Packing for Thanksgiving: A Child’s Priorities

Hal took it upon himself to pack a suitcase for Thanksgiving. When I got home from a half-day at work Wednesday, Daryl dragged a suitcase big enough for both his and Hal’s clothes to me and said, “This is Hal’s suitcase.”

No one else had packed. Daddy had not yet told them to, so of course, the older two had not done so.

“He’s not getting an entire suitcase to himself,” I told Daryl. “Here, let me have it.”

I opened the suitcase and started taking out clothes. If you’ve ever wondered what a five year old would pack for a three day excursion without parental guidance, here it is:

4 pairs of socks
1 undershirt
1 set of pajamas (mismatched top and bottom)
5 T-shirts
5 long sleeve T-shirts
5 pairs of long pants
1 very large water bottle, full, with the straw tucked in the air hole

No underwear. The omission made me smile as I remembered one of my little brother’s antics when he was even younger than Hal. We were going on a float trip down a river with some of my stepdad’s friends. He and my mother had been dating for a fairly short time. My brother was maybe three years old.

The group was packing the cars in our driveway. Most people were leaving that day although my mom, brother, and I were slated to join them the next day. My brother was excited by all the commotion. He started begging to go so Bill said, “Well, go pack your bags!” My brother ran into the house, grabbed a paper sack, and stuffed a single pair of underwear and his swimsuit into it.

Obviously, Hal has other priorities. The undershirt struck me as odd since he never wears one. They are for wearing under button-down dress shirts and he had packed none of those. Jane later entered the room and remarked that all the clothes sitting there looked like the laundry she had folded and asked Hal to put away.

I repacked with fewer shirts and pants and a full complement of underwear. The next morning, as we prepared to leave, I was frantically looking for my travel phone charger. As part of the search, I looked in the side pocket of Hal’s (now his and Daryl’s) suitcase and discovered that he had packed that pocket as well.

There were half a dozen Hot Wheel cars, a Batman action figure, a couple of action figures I didn’t recognize, and a few other small toys. But something else was in there that impressed me very much. I had added a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a hairbrush to the suitcase when I repacked. I had not, however, remembered to grab his allergy medicine. He had.

The boy has his wits about him. And he knows what’s important to him. Allergy medicine that minimizes his coughing at night: important. Clean underwear: what’s wrong with the pair I’m wearing?

Making Sacrifices

Jane asked me to try on her jeans this evening. When I asked why, she began to beg. It was an odd request, but I told her to set them on my bed and I’d try them on in a few minutes.

Being of an older generation than her, I have a different preference on how my jeans are cut. To be perfectly blunt, I like to know I’m not showing everyone my butt crack when I bend over. The jeans fit but felt dangerously low to me. They were also uncomfortably snug on my thighs. This isn’t because mine are bigger than hers – guys at school have told her she has “man thighs” (which she considers a compliment). I just prefer relaxed fit.

Nevertheless, I walked into her room wearing the jeans. She looked at me and wordlessly motioned for me to spin around. I lifted my shirt slightly and complied. “Well?” I asked.

“They look good on you. I just wanted to see how they looked. I like them.”

“Mmm,” I said, reaching into the front pocket and pulling out the fun pack of peanut M&M’s I had noticed inside them. “Thanks for the M&M’s!”

“Wait! Give those back to me!” She tried to wrestle me down as I waved the candy just out of her reach. Since she’s an inch and a half taller than me, I knew I couldn’t hold out for long. So I feinted one direction and then darted my hand to my mouth. I shoved one end of the package into my mouth – enough to trap a single M&M behind my teeth.

She carefully grabbed my hand, which was still holding the bag.

“Mommy…” she said in her best threatening tone. “Open your mouth.”

I shook my head and grunted an “Uh-uh!” all while laughing and struggling. I contemplated pulling on the package with my teeth to tear it apart and eat the one I had trapped behind my teeth. She continued her calm yet menacing insistence that I release the treasure.

Before I could decide to act on my impulse, she began to pull on the bag. I clenched my teeth and kept the single M&M trapped. Eventually the paper tore and I triumphantly showed the M&M between my teeth before crunching on it.

She shrugged as she tucked the remainder away. “Sometimes you’ve got to make sacrifices.”

While You Were Rockin’

Today in the car, Daryl and I were listening to White Wedding by Billy Idol. He was going on about how much he loves the song, remembering it from when we’ve played Rock Band on the Wii.

“Who sings it?” I asked.

Without hesitation, he confidently replied, “The Beatles.”

I laughed so hard that I began to choke and nearly wet my pants. He took it well. He merely suggested that it was evidence that we clearly needed to play some Rock Band tonight. And so we did.

It took awhile to dig up enough batteries for the equipment that had been lying dormant for months. Eventually, we had enough to power our band. The teenager had disappeared to her room but the rest of the family lent their skills: Daddy on bass guitar, Daryl excited to try vocals, Hal and I on drums.

This is often my role: assisting the youngest child on drums. When we started out, he held both drumsticks and sat directly in front of the drum set. I sat off to his right with the foot pedal. He would play the red and yellow drums with his drumsticks while I reached across to play the blue and green with my fingertips.

I had soon added the yellow pad to my responsibilities and told him to just concentrate on the red one. Then I took one of the drumsticks. Like keeping the beat isn’t hard enough for me, playing three drums off to my side and at the proper height for a preschooler ain’t easy!

Eventually, Hal bored with it, as he always does. I suggested he dance instead and I took over the entire drum set. He danced for quite a few songs, then played with the dog, then worked a puzzle, then disappeared for awhile.

I could catch out of the corner of my eye that he was excitedly working on something at the dining room table, likely an art project. When the song finished, my husband looked up from his chair and, smiling, motioned for me to peek into the dining room.

Hal had grabbed two pizza boxes out of the recycle bin to make a work surface. He had then retrieved his brother’s unpainted slip-cast dragon statue from their bedroom, a bottle of red paint from the craft cabinet, and a 3″ paintbrush from the remodeling supplies. He squirted a pool of red paint on one pizza box and began painting the dragon on the other.

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When Daryl saw it, he cried out in surprise and began to cry, his brother once again “vandalizing” his property. My husband and I calmly walked into the dining room to ask Hal what he thought he was doing.

That’s when I noticed the pants. We had failed to suggest that he change out of his church clothes when we got home earlier that afternoon. Most days, that wouldn’t be a big deal. Hal doesn’t typically dress up that much. But I had gone through the stacks of hand-me-downs the day before. He was wearing very nice dress slacks and a plaid button down shirt, both new to him and both now sporting splashes of red.

I cried out in surprise and began to cry. Well, ok, I didn’t cry but I wanted to. As my husband likes to say, you can’t have anything nice when you have kids. At least Hal made a reasonable choice in what to protect the table with. His much-older sister recently used my best cutting board when she decided to paint something at the table. It now wears brown slashes easily mistaken for food.

Teenage Priorities… or… What I’d Rather Do Instead of Laundry

Jane is a very busy girl. It sometimes seems impossible for her to get everything done. This should be a great opportunity to learn about setting priorities. For some reason, however, I don’t think the teenage brain has yet developed enough to set reasonable priorities.

Take last night, for example. Jane had a tremendous amount of homework. I reminded her that there was also a lot of laundry waiting to be folded – laundry being her primary household chore. She also needed to clean up her mess on the dining room table from her murder diorama project.

“Ok,” she said. “I also plan to clean my room.”

“That’s a laudable goal since your room is a mess but I don’t think you have time for that tonight. You have a lot of homework, a lot of laundry, and the dining room table to clean. Those need to all be higher priorities for you.”

“I know.”

When I returned from my women’s group at church, the mess was still on the dining room table. The laundry was still waiting in baskets by the couch. And she was in her room.

I tried to open the door but she had shoved a dozen large blankets (previously used as a pallet during a sleepover) up against the door. She tried to wave me off. Instead of leaving, I poked my head in and said, “Don’t forget you’ve still got laundry and the dining room table.”

“Yes, I know. I’m almost done in here.”

“You really didn’t have time for this.”

“Are you saying that I didn’t need to clean my room?”

“Yes, it needed to be cleaned but not tonight. You had other chores you were told to do.”

“Ok. I’m almost done!”

At least half an hour later, I tried again. When I mentioned the laundry, she exclaimed, “Oh! I forgot about that!”

“Ok, so it’s twenty minutes past your bedtime and you said you planned to shower tonight. Daddy will not be happy with you if you don’t clean up your mess in the dining room. And there’s still the laundry.”

She finally went to bed after cleaning up her mess and taking a shower but without touching the laundry. The next morning, she walked into my room in her socked feet and said, “See! This is why I never clean my room. I can’t find my shoes!”

She never cleans her room, she says. I guess she means unless she has other, even less desirable chores to do. I wonder if she even noticed the irony of complaining indignantly about doing a chore she had been told not to do.

Murder, She Wrote

I planned a murder with my daughter this week. We corrupted Daryl as well, causing him to add his own ideas to the mix. In our defense, it was an assignment for school. A friend of mine whose daughter has the same teacher found the assignment tediously involved and time consuming, not to mention a bit macabre.

We really got into it.

The purpose was to teach the importance of attention to detail. They had just read The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright. Each child was to create a murder scene diorama, building a room in a shoe box depicting a murder scene, complete with all the details that would clue the police investigators in on what happened.

After reading through Jane’s initial draft, I had some questions. Quibbles, if you will.

“So, he comes into the yard and stabs her and disfigures her face?”

“Yes.”

“And then he drags her unconscious over to a tree and hangs her from it?”

“Yes.”

“And then she wakes up and hacks the rope from her neck with a hoe?”

“Yes.”

“Where’d she get the hoe?”

“She was holding it when he attacked her.”

“And you don’t think she would have dropped it in the attack? Say… maybe when she went unconscious?”

“Yeah, I was thinking maybe she should have gardening shears in her pocket instead.”

As we began building the diorama, the events of the murder simplified a bit. The rope and the tree didn’t work out. She needed to be stabbed on the wood walkway so the blood would show better than it would on the grass. The body would crush some flowers in the flowerbed when she fell. The murderer would crush a few more as he made his escape. She’d drag herself up onto the deck in a futile attempt to grab at her phone, but alas, she’d fail to complete the call before succumbing to a loss of blood.

Jane originally planned on having it set in modern times and the phone a cell phone that she had left sitting on the table. It would be shattered.

“Why would it be shattered?”

“Because she dropped it.”

“Do me a favor. Drop your phone. Did it shatter? Phones don’t shatter.”

“Some people’s iPhones do.”

“It seems like a stretch. Besides, how tiny would this cell phone have to be?”

I ultimately convinced her that casting her scene in the 1980’s would allow her to have a regular ole corded phone that she dragged out of the house in case she got a phone call while working in the garden. So now instead of failing to call 911 on her cell phone, she manages to only knock the handle off the phone.

Construction was fun. The boys wanted to help and since we didn’t want to spend a small fortune at Hobby Lobby, we made a lot of our own props, like the pitcher of lemonade and two cups, and that phone:

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The phone in the picture was actually the first generation phone. We made another smaller one with a tighter cord after deciding the handset really didn’t need to go from the top of the woman’s head all the way down to her waist.

We started with the back wall of the house, constructing it slightly away from the wall of the box and using the box’s own flap as the roof. We then used a really old can of spray adhesive we found in my craft box from back before I had kids. We had to keep spraying it upright in the yard before turning it down into the box to attach the “grass” we bought at the local train hobby store. The rocks in the picture are to hold down the papers screening off the areas not to have grass. It was a very windy day.

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Jane had gotten her original idea from the supposed murder caught on Google Earth, which was on an octagonal deck out in a lake. I protested that there wasn’t much detail that could be added to that scene. I also pointed out that the murder claim has been thoroughly debunked (she still doesn’t believe me). During the planning stages, I gently nudged her toward coming up with her own story, which she did, but she steadfastly stuck to the octagonal deck.

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She built the deck by attaching all the “planks” with duct tape and cross beams (which were also duct taped). We printed out an octagon from PowerPoint and she traced the desired shape. She expresses a fear of cutting herself with the saber saw so Daddy did all the cutting. She built the fence and table top the same way.

The benches and edge pieces of the deck, however, were cut using a chisel and hammer:

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Once the backyard was finished, Jane initially declared it too beautiful to corrupt with a murder scene. But the deed must be done. She painted the bottoms of the “murderer’s” feet (some poor smuck in the package of 5 people we bought at Hobby Lobby who happened to be in the process of walking).

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Then she staged him walking across the deck, through the flowerbed, across the yard, and out the gate.

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She also wanted a bloody hand print on the gate. So first she ripped the arm off the guy…

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…and then she used his hand to make the hand print.

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She had a little too much fun giving the victim doll its wounds.

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The scene was complete with a shattered vase, knocked over as the victim scrambled onto the deck – actual pottery shards provided by her dad; a knocked over pitcher with the awfully bright lemonade spilling out; two cups – indicating that the victim was expecting company, although only one had lemonade in it; the phone with its bloodied handle hanging loose from the table; and a homemade umbrella.

I couldn’t find a small enough drill bit to make the hole for the umbrella so we were trying to use a kabob skewer from the kitchen and not getting very far. The boys were hovering, offering suggestions and wanting to help. Hal, being only five years old, was getting on my nerves. I had already asked him to leave a couple of times.

As he watched us with the skewer, he asked, “Why don’t you use a pushpin or something?”

“Hal!” I said, “That’s brilliant!”

We soon had an umbrella pushed through a hole in the table and Hal had a high five from me and a huge smile on his face.

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The friend who wasn’t enjoying the project told her daughter that her murder would have to be due to suffocation with a pillow or something because she wasn’t going in on all the gore. Another friend was doing Humpty Dumpty. Still another was doing a scene where a banana ate another banana. It was to be called Cannibananalism.

At the volleyball games this afternoon, we saw pictures of one girl’s detailed kitchen scene that appeared to show murder by large animal. Another mom raised all of our eyebrows when she said her daughter hadn’t started. “She says she knows what she’s going to do and it won’t take that long. She’s doing JonBenet Ramsey and wants a Barbie doll. Personally, I don’t want her doing that story – it’s too sad.”

At the time of the conversation, we had yet to stage the murder in our beautifully serene backyard scene. We knew we easily had another hour or two of work to finish up details like window frames, sky behind the fence, scraping up the grass where the gate would have opened and shut, lemonade, broken vases, blood, bent flowers, and more. Jane had made a list when she went to bed yesterday – a day that saw probably eight hours of concerted effort.

I sighed a relieved sigh. At least my daughter wasn’t the one that hadn’t started yet.

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Swing Sets and Marriage

One of the best parts of being a preschool parent is without a doubt watching them play when they don’t know you are watching. This is a tricky thing to do, especially if you are trying to do it as you arrive to pick them up from the preschool. The reason it is tricky is that every single preschool child considers it their solemn duty to immediately notify their classmate when a parent arrives.

It’s like a crazy chain reaction. The first child notices you, perhaps even ignoring your finger to your lip and shake of your head, and yells, “H-A-A-A-A-L-L-L-L!!!!” The kids nearest turn to catch a glimpse of you before joining the chorus. Soon, the entire classroom or playground is ringing with your child’s name.

When the older two were young, I could sit in my car if they were on the playground and watch fairly safely from there. Before long, the informants began to recognize my car. I could try to hide near the glass inside the building and watch – but only if I could get in undetected, and even then, there wasn’t much to hide me.

At Hal’s school, however, I can easily get all the way to his classroom without being seen from the playground. The play toys are a safe distance from the classroom windows. I can watch him play to my heart’s content without fear of being caught.

And so today, I gazed out the window and found him at the swingset. He’s usually at the wooden train. He was standing up and brushing the wood chips from his body, apparently recovering from a fall. Had he launched himself from the swing? When he stood, I marveled again at how much taller he is than the other kids. He seriously looked out of place.

He soon rushed back to the swing and tried several times to hop into it. He and the little girl next to him were both trying to lay on their backs on the swings. Hal succeeded and pushed himself off. When the swing swung to the front and he was a good distance from the ground, he suddenly flipped his legs up and over his head, completing a flip that had him flying a bit from the momentum before smacking face down back into the wood chips.

I now knew what he had been doing just before I got there. I watched some more, curious. Both he and the little girl were flipping, typically without the swing moving. She was more graceful and controlled; he was more exuberant. After a few more minutes, I walked outside. The cries of his name began before both of my feet had touched the porch.

As we walked to the car, he said, “I know who’s going to marry me.”

“Oh, really? Who is it?”

“Josie.”

“That little girl you were swinging with?”

“Yes.”

“That’s sweet. Did you ask her to marry you or did she ask you?”

“I asked her.”

“And she said yes?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you want to marry her?”

“She’s in Ms. Tony’s class.”

“You want to marry her because she’s in Ms. Tony’s class?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because I want to be in Ms. Tony’s class!”

“Why do you want to be in Ms. Tony’s class?”

“Because they are bigger! Well… I’m actually bigger than they are but they are the big kid class.”

I suppose some grown-ups don’t have much better reasons to marry than that. Good thing he’s still under age.

Dead Mouse

We live out in the country where rodents are a constant problem. I recently had the following conversation with Hal, the five year old.

“Mommy, I just found a dead mouse in the game room!”

“Ok, tell Daddy.”

He hollers to his dad, who responds that he’ll take care of it.

There’s some silence and then he says, “Mommy, it’s really soft.”

“Did you just touch the mouse?!”

He quickly responds, “No.”

“Hal. Did you touch the mouse?”

“No.” Now he sounds cautious.

“Tell me the truth. Did you touch the mouse?”

“No.”

“Yes you did. How else would you know that it’s soft?”

He tries to sound nonchalant as he says, “It was just something I was thinking about.”

I sigh. “You aren’t going to be in trouble. Just tell me if you touched the mouse.”

“Yes.”

Finally… “Okay. Don’t lie to me about stuff like that. Make sure you don’t touch your face or mouth. Go wash your hands. Mice can carry disease.”

“Okay.”

He leaves the room to wash his hands. When he returns, he gravitates back toward the mouse.

After a few seconds, he calls out softly, “Mommy, that mouse is so cute.”

“Go get ready for bed honey.”

Cute? A dead mouse with its head squished under a metal bar is… cute?