Monday, February 22, 2010

Operation domesticate Danny

Taking the kids to church has always been a major undertaking and source of stress for us. It's complicated by the fact that our church offers no nursery or children's programs. Though even when we've gone to a church with a nursery, our son has not done well there. And, frankly, his behavior lately has made us reluctant to leave the house with him. He's been a loud, ornery, unpredictable pooper who likes to push and hit other people (well, mostly just his sister).

On Sunday morning, in an effort to begin the domestication process, we attended the church where Danny will be going to preschool in the fall. We're getting glimpses of the little boy that he's becoming. He wants to be around “the kids.” I've noticed him playing with, instead of alongside, a group of boys at Parents Morning Out. In fact, in a desperate attempt to quell the violence against sister, I explained that if he hurts other kids they won't want to play with him. He gave me a wide eyed look and nodded with quivering lip and said, “I want to play with the kids.” But he's still exhibits many of the hallmarks of the mental illness known as toddlerhood; hence, we need to start giving him plenty of chances to practice some social skills lest he get kicked out of preschool next fall.

Truth be told, we haven't gone to a Sunday church service since last fall. And that's a shame because I've been missing the fellowship, structure and spiritual discipline that church has provided me in the past. The last time we went to Mass was on Christmas Eve and it was a Christmas miracle that we even made it. We got out to the van with time to spare and discovered that it would not start. I sighed heavily, looked at my family, dressed and ready for Mass, then at the sky and said, “Really, God?”

Actually, I felt the same way Sunday morning when our 3 year old son came down the stairs and had a meltdown when I cheerily informed him that Daddy had put his oatmeal on the table for him. (We're talking full on, floor sprawling tantrum here.)

Deep breath. (Ignore him. Ignore him. Ignore him.)

Lately, we're walking on eggshells around here, trying not to needlessly upset him. God forbid we do anything at all for him that he believes, physical limitations be damned, that he can do himself. Nevermind that he sometimes tries to put his jacket on upside down and two legs in one hole or “tunnel” as he calls it. Getting dressed can take either 3 minutes or a half hour, depending on his mood. One misstep and we can go from zero to screaming in 2 seconds. In fact, if you do something for him, like take his shirt off, he must put the shirt back on and take it off himself. Really. But I digress ...

I did not have high hopes that we could get everyone dressed and out the door by 8:20. At around 8:00 a.m. he threw a rather large, metal toy car down the stairs while his sister was coming up. Let's just say the two met in the middle and Fiona now has a cut just under her nose. (One day soon, she is going to kick his little butt. Today, she took one look at him holding a cup that she wanted and smacked it right out of his hand.)

At church, I was expecting Danny to balk, just as he did the first time I took him to the preschool church, as we're calling it now. If you recall, he ran around, wouldn't go near the classroom or the kids, and later told me that he didn't want them to “catch him.” Um, okay. I was expecting Fiona to cry when we left her in the nursery. They gave me a pager just in case she was inconsolable and I didn't expect to be able to sit through the entire church service. Actually, I didn't expect to even make it out of the house let alone through the church's front door. To say my expectations were low is an understatement.

Much to our delight and mild chagrin, the kids behaved better there than they typically do with us.

Imagine our surprise when our loud, balky, somewhat violent son walked right up to a greeter at the front door and showed him the cut on his hand. He then stuck with us while the nice people lead us to the nursery. Danny walked right into the classroom, which is actually his preschool classroom, and started talking to a little boy about the toy cars scattered on the floor. When we picked him up, he was cleaning up train tracks with another little boy. The nursery worker said he did great. He later told me that he pushed a little boy. He explained, "No Max," pushing his arms to each side. "I need space." Sounded reasonable enough to me. As for Fiona, she barely noticed when I left or when I came back for her. (I feel so loved.)

Apparently, they both reserve the cantankerous behavior solely for us. A friend who was once a preschool teacher often tells me that children will behave better for strangers than for their parents. The reason? They're comfortable with us. They know that they can be wretched little ogres and we'll still love them. With strangers, they're not so sure.

Somehow, I'm just not flattered by this notion.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Study hard, this WILL be on the quiz

Ever wonder why moms seem to just know every little detail about their surroundings? For instance, my husband can ask where something is while I'm two rooms away and I can tell him the exact location without leaving my seat or even thinking twice.

"Where's the ketchup?"

"On the second fridge door shelf from the bottom behind the Worcestshire sauce and next to the half and half."

I can even locate items that I haven't seen or thought of in weeks, if not months. The bulb syringe? In the blue basket on top of the baby's dresser underneath a roll of wallpaper border with which I intended to paper the baby's room ... eventually. The pumpking carving tools? In the silverware draw in a baggy tucked behind the tray. I can also locate items that my children have wandered off with. The magnetic shapes for the MagnaDoodle? Dumped in the diaper basket. The sippy cup of milk from breakfast? Beneath the stairs to the TV room on the right, not the left, side of the subwoofer. My husband thinks that just because things are not in the most logical place that I've misplaced them. But I know exactly where just about everything in this house is and could tell you within at least five minutes of being asked. Try me.

Yes, I have mom GPS. I've recently discovered the reason for this phenomenon and the reason is 3-feet-tall, is 3-years-old and speaks not sentences but in questions.

It starts upon awakening every morning with a "Where's Daddy?" and continues throughout the day ... 

What's that? What's that noise? Where's this? Where's that? Where's Daddy? (while Daddy is standing right in front of him) Where's Nana's house? Where's our house? (he asks while we're inside our house ... really.) 

I'm on my toes all day long, answering question after question, locating toys, snacks, shoes, cups, socks, and underwear, identifying all manner of objects, foods and beverages, and every speck of dirt, dust and lint the boy picks up. For a while, for every question, I had an answer or at least an attempted answer. But lately, I've wised up. He obviously knows the answer to a lot of these questions. Often he asks where someone is when that someone is standing right in front of him. (and after a long day with him, this is the question that just sends me right over the edge ... yes, I've actually run screaming from the room much to his and his sister's delight.) 

Apparently, he's just quizzing me.

My latest strategy is to simply repeat the question back to him (about a hundred times a day).

"I don't know, Danny. Where is Daddy?"

And he answers, "He's at work, getting cupcakes." He pauses and nods meaningful, "And dinner for everybody." (Daddy's a chef, who, oddly enough, has never once brought home cupcakes or even discussed them in front of Danny.)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Another Danny story

Danny's world view is very interesting these days. I wish that I could remember every funny, quirky thing he utters, but alas, my pregnant brain can't keep up. That's why it's good when relatives chime in with their own stories.

This weekend, Danny spent the night with Nana and PopPop. PopPop played his "new" to him vintage Gibson Kalamazoo bass guitar that Nana found on eBay for him. It was a fixture in their courtship nearly 40 years ago. In fact, my mother claims he held it as much as, if not more than, he held her. Danny has his own little guitar that he just loves. It's just a plastic guitar with a few buttons that play different songs on it (it's very annoying, worse than elevator music ... I was practically giddy last week when I had the chance to confiscate it for punishment's sake).

So this weekend, PopPop got it out, plugged it in and played some tunes for a wide-eyed and interested Danny.

Here's what PopPop reports:

"When I got to the bridge where I walk up back to the beginning of the bass line, he would get all animated and start to dance.

"I thought that was cool, until we talked about it a few minutes later in the kitchen with Nana. I asked him 'Did you like PopPop's guitar?,' and he said 'yeah, mine has buttons.' Just one of those moments you can't write the script for."


Friday, February 12, 2010

Table talk

"Danny, stop banging your fork on the table," I say (for only the fifth time).

He stops, stares at me and whispers "I too loud."

"Yes," I whisper back. "I like your quiet voice."

"I have a quiet voice," he shouts.

 Sigh. (It really is rather funny!)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dumb things I say way too often

Be careful. I must say this 20 times a day and I still have kids with cuts, scratches and bruises; kids who "drive" over each other's body parts with ride-on toys and other wheeled contraptions; one kid who bumps her head on the underside of the table daily; one kid who falls off his chair at least once a day; one kid who routinely knocks his little sister over; kids who spill snacks and meals on the floor; kids who manage to spill drinks from sippy cups and snacks from bowls with a snack trap lid; a dog who is routinely mauled and harassed by the children; and on and on and on. In fact, think of the most benign and seemingly safe activity, like walking on a flat surface, and my children have hurt themselves doing it. They're obviously not going to heed my advice.

Shhhh, be quiet, you're being too loud or any variation of this sentiment often sends me running for the Tylenol or the earplugs or the bathroom with a stash of chocolate and Diet Coke. I don't know why I  bother saying this. Children have no volume control. Well, that's not totally true. They can modulate up, but never down. I've tried demonstrating my most excellent whispering technique to my 3 year old son to blank stares and even louder, more high pitched tones. I get a kick out of my husband who, at least once during dinner every night, tells our son "We don't like loud noises." This from the man who is obsessed with digital Dolby 5.1 surround sound or whatever it's called. On the inside, I'm thinking, "Then why the hell did we have kids? And why the hell do I have to endure a 20 minute sound check on the stereo system before watching a movie?"

Come here. They almost never comply, at least not on my time table. This reminds me of a scene from the Cosby Show where Cosby is trying to get Vanessa and Rudy to come to him: "Come here... Come HEEERE. Here, here, here. You see, there is there, and this is here. Come HERE."

Why did you do that? Once I asked Danny why he peed his pants. His answer? Eight. It'll be a while before he understands the word why.

How many times do I have to tell you ... ? One day, when they have some concept of numbers, they'll give me a smart answer. For now, I just get blank stares. The answer really is ten times a day for the next 20 years.

I'm not going to tell you again. Um, of course, I am. I'm going to be repeating myself ad nauseum for the next 20 years.

It's a good thing that my life doesn't have a word limit or I'd be way over by now. When the kids are grown and out of the house, I'm going to join a monastery and take a vow of silence for a year.

Monday, February 08, 2010

A conversational bunch

Danny and I read a book today called "Smiling." It's a book about feelings. I don't usually go for these kinds of touchy-feely books, but it was what I could grab in a mad dash to gather up 20 or so books before the newly minted toddler daughter clears dozens of books from the shelves.

The book asks "What makes you smile?"

"Carson," he said. Carson is his friend, the son of my best friend (who we haven't seen in a few weeks but he talks about all the time ... guilt, guilt, guilt.) "And Katie," he chirped.

"What makes you sad?" it asks.

"Germs," he said. "Make me sick."

"What makes you mad?" it asks.

"Grown ups," he said. Hm, I'd never heard him use that word. Intrigued, I asked, "Why do grown ups make you mad?"

"They not play with me," he said. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. Trying not to sound defensive, I explained that Daddy plays ball with him and Daddy is a grown up, and Nana plays with him and she's a grown up (sometimes) and Mommy plays with him and she's a grown up (on occasion). All the while, I'm thinking, "Maybe I shouldn't be checking my e-mail or Facebook so much or obsessively sweeping the Cheerios from the kitchen floor five times a day or insisting that it's actually good for them if I just step aside and let them do their own thing for a while."

"I'm a grown up," he declared happily. Um, yeah, if grown ups pee in their pants and throw tantrums at the drop of a hat, then sure kid. (Oh wait ... I'm pregnant and that happens on almost a daily basis. Nevermind.)

As for the girl child, Jim declared the other night that she understands way more than we give her credit for. So today I decided to test her comprehension. I asked her to put something in the trash. And she actually did it only after trying to put the piece of paper in her mouth. She understands and can respond to simple requests and conversation. I can ask her to pick out the circle shape and she will. I can ask her where her farm is and she'll go find it. I tell her to leave the bathroom and she howls, loudly, before complying.

It's incidents like these that make me think, "I need to get my act together before they start understanding that their mother is just a little crazy." Quick ... how much time do you think I have before one of them realizes that mommy is throwing just as big a tantrum as they just did? Not long? Crap.