Sunday, November 24, 2013

Oh God!

I got a baby book from the library about Thanksgiving.  If it's a board book, we call it a baby book, and it is meant for Alex's enjoyment with a peripheral listen by big brother Andy.  If Andy is at the library and sees a child his age looking at the board books, he is quick to say, "But where is your baby?"  And if there is no good explanation, then Andy will ask me, "Why is that big boy taking that baby book?"

The book was all about being grateful on Thanksgiving and thanking God for all of the good things in our life. I normally avoid overtly religious books/shows/music/events out of no good reason other than a general wariness of overly religious people.  I can't explain this wariness, and this is probably not the best forum to try.  I am also wary of people who have pets or use more than their fair share of coupons, so it's not like my wariness is reserved just for religion or is at all remotely reasonable.

That being said, I absolutely and totally believe in God and most main tenets of Catholicism except for the whole lent fiasco with fish on Fridays and arbitrarily having to give up something ridiculous like chocolate, coffee, or beer for forty days.  (Sidenote:  My brother-in-law gave up beer one lent and so it was forty days of hard alcohol only.  This is my favorite What-I-Gave-Up-For-Lent story ever.)  I still say nightly prayers and believe that most things written in the bible probably did happen in one form or another.  So it's not faith in God that I'm wary of, just organized religion.  Maybe it's the tithing that gets me, as I am pretty cheap.

But I digress.  I read the baby book about thanking God and, of course, the first question out of Andy's mouth:  "Who is God?"

Oh how to answer a question that has plagued philosophers, religious leaders, and wayward alter boys since the beginning of time?  I closed the baby book and said, "God is... like an angel in the sky.  Wait, that's not right.  God is like everybody's father in the sky.  He made all of the people and He watches over us every day."  Satisfied, I moved on to the next baby book.  "Now who wants to read about Truck Mice?"

We finished our board book, I tucked Alex in, and then Andy and I started his final bed time routine of brushing teeth, using the bathroom, and getting a couple big boy non-board books.  In the bathroom, Andy looked up at me and asked again,  "Who is God?"

Of all the questions my kids might ask me, this one may be one of the toughest, right up there with puberty-related ones and an explanation of why bad things happen to good people and why good things happen to people we don't like.  I tried again.  "God made us," I said, slowly, trying to work it out appropriately for my precocious three year old.  "God made all of the people on Earth and He made the trees and the animals and He watches over us."

"But where is he?"

Come on, Andy, help me out here.  "He's way up in the sky," I answered.  "He's in Heaven."  And then, I heard myself saying, "If you want to talk to Him, we can say a prayer to him.  That's how people talk to God."

"I want to say a prayer."

Of course he did.  I led my son into the loft, and we got down on our knees in front of the couch.  Andy watched me very carefully and took my lead in steepling his hands.  He was instantly like a Precious Moments statue in Batman pajamas.  I said to Andy, "You can repeat after me."  And then I composed a sort of letter for him.  "Dear God.  Thank you for all the good things in my life, like my family and house and food.  Please protect and watch over me, my daddy, my mommy, my brother, and the rest of my family. Please help me be a good person and help me always try and do the right thing. Love, Andy."

We stood up, and Andy asked, "Can I watch Caillou now?"

This is probably accurate.
That happened about a week ago.  Andy has brought up God nearly every day since then.  If we are in the car, Andy asks,  "Did God make that truck/farm/cloud?"  At home, Andy will sometimes just bust out "Who is God?"  all over again, and he has suggested a couple times now that we pray.  It's possible that I have a real Jesus freak blossoming in my midst, a bible banger to rival even the top bible bangers- the bangiest of the bangers.

I must say, I like Andy's interest in this God guy.  I like that he has questions and has instant faith.  However, I'm nervous that I am his sole teacher on the subject.  I don't know what the crap I'm talking about.  I don't know the right way to answer hard questions.  And to this day, I'm still not one hundred percent on the right way to do the sign of the cross.  Is this something that I'm going to have to get down pat?

Or do we just send the boys off to CCD when it's time?  I've been kind of assuming that their baptisms would kind of just be the end of it, but maybe little Andy's questions are a way of telling me that children really do need some sort of guidance into questions about faith and God.  Guidance from someone that has access to workbooks and the correct order for the sign of the cross.  Glasses, testicles, wallet, watch? Argh, I don't have any of those things.

I guess I still have a couple years to decide all that.  In the mean time, I will pray with my little boys and tell them that, yeah, in a way God DID make ice cream, I suppose.

* * * *

Sometimes I feel like Alex gets ignored in this blog, because he's still so young and doesn't ask adorable questions like "Who is God?" or "Why can't I drive the car?"  Classic second child syndrome, right?  But my little pumpkin is seventeen months old now and is asserting himself in new ways.  He is loud and bossy, even though his bossiness comes out only in the forms of "EH" and wet-noodling himself when I try to carry him away from something attractive, such as the knob to the oven.

Alex's favorite book is "Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear" in which the title character turns around, touches the ground, etc.  It is one of the few books he will bring to me, climb into my lap for, and totally pay attention to, from start to end.

His favorite song is "Row Row Row Your Boat," which he sings along to by monotoning "Bow!  Bow!"

His favorite animal is anything that neighs, which means mostly horses, but sometimes cows.  We are still working on our animal recognition.

Alex is now super interested in trains and will push them along while calling out, "Chooooo!"

He is obsessed with pop cans and asks for pop all the time.  "Pop.  Pop.  Pop."  I'm pretty close to caving. No judgement if you see my one and a half year old downing a Dr. Pepper sometime soon.  Kidding.  Kind of.

He really likes going to the two gyms we go to at the two nearby park districts.  He loves playing ball and often asks to be picked up so he can slam dunk a ball into the kiddie sized basketball net.  Future baller, perhaps?  Maybe one son will be a priest, and the other will be a Chicago Bull.

If we are in a crowd of children, Alex stays by Andy.  And Andy stays by Alex.  When it matters, they know that the other one is their anchor.

Alex really loves putting things on his head.  Bowls, buckets, and hats.  His favorite, though, is a hooded monkey blanket.  He will bring me the blanket, instruct me to put it on him (Eh!  EH!) and then just walk around the house like Super Monkey.  He will be the only Chicago Bull to wear a helmet, I am sure.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Blame Game!

Sometimes Alex is the instigator, pushing or biting Andy and acting as the start button to their noisy squabbles.  Even during these times, I find myself yelling at Andy and telling him to knock it off.  "But Alex was biting me!" Andy might protest, to which I will inevitably dismiss Alex's actions with a "But he's just a baby" or "He didn't mean it" or "It's okay, he's super cute" or "I'm sure on some level you definitely deserved it."

I heard my voice echoing against the walls the other day after a raucous began by Alex destroying a block tower Andy had been quietly constructing.  Alex destroyed the tower, Andy got upset, Alex threw a block at Andy, and then Andy pushed Alex down and Alex bumped his head..  They were both crying, and I yelled at Andy after inspecting Alex's head.  "Andy," I yelled, "I don't care who started it, if Alex ever gets hurt EVEN IF YOU'RE NOT IN THE SAME ROOM AS HIM, I'm blaming YOU.  You're the big brother, you have to be nicer.  Now go take a time out."

Sobbing, Andy headed off while I comforted my youngest and suddenly I felt like kind of an ass.

At some point, I have to start holding Alex accountable for his actions and stop treating Andy like he's the big boy who should know better.  I can't help thinking back to my own childhood, though.  As an older sister, it was true:  If M. ever got hurt, it actually usually was my fault.  My brilliant idea to hook our bikes up together with a jump rope and then rapidly pedal us down the block while she got dragged behind me entangled in what amounted to a heap of bicycle and a noose.  My very similar yet also brilliant idea to tie a different jump rope around my bike and pull her down the block while she wore roller skates.  So many days of our childhood revolved around me trying to bandage up her skinned knees while simultaneously trying to console and threaten her.  Don't tell Mom, I'd hiss in a panic,  Stop crying already!   A couple months ago, I remarked to M. about how much Andy and Alex fought.  "Did we ever fight like that?" I mused aloud while experiencing a convenient bout of memory loss.  M. replied, "Um, YEAH.  Jackie, you were MEAN to me."

"Oh.  Sorry about that."
It's all his fault.

So, if it's true that the older sibling is naturally to blame for the little one getting hurt, then am I not correct to just immediately scold and punish Andy whenever I hear Alex's wails?

Actually, in this case, I think I may be incorrect.  I know, even a working clock can be wrong twice a day. Wait, is that not how the saying goes?

Yesterday, I heard a tremendous crash and Alex's cries.  "Andy!"  I yelled, barely looking up.  "Stop that!"

"I'm not doing anything,"  Andy replied, sounding confused.  I did actually look up then, tearing my eyes away from the Jewel ad that I had been closely inspecting.  Sure, it sounds good that it's Buy One Get One on pork, but why not tell me how much the pork actually costs per pound?

Andy was playing nicely by himself and Alex was standing in the middle of a huge mess he had created. Alex looked up at me at that same moment and, flashing me a devious little smile, picked up a toy truck and threw it right at the wall.

This is interesting, I thought to myself.  "Sorry, Andy, " I murmured aloud.  And then I walked over to Alex, pried his wet little fists from a second truck he was getting ready to toss, and started to clean up Alex's mess while Alex wandered over and casually bit Andy on the arm.

Perhaps it's time for me to start being a little harder on the baby.  Especially because when Andy was Alex's age, we were already doing time-outs and I had mentally graduated Andy to Big Boy as I was at that point pregnant with the person who would replace Andy as the baby.  I think, in many ways, I pushed Andy out of babyhood a little faster than Alex is getting pushed out.  I needed Andy to grow up faster.  But I want Alex to stay little forever.  I either have to accept that Alex is a toddler capable of being responsible for actions and/or keep having babies so that my children can be pushed into the next cycle of their lives.  And I'm pretty sure Chris is not on board with the Endless Baby Factory method of parenting.  I mean, neither am I. I suppose.

So, Andy, if you are reading this as an adult, I'm sorry for blaming you all the time during this period of your life.  Alex, if you are reading this as an adult, let me just say how thrilled I am that you turned out literate, because I'm pretty sure I'm not reading to you as much as I should be.  

Friday, November 1, 2013

Batman's Always Serious!

This year, Halloween was a cinch.  While Chris labored three nights in a row last year to handcraft Andy's epic bus costume, Andy's disguise this year was purchased for $8.97 after spending four minutes perusing the Halloween aisle at Wal-Mart.  And Alex's costume was free, thanks to generous donations by viewers like you.  By which I mean our good friend D, who was kind enough to give me a hand-me-down dragon costume.  I felt mildly bad for not picking out a personal costume to reflect one of Alex's many varied interests (pumpkins, pop cans, the trash can, that one corner of the family room that is rife with electrical cords and spiderwebs), but I also felt mildly awesome for saving another $8.97.  If I keep finding savings in things like hand-me-down costumes or backyard haircuts, I might NEVER have to go back to work!

Andy was Batman.  He's been into superheros lately; I have read him every Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man, and Green Lantern picture book from the library, although I think I'm about done with that since all of the books from the library are totally trashed- pages missing or, even worse, pages torn out and then taped back inside the binding in the wrong order.  I'm a stickler for continuity, and when Spiderman morphed into the lizard guy two pages before even drinking the potion, I threw my hands up in disgust and told Andy that story time was over.

Andy made a pretty good Batman, even if the costume was just a cheap mask and a slightly too big chest and cape ensemble.  Andy has clearly been paying attention to the mixed up, torn out adventures of Batman and has noticed that Batman is somewhat lacking in the humor department. "Batman is always serious," I heard him mutter to himself whenever we put the costume on or posed for a picture.  Batman does not smile.

The kids got to wear their costumes a good deal.  Andy's friend C had a Halloween costume party on Saturday, and then we took the kids to the town's "Trick or Treat on Main Street" event the next day.  Alex the dragon was tapped as a finalist in the "Best Costume" contest, which obviously had nothing to do with his costume but with just how darn cute he is.  Totally unfair to the other, less beautiful children, I know.  The boys got to trick or treat at all the different stores.  After a while, I just started sending Andy in for his candy by himself while I waited outside for him.  This was almost a disaster when I peered in the window of the one gift shop and noticed him precariously weaving through shelves and tables filled with glass snow globes and other super fragile trinkets.  But Batman is always serious.  And careful.

There was a bus that the kids could climb on, trick or treat for candy, and then exit.  I sent Andy in by himself and watched as other kids filed in and then immediately out.  Andy seemed to be taking a while, and finally the adult aboard the bus poked her head out the door.  "Are Batman's parents here?"  she called out.  I stepped forward, and she said,  "He just took a seat and is sitting there."  I got on the bus and saw that, sure enough, Andy had just plopped down in a seat, apparently just soaking in the bus awesomeness.  Some things never change, or at least they don't change within a year or two.

Then, on Halloween itself, Andy wore his costume to preschool, and I put Alex in the dragon get-up as well when I returned early for the preschool ice cream party.  Alex was thrilled to spend some time in Andy's school, and little dragon boy immediately pulled up a chair for himself at one of the kiddie tables.  After Andy and his classmates sang their pumpkin song for the parents, Andy climbed into the chair next to Alex's and slid it as close to Alex's as possible so that the two chairs were touching.  He then proceeded to try and spoon feed Alex some of his own ice cream, which is probably the nicest thing I've ever seen him do, even if his drippy cold jabs smacked Alex's face everywhere but in the mouth.

And, then, at long last, they went trick or treating.  Andy's fourth Halloween and Alex's second was marked with a steady rain, but neither boy barely noticed and had a great time anyway.  Oh to be young and not let the weather dampen your spirits.  Oh to be a child and come home with that big bucket of Halloween candy, feeling the happiest you've ever felt all just because of a costume, getting to be out while the sun went down, and the collection of a sugary treasure.

On that note, I let Andy and Alex each have one small piece of candy, and then I promptly hid the rest of it after they went to bed.  Seriously, hasn't anyone heard of childhood obesity?  I think it's an epidemic.

Anyway, another great Halloween is in the books.  The costumes are back in the closet, although I think Batman may make an appearance at Thanksgiving this year.  I have to get my $8.97 worth, don't you agree?