So, hubby and I decided that attending a soiree hosted by the incredibly popular Chuck E Cheese was simply a right of passage into the American Parenthood Club, and we caved.

Perhaps it was because we were so terrified of the place that our first experience there was actually not that bad. We quickly discovered what many parents already had; the beauty of Chuck E Cheese is that you can spend two hours without your children while still technically being with your children. We hardly saw our boys during the time we were there. They were off tearing through the place like squirrels on crack, and no one even noticed their behavior. With all the commotion, our kids’ usual decibel level (which hovers somewhere between snow blower and rock concert) seemed not at all off-putting. Steve and I somehow managed to have an hour’s worth of mostly uninterrupted conversation and we played video games for the first time in 25 years. It was very nearly a date. Our babysitter was a human-sized, baseball-cap wearing grey mouse.

Over the years we’ve come to embrace the occasional trip to Chuck E Cheese as less of a prison sentence and more of a night at the carnival. It’s not something we want to do all the time, but once in a while we can stomach it. Here is how we do it.

1) We bring a friend. Tonight’s friend was Captain Morgan. If you’re going to have kid-friendly pizza and soda for dinner, you might as well make it a meal you enjoy. It’s a little easier to palate the pizza and ignore the ambiance when you have a drink to take the edge off. Sure. Some of the restaurants sell beer and wine, but it’s not worth your money. Besides, it’s more fun to be a rebel, smuggle in your own booze, and spike your own punch. Come on. All the cool kids are doing it.

2) Set yourself up in a booth as far away from the party space as humanly possible. I mean, you can only tolerate singing mechanical animals for so long before your IQ begins to drop. And, it will only depress you when you realize that the animals are singing songs from when you were in high school, and that’s why now you’re singing them too. If you leave singing “Everybody Wang Chung Tonight,” don’t say I didn’t warn you.

3) Come prepared to spend a wad on game tokens. You’ll need an ample supply to keep the kids away, and you’ll need some for yourself too. Think of Chuck E Cheese as Vegas without the show girls. You’re not going to win big, but you’re not really there to win. You’re there to play. So, play. Check your decorum at the door, throw some footballs at a target, and play Frogger if you want. No one will judge you if you try to beat the high score you left behind in 1985.

Chuck E Cheese is not my favorite place. It’s certainly not where I would choose to spend my birthday dinner. But, it was where my 9 year old wanted to have his birthday dinner tonight. Five years ago, I would have freaked out at his suggestion. Tonight, I merely relished the opportunity to kick his little butt at Skeeball. Chuck E Cheese isn’t the Antichrist. It just seems that way at first. Like most things in parenting, it’s all about perspective.

 

 

Every Age With My Boys Is A Good Age

Our little boys

One of my husband’s college roommates came to breakfast at our house today. Because Scott lives clear across the country near Philadelphia, this was only the second time he’s had the immense privilege of hanging out with our boys. The last time he saw them, they were roughly 4 and 6, and a bit more difficult to manage than they are now. Today, while we enjoyed steak and eggs and a few hours of conversation with Scott, our boys played quietly either upstairs or in the basement. They interrupted us only once to ask us to look at the whale that had appeared on Wii Sports Resort while Joe was jetskiing.

A couple times during his visit, Scott commented that our boys were so well-behaved. I had to laugh. While I know our boys are pretty good kids, I never truly think of them as being well-behaved. I suppose that’s because most of the time I’m with them they’re driving me insane with non-stop chatter, fart noises, and references to “gunships,” “hot lava,” and “Sector 4.” But, today, they were quite accommodating while we were with our friend. They didn’t stay in the room eavesdropping or run in and out being noisy or even bother us for snacks or drinks. They were inconspicuous and borderline polite. It was pleasant.

Lately I’ve been doing a bit of walking down memory lane, reviewing old videotapes I recently found of our boys when they were roughly 4 and 2. The videos tug at my heart. The boys were so cute with their speech impediments, their mischievous grins, and their funny dancing. I watch those videos and feel a bit sad that I didn’t enjoy that time in their lives more. When they were at that age, though, I was exhausted. I was simply too tired to be zen about the whole thing and live in the moment. And, every time a woman stopped me and told me to appreciate this time with my little boys, I wanted to scream, “I’m too tired to appreciate them. I’ll appreciate them later when they’re bigger and I have the energy.”

So, now that they are bigger, I am trying very hard to live with them in the present and pay attention to this time in their lives. After Scott left today, my well-behaved boys and I spent a perfect rainy day afternoon watching Iron Man and Iron Man 2 together, curled up on the couch discussing how much Luke wanted to be Tony Stark. Having the time and energy now to appreciate them has helped me understand that it’s okay that I wasn’t better about relishing the present with them when they were smaller and such a handful. I was doing the best I could at that time. And, I did enjoy them. If I hadn’t found them darling and interesting, if I hadn’t treasured the place they were at, if I hadn’t understood how ephemeral it all was, I wouldn’t have recorded hours upon hours of video of them dancing, celebrating birthdays, taking baths, and playing with Thomas the Tank Engine.

I’ve cherished every phase with my boys. I’m sure in the end I will think they all went by far too quickly. But, for now, I’m not focusing on that. I’m busy being here with my guys. They’re amazing. And me? Well, I’m doing the best I can, and that’s good too.

Rocking It Old School

Party favors for 14 classmates and one chocoholic brother.

Our youngest son will be turning 9 next week. It’s crazy. What’s crazier still is that late last week I decided we should host a surprise birthday party for him. Luke has been talking to us for five months about what type of birthday party he would like this year. Luke loves any sort of party, but a party where he gets to be the center of attention is the best kind of celebration on earth as far as he’s concerned. He offered us ideas about where we could host it, whom he would like to invite, and what type of food we should serve. He’s coached us on what type of gifts he would welcome (Legos, Legos, and more Legos) and what type of gifts would be eschewed (clothing, especially socks or underwear). His frenzied birthday party planning was heading toward a crescendo last week. I decided I could take it no longer. I told him that his father and I had decided that we simply could not spend money on a big birthday party for him or his brother this year. End of story. Being the resilient and optimistic child he is, with visions of a Lego avalanche persisting in his mind he simply replied, “But, I’ll still get a family birthday party, right?”

The longer I thought about it, the more I realized that denying Luke a party is tantamount to canceling Christmas. He’s been on honor roll all year at school. Last month, he was awarded Student of the Month, and we still haven’t celebrated that distinction yet. And, he’d been such an exceedingly good sport when I’d told him he couldn’t have a party. Honestly, the kid has earned a party, just not the kind of party he had envisioned. The pool Luke wanted to have his party at would charge us $185 for 15 kids to swim and for us to have use of a party room for one hour. Add to that, invitations, pizza, cake, soda, and paper goods and we’d easily surpass $250. Then there are the party favors. Don’t get me started on party favors. When did it become standard to give each party attendee a bag of treats? This blows my mind. We have to reward these children for getting free lunch and cake at a party? Still, it’s a common gesture now, so you have to add that to the party cost. Insanity.

Certainly a birthday party for a 9 year old doesn’t need to bring us to a second mortgage situation, I reasoned. So, I planned to do this surprise party in a way commensurate with the kind of party my parents would have thrown for me, back in the old days when people used to host parties at home with a cake mom made. I whipped up 15 invitations on the computer and mailed them with stamps we already had on hand. Then I ran to Target and bought the ingredients for cupcakes, got a couple plastic table cloths, some two-liters of soda, a few cans of Silly String, and plain, white paper plates and napkins. My spree at Target cost about $50. I then tackled the notion of gift bags. For that ridiculous overture I bought some recycled pencils and Hershey bars and packaged them together using curling ribbon I had on hand. We are going to splurge and order pizza for 15 kids, completely justifiable cost by my estimation because I have no desire to cook. When it’s all said and done, I expect this party to cost us approximately half what we might have spent otherwise, and we’ll still get the same result…an exceedingly happy birthday boy. Imagining Luke’s glee when he sees his friends gathered here for him when he least expected it makes it all well worth the reduced price tag. I’m not going to tell him that, though. I’m really good at keeping secrets. 😉

Looking For A Pay Raise Now

Luke in his self-imposed cleaning exile.

Being a parent is work. It’s work every day. Some days the work is difficult, and you need a drink before 5 p.m. Other days the work is less stressful, and it feels more like play. In either case, parenting is a job that you can’t escape. From the minute that child comes into your life, things are different. You are different.

Today, my little Luke came home from school with summer break fever and without his homework folders. The math homework he was supposed to be working on tonight was apparently left on his desk instead of making its way into his backpack for the ride home. Luke hasn’t forgotten his homework once all year. His oversight hit him hard.

“I can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe I forgot it,” he said repeatedly.

“It’s okay, Luke. It happens. You’ll just have twice as much to do tomorrow, but it will all be fine,” I reassured him.

“I can still work on some other stuff,” he said, reaching for the memory verse he needed to work on. He took it in the living room and started practicing it. A few minutes later, he returned. I could tell he was still angry at himself. He’s a lot like his mother, proud and stubborn, but I want him to be better than his mother so I tried reasoning with him.

“You’re being too hard on yourself, Luke. You haven’t forgotten anything all year. It happens sometimes. It will be fine. No worries.”

He went upstairs, and I lost track of him while I started Joe on his book report, a game board about the historical fiction work he’d recently finished reading. (Have I mentioned how much I hate grade school book reports?) When I found a good stopping point to escape from the dreaded game board, I went in search of Luke. I found him in the basement. He was sitting in the middle of a big pile of Legos, cleaning up.

“Luke…what are you up to?” I inquired.

“Cleaning. Since I forgot my math homework I thought I should try to do something else good.” My little guy was punishing himself for his oversight.

“You realize, sweetie, that I’m not angry at you for forgetting your work. It’s the end of the school year and you’re excited. Sometimes people forget things. It’s not the end of the world,” I told him.

“I know,” he replied. “I still can’t believe I forgot it, though.” He was taking this much harder than I thought.

Damn. He is my kid. Poor thing.

Now, I’d like to say that I immediately stopped him from cleaning the basement because I didn’t want him torturing himself any further, but I can’t. He is me. I can completely relate to his need to be angry at himself a little bit longer for his error and to try to make up for his mistake in some small fashion. Not wanting to interrupt his process, I let him keep right on cleaning. Besides, a clean basement is a clean basement however you come by it, right?

Parenting is work. It’s a lot of work for something you volunteered to do and will never be paid for. But, there are days like today, when I look at my sons and truly understand that the investment of time I’m making in them right now is worthwhile. Yes. They’re learning some bad things from me (like how to be hypercritical of their mistakes, apparently), but they’re also learning some good things from me too, like how to take responsibility for their actions and how to turn a negative into something positive. Today I received the first positive performance review I’ve had in a while. It felt good too. Now, if I could just find the person who could give me a pay raise, I’d be all set.

Goslings I Love

Luke and a gaggle of goslings

I adore Ryan Gosling. In fact, I have serious Ryan Gosling issues. Ever since watching him in one of my favorite films, Lars and the Real Girl, I’ve been a fan. Okay. He is a bit easy on the eyes, but he’s also a legitimately good actor. So what if he’s roughly the age of a kid I would have babysat? Age only matters if you are a wine or a cheese anyway, right? Did you see him in Crazy, Stupid Love? There are exceptions that can be made in these type situations. I’m sure of it.

Today, the kids and I had a gosling sighting of another kind. As we were pulling into the neighborhood after I picked them up from school, we saw several Canada Geese with their flocks of young goslings. While I’m not a huge fan of the geese who permeate this neighborhood (trust me…they permeate…their poop is everywhere), their little goslings, all yellow and fuzzy every spring, are a delight.

So, we ran home, the boys did a bit of homework, and then we grabbed a couple half loaves of white bread that have been sitting on the counter too long to make it sandwich worthy and headed down to the lake in our park. When we got there, the geese did not seem to be anywhere nearby. I did see two adult geese without goslings, so I began to feed them while the boys stood at the dock waiting to see the babies. One of the geese I was feeding was limping terribly. When I got close enough to him, I noticed that his right foot was tangled in discarded fishing line. It was swollen to nearly twice the size of the other foot. I tried to get close enough to help free him but he was clearly in pain and did not understand that I meant to help him. I fed him some bread to ease my mind a bit, perturbed by human carelessness and wishing that geese had opposable thumbs so this one could free himself from his human entrapment.

Then I heard shouts from the dock. The boys had seen the baby geese. I rushed over to where they were. There were at least 17 of the little goslings, and the boys were beside themselves with glee. I’m grateful that my nearly 9 and 11 year old sons still find joy in little things like feeding geese and are not already cynical and disinterested like other boys their age. We spent at least a half an hour feeding those birds, sharing an occasional piece of bread with a couple toddlers who showed up too. It was 30 minutes of pure, in-the-moment happiness. Well worth the cost of a loaf of Wonder bread.

I like to think that when I take time to do little things like this with my boys I am making a difference in who they will become some day. I help them with their homework, I chauffeur them to and from tutoring and other lessons, and I make their lunches. All that is well and good. But, if something were to happen to me to take me from my sons, I kind of like thinking that what they would remember about me is that I could tell a merganser from a cormorant and that I did awesome voices for the characters in books I read aloud to them. I like to imagine that they might not remember that I barked at them too often and that they would instead remember that I would jump on their trampoline and get in spitball wars with them.

Lately I’ve been paying attention to how much the little things are the big things in life. A few minutes spent with those little geese today made a big difference to my boys. They talked about it all night long. When it comes to raising children, the little things we share with them are every bit as important as the big things we do to mold them. Keeping that in mind, I hope I always remember to make time for all goslings, not just the tall ones named Ryan.