Carol Week: God Bless Ye Merry Caterpillars

While cleaning up (at our house) and getting ready for a Christmas party (not at our house), I came into the girls’ room to discover two Christmas beasts crawling around this afternoon. According to my firstborn (dark pink), they’re caterpillars. According to my secondborn (light pink), they’re naked mole rats.

There are lots of animals mentioned in Christmas carols and songs, but I’ve never heard of either of those making an appearance …

Happy holidays!

Carol Week: Freaky Friday

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Kids singing in unison can be sweet. It can also be creepy. It depends on the time of day they’re singing. And the listeners’ frame of mind. And how in-key they are.

It’s not just singing, either. My girls can be very sweet in their general interactions, but they can also freak me out.

Two or three nights ago, my 6-year-old was being mildly rude to my 4-year-old as they got ready for bed, so I dropped some fatherly (though admittedly made up, as I’m an only child) wisdom:

Me: Treat her well. You’ll be sisters your whole lives.

Firstborn: I hope we die together. Like if someone shoots me with an arrow, it goes through me and hits her, too.

Second: Maybe she can be standing in line, and I’m right behind her, and the arrow would go through us and make a big hole.

Me: Uh … that’s … a nice … thought?

Carol Week: Away in a Manger

 

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The decorations have been slow to come out this year, for some reason. Actually, I know the reason: our thirdborn, the 1-year-old. He’s not Christmas tree compatible, and a Douglas fir or whatever tends to be the centerpiece of the seasonal decor. We’re still planning to get a small version—something that would fit on a tabletop—but in the meantime, the nativity sets have been trickling out. My wife and daughters put up our first string of lights yesterday.

We have been listening to carols every night. After story time, the girls like it if one of us stays in the room for a while as they fall asleep. I tend to sit in a chair in the corner of their room and work on a writing project or play some mindless video game, and since Dec. 1, I’ve added playing carols, softly, to the routine.

Not much else, today. Last night was a very late night for various reasons, and a slice of life is what I’ve got in me this morning. May your day be merry and bright …

Carol Week: The Final Countdown

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This is the first year my girls have been into Christmas music. Like really into it. My 4-year-old likes “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” but they’ve both particularly latched onto “The 12 Days of Christmas,” which my wife has declared to be “my song with the girls,” because she’s already tired of it.

I don’t mind singing it with them—even repeatedly on the same car trip—though “with them” is a bit of an overstatement. Caroling sessions usually go like this:

Me and the girls: On the first day—

Secondborn: No. Let me sing it myself.

Firstborn: We’ll sing it by ourselves.

Me: OK.

They tend to be able to get up to the five golden rings, with my 6-year-old carrying her younger sister along lyrically. Then they start to get hazy.

The girls: On the … ssss … sss …

Firstborn: Sev— no, sixth day of Christmas

Both: My true love gave to me! Six … … …

Secondborn: What is it?

The girls: …

Firstborn: Dad?

Me (singing): Geese a-laying!

Secondborn: Dad! We’re doing this ourselves!

This goes on, in terms of number and item/character. My first-grader can count into the hundreds with no help, but for some reason the rising tally of 12 gifts throws her off. Sometimes she works her way up with no problem, but usually she asks me to intervene, and then I’m asked to bow out again until the next lapse.

The girls: Twelve drummers drumming! Eleven … …

Me: Pipers—

The girls: Pipers piping! Nine—

Me: Ten—

Secondborn: Dad!

Firstborn: Ten lords a-leaping!

Firstborn: Nine … …

Me: Ladies—

Secondborn (simultaneously): Ten lords a-leaping!

Firstborn: (simultaneously): Nine ladies dancing!

The girls: Uh …

Firstborn: Dad?!

Me (miming milking): Eight—

Secondborn: What?

Me: Maids—

The girls: OK, OK! Eight maids a-milking!

Secondborn: Now just us again.

As frustrating as it is musically, it’s really very sweet. And it’s way less annoying than Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” I can’t stand that song.

What are your favorite/least favorite carols and songs?

Waiting Week: Lost in Translation

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My kids are always seeking validation.

I don’t hold it against them, though, because I’m always seeking validation, too. Usually from my wife. Right, honey? Right?

But when my secondborn was about two years old, I would essentially have to play a guessing game with her to figure out the exact form of validation she was looking for. She would tell me something over and over and over, while I searched for the exact word combination to let her know I understood what she was telling me. Sometimes it took forever.

“Yes! Yes, I see! I see you! Yes, I see you! I see what you’re doing! Yes, I see what you’re doing! Yes, I do see you!”

It was like playing an old text-based game where I knew what I wanted; I just couldn’t figure out how the programmer worded it:

“Get box.”

I don’t know how to do that.

“Pick up box.”

I don’t know how to do that.

“Acquire box.”

I don’t know how to do that.

“Get locked box.”

I don’t see a “locked box” in this room.

It was frustrating as a kid with a Commodore 64, and it’s frustrating now as an adult with three children. And it doesn’t at all call to mind my own preoccupation with words and precision in using them when my wife and I fight. Right, readers? Right? Right?

Waiting Week: Worry Wednesday

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We’ve been to the E.R. a few times.

There’ve been falls and head bumps, exams and x-rays. When my firstborn was really little, we found her with an open package of penny nails, several of which were in her mouth.We didn’t know what to do. So we watched and waited. That night she woke up screaming, twisting around and arching her back. So we rushed to the hospital. I was understandably and justifiably worried.

One x-ray of her digestive system later showed she hadn’t actually swallowed anything sharp. We have no clue why she’d been acting as if she were an inside-out pincushion, but now I worried that we had her x-rayed for nothing, that we had irradiated her. I’m not one to let the answer to my worry allow me to stop worrying.

Since then, I haven’t done well with the wait-and-see medical approach. Waiting means worrying.

When my secondborn climbed up on a small picnic table on our patio and fell off headfirst onto the concrete before anyone could grab her—and then started crying and vomiting—we rushed her to the E.R. Turns out she was fine. The doctor told us that throwing up isn’t necessarily a sign of a concussion in children that young. But upon checkout, we got the requisite speech and paperwork: Keep an eye on her for a while. If she develops any of the following symptoms, come back.

That’s the part that tears me up. For the next 72 hours or so, I braced myself for the worst. Forget that a medical professional told me she was fine and the likelihood of any long-term (or even short-term) issues was incredibly small. There was a chance (however unlikely) that something bad was happening in my girl’s brain—something no one could see—and I was powerless to do anything about it.

I equate waiting with powerlessness. If I had the power, I would have the answers when I wanted them and wouldn’t have to wait for an all-clear sign. And I don’t like feeling powerless.

At 34 years old, I find myself jealous of older people, people at the ends of their lives, who can look back and see that all their children survived and thrived, that everybody made it through, that even the big stuff turned out OK. I know that’s not the case for everyone—bad stuff happens.

I just need to figure out how to balance that knowledge with appreciating and enjoying and having peace with what I have and where I am now.

How do you deal with waiting?

Waiting Week: On the Road Again

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The “are we there yet?” joke is so overdone in pop culture in our society, I had forgotten that it had to be based in reality—that it wasn’t the product of some Hollywood script writer or advertising executive.

On Thanksgiving, I wrote about the sort of dialog that flies around the minivan on a family road trip, but in the days since, I’ve kept returning to the idea of wanting to arrive now. My kids will often insist that they’d like to be at the destination—sometimes getting angry with me that I’m not magically and instantaneously transporting us to where we’re going.

Even in their more charitable moments, my kids don’t ask “Are we there yet?” in those exact words, but they come up with seemingly countless other ways to phrase the question.

“Is this it?” they’ll shout from behind me, wondering hopefully whether our continued 70 mph progress suddenly means we’ve arrived. Or they’ll sort of plead, “Can we be there now?” Or they’ll go for seemingly useful information: “When are we going to get there?” Encouraged, I’ll tell them a rough time, but that doesn’t actually work, either.

This last trip, I tried something new with my 4-year-old, who kept asking, “When will we be close?” I made sure she could see a clock, and then told her that when it said 10:30—one zero three zero—we would almost be home. She can recognize numbers, so I figured it would be a good, busy-work exercise for her.

After less than a minute of clock watching (it was 9 a.m., so I didn’t expect her to sit in silence the whole time, but I thought I’d get a little reprieve), she started a new line of questions: “What time was it again that you said?” “What time comes right before one-zero-three-zero?” “When will it be 10:30?” “When will it be—what did you say again?”

I feel like I ask the same questions: to myself, to my wife, to my parents, to God. I’m not sure what exactly the “there” is, but I know I haven’t made it yet. It’s no fun feeling stuck, waiting on what seems like someone else’s whim. When will I arrive at more peace, less worry, more money, less stress, more free time, more confidence, more whatever it is I don’t have as I travel at 70 mph through life?

The metaphor isn’t perfect, because I know I don’t have a fixed destination at which I’ll stretch my legs, crack my back, and say, “Yep—and I made good time, too.” And yet I still feel like asking, “Are we there yet?”

How about you?

Thanks Week: Wait Till the Morning Comes

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I think, “Maybe tonight will be a good night.”

I think, “Maybe tonight no one will wake up crying, and no one will have an upset stomach, and the baby will stay asleep, and we can all get some rest.”

I think, “I can’t remember the last time we all slept through the night.”

Having a baby means interrupted sleep patterns, of course, but this is something more. Lately, anyway, it seems like there are always nightmares, always sore throats, always problems. Among all of us.

My 4-year-old has been complaining of an upset stomach for a while now. For a couple of months. There are no other symptoms—nothing unusual going in or coming out, no fevers. We’re thinking it’s anxiety—causing the discomfort in her and thereby prompting it in me. She’d prefer to live on Trader Joe’s O’s and boxed mac and cheese, but, of course, we feed her more foods and healthier foods, which she picks at. I think she’s hungry a lot, too.

Late Thanksgiving night—or early the next morning, at 4:30, actually—I woke up feeling terrible. Like, hunch over the toilet terrible. The kids all woke up fine—aside from the usual complaints—at 6. We puttered around with my parents, then drove to my wife’s parents’ house for a second Thanksgiving dinner with her siblings and such. I was feeling fine by the afternoon, and my 4-year-old actually ate food. Plus, we loaded her up with buttered rolls—heavy on the butter—thinking it would fill her up.

She admitted that her stomach didn’t hurt as much. “That’s because you’re putting food in it,” I said, popping a few more pomegranate seeds into her mouth, since she decided she likes those, too.

The kids went to bed with no issues. No health issues, anyway. The adults actually all watched a movie together: Safety Not Guaranteed, which could be my life motto. Then, while walking past the room where the girls were sleeping, I heard an odd sound. My wife and I thought it was the family dog hacking, but it turned out to be my 4-year-old in her sleep. She woke up, sobbing, with this braying cough unlike anything I’ve yet heard out of any of my children.

I’ll admit that I looked at my wife and said, “I can’t take this anymore.” I meant the sicknesses. The late-night questions with no answers: Why is she making that noise? Why won’t she tell us what hurts when we ask? Why does it seem like someone in our family is always suffering from some ailment or another? What should we do now?

My wife sat with our barking daughter in a steamy bathroom while I started writing this post. Writing helps me organize my brain. Words are a way of taking some of the chaos of the world and containing it, constraining it, making it do what I want. When I put a word down, it stays where I put it. It means what I want it to mean. Let there be light, and all. Words have power. In the beginning was the word

The two of them eventually came out, and my girl asked—in a raspy voice, her breathing clear but ragged—if she could watch the Burninator, so I put on a string of Homestar shorts and the two of us fell asleep, her on a couch, me on the floor below her.

When I talked to her—bright-eyed, clear-chested, smiling her—about everything this morning, she said she had had no trouble breathing in, but breathing out last night was hard. It made a weird sound. Her throat hurt last night; it’s fine now. For the first time in weeks upon weeks, when I ask her how her tummy’s doing, she says good.

I’ll probably revisit this post during an upcoming Worry Wednesday, but for now I’m thankful that the sun came up, and my kids are now running around, playing, helping with chores, beautiful.

Breathing.

Thanks Week: Over the River and Through the Woods

Thanks Week: Over the River and Through the Woods

When we begin a five-hour drive to visit our families for the holidays at 5 a.m., the trip goes something like this:

Firstborn: *sleeping*
Secondborn: *sleeping*
Thirdborn: *sleeping*
Wife: I love you!
Me: I love you! And hey, Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me is on! We should always do it like this.
Wife: We’re here!

When we begin a five-hour drive to visit our families for the holidays at 5 p.m., the trip goes something like this:

Secondborn: How much longer till we get there?
Wife: Um … about four hours.
Me: Let’s listen to a CD. I got one of dragon stories.
Thirdborn: *crying*
CD: “The Last of the Dragons,” by Edith Nes—
Thirdborn: *screaming*
CD: —she wore a—
Thirdborn: *shrieking*
CD: —told him—
Secondborn: I can’t hear! Stop it!
Me: *shutting off CD*
Firstborn: Turn it back on!
Me: Let’s wait until the crying stops.
Firstborn: Turn it back on!
Thirdborn: *crying*
Thirdborn: *crying*
Thirdborn: *quiet sniffles*
Me: *reaching for the play button*
Thirdborn: *screaming*
Firstborn (whining): My back hurts!
Wife: Stretch your arms up. Way, way up! That will help!
Firstborn: No.
Wife: It will help!
Firstborn: No.
Thirdborn: *crying*
Secondborn: *whimpering*
Me: What’s wrong?
Secondborn: *crying*
Wife: Are you going to throw up?
Me: What’s wrong?!
Secondborn: *sobbing”
Firstborn: My back!
Secondborn: *weeping*
Me: Fine. Don’t tell us.
Secondborn: My tummy!
Wife: Get your bag if you’re going to throw up.
(rustling noises)
Firstborn: I want the blue bag!
Wife: It doesn’t matter which bag you have.
Secondborn: She won’t give me my bag!
Wife: Give her the bag.
Firstborn: No.
Secondborn: My tummy!
Wife: It’s a throw-up bag. I gave her the blue one. Just hand it to her.
Thirdborn: *screaming*
Wife: Give her the bag! Now!
Me: Are you going to throw up? Is she going to throw up?
Secondborn: No!
Firstborn: *angrily huffing*
(more rustling)
Secondborn: How much longer till we get there?
Wife: Um … still about four hours.
Me: *crying*

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I’m thankful for safe travel, no matter how much screaming is involved.

Fight Week: Siblings

Fight Week: Siblings

I’m an only child.

Ah, some of you are saying. That explains it.

Oh, come on. The only thing it explains is my complete surprise at how siblings interact day to day.

When I was little, my parents periodically checked on me to see if I was doing OK with being what the French call un fils unique. But they didn’t want to be direct for some reason—maybe they were worried they’d bias me toward wanting a little brother or sister based on their word choice—so they came in at an angle, asking me how many kids I wanted to have when I grew up. My unfailing answer: 13.

Them: Why?
Me: So they don’t get lonely.
Them: Are you lonely?
Me: No.

Repeat every half a year or so. Even as a little kid, I was messing with their heads.

But I did enjoy being an only child. I could do what I wanted when I wanted—within reason, of course—and I never had to share my toys or take turns or anything. Two of my lifetime best friends—brothers who lived on my street—were literally seconds away from my house, and I could play with them at a moment’s notice, then leave or watch them go home when I felt like it. They were like brothers I could shut off when I was ready to be an only child again.

Now with three kids of my own—two of whom seem to have looked up “sister behavior” in the Really Big Book of Familial Cliches—I’m routinely dumbfounded by the way my children act toward each other.

My girls—one 6, one 4—go from cuddling to screeching in less time than it takes to say, “Who wants hot cocoa?” They both want the same mug. They want to race to the kitchen. They make up the rules as they’re running from the couch where they had just been reading while snuggled in a blanket—rules that give the rule-maker an advantage and declare what the winner gets to do, how much cocoa she gets, which prizes she’ll receive, how she’ll get to help me pour the milk or scoop the chocolate. They push and grab at each other in an effort to win their made-up contest. And then someone gets hurt. And then someone cries. And then someone shouts.

And then one gets the other an icepack from the freezer and delivers a mumbled apology. Or starts freaking out more. It depends on the day.

They freely share clothes and compliment each other on their fashion sense, except when they’re angrily accusing each other of stealing outfits. The older one frequently goes out of her way to say how bad the younger one looks in certain ensembles. I thought this sort of dialog only happened in sitcoms to convey family strife that can be overcome with a few words of wisdom after 23 minutes of hilarious tension.

They bicker over who gets to wash their hands first, and then they either patiently take turns or a fight breaks out. They each complain that the other isn’t doing any work when they’re cleaning their room; such complaints are often delivered listlessly from the floor. Glasses of juice and milk have to be exactly even, as do slices of cake, bowls of soup, and rounds of Plants vs. Zombies played on the iPad.

I have never before met two people who seem to love and anger each other so thoroughly. The little one tattles, which is behavior we’re discouraging, although the habit does alert us to the older one’s often ill-thought-out and dangerous antics. We make allowances for tattling if the tattler makes the house a safer place via the tattling, but that’s a fine line to walk with a 4-year-old, who still sort of equates tattling with lying, and so maintains she’s not tattling when she says her sister stuck her tongue out at her. “But it’s true!” she insists when we tell her to deal with it herself.

The older one can be quite mean to her little sister, but her little sister often relentlessly copies her—another behavior I thought had been made up by uncreative TV writers—and goes out of her way to push the exact buttons to get a big reaction. These are the sorts of buttons only someone who knows you intimately can push.

I don’t think I will ever truly understand what it’s like to be stuck with someone who shares your parents with you. All I can do is stand back and watch. And referee. And call my wife in to look when I peek in their room at night to see the girls sharing a bed, holding hands in their sleep.

Did you fight with your siblings? Or are you lucky like me? (Or did you wish you had a dozen brothers and sisters?)