Two years ago, my first post for the Supersisters was a post about Ethan teaching Nathan how to climb out of his crib.
It will surprise no one who has followed our craziness over the last two years that just this morning I overheard Nathan trying to teach Mason how to climb out of his crib. Yes, my children are pretty much all the same. Ethan was too busy to teach Mason how to climb out of his crib because he's busy trying to figure out how to make this thing called a "ramp" that his friend Harrison brought to his attention. Apparently if you ride your bike over it really fast, you can go in the air a little. Yay....
Midday brought us a trip to Lowe's where the boys used rebar as guns that they fired from their shoulders at each other between the piles of concrete. I got a double whammy of a self-righteous mother declaring she doesn't allow her children to play guns (I thought I got away with shoving the rebar in their hands and teaching them how to "reload" when no one was looking) and the incredible amount of filth that was everywhere, thanks to said rebar.
So pretty much, the more things change, the more they stay the same. While we will no longer be regaling you with stories of emergency room visits and bike riding and crib breakouts here at PBS, you can be sure that wherever we are, those things are still happening.
I leave you with this video which debuted a mere two years ago. I think my favorite thing is either the fact that Nate has only one leg in his pants or the fact that he crosses in front of the video like an SNL skit gone bad. Either way, I'm really glad we didn't name Mason Flying Squirrel.
As the three boys fell out of the car (literally), I glanced to the other side of the "parking lot" at the pumpkin field. A father was walking with three blond brothers down the road. They seemed to be ahead of us by a couple of years. The boys were maybe 3, 5 and 7. As my children screamed (apparently one had rolled under the car and his brothers weren't letting him out), the father with the three boys fielded three different conversations. I tried to get his attention to give him a conspiratorial nod, but he was too focused on maintaining three conversations at once.
You see, when you have three boys that are relatively close in age, you always notice other people with the same. I imagine this happens with every family, grasping similarities and giving others with the same family make up some form of solitary sign. We don't see a lot of families of three boys, but it's not uncommon for me to have a mom come up to me in the store and say, "I have three boys too and now they are grown up. It's possible." This usually happens when I have kids climbing out of the cart on both sides and a less-than-cheery baby screaming because his method of escape is being hindered by the seat belt.
I don't know why I am continually surprised by raising boys. Mason spent the better part of the afternoon at the field attempting to climb out the front of the wagon. This would make you believe that what he really wanted was to walk with his brothers. Not really. He really just wanted to continually climb in and out of the wagon. When he did walk, he was obsessed with the rotten apples that had fallen from the trees. He spent an hour trying to pick up all the rotten apples and put them in the basket. If only he felt such passion about toys in his room at clean up time.
Things picked up for Mason considerably when his brothers graciously showed him that an even better option for rotten apples was to throw them at each other. I looked around the crowded fall locale and not one little girl was throwing apples. Come to think of it, no one else was throwing apples. I sighed and looked at their father. He looked back at me and laughed. I guess this is just the way it is when you have three boys.
K: Are you frightened?
Ethan: Mom. I'm tall enough now. I'm not frightened.
K: I hate to be a downer, but you do know that the height requirement for rides has nothing to do with your level of fear, right?
Ethan: Mom. I'm TALL ENOUGH.
K: I'm just saying that if you don't want to do it, it would be totally fine.
Ethan: Mom, Harrison says that roller coasters are SO fun and that I would LOVE them.
K: Well, Harrison is an aficionado of rides so I guess that makes sense.
Ethan: Can I go on that boat?
K: Only if your father will go with you. That's the throw up boat.
Derek: Sorry, buddy. It's not happening.
Ethan: But it's a pirate boat.
K: Look at all those good parents on that throw up boat with their kids.
Ethan: Then we can go?
K: Absolutely not.
Derek: Absolutely not.
He pointed to the log flume. I sighed. Along with not wanting my food to touch on my plate unless it is a designated touching food such as a casserole, I have this thing about getting wet on rides. Okay, I have this thing about getting my hair wet any place outside of a shower or pool. It's not logical but it is what it is. If you saw my hair, you would really, really understand how illogical it is. My husband piped in with a "Mom would LOVE to go with you boys."
"Love" is a very strong word and frankly, I think we throw it around too much. But I guess it would be love to go on the log flume with your children. I looked quizzically at Nate. He nodded. Et tu, Brute? He looked me right in the eyes, nodded his head again and said, "I not sca'd, Mom."
I used to be the queen of the roller coaster. Ain't no mountain high enough. I remember going to a nearly deserted park with friends and running from the exit of the coaster to the entrance of the coaster so that we could have a nearly continuous ride. I was able to maintain a level of nausea near vomiting for 8 ride cycles before I called it quits. It was one of my all-time best days ever.
But now I'm old. My body doesn't appreciate such abuse and the nausea reminds me of morning sickness. I spent an inordinate amount of time in a torts class in law school determining liability when the giant swing lost a chair into the crowd. It's as if becoming a parent has driven me to check for that state safety sticker on every single carnival ride before I hand over my precious babies and those really, really expensive tickets.
We got off the log flume and it was as if my baby Ethan was gone forever. He was only limited by the number of tickets in his pocket. Roller coasters, swings, you name it. He was fearless. The crazier the ride, the more empowered he became. My head told me that I just didn't want him to do more than he could handle and end up being scared. My heart told me that I just wasn't ready for my boy to grow up.
Ethan: I CAN do it, Mom.
He was right. He really can. And he did.
Victory photo by Derek. FYI, there is also a complete montage of me mouthing "You" "Are" "Dead" "To" "Me" "Now" to him as we went up the steep hill before the log flume soaking. This didn't seem an appropriate place or time to share those pictures.
I recently had the opportunity to spend two full uninterrupted days with my nine year old Carter--just the two of us. Originally we planned for Carter, Madeleine and me to have a weekend away somewhere together, but at the last minute Madeleine opted out in search of tweenage bliss with her good friend Isabel. That left Carter and I alone in the car for five plus hours on our way to New York City where we would spend the next two days wandering the streets, seeing the sites and getting to know each other in a brand new way.
I've always been very tuned into my kids, so I wasn't expecting any big surprises. Carter is an easy kid to be with in general and has for the longest time been excellent company. Still, 48 hours completely alone with anyone and you'll learn something new.
Here's the shortlist of observations (some new, some old) from our time together this weekend:
1. Carter is way more sensitive than I realized. He needs a super safe environment free of sarcasm and harsh tones before he can really start to unwind and relax.
2. Carter is super affectionate and needs more chances to demonstrate his emotions, especially the super loving, positive ones.
3. Carter is a chatterbox. For a kid who is notorious for his introversion, Carter could not shut up on our ride up. I think he told me at least fifty well-memorized jokes.
4. Carter needs long stretches of silence and downtime. We were able to find this best on long walks around the city with nothing to do, nowhere to go.
5. Carter is on a secret campaign to feel less all around, since his big emotions feel so overwhelming to him. This taps down his joy as well as his sadness. He needs even more support to let his big emotions out, so his not so healthy no-feel strategy can come to an end.
6. Carter actually enjoys the limelight. He was thrilled to be a little outrageous in his new shades (see photo above) and happily basked when complimented on his style by the tour guides at the New York Water Taxi.
7. Carter did well to be on his own, away from his uber-confident sister, to have his own chance to try on his own brand of confidence. The shades definitely helped.
I was so thankful for these two days to really focus on Carter, have unstructured time with him and tune in to his inner world. I have some data now as a parent that I desperately needed to be able to meet Carter's needs in more intentional ways.
How about you? Have you noticed something new about your kids this week? Something about the way they are, what they need or how you'd be better off to change your tact a little?
Tell us what you're observing and learning in the comments below.
I thought I heard my name as I crossed the lobby. I glanced over my shoulder for a brief second but never stopped. It isn't the first time this week that I have heard a "Kristen!" directed to someone other than me and it is not like it is an uncommon name.
I raced to the door and began to text Derek. My phone rang instead. Evidently they had been chasing me through the lobby but to no avail. I turned around and Ethan and Nathan came racing up to me. They tackled my legs and I thought for a brief second that I would go over. I leaned up to kiss The Baby in his father's arms. He gave me a big grin but didn't move from his spot of comfort.
So it's going to be like that, huh? Mama leaves for 4 days and somebody got a little bitter. I can understand that. I waved to him and Derek tried to convince him to come to me. I could see that Derek was panicked that I would do something crazy and break out into a good quality howcanyounotloveyourmother rant complete with tear-stained cheeks in the highly public train station.
I grabbed Nate's hand and told Ethan that I had missed him so much.
E: Really? Then why didn't you call?
K: I did call.
E: I don't remember.
K: I did. Remember that I called that one day but The Baby tried to eat Dad's phone and then Nate kept hanging up on me?
K: So I should have called more? Why didn't you call me?
E: I don't know.
K: It's not like you don't know how.
E: Good point. Well, I missed you too. And Lindsey let me play Wii WHENEVER I WANTED.
N: And she bringed us crayons.
K: Did you tell her we don't have any because The Baby climbs up on the table and eats them?
E: MOM. Lindsay WATCHES The Baby so he doesn't EAT the crayons.
Who knew that was the trick? Huh. A greater mother would have felt horrible and questioned her parenting skills against those of the hyper-chipper, highly-engaged, college-aged babysitter. I just stood there feeling really bad that the babysitter probably spent a ridiculous amount of time digging crayons out of The Baby's mouth. Or she just waited until The Baby took a nap. Hey, there's a winning idea!
The trouble is that I really didn't call very much. The Baby screeches like a pterodactyl from start to finish on the call , while intermittently chewing on the phone. Nate rips the phone out of his brother's hands, yells something relatively unintelligible and then hangs up. Ethan calls me back and tattles about the latest bad behavior (because that is so few and far between). By the time Derek gets the phone back, everyone is frazzled. It's actually kind of funny if you don't need to convey any pertinent information or really want to know how anyone is doing.
So Derek sends pictures of the day's events and I call the babysitter to see if they haven't given her slip yet. Other than that, it was pretty quiet while I was away. I got home and everything was relatively intact. I would complain about them setting the carpet on fire with a lamp but I'm really just glad they waited to nearly burn the house down until after I got home.
The Baby finally climbed up onto my lap and forgave me. No harm, no foul. I think I would do it the same way next time I go away. What do you think?
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.
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.
It seems like only yesterday they were wheeling me through the emergency room, rushing me up to labor and delivery, so you could be born as soon as physically possible. That whole day unfolded like a movie with more twists and turns that I could have imagined, but in the end, thank God, there was you.
You, the baby who healed my heart.
You, the baby who fell asleep on the bed while I spent fifteen minutes getting ready for the big bedtime routine which never ever needed to happen.
You, the baby who stayed in my arms and at my breast longer than everyone else thought necessary or possible.
You, the toddler with the head full of wild blond curls.
You, the toddler with the deep hobbit voice and the belly full laugh and smile.
You, the little boy who didn't talk to anyone else but me for years and years.
You, the little boy who whispered the deepest thoughts in the dark at bedtime.
You, the boy who taught himself to read on Calvin and Hobbes.
You, the boy who makes his teachers swoon.
You, the boy with the hilarious sense of humor.
You, the boy who sits down at the desk to play video games the same way old men check into the cubicle.
You, the boy who has a heart the size of Africa.
You, the boy who loves legos, comic books and sugar in any form.
You, the boy who everyone loves wherever he is, wherever he goes.
You, the boy who knows that laughter is always the best medicine.
I cannot tell you how happy I am you were born and how deeply I welcome being your mom, your friend and your sage guide your whole life long. May this year bring you new adventures in nature, new friends who you can talk to with your heart wide open and a sense of being loved and held through all the changes life always brings.
May you laugh so hard you pee your pants and have so much fun milk squirts out of your nose. May your tears be met with perfect understanding and support and healing. May your challenges only come with the perfect accompaniment of kindness and courage. May you learn to love new things and discover talents you never knew could be yours.
No matter what, I hope you know that we think you're the bee's knees. Nine never looked better.
Your Mom Jen Lemen
(you can read more about raising boys here)
"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?
My workshop is in the basement. Many a day I put the baby down for a nap in the morning, and I head down the stairs to get some work done. I can print shirts with The Baby around, but I spend more time keeping him out of vats of ink than I do actually printing shirts. He also likes to speed up the dryer, which is not helpful in the least. The other two wander around the basement at will, moving from one adventure to the next. They really aren't a problem.
The other day I was slammed with work, and the boys asked if they could hang out with me in the basement. I was barely paying attention as I murmured an affirmative and I headed off around the corner.
The thing with my parenting is that it is nearly all audible. My children come by their mouths honestly, and they almost never stop talking. They literally talk all day long. When they do stop talking, I know it's time to make my presence known. This works for us. The combination of my excellent hearing (thanks, Mom, for never letting me go to those rock concerts that permanently damaged my husband's hearing) and their chattiness, crisis can be avoided 99% of the time.
The thing with audible parenting is that you should also LISTEN to what your children are saying. This is where I find myself faltering. Especially yesterday.
Nate: MOM. Dad's saws are here. There are tree (three).
K: (distracted) Nate, stay away from whatever you found. Don't touch Dad's stuff.
I kept working and never thought about it again. Well, until the next day when I walked down the stairs for some reason and this is what I saw.
Hmm. The set for a certain popular serial killer drama? Nope. Just my husband leaving his tools out for a job for another day. I called Derek.
K: Hi. You have all these SAWS on the ironing board.
D: I was trying to fix that WALL.
K: You are raising your voice at me?
D: I HAD TO FIX THE WALL.
K: You left a cornucopia of saws out for the kids to get into.
D: They were up.
K: On an ironing board?
D: It's high.
K: It also only requires about a half pound of pressure to knock over. I'm pretty sure both boys can see over the top of the ironing board. I wondered what Nate was talking about yesterday when he said he saw saws.
D: I'm sorry.
K: I have a tough enough time with these children without offering them their own weapons. Forget intent. Nate's clumsiness alone could have resulted in a lost limb.
D: I thought they were safe.
Safety is a relative concept. We had to take every single movable chair off of the first floor because The Baby has taken to climbing onto counter tops and throwing glasses and plates off. I got tired of glass shards, if you know what I mean. So I'm thinking that right about now I could use a little help in the safety department, at least with the big ticket items like saws. I don't think I'm asking too much.