Saturday, February 22, 2014

Starring Andy!

Lately, Andy's behavior has been pretty terrible.  He is quick to throw a fit, perform a malicious act seemingly out of spite, and his response to any sort of scolding or discipline is a play on the following sentence:  "I don't like Mommy anymore."  I have heard, "You are not my mommy anymore," "I don't love you," and "If you're not careful, Mommy, you're going to end up in the Hudson River.  In a sack."

So how do you solve a problem like Andy?  Yelling at him until my throat is sore doesn't seem to be working, and sometimes even the best of moms get tired of screaming so much.  Chris is a big proponent of threats and will threaten to banish all happiness from Andy's life unless he, say, takes one more bite of dinner.  "You'd better eat those noodles," Chris might say, "Otherwise you're going to end up alone and unloved and standing in the express line at Jewel with only frozen waffles, cheap beer, and cat food in your cart."  Surprisingly, the image of becoming "Crazy Drunken Cat Man With Waffles" has done little to deter Andy from not finishing his meals.

And so I decided to try the reward system.  Using the straight edge of my boxed wine, I drew up the following chart which contains 130 squares (do you think that's too many?) and told Andy that from now on, I was going to give him a star every time he behaved correctly, with good manners.  Oh sure, the premise is a little vague here, I'll admit.  But basically, if he behaves in a way I deem as sweet or polite, I'll pencil in a star.  I did not have any star stickers lying around.  I almost decided to use the return address labels the PAWS people sent to Jackie Judge (having gathered this was my name after the one time I donated money to some organization and listed myself as a federal judge as to boost my self esteem a tad), but then I reminded myself that I'm not trying to impress anyone here, I'm just looking to make my kid less crappy.

The prize at the end of the good manners chart is a new toy airplane, which Andy decided upon himself.  I am very lucky Andy did not choose a puppy or a trip to the North Pole as his prize.  He really aims too low.

My chart had been working well, with Andy eagerly earning stars, until Chris decided that the format of the system needed retooling.  I went downstairs one morning to find that one of my penciled in stars was crossed out with a big X.  Apparently Andy had colored on the coffee table and UN-earned a star, thus tearfully learning the following important life lesson:  What Mommy giveth, Daddy shall taketh away.

Obviously, Mommy and Daddy are at odds on how this chart should work.  Clearly, I believe that once a star is given, it can't be taken back.  Chris has a more flexible view of the chart and thinks that we should be marking it up and down and adding and subtracting all ding dong day based on the terrific-ness and terrible-ness of Andy's actions.  Obviously, I'm right, and I have finally told Chris to take his hands off my chart and perhaps start his own chart:  a bad behavior chart where Andy earns 130 X's with the end prize being the kind of spanking that makes him wish he had never been born.

Don't worry, Chris doesn't have the follow through to draw up his own chart.

And so, Andy and I are back using his chart, and it's back to going okay.  But the other day, I was reminded of what truly motivates this kid (and, spoiler alert, it's shockingly not pudding.)  It's me, the mommy that he is so quick to unlove during a scolding.  (Just so we're clear, my response to not being loved by my own son is to gently reply that I know that's not true, and I will always love him no matter what.  I am not a total jerk.)  

We were at the gym when Andy and another child were fighting over a toy.  Andy was being particularly bratty about not sharing, and finally I said, "Andy, why don't you let her have it and you and I will play tag." Immediately, Andy's face lit up, he ran the toy over to the girl, turned to me and said, "Okay, I'm sorry I wasn't sharing before, but I love you, let's play running tag!"  And we chased after each other with merriment and joy (mostly on his part) and a distinct lack of even breathing (mostly on my part).  At one point, while Andy was It, I glanced back over my shoulder to see that not only was he chasing me but so were two other kids.  Crap!  But then I remembered.

Little kids love playing with adults, and that's all they really want to do.

So I'm still using my star chart, but I'm also trying to keep in mind that if I give Andy the kind of attention that a little kid craves from his super fun mommy (that's me) and partially fun daddy (Chris), then perhaps the behavior problem will just automatically lessen, at least a little.

Now, where do you think is the best place to buy a toy airplane?  And an asthma inhaler?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Hate This House!

At this point in the lifespan of our years in this home, I am ready to just burn it to the ground and walk away, preferably with my children and maybe a garbage bag or two of my belongings. We have outgrown this awful house and it seems that it's falling apart before my very eyes.  There is no hope of selling this cursed place as we don't have the tens of thousands to bring to the closing table to fill the gap of what we owe and what we can get, and the idea of renting this place out and being a landlord makes our stomach turns.  Who in the right mind wants to be a landlord?  Who wants to get phone calls about the water heater or a leaky roof or have to maintain this dump between tenants while also making up the difference between what we can get in rent and what our mortgage, taxes, and insurance is costing us?  Who wants to do that?  Who is able to do that?

I loathe this house.  I hate the cheap vinyl floors that are all knicked up and coming up at the seams, and I hate the family room that is too small to contain a family of four plus a wall full of toys.  I hate the dining room that uncomfortably seats four and only four.  I hate the lack of basement.  I hate that we bought this place stupidly thinking that we would live here for only five years or so, and now we are stuck here for the foreseeable future until something miraculous happens.  I do not want to put another penny into this house that I paid too much for and owe too much on.  It makes me want to cry.

Now it seems that something else is added to the list, floorboards in the loft that slope ever so gently to what seems to be a divot, a chunk of low spot, in the actual boards underneath the carpet and padding.  Panicking, I called the builder who slapped together this place seven and a half years ago, and as we are six and a half years out of warranty, I was surprised that they actually came by to take a look at it.  It's not structural, he assured me, but I'd have to hire a handyman to pull up the carpet and probably patch the wood underneath to smooth it out and make it level.  If it was structural and in danger of collapsing, they might fix it.  Since it's just something that drives me crazy as I traverse back and forth in this room, the only advice they have is to just leave it or hire a handyman.  Who knows how much the handyman would cost?  Who knows what else he might find?

And so it's best to leave it until we have to move the furniture out of here anyway, or until we have to buy new carpet, or until we move (HA!) and it maybe (hopefully not) comes up on some sort of report.  But it's just another thing about this house that makes me hate it even more.

As I have an obsessive personality when it comes to these things, I was up in the loft yesterday with Alex, on my knees and pushing on that low spot and trying to feel exactly the way the wood was laying (or if there's even wood under there- maybe the carpet is just stretched tight over the spot and it's actually NOTHINGNESS supporting that one footprint of carpeting).  I'm pushing and feeling and then I look over, and there is Alex, on his knees next to me, pushing and feeling and giving me the biggest grin.  Alex has the best smiles; he busts loose a grin, and it's like rainbows shoot out of his face.  And he looks ridiculous, Alex on his knees pushing at spots in the floor- he looks like me.  For a minute, I stop obsessing and I grab my son who thinks everything is a wonderful sort of copying game, and I give him the biggest hug and kiss I can.  It's in that moment that I remember that a house is just a house and money is just money and issues are fixable and it's my children and family that are the most important things in the entire world.  F*ck the floor and the shitty vinyl and the lines in the drywall and the lack of square footage and the boys sharing a room and the dresser in the hallway and having to give things away because there's nowhere to store it.  Oh well that we're underwater by a huge ridiculous number that is more than Chris' annual salary.  I have some little boys to go play with.

But for real.  I do not like this house.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Little Teddy!

Alex is attached to the most obnoxious stuffed animal we have in the house- a large grinning baboon that is literally bigger than he is.  He likes to snuggle with it in his crib while sleeping, and I fear that the freakish size of this monkey is on the verge of warping his mattress and/or disrupting the very foundation of our home.  He calls this monkey "mumma" which is a little too close to "mama" for my liking.  Yet I'll admit the similar names work out to my advantage.  Sometimes, when Alex calls out in the night, I don't bother to get up for him because I assume he's wailing for mumma and not mama. That's what I tell myself when I roll over, stick my head under my pillow, and get back to dreaming of watching Bradley Cooper eat soup.

When Andy was Alex's age, he had his blankies.  Not one blanky- but seven blankies.  I thought by now Andy would have outgrown carrying a literal pile of blankies around the house, but I also thought that by this time, I surely would have gotten around to taking him to the dentist.  That particular item still ranks pretty low on my "Things I Should Probably Get Done" list.  Don't worry- I'll get to it.  Andy still carries around his blankies and is extremely particular about them.  If he piles his blankies next to him on the couch, he will warn me not to sit on them by accident.  He likes his blankies "cold," and if they get too warmed up by his body heat, he will take care to just leave them in said pile until they cool down to his liking.  At night, his blankies must go in another pile on top of his comforter near the foot of the bed.  I assume this is so they stay cold throughout the night, so that when he is finally ready to cuddle with them, they will be at the exact perfect temperature.  

Andy has also developed a more normal attachment than his collection of blankies.  Over the last three or four months, he has fallen in love with Little Teddy, his littlest teddy bear, and has basically taken him on as an adopted son or a best friend or a less sloppy little brother. Little Teddy goes everywhere we go.  Little Teddy has lately taken to waiting in Andy's locker at school and has also had the pleasure of sitting in on some library story times.  He has joined in on play dates, come inside to restaurants, and Andy has even raised the case that Little Teddy should probably be buckled into his own car seat.  Get a job and make some money, Andy, and then we'll see.  Little Teddy gets his own seat at the kitchen table, and, perhaps the sweetest gesture of all, Little Teddy also gets put down almost daily for his own naps during Alex's nap time and Andy's "quiet time."

The other day, Little Teddy was talking a nap on my favorite part of the sectional, that sweet, comfy corner spot that's aimed right at the television and has the handy drink/iPad/telephone/string cheese table right behind it.  Thoughtlessly, I started to move Little Teddy so that I could sit down next to Andy and watch a show with him, but Andy just about freaked out.  "Don't touch him!"  Andy whisper-yelled.  "He's sleeping!" Then Andy did that thing where he shushes me by putting his finger to his lips- only he doesn't really get where his finger is supposed to go and just kind of sticks it in the general area of his nose and lower forehead.  "Shh!"

"Can I move Little Teddy?"  I whispered back.

"No," Andy replied.  "But you can sit there."  And he gestured generously toward the other, less cozy part of the couch on the far end, just past where his pile of blankies were cooling.  "But don't sit on my blankies."

And so I wedged myself in the distant corner and tried to juggle my soda, sting cheese, and iPad in my cramped little seat.  Over past the blanky pile, Andy sat quietly next to Little Teddy and occasionally adjusted his blanky.  My heart melts a little at Andy and his Little Teddy, at the way he takes care of his favorite bear, at how sometimes he checks his temperature with the Fisher Price thermometer and always remembers to position him so that Little Teddy can take in as much of his surroundings as possible.  Andy doesn't know it yet, but he's rehearsing for an important role for his future.  And that role is Assistant Director at the local Teddy Bear Kennel.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Too Much TV Makes The Baby Go Blind!

This is the winter that will not quit.  To date, we have had 543 inches of snow and forty-nine days with subzero temperatures and twenty-three days in which the wind chill plummeted to less than -50.  I may be slightly off with these numbers, but only slightly.  My children are turning into couch potatoes, which I'm surprisingly not totally okay with considering I am the reigning queen of couch potatoes, local couch potato union 739.  But when I start adding up the hours that the television is on in a day and I hit the double digits... yikes.

Even Alex is growing interested in television.  His face brightens when I say the word "Caillou."  It also brightens when Chris cruelly offers him a can of pop as a way to distract him from whatever naughty adventure he is currently embarked on.  "Alex, wanna pop?"  Chris might ask while Alex is in the middle of climbing into the garbage can.  Alex immediately replies, "Yeah," and runs toward Chris looking for his Dr. Pepper.  This Dr. Pepper has yet to materialize, but Alex remains hopeful, the eternal optimist in search of some brown carbonation.

These are other questions to which Alex answers "Yeah."   Do you want beefaroni?  Do you want a string cheese?  Do you want to climb into the garbage can?

Andy's television habits are starting to disturb me as he shows more of an interest in bigger kid cartoons, like Batman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I am trying to dissuade him from watching these shows without all out banning him.  I think that, at the age of 3, he should be watching preschool themed shows that focus on counting, sharing, and talking to imaginary muppets as opposed to cartoons that glorify fighting, cape-wearing, and eating pizza under a dirty manhole in the sidewalk.  This is why I say the word "Caillou."  As in, "Oh you want to watch Turtles?  I hear Caillou's mommy is going to take him on his first subway ride today.  How do you think THAT'S going to turn out?"

At least Andy has good taste in movies.  He loves "Elf" and is quick to remind me that fake Santas in department stores often smell like beef and cheese.

Anyway, even couch potatoes start to get bored of just sitting around watching shows, and the other day Andy approached me and asked if we could play tag.  "Andy, that's not a game for inside the house," I said.  "We'll go to the gym tomorrow and play it then."

"Nooo," Andy whined.  "Let's play it now.  We don't have to run."

"Really?"  I raised an eyebrow.  "And how do you play tag without running?"

"Like this."  Andy walked over to me very slowly.  He put his hand on my arm.  Then, somberly, he stated, "Tag."  Pause.  "You're it."

It was the most pathetic and sad version of tag I'd ever witnessed.  And so I took pity on my bored children and played a game of tag in the house despite my strict "No merriment that involves running indoors" rule.  I let Andy run just a tiny bit.  I did a little speed walking myself.  Alex squealed and followed after us, clapping his hands happily.  And I don't know who won that game of tag but I do remember what we did afterwards.

We ate popcorn while watching "Dora."  Is it summer yet?