Monday, January 31, 2005

Kids making a mess in the bathroom

While I was putting M down for bed at 6:30 I could hear my oldest kids (3.5 and 5) playing in the bathroom sink. They were using their outside voices and occasionally screaming at the top of their lungs. Sometimes they were hollering in joy and other times in horror at their siblings selfishness.
I gave M an abbreviated nighttime routine. I sang to her for only about 10 minutes and then headed into the bathroom to survey the damage.
The bathroom sink was filled to the brim. Bubbles were piled high over the sink and were flowing down to the floor. Some Kleenex tissues were floating in the sink along with an empty toilet paper roll. I began to get angry. My first thoughts were: "What a mess, and what a pain in the ass to have to clean up."
I stopped and took a breath. I looked at the kids faces and they were beaming. They were so happy to be playing with the bubbles. They had handfulls of bubbles in each of their hands. L was trying to pile T's open hand up as high as she could with bubbles. I reached my hand in and pulled out a perfect circle of bubbles. There were hundreds of little bubble worlds in the palm of my hand. I began to sing: "I've got the whole world in my hand."
The kids kept on playing.
"Come on L, I will fly you into your room so that you can get on your pajamas."
L jumped up into my arms and I flew her onto the bed.
I went back to the bathroom. "T, please let the water down. "
I scooped up the Kleenex boats and tossed them in the trash. So much for the brutal cleanup. I flew T into L's room and we read our nighttime books.

Hiking with L (5 years old)

L and I headed out to the yard on Saturday to do some sledding. We did a few dozen runs up and down the hill when L decided that she would like to go for a hike. We trudged through 2 feet of snow through our back yard to the local golf course.
L insisted that I drag the sleds.
"There is a great hill over there!" She exclaimed.
I knew that there was no perfect hill that the two of us would reach on our hike and even if we reached it, the powder would not be packed. I did not care. I loved the exercise and the 1 on 1 time with my daughter.
I followed her little foot prints as she led me through the woods. When we got to the course she begged me to pull her in the sled.
I had her hop in and I pulled her up the gently sloping fairway. I felt like Stalone in Rocky 4 when he was training in Siberia. We got to the 4th green and Sly gave up.
"Please hop out, L, I am cooked."
L got out of the sled and we trudged over to some of the deep bunkers that guard the front of the green. L, do you want to try to sled into that?
"Yeah!" L exclaimed.
I loaded her into the sled and pushed her down the 5 foot vertical slope. She yelped in excitement and plopped down into the bunker.
"Let's do that again!"
As L looked up from the bunker I leapt in. I dropped the whole 5 feet into 2 feet of snow.
"I want to do that!" L exclaimed.
She jumped into the bunkers and I helped her climb out. Occasionally I would bring up the sled and give her another push. We laughed and played for what seemed like an hour. I then loaded her up and pulled her back to the house in the sled. She could not wait to tell mommy about our adventure.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Lunch with the Family on a work day.

Now that my commute is 8 minutes long I come home from work on Friday's to eat with the family. My nephew was over today. He and my son run to the door and tackle me. Nephew O is 3 and calls me Dad. I think this is adorable. I have to remember this later that evening when I find my golf clubs strewn around the basement.
We had a great lunch with lots of hugs and kisses and Pirate's Booty from Trader Joes. My cousin is looking for a new house, so I asked her how the hunt was going. She got me up to speed while corralling her little ones.
I am so thankful for this bonus time with the kids. It is a little more hectic than my former picture of the ideal lunch, but this is much better.
The kids scream for more booty, and I patiently ask them to say: "More please." One day it will sink in.
Real action in the trenches. I love it.

Yoga and time with my mom

We get a sitter on Thursday nights so that my wife and I can exercise. I go out to a yoga class and my wife goes to volleyball. After yoga I popped in on my wife's v-ball game. I watched her rip a few spikes and then headed out. I figured this would be a great time to stop in on my mom.
I picked up a salad and Jr Beef on the way to my mom's. I forgot my phone, so I scared the poop out of her when I came banging on the door at 9:30 in the evening.
We sat and talked. She caught me up on all of the family events. I talked to her on the phone the night before, but I know she really likes the face to face contact. I left after about 45 minutes, but I could tell that my mom had gotten her fix of her "little boy".
I enjoy these times with my mom. She is my biggest fan and loves to hear about my life. She often breaks in with off topic comments during my stories, but that has become part of our normal conversation. After she is done sidetracking she usually asks me to go on with what I was saying. We have a lot of laughs and good times.

Bonding with my Son

When I got home from work my wife was heading out to a church function with my oldest daughter. My wife runs the new membership committee at church and it was their potluck night. That left me with the two youngest ones.
M (11 months) was exhausted by 6:00 and I brought her up to bed. I carried her around the room and sang to her for 10 minutes while she fell asleep on my shoulder.
T (he is 3.5 years) was waiting patiently outside M's door. We went downstairs and I suggested that we draw some letters and pictures. He started out sitting next to me, but quickly wriggled up into my lap.
My first set of letters was the word CAT. I was about to draw a picture of a cat when T said:
"That spells Cat!"
"Yes!" I exclaimed. I felt the familiar rush of adrenaline when T's synapses made a connection. "I did not even need to draw a picture."
"Nope, you didn't, Dad. I know Cat."
I continued to write some familiar words: Dog, SiSi, CVS. He needed a hint for STOP. "We see this one a lot when we are driving around."
"Oh, Stop! That is the word." Exclaimed T.
When T did not recognize a word, we worked on sounding it out.
Then when T seemed to be getting tired we moved onto pictures. He drew rainbows and suns and raindrops. I drew the names of the items on a separate piece of paper.
My mind kept wandering back to an interesting software design problem at work. I had to continuously bring my focus back to the present. This was the only place on earth that I wanted to be. Whenever I caught myself daydreaming I would draw something.
This time I drew an alien looking dog, but Tommy recognized it.
"That's a funny looking dog, Dad."
"Yes, it is T."
We finished by cleaning up the kitchen. T put away the silverware. He also took all of his plates out of the dishwasher and put them away.
"I bet I'll get a big high five for that Dad!"
"I don't know if you can jump that high, T."
He did. Next we went upstairs to bed.
We told stories about me and T turning ourselves into fish. We became the dad and boy from Finding Nemo. Neither of us has seen the movie, but we talked about all of the things that we saw in the ocean. I drew on our experience at the New England Aquarium for most of my ideas.
"Look T, a Sea Lion"
"Yeah, he is pretending to be a shark."
I had forgotten that the sea lion at the aquarium had imitated a shark. I laughed in amazement and rubbed T's head. Time for sleep Nemo.
"One more dinosaur story!"
I told T the story of Chompers being born in A Land Before Time Then I lied down next to his bed and waited for his snores. They came in 15 seconds.
I jumped up and ran downstairs for a quick trot on the treadmill. My wife and daughter got home just as I came up from the basement.
I listened to my wife recount her night for the next hour, after we put L to bed. It sounded like a fun dinner. I am really proud of her for helping the church. She also sounded like she was able to make some people feel really comfortable at the dinner. That is always a nice thing.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Nighttime routine - Challenging and Rewarding.

T and L were wound up tonight. After I put M down to sleep for the night I approached T's room. L and T were standing on top of the foot rail on T's bed and jumping onto the mattress. There is no official house rule against this behavior. I contemplated making one, but knew it was one of their favorite games. Hopefully T's bed would hold up.
At this time of night I prefer quieter games. I patiently asked the kids to stop, but that just made them jump higher and faster. I began to get angry and had a maddening urge to raise my voice and shout "stop!". But I caught myself before I acted. I recognized the destructive emotion and made note of it. When that old friend anger comes around, he is liable to come around again soon.
I decided distraction was the best course of action in this circumstance. I picked up a book and sat on T's bed and began reading. T exclaimed: "Lookout dad, I am going to jump on you!" I paused for a moment to say:
"You two are missing the book."
Tom did jump off the rail, but landed short of my groin, and gracefully bounced up into perfect reading position. L followed with a flip onto the bed followed by a roll gently into my lap.
The sillies kicked in during the first few pages. The kids finished my sentences with "poop". But then we hit an interesting line that began:
"Wilber chuckled,"
L asked: "What does chuckled mean?"
I knew I had a hook into a good laugh here.
"Well," I said: "A chuckle is a short laugh. And it goes like this..."
I briefly tickled L. He burst into laughter. I ticked T with the other hand, then abruptly stopped.
"See that was a chuckle."
I then ticked each of them for 15 seconds. They went bananas.
"That was a full laugh."
5 second tickle.
15 second tickle.
We went on for 5 minutes. By the time we were done the kids were really ready for bed:)

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Snowed in team coaching.

After digging us out of 2 feet of snow for 2 and a half hours I settled down with the kids. I read baby M her Baby Faces book while L and T worked on a puzzle. After M read the book about 10 times my wife came in and decided we should all teach M how to walk. My wife brought great energy into the room and we all became excited by her new game.
We got in a circle and all stretched our arms out to M. M walked from family member to family member while the others cheered. M only paused for a few moments to clap for herself, and then she was right back up to work. T (3 yrs old) was beaming as M walked towards him. Come on M, you can do it! I smiled during the whole game. I love watching my kids teach each other. It give me butterflies to watch my family work together to coach one another.
Later I was getting M dressed. She was squirming around as usual. I looked at her and held her shirt out towards her and said: "M put her shirt on?" '
M tilted her head and held still for the shirt. She then proceeded to slide both of her arms in by herself. I smiled and clapped. "You did it." M clapped too. Then I held out my hand and she high fived it several times. Too cute.
I put M to bed and corralled L and T. "We have some time before bed. T, do you want to do your letter game on the computer?"
"Sure" said T.
We all went downstairs. We played baseball while the PC booted. L fired fastballs at T with a stuffed ball. T ripped one. While T learned his letter sounds, L and I played catch with the soft ball. L kept looking at the game on the computer. "T, it is the letter L! L makes the sound La! Like Ladder!"
L learned to read with the help of the same software package. I gently urged L not to give T the answers, but only to guide him. She used her patience very well. T continued for 20 minutes. I was totally impressed by his concentration. At the end of the session the program reported that he could read 23 words.
More importantly I found myself not worrying about what levels he completed on the game. I just hoped that he would learn the words and enjoy the learning. It made the coaching so much more fun. And L and I got to play catch in the process.
After I helped the kids to bed my wife and I caught some of the second half of the AFC championship game with the Patriots. They will be tough to beat in the Super Bowl.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

L talks to me at bedtime.

I love talking to my oldest daughter (5 years old) at bedtime. It seems to be the time of day where she is most open to talking about herself.
Tonight she told me about a conversation that she and her friend M had on the ride home from school. M had told L the name of her assistant teacher. Lauren told me the name. I tried to sound it back to her and she corrected me several times.
"She is the teacher that always brings the kids to the potty!" L exclaimed.
I don't care what the topics we cover as long as she keeps talking.
"I drew A a picture today of a Christmas Tree. It was for his birthday book. I signed it Love L."
"That's great. How do you think A will feel when he sees it?"
"He'll really like it."
I found out a few weeks ago that L likes A. That was also during a bedtime discussion.
I hope these conversations continue until I am 100 years old. I enjoy each one more than any conversation that I have ever had.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Cooperation with the threat of timeout.

Tonight the kids were overtired and it was very difficult to induce cooperation in completing chores or preparing for bedtime.
I needed to take the role of drill sergeant tonight. After dinner I declared that we would have the kitchen completely clean before we went up to bed. In order to get 5 year old L to clean up the table I had to threaten to carry her into timeout. 3 year old T helped empty the dishwasher and even put the silverware away.
During bedtime I read one story and made it perfectly clear that L had to go into her bedroom alone tonight. She resisted and tried to hide under T's bed. I thought about my recourse for a long minute. Bedtime is tough, because it is difficult to find a reasonable consequence for not going to bed. Normally I put T down and then pop in to tell L a story. I decided that the consequence for not going straight to bed would be that L would miss her story. I knew that this was a harsh punishment and that I was in for 30 minutes of screaming if L decided to take what was behind door #2.
Unfortunately she still thinks that there is a chance that I might be bluffing. Or perhaps she was too tired to really let the consequence sink in. Either way I had painted myself into a corner and needed to haul L out from under the bed and put her in her room.
Indeed she cried for a solid 10 minutes. Screaming and running out of her room. Finally I put her back in bed and explained that she would be going to bed tomorrow night with a story if she continued her behavior. She quieted down to a whimper and called it a night.
I finished up with Tom's story and stretched out on his floor while he drifted off to sleep. I will go up and check on L after this post.
Hopefully by following through with this consequence L will become more attentive at bedtime when daddy tells her that she will need to go to sleep by herself.
Off for a run on the treadmill. It is 10 degrees outside.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Daddy pops out to the Pats game.

I believe it is important that our children know that we have a rich life outside our immediate family. So last night I went into Foxboro Stadium and watched an amazing exhibition of power, poise and athleticism as the Patriots throttled the Colts.
My wife is excellent when I request some time with my friends. She shoos me out the door and assures me that she will be fine. I know that it is a lot for her to start her week on Sunday at 12 instead of Monday at 9. I really appreciate her running the show for me during my shift.
My friend M and I talked about our dreams for our kids and ourselves during the rides to and from the game. We are both in the computer industry so it is fun to talk shop with another old pro. We also discussed Iraq, Palestine, the Tsunami, String Theory, the Mars and Titan landings, yoga, pilates, Sox prospects, Patriots unselfishness and briefly the Patriots cheerleaders.
I enjoy listening to M. When he tells me about his alumni board work I feel really proud of him and tell him that it is great work and really good for the students. I also really enjoy giving him some insight from my experiences with Yoga, Bhuddism or Tony Robbins.
I do not get tied up in the outcome of the game any longer. Whether the Pats won or lost I would have been equally joyous. My voice would be gone from screaming at the top of my lungs regardless of who came out on top. The excitement of the drama and the good company makes it a night worthy of missing the kids bedtimes. There are not many of these evenings, but this was one for the ages.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Inducing cooperation while controlling Anger

I was emptying the dishwasher after the birthday party and I asked T to help put his cups and bowls away. This is not a chore that we have defined in our list of mandatory chores, but T normally helps. Not today. He totally ignored me.
That got me pretty riled, but L to the rescue. L had just come out of the other room. Hey babe, can you get your plates into the drawer?
She completely ignored me.
I had two ceramic bowls in my hand. In fury, I almost smashed them on the floor. The blood had rushed to my head and I was swamped with rage.
I noticed the anger and realized that this was not the person that I wanted to be. I do not want to be a guy who throws things around the house like a child. I also do not want to model that behavior for my children.
I took a deep breath and smiled. It was silly to get so angry over something so minor. But I realized that I had a lot adrenaline rushing through my system. I also know from experience that when I am in this type of mood, that I have to be careful not to lash out if something else minor comes up.
As I thought about how best to incorporate the dish washer into our house rules, L came by and and put all her dishes away. I gave her a big hug and a kiss when she finished.
Boy was I thankful that I had used some patience.

Teaching the kids.

Lauren and I sat after dinner and worked on a few math problems. I had read some tips on how to teach young kids math from our "hooked on math" program. Last weekends lesson had ended poorly, so this time I was ready with more patience and tons of spoons to help L add.
We started with small numbers: 3+2 and 4+5. L plowed through those easily. As we moved up she began to struggle with 7+6 and 8+7.
I took out 15 of our spoons and broke them into two groups. The first group had 7 and the second had 6. "How many spoons, I asked?"
L quickly replied with "13". My heart raced and swelled with pride.
I subtracted 1 spoon from the 6 group and added it to the 7 group. How many now I asked?
L looked at me quizzically, "Still 13, dad!"
I was about to burst inside. I laughed out loud.
"That right! Still 13."
We added 2 more spoons and split up that group again.
"Still 15 dad!"
Then the sillys broke out and potty talk began. "Still poop dad!"
I knew L's lessons were over. I felt lucky to have snuck in a lesson after such a long day. I moved over to the couch with my 11 month old daughter, M.
I had been holding M during L's math lessons. My boy T was busy mixing food coloring in his makeshift chemistry set of sippy cups.
M and I read the Touch and Feel Farm board book. For the first time she began to feel the textures on the book. After each page she would reach out for the new furry animal. My heart raced each time she did it.
When my kids experience learning through me it is like an electric current that is moving between us. I get excited and overjoyed.
Lessons were over. Time for M's' bedtime.

Chaperone for L's 5th Birthday Party

I was thrilled to have 11 of L's close friends over to our house on Saturday morning. We cleaned the house from 8-10:00. My wife was not to be spoken to until the house was clean. I am aware of this fact and worked with the militant atmosphere.
"Yes babe, do you have anything else that needs to be done?" Was a common phrase that I would utter.
Once the house was starting to look presentable, my wife's demeanor changed completely. The anxiety of people arriving to our disheveled house gave way to joy that the party was about to begin. My angel from heaven had returned:)
My plan was to take the kids out to the back yard and go for a hike on the golf course out back. It was a chilly 30 degrees, but sunny. I decided to change plans and host some games in the back yard. I hit a good games site: I wrote down a bunch of games and kept them tucked in my pocket. I then snuck out back and set up some cones for a soccer game.
The kids started to trickle in, so we headed out back for our first game: Duck, Duck Goose. I had not played in 25 years and was dying to try it. I remember it being one of my favorite games. The kids walked around and you could see their excitement as they waited to be goosed. After about 5 minutes the kids were all done and we moved on to freeze tag. Freeze tag was also fairly short lived. The 5 and six year old girls became quickly bored at being frozen and wanted to move on to the next game.
Next I tried soccer. My friend J was over and he took care of splitting up the teams. One of the girls was a ringer and she easily maneuvered between the girls and scored at will. Sometimes the other girls got their foot on the ball. When the ball went out of bounds I tried to pass the ball around to the other kids. The game continued and then I saw my little angel sitting on the ground sulking. I went over and L whined: "I don't want to play any more." Fine, I thought. Let's keep the birthday girl happy. Red Rover was next on my list.
Red Rover was a home run. The girls kept calling for the birthday girl to be sent over. I would watch L with her eyes wide and huffing and puffing over to our side. She would either bust through the line or get stuck. Not all of L's friends knew one another, so I tried to make sure everyone got called. We played for at least 30 minutes and I think we would still be out back if I did not decide to change up the game.
After I shuffled a few of the girls into the bathroom, I brought out some balloons. The girls tried to keep them in the air for as long as they could. This was about as popular as the soccer. Girls were bumping and trampling each other and Lauren again became discouraged. J took the older girls over to do some soccer drills, while some of the younger girls and I pretended to make cookies out of some ice shards in the yard. After a little over an hour my wife called us in for pizza.
The girls were angels. They ate their pizza and cake and gave L her presents one by one. My wife got pictures of each girl with L for their thank you notes.
After cake and ice cream I took the girls out on the hike out back. We cut through my back yard. I carried the younger kids over the puddles and soon we were out on the fairway. Sections of the fairway were covered with ice and the kids skated merrily in their boots. After 20 minutes or so I rounded them up and we started to hike back. One of L's friends fell on the ice. I asked L to hold her hand until she felt better. She did so and I think she really felt the impact of her empathy on her ailing friend.
Later, during bath time I asked L about why she was so discouraged during soccer. She replied that she could not get the ball from the other girl. We talked about how much the other girl had practiced and I asked her if she would like to be on a team next summer. She said she would and we both agreed to start practicing.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Special Time with the prince

After we scarfed the pizza and I hugged my baby girl to sleep I spent an hour of 1 on 1 time with the prince. One of his sister's friends had taken L out on a birthday date. They had gone to build a bear. According to my wife, L was talking about it all day.
T and I gathered up all of his foam play letters and began making words. I made the usual dog and daddy and then the man took over. He loves to make long nonsense words and listen to me sound them out. Hmfoxegt. He liked hearing me annunciate foxy in the middle of that one. We kept it up for a half an hour and then headed up to bed.
T loves the Land Before Time movie. We have been recounting snippets from the movie before bed. After we do that we make up our own story. All of his friend are characters in the story. His friends go off as dinosaurs to visit one of their grandparents house.
"T, why do grandparents love it when kids come to visit?"
"They love when we play. They love when we use our good manners." Said T.
"Great. After they serve you soup and popcorn what makes them happy?" I asked.
"They are happy when we finish our food. They are happy when I put my plate in the sink."
"Awesome T, anything else?"
"They are happy when I give them a ride on my dinosaur back. They are also happy when I take a bath in the river and go right to sleep."
"I bet they love all those things. Good night Tom."

T was about to drift off to sleep when he heard his sister return. He woke up, sprinted downstairs and then screamed for the next hour that he wanted milk. So much for the story book nighttime routine, but I kept my cool and let him work it out. I really felt sorry for him tonight that he could not settle himself back down.

Anger Management

I called my wife at 5:00 PM on Friday afternoon to let her know that my new work phone was now operational. I was expecting her to be excited. She was not, she sounded quite subdued about this fantastic news.
"Can you pick up a pizza on your way home? From River pizza" She asked.
"Sure, do you want me to call it in?" I replied.
"Handle it however you want, but hurry." She said.
These words cut deep into my eardrums. I replied with a quick "Sure." and hung up.
I constantly feel pressure from my wife to get home early from work. I just started a new job and do not want to be seen leaving the office early. I was starting to get worked up over this exchange, and then took a breath and tried to see things from my wife's point of view. Three thoughts really helped:
  • She has been home all day with 3 kids and has been running her at home business. Our 11 month old is quite demanding and has taken to yelling to communicate everything. I called in the pizza, jammed on some code for 10 more minutes and booted out of there.
  • The second thought that helped me in that situation was to examine the selfish motives behind why I felt angered by my wife's remarks. I want to look good at work. I want to have job security. And I love to code. I was having fun trying to finish the last lines of my program. I might have stayed there for another half and hour, but that would have been very tough on my wife.
  • The third thought that rescued my from my anger was reflecting on the true nature of our relationship. My wife is an all world mother and CEO of an at home business. Her business as well as my job helps provide for our family. We are partners in the management of our house. When she is cooked, I need to get home and bail her out.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

L's school birthday party

I spent an hour at my daughter's school today in order to sit in on her birthday party. It was pure magic. My wife and I sat on either side of Lauren during the story time.
My wife and I told stories about the first 5 years of L's life. I told the class how proud I was when L swam without her bubble. I also told them that she has been a loving and helpful big sister. We talked about KinderMusic classes and we passed around pictures of L during each year of her life. The kids were in hysterics when they saw 1 year old L driving my Ford Taurus.
Then it was snack time. I again sat next to L, but also sat next to her friend Ben. He asked me what I did for work. I told him I wrote software. We talked about how his father wrote video game software. And then we talked about his favorite parts of class. As snack time went on I talked with many of L's friends. I wanted to be able to put names with faces when I heard school stories at home.
The kids served the snacks and were very proud of their roles in preparing the snacks. Some of the kids had cut the vegetables and made the soup together. It was fun to watch their faces light up when they explained their roles in the preparation. They also loved being chosen to serve the food.
I hugged Lauren on the way out and high fived many of her friends. My wife and I smiled and held hands on the way back to the car. We marveled at the angel that we were guiding through childhood.