I remember the first time I took Ethan to the mall playground and watched in horror as the big kids climbed up the slide. Sometimes they watched out for the little kids and sometimes they didn't. I was mortified. There are rules. "Up the stairs and down the slide." Even in the days before smart phones and excessive texting, the parents of these kids weren't paying attention. I glared at the big boys. These would probably be the boys that later on would offer my innocent children cigarettes under the bleachers on the football field in high school.
Fast forward to last Friday when I met a group of friends at the National Building Museum to check out their Lego exhibit. We invited one of Ethan's extremely well-behaved friends so I had four kids under the age of six. No problem. Piece of cake. We all know how well I do with three. Ha.
I thought things out ahead of time. I strapped Mason onto my back in a Babyhawk carrier. Limited movement for the Baby in a Lego free play exhibit with tens of thousands of Legos upon which to choke? CHECK!
We arrived and I reached over my shoulder to hand Mason what I thought was a large Lego brick. It was large enough that I wouldn't need to do the Heimlich. Ten minutes later a woman runs up and taps on my arm.
YOUR BABY HAS A LEGO IN HIS MOUTH. IT'S SCARING ME.
She was actually yelling. I mumbled an "oh, um, thanks?" and directed Ethan to reach back behind me and take the Lego out of his mouth. The woman said, "I'll do it" (insert your own idea of her tone and then multiply it by a thousand) and she handed me a slimy Lego. I'm not sure but I think The Baby growled at her. I thought about it.
I could see that The Baby's entertainment was now gone so we all went down to the play area downstairs for kids 2-6. I figured that 3 out of the 4 kids I had were in that age range, so we were good. Except by 2-6 they really meant 0-2. Maybe 0-3. The place was packed with babies.
The three older boys ran into a corner away from the smaller kids and found erector set pieces that they promptly made into weapons. A mother of an underaged toddler glared at me as she said to her son, "Honey, be careful of those boys. THEIR mom lets them play with swords."
Seriously? Did she just say that? Don't get me wrong. I remember the days when I was pretty sure my precious snowflake was going to be ruined by the world, lady. I yanked the erector set pieces out of the kids hands but only because they had somehow figured out how to make them do this projectile thing like arrows. I turned around to find Nathan making a gun out of those huge soft blocks. Across the room I could hear a woman on her cell, bemoaning the big kids who were (gasp) running around in the corner, shooting each other.
My kids got light sabers for Christmas last year from a dear friend who has now been written out of our will and they got their first toy guns in the form of those miniature Lego policemen for their birthdays this year. I don't even let them have water guns (which is cruel since we are rounding out a month of 90+ temperatures). But we all know they watch Star Wars on loop, so it's not like they are experiencing a violence-free life.
I'm not anti-gun per se, but don't judge me because my kids made swords with erector set pieces. It's not like I was over there giving a tutorial on how to make weapons. Everyone knows boys are going to make guns out of sticks or Legos or whatever they can find if their cruel parents refuse to buy them.
I just really hope that when Sword Lady's son picks up her 2 pound hand weights, points them at the neighbor kid and yells, "I'M LUKE THE SKYWALKER" one day and the neighbor kid's mom glares at her, she remembers me.
Yesterday, I got on a plane to Atlanta for work. As I got out of the car at the airport to leave, no one seemed even remotely interested that I was leaving. Part of me felt really bad that my children did not even remotely care that I was leaving and part of me thought, "Yay!!!! No one will be glaring at me on the plane!!"
I was leaving my children for three days. My husband is very competent. They are his children, too. I am always surprised when someone comments on how helpful he is, because I have just always assumed that his participation would be complete and engaged. I mean, no one ever compliments him on how helpful I am. I thought that since it was 2010, it was just assumed that he would actively participate in the rearing of his children. I wouldn't have had more than one, if things had been different. We have three children by choice. His choice.
To be honest, I told him that I thought he would be perfectly fine if I were to die in a fiery airplane crash. As is always the case, my husband asked me not to say such things since it is bad luck. As is always the case with me, who does not believe in bad luck, I continued to speak.
I told him that my only concern was the feeding of my children. You see, my husband will answer seven thousand questions about how grass grows or why there are rings around Saturn or how many layers of skin there are. But when it comes to food, he has a short attention span. He tries for about 10 minutes, and then he gives up. You eat, yay for you. You don't, too bad. So sad.
I would typically land my helicopter there, but my children are a little feisty when they don't eat. We all know this. They come by it honestly from their father. I can get to 7 p.m. before I think, something is wrong here. Oh, I haven't eaten since yesterday. My husband? Eats on a clock. There is that moment of the evening when dinner is behind schedule, and the whole family melts down. Despite being married to my husband for nearly seven years, it took me having children to realize that blood sugars and happy days are synonymous.
So, to be honest, it sometimes surprises me that my husband does not see the correlation between his children's grumpy faces and their need for food. He gives up too quickly, and then everyone is angry and upset. He gets upset, everyone gets upset and no one understands that this is all about food.
I called today and there was screaming in the background. Apparently the boys decided that they wanted to go to the store to get hoola hoops (???). Then everyone cried on the way, while they were there and on the way home. It only took a few minutes in a conversation after they got home for me to determine that lunch had been sketchy and breakfast was even sketchier. I suggested a snack. No one cared.
They will be perfectly fine until I get home. I should probably plan a big dinner though, since it looks like dinner might not be happening any time soon. Is that bad?
We went to the old pioneer house and the guide started with her schtick.
"In a few minutes we are going to show you the saws that the pioneers used on the Oregon Trail over one hundred fifty years ago, and then we are going to let you saw a piece of wood. It will be great fun because normally your mom and dad won't let you use a saw."
My children got on that saw, and the girl was worried they were going to build a log cabin right then and there. It was fairly obvious they had handled adult tools before. I didn't even have the energy to apologize for my three-year-old being able to wield a bow saw better than your average settler.
This was not the first time my three- and five-year-old had taken matters into their own hands this week. While on vacation, my husband took them for a ride in the paddle boat and showed them how the rudder works. Not twelve hours later I found myself diving off the dock onto the paddle boat as Ethan and Nathan were leaving to take the paddle boat for a spin.
Ethan: BUT MOM!!! Dad showed me how to do the paddle boat.
K: Ethan, Dad showing you the paddle boat is not the same as you taking your brother for a spin alone on the lake.
Ethan: But I KNOW how to do it.
You see, the disconnect is "knowing" how to do it and it being safe enough to do. They wear their life jackets, so of course they feel perfectly safe. When I caught Ethan backing the kayak down the embankment at my in-laws house yesterday to take it for a spin, I nearly lost my mind. The rapids aren't horrible but certainly out of the realm of reality for a small child. Just tonight I flipped the kayak over on the river and it took everything to hold on to the kayak and dodge the looming rocks. My right shin shows the evidence of my failure.
Everyone seems to have a suggestion with how to deal with my "active" children but now I'm just tired. I've given up explaining WHY you can't do something and have resorted to going to all lengths to make things impossible. We don't leave keys in accessible places. The kayak was pulled up in front of the house and was too heavy to move. The paddle boat? Well, we just had to leave that place.
One of the cousins asked me if I thought it was just boys. I mean, her kids are the same age and none of them have ever stolen a paddle boat and taken it for a joy ride. In fact, I know NO ONE whose child has left in a paddle boat when the kids were five and three. I'll admit that I have apparently reached my "boys will be boys" fill since my heart cannot absolutely take one more drama, at least today. It's not much of a consolation but right now it's all I have. That and making sure the keys to the lawn mower are hidden.
"Mom, I want to go to the Secret Hideout with my cousin."
We are out at the lake at the family reunion and things have been awesome. But for the first time ever, Ethan is someplace where there is no one his age with which to play. Sure he has his brother (who will play whatever his older brother commands) for hours but for once, Nate has someone exactly his age who is keeping him busy.
In lieu of playing with the little kids all day, Ethan has discovered his older cousin Hayden. At eleven years old, Hayden is such a wonderful boy and has been nothing but extremely kind to his much younger cousin. He is so kind that I can see that he doesn't want to say "no" to Ethan when asked if he can tag along. He has taken him along a few times. The trouble is that Hayden really wants to be with his friends who are his age. I have absolutely no idea what eleven-year-old boys discuss but I am pretty sure it is way over the head (or should be) of a five-year-old.
Hayden is a very fast runner so I have noticed he has managed to escape a couple of times. A few times I have run interference so he can get away but he really shouldn't have to sneak away to be with his friends. I understand completely how Ethan feels though too. I never had anyone my age at family reunions and I wanted to be with the big kids.
My memories of the big kids seem to be the same ones Ethan is experiencing now. Everyone was always kind to me and they just disappeared when they wanted a break.
In addition to the conversational difference, the big kids stay up later. Before we left for vacation, Derek expressed his desire that the kids be able to embrace the Kid Anarchy he always experienced on vacation at the lake in summers when he was young. I reminded him that his memories of staying up late probably were not from when he was five years old and even if it was, too bad. Just like that old saying, "anything you can do after (insert your curfew), you can do before your curfew."
My kids do that crazy thing where they get up earlier if they go to bed later. I don't know why but I know it will happen as sure as I know the sun will come up in the morning. I told Derek that the kids could take a nap during the day if they wanted to stay up late or he could do morning duty at 4:15 (hello, time change). Unsurprisingly, he came around to my way of thinking.
As for playing with the big kids, I just sat Ethan down and explained it to him. I told him that he could be with Hayden every once in a while but that Hayden needed his space. I told him that Hayden was allowed to do things that Ethan was not because Ethan was still too young. I told Ethan the time would come when Ethan could do what the big kids are doing. I gave him all his choices for things that he could do so he didn't feel completely left out.
I think it worked, at least for today. What would you have done?