Holding Court

Sometimes I get it right. Or maybe my kids are just in a more receptive mood. I don’t know. Sometimes it just all works out as it should.

I was taking my shower this morning when Hal came into the bathroom blubbering about something. He was holding his arm and speaking incoherently. When it became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to hear the story with water cascading around me, I turned it off.

As I coaxed the story out of him, my mind analyzed the subtle clues. Is the crying real or forced? Is he truly in pain or just mad? Or are his feelings just hurt? Deciding it was real, I worked on piecing together the story of how his brother had come to squeeze his arm so hard and dig his thumb into the muscle.

Working backward from the point of injury, I learned that Daryl had squeezed the arm in response to Hal telling him to shut up. Hal had told Daryl to shut up after Daryl told Hal to shut up. When asked why Daryl had told him to shut up, Hal became reticent to continue unraveling the full story. Ahhh, I thought. I’m getting somewhere now.

Hal was being too loud. When asked whether Daryl had previously asked him nicely to be quiet, Hal claimed no. That’s when Daryl, who had apparently been lurking just outside the door interjected with protest.

The court is now called to order.

The defendant sits on a chair next to the sink. The accuser sits across the room from him at a safe distance on the toilet. The judge stands in all her naked glory with water dripping from her now-getting-cold body inside the glass judge’s box.

Before she can begin her questions, the defendant attempts a counter-claim. “He shoved me really hard before coming in here.”

“This was after you squeezed his arm?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“OK, retaliation isn’t right but it was in response to you hurting him. Did you tell him to be quiet?”

“Yes your honor.” (So maybe I added the “your honor” bit, but wouldn’t it be nice?)

“Where was he when he was being too loud?”

“In our bedroom. And I could hear him all the way down in the kitchen.”

The accuser is, amazingly enough, waiting silently for the trial to progress.

“And where were you when you asked him to be quiet?”

“In our bedroom.”

“And did you invoke Charley?” (Our house guest sleeping in a room near the kitchen).

“What?”

“Did you tell Hal why he should be quiet?”

“Yes. I told him he might wake up Charley.”

“Hal?” Says the judge, turning to the toilet. “Did Daryl ask you to be quiet first?”

{Silence.}

“Did he ask you to be quiet?”

“Yes.”

“And did you hear why?”

“Yes.”

“And you didn’t do it.”

“No.”

The judge, noticing the cold soaking into her skin and the slimy soap still hanging out where the sun doesn’t shine, is ready to deliver the verdict.

“Ok, see? This is where it started. A member of the family – it doesn’t matter who – asked you to do something and gave you a good reason why and you ignored him. Do you see that?”

Hal nodded dejectedly.

“Now,” the judge says, turning her attention back to the defendant’s chair. “It’s never OK to respond with physical violence. You understand that, right? What are you supposed to do when he’s not doing what he’s supposed to do?”

{Silence.}

“Daryl, what are you supposed to do?”

“Come tell you or Daddy.”

“Right. And then I could have called him in here and talked to him.”

“But Hal,” the judge shifted her attention back to the accuser. “It started with you. It started when you disregarded another member of the family. If you had listened and responded appropriately, he never would have told you to shut up and then you wouldn’t have told him to shut up and then he wouldn’t have squeezed your arm. Do you see that?”

“Yes.”

“OK. I want you to apologize to your brother for ignoring him.”

“I’m sorry I ignored you Bubba.” (For the record, this was a very sincere apology.)

“It’s OK.”

“And now I want you to apologize to Hal for hurting him.”

“I’m sorry I hurt your arm.” (Another sincere apology.)

“It’s OK.”

“Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got soap in places I didn’t need it to stay so I’m going to resume my shower now.”

Court is adjourned.

Relative Importance

This morning, my boys were having a discussion about the relative importance of things.

Daryl, the puberty-entering near-twelve year old, was sitting at the dining room table, eating his cereal and milk. Hal, the learning-to-read-efficiently near-seven year old, was sitting in the living room, reading a book.

“Hal,” Daryl called out. “You need to come eat your breakfast.”

“I’m reading!”

“So? You need to eat breakfast.”

“Reading is important.”

“Not as important as eating breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You need it to fuel your body for the rest of the day.”

“Well, reading is more important than eating!”

“No it’s not! You have to eat or you’ll die. You can read after you eat breakfast.”

When I related the conversation to my husband, Hal clarified his reasoning. Turning to his brother, he said, “Well, what if you ate poison, huh? If you ate poison, you’d die! And what if that poison had a sign on it that said ‘poison’? If you read it, then you wouldn’t die. But only if you can read!”

Who can refute such logic? Certainly not an older, thinks-he’s-so-wise brother.

Kindergarten Meets Geometry

Last evening at the dinner table, my just-graduated Kindergartner triumphantly announced that a square is made by cutting a rectangle in half.

“Yep!” he declared. “A rectangle is just two squares getting close together and kissing!”

“Or two triangles,” his now high-schooler sister responded.

“No! Not triangles!” he said, knowing without a doubt that she was wrong.

“Could be,” I said, before adding, “And a rectangle cut in half doesn’t necessarily result in two squares. It could be two rectangles.”

“Or two triangles,” his sister repeated.

“Depending on how you halve it,” his dad added in.

He insisted we were all wrong and soon everyone was scrambling for a piece of paper. Luckily, we are not tidy people which meant there were already both scraps of paper and writing utensils on the dinner table. With pencil and paper in hand, I drew the following:

shape1

“Well, I didn’t know you were going to draw funny looking triangles like that!” he said, and then after a pause, took the pencil and said, “Here! Let me show you how a man does it.”

“See?” he said, drawing his rectangle and dividing it.

shape2

“Um. Technically,” I said as gently as I could, “those are two rectangles, not two squares. See? These sides are longer than these sides so they aren’t squares.”

He glared at me. I drew a more exaggerated example.

shape3

“Well, but you drew it really long and skinny!”

“Yes, but it’s still a rectangle that got cut in half and resulted in two rectangles, not two squares. You don’t always get two squares when you cut a rectangle in half.”

“Well, look. I’m going to make a rectangle out of two triangles.” He then proceeded to make an equilateral triangle and then butt another up against it. He frowned.

“That’s a parallelogram,” his brother said.

“You are never going to get to a rectangle that way,” his sister added.

He pressed ahead and eventually announced that he had drawn a circle.

shape4

“That’s a hexagon,” I said. “It has six sides.”

“Yeah, it can’t be a circle,” his sister explained. “It has edges and circles don’t have edges.”

So he announced that he could draw a different shape and he did.

shape5

“It’s a scribblegon!”

For that, we had no response. He had drawn a shape that none of us could claim was any shape other than what he had named it. Geometry lessons were clearly over and silliness had taken control.

The Middle Child

My kids may have all come from the same parents but they are certainly not cut from the same cloth. Some of this, I know, has to do with birth order, but not all. For example, Jane and Hal have quite a few similarities. They talk more in general than Daryl (although he’s not quiet by any means). They are also more expressive and show their love in more obvious and physical ways. They are also Daddy’s Kids.

Daryl is my Momma’s Boy. He’s also the most reserved. He’s more likely to keep his feelings and thoughts to himself. His hugs tend to be brief and almost embarrassed. He’s less likely to ask for help. He “needs” us less and, quite frankly, thinks about us less. As an example, when we dropped Daryl and Jane off to ride the bus to Tennessee for Destination Imagination Global Finals, Daryl took off. I mean, out of the car, onto the bus, out of site, no farewell, gotta go… I heard there’s wifi and plug-ins on there…

Jane, on the other hand, sought us out after claiming her seat and gave us long, endearing hugs, as if storing up all the mom-and-dad energy she’d need to get through the next few days. I had to hunt Daryl down on the bus and make him stop his video game prep long enough for me to mockingly scold him for not saying good-bye and then extract a hug from across the seat between us.

Throughout the week, he might look pleased to see me when our paths crossed, but usually he was just taking in the experience. There’d be time enough for mom later. When I’d ask him about stuff, he’d shrug and make non-committal kinds of responses. I couldn’t tell how excited he was about any of it. He just had a cool and confident air about him.

By the time we got to the last day, Jane was asking to spend time with us. Daryl was still blowing and going. The top ten finishes (usually more than ten teams because of ties) get recognized at the award ceremony. Daryl’s team made the top ten in their category. I was elated and tearful and I could barely wait to see my young man.

I stood eagerly at the top of the stairs to his section and watched his team wait for a chance to exit. When he made it to the top, I was rewarded with a true understanding of the depth of his emotions during that moment. I pulled him into a bear hug and he hugged me back fully. None of this single-arm, distracted stuff I normally get, but a full, heavy-body, can’t-get-enough body wrap. I thought I could hold him forever and he’d hold me back. Nothing existed in that moment but the two of us.

I get these hugs from Jane all the time. And fairly frequently from Hal too. I don’t want to belittle those experiences at all because they are incredibly special to me and I need them desperately. But Daryl so rarely lets us in. I know he cares but he rarely surrenders to the moment; he rarely lets it show. Yes, I was crying by the time I reluctantly released him so he could join his team who was now exiting the building.

Sometime after that, I saw some pictures the coaches had captured in the moments after they saw their team name on the JumboTron. One showed Daryl holding his head with both hands, overcome with excitement. In another, he’s facing the camera and his face is so full of unreserved joy that my heart burst when I saw it. No filter, no protection, no desire to look cool. Just raw, honest, open Daryl. Such a beautiful sight.

When I showed the picture to his big sister the next morning, I was rewarded with something else I rarely see: her deep love for him. Just looking at his smile in that picture made her break into her own unprotected, genuine smile of joy. She got it. She saw how precious that moment was for him and how rare it was for him to let it show. Any rough edges in their relationship were temporarily gone. She loved him and she loved that he had had that moment.

I am truly a blessed woman.

I Didn’t Know!

I parked the car in front of the house where Jane’s Destination Imagination team was meeting. We were early.

“I hope Jane hurries out,” Daryl said anxiously. “I’ve got this peach jelly bean I saved for her.” He held his hand out and showed it to me. I glanced at it wistfully. Why hadn’t he saved one for me?

“We are early. She won’t be out for another 10 minutes or so,” I said, instead of asking for the jelly bean.

Shortly after that, Hal called out, “Sissy! Hurry up! Bubba has a barf cherry jelly bean for you!”

“What are you talking about, Hal?” Daryl asked. “It’s a peach jelly bean.”

“Oh, yeah,” Hal said. Sometime later, he mentioned vomit again and Daryl asked him why he kept talking about barf. I repeated the question but nothing struck me other than the fact that he’s six years old and into that kind of stuff.

Eventually, Jane came out and Daryl promptly and enthusiastically offered her the jelly bean.

“No thank you, Daryl,” she said, sounding just slightly put out. I was just about to reach back and say I’d take it when her tone started to sink in.

“I’ll take it!” Hal called out cheerfully.

“No, don’t,” Jane warned. “You don’t want that jelly bean – trust me. It’s going to taste nasty.”

Hal screamed out in disgust and began spitting out the window. Daryl began to laugh. Jane announced that she had warned him and he should listen to her. Hal broke down in a major crying fit and yelled in a pitiful voice, “Bubba is always giving me the barf jelly beans!”

I tried to get through to him over his wails, “I don’t get it, Hal. You already knew it was a barf jelly bean. You even called it one while we were waiting for Jane.”

“Well! I didn’t know!”

“Yes, yes you did. You even called it that. Why would you eat it when you knew what it was?”

Jane then explained to him the trick of cracking open the candy and smelling it before taking your chances. There was apparently a chance that this one really was a peach jelly bean. But a nasty chance that it was not.

Fast forward to dinner. Daddy came home near the end of the meal and as he ate, the rest of us talked. I told him the tale of the barf jelly bean. He shook his head.

“Why did you eat it, Hal?” he asked. Everyone was laughing and Hal buried his face in shame. “He’d already done it to you once today! Why would you try another one?”

“Well, I didn’t know!”

“Sure you did. You were in the car when he said it was a win-win situation for him. Either it’d be a peach jelly bean and she’d thank him or it’d be a barf jelly bean and he’d get to laugh at her. You knew.”

Hal wasn’t happy that everyone was laughing at his expense, and I know it wasn’t nice, but it was so shocking that he had all that pre-information plus his own personal experience plus his sister’s direct warning, all that afternoon, and he still trusted his brother.

“Don’t worry,” his Daddy said as he comforted him. “You won’t always be this gullible.”

Wake Up, Brother!

Hal (and his bedding) are very fortunate that he is so adept at leaning over the side of the bed when he throws up.

Can’t say the same for his older brother and the dog who sleep in the perpendicular bottom bunk beneath him.

What I can say is that, considering it can’t be fun to wake up to being splattered by falling vomit, Daryl handles the situation with considerable patience and good grace. Especially since it has now happened twice.

The dog does well too. Even goes right to work trying to help clean it all up. Although she needed some help with the stuff on the top of her head, and she seemed a bit concerned that she might be in trouble.

And for anyone wondering why we have a sick Kindergartener sleeping in a top bunk… he’s not sick. At least, not with a stomach virus. He has a lot of mucous build up. He gets to coughing and gags on the mucous and then… wake up, brother! The boys chose the sleeping arrangements and both are happy. Although Daryl might start reconsidering the merits of the top bunk.

Your Magic Powers Are Lacking

Jane and Hal were playing with some dominoes on the dining room table this morning.  Hal had initially been lining them up and then knocking them over, but when he saw his big sister building a tower, he imitated her.

He not only imitated her, but moved faster and completed his tower first.  It wasn’t as stable – it curved a bit and some of the uprights were leaning precariously.  But it was also taller than her finished one since he had stacked an extra domino on the topmost piece.  That domino, and indeed the entire structure, wobbled dangerously.

Jane stood up from the table and walked toward his.  She didn’t touch the table or make any sudden movements but his tower collapsed.  He immediately cried foul and put his head down to cry.  I quickly explained to him why his had fallen and that it wasn’t her fault.

In an attempt to help, Jane, who had walked into the kitchen to prepare breakfast, reassured him: “Hey, the only reason mine didn’t fall down is because I used magic.  I used my magic powers to keep mine standing.”

Hal stared at her for a minute.  And then he turned to stare at her tower.  And then he shook the table.  The tower – of course – collapsed.  Jane cried out in shock.

“Hah!” the six year old, always-underdog kid replied.  “See!  You didn’t use magic.”

Reading Break-Through

Hal has been slow to show an interest in reading.  I see several factors in this, all of which are related to him being the baby of the family.

  1. We have not devoted nearly as much time to reading to him as we did for the older two.  Our evenings, more often than not, have been full of his siblings’ extracurricular activities.
  2. We have relaxed and not pushed so much to get him to read, trusting in both his basic intelligence and the school system to get the job done within an age-appropriate window.  No need to create another superstar.
  3. Electronic entertainment has been a reality for him at a much younger age than it was for his siblings.  Why bother trying to read a book (in his mind) when you can task various plants to kill attacking zombies?

The effect of this has been that he entered Kindergarten unable to read.  This is perfectly normal in the population at large, but a new scenario in our household.  The older two were reading, and reading well enough to take comprehension exams over the book, by the same age.  Daryl, at least, appeared to think this made his brother inferior in intellect.

And while I, of course, did not share his view, I did feel a little guilty for having not given Hal the same benefits as the others.  With the advent of the school year came the reading log, with the reward of a free Pizza Hut pizza if at least 25 books were read each month.  This motivated Hal to request reading time more frequently.  It did not motivate him to attempt reading himself, though.

When we would sit down to read, he was typically not interested in trying to sound out the words.  He just wanted us to read to him while he looked at the pictures.  If you paused at a word and pointed at it, he’d grunt and complain that he didn’t want to read it.  If you insisted, he’d scan the page looking for a visual clue on what the word might be.  And then he’d guess.  Even once he could correctly sound out the letters, he resisted putting it together.

In retrospect, this is not that different from when we worked with the older two.  The main difference is that he is 2-3 years older than they were.  And, unless my brain is playing tricks on me, much more stubborn.

So sometime last week, I told him to retrieve a book and he selected “Being Friends” – a book that Jane’s friend had given her for her fourth birthday.  I smiled when I saw the tracing of the girl’s hands on the inside cover and the awkwardly scrawled name.

Opening the book to the first page, I noticed the words seemed Hal-appropriate simple:  I like red.  You like blue.

And so I pointed to the first word.  He squirmed and protested.  I said, “Oh, come on.  This one is easy.”  He read it.  I pointed to the next word.  It was apparently a sight word because he read it.  And then the next one.  I helped him with “you” and then he finished the page.  Almost eagerly.

We progressed fairly rapidly through the book.  He squirmed and twisted and barely stayed on the couch next to me.  In fact, he often read while sitting on the floor, poking his head up somewhere near the book.  He told me that he would read all the shorts ones and “the ones I know” while I was to read the long ones.

His squirming made it difficult to hold the book.  When I said as much, he popped up onto the couch and grabbed the book.  He set it firmly in his lap and took over word pointing duty.  And read.  And read.  And read.

At one point, I jumped in for the long word in the sentence and he pounced on me. “I was going to read that one!”  Yes, sir!  I assured him that I would delay before reading any remaining long words, to give him a chance to try it if he wanted to.

Eventually, he showed the tell-tale signs of boredom.  When asked to sound out a simple word, he’d stare and then shout out an absurd answer.  I’d insist and he’d repeat.  Point to the word cat.  “kuh-kuh-kuh aa-aa-aa tuh-tuh-tuh… Poop!”

“Ok, so you are done?  You want me to finish reading all the words?” I asked.  He nodded.  I began to read.  I turned the page.  He grabbed the book and resumed reading.  Finally.  The joy of successfully decoding the words on the page had infected him.  Even when he tired of sitting still, he just couldn’t leave the task to me.

Finally.  He was reading.

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Rudeful Ravioli and Traitorous Bay Leaves… Or Something Like That

Jane was gone to a retreat this weekend so for approximately two days, we were the parents of two boys only.  Here’s a sampling of things I overheard.

“My secret ingredient will be poop.” – This in response to the older brother telling the younger that he would teach him how to make eggs… including his secret ingredients.

“Stupid bay leaves!” – Muttered by the older as he rifled through the spice cabinet.

“Captain, don’t forget our dog is immune to lava!” – Something to do with all the floors in the house being lava and this statement allowing the dog to traverse the floors without either hopping from chair to chair or dying a horrible, slow, burning death.

“I’m not a traitor!  No, wait.  I am a traitor.  I’ll tell you where he is.” – Overheard during an apparent interrogation behind closed doors.

(cheerfully) “I’m not a traitor!  I’m the delivery man!” – Said by the youngest when “delivering” a “package” and being accused by the oldest (who answered the door) of actually be a traitor.

(in the wrestling ring, aka living room)
older, in a sinister voice: “I. Am. Black. Mamba.”
younger: “I am Death Snake!”
older: “No, you can’t be death snake because black mamba is already the deadliest snake in the world. You should be… The Brown Recluse. That’s a vicious spider that when it bites you, your skin falls off.”
younger: “But I want to be Death Snake!”
older: “No! We can’t have two snakes!”

(during make-believe school) “Hal!  No swords in class!”

(also during make-believe school) “Ahh!  No fair.  Dogs don’t go to school!”

“Well, Bubba, your head looks like a ravioli!” – said by the youngest at church Sunday morning.

“You said that very rudefully.  You shouldn’t talk like that.”

Oh, honey.  Rudefully or not, I have so thoroughly enjoyed listening to the two of you talking this weekend.  We should deprive you of your electronic devices more often.

What’s On The Other Side?

Hal is the youngest member of our children’s choir at church.  As such, it’s sometimes necessary for him to step out of the choir room before rehearsal is actually finished.  This could be because he’s just gotten too restless or it could be because they need to work on a song with the older ones.  Either way, the ladies running the choir seem to always have a plan for him.  This week, he made a miniature “paper doll”.  He told me it was him.

20140928_203114I told him it was great and I really liked that he was wearing pink shoes.  The shocker was when he turned it over.  The back, in fact, shocked everyone.  His big brother told him he was stupid, which earned a sharp rebuke and lecture from me.  Later, his sister, standing in line for dinner with the youth group, expressed her shock without insult but a handful of teenagers bursting out laughing as he proudly showed his ‘doll’ was too much for him.  He buried his face in his dad’s leg in shame.

It hurt to see him hurt like that.  He was so proud of what he had done.  What none of the other children had bothered to do was ask why.  Why had he drawn what he did on the back?  It’s simple, really.  Take a look.

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Those are butt cheeks.  What possessed him to draw (albeit too small) butt cheeks?  Isn’t it obvious?  Do you see any pants covering the back of that boy?  No?  Me neither.  Which means we’d obviously see his butt cheeks.  And that’s why he drew them.  Because that’s what we’d see.  And even though it’s a bit off-color and most people won’t be able to keep from laughing, I’m proud of him.  It shows intelligence and creativity and attention to detail and… humor.  He knew he was being funny.  In a silly little boy kind of way.

Sometimes I ache for him, growing up as the youngest of three.  Worse, growing up five years younger than the next youngest.  And, without a matching partner in any of our friends’ families.  One of our closest sets of friends has two kids: a girl 2 weeks younger than Jane and a boy 2 1/2 months younger than Daryl.  Our kids have been close friends for years, but when Hal is around, he’s the third wheel and is often treated as such.  One of our newer sets of friends also has two kids: again, a girl in the same grade as Jane and a boy in the same grade as Daryl.  Jane and the girl are friendly, not as close as they’ve been in the past, but Daryl and the boy are pretty much best friends.  And Hal wants to be part of it.

Hal gets upset every time the boys get together and he’s left out.  He doesn’t understand that he’s too much younger.  He doesn’t understand that he’ll eventually make friends of his own.  But even if he does, it won’t be kids from the families we currently socialize with.  So when those families gather, he’s still left out.

I don’t know what kind of effect this will have on him long-term.  I certainly don’t regret our decision to have another go at the kiddo roulette wheel.  But sometimes I wonder whether this was fair to him.  Whether we spent any time thinking about the impact of this gap on him.  Whether we even had the capacity to understand it had we thought to consider it.

Take this doll, for example.  If he had been Jane – the firstborn, he would have been met with nothing but praise and merriment.  He would have only had adults to show it to – loving, supportive adults.  He would have been validated, his creativity rewarded.  But as the “baby”, he still receives the love and support, but he also receives ridicule and rejection from people he truly looks up to.  Even if he believes the supportive adults, he is still left with the sense that something about his creativity was maybe not-quite-right.  And that’s sad.

All we can do now, of course, is make sure he knows just how much he’s valued.  And how much I love his tiny-butt-cheek, pink shoe wearing, googly-eyed selfie and every other wonderful thing he comes up with.  And help him (and his siblings) navigate this tricky path we’ve laid for them.  And teach his siblings that he is worth their respect.  He has feelings too.