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Dad's Coping Mechanism - 2012

2012 begins with the twins at 3 1/2, and Ellen at 21 months.
2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012

December 22nd+

A co-worker of Liss's had a train table she wanted to get rid of, and asked if we would like it. Why, of course! Those things are expensive, and our kids always play with them when they see them. It came with way more track and such than could fit.

So far, it's still holding their interest, though of course not as much as when they got it. Also, in a bit of oddness, its size meant that the only real place to put it was Ellen's room, but she hasn't been abusing the priviledge, knock on wood.
Bobby asked Santa for a rocket for Christmas, and it was surprisingly difficult to find one that was both cool and age-appropriate. In fact, "he" took a risk in getting a model of the Saturn rocket, some ten inches, but it turned out great. All day during Christmas, with people coming in and out of the house, he'd go up to them with his rocket and say "I asked Santa for a rocket, and I got a rocket!"

These are not the same risks that one takes with a two-year-old. I got Ellen a bunch of decaf teabags. She was just as happy.

Contrast this with Bobby's reaction to one present, which was to immediately say "That's not cool!"
The kids fit into Minnesota easily. With us and Liss's parents leading them by the hand, they settled in pretty quickly.

Liss's mom was smart in having lots of small toys ready for them. She'd picked them up at thrift shops and the like for months. They'll stay there, to still be novel next time. She also had a small stuffed animal on each bed, as a comfort animal; these came back with us.

They slept in Liss's childhood bedroom, set up with three beds. They didn't fight over who got which bed, Hallelujah. At first, we were debating whether to try to keep them on Pacific time or not, but the travel day sort of forced our hand to move them to Central.

Now, they had three in a room at Ocean Shores, too, and the result was pretty similar. That is, the boys are used to having someone else in the room. Ellen's not. She became, once again, The Instigator. The slumber parties were epic. The boys actually complained that Ellen was keeping them up. Her response. "We're having a meeting!"

The most popular feature of their house was the laundry chute. Bobby: "When I grow up, I'm going to live in this house, so I can have a laundry chute!" Every night before bed, they'd strip and shove everything down the thing, then go up nude to sleep.

The last morning, Ellen came to our door at 6am and YELLED "Andrew needs help finding his iguana!" Note this is 4am Pacific on the day we were to fly back. Forty minutes later, with both Andrew and Ellen on our bed, we having given up on sleep for anybody, Bobby came out of his bed and also yelled, this time "Give us back Ellen!" He wanted her to come back to bed. She didn't want to. It was a bad morning.

We mostly stayed indoors, though they went sledding once while we parents were away, and they reported having a good time despite the roughly 15 degree weather.

We also got some time away. Her parents gave us tickets to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibit at a local museum. It was pretty cool; though with "only" about ten of the thousands of statues, but hey, getting to borrow anything cultural from the Chinese is a win.(*)

Also, with her brother out of town, he offered to let us stay the night in his apartment while the grandparents looked after the kids. That was suitably fab, especially with enough time to not have to rush rush from thing to thing.

After the museum exhibit, we met up with everybody for a children's theater showing of The Grinch, as a musical. It was about 75 minutes, and for the first 65, all was well. Then, for some reason, Ellen lost it. I carried her away to the foyer, but unable to see how to get there, the whole theater of some 1000 people heard her over the performance. Once out in the lobby, she kept yelling and saying she wanted to go back in. I have videos of her, for later evidence of how the Twos go, like we needed more.

On Sunday we went to Liss's childhood church. The kids did fairly well. About ten minutes into the service, she and her dad took them downstairs to the nursery/child care area, which was smart so they wouldn't get bored and antsy. Afterwards, all of the long-timers who Knew Liss When gushed over the kids, naturally enough. They didn't so much gush over me, but that's totally okay.

(*) I also had the oddest encounter with one of the [volunteer?] guards. He was a guy of about 24 who made some joke about not allowing Texas A&M sweatshirts, which I had on, but that wasn't the odd part. A few minutes later, he asked if I was a scientifically-minded person. Well, yes. He had a question about gravity ("Why doesn't gravity have mass?", which is like asking why fire has no wood.), then waxed about perception versus reality, told me a couple of not-on-the-plaques things about the exhibit, and so on.
Flying to Minnesota was mostly great. Flying back was a little touch and go, which falls nicely into our current narrative - when the kids are in an unfamiliar environment, they are meek and complaisant. When the novelty wears off, they become fiesty and tyrannical. This is why we get them out of the house as much as we can muster.

December 15th+

Bobby: "Why do you have three kids?"

Me: "Because four seemed like too many."
We had a parent-teacher conference with the boys' pre-school teacher this week, which was pretty fruitful. She seemed quite with it.

The biggest takeaway we had was that Bobby is never confrontational or lashes out at school. He does it all the time at home.

She also confirmed that he likes to be in charge, have responsibilities, etc. He actually asked that we go through the job jar last week.

The boys don't play with each other much while there, which is good, because they're around each other 24/7 at home. They'll be in separate Kindergarten classes, so it bodes well that they can be independent.

Also, she confirmed a difference we've noticed in the boys. A lot of things just come to Bobby, like math(*) and writing out letters. When things are actually hard for him, like hitting a pitched baseball, he gets frustrated and gives up easily. He'll often lash out when this happens.

Andrew, on the other hand, to whom most things don't come so quickly, will at least try a lot longer until he either gets it or resigns himself to the fact that while he didn't succeed today, maybe he will next time.

A good example was a pair of circles that their teacher had them cut, going along a circle-line on a piece of paper. Andrew's was indeed an excellent circle, which she says took him a long time to do. Bobby's looked more like a pear, and he'd finished quickly after a decent start.

Bobby's actually a lot more like me in this respect (except I don't lash out). I made it all the way through college without really studying. If something interests me, that's when I become an expert, because I can pick it up fast and the interest keeps me going. But if it doesn't ... meh. It's going to be a challenge to keep Bobby focused on school subjects that he doesn't immediately excel at. Believe me, I should know.

Meanwhile, Andrew's almost ready to be nurtured into learning some hard things that take perseverance, like piano or violin. Bobby's going to get jealous, want to try as well, and get mad when it doesn't just come to him. He'll then attack the "thing," possibly devaluing Andrew's interest in the process.

(*) This week all three kids were sitting on the spinning chair, and he said "There are three kids, and we have two legs, so that's six legs!" I don't recall us ever teaching him multiplication, so in a very rudimentary sense, I think I was watching him invent it.
A friend of ours teaches at one of the tougher middle schools in the area. He says they have a big bullying problem, exacerbated by the school's culture among its victims, who fall into two categories: you just don't snitch, or those who are too afraid of payback.

Our kids are tiny, smart, and will be rare white and rare middle class kids at their school, and a teacher's kid. Lots of strikes against them, or one might say, lots of targets on their backs.
To the kids, the actual meal during meal time is often secondary to anything else, like asking random questions, feeling out their chances for a dessert of some sort, and generally anything else but actually eating. Last night, Ellen started the meal by singing "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands."

... "Clap your hands, Daddy!"

"Honey, it's time to eat. Can you try ..."

And so, the next thing that came out of her mouth was my suggestion, which she sang through most of dinner:

"If you're happy and you know it, eat your soup!"
We've all been hacking violently all week, but the kids still get their bedtime stories. However, that means I've been whispering them, since talking for more than two seconds make me cough again. The kids are not happy about this.
We've had a piece-of-crap office chair since before the kids came, which they all love to spin. They'll take turns sitting in it while another spins, or their holy grail, all three sit while an adult spins them fast. It lived in the boys' room at first, except they kept playing with it when they were supposed to be having quiet time or whatever, so now it's in Ellen's room.

This week after all three had their fun, and two kids dispersed, Andrew stuck around and wanted me to spin him some more. I had an idea instead - I put out my hand, and he pushed off. The reactive force actually made him spin faster than the usual times when I do it; he even slid off a few times. I'd put out my other hand, and he'd push and spin the other way. All I mostly had to do was sit there, and he did all the work. That is, after all, why one has children.

And best of all, it's a demonstration of Newton's third law. When the concept comes up again, maybe I can say "remember that time ...?" At one point he was pushing toward me, which was perpendicular to what he should have been doing to make himself spin, so I showed him how to correct by going "this way," parallel, and off he went.

Unfortunately the chair isn't big enough to show how he'd go slower if on the outside and faster near the middle, assuming equal force applied to a spin. With merry-go-rounds, the mass of the go-round is too great in proportion to the kids to really show that, either. I'll just have to find opportunities when I can.
One night our power went out at 4:40am, which I was just awake enough to notice it happening. I figured there wasn't much point in trying to go back to sleep, which would have been true anyway, but especially because I thought if any of the kids woke up, they'd freak out. Sure enough, around 5:15 a heard a screaming voice, which I thought was Ellen, but it was Andrew. And I mean, he was freaked out by the unexpected darkness. I came in, comforted him, and opened the curtains, which had enough ambient light already.

Some thirty minutes later, I heard more screaming, which I thought was Ellen again, but was Bobby. He was freaking out because his mattress "was a little wet sometimes." I found out the hard way that there was a puddle of snot on and near his pillow, presumably from a big sneeze. I cleaned it up the best I could, comforted him, and went back to bed. However, he called me back ten minutes later, still sitting on the edge of the bed, wondering what to do? I said well, there's still a little wet, but you can always sleep on this side - then moved his pillow and blanket to the nominal foot of his bed. "Oh!" And he went back to sleep.

The lights came back on at 6:40am, and thanks to the green lights' battery backups, along with her waking up later, Ellen never had a clue the power went out in the first place.

We'd often mused about how we'd dodged bullets by never having the power go out while the kids were infants, what with their rejection of non-warm formula and all, and dodge we did. Now this first outage has come and gone, so maybe the boys won't freak out next time. Ellen, for all intents and purposes, hasn't been inaugurated yet.
It's been a pretty agonizing week of coughing, snot, the occasional barf, lack of sleep, and now an ear infection.

Sunday I "called in sick," which Liss let me do, mostly hiding away in the bedroom trying not to hack up a lung. I did it proper on Monday and Tuesday, staying home from work with the nanny around, again hiding away and getting the occasional nap. I even went to Urgent Care on Monday night, thinking it was strep after all, but that came back negative. It's just a bad cold with a violent cough.

We all have it - in fact, you know it's virulent when Liss gets sick, which she only does once every few years. Andrew went to the doctor with the subsequent ear infection today, which isn't the best thing to happen right before he goes on a plane ride.

We tell the kids over and over that running around, jumping, etc. make them cough, but it doesn't sink in. They're too ... four and two.
When we get invited to, say, a holiday party without our kids, we try to make an effort not to talk about them. Invariably, people ask about them, which is to be expected, but it's hard not to go on and on about them, too. But really, what we crave is adult conversation. (Not "adult" conversation ... well, I guess that depends.)
Saturday I took the kids to Tacoma to a kids' music show. It was a good show for what it was, but definitely not the kind of thing I could do, or even attend regularly.

Our kids were in their usual form. Ellen was really into it, the smallest kid to get on stage when he asked, and doing all the gestures and callbacks that whatever song called for. Andrew enjoyed himself, though not with as much enthusiasm or daring. Bobby spent most of the time eating the popcorn I'd bought; eventually he got into the puppet part of the show.

As part of our often "whatever, kid" parenting style, Ellen insisted on going in her pajamas. And no underwear.
Some friends bought their son a small bouncy castle for his 3rd birthday. It was at his party, and then a week later they brought it to our dining room. By then, it was less novel, so they played on it for about 15 minutes. That's still 15 minutes better than nothing, though.
Hanging out with the boy of friends of ours, the boy being a little older than Ellen, he started to call her "Mom." It makes sense, because he had two dads. There's no attachment to that name like with most kids, and that's what all the other kids (ours) were calling her - so, we just kind of went with it.

December 8th+

Our running joke is that when the boys are in Kindergarten, we won't need to put Ellen in day care or anything. We'll just buy an iPad and I'll bring her to work every day. She can attend meetings I go to, hang out, charm everybody, etc. I figure in three months, she'd be making real, relevant contributions to the workplace, like debugging my database code.
Liss showed the kids some "movies from Santa," whereby you first plug in the kid's name, age, where you're going to be in Christmas, etc. Each kid got his or her own movie, though they were identical-ish except for those variables. Think Mad Libs, only much, much creepier.

The boys were first (separately), so "Santa" was saying stuff like "You're four years old, and you're in school" and how he checks and makes sure ... yes, you're on the nice list! And so on.

Ellen was last. "You're two years old ..."

Ellen: "Two and a half!"

That's right ... she interrupted Santa in order to correct him.

Perhaps that's why he later said "You're still on the nice list, but you have some work to do."
According to Bobby, at least, using the same fork for your chicken and your mashed potatoes is gross and unacceptable. You must use two.
Bobby's been having trouble hearing lately. He'll say "What?" after you say something, over and over, until one of you gives up. He's also been sick a lot, so we think it's just him being continually stopped up - at least, that's what's likely. If it keeps up too much longer, though, we'll take him in. Both boys passed hearing tests within the last year, so that helps mollify us.
Last night we were washing the kids' hair to end a bath, and they were complaining that the water was too cold going down their backs. So, we ran the sink to fill the big cup we were using with warmer water. The yelling from how "hot" that was was way worse than the cold complaining. It's not that it was actually hot water, just relatively hot compared to what the rest of water was. It really was maybe ten degrees warmer. So, we won't be doing that anymore, and they can just deal with "cold" water.
Sunday Ellen wanted her underwear off before taking her nap, but her pants on. Afterwards, Liss either forgot or let it slide, and I didn't know about it when I took her to the bathroom at the party (below). So, for most of Sunday, including this party with lots of other kids, our little girl was going commando.

Hopefully this isn't a predecent.
Sunday evening we all went to a birthday party, which had a lot of other kids ours' age.

The biggest takeaway I had was watching Bobby - I don't want to say he was hitting on a three year old blonde girl, but to an adult eye, that's sure what it looked like. He and Andrew were standing next to each other, and he was explaining various facts to her. "We're four! We'll turn five on July 11th!" *point to his brother* "We're twins!" (which he rarely acknowledges)

Is this how it's going to be? One boy is the smooth talker, and the other his eternal wingman? Because honestly, that's not a bad deal for either of them.
On Sunday we watched a couples' kid for a few hours. Four is different from three, in that you're playing zone even more often, but this boy is pretty easy to take care of. We watched part of a movie, then I spent much of the rest of the time in the garage as kids came in and out to play with the workbench or ride bikes. The boy helped Liss make play dough. It was kind of a mini day care vibe.
Liss, as a math coach, comes up with math games for her school. She's now going to start recruiting the boys to help test them, at least as far as they are age appropriate. She figures Kindergarten and first grade level are fair game for them so far.
I've had my phone for over a year now, and the iPod it replaced has been in the "sell on eBay" list since then. I have not done so. So, Liss wants to load it with kid-friendly apps to take on the plane trip.

Procrastination wins again!
The Christmas gifts have been coming in, and we even have a few wrapped. They've been really good about "not until Christmas" so far.

A challenge is the trip to Minnesota. We don't want to lug all of the kids' gifts there, just to open them there and lug them back. So, we'll probably have at least two gift opening occasions.

Something I'll probably never be able to after this year: while wrapping theirs, I could write what was inside on the wrapping, as a reminder for when we got gift tags later. Maybe I can use cursive ...
Bobby is an angry boy. We don't know what to do about it.

I guess it's more accurate to say he's quick to anger. Unfortunately, this includes quickly going from calm to angry when we try to use a calm moment to talk to him about his anger.

He's actually trying. We've told him to say-not-yell words instead of being physical, and he mostly does that. We've suggested he go up to his room when he's made, and he's done that a few times. However, it seems like he's always one word away from getting mad, and it's often something we can't anticipate, like he wanted

A lot of it comes from his notion of fairness, which is more like he always has to come out on top. Like, last night he asked why Ellen's gotten to fly on planes four times instead of their two. You see, when we took the boys to Houston when they were infants, it was a direct flight. When Liss took Ellen to Baltimore at eight months, they switched planes in Chicago both ways. We explained this months ago, and he just randomly brought it up last night. And he got mad about the concept before we could even answer. He might get mad that we made a sibling's sandwich first instead of his. Those are just two examples; there are many some days.

Lately he's taken to pretending anything is a gun or sword, and "shooting" at us whenever we say anything that doesn't exactly fall in line with what he wants. Yesterday Liss told him something like this:
"We don't have toy guns or swords because you don't have control of yourselves. I don't want somebody to get mad and use toy weapons to even pretend to hurt somebody. Toy guns and swords are for fun games like pirates or police officers, not for pretending to hurt people. Maybe when we can solve our problems by talking instead of yelling, hitting, or pretending to shoot, then we can decide if we're ready for that kind of toy."
In response, he started just making the noise with his mouth and not using his hands. So now we have to rein that in.

Andrew has very little of this. He's much more likely to just let things slide, which isn't to say he doesn't also have random, irrational meltdowns; they're just much less frequent these days.

December 1st+

Hey, sweet, our kids survived another day of having us as parents!
After further research, we're about 80% sure that the boys will go to Liss's school for Kindergarten next year. All-day is free (most schools are $272/month, times two), obviously more convenient, she knows the teachers, etc. She says there's even something of a teachers'-kids group formed, that sit in the back doing homework and coloring during staff meetings.

One other school is in the running now, which has a language immersion problem. Whether that would be enough to be worth the inconvience and maybe cost of after-school care is an open question.

After K, when the money wouldn't be an issue anymore, our options open a bit. Mostly, though, any changes would likely be based on potential admission to any gifted programs, which certainly aren't a lock at the moment.
Saturday's burger joint included raw onion, which Liss and I both removed, because what the hell is that thing doing on my burger? Ellen took one and gnawed on it, declaring it "yummy!"

This resulted in a picture from Liss's phone that, while clearly staged on my part, is now one of my favorites of the two of us.
From Liss, after making gingerbread cookies with the boys:
Last year, I made the cookie dough myself, rolled it out, then the dudes hacked it to pieces and got bored before we had a full sheet.

Today they helped with the dough and rolling, cut meticulously, cleaned up and probably would have decorated too if I still had enough sugar for icing.

My response: In three years it'll be "Go take a hot bath, mom. We got this."
Sunday I was being grumpy, so Liss suggested I go to the store. I mentioned the plan to Ellen, who said she wanted to go with me; the boys were engrossed in helping Liss make gingerbread cookies. So, off we went.

I wouldn't say Ellen's a completely different girl when her brothers aren't around, but she is different. They push her buttons (and vice versa) like no one else. Without them, she's sweeter, and less prone to any kid of fit or yelling or irrational behavior or whatever. So, getting time with just Ellen, while a treat by itself, becomes even more so for the softer synamic.

The particular store we went to has a supervised play area for kids 2-5. I wasn't planning on dropping her there, but she saw it and said she wanted to. After checking out, I came back and made the mistake of asking if she was ready to go. "No." So, I wandered for a few minutes before telling her it was time to go, so we could get some lunch. "Okay!"

We went to Wendy's, which I don't think she'd ever done, but was perfectly happy to share a burger, fries, and Frosty ("ice cream!") with me. I even let her try a couple of small sips of my Coke. The best part is that she was really into the sharing of the meal, including feeding each other several times. This was also the third day in a row that we'd had a burger. Don't judge me!

Apparently Andrew missed me, because he asked Liss to "please text Dad to tell him they can come home now?" Then, he asked her to put football back on the TV, as it had been before we left. That's my boy!
Liss tried an experiment at 7:45 Sunday morning, before the boys' green light came on at 8:00. She told them she was going to the store, that I was still in bed, and they could come downstairs at the light and hang out until she got back. They didn't make it, knocking on my door at 8:20, just before she got home and they would have passed the test.

The test is part of the long term strategy, whereby we want them to be able to come downstairs on a weekend morning, turn on the TV or a movie, make an easy breakfast, and leave us be, i.e. not fight or yell or those other things that would wake us up and/or force our intervention. It'd be nice to sleep in, or at least to have the option, without having to rely on the other spouse.
I imagine that there are many kids the same age as ours, that just accept what their parents say, and find their own ways to rationalize them into truths. Our kids are not like that. At all.

Santa is a good microcosm of this. How does he get into our house if our fireplace isn't real? How does he visit all those houses? Are elves real? Does he give presents to kids to don't go to see him first? How does he know what they want? How does he know we'll be in Minnesota instead of our house? Will he leave the presents at our house, anyway?

Since I don't want to lie, my responses involve a lot of hemming, hawing, finding the gray area between truth and lies, "I don't know"s, and downright pretending I didn't hear the question. There may even have been an "Ask your mother" or two in there somewhere.

We took them to a mall Santa this weekend, and on the way back to the train, they saw another Santa in a store window, talking to kids on his lap.
Bobby may or may not have pink eye. They're goopy and red, but he doesn't have some of the other symptoms, and has others that aren't pink eye things - like throwing up in his bed at 1:15 Sunday morning. He's better this morning, so the jury's out on taking him to the doctor.

Of course, even the possibility brings up the chance of pink eye times four (Liss being exempt), which is a horrifying thought. All weekend, every itch of my eyes made me think something like "oh, crap, here it comes," but it never came. That the rest of us are fine - if a little sniffly - helps convince me that it's something else, something mild that he just isn't fighting off as well.
I've never been much of an online gamer in the well-known sense, where you put on headphones and talk to teammates and opponents while you play with or against them. A large part of the reason is that any unmoderated space is a Wild West of language - gay slurs, sexism, racism, the occasional pedophile, you name it.

So I know the day is coming when the kids will be on there. If it's not in our house, it'll be in a friend's. They need to be ready, but so do we.
Normally during the boys' soccer classes, there's no parental involvement, except for the last session of the term, which was this Saturday. They knew this, and Andrew took the opportunity to say things like "I will kick it over the grown ups, so they can never get it!"

So basically, my four year old talks trash.
"I burped, and didn't say 'Excuse me!'"

Ellen enjoys declaring thusly, as though it were the most gleefully subversive thing in the world.

November 24th+

Granted, they weren't exactly good at spacing the [Christmas tree ornaments] out, but the rewar of their self-directed time is Totally Worth It. We're not that OCD.
The nanny respaced them. I guess she's more OCD than we are.
The kids are still asking for Tom and Jerry every day, which they're about 20 episodes into the 37-episode collection. At the end, the boys have a routine of saying "WHAT!? THAT WAS ZERO MINUTES!" instead of the actual seven or eight, which would be amusing if it weren't rooted in true indignation. To take it farther, Bob was laughing uproariously at yesterday's, then after it was done said nothing was funny. If it's that lame, we can just not watch them anymore ... yeah, he wasn't having that.

There was some really racist stuff in a few of those cartoons - mostly Southern Black Woman stereotypes. The kids don't get it, of course, but we just kind of facepalm when it happens. Obviously future screenings are more likely to result in awkward conversations with them.
There are a lot of sources of guilt built into parenting, a major one coming when seeing one's partner do more then oneself. From the start, Liss has done about half more than me, so it's a pretty constant feeling. When she said she was taking the kids to the parade (below), I wasn't going to not go. However, she'd agreed to take a friend's five-year-old son for several hours on Saturday, and take all four on an excursion, and this time I didn't. Instead, I ran some errands.

The kid in question has tested as a genius, but lacks the social skills of his age, so his parents held him back from Kindergarten. He seems to be about on the same level as the boys, who are almost exactly one year younger. We consider ours to be slightly behind for their age, at least in some social respects.

Liss also reports a phenomenon that she attributes to his being an only child - he'd randomly wander off to suit his whims. Our boys don't do that, and Ellen only does it a little bit. Liss's theory is that as an only, he can always count on a parent wrangling him back. Ours don't have that luxury, since we're playing zone instead of man to man.
With Ellen diaperless at night, but still unable to open doors, I bought one of those rubber doorknob grips that are meant for the elderly, but serves for her as well. She was de-light-ed to be able to open her bedroom door, thus enabling her to use the potty should she feel the need.

However, the caveat is the same as the boys - you only come out of your room (before the green light) for the bathroom or to come get us in case of emergency. Last night at bedtime, she started having a meltdown when Liss left and I came to say good night. She thought of a rationalization to leave - she being her brothers' sister, after all - and she said her legs hurt and she was going to get her medicine. Not having been born yesterday, I knew that she really just wanted Liss. So, I took the grip off the doorknob, which of course really set her off.

I asked if she wanted me to sit or just leave, to which of course she didn't answer with either one - she's big on that - and said she wanted Mommy. After re-asking a few times, she said leave. I left. Liss came back to her a couple of minutes later; all it took for Ellen to be happy was for Liss to sit for a couple of minutes.

One of these days she'll be pro-Daddy, right, or at least neutral?
Last night, instead of having one of us read a story, Andrew wanted to "read" one of the stories he's been into lately. It's actually a pretty long story compared to most of our bedtime stories. He remembered what he could, and we encouraged and applauded afterwards [which Bobby took issue with], so maybe this is ... progress!
On Sunday afternoon we looked at a house for sale, new construction, that was lovely and larger than ours and we had no intention to buy. The agent totally smoked us out on that last point - preapproved? buyer's agent? - but I speak enough of the lingo that he knew I wasn't a total loss.

Now, the listing's pictures showed a complete house, but the one he we saw was the same floor plan, but very not finished. It had no counters, plug/fixture covers, nothing really but windows, walls, wires, and plywood floors. That made it very difficult to envision the finished product, but even so, it definitely wasn't the place for us. It's supposed to be 30% bigger than our current place, but it actually felt smaller. The back yard is way too small for the kids to play in, and is within 20 feet of three neighbors.

Anyway, it's all part of the ongoing saga. It's entirely possible that we'll just stay in our current place, muggings and drug deals and all. Heck, in 13 years, we can have a mortgage burning party. You know, when we have three kids in college.
Sunday while Ellen napped, Liss took the boys to a nearby large park to ride their bikes. That presented a conundrum, as Ellen is usually very sad when she wakes up, and having Mommy away makes it worse, and having her and the boys off doing something fun was terrible. So, how do I wake her up with good news, but not something so awesome that the boys get pissed when they find out later?

The answer was to take her to the bakery for gluten-infused goodness, while Liss took the boys to get cocoa elsewhere. Now, when it's just Ellen and me, she's a total delight. She happily broke off pieces of her cookie to share with me, made cute observations about things around her, and didn't reject me for Mommy every five minutes like normal. There were also no older brothers to push her buttons, which push they do (and vice versa). So, that was a lovely hour.

For the record, the long bike rides did nothing to wear the boys down. They were pinballs the rest of the evening.
Liss randomly took the boys to the clinic to get flu shots, except the nurse said that since they knew how to sniff, they could get the nasal one instead of a shot. Yay! Except, she later said after checking Andrew's chart, that he couldn't because he has pre-asthma. Boo!

So, since he had to get the shot, she did the same out of solidarity.

In perhaps an addition of insult to injury, the next day she took Ellen - who got the sniff.
Dear Walgreens,

How is it possible that you have hundreds of advent calendars for sale, but only two designs from which to choose?
I got a Christmas present for Liss a few weeks ago, though it's still in its unmarked shipping box. Bobby asked why she got her first present before he did. And such is his personality right now - me, me, me.

They wanted to try to guess what it was, insisting that they won't tell Mom, but I just tell them "maybe" when they guess a book or clothes or whatever. After all, I don't want to say "no" and then have to lie (or reveal) if they guess right. However, I might use this as a test - tell them, and see if they can keep the secret. They (especially Bob) sure seem to think they can, and that I'm an asshole for not telling them. However (again), it's not suitable for their age group, so they may never even see it.

They're getting amped up for Christmas in general, of course. They want to see Santa, perferably via the Santa Train again, they keep telling us what they want - far more than they'll get - not to mention the candy canes and more screen time (Rudolph, etc.), and the trip to Minnesota soon ... but mostly the presents. Every single day they ask how many days until Christmas, and how many days until Minnesota, and how many until they get their advent calendars, which I've already bought but haven't shown them. This is mostly the boys - Ellen's just kind of along for the ride ... so far.

Some 75% of the kid pictures I take these days are of Ellen. I think I'm supposed to feel guilty about that, or something.
In previous years, setting up the Christmas tree and putting on ornaments has been a big production, so we assumed that would be the case this time. It was up to a point, in that my setting up the [artificial] tree made the boys pretty giddy and a handful, while thankfully Ellen napped. We brought up the ornaments, but said they could wait until the next day, which they didn't understand. We just didn't want to take up the rest of the day with it.

So, they asked if they could do one each. Okay, sure. Two? Well, you didn't need our help for the first one, so sure. The next thing we knew, with Ellen joining them, all three were spending an hour putting on all of them. The boys moved a chair to get them higher. We had to do very little, so we did Anything Else.

Granted, they weren't exactly good at spacing them out, but the reward of their self-directed time is Totally Worth It. We're not that OCD.
Friday morning we planned to hit the local Macy's parade, which began at 9am, an hour after the kids get up. We told them they should get their clothes ready beforehand, eat their breakfast quickly, etc. It was a cold, rainy morning, so we drove to the three blocks to the train station and waited some 20 minutes for a train. Since the whole thing was Liss's idea, at some point she mentioned that I was coming along because I love the kids, to which I said "No, I'm here because I love you."

The ending train stop was right on the parade route, and contrary to my predictions, people were out in force. We walked a couple of blocks "upstream" on the route, and saw no gaps for kids to enter, and a thousand other people looking for said gaps. It was appearing to be a dismal outing, until Liss happened to look behind her and see parade marchers walking from the end of the route to their cars and whatnot. We toddled that-a-way, and found a closed bus stop (shelter!) just two blocks from the route's end, near enough for most of the marchers to still be "on." Considering the lack of relative cynicism in our young brood, it was by far good enough. From our perspective, we just got lucky.

So, we ended up standing under this roof for an hour or so, with just a boy and his father for most of the time - I think the guy was more into it than his son. There were the usual people in costumes, "floats" moved by bicycle, etc.

Several marchers were giving out candy, mostly candy canes. If you were to ask the kids what they liked about the parade, that's what they'd say. In fact, they said it several times the rest of the day without being asked, such that we checked them for it. After all, we can just go to Safeway for candy canes and not have to stand in the rain to do it.

As the marching bands came by, we noticed how very white most of them were. Where were the schools of color, like any of the ones two miles from our house? They're at work, I said, it's the day after Thanksgiving. Oh, yeah.
A few days into going diaperless to bed, Ellen had an accident at 12:30. Her monitor was turned down - they mess with it a lot - so she might have been crying a while before it woke me up and Liss went in. She was very sad about it as we changed her clothes and sheets, comforted her, etc. At the end I held her to calm her down, but she said "It's fine, Daddy" and basically kicked me out.

She had another accident the following afternoon, which also sent her crying. With all that sadness, you'd think she'd become more vigilant about using the facilities, but she's become much less so. We now have to cajole and bargain and so on to get her to go, even after waking up in the morning. When she finally does, she rivals horses for volume ... at least proportionally.

So, she's regressing a little bit. I let her wear an overnight diaper on a night that Liss was out and I didn't feel like dealing while getting all three ready for bed, but it was dry the next morning, and it's been some three days since the last accident, so maybe she's back on track. For now, though, there's still a lot of "Honey, do you need to go?" but now followed mostly by "I already peed!" ... which is true, in that she went some five hours ago.
I took Andrew to the doctor for a mild ear infection, during which he was measured; in the four months since their birthday checkup, he's gained zero inches and one pound. Sunday morning, we noticed for the first time that Bobby is taller than he is, by maybe an inch. So, we've made an appointment with the gastroenterologist at Children's. It's the kind of thing that, if there's a hormone problem or something, you want to catch and treat early. The appointment isn't for January, though.

I can't say that he eats any less or worse than Bobby, gets less activity, sleeps any worse, etc. That lends credence to the theory that it's something internal. It may or may not be linked to his celiac, but we're pretty good about no gluten for him, so any link would (we think) be indirect.

It's nice to have these handy identical twin comparisons.

November 17th+

"I think these are supposed to be the years we look back on fondly, or some stupid shit like that."
Sunday morning we were going to a friends' for brunch, who have a kid of their own. Without mentioning our five or their three, Liss randomly asked how many people were going to be there. It took Bobby about a second to say "eight."
The kids still want me to sit with them in the bathroom while they poop sometimes, Bob on Sunday and Ellen last night.

Woo. Woo, I say.
When it was clear that Ellen was about to earn her way to diaperless nights, we would reinforce the goal by reminding her that she could sleep nude or in underwear. She would usually say "nude!," but it hasn't turned out the way we thought. With the weather being a little chilly these days, she's instead asked to wear a sleeper or pajamas, with no underwear.

So, basically, our little girl likes to go commando.
A couple of weeks ago, the nanny was bringing the kids back home when our van stopped switching gears. We had it towed to our favorite mechanic, who said the transmission was out of fluid, but he couldn't find a leak. We since had the oil changed, and those guys couldn't find any problems, either. However, the check engine light on the dash is still lit (and only came on after the mechanic did his thing). So, we're kind of driving on eggshells. The van is our only means (besides bus/light rail/etc.) to transport everybody at once, since the sedan won't fit three car seats.
We have a great deal of moral authority from having three children under five. Other parents in our social circles will complain about their one or perhaps two kids, then remember we're there, looking stoic or perhaps skeptical.

In a way, it's a bit unfair, because in some respects we got lucky. Our kids sleep great. Ellen's ahead of many curves, like potty training and talking and just being generally "with it." But that only tempers, never eliminates, that there are three of them.

A college friend of Liss's actually just had her fourth boy, the oldest (twins) being I think six. So, I guess she has authority over us, but she lives in another state, so we're not sweating it.
The kids still play role-switching family games, and Ellen especially likes making me "the baby." Once she led me into her room, had me lie on her bed, gave me a blanket and toy bottle, said good night and left the room. Every couple of minutes, Bobby came in to check on me, then saying good night before closing the door behind him. If it weren't for his frequent interruptions, it would have been great. I could have dozed off.
Whenever the boys get out of their beds, each three feet off the ground, we can hear a small "thump," especially because their room is right above the living room, where we tend to squat after their bedtime and before the green light in the mornings. It's very useful to have that bit of warning three seconds before their door opens, usually giving me enough time to mute the TV, or my mouth, as necessary.
So in addition to Andrew's "I'm going to kill you," Bobby came out with "I'm going to shoot you in the face." Both of these were in the middle of major tantrums, so there's that part to consider, but the two real takeaways from these are (a) where are they getting this from, and (b) do they even know what such things mean? Part b we know as "No," or at least that they didn't, but they definitely don't really get the concept. Even during play they'll talk about how they're going to shoot or kill or whatever else, which one might chalk up "boys will be boys," but ... we don't.

It's easy to blame their pre-school, and that's actually the likely source. However, it's only the beginnings of our lack of control over what they can learn, and from whom.
This will happen at our house in eight years.
We are a diaper-free household.

November 10th+

Liss, ever the frugal shopper, has found that not only does the grocery co-op carry the gluten-free bread the boys like, but they often have it on sale. However, the real coup came when she was buying five or six loaves at a time; the checker told her that they give 10% off when you buy a case, of eight in the case of the bread. Sold!

This important because the boys go through those eight loaves in less than two weeks.
We've been telling the kids what to expect when we fly to Minnesota next month, which is probably what prompted them to pack suitcases this weekend. Judging from their initial efforts, they'll be packing toys and books, and wearing the clothes on their back the whole time we're there. When I pointed this out, they didn't relieve their overstuffed baggage to fit clothes, but merely rammed a few clothes into whatever space there was to find.

They wanted to continue the practice by bringing the suitcases downstairs to the front door possibly even load into the car, which I drew the line at taking them downstairs. That got me a "Now carry my suitcase downstairs right now!" from Ellen, who can enter Bossy Mode in a heartbeat.

Later they were still at it and I was downstairs, when I heard ominous thumps. They'd chucked one of the suitcases down the stairs, perhaps while trying to carry it down, but that's giving them the benefit of the doubt when perhaps they don't deserve it.
The kids are into piggy-back rides lately, which includes standing on my bent-back hands so they don't choke me. I can do it for a little while, but between the awkward pose and aging back and the one-wants-so-three-want, it's short rides for all. At the end of each, I hold the kid over the sofa to let go and fall with glee.

I wonder if there's some kind of device I could strap on to free my hands yet hold 30 pounds of kid safely so they still feel like it's a valid piggy-back. Please note that this is not a Christmas-present request.
One night we sat on the floor as we do when it's time to read books to the kids before bedtime. Bobby sat in Liss's lap and out on nowhere said "You guys are the best!" She said "Oh, thanks Bobby!"

"No, I mean *point* and *point*." "Ellen and Andrew?" "Yeah."

Andrew was very upset by what we consider minor things, which doesn't happen as often as it used to, but can be much more "emotionally violent" than it used to. This time he told me that "When I grow up, I'm going to kill you."

Now, the conversation that taught him this didn't come from us, but that's another wonder. Eventually, Liss calmed him down to the point that she could ask him if he knew what that meant. He didn't. That hadn't even crossed my mind.

I didn't handle the situation very well, already upset myself and not knowing what to say to something like that.
The boys have learned that, if they stand at the toilet the right way and let fly at the same time or so, they can make a big X with their pee.

Ah, twin boys.

November 3rd+

This morning I could tell the boys were awake, but being quiet, which was nice as it was 45 minutes until the green light. I went in to say goodbye on my way to work, which is always a risk, as they might ask to come out early or find some other reason to get pouty. To my pleasant surprise, they were both "reading" books, Andrew sitting on the floor by their bookshelf, and Bobby lying in his bed. (Both nude, of course)
After getting Ellen up from her nap, and she'd come downstairs to us, the boys stayed upstairs and played on her "spinning chair," which is just one of those black office chairs. That's one of those activities that doesn't require our intervention, so we were fine with that.

Some twenty minutes into it, they'd decided that the chair wasn't spinning fast enough, and that if they turned on all the fans in the house, the motion of those fans would make it spin faster. So, having already turned on the fans upstairs - to their fastest settings - they came down and did the same with the two ceiling fans there - and then the little black fan we keep on the floor, and then opened a window and the sliding glass door. Then they asked Liss to turn on the venting fan over the stove. She refused, and I made them keep the sliding door only barely open. From their reaction - disappointed but subdued - we were clearly killing their buzz. I'm a dad, though, so that's my job.

As soon as they went back to enjoy the fruits of their scientifically-rigorous labors, I turned the fans off.
Sunday for brunch we had a family with a toddler, a 17-month-old boy, who happily reminded us of what we no longer have to deal with. I roused out an old Superyard as a temporary gate for the stairs, he kept taking his straw out of his cup, trying to get to my computer,and lots of those other little things. He wasn't what I would say misbehaving at all, or showing any malice, but just going those things toddlers do. Only this time, instead of having to wait a year+ for him to grow out of it, he simply went home. Fab!
Bobby got one of those old view master things (though updated) at a garage sale or something months ago, which he calls his camera and still plays with sometimes. It only has the roll it came with, which has a mix of commercial (Dora, Toy Story) and not (dinosairs). The "Try Me!" on the paper part of the disc tells me it was a sampler included with purchase.

Since he likes it so much, I went searching for other rolls, and completely failed to find any that weren't commercial. There's no way I'm spending money to have him (them) looks at advertisements, so the one reel it is.

Updated: Actually, Amazon tells me maybe it's not so bad. There are several animal ones, and a space shuttle one (r.i.p.), so maybe there are options after all. I guess that's what I get for only looking on eBay.
Ellen likes to pretend she's a baby, but she'll also pretend she's a grown up, assuming the role of Mommy on occasion and mothering a doll or stuffed animal. Last night she started pushing a stroller around, and said "I'm the Mommy! I'm going to a meeting!"
Friday night Liss played math games with the boys, starting with the Kindergarten math test, which they mostly passed. Unlike most other kids, they now have experience with the kinds of things they'll find when they're tested, and they already have the advantage of being our children, so now they're at a double boost. Keep in mind most of the stuff they could answer were things to know at the end of the school year.
Tom and Jerry is definitely a hit. They've watched four of them now, and are getting into it. The laughter is fun.

I liked it as a kid, and I still find it enjoyable, but these days I listen [with adult appreciation] to the music, notice the animation quirks, and all sorts of adult things. They just think it's funny when silly things happen. That includes the violence, but eh, it's cartoon violence and we've already had a few conversations about the difference. On the racism they have no clue.
Speaking of the new babysitter, the kids were super excited that she was coming. I guess it's residual enjoyment of their last one, who abandoned them went off to college, or just the novelty of it. They were basically saying "see ya!" to us after she arrived. She's a pre-school teacher, so she knows a thing or two, though she only had an hour to kill before their bedtime. She says they were fun, which I believe given her reception.

We're using her again on Friday. However, she's expensive, so we're also looking around.
Saturday night was, of course, the time change to fall back. We're well-versed in transitioning the kids for it, and this time we had the extra serendipity of a concert to go to, and thus hired a new babysitter that got to be the one to keep them up almost an hour past their usual bedtime. Having gone to bed later in successive nights, they woke up reasonably late, in what I would call a successful transition.

Sunday morning, our Facebook feeds were full of laments, derision, and downright vulgar hostility directed at the institution and its long-dead creators, almost all from parents of small children. Either we got lucky or planned better or our children sleep better, which it's probably all three. Ours sleep better in general than anyone else's we know, plus we

The kicker was that, on the way to the concert, Liss realized that we hadn't changed their clocks. These are the clocks with the green lights that tell them when it's okay to come out of their rooms. Instead of 8, they were going to turn green at "the new 7," which was unacceptable, thank you very much. So, when we got home, she snuck into their rooms and adjusted them back an hour - or rather, forward 23 hours. Not a creature was stirring. This bodes well for future shenanigans, like the tooth fairy if we do that.
There are several breakfast cereals that are gluten free, but we don't want the kids to have yet. We're already at the bottom of the nutrition barrel with the Cinnamon Chex so dear to them. Cocoa and Fruity Pebbles are two of those cereals, which loudly proclaim GLUTEN FREE at the top of the front cover.

I figure we have about eighteen months before the boys can read that and ask for them.
We often plan to take the boys somewhere after their quiet time, but before Ellen wakes up from her nap (one parent staying at the house, of course). We did that Saturday, with Liss taking them and me staying, but either we didn't communicate this to Ellen, or not enough. When she woke up and I went to get her, and she asked for Mommy and I said it was just us, she was livid. I said that she and I needed to go to Safeway, which didn't help. Now, this wouldn't have been unexpected even if she did know beforehand, since she's still in her must-have-Mom phase, but still. She spent the next 20 minutes yelling and crying about it.

I tried again to soothe her, this time asking if there was something I could do to help her. Could I tickle your feet? No. Drop Big Monkey on you from above (which makes her crack up)? No. Smooch your forehead? No. Hold you? No. Then, she sloooowly held up Big Monkey. She'd decided that dropping him on her would be fun after all.

After a few times of that and seeing her feeling better, I asked about Safeway again, to which she said "Mommy!" again. Then came my flash of brilliance: "Honey, we need to go to Safeway to *help* Mommy. She's making burgers tonight, and she asked us to go buy the buns."

And from then on, she was mine. She got up and ready, and was completely charming the whole time getting there, shopping inside, and coming back.
Liss and I can both curl our tongues, and we've just confirmed that Ellen and Andrew can, as well. Bobby was too cool for school, but since his identical twin can, and the ability is genetic (if not the willingness), then we assume he can.
Saturday Liss put into motion a plan to get the kids helping around the house. She made one of those fabled 'job jars' with strips of paper and jobs easy enough for them to do. I was skeptical, but totally wrong, as the boys took to it. Ellen was much less so, and she paid the price later.

The idea was to do jobs for 40 minutes (which I thought would be too long), take a break for 5, then do another 40. The boys did well, with lots of help from us. Ellen needed to be cajoled and so forth, to little success.

In exchange for their efforts, they were each to get a quarter of ours - not from their piggy banks - to use on whatever they wanted on those candy/toy machines we all knew as loved as kids and hate as parents. The soccer place has about 15 of them, which clearly are very successful. Well, the boys earned quarters, and Ellen did not. Later they'll realize that 25 cents for 80 minutes of work is a major rip-off, so we need to get what we can for less while we can.

We don't like the idea of money-for-chores, because the high-falutin' theory is that they should just do them to help us out. We figure the compromise now is that they don't really understand money yet, and this allows some tangible incentive instead of pulling together for the common good, which they understand even less.

So after soccer, the boys each spent their quarter on candy, which we then rationed out similarly to their Halloween candy, of which there is still plenty. Ellen may or may not have finally understood the whole work -> reward consequences of her lack of helping, but we won't really know until next time.

As a bonus, amid the flurry of activity, I asked Andrew if I could take the stickers off his wall, to which he'd previously agreed. He did so again, so off I went. These were some 150 stamp-sized stickers that we used to use as rewards for waiting for the green light, but phased out months ago. About half were reinforced with scotch tape. It took about half an hour, and a satisfying half an hour it was. His wall is now free to take on something more aethetically pleasing, which he said he wanted a poster of a rainbow. That's our boy. I figure that'd be good for Christmas. An initial search showed this gem, which I don't believe will be the one.

October 27th+

Liss is a foodie and the boys are very picky, so this exchange at dinner should surprise few:
Last night I was playing baseball with the boys, when a neighbor's two kids joined us. We'd met them and their mother once before; the girl is about 7, the boy 5. I was pretty put out that no adult came out with them. I was just expected to take on these near-strangers who, as it turned out, knew very little about baseball. The girl took direction pretty well - baseball has lots of rules - but the boy was pushy and wound up and much larger than the boys and had very little idea of how to play besides "hit it." It took a lot of wrangling to get him to take turns and not swing the bat around wildly and so forth.

After maybe twenty minutes of this, their mother came out for five minutes before bringing them in. From that brief time, her parenting style actually seemed pretty compatible with ours, so it would have been much better to have her out there the whole time.

It's not PC to say, but excepting those of close friends, I don't really like hanging out with other people's kids.
Andrew's developed a kind of stutter. It's not the "Wh-wh-wh" thing that most people are familiar with. It's that he'll start a sentence many times: "Daddy, why ... Daddy, why ... Daddy, why ..." It's more common when he's flustered or others are talking, as you'd expect of a stutter. I've tried telling him to slow down and think about the entire sentence before starting, which he claims he is, but it's hard to expect a four-year-old to be slow and deliberate about anything.

We're not concerned about it, but keeping an ear on it. The theory is that since he wasn't doing this before, his brain is just learning words faster than his brain can easily form them.
Trick or treating went on long enough to help start our annual scourge - extending their bedtime so that when we fall back this weekend, it's not a shock to their systems. By divine providence, however, we're going out Saturday night, and a new babysitter will get to keep them up 'til 8 instead of 7.
Speaking of posting pictures, here are costumes.

Please note - and this will help keep you on his good side - that Andrew is a jail, not in jail.

I didn't witness it, but apparently a couple of people asked what he did to be in jail, and he replied "It's just a costume."
I've been trying to put a finger on the changing nature of this blog. It came to me that at first, it was all about the milestones - rolling over, solid foods, whatnot, but those are frequent during infancy, and rare now. Pretty much the only ones in sight are Ellen being completely potty trained (i.e. at night), and the boys starting Kindergarten, the latter of which isn't even for ten months. Instead of milestones, then, it's become more of a chronicle of these little people growing up.

Plus, I barely put pictures/videos on here anymore, preferring Facebook because of the far lessened overhead in doing so.

Page hits have gone from 44 to 40 to 34 a day, which whatever. That's still way more than seems reasonable to me.
We went to an outdoor Halloween event this past weekend, which was clearly geared toward smaller children, and attended by same. I will not miss these when they're older. I mean, they're not horrible, but at some point we'll have paid our dues.
Trick or treating went reasonably well, mostly thanks to the weather. It's been rainy, but there was a reprieve during our time window.

This being our third annual ToT excursion, by now we have a habitual circuit. The yes-to-no ratio is pretty good, and it's close to the house. The kids' range is still small, especially because of Ellen. If the older local kids are any indication, that will change, and change big. Last night they each got a cereal-bowl sized amount of candy, but in the future, especially if they got our "efficiency first!" brains, they might need a forklift by the end of the night.

We had fewer come to our house than expected, or from what I recall, we'd gotten in the past. We're on the end of our block, but I think the problem was that the houses closest to us had nothing (no lights or decorations), so kids didn't bother continuing to ours. There were a couple of late ones, like some 4-year-olds at 9:30pm, which really surprised us.

There are a lot of kids here that don't have costumes, which I chalk up to their being too poor. Liss says they're just too lazy, especially the older ones. We're probably both right. Unlike a certain presidential candidate, however, we imply no correlation.
The kids got some preliminary Halloween candy over the weekend, which the boys didn't want us to put out of their reach, and so put it under the beds. We told them we didn't want them to have unfettered access to it, but didn't push the issue because I wanted to see what happened.

Wednesday morning, they asked the nanny for their quiet time - which usually happens after lunch, and only if we bring it up - as soon as Liss left for work. She arched her eyebrows and said sure, noticed how quiet they were being ("quiet" time being something of a misnomer), so she checked on them. Sure enough, they were into the candy. She confiscated it and put it up in its rightful place over the washer/dryer.

I think it's important to set up these little tests of trust, but when they might actual pass such a test, I have no idea.
The boys and I still play baseball after I get home, which will have to end when the clocks turn back this weekend. We'll still have the weekends, though of course it'll be generally wetter and rainier as well.

The area where we play - the "big grass" green space in the middle of our neighborhood half-circle - has a retaining wall made of large rocks, since we're on a hill. From where we set up our little rubber bases, I declared that hitting the ball over the wall would be a home run. It's more like a little cliff, so the ball really just roll over it, but that's good enough for four-year-olds. Andrew's hit his first three this week, including one "over" our version of the Pesky Pole, but hey, it counts. I believe part of it is that I found a larger ball that's easier to hit, but also, he can actually get a good stroke.

When we got inside Sunday, after his first two homers, he announced his feat in the house, but first prefaced it with "I have something to say to Mommy, and Ellen, and Bobby." That's because I, of course, already knew.

Bobby insists on using the smaller whiffle-style balls, because he's as stubborn as they come. He also swings down instead of across his body, which results in lots of misses and weak ground balls when he actually makes contact. I point out what he's doing and what he should do, and he seems receptive, but it's a hard habit to break. He gets frustrated, and usually goes inside soon into it, though it means Andrew and I get some rare one on one time.
Liss and Amy made jack o' lanterns out of the kids' pumpkins. Andrew was first, coming up with his own design, even putting it to paper, though theory and execution were pretty different there; his triangles don't look like triangles yet. However, the teeth looked pretty good. The end result is a pumpking that has something of a scowl.

Bobby decided that he wanted his to be exactly like Andrew's. Uh, no, come up with your own. I did, says he, and I want it to be just like Andrew's. Eventually he was shown a skull template that Amy was able to carve out - after Bobby more or less showed no interest in helping, to the point of telling her "You can do it after I go to bed."

Ellen's has 'hands' over the non-existent eyes, in peekaboo fashion.
Saturday we asked Ellen a normal question, which of us she wanted to take her upstairs to put her down for her nap. She went back and forth a bit, but when it came time, she said neither of us. She wanted to do it. So, she walked upstairs, closed her door, and put herself in bed. She didn't sleep right away, singing to herself for quite a while, but eventually she napped.

On Sunday Liss took her up, so it's not a new pattern. However, we all knew it was going to be a short nap so we could go to a community trick or treat thing. That might have been why Ellen didn't sleep at all. Instead, she mostly "read" her books to herself, especially the Five Little Monkeys ones, while we followed along over the monitor.
We lost our nearby teenage babysitter to college months ago, and are just now getting around to replacing her. We're cheap, but that's not the main reason, it's the "We're leaving you alone with our children" thing. However, too many things are coming up to [over-]rely on our friends.

We have a couple of leads, which one of them is 14, so maybe we'd be able to cultivate her, to use Liss's word. The downsides for now, though, are that she can't stay up as late as a 17 year old, nor of course drive like one.
From Liss:
I'm at the stove making cocoa for the kids this morning, and suddenly they're all huddled behind me. "What's going on?" I ask.

"There's a witch up in our closet who turns people into dead people and toys into garbage! But she doesn't go in kitchens."

October 20th+

From Liss, name changed for privacy:
Just like "Bobba" and "Andrea" and "Ella," the kids sometimes tease Ines [the nanny] by calling her "Inna." She pouts and protests good-naturedly, or sometimes squashes it with "Only call people their real names." So both yesterday and today, they were all sitting at the little table eating breakfast when she came in. They whispered for a moment each time and then chimed in smarmy unison, "Hi, Inna!"

The scheming is about to reach new levels.
To the boys, the most important aspect of watching a baseball game is saying what numbers are on the players' jerseys.
After the girls left last night, the boys broke an old wishbone that Liss had told them they could do (once Ellen wasn't around to get jealous). Bobby "won," and immediately asked where his wish was.

I don't like lying to them in general - Santa, tooth fairy, wishes - so this kind of thing makes me pretty uncomfortable. I can't even remember what I said, but I'll bet it was mostly evasive.
Liss went to a potluck last night at a co-worker's house, and took Ellen. So, it was just the boys and I. We had the World Series on, so I said let's have dinner at the little table. That's always a giddy thing for the kids, but it turned out useful for me, too (besides getting my baseball). We were having tacos, which you have to build each one. It's a lot easier when you can just reach across the table to help, instead of having to get up each time.

The girls were a little later than bedtime, but the boys were playing on their own, mostly by shoving each other off the sofa. Hey, if they're happy ...

From what Liss says, they could have stayed a lot longer, because the hostess's kids were playing with Ellen elsewhere - the six-year-old reading to her, and the eleven-year-old had brought out old stuffed animals and was puppeting with them.
After lying with her for a few minutes, my bedtime routine with Ellen usually ends by my smooching her somewhere on the head, then starting to get up, knowing full well that she'll ask (demand) that I "Sit!" in the chair for a moment before more smooches and I actually leave. Well, last night I randomly did the forehead smooch with no intention of getting up yet, but she said "Sit!" anyway. What followed: ... and she pushed me away.
Our house has no real chimney, i.e. with a flue where the smoke comes out and so on, because we have no real fireplace. We have one of those things where you flip a switch, and a fake fire shows in the window, plus it's where the actual electric heat out in that room.

The boys, however, are insistent that we must have a real chimney, because otherwise there's no way Santa could have come into the house and given us presents last year. They are quite sure of themselves on their logic, especially since I can't (won't) explain otherwise.
We saw Looper this weekend, which was good if not great, but the plot involved the [off-screen] deaths of children. Liss can't handle that very well, and I'm not much better. I covered her eyes during the tense, relevant scenes.
The last wubbanub, the duck, is dead. Ellen now has a stand-alone binky, still for sleep times only, and that may be it. We were in this spot a few months ago, but the duck was returned to us after its recipient never took to it. We'll see how well this goes. She clearly wasn't ready to go binky-less at the time, but four months is a lot of growth at her age.
We went to Olympia on Sunday, obstentiably for a photo shoot, but we can get that done here. It was mostly an excuse to see people (and support the photographer), so see people we did.

Olympia's about an hour away in light traffic, and we made good time. The kids all fell asleep on the way, which is rare these days, and didn't last long, but at least this time they weren't desolate on awakening.

The first stop was to my old friend Troy - you may remember him as the officiant of our wedding - whose failing health means visits are always a game-day decision. Well, he was doing well, so that was our first stop. His wife was at work, but an old mutual friend is his caretaker now, so we got to visit them for a bit. They have lots of models and other such toys, so the kids were happily playing with those while we chatted. We then thought to hit lunch out, and save the sandwiches Liss had made for dinner on the way home, so we went to a Mexican place. The kids had their usual quesadillas, which were more generously portioned than usual, but in general the place was about as true Tex-Mex as a trip to Winnepeg.

The place had a fountain, which the caretaker showed the kids about silently making a wish and throwing in a coin. Well, the kids thought that meant the wish would come true, and soon. As lunch wound down, they wanted to go back to the fountain to see if their wishes were "ready" and waiting for them. They were not. They went back on the way out. No wishes fulfilled. Sadness, but a quiet resigned sadness, ensued. On the way back, there was a huge (thick) rainbow right in front of us, so Ellen said she had wished for a rainbow. That's not true, of course, but they often bend reality to suit their needs, and her need at the time was to feel better about not getting her actual wish.

As Troy was getting helped back into their car, he had a memory lapse, whereby he thought it was 2010. His caretaker says this was a good one, in that he was just a little confused instead of lashing out at a "stranger" telling him what's what. It did, however, make for some interesting conversations, like how as far as he knew, this little girl climbing on his sofa like a monkey was still a fetus inside Liss. The boys weren't just the kind of "huge" that comes after not seeing them for some months, but for almost three years. It would have taken a huge lapse for him to forget me - having known each other since 1991 or so - so my presence would have been useful in such a case, but fortunately it wasn't such a case.

Afterwards we met up with the photographer, who led us to various locations in downtown Olympia and took some 200 shots of various groupings of the family. We'll get the results in a couple of weeks, with the best going online and/or to next year's calendar.

The idea was that a mutual-friend family would meet at the last shot location - a park - but a squall came in, so we relocated to a coffee place. The walk was about eight blocks through the cold, wind and rain, and by the time we got there, all three kids were howling. Their hands were frigid. Thankfully the place was well-heated, so in a few minutes they were okay again, especially with a warm beverage in hand. We ate our sandwiches there, opening up the question of what to do for food before bedtime, because a sandwich at 5pm wasn't going to see them through the night.

We said our goodbyes, this time finding the usual traffic through Tacoma - the joke is that everyone is always trying to leave - but doing okay time-wise and with no kids falling asleep, which that close to bedtime could have been disastrous. There was some angst over dinner ("The sandwiches were dinner. Have a snack."), but it was fine. Saying goodnight to Ellen, she usually asks me to send Momma back in, and tonight was no exception, but she was clearly not long for the waking world. I did my usual smooches to her forehead, and my usual "I love you very much," but this time she looked at me and groggily replied as I do when they tell me the same thing: "Thank you."
The kids and I have been sick lately - I think what felt like a lingering cold is actually two of them back to back. I, of course, got it from the kids, while Liss, of course, remains unaffected thanks to her hyperactive immune system.

October 13th+

Andrew's become a smoocher. He'll randomly smooch a sibling on the head ("Stop that!"), or bring me in for one on the lips. It's pretty sweet, or at least I think the ones I get are.
I spend the last few minutes with Ellen before leaving her alone to go to sleep. She's gotten into a new habit where, as I'm getting up to leave, she tells me to "Tell Mommy to come back." It started a few weeks ago, during a few rough days, but she still does it much of the time.

When she does, when I next see Liss, I dutifully tell her that Ellen asked her to come back. I then carry on with what I want to do. And, so does Liss. Hey, I've done my part.
Andrew and I played some soccer yesterday, with him trying to score against me as the goalie for our small goal. He did pretty well, scoring about five legitimate goals against me in maybe a hundred shots. More importantly, he was having fun, not getting frustrated during long periods without a goal, or my ability to take seemingly great shots and deflect them with my foot (I wasn't using my hands).

Bobby was riding his bike the whole time, so this was a rare one-on-one time. I think that helps a lot of things, since there's no competition, either for the ball or for my attention.
The boys say "Hello!" to passerbys when we're outside, and they're almost always happy to return the favor. I wonder at what age that'll get shamed out of them, but I'm sure not going to do it.
Last night I repeatedly told Ellen to do something, and she didn't, unless I guess she got tired of my asking, turned out, and barked out "Fine!" like you would expect of an 11-year-old. I was rather taken aback.

The nanny has a couple of daughters, about 12 and 8, and we're pretty sure they're influencing our kids much more than we'd like, or at least in ways we don't like.
Liss was so certain about something recently, that she said "I'd bet my third-born."

You know she's confident when she wagers Ellen.
Last night Andrew pooped in the bath again, this time without having recent issues down there. I grabbed him and put his naked, wet self on the toilet to finish up. Ellen announced the she also had to go, so I did the same for her on the potty. She, as often happens recently during such declarations, produced bupkis. With the bath water now a little poopy, I decided to eschew hair washing and be done with it.

It's partially our fault, for not asking beforehand if they needed to go, but I'll give us 25% of the blame. They know when they need to go, especially the boys, but much of the time they still deny the need even when they clearly have it, if some other self-interest trumps.
The rain has begun. It was actually a few weeks later than usual, which was nice, but here it is. Last night Ellen asked to go outside and play baseball. Nope, sorry. How about the slide? Nope, sorry. Baseball with the boys had become part of the evening routine, getting them out of the house (Ellen not so much). Now that's more or less done, especially when the clocks change and I get home in the dark.
Ellen's definitely in the Terrible Twos. Last night she told Liss "You're not my Mommy!" She's also repeatedly touching her brothers just because she knows it bugs them. And so on. Here's hoping we're in the worst part, and she can start clawing her way up to respectability soon.
We went to the zoo on Saturday with some friends, mostly because there was a pro-74 rally, which combined with our family pass and an excuse to get the kids out of the house, seems a win-win-win.

Anyway, after the rah-rah words, there was a duo performing a short musical set. After a couple of songs, the woman asked for kids to come up and pretend to be wolves during the Wolf song they were going to play. The boys were "hell no!," ... and Ellen went up, along with a pair of boys about age 8. Well, I imagine that nobody but their parents were watching the boys do the "arroooo" thing, because our little 2 1/2 year old was clearly having fun doing so in her charming way. As Liss put it, "I hope she'll keep that confidence forever."
Ellen's habit of crying for the potty an hour after bedtime seems to have gone away, maybe because we started putting a potty in her room, thereby calling her bluff. Whether it's related or not (I highly doubt it), she also hasn't had dry morning diapers for some time now, after a good track record for a few weeks there. But, since we're in no hurry, it's fine. She's had one accident in the last five months or so (that I know of), and that's really the important thing. It'd be nice if she could be done before our trip to Minnesota for Christmas, but if not, eh.

One funny thing is that at 2am Saturday morning, she started yelling "My diaper broke!" over the monitor, so I went to check on her. It was indeed coming off. I asked if it broke because she had been playing with the tape. "Uh huh." Okay, honey, that doesn't mean it broke, it means you broke it. But here's a new diaper. As usual in these circumstances, I'm quite certain that she fell back asleep way before the two of us.
We took the kids to a pumpkin patch on Sunday. It was "okay."

Last year Liss took the boys to a different one that had dozens of old tractors lying around, but that one closed down. She lamented that while we were at this new one, because they had very little side distractions, especially ones you didn't have to pay for. There was a corn maze and hay ride, which either one would have set us back $15-20 for a dubious return of fun, so we didn't do them. A work friend took her newly-three-year-old daughter to a different pumpkin patch than ours, and said the corn maze was a horrible experience, so we might have lucked out there.(*)

It's just started raining here (and will for the next eight months), so the ground was a bit muddy, but it wasn't sloshy or anything. The place lays down wood chip mulch along the main paths, so that helps. We had our wheelbarrow, which the kids kept wanting to ride in, but we had to be pretty minimalist with that, mostly only letting Ellen do it, at least while in motion.

I exaggerate, but I think the kids wanted the first three pumpkins they saw. After we explained what made a "good" pumpkin, and that we literally had thousands to choose from, the boys got pretty good about being more selective, and helped Ellen along those lines. We didn't drive all the way out there for nothing; we needed them out of the house, where they're little terrors.

In all, we spent maybe an hour there, and got 71 pounds worth of three pumpkins for $23, so that was useful. Soon to come - Jack o'lanterns and roasted pumpkin seeds.

(*) Based on the other kids there, it looks like Age 8 is when it's okay to start going to the grocery store for your pumpkins. That co-worker was there with a friend's eight-year-old, though, and the subject came up. The kid said "QFC doesn't make memories!," which is exactly the kind of faux-snarky, well-reasoned and funny logic I'm sure my kids will have by that age.
Ellen's always been one to push boundaries. Her latest, when you say "You can have one" of whatever, is to immediately ask "Why not two?"

Being overthinkers, when we reply we try to use useless shit like reason and logic. She's two. We need to get in the habit of "Because I said one." However, based on recent events, that probably wouldn't go over very well or last very long.
"Old MacDonald had a farm
And on that farm he had to play with his penis"
"How many days is Halloween?" We hear this about twice a day.
Liss needed to get some materials for the kids' costumes from the fabric store, which we were kind of in the neighborhood with them in tow, so we went. That might have been a mistake, but at least it got done.

On the way back we were reminiscing about when we just had two non-walking boys. If we needed to go somewhere for us, we put them in their car/stroller seats and went. It was a bit of a production, but nothing like now, with the "what's this!?" and wandering off and boredom in line and so on. You know things are off when we're nostalgic about your twin infants.

The solution these days, for the most part, is to simply not go anywhere for us.

October 6th+

At swing sets in parks, the kids still use the once for smaller kids, where they legs go into holes. This lets them get pushed high and fast. However, they also like to go on the regular swings, except tummy-first, pushing off with their feet. They don't get very high, but they're okay with that. They call it playing Superman. More importantly for us, it doesn't tie us to them for pushing, which when you usually have more kids than adults, is useful.
My bus broke down on the way home Tuesday night, so I was a bit late. I guess the kids got antsy, because they wanted to go for a walk before I got there, but by the time I did, the walk had digressed into the boys going up the hill on the paved trail near our house, coasting down, and stopping themselves. Now, there are no brakes on their push bikes, so they use their shoes. Bobby had a reasonable time of it, though a couple of times I had to tell him to go into the grass to slow down.

Andrew, however, did a header onto the pavement, bruising his cheek and scraping up his elbow and fingers. He was understandably upset, but screaming about it for some minutes, as Liss took him in. Meanwhile, Ellen was being very pay-attention-to-me to Liss, who was the one consoling Andrew, so between the two of them it was quite a cacophony of sorrow. Eventually Ellen agreed to bring her wagon to me, and I pushed her around a bit while Bobby kept going up and down the hill. Bobby then stopped and got out the stomp rockets, which Ellen joined in for a bit before going inside, and he and I stayed out playing that for a while.

Part of that was a swan song for the neighbors' big, dying tree that's coming down today. It had some of those wing nuts, so we played with those for a bit. The stomp rockets knocked off several small, dead twigs.

Since this was all going on right as I got home, I'd put my bag down to help out, but left it there while doing this and that. I don't think I was ever more than fifty feet away from it, but by the time I remembered it, it was gone. It's not like it had anything valuable - small umbrella, baseball cap, empty Pyrex, paperback - but of course that's not the point.
Monday night Liss had to stay late at work. The kids wanted to play outside, which is fine, but getting them to agree on what and where to play is another matter. Bobby wanted to ride his bike, Andrew baseball, and Ellen the slide. That last one's location is incompatible with the others, but I was able to get a temporary reprieve by promising she could play on my phone for her usual five minutes while we boys did the rest.

Before we went out, I asked if anyone needed to go to the bathroom. No. Ten minutes after we were outside, Ellen got bored with my phone and announced she needed to potty. After my bit of disgust, I said that we all needed to go in with her. She said no, she could go in by herself, and would "be right back." Now, the "big grass" where we were is about fifty feet from the house, across the cul-de-sac where cars can go, so this isn't a small undertaking. However, she was insistent, and we need to practice letting go, so ... okay. She can't open doors yet, but I knew the inner door in the garage wasn't shut all the way; we do that on purpose.

Watching her walk away, I was getting apprehensive already; I mean, I do that when she wants to go in while Liss is in the house, texting her to confirm she got inside, etc. My baseball duties meant facing away from the house, so I asked the boys (Bobby had finished biking and joined us) to help me watch for her. And then a couple of minutes later, I heard her screaming from inside the house.

Now, my assumption is that she's either scared that no one's there, despite her insistence for same, or that the door closed all the way behind her and she can't get out. Either way, I needed to get there as soon as I could, but I didn't want to leave the boys alone on the grass, either, so I told them to follow me, then ran back to the house. The door was closed, so I made my way inside.

I called out her name, and from upstairs she simply said "I'm done, Daddy." I think that's what she'd been screaming, and my guess is that she was scared until I got there, despite her insistence that she would be fine. She didn't even know about the door.

Meanwhile, as we made our way outside, I heard the boys yelling Daddy! from the big grass. That hadn't followed me at all. When I asked why, Andrew said he hadn't heard me; Bobby said he didn't want to.

It was not a good time.
The boys play with their penises all the time, which hey, I get it, but we don't want them to do it publicly. A lot of it is absent-minded, which makes it a harder habit to break. We tell them it's fine in their beds or the bathroom.

They've also developed something close to a fear of ingesting gluten. This might have come from their poop problems in the last couple of weeks, which may or may not be gluten related; we're not sure, but I'm leaning no. Regardless, their prior wariness has turned into full-blown vigilance.

What do these two things have to do with each other, you ask? Last night, Bobby was sitting on my lap after finishing his dinner; I was still eating mine. He asked if there was gluten on my hands, and I said yes. He got a little antsy, but we said if he didn't touch them and then put his fingers in his mouth, he'd be fine. After all, they play with Play-Dough (which has gluten), but they wash their hands right after, so whatever.

But I thought hey, if they're iffy about touching gluten, I said "We should put gluten on their penises!" That was the end of the joke as far as I was concerned, since half of what I say is meant to entertain the wife, and mission accomplished there.

They thought it was pretty out there, but while Andrew just laughed and said no, Bobby squirmed in my lap and started to punch my crotch. I blocked where I could, but he was pretty deft about it. I'm still not sure if he was trying to be funny, or was mad at my facetious idea, or some of both.

I also think it's a sign of my dedication to my faithful readers that I was noting this incident down on my phone, to write about later, while he was doing it.
Saturday afternoon a former co-worker was having a barbeque, and with a couple other former co-workers saying they'd be there, I figured I'd go with the boys and make a showing.

The thing itself was good - lots of good food, a mix of people who did and didn't know each other, etc. However, the other two people I know didn't show, so I only knew the host, who was busy with everything else. After the boys had some food, they couldn't be expected to just sit there while I talked to strangers (even if the talk was mostly about them), and they wanted to play with the toy baseball stuff the host had. So, we spent a lot of the time playing baseball, which is something we can do at home.

There was another boy about the boys' age, but much bigger, by about 5 inches and 15 pounds(*). He had something of an attitude, but to his credit he mostly kept it in check, I suspect from a lifetime of intervention on his parents' part, though his mom wasn't intervening at the party. Somehow that landed in my lap, since he was attracted to the baseball and boys and the nearby swing set. It helped my psyche, though, that I quickly noticed that my boys can hit a plastic baseball much better than he can.

After we'd been there two hours, the boys wanted to go home, and I wasn't going to fight it. There just wasn't much for me there that I can't get at home, and indeed much less so, since my girls weren't there.

(*) ... which from an adult perspective doesn't sound like much, but that's 3'6" versus 3'1" and 44 versus 29 pounds.
Last night we had a small dinner party, with five adults and one kid joining us. Rather than extend the dining room table, we moved the kids' table from the living room to the dining room. They were enthusiastic. They got to have their own table! At least, that's how I think one of the adults sold it, which worked like a charm.

I don't remember ever being excited to be at a kids' table, and I've sat on several. Maybe they weren't marketed the same way, but I definitely remember thinking of it as vastly inferior, perhaps insulting.(*) Maybe one day the kids will think the same thing.

(*) But then, I was an only grandchild, so it was rare for me.
The cat recognizes the bedtime routine, in that she's always waiting to meow at me for attention when I come out of the kids' rooms, as though to say "They're gone! My turn!" I guess that means we're being consistent with bedtime, like we're supposed to be, if a cat can pick up on it.
Sunday night we went out to play baseball for a few minutes, with another dad and boy who were visiting. I showed up a few minutes into it, with a bat and ball, and everyone was seemingly engaged already. So, I randomly hit my plastic ball in their general direction, which of course you're not supposed to do, as I'm sure I've said in various forms a hundred times. Well, I bonked Ellen on the head. It's like I had offered the ball a reward for doing it - it made a bee-line for her noggin. I was aghast at my carelessness.

Her reaction? "You bonked me on the head!"

"... do it again!"
A lot of retailers have special kid carts, that usually have room for two kids. Some Targets even have ones with space for three, which is great for us.

And then there are the times where you can't find any, presumably because they're being used. So, you load the kids into a regular cart, either by making one or two walk, or dumping one or two into the main basket part like you're not supposed to, etc. After you do that, it's common to then walk past someone who's got a kid cart. Often, those people only have one kid using the cart, despite its ability to accomodate two or three.

We have an irrational ire toward those parents.
We've reached a milestone - Ellen asked to have her car seat flipped forward.
Ellen's developed some sort of anxiety around bedtime, and I'm not even sure if it's genuine or not. For a while we've kept the overhead red light on overnight, to keep away the scary, but last night she wanted it off, because it was scary. She keeps saying the ceiling, or her tent, or we, are "cracking," whatever that means. I'm buying a new light night (her old one broke), so we'll see if that helps, but I think she'll just find something else to be spooked by - like the new night light.

I think it's related to the potty cry, which itself I think is more motivated by a want of attention than any tangible need. Evidence there is that we've put the downstairs potty in her room, but she doesn't want to use that one (even though she does use it); she always says she doesn't want it in her room, and she wants to use the one in the bathroom - ten feet away, but requiring us to open the bedroom door for her and give her attention. We've started refusing to even go up when she starts doing the potty cry, because that's a habit we do not want to fall into.
The boys have graduated to flouride toothpaste. It's actually later than that's supposed to happen, but we'll take it. The tipping point was Liss finding a new way to explain how it's supposed to go - something about making lots of foam. Andrew was a few days ago, while Bobby earned his way to switch tonight, as he can't allow Andrew to be in a priviledged state for long.

Ellen is quite jealous, but nowhere near ready, since she keeps swallowing. However, with that jealousy, I'm sure it won't take her until she's their age to switch.
Saturday morning we met a friend at a park that I hadn't been to before, and probably not the kids, either. As our friend observed, it's the perfect park for toddler boys. The flight path goes right over it. There's a water feature (though now off for the winter). There's a dumpster that if you're "lucky," might attract a garbage truck to admire.

The real coup, though, is that active train tracks got right by it, like ten feet from the chain link fence. Not only that, but it's right where freight trains have to stop and back up to hook on more cars, so a single train can hang around for twenty minutes, making all sorts of ruckus. Plus, it goes slowly enough that the conductor is happy to wave back to the waving boys.

I liked it for the old-growth trees and their shade, plus the fact that it's far from anything residential, so I didn't have to feel too guilty about all the happy screaming everyone decided was the thing to do on the big slide.
We get grocery delivery on Saturday mornings, which this week included a value pack of bananas. By the time lunch was over, the kids had eaten seven of them. Where they could fit them, I don't know.
Andrew and Bobby each got the same three-pack of superhero underwear for their birthday, with Superman, Batman, and the Green Lantern. They don't know much about the latter, probably never even having seen any posters or cartoons or whatever else. So, it comes as no surprise that Andrew put on his pair and declared with great pride, "I'm Green Olive, to the rescue!"

September 29th+

Last night Liss had to stay at work, so I had the kids. In theory, that's no problem, but Ellen's so pro-Mom right now that the slightest provocation will set her off, even if it's simply telling her that Mom won't be home until after bedtime. And set her off it did.

Meanwhile, Bobby had un-earned his right to five minutes of game time on my phone the previous night, which when I reminded him, set him off. Somehow, though, we've gotten it into his head that it's better to have his tantrums in his bed instead of in front of us, so he went upstairs for that. By the time he came down some 25 minutes later, Ellen was still on the floor yelling "I want Mommy!," so he sat on the stairs and calmly said the same thing a few times. Because I'm clearly such an asshole.

I was going to throw them for a loop by giving Bobby a cube for going up to his room, but when I said "Bobby, please come to the kitchen," he said "What!?" snappily instead of just doing it or asking more nicely than that, so never mind to that.

I texted Liss what was going on, and she said they could call her. Bobby and Ellen talked to her about coming home, she repeated that she couldn't, etc., but it calmed them down for a bit. When things started to unravel again, I got dinner out of the crock pot, which really helped.

When I have the kids to myself, they seem to have this notion that the end of dinner is bedtime, regardless of the usual routines like the ten-minute warning. Heck, the boys can read 7 o'clock pretty well - the big hand still confuses them - but we were still on our way up at 6:45. I mean, I wasn't going to correct them. This was actually later than they were trying to go up, around 6:30, but I wanted to show them their first Tom and Jerry from the collection I'd just bought. They liked it, so more shall come.

So we go up, and bedtime is pretty normal, with toothbrushing, three of the new Mayer books, no problem. When it was time to put her to bed, though, Ellen resumed her want-Mom shenanigans. I was finally able to get her calmed down, said good night to the boys - with Bobby still mad so "Don't say good night to me! Don't smooch me!" - and went downstairs. Soon after, she started going the potty cry, though of course what she really wanted once I got there was Mommy. I let her pee, but that didn't help. I sat in her chair while she abused me - I want Mommy, but sit and don't leave - until Liss came in around 7:40. I left, but not before hearing this exchange:

Oh, Ellen was the Queen,
The Queen of the pink castle.
Oh, Ellen was the fairest and the bravest in the land.
She scared away the dragons,
She scared away the monsters.
She turned them into Popsicles and ate them.
Bobby has taken to declaring "I'm bored!," despite our continued insistence that (a) it's not really our problem, (b) there's plenty to do, toys and books, and (c) we don't want to hear it.

Once or twice when Liss said he could read a book, he's replied with "Books are boring!," which he's learned is what you say when you really want Mom to get pissed off.
While at the twin sale, the boys and I went to the books section, whereby they proceeded to suggest we buy every book they picked up. I had to put the kibosh on that pretty quickly, so I could actually look at what was there. I thought I'd hit a nice score with a pair of Wee Sing books, but they turned out to mostly have pretty obscure songs, and we're not good sight singers.

No, the score ended up being a bundle of about eight Litter Critter books for 50c each, which they'd never seen before, and have been the books of choice since. We actually like them, too, for their lack of insipidness and illustrations wrying showing true adult reactions to the situations.
The boys often talk about what they're going to be when they grow up. Policeman and firefighter are common. We'll sometimes say that they might even have a job that doesn't exist yet. When they ask like what, I usually respond with "maybe robotics programmer," which sounds like a plausible job description for the year 2040. Goodness knows I've had jobs that didn't exist when I was four.
Overhead by Liss this morning:

Nice save, sir. Nice save.

It'll be fun when the boys can actually read to her.
This weekend Liss gave the boys haircuts, and Andrew went from gall-darned hippie to Fox News-watchin' short.

What this conclusively proved was that we'd started relying on their hair to tell them apart. Now that they're within an inch of each other instead of four, we're having a much harder time of things. We can usually reconcile things within a second or two, but I think they sense that hesitation.
Kids are creatures of habit; Bobby's latest is that when I take him out of the bath and carry him to our bed, he says "Let's talk." He first did it a few weeks ago, and I was pretty surprised, and it's still new enough that I never expect it, so I never know what subject to bring up. Besides, it's not like he wants to know my thoughts on the election or whether his Mom should go to grad school.

Last night we ended up talking about ambulances.
Bobby's toenail has almost grown all the way back in, doing so in two months rather than the six months we were told. We (and he) have done a reasonable job of keeping it covered and medicated, but it's hard to tell if the new one also has fungal growth or not. I think it takes a little while to show signs, plus we're perhaps harboring residual guilt and therefore keeping expectations low. The other one, in fine fungal form, still hasn't fallen out ... yet.
The boys' fifth birthday is over nine months away, and they're already coming up with ideas. They did the same thing last year, and our response was the same - there are many others' birthdays before yours. Talk to us in late June.

Ellen has shown no such ambitions. She does, however, enjoy reminding you that she's not just two, but two and a half, thank you very much.
Ellen's started an annoying habit. About 30 minutes after going to bed, we'll hear her crying over the monitor. It's a kind of crying we don't normally hear from her - more pathetic, more grown-up seeming. The thing is, when we go up, she just says we need to potty. We've coached her that she just has to say "I need to potty!" until we hear her on the monitor and help, but it hasn't sunk in.

And then, the thing is that she really doesn't need to go. She'd gone just before bed last night, so when she cried an hour later, she sat on the potty for five minutes with no results, despite some genuine strain. What we think is going on is that she's just found an excuse to see Mommy again before going to sleep. We were both surprised when she let me help her last night, but Liss later came up anyway, and Ellen's face lit up like the sun.
Conversation between Liss and Ellen:

That's our girl.
The local parents-of-twins club had their semi-annual garage sale this weekend, filling two gymnasia as usual. We concentrated on preparing for winter, picking up lots of long-sleeved shirts, pants, one coat per kid, etc.

When we got there, we split up, the boys joining me to look for coats and shoes, including snow boots just in case. There wasn't much to choose from, but the boys found snow boots they wanted. What they wanted ... was pink. Andrew's, in fact, are pink, with Hello Kitty and hearts on them. As a good liberal dad, I couldn't refuse or even redirect. Then, with the precedent set, Bobby also wanted pink boots, though his are much less flashy. Since they got pink, I found some pink ones in Ellen's size, because I figured she'd want similar to what they got. I was right.

Speaking of flashy, Bobby found some firefighter shoes that he and Andrew agreed to share. What none of us realized at the time is that they're the kind of shoes that flash lights when you steps. They're pretty unobtrusive, for what they are, but I consider the genre in general to be pretty obnoxious. For a little bit, they fought (mostly with Ellen) over who got to pick them off the floor and smack them down, to make the lights flash, but the novelty's already wearing off a little bit. As for the boys sharing them between themselves, they've done a good job of sharing and taking turns with no input from us, a clear win.

September 22nd+

Go, Dog, Go has been something of a cultural phenomenon in small children circles for 50 years, and part of our lives for 4. As with many books, the boys have ebbed and flowed as to how obsessed they are with it, with the ebbs helped along by our occasionally hiding it. We've also made it standard practice to skip a page here or there, sometimes half the book, except for a couple of pages that they especially look forward to ("The dogs are asleep.") They've never called us on it.

Now Ellen's taking up the mantle of reading it at bedtime, and I guess she's sharper than they were at that age, because she totally called us out. Liss skipped a page or two, and she was on top of it, "You missed a page! Mommy, you missed a page!" We're screwed, doomed to read its 72 pages of banality in their entirety, every night for two more years.

I would also like to point out that there are 565 listings for that book on Amazon's used market, starting at a penny plus shipping. That's right - lots of people are trying to get rid of it, which tells me that someday, someday, my kids will outgrow it.
Andrew and Ellen like mayonnaise. Bobby does not. They haven't been exposed to mustard yet, but my guess is that Ellen might like it and the boys not, if they'd even try it.

All of this reminds me of one of my favorite childhood jokes, as told by my dad. We used to go to the same mom-and-pop burger joint a lot, and I'd special order mine with mayo, no mustard. He's the opposite of that. Well, one of these times, when I was about ten, he leaned over to me and - obviously joking - said, "Are you sure you're my son?"

(I may or may not have been witty enough to reply "You tell me!," but probably not. I think that's just what my adult self wants me to have said.)

I think I've already said that line to my boys once or twice.
Twinkle twinkle little frickin' star
How I wonder how the frick you are.
Up above the world so frickin' high
Like a frickin' diamond in the frickin' sky
Twinkle twinkle little frickin' star
How I wonder how the frick you are.
Ellen's new thing is sour cream. Left to her own devices - which we've done on accident a few times - she'll spoon it out of the carton and eat it directly. Normally, though, her only access is on our weekly tacos. The boys won't even try it (that's a long list), I don't care for it, and Liss resists its temptations for the sake of saving calories, so Ellen's often the only one indulging. And indulge she does.
Walking home, I cross a green space along a path. Last night everyone was outside, with Ellen and Liss near the door. Ellen saw me, yelled "Daddy!" and started to run to me (like in this older picture) and gave me the running hello hug that I love so much. Well, after that, she said "I run to you again!" She got down, ran away about twenty feet, yelled "Daddy!" and ran to me again for another one.

Yeah, I'll take that.
The kids recently got a book made a several sort-of poems. I'm mostly ambivalent about it, but one of them ends with bats pooping on tourists, so we have to read that one every night at bedtime, since poop is amazingly funny right now.
We've been impressing upon the kids that different people like different things, and even do things differently. Lying with the boys in the dark during their bedtime, I told them that in some places, like London, they don't say 'zee' for the last letter of the alphabet, but 'zed.' They thought this was both hilarious and crazy. Well, I said, they probably think it's hilarious and crazy that we say 'zee.'

By the time I left, they were singing the alphabet song, except ending with 'w, x, y and zed!' and then laughing at the absurdity of what they'd just done.
Early in the year, the boys started a thing during bedtime where they'd come up with two numbers, I'd tell them the number between them (the average), and whosever turn it was would count to that number. There's some variation, like I'll take a turn when turning off the lights, they'll do the same some nights, etc. I'm actually surprised it's stuck around this long.

A few days in, they noticed that when the two numbers were the same, the number "between" them was the same number. They need to ask me for the answer to that one anymore. A few weeks later, Andrew noticed that between two consecutive numbers (like 6 and 7), it's always a half more than the smaller number (6 and a half). They occasional mix this up ("7 and a half!"), but eh.

Last night Andrew took the next step. The numbers for Bobby were 6 and 8, and Andrew said between them was 7. I asked how he knew. It was too dark for me to see, but he explained how 6 was this many fingers, and 8 was this many, so seven was between them.

That's my boy.
Amy works at a non-profit that helps abused and neglected small children. They needed to create some new marketing materials, but they can't use actual clients for privacy reasons, so our kids and several others went to a photo shoot.

It's a little odd to see our children on the finished literature, alongside "please help these poor children!" But, it's also gratifying to see Ellen picked as the "cover girl" for a brochure Amy sent us in the mail.
For about the last week+, the usual procedure for when I get home is that the boys say hi and then ask to play baseball outside. I'm down with that, so we get ready and go. They don't even ask to play a game on my phone, so you know it's for real. We play out on the "big grass," a green space that's about thirty yards from the house, across the cul-de-sac. It's unfortunate that this will only last another month, when I'll get home at dark.

Meanwhile, Ellen stays inside with Mom, then wants to come out and join us ... for about five minutes, then wants to go back in. Now, she has no sense of time, so she lollygags going in and out, and we have to escort her across the pavement, make sure the garage door into the house is ajar so she can get in, etc. And, in her current "No, I want Mommy!" phase, she didn't want me to even escort her, let alone shoo her along while the boys waited for me.

About halfway in, I had a stroke of genius. I asked her if she wanted me to Airplane her in. "Yeah!" I picked her up, and she put out her arms, Superman-style(*), and I carried her to the door while "vrroooom!"ing.

Better parents would say of course, James, you have to make a game of everything. But we're just not rah-rah people.

Updated to add, from Liss: "Oh, that's where she got it! She made me "Airplane!" her the rest of the way up the stairs and into the kitchen, too."

(*) Instead of out to the sides, Airplane-style. We've had this discussion, you see. I didn't correct her.
I think the kids are ready for The Princess Bride, despite its mild violence, the reaction to which I will use as data toward finally showing them Star Wars.

I think more than their being afraid or overly inquisitive ("Shut up and just watch, okay?," I would think and not say), the worst case scenario for Star Wars is that they wouldn't think anything of it at all. Ellen's so young that she often abandons things mid-stream, so I don't mean her, but the movie and its subsequent canon were a large part of my growing up, so it'd be sad for the boys and I (and later her) to not share that affection. That's probably making me put it off more than anything else.
The boys have been on a baseball kick lately, which is great, except they seem to think I don't know the rules. That is, if they want to run to first on a foul ball, then by gum, they're going to run to first. If I step on first before they get there, ball in my hand, they're not out, thank you very much. They can run out of the basepaths clear to the next county if it means I don't tag them out.

You'll note that I'm always defense in this scenarios. Back in the day, they'd always pitch to me, because they liked how far I can hit the ball, and running after it. Now they refuse to let me bat. The reasons they come up with are an interesting microcosm of how their minds work, i.e. "What do I need to say to get what I want, no matter how irrational and blatantly self-serving?" Currently it's that I already know how to bat, and they need the practice. My counterarguments that I also already know how to pitch, and they need to practice pitching, are met with silence and an earnest desire for me to put one right over the plate - if I'm lucky, and they don't get mad at how unfair I am.
We have reached the age where pee and poop jokes, no matter how banal, are hi-lar-i-ous.
"Andrew, please stop playing with your penis."
Part of the boys' morning ritual while waiting for the green light is to open their blackout curtains and look out the window. They'll just stand there and stare for a while.
Ellen's 20th and final baby tooth - second left maxillary molar - has started to come in. It's only just begun to show white, but I expect it to be fully in within maybe two weeks. That'll be the last of our kids' sixty baby teeth. In a couple of years, the first of those sixty will start to come out. Perhaps we should start saving up tooth fairy money now.

My baby teeth were very stubborn, such that my permanent teeth were pushing them to the side or forward to make room for themselves, yet they'd stay in. Twelve of the twenty had to be pulled, in groups of 4, 4, 2, 1 and 1, if I remember correctly. Here's hoping my children have better luck.
About a week ago, Andrew had issues with diarrhea, which we thought were that he'd gotten some gluten. This included an accident outside the front door, and another while rushing out of his bed to the bathroom, and the boys never have accidents lately. One of them was bad enough that I just said let's give you a bath after a cursory wipe down, to which he agreed. However, Ellen wanted a bath, too, monkey see monkey do. She insisted despite my warnings that Andrew's poop would be in the water, so I ended up with a delicate balance of timing his cleaning with putting her in, trying to drain out water while running the tap, etc. I already wasn't very pleased with my efforts when Andrew had another accident ... in the tub.

There are [seriously] some 50 toys in that tub, so I'll probably never look at them the same again. I did my best to clean the tub and the toys, but ... yeah.

The gluten theory was thrown aback in the last few days, as Bobby's taken up the gauntlet with a few similar poops of his own per day. His has been bad enough (or cleaned badly enough) that his perineum(*) is very raw, so we're trying to be extra vigilant.

Last night was the topper, though. We were chilling downstairs around 9 with the kids in bed, when we heard someone going to the bathroom. That's not unusual, if perhaps earlier than normal. A minute later, we heard Bobby's voice(+) calling down, asking for help. I went up to find a puddle of diarrhea on the bathroom floor, maybe 8" in diameter.

Now, there are several silver linings to this cloud. One, he recognized that he needed to go, and tried his best to get there in time. He asked for help calmly, never losing his cool (except maybe a little when I had to hurt him to clean him). The bathroom floor's tile is easy to clean, unlike his mattress or the carpet from there to the bathroom. And we weren't in bed yet.

After I cleaned up the floor and him, and we both told him he'd done well and gave him hugs, he said "Okay, bye" and went back to bed, closing his door, acting as though he hadn't just unloaded a melted popsicle of feces onto the floor, but we'll take it.

(*) Normally I'd include a link that explains or at least pictures a medical term, but ... not this time.
(+) Easy for us by now, telling them apart.
When the ice cream truck goes by, the boys still call it the "music truck," even though they know better by now. They usually then ask when they can actually get something from it, to which we'll say that we have ice cream in the freezer, or Mom makes desserts all the time, or we go out for ice cream sometimes, etc. Or, and this one makes me feel guilty, I'll say that most of what the truck sells has gluten in it. That's true, what with the cones and sandwiches, but I still feel bad about envoking it.
Liss was mugged last week, fifty feet from our house, walking back at 6:20am from a quick trip to the grocery store. He pointed a small gun at her, she handed over her phone and debit card, and he took them and ran off. Naturally, even though not physically hurt, she was very shaken up, and will be jumpy for a long while.

This is the neighborhood our kids are growing up in.
With Liss jumpy (see above), I made a tactical error. Around 2am Sunday night I was half-awake, then awakened by some lights. It was Ellen's monitor, which was muted (the kids mess with it all the time), but with the lights clearly showing that she had something to say. The monitor is on Liss's side, so I got up and walked around to turn it up and hear what she was about. The resultant noise woke Liss up - to see a male figure looming over her bedside. It was easy to detect her concern, shall we say, so I was quick to tell her "It's me!" over and over while holding her, but the damage, if any, was done.

As for Ellen, Amy had babysat the night before (yay!), and Ellen has convinced her to forgo a nighttime diaper. Despite her (Amy's) making sure she'd used the potty right before bed, Ellen needed to go. To her credit, though, she was holding it and trying to get our attention, rather than just letting fly. Liss dealt with that easily enough (Ellen's "No, I want Mommy!" phase against me has intensified.)

When the boys were turning 3, we experimented with having a potty in their room, but it didn't work. We think it would be different with Ellen, so we're going to start putting the kids' bathroom's potty in her room at night. That'll force the boys to use the toilet overnight, which they usually do unless there's a big rush, so that may bite us. It's my own fault; I gave away the third potty last month. We're only a few months (weeks? days?) away from diaper freedom, though, so I'm loathe to buy another one.

September 15th+

From Liss:
When I started teaching, the kindergarteners seemed like such babies. Then I had my own babies and suddenly the kindergarten kids seemed impossibly huge and competent. But now that they're less than a year away from kindergarten, I'm realizing that those tiny dudes are already ready.
In the latest version of following the letter, if not the spirit, of the law, Bobby opened our door early to tell us that there was puke. That's indeed one of the things it's okay to bug us about, but in this case it was cat puke, not his or Andrew's.

One of these days, that boy's going to walk in on us.
We had company Saturday night, with their 19-month girl. At bedtime, as they were getting ready to go, Andrew needed to poop, which since we're in the date window for collecting it for the diabetes study, meant he should go in a special "hat" that fits over the seat for him to go into. While he did that, I got the other packaging, put on the gloves, and his siblings took their normal places to "help" put the poop in their tubes. Meanwhile, this little girl was watching with a sort of morbid fascination.

And then, he barely got any out - not enough for the study - so I had to put everything away. I'm sure she felt it was rather anti-climactic.
Bobby has developed a sarcasm detector, and he does not like being its target.

Andrew's getting there, but the one that really sets him off is to remind him that his refusal to eat reminds you of Green Eggs and Ham. I said "He will not eat them, Sam-I-Am" regarding his peas, and twenty seconds later he was putting his drink and cup under the table to eat there rather than be around me.
Ellen's record is still three mornings in a row with a dry diaper, which is fine; we're in no hurry. When she gets to seven, no more of those. However, the boys' standard was five, which we hadn't remembered, but the boys had. They asked why the difference, so I said something flippant, mostly to make Liss laugh. That was a couple of weeks ago.

Last night the subject came up again, and this time Ellen asked why the difference. I couldn't remember my response, but then Booby piped up with it soon enough: it's because Ellen's a cup, and we're a hose. So, it seems his memory is better than mine.

(Really, though, it's because she's seven months younger than they were.)
Saturday I did the full-day test with the hand counter. The final tally: I heard the kids ask 936 questions.

This was not a scientific test. On a normal day - and this one was pretty normal - the kids are up from 8 to 7:30, so that's 11.5x3 hours of wakeful time, minus Ellen's nap (let's say 2 hours), so (11.5x3)-2 = 32.5 wakeful-kid-hours. Let's just call them hours.

So 936/32.5 would be 28.8 questions per hour (qph). However, I actually spent 5.5 hours without Ellen and 4 without Bobby, because I only took Andrew to watch the Aggie football game. So it was really (11.5x3)-5.5-4 = 25 hours, so 936/25 = 37.4 qph. I'm calling this the real number. With that, if I'd been around all three kids minus Ellen's nap, we'd expect (11.5 x 3) - 2) x 37.4 = 1215 total.

However, you might note that in the initial test, I got 76 in 20 minutes, or 76/(20/60) = 228 qph. That was valid, but much higher. It was during the period when dinner was winding down, and nearly bedtime. There were similar "bursts" Saturday, as well as lulls.

To be scientific, I'd have to change a lot of things. They can't know I'm counting. There were several "Can I click it?", which I let them do, since that would tally the question they just asked - to click it. They'd also ask "What number is that?" on the clicker. They of course wouldn't have done either of these if I hadn't been using it. I probably also missed several because I just wasn't thinking about it.

In fact, to be scientific, I can't know I'm counting, because I might subconsciously set them up for more or fewer questions. Basically, you'd have to surreptitiously record a family, and then have some grad student(s) independently make transcripts and tally the questions, hoping they agree on the final count, while the professor plays golf.

Yeah, I analyze data for a living.

Since I was counting "sentences that would end with a question mark," there were a lot of repeats, like when I couldn't understand the first time and asked them "Sorry, what was that?" Some professors might exclude these. I was counting those little "Okay?" or "See?" inflections. Some might not. It's all in the methodology, which later would go into the "review of studies" literature. In fact, maybe I should submit this for an Ig Nobel prize, though to really have a shot, I think I'd have to design it as an identical-twin study.

During my four hours with just Andrew, he tallied about 200 on his own. Almost none of them had anything to do with football. Overall, I'd say Ellen was responsible for 10%, and the boys split the rest at 45% each. That's to be expected at their respective ages.

On the next version, I think I'll count sentences that begin with "I want."

September 8th+

Ellen says "butt" in the way we sometimes say it teasingly, which is hard to convey in words. Like, instead of "but," it's more like "buuut" in a hillbilly sort of way.
This morning, as I was about to walk out the door, I heard Ellen entertaining herself (45 minutes before the green light), so I succumbed to her siren song and paid a visit. She immediately asked to get up, of course, but reminding her of the light was enough; that thing's worth its weight in gold. I asked about her diaper, she said dry, I took it off, it was wet, but she didn't want/need to go potty, so I just trusted her and her bare butt on her bed. We played for a bit ("Bite me, monster!"), then I got a smooch and off I went.

It's a fab way to start a day.
Upon her getting home yesterday: We've never really discussed it, especially with them, and their teeth aren't looking to come out anytime soon, so she was quite taken aback. Surely the nanny or one of her kids said something, included something about fiction versus reality.

My thought is that I have a hard time keeping up a lie; Santa is a pain in my brain, and he's enough. I think I'll say that the tooth fairy is a fun thing to pretend, and we can pretend she's a real thing, but it's really us.
Liss has straight up warned me that she's going to be obsessive when it comes to choosing the boys' Kindergarten. I think the paperwork and such are due in March if we don't want our zoned school, so this might be a long six months. :-D

The real tragedy here is that our zoned school is her school - the one where she works. But despite the advantages of simple commute, knowing who the best teachers are, and full-day being free, it'll probably be about our fourth choice.

And then, all we can do is list choices in order of preference. The actual assignment is out of our hands. It's entirely possible, even, that the boys will assigned to two different schools, which is neither is hers, would logistics especially ... odd.
The common lore on the 'net is that a four-year-old asks an average of 437 questions a day. That seems low to me. But then, I have two of them.

I bought one of those hand-counters. No, seriously, I bought one just to count their questions. I did a test last night - 76 questions in 20 minutes. I checked at regular intervals, and they were pretty consistent with the rate. Ellen was included there, for maybe five of those questions, and I fought with myself over whether to double-count repeated questions, or if they were sounding back what I'd said "Five minutes, guys." "Five minutes?" In the end, I've decided that anything that would be written with a question mark at the end will count, and only those that I hear.

So, let's call it 4 per minute among them. They're awake from about 8am to 7:30, which is 690 minutes, or a pace for 2,760 questions a day. More data shall be collected, but that's what I get from this initial test. It was 20 minutes that they were probably more interactive than average (just after dinner), but not remarkably so. The counter, thanks to my wise foresight, goes to four digits. I just hope its ball bearings can hold up.
The boys still play a game on my phone for five minutes a day(*), which lately has been a baseball game. Because of the complexity of actual baseball, and the fact that I'm playing a full season, I've had them doing home run derby instead of the actual games. However, Andrew noticed the difference, and wanted to play the real thing. Thats' some monkey see, monkey do, which Bobby then wanted the same thing, and there we go.

In two innings between them, they were outscored 9-2. I'm pretty sure the play by play went something like this: You get the idea. Actually, I'm amazed Bobby scored two runs.

I have since discovered that there's an "exhibition" setting, so that'll be the compromise from now on, rather than spoiling my season for ten minutes a day. *shakes old man fist*

(*) So does Ellen, but she doesn't claim the right much, and will often declare herself done before her five minutes are up.
Liss had a work thing last night, so it was just me and the kids. After dinner we went outside to play baseball, and Ellen was happily tapping a ball with a bat all over the place. However, she'd brought her favorite stuffed animal, Big Monkey, and left him on a bench. After stories, when it was time for me to say good night to her, she said she wanted him, and the hunt was on. I told her to wait on her bed while I looked, which was sort of a test (she passed). It's a good thing I'd seen her put him on the bench, as it was actually far away from where we were playing. But since I was out there to get him anyway ... I got the mail.

By the time I got back, she was almost out already.
The kids are stoked to go on a plane to Minnesota for Christmas, but there's theory, and then there's practice. They will, after all, be 35,000 feet above the Earth in a loud cylinder filled with strangers. There's also the waiting, with baggage check, security check, sitting at the gate, sitting in the seat while everyone else boards (since we'll be one of those "families with small children" boarding first), sitting during the flight, getting the bags, etc. We'll go over all of this between now and then - I can tell them about turbulence and the ear popping during landing and being able to see clouds five miles down - but again, it's all theory, and kids learn by doing.

I flew solo from Texas to New Jersey when I was 5 1/2, though, already a seasoned pro, so maybe I'm over-worrying.
Ellen reached three mornings in a row with dry nighttime diapers, a record streak broken by a pooptastic Saturday. However, she slept an hour past the green light (to 9am) Sunday morning, and stayed dry, so that's encouraging. Monday morning, not dry, so her need to reach seven in a row starts over.

Soon, soon, we shall be a diaper-free household. Based on the number left in the current box, and her rate of wet/dry, I think we're at least done buying them, and we don't have to launder the cloth ones anymore, so really they're already far less a thing than, say, when she was born and we had three kids wearing them 24/7. I estimate we were going through 25 a day at the peak. We're even considering switching to a smaller weekly garbage can, since the recycle bin gets the bulk of our refuse.
After we read books, the boys can smooch Ellen good night if they want (and she agrees). The usual MO lately is for her to "run away" into her room; they follow her and smooch her there, and they all laugh at their cleverness. Well, Bobby's taken it a step further, usually asking "Can I smooch your butt?," and following through when he gets a positive response.
After the football game (below), Bobby and I met up with everyone else at a friends' house, in theory to play games amongst ourselves while the kids - I don't know quite what. It didn't happen, as the four kids there did what they do, which is take up everyone's time and attention. The only way to get away with what we wanted to do was to have one or two adults take all of the kids away to their own play, but there weren't enough adults - especially of the "I'll take on four kids!" persuasion - for us to do that.

In future years, the kids will be able to entertain themselves and each other better, maybe with their own games. The boys have started playing a memory game they got for their birthday, and it's almost to the point where they can play it without an adult without getting into some argument within five minutes - almost. Maybe they're six months away? I hope so. There are tons of games that they can learn once they can deal with being good losers or good winners and remembering/following rules, especially with a deck of cards. Ellen, of course, is much farther behind than they are.

We try to have our own game nights, but it's hard to get people to come over for just 8-10 or so, i.e. after the kids' bedtime but before ours.
On Saturday we did some divide and conquer, with Liss taking Ellen to a potluck for her new pre-school, and giving the boys a choice of that or joining me at a restaurant/sports bar to watch the Aggies play football. Bobby chose to come with me. I told him ahead of time that I wanted to stay for the whole game(*), and we brought their new favorite book and a pre-fab lunch to help with that.

The place was the new home of the Seattle alumni of our opponent; they had partially moved there because it was supposed to be a more kid-friendly place. It turned out to be okay for that, at least as far as sports bars go. We were in an annex area, which was sort of cavernous and therefore loud, but he held up fine. The "home" crowd brought him a little coloring book and crayons, he ate his lunch and half of my fries, and spent half the time in my lap. At one point, he asked how long until we'd leave; that was at 1:30, and I said around 4, and a couple of similar inquiries were more in the "I'm just curious" vein rather than "Get me out of here." Considering our history with such things, often leaving at halftime or in the fourth inning of baseball games or whatever else, this was a big improvement.

At the end, I told him he was so good, that I was going to give him three cubes when we got home. He was ecstatic, and in fact it might have been too much, because Andrew got jealous, even though Bobby's cubes benefit him and Ellen as well. The next time, Andrew wants to go with me just so he can stay the whole time and earn lots of cubes. I guess that's fine, but I'm more interesting in the means, not the ends.

After the game, Bobby's car seat was directly in the sun, which I couldn't do anything about, poor guy. The "solution" was that he fell asleep.

(*) Which I'd have rescinded in case of a blowout in either direction, but he didn't need to know that, and it wasn't anyway.
I'm convinced that when Ellen is her super charming self around women of child-bearing age, she triggers premature ovulation.
The boys ask about age and growth and so on a lot - how people grow until they're about 20, and they'll grow faster in their teens, and so on. Yesterday, they asked how old our cars are - the van is 11, the sedan 16.


Bobby: "Then why is the van bigger!?"
Ellen formally started soccer on Saturday. I didn't know that at her age, the class is parent-participatory, so that was quite a surprise. It's odd how putzing around with her informally in the unused section was fun, but this was annoying. I think it's the toddler-centered "isn't this awesome!?" coaching style. Plus, I couldn't visit with Amy or the boys in their class. Apparently we'll get weaned off participating as the class continues.

Our friends' son, a month older than Ellen, is also in the class, and he definltey brought his get-into-everything mentality. That's perfectly normal at that age, but his dad brought up that our two were the youngest in the class (of five), and there was a big difference between ours and those six months older, which is true.

We're probably going to skip the winter session, between general holiday madness and the $500 it costs to sign up three kids.

Speaking of soccer, the boys have started playing with the goal they got for their birthday, mostly with one of them playing goalie and the other trying to get it in. The dynamics are interesting. Bobby just extends his arms - holding the top of the goal - and legs to form a big X, and expects that to stop everything. It doesn't, especially now that Andrew's learned to get up close and dink it in. I tell Bobby the same thing I tell Andrew - that he can move up and grab the ball for the save - but he never gets out of his X, and his second level of "defense" is to get mad at Andrew for dribbling close.

Andrew, on the other hand, is more what you'd expect in a goalie, moving to the side where the ball goes, sometimes even coming up to grab the ball. When I join them, it adds a big element to this, since the boy on offense and I can pass to each other, making the goalie adjust. The idea is to teach both of them about the team aspect of the game, passing and sharing, as well as getting used to those adjustments (and re-adjustments), though for now that usually means that Daddy should pass it so the boy can shoot it in.

Liss used to coach 5th graders, and the big joke was that the only thing she had to do during games was yell "spread out!" over and over, because they'd always glom around the ball instead of spreading out and passing like you're supposed to do. So, I guess playing with newly-four-year-olds probably won't be full of what we call "field awareness."

September 1st+

Andrew has had his first endocrinology tests regarding his smallness - two separate blood draws and a wrist x-ray at our main clinic. The x-ray is to see if the fusion of the bones is happening at the expected rate, which is an indicator of overall growth. The blood is for before-and-after levels of four different kinds of ... hormones? I'm not sure.

Of the eight blood numbers, all but one was solidly normal, and another on the low end of normal. The x-ray confirmed that he's growing more slowly than normal, which since he's already in the <1st percentile for weight for his age, everyone already knew.

So the question is, what now? My own opinion hasn't changed, mostly based on my own experience. I was always the smallest boy in my class, lost my teeth late, hit puberty late, and so on, but now I'm 5'8" and it's no big thing. For a while the narrative was that I looked young (and still do) and was a late bloomer, but eventually I decided that I'm aging more slowly than most people.(*) I don't see any reason to think the boys are any different.

Based on that and the test results, I don't see any reason to take Andrew to Children's for more tests and possibly hormone treatments or whatever else. We don't have his doctor's final recommendations yet, but I can't see her pushing it very hard.

(*) Also supported on the other end - my family tree is full of people who lived into their 80s, even a few hundred years ago.
A couple of days ago, I was reading to the boys, and following the words with my finger, when Andrew started to do it, basically forcing my hand away. Now, with that book at least, he does it every time, and occasionally with others. He doesn't follow exactly right, but that's not the point. It's that he's practicing, and made the clear jump that each word follows in a particular sequence (left to right, up to down).

There is no correlation between how early a kid learns to read and success later, and we've known that for some time (Liss being an elementary teacher and all), so we're not pushing or anything, but we're still looking for the signs and helping when we think they're ready to take another step.
We have an idea for next year, with the boys in Kindergarten, to have our friends' nanny - who currently just looks after their son - to also get Ellen. The kids already know and like each other, he's in the same pre-school, and I'm sure that nanny wouldn't mind more money for what is essentially a much easier kid than their high-energy boy. We need to hammer out details with his parents, but I think it'll work fine.

What we have to avoid is telling the kids about this. It's not that we want to hide it from them, or even hide it from our current nanny, who knows this is her last year; it's that if the kids knew, they would tell her about it All The Time. They still have no idea about tact, and we don't need them accidentally needling her every few days.
Word is that Ellen loved her first day of pre-school.
With the boys' new beds on the medium-height setting, at first they needed their little stools to get into them. A couple of weeks ago, they showed me that, with quite a bit of effort, they could climb in without the stools. However, they didn't want to get rid of the stools yet; they still liked having the option. That's when I told them something that may or may not have been a good idea. I said that, if they could do without the stools, Ellen couldn't get into their beds. The stools were gone the next day.

It's not this actual case that might be bad - their bed is their personal space, and they can dictate who gets on it - but the precedent. I might have just planted the seed of "How can I make things more difficult for my sister?"
While I was watching a Phillies game, a player got his 2000th career hit. The broadcast got a shot of his happy wife, cheering his accomplishment, while she held their newborn, and the thing that immediately caught my attention was that the kid was sucking on a wubbanub.

What the hell has happened to me?
Most of the TV's "on" time is when the kids are in bed, but sometimes I'll have it on, usually to have sports in the background. They can't learn to care if they never see it, eh? Well, they were getting into the habit of asking about the commercials every time they came on. We've explained how the idea is to get us to buy something, we don't like them, and I mute them, but it still got to the point where we just say that we don't want to talk about the commercials.

Since we dropped cable, I've looked for other ways to get my sports, and baseball came through(*) with a deal for streaming the rest of the season via our Roku to the TV. It appears, however, that MLB and the content providers may have had a sticking point with regards to commercial revenue, or something. The result? During the commercial breaks on the video stream, they just put up a thing that says "Commercial Break," with no audio. Sweet!

(*) Except we can't get Mariners games due to their archaic blackout rules, though we can get the audio.
It's the first day of school, and Liss his helping with the Kindergarten class at her work. She says there are as many parents crying as kids. She says the drop off next year might have to be my job, to which I pointed out that the boys will be in two different classes, to which she says that those classes will be next to each other. We'll see. I actually want to be there, so my presence isn't an issue.
Ellen: "I'm Mommy! I'm cooking and drinking!"
Two years ago, we had trouble with our smoke detectors beeping at us once a minute at 3am two nights in a row, waking the kids and causing great annoyance until I was able to figure out the problem. That's when the boys were barely two, and they still talk about it, especially Andrew. I think that's going to be their official First Memory.

The thing is, they're afraid of fire. That's a good thing, but they bring it up all the time, especially when I'm saying good night in their beds (and they see the detector's light in the darkness). Then they get scared of the concept, say "let's not talk about it anymore" - a very reasonable thing - and then usually bring it up again.

And then some of the questions are pretty bad, like "What happens if we can't get out?" "What if there's a hole in the floor?" "What if your detector doesn't work?" They've never seen the real damage fire can do, either to people or property, and thank goodness, because I think they'd be really freaked out if they had. For a long time, I've thought about taking them to the carport and doing some controlled burning as a safety lesson, but for now, I'm afraid of pushing this fear button even harder.

I mean, the real truth is that the odds of a fire are tiny, the odds of the detectors working are very high, and so on, but odds don't work on a four-year-old. In their black and white world, any chance is worth being frightened of.

I wonder if they're old enough for a fire drill; the idea would be to let them know they have some control over their reaction in case something happens, but again with the fear buttons. I know they say "face your fears!," but that's for people who have the tools to face them.
The boys were the first kids among our inner social group, and so they're now the oldest. Sometimes I wish we had easy access to slightly older kids, like five and six, to act as unwitting models for them. We tell them that bigger kids do x and don't do y, but they never see it, and they learn much better by seeing.

That'll change when they hit Kindergarten, since they'll be near the youngest in their class, but by all signs, they'll be among the most literate and mathematical, so who knows where they'll lie on the less tangible things?
Throughout the boys' lives, I always looked forward to their being older, and continue to do so. They're still high strung, always need supervision, can't go very long without fighting, etc.

Ellen's the same in the lot of ways, but something about her makes me much less anxious for her to grow up. Sure, I'd like to her stop yelling and hitting at the drop of a hat, and marked preference for her mother over me, but those'll go away. What I'm afraid might also go away are her sweet innocence and precocious curiosity, all wrapped in a super cute, highly portable package.

She's also probably going to have body image issues, and those are conversations we do not look forward to.
Last night, going upstairs for bedtime, Ellen was being her Stallerina self, asking me to come back downstairs and carry her after I'd already gotten most of the way up, so I told her no more stalling, honey; your legs work fine.


"My legs break!"
Bob, in disgust: "Why are you guys always talking about safety!?"
Amy, to me: "You deserve some very snarky children."
Ellen's pre-school teacher came for a home visit. I've never heard of that, but it's a co-op, so I guess there's a lot of things they do differently. Anyway, she seemed okay, though most of the time I was wrangling the boys and another boy we were watching. She and Liss sat and chatted and interacted with Ellen for maybe an hour, and neither ran away screaming, so I guess it's on. She's only going for a few hours a week for now, but next year it may be a lot more.

All of the parents get assigned off-site jobs as part of making the place run. We got ... the newsletter.

August 25th+

Liss was enraged last night to discover that Ellen was wearing a cloth diaper. She hadn't worn one in weeks. Somehow the nanny - who is clearly behind the times - found a cover and a cloth to put on her after a food-induced accident. Ellen was furious when Liss took it off her. I guess she found it comforting, but them's the breaks, kid.
Ellen seems very musical for her age, and I've written quite a few things, so it's not hard to imagine that she and I might write music together. Liss says that nothing would make her happier - literally - and I can't argue. Perhaps they'll start with "Written by James and Ellen Munger," then evolve to "Ellen and James" then "Ellen" with my name just being among the thanks in the liner notes of her latest CD.

We let our minds go wild sometimes.
Ages ago, like when he first learned that he had a choice, Andrew said that he only liked that name - not Drew, or Andy, or especially my Drewbie-Doo (reference). I was sad when I had to let it go, but now it's back! But, after willing myself not to say it, it's been hard to remember that it's okay again.
When outside playing sports stuff with the kids, I'll do this involuntary "pfft!" sound of dismissal whenever I fail, like swinging to miss a pitched ball, air-balling a basketball, etc. At first, the boys asked why I did it, and I don't remember what I said, but apparently I've done it often enough that they've picked up on it. However, instead they blow a raspberry - tongue out, "pppp!" They think it's hilarious. They do it when I mess up, but they also do it when they mess up, so I guess it's just a building block toward sportsmanship.
Ellen is quick to yell, and quick to loudly demand something. We constantly have to remind that that's not how you get what you want. In fact, we do it so often, that we don't have to show her how to ask anymore; she just doesn't think to ask nicely the first time yet. However, the back and forth is usually something like this: That is, she's clearly just going through the motions, though I think there's that tiny spark of "oh, yeah, my bad" that she would never admit to.
We use big words around the kids; the idea is that if you want them to speak well, you need to do it for them first. We encourage them to ask what a word is that they don't know. At dinner, Ellen and Liss had this conversation: I actually think Ellen got the joke, or at least she wasn't frustrated, which is easy enough to do.
The kids have been fired up about the impending trip to Minnesota for Christmas, and they ask a lot of questions. One took me surprise yesterday, from Andrew: "Will we still go to bed at 7 when we're in Minnesota?" There must have been some discussion about that before, because I don't think they know anything about time zones - even after I attempted to explain in response. It's certainly something we need to consider, though. Do we keep their bedtime at 9am Central, hoping they'll wait for the green light at 10am Central?

At Christmastime?
Last night Liss's phone rang next to me, so I picked it up. On the other end was her mother, who asked "Is the queen of the house home?" Thanks to caller ID, I was already walking her way, and handed it to her. Only a second later, I thought of the better response:

"No, she's asleep. Would you like to talk to her mother?"
Slowly but surely, Bobby has become the big brother, at least as far as maturity goes. It's been so slow, that I only really just noticed it this past weekend. He's still irrational and selfish, but he's gotten a lot better at keeping his outbursts minimal. You'll see him getting emotional over something, and trying really hard to listen to us and keep himself in check. We've even seen him remove himself from situations, as we've suggested to all of them multiple times; he'll go to his room or just the stairs to sit by himself.
Today Liss brought the kids to eat lunch with me at the food court by my work. Andrew was being extra affectionate, randomly hugging my arm and then neck and then asking for smooches.

I'll take it.
From two months ago:
Ellen wanted to go nude [to bed], but that just gave Liss the opening that, if Ellen could have seven mornings in a row with a dry diaper, she could start going nude (or just underwear) to bed. I don't think it'll happen for some months, though.
She did two nights out of three (last four nights Yes, No, Yes, No), so it looks like Christmas will be a no-brainer. For our part, we need to get her on the potty a.s.a.p. in the mornings so she doesn't "lose" the dry for the wrong reasons. That sort of thing will be easier when she can open doors, but that brings its own set of new challenges. However, when that happens, I think we'll be able to get rid of her monitor, or at least the receiver in our room. She never wakes up, but if she were to do so, I wouldn't want her to have no way of waking us short of yelling through two closed doors.
From May:
We told the boys they could come into our room to help with an emergency if we didn't respond from the monitor, with examples of blood, puke, poop, and pee. Last night at 2am, Bobby became the first to actually do it - saying his water bottle was low. I believe some recalibration is in order.

It wouldn't be so bad if we didn't have sleep problems, but it took both of us an hour to drift back.
Last night he came in at 3:45 about to break down in tears because the band-aid on his knee was "wiggling." Fortunately, I got back to sleep in a reasonable amount of time this time, though no idea about Liss. At the time, she said "that was a new low," but I'm not sure it beats the water bottle.
Bobby was having some milk at dinner, as usual, and for some reason he took such a big set of gulps that at the end, he was gasping like a race horse. "I *puff* finished *puff* my milk *puff*."

Slow down, kid.
Amy and I took the boys to soccer while Liss took Ellen on errands. It was parents' day at soccer, so we thought - since the boys were in two separate classes - that we'd both be needed, but they combined the classes for the day, so Amy could have stayed in bed after all. As it was, since we were out there, the coach had the kids introduce themselves, along with "who brought you?" That was the first of many references to Amy (by the adults) as "their mom." It's not a rare thing at all, so by now we just go with it.

I took a management class last year that included some personality testing that determines where your brain gets its motivations, and then they give you little colored bricks to put in your order and keep around your cube here at work; tons of people have these. Mine in order were blue (details), green (community), red (leadership), then yellow (sunny). The last two were way below the first two. The first two give me energy; the second two take it away. None of this probably surprises anyone.

The boys' coach was a bright, bright yellow. He's the kid of person who should be in front a group of little kids. We adults took his cheerfulness in stride and played along, which is easy enough when you know it's only for 45 minutes.

At one point we were to avoid the kids while they tried to kick soccer balls to our feet. Meh, it was okay. Then it was reversed, and we were supposed to [gently] kick them with balls. That was highly satisfying.

This was the last class of the 12-week session, so the kids got progress cards, except with the combining of classes, they screwed up and gave one to Bobby but no Andrew. Well, that simply can't fly. He asked the coach over and over again (while he was talking to Amy), asked me, where's my card, etc. The coach went to make him one, and he still asked. When he finally (to him) got it a few minutes later, he started asking me again why he didn't get one at the same time as Bobby. Dude, you got your card.

The next session starts soon, and Ellen is now old enough and clearly interested. The only good weekend date/time that the boys' class (they're now to be in the same one) and hers is late Sunday mornings, so we'll be switching to then. It's better anyway, as Saturdays usually have more going on.
I think I saw some new growth to replace Bobby's lost toenail, so it was time to pick up some anti-fungal cream to prevent a repeat performance. Liss made the trip to the store, where she found that it's not marketed for nails at all, but only as jock itch cream.

Supply and demand, I guess.
We all went to a housewarming party recently, where our friends had a couple of belated birthday presents for the boys. They were a police officer (Andrew) and a doctor (Bobby) costume. The funny thing (to me) is that the wrapping wasn't labeled, so who got which was completely random, but that doesn't stop them from being completely possessive of them.
Saturday the kids were using some toy or other as a pretend remote control, except they'd use it to control us. Fortunately, the only actions were "On/Off" and "Dance." This game had the unfortunate names of "Turn On Mommy" and "Turn On Daddy."

As for the other button, there was definitely a "Dance, monkey, dance!" aspect to their sudden faux-power over us.
Sunday Liss went to get a haircut, so I was asking the kids what they wanted to do while she was gone. They wanted to go to a friend's house a few blocks away. So, that's what we did - in order to get out of the house, we went to his house. They spent maybe 20 minutes outside, and then an hour ... in his house.
When I interviewed for my current job two years ago, I got the standard/[lazy] "What's your greatest weakness?" question. I said something about not knowing how to deal with irrational behavior, which is true; I was specifically thinking of a current co-worker. If someone's not doing their work done, even though they know it has to happen, then I don't know what to do about it, because I'm such a rational person.

I think that's why I have so much trouble with the kids sometimes. They're incredibly irrational. I know other people will think "well, duh" to that, but going in, I really had no idea.

August 18th+

From Liss:
Sometimes I wish James and I could go out more, have more weekends away. Often I wish my children would fight and scream less.

But then when I took my mom to the airport this morning, we saw what must have been a mother dropping her son off for college. They were crying and Mom and I both teared up. Even though my own boys won't be leaving for college for 14 years.

Mommy hormones are powerful.
"I was hoping the apple would far farther from the tree."
At the boys' checkup, the doctor expressed concern about their weight, especially Andrew's, and said maybe it's time to consult an endocrinologist. Well, Liss took him in yesterday for other stuff (leg rash), and the doctor said hey, since he's here, let's take blood and do the endo tests. Liss bribed him with the promise of a treat, and they went ahead.

Initial results are negative/normal for - whatever it is they were looking for.
The kids like to climb onto the edge of the sofa and jump onto it, jump across, then to the other sofa, around and around. We've resigned ourselves to running our existing furniture into the ground until they're calmer people, so we just let them do it.

This weekend I lay myself on the sofa while Ellen was doing this circuit, encouraging her to jump onto me, which I took to mean she'd gently fall in my general direction. Well, that's not what happened, and is a testament to her growth. She went full-on WWE on me. "Oof!" Thankfully, she only weighs about 26 pounds.
It looks like we've found a pre-school for Ellen, starting in a couple of weeks, though just one day a week. The situation's a little dicey, in that it's a co-op, meaning that parents are supposed to volunteer time - a lot of time, like a full day for every three days the kid is there. The admissions people, upon hearing of our situation, i.e. that we both work, said that they didn't have any dual-working families. Well, no shit - that because we can't be in two places at once. So, whether they realize it or not, they're set up for single-working households.

We found a solution, though; our friends' kid already goes there with his nanny (they too are dual-working), but the nanny sticks around. So, she'll cover Ellen's time in addition, and we'll throw a little money their way to cover her time. We couldn't do that with our nanny, because she still needs to take care of the boys while Ellen's in her school.

The trade-off is reduced tuition relative to normal pre-schools, and that part's actually quite reasonable.

Liss came up with a plan for Ellen for next year already, when the boys start Kindergarten - have that friend's nanny take her in addition to him. Ellen and the boy get along great - they're four months apart - and I'm sure that nanny wouldn't mind the extra money for such an easygoing girl. That means letting go of our current nanny, but that's already the expectation on all sides.

We'll also need to revisit Ellen's pre-school situation, since we'll be saving on nanny and the boys' school costs. Liss thinks Ellen might be able to start 1st grade at 5 1/2, instead of Kindergarten.
I was awake Sunday morning from midnight to 3am, after Bobby had a bad dream. The day reinforced the hypothesis that amount of sleep is directly proportional to length of patience.

This was also on display during our two days away; I had similar problems Friday morning, but because we were away, when I finally got back to sleep, I could stay asleep, waking up later (9) than I remember doing for some years now.
Me: "You want me to carry you, Ellebear?"
E: "No. I got it."

August 11th+

I'm not going home tonight; Liss is picking me up at the train station, and we're going away for a couple of days while her parents take care of the kids. However, I didn't know that I wasn't going home until we hashed out the timing late last night. So, while normally we'd like the kids to sleep to the green light, it was a [not-surprising] fortune that they all woke up before I left for work. I was able to explain how I wasn't coming home, I'd see them after soccer, etc. They were all very sweet about it.

The plan is to finally see Batman tonight, the Mariners game Friday night, and ... no idea what else. And that's okay.
I seem to have neither the energy to be entertaining nor the patience to deal with the fighting if I fail to provide enriching entertainment.
From Liss:
Around the boys' birthday, we got a letter in the mail about all their immunizations. The chart showed zero shots for age 4, so they were pretty excited about their check-up.

So of course as soon as we walked in, after I did a litte questionnaire about their verbal and social skills, the nurse handed me consent forms for 4 shots apiece. Oops. She also had the hearing test machine ready to go and little green gowns for them to put on.

Height and weight first: both were 3-foot-1; Andrew 28 pounds and Bobby 29. Tiny, tiny boys, except you can't say that without suffering their enormous wrath. Except they really are. In fact, the doctor brought it up right away: maybe we should consider growth/endocrinology testing on Andrew. The difference between 28 and 29 pounds doesn't sound like much, but it's the difference between 4th percentile and pretty much zero. If anything weird turns up for Andrew, we can get Bobby looked at too. Ugh. And of course this mostly at Children's Hospital, which is excellent but Out-of-Network. I'm not going to turn this into a political entry, I promise, but really? We shouldn't be making decisions about our kids' health based on money.

-Ahem- So they're little. Blood pressure, pulse, blood oxygen fine. They both thought the hearing test was a hoot. Bobby had trouble at first remembering to raise his hand for the beeps, but they both did fine. The doctor examined all their parts, made them jump, balance and bend, quizzed us about Andrew's asthma, and declared them perfectly healthy, if microscopic. We're going to try lowering Andrew's asthma medicine dosage. She even agreed that since his celiac antibody test came back negative at their diabetes study (yay gluten-free cooking!), we don't need to take him back to the gastroenterologist this year. And she told us that we didn't have to subject the boys to shots right away, just get them done before kindergarten. Good; I don't lying to my children.

Now we need to compare all our insurance information and decide how to go about this endocrinology gig.
For reference, the other two boys at last week's beach thing are essentially exactly the same age, but 37 and 40 pounds, and maybe 4 and 6 inches taller.

Also, their balls have dropped. So, yay grandkids!
Via Liss, kids playing with their second-hand toy kitchen:
We let the kids have ice cream a fair amount, especially as something to get them out of the house on the weekends, but we're finding that 4:30pm is too late for that while still expecting them to eat anything for dinner two hours later. So, we've mostly moved it to after lunch, which to me seems kind of odd, like one doesn't normally get dessert/treats after lunch. But there we are.
The kids all got temporary tattoos from a birthday party. Ellen wanted hers on her back. Her lower back.

My two-year-old daughter has a tramp stamp.
Ellen's cloth diapers and covers are out of sight, out of mind, stowed in the garage. We needed to do it before the nanny came back full time, because she'd use them, especially if Ellen asked. Ellen wears underwear (or nothing) all the time now, except for bedtime, when she gets disposable nighttime diapers. This is half of the battle toward full potty training.
Yesterday the kids wanted to "play" Scrabble, meaning putting letters on the board and racks and asking how many Bs there are and so forth. Ellen was naked, and at one point I looked over to find a tile halfway inside her vagina.

I don't know which tile it was.

Scrabble, anyone?

August 4th+

So, four days in Ocean Shores. Here's where we were, for reference.

Besides us, there were two other families coming, with three kids among them. They were people we'd met online in a due-date community when the boys were feti, so there were two other four-year-old boys, as well as a toddler girl, for six kids total.

We were a little stymied by the packing aspect of things. There would be beach time, but relatively cold beach time, plus all those meals and unknown sleeping arrangements and so forth. Each kid got their own suitcase, but there was enough room to include things like one of the green lights, three books per kid, etc. In fact, we were so paranoid about the whole thing, we were pretty much done with packing about three hours before we were set to leave. However, they were still finding more things they wanted to take. Putting everything in the car didn't help. So, I suggested we go to the "train Target," which was on the way, to spend some of their energy in the play area, and we'd eat there. Liss took no time to accept.

Bobby and I had this exchange: I mean, of course I'm going to let them bring comfort animals, but I guess he needed my permission, which either makes me look like a benevolent dictator, or a despot who just happens to let his minions do what they want from time to time.

Another side note about the packing - one of the suitcases has a Minnesota Twins luggage tag that Liss's family gave me as a stocking stuffer. It was the conversation piece of packing time. Why is that on there? Why can't mine have one?

Lunch at the Target's mall was fries for the boys, and Subway for the rest of us. There just weren't many gluten-free options. The kids got chocolate milk. When we left, Ellen left hers on the table - not having drunk any for some time - so I downed it and tossed the cup.

Over two hours later, with roughly twenty minutes left to drive, Bobby said he needed to go. That was fair enough, so I pulled into the first place I could find. They didn't have a toilet - they had a port-o-potty outside by the road. I asked if they could wait - monkey see, monkey do, so Andrew was also in tow - and they said no. I opened the door, they caught a whiff. I asked again. They said yes, they could wait.

That's when Ellen said she wanted her chocolate milk, and was pissed that we didn't happen to have it on us. She yelled about it for the rest of the drive.

And then, when we got there [first], there was no key. The combination lock that housed it was open and empty. This was at 4:30. The other families showed up soon after, and then ... the housekeeper. We weren't supposed to check in until 5, and she had a couple of last-minute things to do, apparently. So, we waited - and I suggested the boys pee in the bushes. Andrew did, Bobby held it.

To pass the time, some of us went to check out the beach. As you can see from the picture, it's about 500 feet from the house, on a path through tall grass and a few shrubs. Well, we spent more time on that path than on the beach. The only kid who liked it right away was Ellen, and that was only when getting ready to go back, Liss buried her own feet in the sand, which Ellen wanted to do. However, after ten minutes of that, back they came as well. That's when we learned a lesson - don't let Bobby go to the beach in sandals. With no nail on his big toe, even with double band-aids, sand is going to get ... everywhere.

By that time, the other families had seen the house from the inside, and claimed their bedrooms. We ended up with the basement bedroom, which was fine, as it had a double bed and was farthest from where the kids would sleep. All of the kids but the little girl were playing stomp rockets on the driveway, so I helped with that while most of the other adults settled in. The kids did this for 45 minutes, which is forever for any four-year-old to do one thing, especially taking turns.

The house was odd. It was clear that they had done a lot of work, with the sole goal of increasing how many people could sleep there, and therefore how much they could charge. There were a lot of cut corners in the work, except for the well-done kitchen. There were five "bedrooms," only one of which could legally call itself that (i.e. has a window and a closet).

Another cut corner was the outside deck that faces the beach. Most of it's pretty nice, but on the south side it's old wood with plenty of splinters. It was sad to have to tell the kids to put on shoes just to go out to the deck.

Our kids ended up in a room with two twin beds that looked like it used to be a deck. Instead of regular doors, it had two sliding glass doors, and then curtains to block those that were too short to really do the job. That first night, with the novelty and Bobby and Ellen not wanting to share a bed, and so on, they were up for three hours after bedtime.

Another room had two twin beds - and the washer and dryer. Another had two twin beds, and not much else. Our room was a little stuffy, so when we went to bed, I tried to crack the window. After all, we were 500 feet from the ocean, so there must be a nice breeze all night long. Well, the window was locked shut. I couldn't find how to unlock it. This is a fire hazard. Plus, with no ventilation, I had trouble sleeping.

In the morning, not wearing my glasses yet, I noticed something black on the ceiling. By the time we'd gotten dressed for the day, we'd found three of them - millipedes - including one on the bed where I'd been lying. One came out of the floor moulding that had clearly been half-assed all over the house. They were about as long as my pinky, though not quite as round.

Say, did you know millipedes aren't insects, but are more closely related to lobsters and shrimp? Yeah, neither did I.

On Monday, the big event of the day was USA vs. Canada in women's soccer, which the other two families were really into (one family from Toronto). It was a good match, but touch and go around the kids' naps and quiet times and such. In fact, Ellen had quiet time with the boys, but we tried to get her to nap, too. No dice. Well, we needed a few things from the store, so I took her (Andrew mad that he couldn't go, too), and she was out by the time we got there, two miles away. I sat in the driver's seat in that parking lot for over an hour while she slept, thankfully with my smartphone to keep me occupied, though I should have thought ahead better and brought my book.

Sitting in a grocery store parking lot is a good way to get a feel for a community, though 2pm on a Monday is a skewed perspective. From that hour, though, Ocean Shores lost points with me.

As is typical when she wakes up from her nap, Ellen was inconsolable. I carried her to the front of the store, telling her we couldn't go in until she was nice, which took her about five minutes, but after that she was fine.

Back to the house, the living room is hard wood, with almost no furniture, and carries sound well. Six small children. Yeah.

Fortunately, all of the kids had the same bedtime, so there was no "why do I have to go to bed?" from anybody. Ellen switched to sharing a bed with Andrew, which wasn't much better, but at least they all went to sleep fairly quickly.

That night, we adults played our first round of Cards Against Humanity, with the best question/answer combination probably not being one my uncle will like: "What's good to the last drop?" "Hurricane Katrina."

For Tuesday, another dad brought out a $2 kite for more beach play. He got his money's worth. We had a devil of a time getting it to fly at all, though eventually there came to be maybe two minutes of sustained flight thirty feet up. Meanwhile, it was time after time of kids (and adults) trying and failing to get it to do anything. But at least that meant kids running and wearing themselves out.

Keeping the kids entertained and behaving well toward each other and so on was a big thing. We're not the sunshine type, though fortunately a couple of the parents were, at least for short bursts, but by Tuesday afternoon we were already starting to burn out - or at least I was.

That night, after bedtime, we were playing Cards again when the power went out. We kept playing while there was sunlight, but that faded away until ... the power came back on just in time. Really, we lucked out; it was only out for an hour, whereas a neighbor had said it's usually more like three, but the real coup was that it had happened while the kids were in bed. If it had been, say, in the middle of cooking dinner, there could have been utter choas.

The one exception to sleeping kids was the littlest girl, who'd had a long nap and was ready to party. She was fine to have around during our adult time, not getting into anyone's business except her mom's in a low-key way. During other times she was the youngest of six, unable to keep up. This time, she was the queen, getting all the attention.

Speaking of which, Ellen didn't take to her very well at all. Ellen's used to being the girl, used to being the youngest, and to trying to keep up with the boys. Now, all of a sudden, there's this other, smaller, younger girl all up in her business, clearly wanting to keep up with her. Eventually she crossed the line into bully. That was some new management we're not used to with our sweet Elliebelly.

By now, we'd determined that this whole endeavor will be much better in maybe four or six more years, when the kids can be downstairs with the millipedes, playing Uno or X-Box or whatever while we do whatever it is grownups do when they don't have six small children running around demanding our attention and intervention every minute. Along the same lines, we determined that water is wet, and that white rice is white.

By Wednesday morning, I was up to 11 millipedes exterminated via flushery.

Late that morning, four adults took five kids to a park, leaving two of us dads to work on some programming stuff we wanted to collaborate on, with the youngest girl napped. When she woke, we all met at an "Irish" pub, which our party subjected to great scrutiny despite being almost as far from Ireland as you can possibly get. Included in the excitement was a trip to the restroom with all three of my kids, which never fails to create a double take from any other guy who happens to come in.

We still hadn't, and never really could, solve the nap/quiet time dilemma. However, this time it solved itself, as Ellen fell asleep while the boys didn't. When they came out, Liss took them to the beach, while Ellen and I joined them after she woke.

The beaches there aren't what you might normally think of in a beach. The sand is dark and wet, it's cool and windy in the summer - cold and windy the other three seasons - and there's not much diversity of life. What little washes up on shore is pretty limited to clams, crabs, sand dollars, the occasional oyster, kelp, and wood. Most of the sea life is either dead or dying by the time the waves bring them up, the seagulls finish the job during every tide, then the bugs take the scraps. The gulls' efforts include poking holes in the shells; our group found five intact sand dollars during the trip, and several hundred broken ones. There are very few people, as well; not including our 12, at no point did I see more than five other people, and we could see a half mile in both directions.

We have some gray rocks around the landscaping of our house; on beach trips from the the few couple of days, I noticed the occasional small white rock. I figured these would look good scattered with the ones at home, as well as giving the kids a focus. After I took Ellen down there following her nap, I started to do just that, figuring that at least one kid would do what they do, which is turn on their Nosy switch (okay, it's always on) and want to join me. That's what Andrew did, while the other two stayed with their mother to build sand castles, i.e. fill a bucket with sand and then dump it out. Andrew was looking for unbroken sand dollars, and I was looking for white rocks, so we looked for both together. It took a long time - well over an hour, and we walked quite a ways - a little less than half a mile, looking down and going deliberately slowly so we could search. It was some nice bonding time; we found two decent shells, no complete sand dollars, and perhaps two dozen rocks. Andrew became my rock judge, throwing the "too yellow" ones back to the sand. He also spent a lot of that time breaking shells by dropping a large rock on them, which I figured the forces of nature were going to do anyway, so why not let him learn and such.

Liss had brought her iPhone speaker dock, obstentiably as a way to charge her phone, but by now it'd also found time as a white noise maker. She'd dock her phone, turn on a white noise app, and crank it a bit, so the kids wouldn't be woken by our adult hijinks at night. Soon, however, she found that the dock's radio had enough static between stations that she could use that and still have her addictive personal device.

However, that wasn't enough for Ellen. She was in a bad way that night, not falling asleep. We'd say good night, she'd get pissy, Liss would stay in the room reading her Kindle, then unsuccesfully try to sneak out, etc. The fun part - if you want to call it that - is that around 8 Liss said that she had to go eat her dinner, and she'd come back after that. Every once in a while we looked through the imperfect curtain to their room, and there she'd be, "reading" or playing with the sheet or otherwise not sleeping. We were deliberately slow - dishes! dessert! - but she would not be denied. By the time Liss went back in around 9 from the guilt, she was almost truthful in having to excuse herself because she had to go to bed. Ellen finally went to sleep around 9:20, some two hours after the boys.

We had to eat after their bedtime, you see, because six small dining children requires three adults as waitstaff. "I want milk!" "More blueberries!" Spills. Fighting. The list goes on.

For months, we'd told the boys that if the sky was right, and they could show that waking them up didn't mean they'd be cranky or resist going back to bed, we'd wake them to see the stars. Well, this was the first clear night (or day) since we'd arrived, and ... it wasn't worth the risk. Sure, there were many more stars than in the Big City, but not enough to breathlessly wake our four-year-olds to show them something we think is neat, but probably wasn't going to excite them. Plus, we dared not accidentally wake their sister after what she'd just pulled.

Thursday, another four-year-old was getting antsy, so his parents took him out and about. It was interesting to see the change in the kids' dynamics. It's not that he'd been behaving poorly during the week or anything, but he is four, and has the same "me first" wants and needs as the others, so his being away made things a little smoother for everyone for a few hours.

At one point, Ellen had her hands on the spray-on sunscreen, and was putting some on the legs of another dad. After she was done, she stood on the floor in front of him, pointed to the outside deck, and said in her bossiest voice, "Now go outside in the sun!"

We made our final trip to the beach, this time Bobby joining Andrew and I in hunting for sand dollars and white rocks. Once again we came up short on the dollars while finding several nice rocks. Fortunately I'd found two dollars early in the trip, so it's not like we really came away empty-handed on that front.

On the way, the kids were competing over who was "the leader," now that they weren't scared of the path (see picture) anymore. This caused much angst in Ellen, while the boys kind of traded off, but mostly Bobby led the way. On the way back, I enforced that Ellen lead, which sent Andrew into meltdown mode. Sometimes, you just can't win, because someone's going to feel left out.

Soon it was check out time. We cleaned up, packed our suitcases, downed the remnants of uneaten food. My millipede extermination total ended around twenty.

By that time, another mother was remarking how different our identical twin boys are. Yep.

Our plan was to feed the children, and then get something for ourselves on the road. In reality, when I parked-but-idled and Liss went inside to get us something, all three kids woke up, none to fall back asleep. Oops.

On the way, Ellen said "I'm peeing in my seat." Now, she's had one accident in the last three months, so we took that with a grain of salt, but figured it was as good a time as any for a pit stop. She hadn't after all, but all three kids peed in the grocery store we found, and we were the wiser for it. We just kind of took it on faith that she wouldn't have any troubles, but we also weren't being diligent enough about asking her.

The Canadian family - with one boy only - spent that night and the next at our house, which was pretty uneventful, except we started thinking the mom might smuggle Ellen across the border.

Our next trip is to Minnesota for Christmas, for which we considered this a dress rehearsal. There are some things that'll be new about that, like the airplanes and airport procedures and possible frigid temperatures and so on, but it's still a good foundation to what we can expect during travel and staying in an unfamiliar place.

And that was kind of that. Liss scheduled the trip so that I could go to work (and relax!) after six straight days of child care, bless her. She says she could do the job full time by herself if it came to it, like she does every summer, but me? Just the thought exhausts me.
It's funny 'cause it's true.

July 28th+

When we found out we were having identical twins, one thought that we had was that we could have them act. Productions with little kids often use identicals because of the hit and miss temperaments at that age. Well, we've figured that we can't do that with our boys. It's not the hair, which is fixable. We just don't think they look alike enough to be interchangeable, even to an audience that doesn't know them.
The boys are adamant that their beds are bigger than Ellen's. They have the exact same beds; it's just that they're height-adjustable, and theirs is medium height while hers is low.
Part of the bedtime routine is that, while Liss puts Ellen to bed in her room, I "hold" the boys for two minutes each, which basically involves lying in their beds and talking/playing/etc.

When Bobby gets mad at me, he'll refuse me, which is fine, but now their latest habit is to ask me "Can you leave?" partways into it, instead of waiting for the two minutes to be up. So I leave. I actually consider this part of their growing up process, so I'm not offended or anything. Mostly.

I think some of it might be because of what happens next. As soon as I leave, they get out of bed and "hide" behind their door and wait for Liss, which when she enters, causes them great glee as she "finds" them.
Ellen more or less goes without diapers all day now, except when we're going to drive a long way or otherwise be without restroom access for a while. She still wears them to bed. Part of Liss's strategy was to buy her seven pairs of Dora underwear - besides her being Ellen's favorite corporate-branded character, woo, we can do "You don't want to pee on Dora, do you?"
I got home a little early yesterday, to find Liss in the shower and all three kids playing on the bed. She clearly trusts them more than I do.
The ped removed Bobby's toenail, with little pain as he was distracted by Angry Birds on Liss's phone. We're to keep it clean and dry, and keep a band-aid on it as protection while the new one grows. When we see it start to come in(*), we're to use an OTC anti-fungal to keep the new one from also getting it.

(*) Note this would require looking at it, which may be a problem.
From Liss:
We've been going a LOT of places this summer. It's the best way to keep the kids civil and therefore the best way to keep myself sane. But Bobby's been complaining that we go too many places and he just wants to stay home. So I said great, let's stay home today. We can make granola (a perfect preschooler recipe) and watch the Olympics and maybe finish our thank-you letters from your birthday. We can ride bikes!

Sounds nice, right?

Yeah. Right. This is why we go places every damn day and why we will never finish our thank-you letters. They screamed for most of the day. Happy screams for the most part (though there was plenty of drive-your-sibling-crazy-just-because-you-can), but still. I managed not to scream back, but it was close. Why, WHY is screaming so fun? James was grouchy, I was cranky, it built on itself, blah. Thank goodness for Amy, who showed up in time to prevent bloodshed.

I did get to go out to dinner without children last night. It was good. Then I got to go get a pedicure and a croissant* all by myself this afternoon. 100 points for James. (Like we keep score, right? We do a good job of supporting each other.)

The hard part of the summer is over. This coming week I'm running a math camp in the mornings. Then the next week we're going to the beach** with friends and their families. Insane. A four-pack of 4-year-old boys, plus two smaller girls. I think it will be fantastic. I really hope it doesn't rain. Then the following week my parents come. There's still plenty of time left for just me-and-kids, but it'll be broken up now into manageable chunks. I don't know how some of y'all do this all the time. Preschool, I guess? Screen time? Flat-out bribery?

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a feminist parent, both for my girl and for my boys. It's a lot of superficial stuff, but it adds up. For example: I've started wearing makeup more regularly this year because of the lupus rashes. Now that it's part of my daily routine, the kids come in and want to try everything out, which is fine. But when Ellen is done she'll say, "Now I'm beautiful!" Oh, honey. You were always beautiful--and smart, and kind, and funny. The nanny calls her "princess," though if anything she is a ninja queen. I worry that she'll grow up with my chubby, short figure, decide at 6 that she's fat (as I did) and develop body image issues and disordered eating***. I fear for my tiny boys getting gay-baited, especially Mr. A of the long hair and pink socks. We read books, we talk about commercials and toys (why do people give Ellen all the dolls?), but I know we'll never do as good a job as my parents did. Seriously, my brother? Is the least sexist person in the world. I don't know how they did it, but when they tell me "no TV," well, that ain't happening. I want the whole world for them, yet I want to hide them away from everything that is sexist or homophobic or racist or scary. Secular convent school, is that a thing? 'Cause I could make it one.

And I think too much about this parenting adventure, criticize myself all day and night without really coming to any conclusions. But that's to be expected. After all, if there really were only one right way, then what would they sell all those books about?
* Okay, okay, two croissants. But I brought the second one home to share, so that doesn't count. Plus that one was an heirloom tomato croissant, which is basically health food.
** Such as it is in Washington state: lots of digging and sandcastles and racing around through the sand, but it may be cold for the sunbathing and swimming.
*** I hate that I STILL go through every day fluctuating between, "I'm attractive to the people who matter, I'm fit, I'm healthy (especially given the lupus), go me!," "I would be cute like [whoever it is today] if I could just lose 15 more pounds," and just wanting another croissant. I KNOW BETTER.
It's funny 'cause it's true.
Make sure you're not eating before you read the rest of this.

A year ago, the boys had fungal infections on some toenails. We medicated them, but not religiously; Andrew's seem to have gone away, and some of Bobby's, but not his two big toenails.

Well, Saturday night at bedtime, Bobby said his toe had a problem; I forget exactly what his wording was. When I looked, I saw that half of the base had already come off. He said it hurt a little bit, and after I wrapped a band-aid around it and got two socks on the foot, he went to bed. The all-knowing Internet confirmed it wasn't an emergency, and we had some time and options.

Sunday it didn't bother him, though he had a little limp in the morning. He rode his bike and walked quite a bit with all of the other things we were up to. We've made an appointment with his pediatrician for this afternoon; whether she'll just yank it or tell us to let it come off on its own or try to keep it on while a new one grows (3-6 months), we've no idea. Either way, we'll probably have the challenge of trying to keep him playing safe while he forgets about it and runs and jumps around like a madman as usual. With our trip to the beach next week, we'll have sand to contend with. And then there will probably be more meds as we try to keep the new nail from infection.

His other big toenail is in similar fungal shape, though not to the point of coming off, but it's probably next.

July 21st+

It's completely a case of seeing what we want to see, but last night we had a moment with the kids involving a song that we like, and their realizing that music they hear can then be played on the piano. There have been many times when I've gone to the piano to figure out a song that's playing elsewhere in the house, but they've usually stopped me, or seen what I'm doing and starting pounding on the keys themselves - anything but how Bobby reacted last night. (Okay, Ellen did the pound thing for a bit before telling me to stop while she turned off the piano).

They apparently like this cover of "Mad World," which Liss started playing on her phone - with not the most room-filling speaker, but it was enough for me to figure out the basics (Fm, Ab, Eb, Bb).

During Ellen's shenanigans, Bobby wanted me to sing the song while playing it, but she prevented that, plus it was bedtime, but I said we could tonight - though I'd need to print out the words. We'll see if it was just a flash, or maybe they're finally starting to make some new connections.
"Mommy, I tickle my vagina."
Last night, soon after I got into Ellen's bed to say good night: Hmph.
Friends of ours are moving out of their condo to a house, so Liss offered to add their son to our goings on for a few hours on a couple of weekends. This past Saturday was the first, as they moved "the big stuff" out of storage. He's about seven weeks older than Ellen, but not nearly as verbal (few are) and is bigger than the boys (many are).

At first he was just exploring our kids' toys, but after maybe twenty minutes realized that he was in unfamiliar circumstances, and starting crying for his daddy. Now, this is the kid we've each sat for several times as a babysitting exchange, so we both knew it would pass, but after ten minutes of on-again-off-again, I tried a new tack. I asked the kids to help him. They all immedicately took the job - distracting him with their toys and including him in their games and explorations. By the time they all went to the boys' soccer practice, I'm not sure he remembered he has a dad.
Some words that are pronounced incorrectly by the kids, though they would insist they're saying them just fine, thank you: Not that I write this, there's definitely a pattern to those last three.
Yesterday we went to our regular ice cream place, whereby near the end of his scoop of plain vanilla, Bobby starting puking out what must have been everything he'd eaten all day. That's not terribly remarkable, but what is was his reaction - clearly sad, but he knew what to do. Everything went into bowls until I took his word that he was done and didn't give him a third one. He was tearing up the whole time, but he kept it together. When he was done and happily watching pinball soon after, he was quick to accept my suggestion that we go wash his hands.

So, management of a marginal crisis.
Holy shrill yelling, Batman!
To prepare for his celiac blood test at the diabetes study, we fed Bobby wheat here and there for about a month. The idea is to get his body producing antibodies - if he's indeed developing celiac - which the test would then find. Well, we did out diligence with letting him have some but not too much, cutting him off when it should have been built up enough for a positive test, and so on ... and then the phlebotomist couldn't get a vein.
Andrew's fallen out of his new bed twice now, on the first two nights. He says it didn't hurt, so I guess it's fine. We just need to keep the nearby floor clear of hard stuff, I guess.

July 14th+

We've had a few minor "thunderstorms" around here, but nothing that I would actually give that name. This morning we did. We'd been wondering how the kids would handle it, since they haven't having grown up with them, but the boys handled it fine. After one loud crash, I went to check on them, and they were both snug and awake. When I mentioned the thunder, Bobby said "I looove thunder!" So, I guess that's that for them. I opened their curtains so they could watch for more lightning, but by the time I left there hadn't been any more. They'd even gotten out their new binoculars.

As for Ellen, she wasn't awakened by anything, so we'll see, but if her brothers like it, they can at least help her be so.
Yesterday was the culmination of months of hang-wringing and planning - we got the kids' new beds, where both "new" and "beds" are subject to interpretation.

The boys could never agree on bunk beds, because they both insisted on the top bunk, but we wanted there to be space under the beds for storage, so loft beds became the thing. At some point Amy pointed out dorm beds that had gone to the university's surplus store, but those sold out; fortunately a different dorm's beds hit the store a few weeks later, so we had our eye on those.

The place is only open the public on Tuesday afternoons, which is a little ridiculous, but Boeing's surplus store is the same way, so I guess it's just a normal thing. Another friend offered his presence and pickup truck, which made moot the question of whether we could fit everything in our van. We both took the afternoon off, he picked me up at a train station, and off we went.

He found the beds easily enough, broken down to their wood parts. I went to pay, which is where things got a little confusing. It turns out that when I asked for three beds, the guy assumed I wanted two of them to be set together as a bunk bed. The women who got all of the stuff included the ladder and four dowels required to do that, which one took back when we said we didn't need them. That's when we saw the made-up bed in their display area, and checked out how everything goes together. It's actually pretty easy and optional to go bunk, and the hardware was included in the price, so ... I asked to get the stuff back. Fortunately they were customer-oriented people - and it was maybe 30 feet away. This way, we at least have the option of making the boys' beds into bunks if they come to some agreement later, on the constant and continual hope that they haven't yet reached their height of maturity and reasonableness. Well, they'd also have to be able to climb up and down the ladder.

Another point of note was that we were worried the store would make us take the mattresses - those used for many years ... by college students. I have a hard enough time not imagining what's on the framing we got, but the mattresses themselves? No, thanks! When I asked the cashier about it, though, he said it was no problem to not get them. Whew! Granted, the kids' existing mattresses aren't exactly in mint condition, but compared to those?

I'm pretty sure everyone at the store just assumed Cameron and I were a couple.

When we got back to our house, the boys had just started quiet time and Ellen was in her nap, so the timing was perfect. The three of us carried the wood upstairs and took a breather before Cameron left.

When everyone was up, I put Ellen's together first. The idea was that if it turned out to be a pain in the ass, there wouldn't be one boy with a new bed and another without, which would surely cause the world to end. However, it wasn't too bad, and the first one is always the hardest, so I ended up doing all three.

The beds are such that you can have them a few inches off the ground, around waist-level on the adult, or maybe four feet high. The problem with going high, we told them, was that they might not be able to get in them. With medium, they might need stools. Ellen opted for the low setting, so she could get in and out easily. The boys chose medium, still high by their standards but also such that they could get in and out - with a stool, as it turned out, for now. Going bunk would require both beds to be at their medium height (for safety), so that'll work out well if that change happens, since I won't have to undo and redo everything.

Included was a board that acted as a guard rail, which would have made it too difficult for any kid to go in/out at their preferred heights, so they're sitting under the beds for now. The boards go the length of the beds, unlike some that leave a gap at the feet for the in/out access, but there we are. We'd definitely use one on a top bunk if we did that, with the ladder - now in the garage - for the access.

With their beds made, the boys - especially Bobby - were obsessed with the idea that they now had the highest beds in the house. He kept harping on it. I think he may have been surprised that I hadn't started weeping in dismay at our bed no longer having this distinction.

One of the first things we suggested after the boys' beds were done was to bring up their storage tubs and put them underneath. I bought the tubs a few months ago for them to put "this is only mine" stuff inside, though the definition gets stretched. Anyway, they're not the prettiest of things, plus they looked smaller in the store - two kids could fit in an empty tub - so they were taking up quite a bit of space in our dining room. Now they're in the kids' rooms as God inteded, though Ellen's doesn't go under.

For a long time - two and a half years - I've given the boys a choice at bedtime of holding both of them, or individually. With the new beds, I can't do both, so "by ourselves" it is. Since I know the beds are designed to hold adults, I've no qualms about climbing in for this.

So, after one night, we've had zero falls from the "high" beds, and our kids aren't sleeping on mattresses on the floor anymore. As any historian or anthropologist will tell you, this also greatly reduced their chances of eating or being eaten by bugs or rats in their sleep. I'm just saying.
I realized something recently. The boys, Bobby especially, tend to think of me as the top source of friction in their lives. I am, in a nutshell, the meanest person they know. Now, those who know me would say that I'm about the most mild-mannered guy out there, but the boys don't know that. They have no frame of reference. So, whenever I'm anything but quiet and conciliatory, I'm to be feared and rejected.

So, they clearly need to meet some mean men.
It's now standard for Ellen to accompany the boys to their soccer classes, except she's not in one, so an adult will join her in an unused area and she'll kick around for a while. I've been that adult a couple of times now, and there's one consistent aspect of her game - she kicks with her left foot. Whether this predicts her handedness later, of course, remains to be seen.
Liss made the boys little cakes for their actual birthday, which together were more than the five of us could consume by the time their big cake was made for the party. Part of the reason is that they made another choice for their dessert Friday night - one jellybean. Andrew started the ball rolling; we asked if he was really passing up a piece of chocolate cake in favor of a single jellybean, and ... yes. His siblings followed suit, as they are wont to do.

This is how the alien pod people will be found out - not by what they look like, but by their actions.

These three are now on my suspicion list.
The boys' "pirate" birthday party was this Sunday. Liss went above and beyond in her prep, making a pirate chest cake, pirate ship watermelon/fruit things, finding various themed items like eye patches, a pirate hat piñata, sushi(!), etc.

The weather cooperated, in that it's been 78-82 lately, but for the one day it was mostly cloudy and 68. That meant that the 13 expected 5-and-under people would be more likely to spend the time outside the house.

Liss also made up a "treasure hunt" by making a map from a poster, cutting it into puzzle pieces, then having me hide them in obvious places. The map in turn led to clues that eventually led to the kids' goody bags, with chocolate coins and temporary tattoos. The setup for the kids was that "The Pirate Brownbeard" had done all this hiding, which it took me a while to realize they meant me. Thankfully it wasn't Whitebeard, at least not yet.

In the days before the party, we told the boys that the rule of the piñata would be that the little kids would go first, then them. This caused a lot of angst, especially with Andrew - what if the little kids broke it open before we had a chance? That probably won't happen, we'd tell him repeatedly, but if it does, you'll still get some of the stuff that drops out and still have a great party with lots of friends and presents and (not said) stop being so selfish.

It turns out that it was a total non-issue; the piñata was very solid for being so cheap, perhaps designed to withstand adults' hits with metal instead of 1- and 2-year-olds' with plastic. After each kid had two turns, including the five 4-year-olds, "Brownbeard" took four big hits and barely made a dent. In all, it probably took 15 minutes - forever in pre-schooler time - for the thing to open up. But, it was a hit.

The boys got a ton of presents, with toys, art supplies, socks and underwear (happily so), candy, and so on. It was a task to get them to slow down and thank the people standing there who'd given them the cool stuff they were opening. Tonight will be a good night to have the kids purge their old toys.

Liss ordered pizza, and in the post-party haze, I gave the kids their "ten minutes 'til bedtime" warning at 6 instead of 7. I noticed a few minutes later and retracted myself ... but she hadn't said a word.

I believe it's my fault that Ellen spent that next hour "punchy," to use Liss's word. She asked to eat one more chocolate coin, and it sent her over the edge of happiness. With that kind of high is often a similar crashing low, but this time it didn't happen. However, she went to bed still wired at 7:20, and I guessed she'd be awake and babbling/singing to herself until 8:45 - which was just about right.

To sum up, this morning Ellen said to Liss from out of nowhere:

July 7th+

While bringing presents to the boys' party is definitely optional, the co-worker who's coming wanted to know what they'd like. I said socks and underwear, as long as they're cool. That's not a joke or anything - they've always been psyched to get their "pirate socks" or "daddy-style underwear [boxers]" or whatever else.

For now.
Bob has decided that if he has three kids, they will be named Bobby, Frances, and Sparky.
Four years old.
Liss - who carries more weight than I when it comes to the kids' educations - is going to try to get them into a different school than the one they're zoned for, which is also the one she works for. It's about as far away, which is to say it's very close by. Whether or not they'd get a bus isn't known and not important to the decision.

It's done by lottery for those not zoned, so it'd be especially interesting/annoying if one twin were chosen and the other not. Siblings are weighed into the equation, but only if they're already attending.

One curveball is that only half-day Kindergarten is free there; full-day requires an extra $272 per kid. That's quite less than our current total burden, but between that and whatever we end up doing with Ellen, Kindergarten may not be the big fanancial relief I was hoping for. The fee is waived at Liss's school, with its poorer demographic base.
The boys' four-year checkup is coming up, and we were trying to come up with the list of things to ask about, and coming up pretty short. We got the celiac thing, their weight/height progress, Bobby's two fungal toenails, and whether their balls have dropped. Oh, and whether to keep Andrew on his steroid inhaler. In other words, we don't really have any concerns, just questions about hey, how are they doing?

They won't get any shots this time, which they're naturally happy about. Next year, though, because of Kindergarten, they'll be little pin cushions. The timing is complicated, though, because we have to register them in the spring, then submit immunization forms after their birthday, so maybe a month before school actually starts.
Ellen's spending more time nude these days. She'll often come up to one of us and simply ask "Can I run around nude?" Why, of course you can.

Sometimes she'll want to "help" Liss cook, but not want to put anything on. To solve this, Liss puts a clean cloth diaper on the counter, then sits Ellen on it. We're a classy bunch.
The kids filled their cube jar. We'd figured that we could see the Sunday afternoon showing of the Pirates movie, and by sarcastic miracle they "happened" to qualify just in time.

The boys wanted to bring some of their own candy, for which we had the discussion about how you're not supposed to take your own food inside, because they want you to buy their food. "Why?" "Because they like money." So, we had to get into the gray area of breaking their rule, but if they were to ask if we had food, we'd say yes, because that's lying and a much bigger deal. Of course, I knew they wouldn't ask, but I wasn't going to sanction lying.

Anyway, we packed them up and off we went. The boys helped us teach Ellen the rules - no talking, etc. - and we brought in snacks and bought a box of Junior Mints.

We got there in time for plenty of ads, which we're never a fan of, and then previews, which we are, but everything was pretty loud. We'd forgotten to even consider bringing the kids' earphones, which should be standard fare for a while. Ellen was happy to sit there for a while, eating the occasional Mint, but about 25 minutes in, she wanted to sit on Liss's lap, and five minutes later wanted to leave the theater. As those two were leaving, Bobby followed, then came back, then followed. Andrew was also on the fence, but when I asked him straight up if he wanted to stay there with me or leave, he chose to leave.

The verdict was that the movie was too loud and scary - there was a little cartoony violence - and that was enough to drive them out. It's a little sad in that this was Ellen's first time in a theater (the boys' third), so I guess it's just too soon. It's a good thing we went to the second-run theater, so the half hour cost us $17.50 instead of $40 or whatnot.

And now we may never know if the pirate captain, whose name was Pirate Captain, got the Pirate of the Year award, despite the long odds.
Last night during the kids' bath, we tried not being in the bathroom to supervise. There's also the parental paranoia of drowning, which I admit was there, but we wanted to see if they could regular themselves. Things went well for about ten minutes, when it all came crashing down, when we heard the sound that all parents dread - all three kids gleefully happy.

They like to play with the water, with minor splashing and filling cups to pour back out and so on. We have a simple rule - all of the water stays in the tub. Well, their glee came from breaking that rule. Ellen was filling a small toy and pouring the water on the floor, to triple laughter.

So, that was the end of that. As is my M.O. when the rule is broken, I used Ellen's towel to wipe up the water. We told them that maybe next bath, we'd just put them in, scrub them, wash their hair, and get them out - no playing.
The boys have been curious about the idea of having kids, though thankfully not in the "how does it happen" vein yet.

Expounding on previous conversations on the topic, Bobby wavers between having one or two. I keep arguing that with one, you don't have anyone to play with. His counterargument makes sense, too - you also don't have anyone to fight with. If he has two, he wants one girl and one boy. Andrew seems set on two of unspecified sex.

Questions along these lines have included "Why did you have two boys?" There are two ways to interpret that - why did we choose boys, or why did we have twin boys? They've asked both ways, based on follow-up questions.

For the boys part, we had to explain how you don't get to choose whether you have a boy or girl. It just happens. So, Bobby, even if you have two kids, they might not be a boy and a girl. I didn't get into how you have 50/50 odds(*), twinning notwithstanding(+).

And then we were talking about the twinning. I told them that there was only one boy at first, but when they were teeny-tiny, he split into two. I was having trouble conveying just how small. As they were sitting on the kitchen counter near the spices, and Bobby was holding the Oregano, I took a shake of that and found a flake of about the size of a five-day embryo. When one of you was about this small, I said. I think their minds were sufficiently blown.

(*) The sex of the first is irrelevant, and then there's a 50/50 chance that the second kid will have the other sex.
(+) We conceived one boy and one girl - success! - but our first two kids were boys because of the twin split.

June 30th+

For at least three days in the past week, Ellen hasn't wet a diaper all day long.
In the middle of her tantrums, Ellen will often try really hard to get the answer she wants by "asking nicely," as we put it. The unfortunate part is that we've already said no, so it feels like we're un-reinforcing the part where you should ask nicely. We try to emphasize asking nicely the first time, but even the boys have a lot of trouble remembering that. A typical exchange with Ellen might go like this: And so go the Terrible Twos. Last night I had a poor thought - maybe she needs to go back to having constant binky availability after all. Or, that is, maybe we need her to have that.
In a year and change, the boys will enter Kindergarten. With two-thirds of our brood no longer needing day care, that leaves one-third that does. However, our nanny isn't going to work for one-third the price, so it's understood on all sides that this coming year will be her last with us.

So, what to do with Ellen? A lot of the answer depends on her, not that she knows that. The default option is to find a good all-day pre-school that costs less than the nanny (not hard), with the usual requisites of drop-off/pick-up convenience, being a good program, cost, all that stuff. We would probably be fine ending up with that.

However, if she continues on her current path of Whoa, we might be looking at spending more for a better program, or even an early, private Kindergarten. With enough time in that, she might test into the public schools' gifted program.
Liss still calls Ellen "the baby."

But not to her face.
Ellen's started mixing up "his" and "her," as in "Is Mommy wearing his glasses?" I could swear she was doing them correctly a month ago.
Right now it's 100 or more in much of the country, but 64 here in Seattle. I grew up in Houston and Louisiana, so heat and humidity are nothing new to me, but I've completely acclimated to this area. I get uncomfortable around 75 now, or from more than middling humidity. A lot of that is from the skin problem that only started when I moved here, not to say that's a causation, but it's certainly exaserbated the change in how I react. I need to remember that when I fantasize about taking the family to all of the Major League Baseball parks.

The kids have taken our rare heat poorly so far, but we'll see what happens this year if we get up there (which here is about 90). If nothing else, they'll be able to tell us if they're hot, but they're still bad at recognizing that they're cranky because of something non-obvious like hunger or lack of sleep, so there's no reason to think they'll make a similar connection to heat. Will we just cave and tell them they should sleep in our room, with its window unit, or make them make it their idea, first? Or will we only say something after more heat-induced puke or sleepless episodes like in years past?

The real test will be if we have to go to Houston or Phoenix for some reason - where relatives live - in the summer. Will they not notice and play outside all day? Or will they do like we probably will, and go from air-conditioned house to a/c car to a/c indoor activity?
We've turned in our cable box. I still need to actually cancel the service, because for some odd reason, physically turning in the box doesn't trigger that.

This was a while coming, with cost being the main thing; our bill was $100 a month. Between Netflix and Hulu Plus, we're going to get maybe 60% of what we adults were watching for about $25. We have hundreds of DVDs, though the library's growth has slowed mightily. The main sticking point was and remains live sports. For instance, you can pay for online streaming of all Major League Baseball games - except the team where you live. Football season might bring me serious withdrawal.

There are, however, other considerations. We've spent a lot of hours not watching TV with our kids, and believe me, switching on Dora or whatever else would be easier much of the time. We're finding out through the kids themselves that their nanny does this, probably way more than we'd like. We'll do one, maybe two things a week.

The baseball thing will make it harder to raise baseball fans. This is an issue, dangit. However, there's the radio, newspaper, going to games, and maybe soon some kids' leagues.
Looking back, we think there were zero tantrums this weekend. There were some close calls, but nothing over the tipping point.

The comedy highlight of the weekend was early. Amy and Liss took all of the kids to soccer. I'd just settled in to some alone time, when Liss called. Andrew had forgotten to put on pants. Their soccer shirts almost go to their knees (tiny boys!), so we just hadn't noticed.

Now, the adults on the scene said that he could probably just play in his underwear, and it wouldn't be a problem. He disagreed. So, I grabbed a pair of shorts and drove them over. This will surely not be the last time I'll be a danger on the road from all of the eye rolling at one of my children.

When I got back, I finally brought in the play kitchen we'd found in May, and checked its battery compartment. The people who sold it to us hadn't taken out the batteries from years ago, so they'd leaked acid (the battieries, not the people). I cleaned that up and - it probably would have been okay to stick new batteries in there, but I was looking for any excuse to not do so, and had found it. They don't need anything else that makes lots of noise. And, they've been having fun pretending to cook with its noises.

I attempted to pay back the alone time by taking the boys with me to turn in the cable box (we're disconnecting service) during Ellen's nap, but Andrew wasn't on board. So, Bobby and I went, and Amy - bless her - took Andrew somewhere.

I had poker that night, so around bedtime I got a text from Liss - among our three children, they were wearing one diaper to bed, and nothing else. Nudity, and not just underwear-only, was the new thing. Ellen wanted to go nude as well, but that just gave Liss the opening that, if Ellen could have seven mornings in a row with a dry diaper, she could start going nude (or just underwear) to bed. I don't think it'll happen for some months, though.

Sunday morning Liss was supposed to take Ellen to brunch with a friend, but they bailed, so we all went to the bakery in West Seattle that has the good gluten free selection. We're getting a good hour out of that place, what with their box of toys and our maturing children. In fact, one might consider it a bellweather event that we both got to half-skim-half-read the Sunday paper.

Naptime presented a new challenge - Ellen bit through the last binky in the house. As evidence that she isn't ready to be free yet, she was still awake by the time I'd eyerolled/driven my way to Target for replacements (and lots of other stuff since I was there). She was asleep within ten minutes of my return.

Side note: it's very, very difficult to walk by the little girls' clothing section without buying something for her.

When I got back, Liss walked with the boys to a nearby park; when Ellen woke up, she wanted to join them, but they were on their way back already. We all walked around a bit before coming home and settling them all in front of Toy Story 2 for some mutual downtime.

The sans clothing bedtime repeated itself. This morning I noticed that Andrew put on underwear after using the restroom, so maybe the novelty's wearing off for him already.
Liss's nearby gym recently put up a sign up that, starting July 2nd, they'd have free child care from 9am-noon while you work out.

I may end the summer with a very buff wife.

June 23rd+

Multiple sources tell us that age four is fun. It looks like the boys are moving in this direction. They're ... wiser? Slower to melt down? Interested in things? It's hard to nail down, but I think all of these are true.

Overall, I'd say Bobby's ahead of Andrew in the maturity climb.
Welp, it looks like the university surplus store sold out of the loft beds we had our eyes on. Back to the drawing board.
My step-brother was in town on business, so the family and I met him for dinner. He also has three kids, including two daughters whose names are very similar. We always have to stop and think for a second when talking about them, to try to get it right.

Well, it turns out that he, their own father, has the same problem. In fact, he normally refers to them as "Number Two" and "Number Three" - even when talking to them.
The baseball game went okay, in part because I left my work seat (sun) and joined the family (shade!). Bobby wanted to leave after three innings, though she got him to stay until the end of the 5th. Ellen wanted to go with, but Andrew wanted to stay with me. So, we split up, and Andrew and I stayed until the end, though he was getting antsy by the start of the 8th.

I believe the Sprite they had was their first - maybe even their first soda - and it was a hit. We don't keep any soda in the house, so it'll be rare for them as it is.

Liss and I were musing about when we could send them to a game without us. Ages twelve and ten seem about right.
After her last few days, I've declared that Ellen is no longer building toward her Terrible Twos, but has completed construction and cut the ribbon.

The boys are, for the most part, trying their best to help her. The problem is that she wants Liss to do everything, so she [Ellen] gets pissed off when they (or I) bring her a new diaper or whatever else she was screaming for.
Text from Liss: "Oh, man. Distributed sandwiches, orange slices and lidless milk. Went to make my lunch and they're babbling about yummy juice, giggle giggle.

They squeezed their oranges into their milk."
Today is Liss's first full day off work and taking care of the kids. She's going to take them to the noon Mariners game, which she's already thinking may not have been her best idea ever. The impetus was that a friend of ours, who moved to Scotland, is back in town for a visit and needs her baseball fix. However, her call for a group to go see the game was answered by - Liss. So if the idea was to have a lot of other adults around to help wrangle the kids, it fell at the gate.

I'll also be the game, as a work function, on almost the entire opposite end of the stadium (in 102; she's in 340). I may need to abandon my co-workers to help save my wife's sanity.
Bobby: "If you only have one kid, they never fight. So when I'm a grown-up and I have my own house, I'm only going to grow ONE kid."
Liss: "Isn't it nice to have someone to play with?"
Bobby: "Yeah ... I'll just have one brother and one sister. Two kids."
It's looking like the boys are right-handed. With Ellen, it's too early to tell, but there's evidence either way - or as one might point out, evidence both ways.
From Liss, who was doing bedtime by herself in my absence:
Last night as we finished brushing everyone's teeth, Andrew came out of their room with the How I Became a Pirate book. "Ellen, do you want this book for tonight?" She grinned and grabbed for it. He pulled it away and smirked. "Well, I have it."

She immediately burst into tears and started chasing him. "Andrew," I said, "That's mean. Don't show her something she wants and then tell her she can't have it. Give it to her." I took the book from him and handed it to her. He burst into tears, chased after her. I suggested that he go get her one of the other desireable books and offer a trade. "THAT'S NOT FAIR!"

"Well, look how mean that was." I pulled a dollar out of my pocket. "Want this?" He nodded and reached for it. "Well, sorry, it's mine.... See how sad you feel?"

So two kids were crying and wrestling over this damn book, and Bobby surveyed the scene. He grabbed another book at random--a dumb baby book with flaps--and said, "Ellen, do you want this book for tonight?"

"Yeah!" she said, dropping the pirate book. Bobby picked it up and handed it to Andrew.

And joy prevailed in the land.

I hugged Bobby and thanked him for being a problem-solver and a peacemaker. "What's a peacemaker?" he asked.

"It's somebody who helps people be nice and not fight."

"Well, when I grow up I want to be a peacemaker."

I would be so proud.

June 16th+

A friend at work is trying to get pregnant with their second, and just showed negative in their seventh month. She's pretty bummed about it. Their daughter, just a little older than Ellen, she says they conceived on the first try, so I guess their expectations were set high from that. There's an extra caveat to that, too - you never know you can get pregnant until you do. After the first success, that question is answered, which can also raise expectations. But really, seven months isn't unusual at all.
The kids have almost filled their cube jar, and have already decided and agreed that their first reward will be for all of us to go to a movie in the theater. It will be the boys' third and Ellen's first. We were hoping to use the occasion to take them to the recent animated Pirates movie, but it may not be available by the time they earn it. I really don't want to see the new Madagascar, so we may risk the cartoon violence of Brave instead.

First World Problems.
Something's up with Ellen. She's becoming more and more sensitive and quick to screaming fits. Last night was epic; I'm surprised she could still talk after all her yelling.

There's the obvious Two angle, but there could be other explanations. She was fine once dinner was ready, so maybe she was just hungry. If so, that may or may not imply a growth spurt, which she's handled poorly in the past, as well. This morning, she was still asleep an hour after her green light comes on, which lends credence to the growth spurt idea. Also, it's been a month or so since I checked for her last teeth coming in, so I should try; her mouth has been agape enough, after all, but I might need headphones to block the noises eminating from it.

For the most part, the boys handled it very well. She was in their faces, sometimes hitting or pushing, and they mostly just took it or tried to keep her at arms' length. It didn't help her attitude, but their ability to hold theirs was definitely appreciated; one person melting down is certainly better than two or three (or four or five).

From last week's similar disaster around Liss going to yoga, coupled with Ellen's crankiness, we put them to bed early. It's a little sneaky of us; the boys can sort of tell time, like to the hour, so to them 6:40 is the same as 7:00, and we take advantage of that sometimes. We figure by the time they get the nuance, a parent leaving early won't be an issue anymore. Liss still had to hurry to get out the door in time, but at least she could go.
From Liss, Monday:
The nanny texted this morning to say that she has bronchitis and was hoping to just sleep today. "If you can't find someone to take care of them, you can bring them to my house." What, so they can watch movie after movie while you sleep? Hmm, no. With such little notice, there weren't a lot of options. But fortunately it's Monday, a coach day for me. Since I wasn't planning to be in the classroom anyway, we decided I'd take them with me for the morning. They did pretty well, playing with pattern blocks and relishing having computers to themselves (though the headphones kept falling off). They joked with the kindergarteners at lunch, which pleased me. The boys got furious when I said "they're tiny" to a new staff member asking the triplets question. "WE'RE NOT TINY, WE'RE MEDIUM!" Um, OK, Squirt.

The highlight of the morning was realizing that although I'd remembered Activities and Snacks and my work crap and my coffee, I did NOT have the diaper bag. Fortunately, Ellen managed to pee in the toilet (but let's not discuss the part where she pooped in her cloth diaper and since it didn't stick, I just dumped it, wiped her, turned the pre-fold inside out, and put it back on her. MOTHER OF THE YEAR!).

Part 2 of the plan was that James would work from home with them here for the afternoon nap/quiet time, and I would have a kidless afternoon back at work. Except he wasn't able to login from home so I, having the less-valuable leave (since we can plan any family stuff around my breaks), took the afternoon off. I need to figure out how not to be jealous of his Lunches Out, Conversations With Grownups, and Unaccompanied Bathroom Trips, because in one short week, this will be my life. Of course, it's different when it's unexpected, and when I have so much to do within the next 4 days (report cards are due in 45 hours, and I just made the class re-do their final this morning, yeehaw!). For the summer, I have Lists and a whole Google Calendar started for our Plans, and I'm actually looking forward to most of it. But it's also going to be even more important than ever to figure out some self-care and interactions with adults. This will be the first summer that there's NO built-in break: the boys don't nap anymore at all, and they don't have school. Their 30-minute "Quiet" Time may need to get a bit longer.

I realize I'm lucky:
- to have a good job at all
- to have a job I can take kids to if needed
- to have time off if I need that
- to have a partner who shares the responsibility (even if his leave is more precious)
- to have kids who generally get along and behave spectacularly well in public
- etc.

That doesn't make this scramble any less frustrating or exhausting.
For those who keep up with this kind of thing, I've put a few things on the wish list for the boys' birthday.
I've started playing a pretty dumb game on my phone - I'm sure it's very temporary - where you're basically an airline dispatcher. When all of your planes are in the air, there's not much else to do, so the designers put in a screen where you can "watch" your plane fly; every ten seconds or so, some money flies by that you can tap and collect. I've found that it's so simple, a four-year-old could do it.

If you catch my drift.
Andrew's hair is fine and now getting long, in a bit of a Beethoven look. The problem is that it tangles a lot now, and combing them out causes great consternation on his part. However, when I bring up the option of cutting it shorter, he refuses. So, we might be going through a lot of angst for a while, twice a day, as we try to manage it.
Ellen got her first haircut this weekend - a trim, not a buzz or anything. I wasn't there - it was during the boys' soccer - but Liss reports that she took it like a champ, taking instructions on tilting her head, generally not freaking out about the scissors near her ears, and so on.

Her hair still tangles a bit, but it's better now, and a little earier to manage. She's developed the "shove hair behind her ears" habit, which is pretty cute, but she still prefers a barette.
As some of our relatives are finding out, the kids are on a kick of making a drawing of some kind, and then mailing it to someone. The time spent drawing is useful for keeping them occupied, but then there's deciding who gets what, addressing, stamps, return address stickers, sealing the envelopes, walking them to the mailbox, lifting each kid to put them in the slot, etc. It somehow becomes a production, but hey, it keeps them busy.

Two times ago, they fought mightily over who got to put theirs in the slot first, an argument that now pervades our entire lives. Eventually Andrew acquiesced, which is typical, and Ellen doesn't care as much as the boys. Last night, though, Bobby pre-emptively said Andrew could go first - a big deal as far as I'm concerned. Bobby's generally me, me, me.

Anyway, with Liss starting her summer break and needing ways to keep her sanity, these mailing will probably increase in the coming weeks.

One odd thing is that Andrew, and especially Bobby refuse to write their name on anything - you know, signing their work. I mean, this was five months ago, so we know he can do it, but he gets really annoyed when we suggest it. But, oh well, it's temporary.
I took the boys to soccer for my first time, instead of Amy, because I had to pay for the new classes. Andrew switched from gymnastics, which will at least make the logistics easier, not that it was that bad anyway.

The facility is pretty impressive for what it is. It looks like an old factory or even airplane hangar, but made of brick, so the building clearly has some history. Inside, they've done a good job with the fields, bleachers, and other amenities. Apparently there are some pretty intense adult leagues, hence the large beer selection.

Since Bobby's already finished a class, he's in the intermediate now, while I signed Andrew up for the beginners. However, that class didn't have enough kids "yet" for a full class, so they put Andrew in the intermediate. He seemed to do just fine, but assuming the beginners' fills up, we'd rather have them in split classes. They're already together almost 24/7 as it is.

After the classes, I pointed out the bouncy house that they have there - one of those amenities. They wanted to do it, but a class of six-year-olds (or so) had just finished, and the house was full of those. Andrew: "I don't like it when people touch me." So, since we weren't in a hurry or anything, we waited about twenty minutes for them to clear out; when there were just a couple of kids left, they went in for about twenty minutes of their own, and left without a fuss.

On the way out, there are those crystal-ball vending machines were you put in a quarter and turn the crank to get candy or a small toy or whatever. They wanted bouncy balls, but we didn't have any quarters on us. The first thing they did when we got home was insist that I help them get quarters from their piggy banks - including one from Andrew's bank for Ellen to get a ball, too. However, with seven days to go before they could use them, they wanted to do what we'd done for their garage sale adventures, and put them in sandwich bags, but not all three in the same bag. No, that wouldn't be proper! One quarter per bag! And then they carried them all over the house that day.

So now we have these three sandwich bags, each with a quarter inside, waiting patiently to be spent on bouncy balls in a few days, being routinely scattered about the house. Whether all three can stay located where we can find them come Saturday is another question entirely.
Liss makes tacos about once a week. While what she serves has barely changed, what constitutes a complete taco has changed for the boys on many occasions, based on what's currently "yummy" versus "yucky." There have been varying amounts of meat, cheese, beans, sauces, etc., with Zero being a common amount of one or two at a time. Even the tortillas have been "yucky" at times, instead preferring to just have the other stuff on the plate to eat with a fork.

Bobby refused the barbeque sauce for months, and then suddenly tried it recently. His version of a taco has now become: barbeque sauce on a tortilla.
The barrier to the ice cream truck, formerly the music truck, continues to crumble. Andrew asked "When will we get ice cream from the ice cream truck?" That put me on the spot; I had to make something up about Mom usually baking desserts or our often having ice cream in the freezer or - eureka! - most of what the ice cream truck sells has gluten.

Okay, I felt bad about that one.

June 9th+

We have a pot of strawberry plants, which seems to have lost most of its residents over the winter. What's left has just started to bear fruit - tiny, green fruit. Well, Ellen picked the first one.

Given the lack of fruit potential and our get-into-everything two-year-old, we may not end up with any "crop" this year.
Last night, Liss negotatiated with a terrorist, as she put it. She's signed up for a 7:30 yoga class, which means leaving before the bedtime routine is done, but Ellen was having none of it. "Don't go to Yoga!," she'd scream while crying and clinging. Liss didn't want to risk an extended meltdown while I tried to get all three down. She can make it up another time.

It seems there is, for some unknown reason, no such thing as an 8:00 yoga class.
Andrew runs faster than Bobby. His technique is better.
Ellen: "Mommy, can we go to the store? I need to buy some dinosaur food."
I'm confident that if something were to happen to Liss, the kids and I would either starve to death or be morbidly obese within a month.
With the boys' birthday(*) a month away, it's time to start planning their party in earnest. They said months ago that they wanted a "pirate party," on which they haven't wavered, so that seems settled. That likely means everyone gets a paper hat, eye patch, and foam sword, or something.

Apparently there's a rule of thumb whereby you invite one kid for every year of the birthday, so four in this case. Or would it be eight? The four-year-old's party we went to last month had maybe eight kids, and it went fine, but they had a bouncy house for constant distraction, and I doubt we will. But I think it'll be fine to have six or eight there, especially with all those parents; four definitely isn't the age where you can just drop your kid off and go have a cocktail, but I hear that's coming. Ellen's party had a ton more people, but we figure that was the last one that was really for us ("you've survived!"), as opposed to for the kid(s).

Other twins-turning-four have a party this weekend, so maybe that'll give us more clues. They're doing it at the ice cream place we normally go to, so it'll be good to scout out how they do things a little more from the inside perspective, instead of the usual "Oh, look, those people are having a birthday party." We won't do that this year, though, based on how little time they can manage to be there now without going ape (video games! water cooler!) One of the perks of getting a party there is that you get to create your own ice cream flavor, which they'll make from scratch, and whoa have there been some doozies. When the time comes, maybe I can steer the boys into keeping it simple, like gluten-free Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.

(*) Birthdays?
We are close, but not quite, to the point of counting down when the boys start Kindergarten. Between their nanny and part-time pre-school and soccer and the mortgage and gas prices and blah blah, our bank accounts are getting crushed.

The wild card is Ellen, who will be three-and-a-half by then; we'll still have to figure out what to do with her for the next two years. If she can qualify for an all-day pre-school that we actually like, we wouldn't need the nanny. Liss's school contracts with a pre-school that's in the same building, which is very convenient in theory, except she says it's so incompetent that there's no way she'll let ours go there.

Teachers - including Liss - don't like the attitude that they're only free babysitters, and that's not where I'm coming from. However, it is valid, I think, to acknowledge the effect that public school will have on our bottom line, because boy howdy.
The kids' ages, added together, hit ten years last week.

Ten kid-years of parenting. Oy.

Twenty years: October 5th, 2015. Thirty: February 4th, 2019.

One hundred: June 5th, 2042. Kids, if you're reading this, we'd like a party - but nothing too rowdy. I just turned seventy, after all.
As part of Liss's even-odd thing with the boys, she went into her mental Math Teacher toolbox and taught them how to figure it out themselves, given the date number. Let's say it's the 26th. That ends in a six. Now count to six by alternating fingers on each hand. When you're done, if the fingers match like they should three-three in this case, then it's even (and therefore Andrew's turn to get a song first). If not, it's odd (Bobby's).
Sunday we took the kids across the bay to Bremerton to see a house that's for sale, which we knew we weren't going to buy barring it blowing us away, but we want to stay abreast of the market, and figured the trip would keep the kids busy and out of the house.

With the 10am ferry meaning we had to be there around 9:30, and the boys' light going off at 8, we knew we'd have to be more efficient than usual at getting them fed, dressed, and so on. They actually did a really good job with that, so despite road construction hampering us, we got there with time to spare.

To the kids, there were two attractive qualities to being on the boat - its own seemingly-mesmorizing wake, and the fact that there were a few video games where you sit in a car-like seat. Fortunately, sitting and pretending to play are still good enough for them. Meanwhile, we mostly looked at the houses that cost four times our own on the various islands we passed by.

We got a little lost driving the house, which just increased what we could see of the town. It wasn't much - lots of industrial/military and not much culture and nothing catering to small children.

As we parked, I told the kids that while we'd seen an empty house or two, this one had a lot of stuff in it, and that we weren't going to touch their stuff. They seemed to get it.

We met with the agent, who was a nice guy and not pushy at all. I think he was just happy to have a nibble on this particular house, which has been on the market for almost a year. He was up front about the neighboorhood being mostly manufactured homes with older people and no kids around, the latter being an especially big negative for us.

The house itself screamed the 1970s, from the carpet to wall trimmings to appliances to lighting, you name it. It was built in 1971, and wow, did it show. The yard was sloping and terraced, and led to streets with blind turns (albeit on lightly used streets), so play space was very limited. It's a big place, so I was looking for a way to turn it from a 3 to 5 bedroom, but really you could only add one more, in the basement, and its window would have to be like the one in that room - with a view of the house's foundation.

The kids did fine, though Ellen lapsed a bit with the "other people's stuff" part, especially trying to open the dishwasher like she does at home. At some point when I was elsewhere, she also told Liss that she needed to poop, and there being no potties in the house, happily used the master bathroom's toilet for the job. That's the danger, such as it is, of having strangers go through your house.

We just made the ferry back (that otherwise we'd have had to wait over another hour), and the trip back was also fine, as the kids focused on a newborn that was behind us. It's only when we were driving home that Ellen's fatigue caught up with her, and therefore us, as she yelled at the indignities of her life, or her brothers teasing her, or whatever it was.

When we got home, she held me a little more closely than normal, asked if I could carry her inside, reminded me to take off her shoes as I carried her off to bed, and fell asleep for her nap about two minutes after I laid her down.
Last night there was more coughing and whining over the boys' monitor than usual, so I kept it close. A little before midnight, I heard "Daddy, daddy!" so off I went.

It was Andrew, whom I figured had a bad dream or was feeling sick from all that coughing, but no. His foot hurt. Er, okay. I led him out of their room - Bobby was still asleep - to their bathroom, where I could get some light on it. I asked him to point where it hurt, and after some false starts, he showed me a place on the ball.

Now, I have really bad near-sightedness, like 20/1000 vision, but times like this it really comes in handy - when I'm not wearing contacts. When I take off my glasses, there's about a one-inch window where I can get a really close-up look at things. Anything else is blurry. Thanks to this, I could a tiny splinter in Andrew's foot. Now, he'd gone out barefoot to throw a ball that afternoon, including a short stint retrieving it over some wood chips, so that was the likely culprit - six hours later. So here we have a little boy in pain, a half-awake and mostly-blind father, and no right tool for the job. On top of that, the bottom of the foot is generally a ticklish spot, which makes it harder for him to stay still.

For some reason, we don't own any tweezers (now fixed), so imagine me sprawling on the bathroom floor (sanitary!), trying first to pinch this thing out with my fingernails, then with a nail clipper. Meanwhile, he's flinching it away involuntarily, and trying like heck not to because I've asked, also trying not to cry. I got some of it, but had to give up on the last bit unless I was going to find a needle, so I asked him if it still hurt. No, he said. Oh, okay; well, there's a tiny bit left in there, but I guess I got the part that hurt. His reaction was a little odd - like he was thinking "Can I go back to bed now?" while slowly backing away from me in that direction. I was a little taken aback, so I could only say "good luck!" and that sent him off. I guess he was back to sleep about 20 minutes later.

I didn't bring up the barefoot thing at the time, but I certainly will the next time they want to go out like that. Andrew skinned his knee a couple of weeks ago after falling while running on the sidewalk - wearing no pants. It's a pattern.
Ellen's still new to the green light thing, so this morning it wasn't a surprise to hear her making "I'm ready to get up now!" overtures before it came on. I went in to talk to her about it. Her main thing was that she wanted to "see my boys," who had just been up and about to use the bathroom, so I had to tell her what they were up to, and that they'd already done back to their room because their light wasn't on yet. So, she wanted a snack. Sorry, honey, that's only on the weekends, when interrupting us doesn't make us late for work.

I had to come back around a couple of times to my real purpose for being there - focusing her on what she can do when she's up early. I told her she could "read," or sing, or try to go back to sleep. The sing thing is pretty self-serving of me, but she does it sometimes on her own, so I figured I'd present the option. However, this time she decided to read a book instead, so when I left, she was lying back down, book open, saying what happens.

Heck, she might be better at it than her brothers, whom we've been training for two years.

June 2nd+

Thursday morning, according to Liss, Ellen was doing a brooding-slighty-whiny thing over the monitor, then suddenly was happy and yelled "The green light! The green light is on!" We'd taken is out of its box, but not plugged it in, so really she was just copying what the boys do. But, that prompted Liss to enter and set up the light, since she was clearly interested in the concept.

The boys' is set for 8:05; Liss set Ellen's for 7:20 while she gets into the habit of using it. This morning she was brooding-slightly-whiny again, so I went in to wait with her, help her calm down, and remind her of the new light. It came on a few minutes later, to which she said something the boys used to say all the time - "We have to get up now!" Well, no, you don't, but you can now.

The boys were awake, as they often are at that time, to pee and hang out before their light. Bobby asked why Ellen's light turned green earlier than theirs - a perfectly reasonable question, but one you'd expect to be in a "that's not fair!" tone, but this time it wasn't. I explained that she was learning, and we'd extend it to match theirs over the next few months. His response was pretty much "Okay, that makes sense."

This is all in response to Ellen's getting up sooner the last few days, but she's often an 8-8:30 girl, sometimes 9, so we hope the new light doesn't mean she always gets up earlier - though the Ellen-only time is nice for her and us.
From Liss:
Tonight, for about the fifth time in our great bookshelf reorganization, I came across the little notebook where we recorded (literally) every drop of formula the boys consumed in their first 6 months. This time I tossed it in the recycling bin. That's not what I want to remember about their earliest days. Maybe they'd have found it at 8 or 18 or 30 and been amused, but maybe we can just tell them: you were so tiny that we wrote down every drop you ate. Of course, for Ellen, we didn't even fill out the chart they give you at the hospital for the first 3 days.
The boys turn four next month. FOUR. They're real little boys. Sometimes I still look at their hands and think, We made that. But making people who can walk and talk and reason and occasionally tell genuinely funny jokes? That's even more impressive than making those perfect little hands. And it doesn't matter how many gallons of preemie formula it took to get there.
I figured out this weekend how to describe my frustration with social stuff lately: we're not part of any community. We have plenty of friends, but we're not in choir, or church, or a game group, or anything (other than work). That means that every single social activity is something we have to think about. We either have to invite people, or wait to be invited--nothing just happens (as it would if we went to church every Sunday or choir every Tuesday). And that takes energy, which is at a premium these days. I'm not sure what to do about this, but identifying it is a good start, and certainly better than the general whininess I sometimes feel.
The boys' rewards for waiting for the green light have evolved - it used to be five minutes with their noisy garbage/fire trucks, their choices from a few sticker books, and five minutes of Angry Birds. These days, the picked stickers are still on their wall, but they've asked for new ones maybe once in the last four months. They don't play with the trucks enough to annoy us, or we can ask them to take the noisy things elsewhere, so that's not a thing anymore. Now it's just games on my phone - first "the glass game," and now the "rope game," which is much more difficult and has no explosions, so I think they'll go back to the former soon.

Last night they asked to play, which I was all set to do, when Liss said nope, they didn't wait for the green light. Bobby had a meltdown over this, and Andrew was sorely disappointed but didn't cause a stink. Naturally, we used this as motivation at bedtime. Ellen still got to play, since she has no green light restrictions, due to her not needing one [yet?].

They know about these games because they've seen me play them; Liss is smart for not putting them on hers, but that also means that when they all get to play, I don't have my phone for 15 minutes. I have to, like, interact with the world!

They'd all also been watching their siblings take their turns, which meant that all three of them were huddled around my phone for 15 minutes. Andrew, especially, had a bad habit of making plays during Ellen's turn. It's nice to see them bonding over something, but I decided that maybe that shouldn't be it, and that such watching was now banned.
We have yet to introduce the kids to shoelaces. For the most part, even our shoes don't have them.

Liss figures the boys can get them in about a year. While it's not exactly a needed life skill these days, we think it's something they should have under their belts.
Bobby's definitely been in regression in the last few days. The pattern is the same during his Twos - meltdown starts over something, often small, then escalates into screaming and insisting on Mommy and not telling her/us what the problem is. We can't tell if he's sick, in some scary growth spurt, or just emotionally immature.

Since he won't (or can't, if it's advanced) tell us, our new thing is to ostracize him. We carry him to his room until he's done. We figure he can either scream at us, or scream by himself. The former is a lot more volatile.
Watermelon is coming into season. All of the kids love it.

Watermelon ... is a diarrhetic.
We've had the bulk of the kids' socks since the boys were just learning to walk, so they'd gotten grime-y. Yesterday Liss took them on a trek for another by-the-dozen purchase, bringing home some 24 pairs. While she was gone, I did the purge most of the old ones.

The double-take from all this is that the boys think getting new socks for their birthday next month is a pretty great idea. Part of that, I think, is our beginning to separate their clothing, meaning it's not so much "Socks are awesome!" as "It's mine, therefore it's awesome!"
Sunday we had brunch with a family whose daughter, we decided afterwards, would be our first choice to kidnap should we ever decide we'd do such a thing to get a fourth child. She's just over a year old, and reminds us of Ellen at that age, and they get along well.
As part of her bedtime routine with them, Liss sings to Andrew first on even-numbered days, and Bobby on odd (while I'm with Ellen). That presents a potential problem on months that end in 31, as May did, except she had yoga and skipped that part, hoping that going from 30 to 1 would prevent Bobby getting two in a row.

Well, in another example of our boys getting smarter, Andrew called her on it. He got the 30th, but realizing the skip, figured it would be even again, and his turn again.

Back to the drawing board.
14 And yea, did Robert, son of James, declare unto the father that his ignorance had gone to that place upon which Providence laid rest

15 And did Andrew, brother of Robert, likewise preform on next occasion that which sends a parent to mark the occasion in triumph

16 For in this, their sons had strap-ed in full their own car seats unto themselves

17 And there was much rejoicing

May 26th+

From Liss, overhearing the boys in the bathroom:
Yesterday Bobby and I were playing outside, when Andrew came to the window and yelled "Dinner in three minutes!" Now, we were some 150 feet away, so he really yelled this, and I yelled back "Okay!"

Very soon after that, I hear "Two and a half minutes!" And again. And again. Rather than yell back that we didn't need such frequent updates, I just did "okay!"

Then, "Two minutes!" *sigh* "Okay!" Then,

"You should start moving!"
The boys are, as Liss put it, "on a clear upward trajectory." There are still bumps and meltdowns, but the general trend is up. One example (below) was when Andrew thought I'd thrown away his new cape, but was able to keep it together.

Another was last night, when it was almost their bedtime. Without being asked, he slid the glass door shut and put the locking dowel in its place. He didn't expect anything from it - he just thought it needed to be done.
The wife of a friend from my younger days just had their sixth kid. At first, she was carrying twins, but lost one in the middle of pregnancy. Again, we were lucky.

And what about the one that survived? Is that something you ever tell? They have older twins, so the subject of twinning will come up. Anyway, I'd think not, but the baby's siblings likely know, so it may come out anyhow.
We bought Ellen a green light, but it's still in the box. She just hasn't needed it. About a month ago, she was taking up early - maybe 7:10 - but as soon as we spent the money on the lamp, it's been more like 8:30. Lots of times, we'll have to go get her before we hear from her; many of those, she's already awake and just chilling quietly on her bed.

The boys are the opposite, usually waking up at 7 or so to use the bathroom, almost never going back to sleep afterwards. I can only say thank goodness we spent all that time and energy emphasizing and rewarding around the green light, because otherwise they'd get up for the day at 6:30, which when they're up and about, makes it much harder to get ourselves ready for work.

I tried an experiment whereby I'd let them leave their blackout curtains open if they wanted, but they kept having slumber parties and waking up even earlier, so that was a bust.

All of this will be moot-ish when they're old enough to take care of themselves for a couple of hours at a time, like pouring their own cereal and milk, and maybe turning on the TV. I was doing that around age five, but then I didn't have any siblings competing for the remote.
Ellen's Terrible Two phase continues to emerge. Last night she and the boys were outside, and she'd randomly grab one of their toys and throw it, or bonk them on the head with something else, then hit me when I'd pick her up to remove her from the situation, and so on. An interesting twist is that a lot of it is done with smile - just "Hey, I think I'll do *this*!" without thinking ahead. It's completely natural two-year-old behavior, and still way below what the boys were like, so we just redirect or put her in time out and take away privileges and all that stuff. She'll move beyond, but probably not for a while.

Another tic is that she'll quickly go from distraught over her actions (or really, just the fact she was caught and reprimanded) to "I'm happy!" or "I'm not crying!" or other declaration that whatever it was, she's over it. That's great - much better than 20-minute screamfests - but she has to learn that maybe her victims aren't over it yet, and maybe she shouldn't smack them or their stuff in the first place.
There's something called harm reduction, which is at the core of a lot of public health initiatives. The idea is that prevention, prohibition, addressing supply and demand, and other things can only get you so far; after that, try to minimize the damage done. At raves, there might be a booth testing pills. There are needle exchange programs for heroin users. Planned Parenthood and other groups give away condoms. A friend of ours worked for a non-profit that provides free housing for homeless alcoholics.

This is what I think of when I ask the kids to eat over their plates, especially tacos and baked goods. You're three and two; stuff's going to fall. Can it please fall onto your plates, or at least the safety net - the placemat?

So, I draw weird parallels, but when they're older and the above topics come up, I'll be able to draw from their "taco over your plate" experiences.
Liss makes mashed potatoes once or twice a week. As with many other nights, Andrew declared last night that he thinks they're yucky, though this time he actually tried them. As they entered his mouth, his face contorted in the "ew!" face that we all know.

They're mashed potatoes, surely one of the most universally-liked foods in the Western world. I consider this nothing more than an example of confirmation bias.

But hey, at least he tried it. A month ago, chicken (chicken!) was "yucky!," and he had quite a bit of that this time around.
The boys' pre-school played bingo yesterday, and they both won something - Andrew a small packet of gummy fruits, and Bobby ... a bell.

A bell? Seriously? Of all places, a pre-school is handing bells to their charges to ring there and then bring home?

Liss quickly declared it an outdoor-only toy.
"There's a rock in my mouth."
I think every parent projects headlines of other youngsters' achievements against their own (example, example), but I also realize that's a dangerous road to travel. It'd be like sinking into depression for not buying winning lottery tickets, only with the Child Genius lottery.

There are lots of another kind of success stories out there with a sadistic twist, like Michael Jackson and Ichiro - with fathers who more or less forced their kids to excel.

We're not pushy types, though; our m.o. will be to expose our kids to lots of things, see what sticks, and support it. Part of that will be teaching what we know - which we're both good at - but there's very little of that right now, because they think we're idiots.(*) We can only hope that one day the light will go on, and they'll realize that not only do we know stuff, but we're happy to help them learn it.

There's also the danger of going too far the other way, by not recognizing their interests, or allowing their own timidity to conceal them.

Honestly, our kids have lots of advantages - genetics, middle-class wealth, intelligent and engaged parents - and it would behoove us to use those on their behalf. But maybe that also sets up our expectations to unreasonable heights. It's too early to tell, but it's up to us to keep checks on ourselves and each other, and I think we're doing well.

(*) The boys, especially, often ask questions and then start their counter to our response with "No! ..." and their own answer in a voice that clearly indicates just how stupid they think we are. This has caused me to then say "If you already knew the answer, why did you ask me?," which Bobby has now started saying to his siblings when they do the same to him or us. It's oddly gratifying when he does that.
We've been pretty lax with Ellen's potty training, letting her wear a diaper instead of insisting she wear underwear and let us know when she needs to go. Part of it's been that she's had a few accidents recently, and part because we've been going places, and the rest because she seems to prefer diapers recently. Maybe we need to reintroduce the bribery system for just her.
Liss took Ellen to the dermatologist - again - because her skin had gotten worse. He was going to prescribe a cortizone cream, to which Liss said she already had some for herself. The doc looked it up, and said the dosage was 4x higher than what he was going to give, but to go ahead in small amounts.

The difference has been pretty remarkable, in that she has almost no rash now. We hope any issues are temporary, anyway, but at least now we have something we know works. We've tried several others, with mixed results.

The real test will be letting her run around with less clothing, we seems to set her off to itching; we haven't gotten that far yet.
Amy turned us on to some loft beds at the university's surplus store. Assuming quality, it looks like a deal we can't pass up. We can even get extra matching-if-bland furniture like drawer and desk sets.

There are some wrinkles, though. They only seem to be open on Tuesday afternoons or something. We both work. Even if we can break them down there, and can get up there with no kids, we might not be able to fit everything in the van, especially with the mattresses. Of course, we don't even want those - hello, ten years of college students' ... bed-related activities - but they might insist to include them. We also will probably want to find safety rails for the sides, especially for Ellen.

But, we're going to try. They might be a cheap-ish way to get the loft beds we've been looking for.
The boys and I were playing outside with an old disc-golf disc of mine, in the green space in the center of our cul-de-sac. The space has a rock wall to keep it level, for which I am eternally grateful; the one down the hill doesn't, and you basically can't play with any balls there, as they roll into the street.

Anyway, the boys just wanted me to throw the disc as high as I could. I'd do it, they'd go get it, bring it back to me, repeat. I don't mind these games of what is essentially Fetch, though I still prefer the ones where I get to sit and watch them play. But none of this is the point.

I tossed the disc high up, and it landed just beyond the rock wall, out of sight. I didn't think anything of it; it had done so before, and those things are made not to roll. Well, I had spaced out or checked my phone or whatever, when Andrew came trotting up to me. "Dad, we have an emergency!" Now, their concept and an adult's are very different, but you can still take it to mean that something unusual happened. It had - the disc had rolled right into the middle of the street, a good 15 yards from where it had first landed.

So, these boys, who are not quite four years old, knew to stop their pursuit of this object of fun, not go into the street, and to turn around and elicit my assistance, all while I was off in my own mental space not watching their every move. Now, we take credit for emphasizing safety over and over, but in the end, they made a decision to delay their fun for the sake of being safe.

Much praise ensued.
Liss was wearing pants with a pocket next to the right knee:
So, we're at Safeway and I'm looking at crackers and suddenly I look down and Ellen has picked my pocket, grabbed my phone, turned on Angry Birds, and already lost the level.
Liss sat the boys down and asked them about activities they'd like to do over the summer, when she'll be taking care of them 12 hours a day, mostly by herself, and would prefer not to descend into alcoholism for it. This is not how she phrased it to them.

It was funny listening, because when it comes to activities - as opposed to consumer items - the boys have few ideas of their own. Instead, she'd come up with something, and they'd say "Yeah!" to each one. It wasn't so much a conversation as an idealized version of "making it seem like your idea."

So here's what they came up with: Missing from this list are trips to the Science Center, for which we have a paid membership, but I'm sure that will figure into things prominently. There's also the library, conveniently located about 100 meters from our house.
We survived the three-day weekend just fine, as the kids were mostly above the line. There were a lot of excursions and some giving of alone time and, more importantly, few random irrational tantrums. I think Ellen got the only time out of the duration, as always for hitting, but as usual she was fine within a couple of minutes. The boys, when they get time outs, generally scream their fool heads off for twenty minutes.

On Friday, Amy brought them all Superman capes. They were overflow from her workplace charity, and very well-received. She even drew an A, B and E on them. The kids even brought them to the party (below), but they didn't stay on long.

The major trip was to Olympia, for a four-year-old boy's birthday party. There were lots of little kids there, which kept them busy, but the real coup was the rented bouncy house. Our kids have seen them in the past, but have always been too timid to go in. Maybe it's that this was a smaller one, or that the other kids at the party were their age or younger (unlike previous ones), but this time they all had a ball with it. It even got us thinking that maybe such a thing would be viable for the boys' party, but we're not going to suggest that to them yet, as even a hint would cement it into an expectation in their minds.

We were able to not have our kids in sight for small amounts of time, but our parental brains don't allow that for very long. Every so often I'd do a "kid inventory." Once I found Ellen in the front room with no adults at all, but a younger boy with her. They were happily "throwing" a basketball and taking turns.

The cake Liss made(*) was a pretty rich chocolate, and even though the boys had smallish pieces, they didn't finish it. "The chocolate is yucky," which I said they could probably phrase as "the chocolate is very rich," which they seemed to accept as they pranced back to the bouncy house. I tossed their plates - after perhaps another nibble for myself - no big deal.

As we were winding down, Andrew asked where his cake was. I said that I'd thrown it away, because he'd said he was done with it. Where's my cake!? I threw it away, little man; I'm sorry, I didn't think you'd want it anymore!

By now, he was getting really sad about this, and clearly trying very hard not to break down into sobs and yelling. I want my cake! Well, there's still a little more - we can get you a small piece. I want MY cake! But I threw it away; you said the chocolate was yucky!

I think that's when something went off in his head: I want my blue cake!

Blue cake? OH! CAPE! It's right over there by the door, little man!

He still was trying to keep it together - a lot of apologies and hugs from me may or may not have helped, but putting his cape back on him certainly did. Crisis averted! I told him he could emphasize sounds (cay-PUH!) in the future, but I think that went over his head.

(*) Since we have to have gluten-free, she'll often volunteer to bake. We get GF and the host gets a free, awesome cake.

May 19th+

As part of our general plan of finding things to do on the weekends so the kids aren't at home and therefore cranky, I found a house across the bay that I figured we could ferry over and see. There's practically no chance we'd actually offer or anything. That's not the point.

With both of us working and it being a ferry ride and the kids going to bed at 7 and the boys having soccer/gymnastics on Saturday, our windows of opportunity are very small - basically midday Sunday. We nailed down that time for next weekend with the realtor, but he has since said something else came up, and would 5:30 work instead? Well, no, since 5:30 + looking + ferry + dinner is way past 7.

It's not like we want to impose on his time any more than the bare minimum, about which I already feel weird enough, given that we're basically looky-loos in the first place. But it'd also be nice not to have to deal with the famous Seattle flakiness.
Ellen ... is a sweaty girl.
Somewhere in the depths of the boys' room - I think their closet - they found an old crib soothing device (similar to this one). It probably hadn't been turned on in over two years, but the batteries still worked. We figured we could just give it away, but the kids have latched onto it. It's their "fish movie."

When I got home yesterday, they'd set up a "house" using blankets and such around the dinner table. Ellen was under there, just sitting on her knees and happily pressing the button to watch the fish movie over and over. The boys occasionally went in to accompany her and see it, too.
Bobby's gotten into the habit of, when Liss leaves their room to conclude bedtime, getting out of bed, opening his door, and saying/hollering "I love you, sweet dreams, good night, ...!" and other things that on the surface convey a love for his family and mother, but mostly are just ways to delay actually going to bed.

One night last week, he started doing that, and wouldn't go back to bed despite Liss's usual entreaties. I mean, we don't fight it too hard, because it's not like he says those things any other time. But, it got to the point where she was done, and closed the door to our bedroom so she could change our sheets in peace. He went quiet.

When she was done some minutes later and opened our door, he was still in their doorway. "I love you, sweet dreams, ...!"
Our decent weekend included being at a friend's for dinner, and thus the kids were awake an hour later than bedtime. This makes twice in a row that they handled it well, so maybe our iron grip can still loosening a bit. Maybe.

For our beach trip coming in August, I had the idea that they should see the stars some night, but with our being so far north, in August there's still light until maybe 10pm. I doubt they'll be able to stay up that late, but maybe with warning they can get up to see, then go back down. Maybe it'd just be the boys. We'll see.
While I went to monthly poker Saturday night, Liss punted by putting the Grinch cartoon (which they quite adore) on the basement TV, then eating dinner down there with them instead of the dinner table. We've long had a goal of starting movie nights, and now she tentatively thinks they're ready. Maybe, the thinking goes, if we set some goal like no time outs during the weekday evenings (when we're home), we can watch something Friday night.
Ellen's efforts to delay bedtime, along with her running joke of declaring "I'm not x, I'm Ellen!" combined into hilarity last night, when Liss called her Stallerina.

"I'm not Stallerina, I'm ... Ellen-er-rina!"
The boys' pre-school gives homework. It's usually some worksheet of a single letter, that they're supposed to color with us or somesuch. We have moral objections, so we never do it, but it's not like the school takes it up to grade. However, with homework in the schools becoming larger and sooner (link, we may have to have stricter conversations (in either direction) when they get into real school.
We're totally guilty of this, except for the homework part.
When Ellen in her hitting phase, I think I'm going to teach the boys how to block. She telegraphs the hit to any keen observer, deliberately bringing her arm back and all, so that'll be the first part. The second is just putting up your arm for the block. It'll be fun if they get into it and I let them try [and fail] to smack me.

I also think it's time I really taught them about fire [safety], but that requires a lot more prep.
One of the more endearing things Ellen does - and that's saying something - is what she does when you kneel to her level and ask for a hug from a few feet away. Assuming she assents, she'll give a big smile, open her arms, and run flat out into you.
This weekend, especially compared to the previous, was fab. After the kids were in bed Sunday night, Liss said "I actually feel relaxed!" Our weekends aren't known for that.

Ellen was in the rare position of being the "problem child" by being her normal self, it was the boys who raised the bar on how well they can behave. Her version of a bad time is still pretty good, so having the engine run mostly humming was great. Mostly it's that she's in an irrationally Mom-centric phase, and quick to hit the boys or yell when she doesn't immediately get what she wants,

We can't entirely credit Liss's cube idea, but I think some merit can tentatively go there. A few times a day, we'd hand them a cube and tell them why they'd earned it. A couple of times, when taking Ellen to time out, I'd show her that I was taking one out to emphasize that whatever she'd done was unacceptable, but then walk to the other room and hand it to the boy she'd hit, tell him he did a great job keeping it together, and he'd smile and put the cube in the jar. They haven't gotten overly "give me cubes!" like they get about a lot of things, which helps us not get burned out by it.

Saturday was busy as usual, with gymnastics and soccer, then meeting with Hank at a fire station open house, then going to the playground next door to that. The kids all got cheap plastic fire hats, which they've been wearing quite a bit, even out in public; they've discovered that they work well at keeping the rain off one's head.

On Sunday we went to a bakery with some toys, which we'd been to before, but they're getting old enough to actually play with "whoa someone else's toys!" for quite a while. I think we were there for ninety minutes. We adults and Ellen shared a single cinnamon roll, while the boys each got a gluten-free cookie, neither of which they finished. They gave their remnants to Ellen, who thusly probably ate more than anyone else. Her lunch intake two hours later was ... minimal.

We'd told the boys that if they had a good Sunday, they could play the Wii while Ellen napped. This involved not telling her, for obvious reasons, which also teaches the boys deception. They're going to learn it somewhere ... yeah, I'll keeping telling myself that. They're still horrible at using the controls, but the Wii Sports baseball game gave enough positive feedback - especially compared to others - that it will probably end up being their go-to game for a while. I think instead of its controller, the X-Box Kinect, with its body-only interface, might be better for several reasons, but there's no way we're getting another game console right now.

So anyway, maybe the coming three-day weekend will continue the trend?

May 12th+

We're taking the kids to Minnesota for Christmas. They've all been on airplanes before, but at 5 1/2 (boys) and 8 (Ellen) months, so they don't remember it. This will be, in effect, their first Big Trip. They seem into the idea of flying, which I hope will translate to actually enjoying it, or at least not freaking out about it. Hell, I'm forty and have flown a couple hundred times, and turbulence still makes me nervous. I do remember flying solo from Texas to New Jersey by age five, though.

We're also going to a beach house with two other families in August, though by car. I'm considering that a dress rehearsal for Minnesota, putting aside the weather differences and proximity of other kids their age. That is, how well can our brood stay in an unfamiliar place for several days, and what can we do to keep things going smoothly?
After this weekend, Liss reached the point of trying something new - a behavior jar. She brought home a bunch of unused centimeter-cubed blocks from school, and found an old vase. At dinner, she explained some good behaviors that earn them blocks, and poor behaviors that would have blocks taken out. We modeled both kinds of behaviors, which put me on the spot; I clearly have no gift for non-comedic improv. When the jar gets full, they can decide on a fun thing to do, for which they don't know how to think big yet, which is great. We also needed to emphasize that we, not they, decide when blocks go in or out.

There are a couple of unspoken parts, too. One, since there's only one jar, they each have an interest in their siblings' behavior. You don't want to earn a block just to have it taken out because your brother argues with Mom about something.

The other is more subtle. After our excursion last night (below), I made a show of giving them each two blocks for doing a good job there, which they did. Then, I took one out, because Bobby had come to me saying Andrew had fought him over something, I forget what. The lesson here is not to fight, but in their minds, it could be that we can fight, just keep it on the down-low and don't let Dad find out. And y'know, I'm okay with that. They need to figure out how to resolve things without our intervention, and goodness knows we've told them many ways to do that.

Anyway, they seemed into the concept; they want us to hand them their blocks so they can put them in themselves. I'm a little lukewarm, because it's One More Thing, but I'll try to keep on my game face. Her idea is that we be a little overly generous the first time or two it fills up, to help hook them, then start scaling back. We'd have to do that gradually, like the frog in hot water, which we did reasonably well with the M&Ms as potty rewards. We also had a "wait for the green light" stamps-on-paper reward system for a while for the boys, which petered out soon after their first rewards(*), partially because they stopped caring, but also because they were waiting for the light without that reinforcement.

Or, instead of scaling back on frequency, we could also use smaller blocks.

(*) Little toy monster trucks, which were gifts before they were ready for them, so hey, free for us!
Last night we tried an experiment, taking the kids to a neighborhood safety meeting that we knew would go past their bedtimes. There was going to be child care provided on the side, which is good, because the actual proceedings would have bored them to distraction. The caregivers were volunteers from the UW Nursing school. It ended up going pretty well, though when we went to get Ellen, she was clearly tired and ready for bed. I had to tear the boys away from a guy who was telling the Three Little Pigs to/with them with more zest than I could ever muster.

The meeting, sadly, was mostly a waste of our time, rehashing old issues instead of progressing into new ones. The real bugger was near the end, though, with its theme of "There's lots to do and few people here. Since you bothered to show up, you must want to volunteer for everything!"
This weekend Ellen asked "Where's my sister?"

"You want a sister?"


... "Sorry."
Both heard in the last few days during snuggly moments: Thanks, kids. Thanks.
As Andrew and I were heading to the car Saturday morning (see below), he was holding his Buzz Lightyear, a fruit pouch, and his little bag of coins. It was a bit precarious, and the Buzz starting slipping from under his arm, which he mentioned. I couldn't resist.

"So, you're losing your Buzz?"

From Amy:
Remember about a year and a half ago when I wrote you to tell you about the identical twins with TTTS and one of them had died? Well, it's 17 months later and the one who lived died over the weekend. She never even left the hospital. She'd been in the NICU for about 16 months and then moved to the PICU. I have no idea what the exact cause of death was, but it obviously had to do with her premature lungs and body.

I know that both Andrew and Bobby are healthy, happy, and sometimes a bit more whiny, stubborn, or difficult for your taste. I'm just so glad and thankful that THOSE are the issues that we have to deal with. It so easily could have been a different outcome.

Please just hold them a little tighter and give them a kiss for me tonight.
Ellen had a stray Kix cereal in her room, and ask me if she could "Eat that Kick?" So, she's definitely latched onto the singular/plural thing.
Signs that we were tired Sunday morning:
I switch between glasses and contact lenses, which kind of confuses the kids, especially when I put in my contacts, since they're less in-their-face by not being on mine. What I have to really restrain myself from explaining, however, it that the two exhibit the exclusive or property; I can't see without either, but I also can't see while wearing both. I can see fine when wearing either.

This, of course, is only because both implements are of my current prescription. I'm certain that there are several combinations of glasses/contacts prescriptions that would combine into my actual prescription. In fact, mathematically, there must be infinite combinations thereof, but manufacturers only have so many decimal places on their machines. Besides, wearing both would be twice the hassle.

This is the kind of thing my mind muses on, but can't explain to the kids yet. So I write them down for them to read and roll their eyes at later. In all likelihood, each rolling eye will sport some sort of corrective lens.
Saturday we tried some garage sales. Money's been tight, but the kids need summer clothes, and we thought they were ready for the spectacle and vulturism. The kickstarter was the community sale day in my old neighboorhood, which let us concentrate our efforts. We could pick a section from the map and just park once and walk among sales.

In preparation, we had them get money from their piggy banks to buy things for themselves. That would take pressure off us to get them random stuff. We put them in small sandwich bags, which was pretty cute to see them toting around.

Because of the boys' soccer/gymnastics stuff, we took two cars, me with Andrew. We hit maybe seven sales in our hour, and only got a few things - a couple of books for me and three pieces of clothing for Ellen.

Oh, and as we were leaving one place, Andrew said "I want this" to one of those toy kitchens. Now, they have a tiny one, and they play with it quite a bit, so at ten bucks I thought it'd be a good investment. I bent down and told him, "If I get this, it's for everybody" instead of just him, which agreed to, so no problem. Now, as I was getting ready to take it to the car, the seller told me that it comes apart for easier carrying, which she and her daughter (maybe nine) showed me. Under the top half was a battery compartment, which - stop right there.

Now, if I'd been selling this, I like to think that I'd have the presence of mind to very subtlely point out to the parent that the compartment exists, and leave it at that. Instead, she pointed it out to both of us, and said it makes the burners light up! Buttons make noises! Later, Andrew relayed to his siblings about this new kitchen, with burners that light up! And buttons that make noise! It's still in the trunk, waiting for us to vet it.

After gymnastics and some errands, we went back home, meeting up about the same time as the rest. Besides a couple more clothes for Ellen - apparently West Seattle people only have daughters - Bobby and Ellen had each found a couple of things to buy with their money. This set off Andrew' who was jealous that they had something to play with, but I think it was more that they had new things they didn't have to share right at that time. Also included in this was a new kid-sized chair "for everybody." All of these whoa-new-things combined to a lot of angst and whinery - enough that we'll have to rethink taking them for sale excursions for a while. To get Andrew back to par, Liss offered to take the boys back out during Ellen's nap, during which time he found a robot that pleased him well enough.

May 5th+

We told the boys they could come into our room to help with an emergency if we didn't respond from the monitor, with examples of blood, puke, poop, and pee. Last night at 2am, Bobby became the first to actually do it - saying his water bottle was low. I believe some recalibration is in order.

It wouldn't be so bad if we didn't have sleep problems, but it took both of us an hour to drift back.
During Bobby's last hair wash, he wasn't his usual "please kill me now instead of subjecting me to this," but rather "man, this sucks." Progress.
I haven't gone with Bobby to his Saturday soccer, but Amy says he's head and shoulders above the other few in the beginner class, paying attention and clearly trying to apply what he's learning, plus a naturally straight kicker. She asked about moving him up, which she's sure got her the Overbearing Soccer Mom label, until the beginning coach vouched for him, but the intermediate class was full. We'll get him in there when the next session starts in a couple of months.

Most of those kids are four instead of almost four, and they do things designed for the average-sized four-year-old, which Bobby is not. This includes exercises like putting one's foot on top of the ball, alternating feet, which in his case means almost kneeing himself in the face to get his foot up there. So, he's a little outmatched in that regard, which if his parents are any indiciation, is going to be the case until he's past twenty. That's okay - lack of size can be made into an advantage with quickness and cunning.

Andrew, for his part, thinks his gymnastics is just "okay," and we share the same view. We'll ask if he wants to switch to some other activity when this ends.

Ellen will probably start soccer in the fall, when she's old enough (there's a 2 1/2 class), because she really wants to. This Saturday I kept having to tell her that she and I were going to take the train to a bakery, which only just kept her from repeating that she wanted to accompany Bobby to soccer instead.
Ellen got a Cinderella Lego set for her birthday, which is popular with everyone, but decidedly Hers. It includes a horse. Recently, she was holding this small plastic horse, when she randomly said "Horsey, I'm going to eat your face!" Then she put its head in her mouth and bit down.
With her transition to a bed(*), I can spend more time saying good night to Ellen, since I'm not bending over awkwardly or talking through jail-cell bars to do so. She's attached onto this, as well, coming up with a couple of new (for us) routines.

The main one is just singing to her, which Liss also does and does for the boys (I don't - it just hasn't come up). There are about four simple songs that you all know, though with "Ellen" in place of various lyrics(+). Another is blowing, mostly her hands, as fast as I'm able. She'll move her hands back and forth to get the different sounds and sensations, much as we've all done out a car window.

As with anything done for a toddler's amusement, you have to draw a line, or they might request it forever. "Do it again!" We have ours trained to accept our saying "Last time" before doing whatever it is one more time, though Ellen pushes that every chance, so we have to hold the line. One time last week I did that, so she rolled over to her side - facing away from me - and "Then good night" liked a scorned love in the movies.

However, usually she'll be more polite about it, by saying Good Night first, after which I'll smooch her forehead and leave without a fuss.

(*) We gave away her crib this weekend. We are now a cribless house. Rejoice!
(+) "Are you sleeping, are you sleeping, Ellen Joy, Ellen Joy?"
Unlike the boys, Ellen has a great motivator for keeping her clothes on - her skin. Her legs and feet are pretty bad, and she doesn't like lotion very much. We've found that keeping her clothed there, including socks, keeps her from being in too much pain and from scratching it worse. We've been to doctors a few times about it, but they just keep giving us different creams she doesn't want to put on. Some of them actively hurt her from their stinging the rashes, which makes her wary of all of them.
It's very common for the boys to hang around the house in only their underwear. If we get home from some morning excursion, they'll strip off their clothes and put them in the laundry, far too prematurely, but their goal is near-nudity, not efficiency.

In fact, they want to wear as little as they can get away with when they go outside, too. This has resulted in many rounds of going outside, being cold, and quickly going back in. Rare is the instance where this means putting on more clothes and coming back out - usually they just declare the endeavor void and want to stay inside. This will happen less often as the summer comes, which will then result in rude awakenings after they're accustomed to the warmth and the fall approaches.
The kids have assigned themselves roles in a bear family - Bobby as Daddy Bear, Andrew as Momma Bear, and Ellen as Baby Bear. I haven't seen them do much structured around this, but it's definitely there, and they all happily accept their labels and refer to them frequently. Liss has received the honorary title of Grandma Bear, which if she doesn't like it, hasn't said so.

April 28th+

The kids - especially the boys - have gone through long stints of being anti-singing. They might be getting over it, as evidenced by Liss's birthday two weeks ago, for which all three joined in singing Happy Birthday to her. She nearly teared up over it.

My birthday was last night, and they did it again. I get where she's coming from.
I've been reading a bit about epigenetics, since I'm a nerd and fine with that. It's also a quick answer to the question of how one of our identical twins can be celiac and the other not. Bobby has a 75% chance of getting it; one might ask, if his identical twin has it, why is that not 100%? Epigenetics is the answer.
... researchers have begun to realize that epigenetics could also help explain certain scientific mysteries that traditional genetics never could: for instance, why one member of a pair of identical twins can develop bipolar disorder or asthma even though the other is fine.
Simply put, every one of your cells (except egg and sperm) have the same massive DNA blueprint, but each has certain markers that turn various genes on or off. It's what makes a kidney cell different from an eyeball cell. The markers can change due to environment, even in the womb. Something happened at some point that turned Andrew's immune system against wheat. Bobby hasn't had that happen yet, but it's probably just a matter of time. Thankfully, he gets a free test every year from the diabetes study.
For these photos of Ellen, I was making faces for her to imitate, which she was mostly happy to do. The middle one was kind of out of nowhere - I was trying to get her to do something else (I forget) - but it turned into a nice eye roll.

This is how I also found out that she can't wink yet.
In the last couple of weeks, Ellen's Terrible has emerged. Before, you could tell her no and she might pout a bit, but now it's straight from asking to no to "BUT I WANT IT!" or whatever. Even asking her to wait a few minutes will get this response. She wants it, and she wants it now.

The boys seem to have no empathy for her new touchiness. There was a water bottle on their table that I honestly don't know "whose" it was, when Bobby picked it up to drink. Ellen lost it, yelling that it was hers. Now, I could have intervened in some arbitrary way - again not knowing who had rightful claim - but I decided to see it play out. He'd take a sip, she'd yell, try to grab it but fail, he'd sip, etc. With each sip, he'd look at me, likely expecting me to do interject. With each grab, she did the same. I think it's not so much that they know what they were doing was wrong, but that I normally would have stuck myself into the fray by then. Eventually she got the bottle (he let go) and he wasn't sad about giving it up, which to me means he knew he was in the wrong, and just didn't care that he was making his sister cry.
I'm not sure how it started, but at dinner last night, I suggested the children put us to bed and they stay up. But first, they'd have to read us some stories. Liss said "I want Corduroy." Taking her cue - or perhaps overtaking it - I countered "I want Corduroy!" and pretended to half-whine half-cry. This set off a flurry of similar mockery of our children's quickness to take offense, which may not be the best parenting techinque on record, but they thought it was hilarious and, as she put it, was "very theraputic."

Based on the goings on during the actual bedtime process, they learned nothing from it.
We've been slowly letting the kids play on the back patio without us able to see them, though with the boys more than Ellen, as she likes to wander into the grass. We stay in audio range. This is the time in their lives when having a fenced yard would be fabulous, but alas.
It's been brewing for months, but Bobby finally had to fulfill his end of the bargain and get his hair cut. He took it fairly well - pretty wary at first, but smiling by the end. Now, telling the boys apart is even easier. However, we think it's a short line between the first time someone mistakes Andrew for a girl and he wants his cut, too. That'll be months from now, though; their hair grows pretty slowly, just like the rest of them.
Pre-schooler nose-picking tip #4: Wash your hands first. You don't want to put anything gross in there.
Ellen has started referring to her brothers as "my boys." "Where are my boys?" "Let's find my boys."

Sounds about right.
Sunday was just a bad day. All three kids were being high maintenance. It's not too bad when one is, but it gets pretty bad with two, but this time it was all of them.

Liss made donuts in the morning, and with their help, it took ninety minutes instead of thirty. Ellen started hitting. Andrew pushed. Bobby pushed back. They'd melt down over the smallest, dumbest things. Ellen got two time outs. The boys were behaving like they were Two again.

It wasn't all bad, with a trip to a park and the ice cream shop and playing catch outside and a mostly-civil bath, but at the end of the day, we'd spent the entire time keeping them occupied and on the go. We'd done nothing for ourselves, unless you count Liss getting to cook three times, since she likes that, but seriously, that was it.

The only real reprieve we got was during Ellen's nap; after the boys' quiet time, Liss put "Up!" on to keep the boys placated, and I was able to get myself a nap. We don't like resorting to screen time, especially as a "reward" for being difficult, but we were at that point. Part of our potential weekend plans were to take the boys or everyone to a new movie, but they didn't pass muster, not that they knew it was an option.

I know they're on an upward trajectory, but this was definitely the Two Steps Back part.

April 21st+

With summer approaching, we're considering window A/C units for the kids' rooms. I think I'm leaning no, for the sole reason that we wouldn't be able to stop them from tinkering with the controls, but there's another big reason - their windows open from side to side. Ours go up and down, so pinching our unit was easy, with the little wings and all. Theirs would be a big hassle.

Liss had the thought that Ellen could sleep in our room on hot nights - her room gets the direct sunset, plus she has heat-sensitive skin problems and generally sweats more. I countered that there's probably no way to do that without the boys wanting to do the same thing, and though there's little data so far, all three have a bad history with it.
Telling the boys apart is easy now. Visually, we're wrong about 2% of the time, when one of them happens to use a facial expression in the style normally reserved for his brother. Verbally - when we can't see them - it's more like 30%, which hey, is better than random chance.
It's the end of an era. Last night, the jingly music went by, and Andrew said "there's the ice cream truck."

So, someone ratted us out. We can't call it the music truck anymore.

Thankfully, he didn't insist we patronize its wares.
We ran out of Carnation - i.e. "chocolate milk" - powder, and won't be buying more unless a doctor makes us.

In what may or may not be part of the grieving process, Ellen was outside on the porch; we have some old formula scoops out there for various purposes. She was digging dirt out of the potted plants and declaring that she was "making chocolate milk."
When mentioning for the second time that he wants to be a scientist, I asked what kind of scientist. "A bug scientist."

That's ... totally a thing. Entomologist. I don't know if he'd heard "bug scientist" elsewhere or made it up, but whatever. I can easily get behind that.
This morning Bobby emerged to pee, but moved the stool out of the way, declaring that he didn't need it anymore. I watched, impressed. With both toilet lids up, his penis barely goes over the toilet lip. He then peed - up. It got all over the undersides of the lids.

"Uh, maybe you need the stool after all." "Aim for the water, guys." [Andrew was hanging around]

His response was to stop mid-stream. After I cleaned things up as best I could, he kicked us out to finish in private, but clearly still without a stool. So, I guess the solution to getting away with something is to not have a witness. Smart kid.
The boys had their diabetes study visits this weekend, which is something I've come to dread. They were uncharacteristically upbeat about it, or at least resigned in Bobby's case. With their new soccer/gymnastics things on Saturdays, we opted for two separate visits, so I took Andrew after the gym and lunch.

All in all, it really wasn't that bad. The sticking point for me - no pun intended - is the blood draw, and he yelled a bit, but the tech was able to distract him with the progress of the blood filling the syringe. In the past, he's tried blowing bubbles, giving them lollipops, whatever, but I think this lower-key approach was better for Andrew's psyche. After the initial pain, he settled down pretty well. It also helped - a lot - that they hit the vein on the first try.

On their next visit, as with every "birthday" visit, they'll do celiac tests again. So, we need to get a plan together for giving Bobby wheat - enough that if his body is starting to reject it, it produces enough antibodies to show on the test. Andrew will still get a test, but with the assumption that it will be negative, because he doesn't get wheat. If it's positive, we'd have to assume the nanny is giving him gluten, or he's somehow sneaking it elsewhere, which would be a stretch.

The swag, which has ranged from lame to great, was great this time - blue kickballs. I marked his with an A, and Bobby's later got a B from Liss. Thankfully, we already had a blue basketball, which has become Ellen's by common informal agreement.

I didn't hear anything about Bobby's visit, so I guess it went fine.

One piece of good news - after their next visit, they'll be every six months instead of three. Putting poop in tubes, however, will still be a monthly event.
As the kids get older, and therefore closer and closer in relative age, we're get the Triplets question more and more.
I'm pretty sure I briefly saw one of Ellen's last baby teeth coming in the back.
At the appropriate age, I told the boys they could start saying they're three-and-three-quarters instead of three and a half, but it didn't take hold. They insist that they are, in fact, three and a half. That's probably for the best, because the other does little more than show that they have pretentious parents.
It's interesting reading this thing from late 2010 (as below), because several things stick out to me.
From December 2010:
There's also a box in [the garage] with a play toolset that Liss's dad sent here months ago, for us to gift to them when they're ready, which they're not. However, it has a picture with the set and two small boys playing with it, so they keep asking what it is. They seem to have gotten that it's "Grandpa's box," as I tell them, but they're still curious. I keep forgetting to rip off the picture when they're not around, because I'm never really down there without them.
This box has been semi-hiding on a top shelf in the garage for some time; Grandma noted that they might be ready to get it for their 4th birthday in July. She's right; the only point of contention will be sharing, especially with Ellen around. It also has tons of pieces, and pieces tend to scatter, so it'll stay in the garage.
Our extended circle of friends and co-workers are in the midst of a baby boom, and every time it comes up I have to think "we're done!" We're past the newborn stage, and almost done with the toddler stage - Ellen's Two has been much easier than the boys' so far - and have no desire to go through either again, unless you could guarantee another Ellen, which you can't.

There's another advantage to being Done, having done it the way we did. People who space their kids apart lengthen the total number of years they have kids in the house. With one kid, it's 18 (in theory), while ours will be 20. If you have the oldest and youngest, say, ten years apart, it becomes 30. While my "screw that!" is in part because of how late we started, it's also in part because ... thirty years? Screw that.
My and Liss's bedtime rituals with the kids are different after we read books to all three of them and split up. Hers includes singing to the boys, but first, she asks things like "Who did you help today?" or "What was fun today?" For the former, they make stuff up, but Bobby's added a wrinkle - "Someone that starts with a E." You mean Ellen? Yeah. Or, ".. with a M." Momma? Yeah.

The boys are still on their "put you in jail" kick, but they're still not really hip to the concept. Two examples,

They put Liss in jail for something, and she asked if there was a fine. Taken by surprise, but being three, they of course said Yes. Here's a dollar. Yes, they "gave" her an imaginary dollar. That's a really small fine, she said. Okay, here's a hundred dollars.

The other was that she and I were randomly snuggling on our bed, when they came in and insisted that we stop that. We were now in Double Time Out (oh no!), and that I should go sit near my dirty clothes, and she near hers. Of course, we didn't move, and in fact grabbed them to join the pile when we got too close. They were into it, but then decided that since we wouldn't do what they said, they would put us in jail.

To do this, they locked our door and left, closing it behind them. That is, they locked us in our own room, and it's not like they can unlock it from the outside. After a bit, I opened it, and saw that they were playing nicely in Ellen's room. When they saw me, they said Hey! and made me go back into our room, where Bobby locked the door again, and they went back to Ellen's. I heard them close her door, so this time I opened ours, closed and locked it behind me, and went downstairs. Since they couldn't open it, Liss could chill for a bit without them knowing we weren't both in there.

Outsmarting two nearly four-year-olds provides way more satisfaction than it probably should.
The ice cream place we go to also has old-school video games (old picture), and the kids are starting to get savvy about the difference between the lure-them-in screens and actually playing the game. However, they can't actually play the games yet, so a quarter usually last less than a minute.

My brilliant solution was that, in the future, they can get quarters from their full piggy banks to bring and use. When they're out, they're out. Sure, almost all of that change came out of my pocket in the first place, but at least this makes it their problem instead of ours, and teaches them budgeting. Besides, maybe that'll free me up long enough to get the high score on that Pac-Man.
There are tons of "that's what she said!" moments with kids. Yesterday's was Andrew casually walking by us and saying "It's harder to go in the back door." And then he walked to the sliding glass door near the kitchen and tried to heave it open.

April 14th+

Soon into our sleep last night, I heard a boy whining on the monitor a little, which isn't uncommon. Usually he (whoever it is) will fall back asleep and that'll be that. That's what seemed to happen, and I fell back as well. Then around midnight, I awoke with a start. Bobby was crying at the open door of his bedroom, with more urgency than his usual bad dream, where he may or may not just be awake and wanting attention. Something had genuinely scared him. In my urgency to get to him, I banged the hell out of my knee, though I couldn't tell you on what.

I did the usual thing where I lie with him in his bed and hold him for a little while. I didn't ask what had scared him, since that often just stokes the fire, and he doesn't usually offer. I was there for maybe ten minutes while he calmed down, after which he was okay for me to go back to bed. Of course, I didn't get back to sleep for a bit.

Liss says that when she's saying good night to them without me, they insist she close their closet door to keep "the monster" out, even though she always says there isn't one. Who knows what goes on in those little brains of theirs, and how it manifests in their dreams?
While waiting at the pharmacy earlier this week, an older black guy was chatting with the kids - the normal stuff, how old are you, what's your name? Then, he said "You know, I used to be white like you, but I ate too much chocolate."

I think Bobby really believes it. "He was just teasing, you know." "No, he wasn't!"
Someone showed the kids "Cheers!", so now we're doing it some three times at the dinner table every night. Ellen is almost always the initiator, but they're all into it. We already have to rein it in; they just want to keep bumping cups instead of eating.
From Liss:
Despite some setbacks, [Tuesday] was pleasant. Even though Bobby slept past the all-important Green Light, we were all packed up and ready to go right on time and with zero arguments. ZERO. I praised them loudly and taught them to stick their hands in the middle of the circle and go, "Gooooo Team!" I loaded everyone into the van, rolled into the preschool's parking lot at 8:58, unloaded everyone and ... they were closed for spring break and nobody had bothered to tell me (normally the nanny takes them so this isn't as weird as it sounds). This made me especially nervous because I'd scheduled an appointment with the doctor for myself at 9:20. I had snacks for Ellen, and she'd brought some books, and I figured I could always give her my phone. But adding the two preschoolers to that equation sounded risky.

But what else could I do? So I packed everyone back into the van, zoomed down to the clinic, and told them: You have to let me talk to the doctor. If you do a good job, we will go buy new shoes when we're done.

And they were angels. They sat and read the books Ellen had packed. They drank water out of little paper cups. They ate their snacks carefully and picked up the few crumbs that fell. They didn't nag me or the doctor with too many questions. They sat quietly on the floor of the lab when I had to get a blood draw and they waited patiently for my prescriptions at the pharmacy.

And so, as promised, we headed to Payless. Their feet measured 2 sizes bigger than the shoes they had on. Oops. We'd known they were getting tight, but not like that! Mother of the year, I tell ya. Since I let them pick their own shoes, we are now proud owners of 2 sets of Cars sneakers and one set of Dora. Better than Disney Princesses, I suppose.

Gooooo Team!
I didn't know about the Goooo Team! thing before Bobby did it with me at dinner. I was like, wait, where did you learn that?
Ellen is now two for two on having good nights with her new bed, so I guess we were overplanning the transition. She said was ready, and she's backing it up.
We're probably getting the boys some kind of loft beds over the summer - something high enough that they can use the space underneath, but not so high that we can't stand or kneel and comfortably help them when they need it. Bunk beds were a possibility until they both claimed the top. Two beds it is!

There are tons of options out there. I think drawer space is a priority, especially if it means giving each of them his own. They share all of their clothes now, but that's going to start changing with the next wardrobe iteration; in fact, they may each get their own shoes today. They share a dresser now, and while it'd be easy enough to give each of them a side, it's in poor shape (I somehow screwed up while assembling it four years ago), and maybe attaching separate drawers to their beds would give them a sense of control and responsibility over their clothes.

Along with this, we'll probably to try to remove the large bookshelf from their room. It doesn't really serve any purpose except keeping some things out of their reach, like their "we waited for the green light" stickers, the quiet time light, and ... that's about it. We can figure out what to do with those that don't involve an earthquake hazard over their heads.

And then, they can take all of their stuff from the common living spaces, and put it in their room, dammit. Yeah, a man can dream.

For the most part, it looks like I'd have to be the one putting these together. Oy.
A major difference between crib and bed is that you can lie down next to the kid in question while tucking them in.

We are taking full advantage of this.
Part of the planning for Liss's week with the kids included sending the boys to their pre-school on Tuesday and Thursday, for three hours each morning, to allow her to go to the doctor and hang out with Ellen. Well, it turns out that the school is closed this week. That's common for care providers during school breaks, but they were open for mid-winter break, and will be for the summer. Really, it's not that they're closed, it's that no one told us - no letter home, no word from the nanny, who's usually the one taking them.
Liss is on spring break this week, meaning she's on kid duty and the nanny has the week off:
Some (not all) of the things my boys fought about today:

The blue shoes
The blue coat
The blueberry yogurt (even though one of them picked the raspberry and put it in the cart)
Opening the doors
Closing the doors
Waking their sister
Pushing the elevator button

I wanted to smack them. I wanted to drink myself under the table. I wanted to run away and get a pedicure and a cupcake. Instead, I took them through the rain, on the train to see Daddy at work and later to the pharmacy and the co-op. I called the dinner drumsticks "Pirate chicken" to make them more enticing. After dinner we sang silly songs and had a bubble bath. At bedtime, Andrew almost lost it because I couldn't remember every detail that he wanted me to include in his all-original bedtime song. Then I came down and posted a "When will it stop" on Facebook and everybody said, "NEVER! MUAHAHAHAHA!"

It's not like we're modeling this, they came up with it all on their own. What's the answer, Quaker school? Labeling everything in their world with Sharpies? Vodka?

While the "Never! Ha!" answers are annoying, older kids have some conflict resolution skills, right? I mean, they're not fighting over the green cup. We just don't want to have to get involved in every stupid scrape, which sometimes means we're just letting them play out without our intervention, but so far that just means it escalates in a spiral.
Ellen's only just started running in the last few weeks, but she's already a pro.
A conversation between Liss and Ellen:
Near the end of a dinner that included fries, the boys had finished theirs, but Ellen wasn't going to. She agreed to share, but rather than one for you, one for me, she'd rip one in half and then attempt to throw the other half at to her brother.

Not quite how we do things, honey.
Saturday Liss and Amy took the boys to a park while Ellen napped, so I took her to a different one after she woke up.

We didn't stay long, but that was her idea. She spent maybe twenty minutes on a swing ("faster!"), ten with the little slides, then announced that we could go. Go where, I asked. To our house!

Walking back took about as long. We stopped at the grate near the pebble path, so she put lots of little rocks in there to hear the sploosh sound. I pointed out nearby birds, flowers, and a small cluster of ants. At some point, she'd had enough meandering, declared "Let's go find my brothers!" and began the walk home with a renewed sense of purpose.

They weren't back home yet. In order to prove that we had, in fact, left the house on this sunny day, I sent Liss a picture of Ellen on the swing. The only reason we beat them home, she replied, was that the walk home had been stopped cold by a much larger ant-led brigade.
Walking back to the car from the after-gym-class smoothie failure (below), there was a music store, so we went in. One of the first things I noticed was a stand-up bass (like so), so I went over and plucked a couple of strings. Andrew tried to stop me - wait, we're in a store, don't touch stuff! I had to unlearn him - as long as we're very careful, in this store, it's okay to try stuff out. He still didn't want to pluck the bass, though; I think its size was a bit much for him.

We made our way to the guitars, where I could tell that something unusual was going on - they were all in tune. I've hit a lot of music stores in my time, and tuning is a hit and miss proposition. Meanwhile, the guy behind the counter was quoting a price for restringing a kid's violin, and it was perfectly reasonable. My subconscious began thinking of ways to patronize the place.

Anyway, two of the guitars were twelve-string, which helped bring Andrew around, because he wanted to play with that. We strummed some of the guitars, I pointed out some of the random instruments they had, then showed him how a real piano (strings inside) is different than our digital, but he didn't seem to be into that very much. What interested him was the violin from one of the cases. He even asked where was the "thing that makes it make music," so I showed him that the bow was just sitting behind, a little hidden. He said, basically, that he wanted to learn how to play that. Not the piano, I asked, but the violin? Yeah. Okay, we can work on that, and maybe even start lessons when you're about 5, maybe six. "Five."

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Ellen had been repeatedly singing a song that she'd made up. She sang it exactly the same way hours later, so Liss thought maybe it was time to get it down on paper. So, she did. That set off the boys, who wanted "my song" on paper, too, except they hadn't made on up. They tried at the time, and she sort-of wrote down what they were coming up with, but as with any creative endeavor, when you're just churning out to keep up with your contemporaries ...

Now, we're very musical people, so all of this was putting us in a good frame of mind. We joked that the kids can form an ensemble with Andrew on violin, Ellen on piano and writing the songs, and Bobby playing eletric guitar. No, wait, drums. Definitely drums.

Then, during quiet time Sunday afternoon, Andrew fell asleep but Bobby didn't. Bobby came down when that light came on - not waking up Andrew, to his credit - so I took him to do some work in the garage. When we were done, I got the violin that my Mom gave me a few years ago, to see if it needed any work before I showed it to Andrew. To my surprise, Bobby was really curious about it. In between my various instructions (don't touch the bow strings, these are the tuners just like a guitar's, etc.), he asked questions and must have pulled the bow across the strings for a good twenty minutes. In pre-schooler time, twenty minutes on a single task is an eternity. So, maybe there's hope for him to take to a more subtle instrument.

Andrew still hasn't seen the violin, and Bobby didn't say anything, but either way, I'm hesitant to bring it out until more one-on-one time with Andrew. I figure I can take it with us to his next gym class and have the guy look at it (it needs a little work), and we can do it then. They're just not ready to have a fragile instrument like that without major supervision, but as Bobby showed, a little introduction can't hurt - except that this worked because only one kid was a part of it. Any time there's anything new and interesting, it's a fight. Hell, the boys have only just started fighting about a pair of shoes they've had for months.
Saturday I took Andrew to his first gymnastics class, while Liss and Amy took Bobby to soccer, with Ellen along.

The gym place was a lot smaller than the one near our house, which is totally fine. Instead of two basketball courts, the play/gym area was maybe a one-bedroom apartment. More importantly, this one didn't smell like feet.

We showed up, and pretty soon, the class started. There were a whopping three kids, including Andrew. From what Liss says, they were expecting that, what with Spring Break and such, and maybe they'd have ten the next week. It was fine, since it meant Andrew got more attention - just a little odd. The other three parents there were talking, so I tried to overcome my awkwardness and say hi, but that lasted about thirty seconds before things became awkward again.

The class lasted about 45 minutes, which Andrew declared fun. I'd noticed coupons for free smoothies at their desk, so I'd pocketed a pair, and set out with him to find the place. It was behind the gym, but when we got there, saw that it was closed on the weekends. So much for a treat after every class.

Meanwhile, Liss reports that Bobby really got into the soccer class (picture), and Ellen even got some sympathy coaching on the side after being vocally jealous. I don't think the gymnastics place has the personnel for that, to say nothing of gym equipment versus soccer equipment (a ball), so that may not work at Andrew's gig.

Sunday afternoon we were on the green area outside of house, playing their version of soccer, when a dad and his kid walked by with a mini soccer ball. A little later, another family did the same. Both boys were barely two. So, I guess it's true what they say about sports bringing people together. One of these days we'll probably have to take Bobby (or more) to a Sounders game, or at least start having the matches on TV sometimes. And then, in the distant future, their uncle can take them to a "football" game in the UK.
I estimate that about 94% of our dinner conversation is either the boys saying/asking something, or our responding to them. Liss says it's about 80%, but I think she's being overly generous.
We've decided that Ellen can use the nom de plume of L. E. Bear if she wants - I'd say that'd work if she becomes a children's author.
From Liss:
Andrew just informed me (with pointed finger and emphatic tone) that every kid needs ONE MOM and ONE DAD. I tried pointing out how half his friends are happy examples to the contrary, but then I realized that trying to reason with a 3-year-old may be the *real* definition of insanity.

But where'd he get it? If it's his own way of figuring out the world, then OK. But if the nanny or somebody at school told him that? Well, then we have some research to do about new nannies or schools.
One of the more ignoble new habits of our children is in the realm of buttwiping. Now that they all use the toilet, but are supposed to be learning to wipe themselves, we can't just have them lie down on the floor while we wipe them, even though that's the safest (i.e. easiest to see what's left). Instead, I'll hold out my arm, and the kid will lean on it while crouching, and I'll use my other hand. I can't even think of what else it looks like - it's maybe between three-point stance and a chin-up. It works, but it looks absolutely ridiculous.
"Read it again!"

I rebelled against this a few months ago, and the kids adapted. The important thing, from my standpoint, is that they don't ask me anymore; they just put the book back and get another one. This has been marvelous for my sanity. I can handle book after book a lot better than the same one seven times in a row.

As for other adaptations, they'll then take the book to another adult to read. Or, they'll just start with that adult and ask him or her to "read it again!" over and over. There's also a loophole, whereby they can "pick" the same book at bedtime and each get a read, which also helps (but not entirely) settle disputes over who gets which book. In fact, that's the main reason we allow it.

Speaking of which, last night the boys were practically shoving books into Ellen's arms for her to take to her room, but she didn't want them. After she left, they slipped a couple of them under their closed door, as though that would do the trick. This morning, they were still in the hallway just outside their room. Nimrods.
Our attempts to do things around the house when the kids are awake are generally on a whim; you have to read their moods, not to mention your own, the weather, other things on the schedule, etc. Late morning on Sunday, I decided it was time to finally clear out Ellen's room and put out her bed, which was still rolled up in its plastic sheet. Before she was born, her room was at times a guest room, office, and general place to dump stuff. We'd long removed any guest room evidence, but I only got the desk out a couple of weeks ago. This time, we had about six boxes of random crap to get out of there.

The presence of the kids, per usual, slowed everything down, but also kept our eye on the prize. I had a garbage bag and three boxes laid out - keep, give away, recycle - and the boys would pick up something, ask me where it went, and put it there. Put another way, they were genuinely, if slightly, helpful. For some reason, they really wanted everything to be garbage so they could throw them in the bag. A few times, before Liss came up, I had them "ask Momma," which meant going all the way downstairs to ask. Their lack of any sense of efficiency is usually a pain in our ass, but I'm learning to use it to my advantage when I can. Anyway, I guess having them be more scatterbrained and hurried makes me feel calm and wise by comparison. Her closet is still well-stocked with some our stuff, but we're counting on her not being able to open it for a bit.

So we got most of the clutter out, moved her dresser, crib and bookshelf, then they hid while I vacuumed. We put in plug covers and moved her monitor and white noise machine. After lunch, we then put her bed out, but had her nap in her crib. The idea was that she didn't have to start using the bed until she wanted to, maybe doing it for naps first, then bedtime when she felt ready. Well, last night she said she was ready, so we went from zero to sixty that first night. By the time I left for work, she was still asleep, so knock on wood.

April 7th+

From Liss, Friday morning:
While I was getting ready, I kept hearing different stuff from Elliebear's monitor--the ABC song, then the "All the Fish" song, then an insistent, "Come on, Boots! ... Swiper, no swiping!" and then "Five Little Monkeys." Finally, I went in and asked, "Are you singing?"

She held up the big blue rectangular Lego she'd had in her crib and said, "Nooo, I'm watching TV with my remote!"
The boys' pre-school brought in a "class pictures!" photographer, which costs nothing for the actual photo sessions - you just pay for prints if you want them - so whatever. Their business model, it seems, is to give you all the prints, and you pay for what you keep. So, they brought home three packets full of prints - one for each boy, and one for both together.

For the most part, they're completely ridiculous - the boys in these odd poses that they'd never do naturally, or Bobby doing his sullen look. It's not quite to this level, but still. There are also some actually decent head shots, but outrageously expensive, and it's not like we don't take a shitload of pictures of them as it is. So, probably nothing will come of it. I just hope they had fun with the sessions.
Liss's work had a math night, so I took the kids. They took her attention away from the event at large, but things were in hand, so it wasn't a big deal. When bedtime approached, we took them to the exit and ... it hit the fan. Ellen didn't want to leave - specifically, she did want to leave Mommy. We've seen this kind of thing before, so part of me thought it might be better to leave her with Liss and I just take the boys home, but we also don't want to have precedents of yelling to get what one wants, so I took her. She screamed all the way home.

There are things that small children do when they're upset that they don't normally do. When I got her out of the van, she yelled that she wanted to see Mommy, and started running down the sidewalk in the direction we'd come. Bear in mind that the school is over a mile away, but ... she's two. And, she was out of her mind with longing.

So, I carried her to the door, but had to put her down again to unlock the door. She started yelling again and going back down the stairs, which in her state was especially risky, so I asked the boys to stop her. Bobby tried to stop her - from yelling, by saying "Stop yelling, Ellen!" Er, thanks for the help, kid. I guess I should have been more specific.

Once we got in, the boys did their routine stuff, taking off their shoes and coats, while Ellen tried her best to open the baby-proofed doorknob. While screaming. Bobby had asked for a little something to eat, so I gave him two little cookies. Andrew refused, because he's reaching the age of making decisions based on more than want, want, want. Ellen refused because she had more important things to do, like getting to Mommy through the Doorknob From Hell.

Instructing the boys to use the restroom and such as part of their bedtime prep, I focused on getting Ellen ready. Knowing I had a hostile witness on my hands, I kept half picking her up and half lying her on the ground as I undressed her, then put on her diaper and sleeper. This normally 90-second process took maybe eight minutes. As soon I got the sleeper on, she'd zip it down, which is a relatively new skill. So, I had to take that one off and put on one with a snap to prevent that - except she can unsnap now. That's a very new skill, as in, I'd never seen her do it before. As though to validate my main reason for needing her sleeper secured, in between sleepers, she tried to take off her diaper.

It was around this time that I texted Liss and asked her to come home as soon as she could.

And then, out came the duct tape. No, really.

We went upstairs, and I brushed the boys' teeth. When I handed Ellen hers, she yelled "I want to throw it in the toilet!" Thanks for the warning, kid - I'll start blocking your path, now. I asked Andrew to fetch the lion binky from Ellen's room, which calmed her down a bit. Bobby brought her rattle-dog-thing (see picture); that didn't help, but at least they were actively trying to help. I didn't brush her teeth, for obvious reasons.

She didn't want to go into either bedroom, so I had to carry her into the boys' room for story time (she's normally in there for that), and close the door, again using her lack-of-doorknob-ability-for-now to keep her in. She refused to get a book, so I read the boys' choices while she yelled and tried the door. As is usual when it's just me, I asked the boys to wait on their beds while I put Ellen down, which was clearly going to go nowhere, when Liss came up the stairs.

They went to Ellen's room, but Ellen noted - still upset - that she hadn't gotten to read a book in the boys' room. Well, no kidding - you didn't want to, goofball. So, Liss brought her back in, they all read a book, then everything was basically back to normal. By the time I went to Ellen's room to say goodnight some five minutes later, she was her usual chipper self. She just needed her Momma.

In the future, when seeing this kind of storm brewing, perhaps we'll leave her with her mother after all.
We're trying to encourage two disparate things in the kids - playing together without us, and not getting upset at the annoying little things their siblings do. The more time they're interacting without our hovering over them, the more likely to have conflict. That's supposed to diminish over time, but it's pretty hit and miss right now. Sometimes they'll go, oh, twenty minutes without getting indignant over something, but usually it's more like ... two.

Of course, as they get older, each should be able to entertain him or herself, like with a book, but right now, alone is a scary and dreadful state of being - except Ellen in her crib.
The diabetes people want to get a blood sample from Ellen sometime. Oy.
Ellen playing Pirate and saying "Arr, Matey!" might be the cutest thing ever.
While at Amy's parents' house, someone found a flat old soccer ball, which the kids were happy to kick around for a bit. Bobby's especially adept and into it, so Amy did some research, and it looks like we'll be enrolling him in a pee-wee soccer thing soon. Andrew, through conversations at the same time, seems to prefer gymnastics stuff, so it looks like we'll be supporting divergent interests for once. This is a good thing except for the split supervision part, but Amy has volunteered to take Bobby to soccer, so it should be fine.
While I was using the restroom, Andrew came in and started using the potty, which is pretty common. As he sat there, he asked "What's this?" Oh, uh, that's your scrotum. What's that for?

Well, right now, it's not doing much of anything. When you're about twelve, it'll wake up and change you. A lot.
Between ours and Amy's parents' house and "hide them again!", the kids did five Easter egg hunts yesterday, of a dozen at a time. The boys are at a good age for it, mostly finding them on their own or with a little help. Ellen required more assistance, though her brothers often provided it.
This Saturday I took the boys to Con for the first time, to give them an idea of where I'd been for two days, and potentially sow the seeds for their future, prolonged attendance. It didn't go very well, though not horribly, either. I towed them around to various things, but almost nothing there is for their age group. There used to be a "kid con" babysitting/activity area, but that went away a few years ago for liability reasons.

There was an old-style arcade, but the two stools there were taken, so they had to stand on my legs to try anything, and they're no good at those things yet anyway, so that didn't hold. I took them to the dealer's room - think flea market in a conference room - which was a bit much.

The most popular part was the hotel's glass elevator. We went up to the 12th floor and back down twice. Both times, I sat on the floor, and they clung to me, fascinated but wary.

In the end, we only stayed about an hour, but at least now they have a frame of reference. Talking to other parents, bringing kids started to become reasonable at about eight, with leaving them to wander on their own around eleven.

However, since I'd registered them, they each got their own attendance badge, which was definitely a hit.

March 31st+

Our current cloth diaper strategy with Ellen is "hope our current inventory lasts until she's out of them." That might be especially difficult with the covers, since we only have a few, but it's good to have goals.
Last night when I went up to draw the kids' bath, I noticed things were a little smellier than normal. The potty in that bathroom had dried poop residue, so I rinsed that out, and upon dumping the water, noticed the toilet still had most of the actual poop. Okay, fine. Done.

Then I started the bath water, and only then noticed ... fingerpaint on the wall. Except it wasn't paint. There were maybe 15 "strokes."

Andrew was the only kid nearby, so I called him in, and asked whose it was. To his credit, he pointed at himself. I wet a rag and showed him how to wipe it off, but he wasn't strong enough. Liss got some 409 to give to him, and he was able to spray it, so he did that while I scrubbed. It came off fairly easily, thankfully.

He knows that we were a little mad about it, but praised his confession, so I don't think this is a new phase or anything. It was just ... really? Poop, on the wall?
This morning, since they're not allowed to come out of their room until the green light, the boys were passing the time by playing hide and seek. In their bedroom. They have one "good" place to hide - their closest - but they're adept at finding bad places, too, like under their mattresses or blankets. But hey, whatever works.
From Liss a month ago:
I had a quick chat just now with [a] friend and found out that she, ... mother of 6-year-old twins and a 1.5-year-old, is now pregnant with her fourth.
It's a boy. As in, it's boy number four.

There, but for the grace of Ellen, go we.
The kids have a new phase of saying "MY Daddy" or Mommy when hugging us, as though we are only his or her parent and not the siblings'. We correct them most of the time, but especially when it's "My Daddy *only*," which we say is not the same thing as "My *only* Daddy," which is in fact true. They're too young to understand these subtleties of language, but we're still going to try. We don't need them disavowing their siblings' parentage, thanks, though there is fun irony in a child disclaiming that of his identical twin.
If you look at this picture carefully, you can see how Ellen's left eyebrow flare upwards at the end. She got that from me. I've spent many hours - seconds at a time - and gallons of spit - a lick at a time onto a finger - trying to get mine down. I gave up years ago, but I still think it makes me look slightly more evil.

I wonder how to get her to embrace the flare, if it can be so.
This week/end will be a hodgepodge of crazy. To wit:

As mentioned before, the kids' doctor said we should take Ellen down to our 1% milk, but keep the boys drinking whole. We're splitting the difference, putting them all on 2%. Technically, that means we're breaking two suggestions at once.
From Liss:
Music is important in our family. Back a million years ago, before I proposed to James so he could sing to me every day, before we even met, the choir did "Music in My Mother's House." It's a pretty tune, but I found the lyrics somewhat sappy and heavy-handed. Since having children of my own, of course, I like it a lot more. I hope that one of the the things they'll remember about their childhood is music.

The last thing that happens during our (now very-extended) bedtime routine is that I sing to the boys. It started with "Twinkle Twinkle" or "Goodnight Andrew" and "Goodnight Bobby" to the tune of "Goodnight Ladies," but they quickly started making other requests. For months all they wanted was "The Wheels on the ____." I had to bargain for the right to sing the Goodnight song or Sandra Boynton's "Snuggle Puppy" every once in a while.

Lately, though, they're making even more ridiculous song requests. Yesterday Andrew wanted a cookie song (Boynton has one) and Bobby wanted an ice cream song (Sarah, duh). Today, Andrew wanted to hear a song about "an apple that's on fire." To the tune of the Dreidel song:

Oh, apple, apple, apple, your flames are so so bright
Oh apple, apple, apple, I'll eat you if I might.

So not high art, but I'm not particularly experienced with improv. Bobby just wanted "an odd song." He got "Yellow Submarine," with elephants thrown in for good measure. "Was that odd enough?" I asked him, and he giggled and said yes. As I left the room, he was bragging to his brother about it.

I hope they keep wanting bedtime songs for a very long time.
For a long time now, when the boys mention their next birthday and its surefire awesomeness, we've been able to deflect some of the enthusiasm by reminding them that a lot of other birthdays come first. Well, the first one - Ellen's - has come and gone. Liss's is at the end of this month, with mine a week later. As far as our household goes, that's it, and it'll be a chronological beeline to theirs. We may be in for two+ months of anticipation, and nearly-four-year-olds plus anticipation is a high-energy bomb.
After her initial, loud and adamant reluctance, Ellen is now fine with leaving her binky in her room, with just a gentle reminder. And thank goodness.
For the diabetes study, Liss and I each got our blood drawn about five months ago; the results just came in, and it looks like neither of us has Type I. That's juvenile diabetes, which is the scope of the study and all, but I wonder that, since you've drawn our blood and are testing anyway, why not also check for Type II?
At the end of the weekend, just after the kids were put to bed, Liss said "That was a pretty good weekend."

For Saturday, we'd planned a day with Amy and a babysitter helping us break up the day. Amy took Ellen on an errand, while Liss took the boys on a couple of them, and I did a few things around the house. When they got back, the babysitter showed up, and we three adults went to a new cafe nearby for lunch, and brought a couple of board games. We did that for almost three hours, which was a really nice break in general. That may need to become a "thing."

We'd asked the sitter to keep screen time to a minimum, because we were going to need it to distract the kids during our afternoon chore - emptying the old bookshelves, and organizing the new built-ins. The job went well, with four of the old ones getting out of the house, but the movie (Toy Story 3) didn't hold their interest too long. I think it's because the noise we were making drew them out; the boys, especially, are just curious people, and we were Doing Something Different. Besides the gawking, they were full of questions, which might have been the main reason we tried to distract them in the first place - the other being their desire to help. Again, neither of these is bad in theory, but the execution slows everything down.

So, we got a fair amount done, then put them to bed, then the three of us watched some TV, and that was that.

On Sunday, we had no plan, which is the kiss of death. After breakfast, we decided to take them to a nearby coffee shop, where they could play with the toys set aside, but that didn't work for very long. We hit Safeway on the way back, which was fine, but reminded me of why we get grocery delivery - lots and lots of "what's this?" and "can we get this?" Fortunately, they weren't those screaming kids you dread in the grocery store ... this time.

Walking back home, we passed a park, so I asked if anyone wanted to play there. Andrew said yes, and the others said no, so we split up, me staying with him. However, Ellen changed her mind and came my way, while Liss and Bobby disappeared around the bend, but when Ellen noticed that, she missed Liss and ... that was that. Andrew and I had to escort her home. I told Andrew we could go back, but by the time we got home, it was lunchtime, and then quiet/nap time.

The boys have a light signal thing - not the same as the all-important Green Light clock - that we only use for their quiet time. We have it set to change from green to yellow after about 45 minutes, which is their signal that it's okay to come back out of their room. After a fair amount of chatter between them, though, there came silence. They had both fallen asleep, so their quiet time had become naps. With Ellen's, it was a now-rare and spectacular thing - the triple nap. Liss used the opportunity to take a long bath. I worked on the shelves some more, between periods of putzing around.

Often, when the boys nap - especially in the car - they wake up pissed off (old picture), so that was looming over the proceedings. However, I heard them waking up over the monitor, and they seemed okay. When I went to get them, the reason they hadn't just gotten out of bed seemed to be that the light was still green instead of yellow, from what I found later to be a sign that the batteries were low. Whether or not it should have changed before they fell asleep leads to all sorts of interesting and devious questions about future quiet times.

Anyway, everyone woke up, and we tried another movie to give ourselves more time with the shelf project. Like Saturday, that worked for maybe an hour. By that time, I was bringing up the DVD collection from the basement, where they'd been watching, and the boys wanted to help. I said they could bring up movies from the bottom shelf, which of course meant getting them out of alphabetical order, but I figured it was worth the diversion.

By the time that was done and I'd put what wasn't yet on the shelves in order on the floor, the boys started asking questions about the movies. "What's that movie?" I'd tell them what they were about, showed them the rating system, and guessed when they'd be old (mature) enough to watch them. There were maybe 100 movies laid out, so we actually spent about an hour doing this. Only one of them (Singin' in the Rain) did I deem acceptable for them now, though I warned them - as with many others - that they may not like it.

One of the oddities of all this is that they'd point to a movie and ask if it was funny; if I said yes, they'd start laughing as though something funny had actually happened. Weirdos.

It seems that, when hedging my guesses of when they'll first watch something ("When you're ten ... maybe eight") I make a face, because Andrew was mirroring it right back to me: "Maybe when you're six" "Maybe when I'm nine" with what must be the same scrunched-up look. He also kept using twenty as an age for being able to watch such-and-such movie, to which we'd response that at that age, he can watch any movie he wants. Liss had to mute herself on the obvious porn reference.

During this exercise, Liss made the comment that our age guesses are probably older than those of most parents. That's true, though it also means we're probably in for some surprises, like their visiting a neighbor's house and the parent pops in something like Pulp Fiction when they're eight.

Anyway, we got a fifth old bookshelf out, and three more aren't long for the house. The dining room is much more spacious now, though with a lot of work to go. Before, we thought we'd need a second set of built-ins, but now we're thinking no.

By the time all of that was done, it was dinner and bedtime - too late for a bath, but life goes on.

So yes, it was a good weekend. That's just not something we've said often in the last almost-four years, so maybe it's sign of things to come.
We're trying to break our Target habit. It's not that it's a bad place, and we have to get our life supplies somewhere, but ever since the boys were born, it's been a go-to weekend excursion to stock up and get them out of the house. That is, we'd often first decide to go, and then come up with a shopping list.

Their branded formula was a big reason we got in the habit, but that's not a thing anymore. Their calcium vitamins were popular, but we started that because they weren't drinking much milk, and that's their primary drink now, so we're dropping those (much to their dismay, as they're laced with sugar).

Funny thing, we just got their payment card, which if we'd done so at the start, would have saved us hundreds of dollars by now. Oops.

And then there's a tiny part of me that's doing it because of their data mining stuff. It's not that they're doing it - everyone is - but reading about it made me rethink the habit. They hooked us during the newborns phase (the article alludes to their efforts there), but that phase is over.
Bobby will eat his green beans if we take the actual beans out of the pod. Liss used this information to experiment by serving edamame in the shell. It went surprisingly well, with even Andrew getting into it; though he was more interested in just taking out the beans than eating them, he still ate more than we would expect. They may become a staple.

March 24th+

The new, loud doll's toy binky, which is what triggers the sounds, has disappeared. Liss suspects the nanny. Since she's the one who gave it to Ellen in the first place, and has to put up with it the most, this is as reasonable as it is welcome.
From Ellen's wellness visit, she's now 2'8" and 26 pounds. That means, if the theory below is correct, she'll end up 5'4".

The 26 pounds puts her a little under the 50th percentile for weight. That's been steadily dropping since she was born, when she was around the 80th. It's not a cause for concern or anything; I guess we just don't give her McDonald's as often as some.

The doctor also said we could take her from whole milk down to the 1% that we drink, but to keep the underweight boys on the whole. I'm not sure that would fly with her, to say nothing of the cup logistics.
There are seven women pregnant at Liss's workplace. At first, as the number climbed, this was giving her slight temptations to join the club, but it never got beyond slight.
Ellen has this new thing where she says "wiggle! wiggle!" while moving her hips back and forth, like rudimentary dancing. It's super cute.
The boys are still sick, but it's not bad. Besides a cough, they have runny noses, which means tissues and blowing of those noses. The thing is, they used to do that just fine. Then they learned to sniff, which makes for much less runny noses now, but they do it when they're supposed to be blowing into a tissue. So, they'll ask for one, we'll hold it to their noses, have them "blow" three times, except they sniff three times, and the tissue is still dry afterwards. We tell them each time that they're sniffing instead of blowing, but they still do it.

I dunno, it's just weird.
The standard wisdom is to give kids choices, but such that you're okay with either one. Do you want the blue underwear, or the green? The idea is to focus them, give them some sense of control over their lives, and prevent choice paralysis. You can even take it into the absurd; do you want to give your brother his turn with that toy now, or in one minute?

Our kids will play along, unless they're upset. Then, all bets are off, and the likely outcome of your "choices" is that they either just say No to the whole endeavor, or just more loudly repeat what they really want, the denial of which is probably what got them upset in the first place.
This morning I discovered a pair of small, dirty socks in our bed, and absentmindedly put them in my pocket. I forgot about them until feeling them in there at work; they've been in my pocket all day.

Yep, I'm a dad.
We'd warned Ellen for weeks that, after her birthday, she'd only be allowed to have binkies while in her room. Well, the time came, and she was not happy to see it enforced.
Ellen has a checkup coming this Thursday. Besides her skin still having rashes sometimes, she doesn't have any obvious issues; it's just a wellness visit. She'll get one shot.

Also, I heard somewhere that your height at two years is half your adult height, so I need to remember to note what hers is. If she's really lucky, she'll come in at 2'7" and therefore be on pace to be taller than her mom. I kind of doubt she's that tall, though.
On Saturday, we went to see The Hunger Games movie. Of course, this was not a movie for kids, so we had a babysitter. Between that and lunch and the tickets, we paid about $90 to see it. Very few things are worth that, but this was.
The boys are sick, so ... here we go again.
So Ellen's birthday went well, if a little tiring.

Liss started her "monkey rainbow" cake Saturday night, baking the layers and making the different-colored frostings required while the kids were asleep. However, they still needed to be out of the way while she finished Saturday morning, so Amy took the boys on a "secret" errand (we still aren't sure what, except it was apparently to the exotic locale called "Bellevue.") while I took Ellen to breakfast. Yeah, that can become a birthday tradition, fo' sho'. We also went to Safeway for balloons; they were out of the Dora the Explorer one - a minor obsession these days - but she took it like a champ, and opted for a cupcake balloon.

When we got back, the cake was done. Liss made Ellen some lunch, but she barely ate it. I took her up for her nap, but she didn't sleep. Clearly, she was excited for her party.

The party itself was good. There were a dozen kids - all but one less than four years old. Thankfully, it was a nice day, so I put out the kids' slide and they brought out a couple of toys; kids were going in and out, so that was a good safety valve for making sure things didn't get too hectic inside. There were also three expectant mothers there - including two first-timers - which I'm sure was a nice if scary preview to their future lives. I also made sure they knew not to expect their own spawn to be like Ellen by their second birthdays, what with her older examples and precociousness and all.

The mix of adults was unusual, too, with a lot of people who hadn't come to previous things. We ended up making name tags. The kids' were on their backs. It's just the smart thing to do.

The cake was a hit, despite its gluten-free status, which is the norm. Liss's thought is that you're already giving up wheat, so why also give up butter and sugar if you don't have to?

Afterwards, the kids barely ate their pizza-from-a-box or bananas. I guess they had too much cake, or excitement, or both. We ended up eating it for our own dinner.
After Ellen's birthday party, we had three cupcakes and a thin slice of cake left. After the kids went down, she had the cake and I had a cupcake, intending to save the last two cupcakes for tonight. Historically, they don't remember that kind of thing, but clearly our golden age of passive deceit is over.
Saturday night I sat for the boy a touch older than Ellen, as part of our sitting swap. It was a nice evening, so we went to a nearby park. He reminded me of those Family Circus comics where Billy goes all over the place.

After his dinner, I played a video they'd loaded up that he likes. I liked the song so much that I was fine with his "again!" requests ... seven times. Of course, he just likes the fish.

Anyway, I kept doing this thing I do, where I absentmindedly hum the bass line of whatever music is on. He hummed along. My own kids would probably have told me to "Stop singing, Daddy!" So, that was a nice change of pace.
Keeping the kids up late seems to elicit a cycle, because they don't stay asleep late to compensate. As a result, they don't get enough sleep, so they get tired and therefore cranky easily, so they don't go to sleep for all the resulting angst.

Friday night Ellen had the biggest tantrum in memory. It started when I was changing her for bed; she said she wanted Momma to do it, and I refused, and it set her off. For the next hour, she screamed and yelled. Any attention from me was unwanted, and just made her scream more, so Liss bore the brunt of it. After giving up and putting her in her crib, she still yelled from there, so Liss went in again. No help. She left, and soon after there were thuds amidst the yelling, so I went up. That made it worse (the thuds were the books she was shoving off her shelf), as she yelled louder for Momma. So, Liss went in.

... and Ellen asked for her lion binky back, some of her other animals, her pillow and blanket, and good night, Momma. It was like the previous hour had never happened.

Children are weird.
Two years old.

March 17th+

To help another department, I'm staying late at work tonight - too late to see the kids before I get home. They were all awake this morning, so I went to remind the boys and say bye, then get Ellen, bring her downstairs and say bye. She wanted to snuggle me for a while.

I was late to work.
From Liss:
For some reason, I've started reading Simcha Fisher's blog on a regular basis. I don't agree with her most of the time, but I think we could have some interesting, adult conversations about our disagreements if we ever met face-to-face. On one post a while back, she said--and her blog isn't the only place I've read it:

"Children are a blessing, not a burden."

No. They're both. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying or selling something. Or has a lot more help and probably fewer kids than we have. I've been told* that my attitudes here and on Facebook* are too negative, that it seems like I don't even want my kids. That's obviously not true, and considering the source I wish I didn't care so much that anyone would think it--but it hurt to even hear it*. And then, of course, it made me defensive. I have three kids within two years of each other. I have a full-time job. We have ZERO family in town. I'm not allowed to say that parenthood is hard? I'm not allowed to admit to dragging? I question myself often enough as it is--I think all good parents do. Why do we have to question each other?*

I've realized lately that part of what James and I are struggling with is "normal" sibling stuff. He was an only child until he got step-siblings around age 12. And it shows, big-time. My brother is five years younger than I am, which means we've fought, literally, fewer times than I can count on one hand. He was my baby, and then suddenly he was my best friend; there was no middle ground. So neither James nor I really can understand first-hand how "typical" sibling relationships work. And now we have two 3.5-year-olds and a 2-year-old who thinks she's 3.5. They fight about stupid, nonsensical stuff. Should the non-functional light switch be up or down? Whose book is first? Who gets the tractor towel? And we really, really don't get it. We can't accept that that's Just What Siblings Do.

So we complain about it. But I know you understand that we do love our children.


The way I realized that we just don't get it was when I was talking to our 17-year-old babysitter about the dumb fights she and her sister still have, and she was bewildered at my fascination. "it's just sibling stuff, no big deal."

... Huh

* Stupid, stupid Facebook.
Back in the day, we had all kinds of reward infrastructure set up to get the boys to wait for the green light (8:05am) before coming out of their bedroom. We've had stickers, Angry Birds, stars-on-a-paper for a surprise (truck), and other stuff I've probably forgotten. Part of the reason for that is that they've forgotten.

On the weekends - i.e. when I'm still there at 8:05 - the only thing they ask for are the stickers. Liss has an irrational hatred of them now, but I don't, so I help with them it. However, we'll phase them out in a couple of months. Their bedroom walls have hundreds of them by now. They rarely ask for Angry Birds, or anything else. Sometimes they ask for a snack to tide them over, and they very often use the restroom before getting up, but hey, so do we.

In other words, it looks like we've successfully trained them. It'd be gentler to say we've instilled the habit in them, but that's really the same thing.

Ellen will get her own light someday - basically the next time Woot has it - but I don't think implementing it will be the headache that it was for the boys. Her sleep baseline is a lot higher than theirs was at the same age. Plus, if she wakes up early, it's just her; there's no sibling to rival.
We started letting the boys have Carnation Instant Breakfast - aka "chocolate milk" - at the recommendation of Andrew's gastroenterologist, during the whole celiac diagnosis thing. The idea was to give them extra calories, since they're so small for their age. It was a popular choice, though we hesitated to include Ellen when she started asking for it, as she needs no such help.

Fast forward to today, and we've cut back a serving from three scoops to one, which I think is a major contributing factor to the fact that the boys almost never ask for it anymore. Ellen, however, does.

We're probably on the last can.
The boys have started doing knock knock jokes occasionally, except they're not the actual jokes, just the structure. They just pull words from their environment. Here's an example from last night's dinner table: Fire truck white milk. Now that would make a good password.
The kids have gotten into games in a big way. For the most part, they can't follow even the simplest of rule sets, so we try to stick to the simplest of games and see how they progress toward the routines of those before getting more complex. With the actually complex games, it's more about playing with the pieces than anything else. Examples:

Memory is popular with the boys, where I take the As-5s from a deck of cards, put them face down, and you know the rest. This'll be a useful game to check their maturity. Right now, they have trouble even realizing that when you put a Three face down, it's still going to be a Three the next time you pick it up. However, they're pretty good about going again when they get a match, and relinquishing when they're don't. I've had to check cheating, where the second card isn't a match, so he'll put it down and try another one. We tried a version with the Uno cards, but they fought over which colors to use.

Also with cards, Liss taught them War, except without the face cards. Also, when there's a tie, they each keep the card instead of doing the face off. They go through their hands once, then .. the game is over. It's a very fledging version; I seem to recall playing the full version of this with my Dad at their age, or maybe I was four.

Jenga is basically playing with the blocks. Andrew likes to stack the tower, and will take a lot of time to do it diligently. Ellen will come up and knock down his progress without remorse. This has been a source of much consternation.

Busytown is okay, though the rules are far too complex for even the boys to bother. Instead, they just spin the spinner and draw cards to look for things.

I showed them chess when they picked it randomly, but of course have no clue - to say nothing of Cranium.

Anyway, maybe by the next rainy season winter, the boys at least will be able to play some of these "the right way." Whether they'll be gracious winners or losers is another matter. Whether they can play together, without our intervention, is quite another.
There are about a dozen(!) kids RSVPed for Ellen's birthday party, all under four years old(!!). Thankfully, the early weather forecast is for sun and 50s. We really hope that's the case, because the more time that menagerie can be outside, the better.

As the theme is monkeys, Liss will be making simple monkey tails to attach to the kids' clothing. Adults might join in.
I figure that when Ellen's a professional author, she'll go with E. J. Munger.
From two months ago:
"I'm not a bear, I'm Ellen!"

This is now sometimes Ellen's response when I call her "honeybear." Similarly, I called her a goofball for something, and she said "No, I'm Ellen!" It's nice that she's getting a stronger sense of self, but if I have to stop calling her my beautiful honeybear, the mourning period will be deep and dark.
I'm happy to report that she has started to embrace her many incarnations.
If we've learned anything, it's to always get three exact duplicates. I bought three bath towels for them, of equal size and fabric, but with different designs on the hoods. They fight over which towel they get to have. That's right, they fight over towels.
Bobby's turning into quite the tattletale. For maybe 90% of the things he tells us, either it's so trivial that we don't care, or it's half-or-more his fault anyway, or it's only a problem because he's three and thinks everything's a problem, or whatever. For the other 10%, it's something we want to or at least should address, so we can't just try to quash the habit completely.

A common one is, before the green light, he'll open their door and yell down some injustice like Andrew hit him, is teasing him, whatever. Our canned response has become "Then you both need to stay on your beds." He closes the door and things are quiet for a while.
You know you're a father when you watch The Empire Strikes Back and wish Darth Vader could reconcile with his son at the end.

Maybe he should've tried before cutting his hand off.
"If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant's life, she will choose to save the infant's life without even considering if there are men on base." - Dave Barry

That's right, baseball season in upon us. We've broken out the baseball movies, when I had the brilliant idea of putting on "the girl baseball movie" (A League Of Their Own) when I thought the kids (i.e. We) could use a break from all their running around.

It looks like the Mariners will suck again, but that's okay. They don't need to be good until the kids are old enough to care. If, however, they still suck, those same kids might be looking for other teams to root for, or heaven forbid, not take to the game at all. That might lead to a serious reconsidering of our wills. Their becoming Yankees fans would.
Ellen has a habit of closing her legs shut when we're changing her, which makes it difficult. I said as much while doing so this weekend, so she opened them - in turn porn star fashion. That was disconcerting enough, but then "I open my legs for Daddy!"

Uh, thanks, honey. I'll just finish wiping your poop and get this diaper on you, now.
Saturday I took the boys on a couple of errands, and they were doing well, so I told them we could go to the kids' gymnastics place they'd gone to the two previous weekends. It was a total failure. Here's the sequence of events:

I had been thinking of offering the ice cream place afterwards - it was a block away as the crow flies, or six blocks as the car drives. Seriously. - so I played that card right away. They both gave an enthusiastic "Okay!", but when we started to walk, Andrew stayed in place. I could read the disappointment in his face. I told him why we couldn't go in, but he stayed. And pointed to the inside of the gym, with that look on his face. I'm sorry, little man, there's no room for us today. Do you want to get ice cream?

He relented after a little bit, so we walked back through the parking lot, up the hill, two more blocks, strapped them into their seats, drove the six blocks to ice cream, and all was well again. Oy.

It was a very "suburban Dad" experience, except we don't live in the suburbs.
Last night was "everyone gets their hair washed" night, and Bobby's irrational fear is still there. It doesn't help that his fear makes him unable to sit still while I do it, and he wants the "head back" instead of "head forward" method, so I inevitably get some in his eyes. Maybe I should try using a wet washcloth instead of a cup of water.

Ellen and Andrew didn't make a peep. Andrew was clearly put out, as the water had gotten cold by then, but just took it in stride.
From Liss:
Elliebelle's second birthday party is in a week. I took the boys today to get plates and napkins and minimal party favors for the big day. We'd decided on a low-key monkey/jungle theme, and there were plenty of options. We even managed to avoid Curious George. I'm going to make (very simple) felt monkey tails for the under-5 set and we'll give out animal sunglasses; that's it.

But then they noticed the pirate section. Oh, they were enthralled. In addition to plates and cups and banners showing pirates of both the Disney/Caribbean and the cartoon varieties, there was gear. Eye patches! Hooks! Flags! Cardboard ships!

And weapons. Foam cutlasses and swords. "MOM, CAN I HAVE A PIRATE PARTY?" they both started yelling as they grabbed swords from the bucket and started swinging them around. "Arrr, Matey!"


Remember, I was raised Mennonite. We didn't play with weapons. Violent video games were out of the question since we didn't even have TV. My mom opened the Playmobil sets before we could have them and threw away any little plastic knives or cannons. I grew up believing that violence is Never The Answer and that unless you were hunting food, guns were pure evil. You probably assume that we made guns out of sticks or Legos instead. I've heard it: "That's what boys do." (Sexists.) But we really, really didn't. We were that well trained.

And now, even though logically I've grown to see shades of grey, even though most people I know seem to enjoy first-person shooters or SCA battles without transferring violence to their real lives? Even though Mama Bear would, without hesitation, cut out the throat of anyone who would endanger her child? In my heart, I still have that Mennonite core. Weapons aren't something we play with. But my reasons aren't as certain anymore and they don't have a solid group of hippie/Mennonite friends whose parents have similar values.


Thank goodness we have a few months to decide. Can you have a fun pirate party without foam weapons?
We have a contractor in the house today, installing shelves, and holy crap were the boys excited about it. They were running around, stopping to ask him questions, then hopping around, etc. I finally had to put a lid on them so he could actually do his prep work.

It always feels bad to ask them to stop asking so many questions, but there comes a point where the noise to signal ratio gets too high. I'm trying to steer them to ask thoughful questions - there's still lots of "Why?" [answer] "Why?" [answer] "Why?" - and that wears us down fast.

The nanny arrived about ten minutes after he did, and her first and only task at that moment was to get the kids out of there. Even if the boys weren't so excited, it's still a dangerous enough environment on its own that they shouldn't be there, to say nothing of the potential of getting in the guy's way and making it even more dangerous.

March 10th+

Ellen's wrapped birthday presents are coming in, but she doesn't really understand. That's okay - the boys are really into telling us they want this or that cool thing for theirs, and we're in no hurry for Ellen to join that party.
From Liss:
Boys are naked.
Boys are cold.
Get your clothes, I suggest.
OK, they say. Whoa, is this starting as a reasonable day?


They each pick different shirts, no problem. Andrew takes the grey sweat pants. Bobby (allegedly) grabs them and Andrew runs out shrieking about the injustice. For minutes. With no possibility of placating.

Ellen wanders over, takes one look at sobbing Andrew and pants-clutching Bobby. Snatches the pants from Bob and hands them to Andrew, who quickly scampers off and puts them on ...

... while Bobby screams about the injustice.

When do we start to learn from these situations instead of just yelling about them?
The kids, and especially Ellen, will now turn to the camera [phone] and say 'Cheese' without being asked.
Ellen's on a band-aid kick. Several times a day, she'll say "It hurts!" or "My foot hurts!" or the like, and say she needs one. In most cases, there is nothing visibly wrong; she just wants a band-aid. And then, being a toddler, when she gets one, it's usually off within an hour. She complains about that, then wants a replacement.

I actually got a smokin' deal on band-aids - like 40 boxes for $20. However, we still need to be mindful about doling them out. The kids don't even know about the hoard. If the kids had their way, they'd go through them in a month.
Something else that's an indicator of the general "it's getting better" way of things - I'm willing to take care of all three kids by myself sometimes. It used to be overwhelming, what with Bobby's anti-Daddy sentiments, the boys' tantrums being a single perceived slight away, Ellen being more baby than not, etc. Liss did (does) it all the time, but I'm only lately coming on board. It's still just something to do for a couple of hours while we run errands or some other focused task, but it's there.
As the boys approach their next birthday, Liss is becoming optimistic. The Twos were crap, and the Threes have been hit and miss but noticeably better. She expects the Fours to be mostly lovely. We'll see, but they're giving us reasons to believe.
Sunday I took the boys to their second movie in the theater. For their first, we did a lot of planning and talking about what to do or not do, brought Grandpa along, etc. This time we just kind of went, though I did a quick reminder of etiquette on the way.

We took the light rail - which they always like - to a theater downtown. We actually arrived an hour early - damn you, efficient public transportation! - so we hit Starbucks for cocoa and a chance to use their restroom so they wouldn't have to go during the movie. Afterwards, and partially because I had pre-paid passes to the movie, I picked up a medium popcorn. $6.75, holy crap.

With the movie having been out for a month, and our going to a Sunday matinee, I figured there wouldn't be many people there. There were more than I thought, but I'd say the number was just right - maybe fifty, half of which were also little kids. It was enough to help with the "stay quiet so others can watch" rule, while not enough of a crowd to freak the boys out. Our initial haste may have bitten us, as we didn't bring their earphones. As it turned out, the previews and ads were loud, and threatened to turn the boys off. However, the volume of the movie itself was fine - lyrical, really.

I sat between the boys. Throughout almost the whole movie, I served the popcorn to them by grabbing a little from the bag, then holding the open hand in front of the boy on either side of me. Every minute or two, a little hand would empty mine. On the way home, they ate more. I'm glad, given the cost, that we ate most of the bag. I just hope they don't use this as a precedent, that we should always get popcorn at a movie, but if so, it'll be mostly my fault for starting it. I'll have no problem teaching them about sneaking in a snack instead.

Anyway, I'd say this experience was slightly better than the first one, which itself was pretty good. This time, Andrew stayed awake. They stayed still and watched and weren't a hassle in any way. They thought the movie was "okay," which was about my thought, as well.

Sometime, a movie will come out that they really anticipate, like Toy Story 4 or something else that has characters they already know and love. I mean, they know the Muppets, but don't love them, so going to that one isn't the kind of thing I mean. Pixar's latest isn't a sequel, so that won't do it. I really have no idea what it might be, and they're not going to be three much longer. That window of kid-like wonder is ticking away.

Liss actually has a shade of that anticipation going, but not for a movie we'll be showing the kids anytime soon.
I removed the baby-proofing latch from the pantry. It required you to push it in while opening the door. It's only been two days, but we're still steeped in the habit, and surprised when our fingers can't find the latch and the thing just opens.

The toilet latches went months ago, and we just got rid of the bottle rack (we'd been using it to dry cups, but wanted the space back). The changing table will go soon. Ellen will move to a bed when we get around to clearing her room (she's ready), so we can gift her crib. Diapers will be a thing of the past by ... end of summer? There's lots of purging left.

I think the big "we're done!" with baby- and toddler-aged paraphenalia will be when we take the doorknob proofers off. That's probably going to wait until they're all old enough to manipulate them themselves, which hopefully will be the same age that we can let them go in and out at will without worrying they're going to wander off. The boys can already do the front deadbolt.
Saturday morning Bobby asked for toast. Our new toaster(*) has numeric darkness settings from 1 (is this even toasted?) to 7 (was this even bread?). We always ask what number they want, and Bobby said 1. No problem. Andrew, doing that "I want what my sibling has" thing, asked for toast, too. What number? Six.

Now, six is really black, so for his own good, I told him I didn't want to waste bread, but I'd go as high as five. Meltdown. He sat on the kitchen floor screaming about how he didn't want five, he wanted six.

Liss, usually more ready to compromise with them than I, said she'd give him a six, but with one of the end pieces. She did so - and had to turn on the oven fan for the smoke - put the butter on it, and handed him what looked like a slimy hockey puck. He didn't even take a bite. "Yucky!" Okay, little man, I'll make you more toast now. What number would you like?


Kids learn by doing, not by being told stuff, but maybe one of the things Andrew learned from this is that maybe Mommy and Daddy know what the hell we're talking about sometimes. However, if the previous three years are any indication, this won't be the case, and they'll still think we're idiots.

(*) The kids eat a lot of toast, like 2-3 slices a day each, so we got a new four-slice toaster, designating one side as regular and the other as gluten-free.
Liss says that Ellen's birthday party - in two weeks - is probably our last chance for a kids' birthday to be mostly for the adults. She still doesn't quite understand the concept or reason, but boy howdy do the boys understand. So, future birthdays will need to be kid-centric, and we'll mostly only be able to invite friends with kids, or rather, kids and their parents.

March 3rd+

The kids do some of their best playing right before bedtime, I suppose in an effort to squeeze in the last bit of fun they can. It feels like a kids' version of structured procrastination.

Last night's involved all three of them running to the dining room, then saying "Let's go!" and running to this spot near the laundry, crowding like the picture shows (Andrew in foreground), then saying "Let's go!" and running back to the dining room and starting over.
So this morning was a bit of an adventure.

Ellen's been wearing the day's shirt or dress to bed instead of a sleeper, with which we've been complicit, as she hasn't taken off her diaper despite the new access, and she was still sleeping fine. Well, this morning she was whining a bit over the monitor, so I went to get her. The smell hit me right away. "I peed and pooped!" What she neglected to include in this little declaration was the fact that she'd taken off her diaper first. There she was, on her back, with a pile of poop the size of an apple between her legs, the darkness of the pee's wetness taking up the corner of the crib.

Liss had just gotten back from her run, so I asked her upstairs. She took care of the crib, while I took care of Ellen. Fortunately, Ellen had laid in place for goodness knows how long after doing the deed, so she hadn't smeared it everywhere. The cleanup was relatively straightforward - you know, for being a pile of poop.

During all of this, the boys decided to use the bathroom, so Ellen and I met them upon our return. The boys, ever the question askers, wanted to know what was going on. In my attempts to say how big the ball of poop was, I put out my fist, but that was too big. I asked Andrew to put his out, but that was too small. Liss, always helpful, showed hers, and it was just right.

Ellen asked to go back to bed, but as I was picking her up for that, she said she'd pooped. Again. This time, though, at least it was in a diaper, though one that was naught but five minutes old.

I changed her again, then she was distracted my Liss getting ready for a shower and so on, but repeated that she wanted to go back to bed. A not-quite-two-year-old remembering something like that from one moment to another (as opposed to, say, that we're going to get ice cream later) is pretty impressive if you ask me. I took her in, put her on her new sheet, gave her a smooch or five, and went about my business.

So, we might have to put her back in sleepers for a while, to take away diaper access. However, Liss did say that she understood Ellen's taking it off rather than unloading so much inside one. Maybe she just needs to learn to say "I need to poop!" over the monitor, but I don't think she's at that level of bowel self-awareness yet.
Pants are for chumps.
Theory of Youth Appetite:

The amount of food you expect your small children to eat, and therefore you prepare, will be inversely proportional to how much they actually want to eat.
We're having two shelving units installed next week, an event also designated as The Demise Of The Changing Table.

It's served us well, but now we only use it as shelving, really - holding tubs of rags and Ellen's diapers and wipes and blah blah. We rarely use it for its original purpose anymore. Ellen always wants to be changed on the carpet now. Besides, it's smack in the middle of our house; feng shui devotees probably walk by the house and shudder.

Liss thought maybe it could become a serving unit in the dining room, but given its history - eight kid-years of diaper changes - we thought better of it. With all the pregnant women at her work, maybe someone will want it with all its dents and dings.

If not, we'll take it to the curb. I have yet to put something out there that wasn't snatched up. Last month I put 23 cinder blocks out there. Gone the next day. Last week, I wiped down one of the kids' potties and put it out. Gone. The changing table wouldn't last an hour.

The floor under the table will be an interesting archaeological exercise - for about two minutes, after which we'll chuck everything in a bag and go wash our hands.
Yesterday I took the kids on errands, and put Ellen in a stroller to keep things moving along. However, it wasn't long before she wanted to get out and walk instead. It wasn't long after that that she wanted to push her stroller. So, instead of making things more efficient, the stroller - or rather its intended occupant - made it doubly inefficient.
Ellen had a major blowup last night over cupcakes, which wasn't the first time. In fact, her biggest tantrums have been centered on sweets. We'll likely experiment with presenting them differently first, like Liss will bake them before the kids are up, instead of building anticipation and letting them lick the bowl; the frosting especially seems to set her off.
Bobby has discovered a loophole. While he claims not to like green beans, he's okay with the actual beans inside the string part. Every time we give him some, he asks us to open it to get those out, and we'll let that count as "eating his green beans." We're fine with it.

This might allow Liss to get a little more experimental, like with peas in pods or lima beans or whatnot.
Ellen woke up before the boys Saturday morning, so she was hanging out with us downstairs. She's recently started "taking care of" a small doll that we've had since the boys were born, lying a blanket over it, giving it her binky, etc. The over-the-top moment, though, was when she picked it up, held it, and said "Don't worry, baby, it going to be okay."

Me, seeing the look on Liss's face: "Go take your pill, honey."
We used a new babysitter for the first time this weekend. As is my habit, I smacked Liss's butt while walking by, right in front of her. That was comical enough, but Bobby was sitting nearby and said with indignity, "Don't smack Momma's butt!"
On a respite day having semi-decent weather, the kids and I played outside with their "motorcycles" and such. They were wearing their helmets, from which I heard this gem from Andrew to Ellen: "You can go fast because you have your helmet."

Known as a Moral hazard.
Last Saturday, we paid a babysitter to watch the kids for a few hours,

during which we got both cars' oil changed.

February 25th+

Last night we noticed rashes on Andrew's legs. They're raised and itchy, so it's not one of those passing toddler things. Liss is taking him to the doctor soon.

My first suspicion is that he's allergic to the antibiotic he's been on for his ear infection. He's already been diagnosed allergic to amoxicillin, and that rash also crept up late in a series. This antibiotic is in a different class, so it would be unfortunate if he had two sets off limits.

Update: Yes, allergy to the new antibiotic.
As part of the change in the bedtime routine, I now turn off the boys' light before "holding" them (lying between them on the floor). Liss just counted to three and did it, but I ask them what to count to. The first time they gave me different numbers, I took the middle of the two, and that's set off a whole thing. Now they choose different numbers on purpose, and then when I'm lying down, they spend most of the time asking "What's between [for example] seven and ten?" So I'll say "Between seven and ten is eight and a half." I don't want to say it without the "between," because then it sounds like an addition problem with a wrong answer. I don't want to just say the answer, because I want to emphasize the context.

Anyway, now they've started a new thing where one will ask the other boy and myself "What number should I count to?" The other two of us will say different numbers, I'll tell them the number between, then that boy will count it out. The halves are especially fun for them.

As an extra observation, Bobby's getting the idea of adding, without being taught it that I know of. Using his fingers, he'll hold up 3 and 3 to show 6, and say "Three and three is six." The 5+1 finger version that we all do is a little offensive to him, but he'll still do it and acknowledge that it's correct. He just doesn't see it as the default way to express 6 that the rest of us have gotten used to. He has a point. There's even a scene in Inglorious Basterds that hinges on cultural differences of fingers-as-numbers, but now I'm getting off track.

Both of our kids' parents are highly mathy people, so we expect they'll be the same way. Being so mathy ourselves, we see these developments and tend to take off with them. We're trying not to push it, though.
The boys have gotten more affectionate lately, in that Andrew's gone from slightly so to moderately, and Bobby from not at all to slightly. I'll take it.
Independent of Liss's post below, I was thinking how nice it would be to give Ellen a little sister. It's not going to happen (on purpose), but we still speculated about how we could accomplish that. The only 100% method is adoption. Beyond that, there's a medical procedure whereby you go to a clinic, the man "produces a sample," they spin it in a centrifuge, then baste it into the woman. The spinning separates male from female sperm, though only at a 60% success rate.

My idea is that instead of all that, I should just buy myself a Sit 'n' Spin.
The kids were running around playing monster, where they alternate between being one or running from one. Ellen went up to Liss and went "Rawr!" in her little toddler voice, which got an "Eek!" in the spirit of things. Ellen responded "Don't worry, Momma! I not a monster; I just a-tendin' to be a monster!" and then trotted off rawring.

And then Liss melted into a puddle from the cute.
Twenty-three months old.
From Liss:
A college friend once observed that I like to surround myself with people who know everything. She was pretty right, I do tend to be attracted to intelligence and confidence. James is very smart, and he can pretty much explain anything he knows to any sentient being; but he's honest about what he doesn't know, too. And most of my friends, whether tech workers or teachers (that covers the vast majority), are smart in delightfully eclectic ways.

Where was I going with this? I had this post all planned out in my mind before I had a quick chat just now with this particular friend and found out that she, atheist, feminist, mother of 6-year-old twins and a 1.5-year-old, is now pregnant with her fourth. ("I couldn't make J be a third wheel forever!") When Ellen was born, we were 90% sure we were done; that number has gone up progressively. I was starting to regret not having my tubes tied while they did the c-section. But Ellen? She just gets better and better. As she approaches her second birthday, I've started to be less certain that we don't want more kids. If I'd been at 100% sure, now I'm maybe 98%. Maybe 95. We'd want a bigger house eventually, but that could certainly happen. You know, if we ever, ever stop paying for daycare. Four people at work are currently pregnant--what's another?

But all this fighting from the twins is driving me to drink, and I don't have much sick leave saved up, and I've worked so hard to fit back into my pre-pregnancy clothes (and really, how is it that I still look in the mirror and scowl and see nothing but mousy-blotchy-FAT?), and there's no way another kid could possibly be as amazingly smart and sweet as Ellen. Plus, as soon as the kids are all in school, maybe I can go back to grad school (part-time) myself. It sure would be nice to be surrounded by smart people more often.
I yell at my kids too often.

Too often, the kids do things that they know will result in my yelling at them.

The former is far worse than the latter. They're pre-schoolers. I'm almost 40.
Gluten-free bread is disturbingly expensive - about twice the price of regular - and the boys eat it all the time. We must go through a loaf every two or three days. Liss has tried baking a couple of loaves, but it's a pain to get right, and they go through so much that it'd be hard to keep up. So, we continue supporting the nascent pre-fab GF industry.
We let the kids stay up late Sunday night, partly because of the Oscars and because dinner ran late. It was going fine until about 45 minutes after normal, when things started to break down, mostly by Bobby following Ellen around after she'd told him to stop. That's a common one lately.

Still, we have to do these sorts of things occasionally, to see what they can handle. I went to poker Saturday night, and there were several kids there - even ours' ages - but I presume they have later bedtimes, or can take being up late better than ours. I even try to point out that they, I'd be fine taking them, if they didn't melt down like they do, but that results in no changes that I can see.

Daylight Savings time starts soon, so we'll have to do the slow-adjust thing again, only backwards - putting them to bed earlier and earlier - until what is now 6pm becomes the new 7pm.
We have the gift of babysitting from Amy, and the exchange with another couple, and a high schooler who comes for a few hours on some weekends. However, some weekday things are coming up, and we needed another option. So, we cast a line for a babysitters in our neighborhood, and got a couple of bites. One came over Sunday to meet the family and vice versa, and will have her first job this Saturday.

This first time, she'll observe as we go through the bedtime routine, but most of the time she'll only come over after they're already in bed. Of course, we'd warn the kids about it, so some strange-ish person doesn't suddenly come up the stairs when the expect us instead. The real fun, though, will be when she does try the bedtime routine, especially if it's a while between this trial run and the real thing. The boys are good about helping out with that kind of thing, but they're also smart enough to know when to push for more than they usually get (snacks! keep the light on!), so we'll see if they come up with something when the time comes.

February 19th+

Illness update: I'm still mild, Andrew seems fine, Bobby's still coughing and fevery but sounding better, and Ellen's still in the thick of it. And now there's a bonus - she has viral pink eye.

Sanitizer for all!
An attendee of the one-year-old's birthday party we went to took this picture of the boys. If you can't tell who's who yet, this is an easy one to learn from.
From Liss:
I'm off all week for our last-ever Midwinter Break. The kids are rotating illness, but it's been pretty good so far anyway. Ellen and I shared a real live wheat-and-butter croissant yesterday while the boys were at preschool, then went and played at the tot gym with SAHMs and SAHDs and 20-year-old nannies. She's so much more adventurous than the boys were at her age, willing to go on the bigger slides and try the bounce house and stuff.

James took the morning off to take the boys to the doctor (Andrew has an ear infection) so I could spend some time with college friends who were visiting for the first time in 5.5 years. They brought their daughter, 4 months younger than Ellen, and the little girls had a blast. It also confirmed just how verbal Ellen really is. The other girl has over 100 signs, but Ellen? She'll tell you how it is.
The ick is still in our house, with Ellen now coughing more than we'd like. Around 9pm, Bobby puked in his bed - probably just from overcoughing - but handled it reasonably well. Andrew seemed better last night, but complained later that his ear hurt, so we just got back from the doctor's and yep - ear infection. Even Liss had a dizzy spell, and she never gets sick. I've been slowed down a little, but nothing major.

This will probably keep happening for a while, as they get the new germs from their new school.
I had my eye checkup yesterday, and asked about bringing the boys in sometime. He said that with my history - I got my first glasses at age ... four? - I should have them looked at before they start Kindergarten, but not to bother before then unless they show signs of problems.

I told the boys about it, and Bobby was all against it. I explained that it would mostly be reading letters on cards, but I guess he'll have this irrational bias until then.
For no readily discernable reason, I've been waking at 5am for several days now. This morning, Bob cried for me while I was still in that half-awake/half-asleep phase, but I can't really call it his fault.

Anyway, I'm really feeling it today. Coffee has done little.
The boys' cold from a week ago is either still lingering, or they have something else now - we're not sure - but they were coughing all weekend long. However, it wasn't the wheezy or anything, and it didn't seem to slow them down, so we haven't taken them in. This morning Liss called the phone nurse, who agreed that they'll probably just get over it, but to continue to keep an eye on them. It's pretty pathetic to hear, though.
Being an elementary school teacher, Liss knows what kids are supposed to know by the time they start Kindergarten - like counting to 31, reciting the alphabet, etc. They're doing well by that standard; in fact, she says "You're ready for Kindergarten!" a lot, though they have no idea what that means.

On the opposite side, currently hidden away, are kids the boys' age who get no help or encouragement. Actually, they get discouragement. Those are the "kids should be seen and not heard" parents. Don't ask questions. Leave me alone. Go watch TV.

She meets these kids at the start of every year. They don't know anything beyond their stunted early years - colors, numbers, letters, shapes, words, manners, routines, relationships, are all foreign. Often, authority figures are to be feared and avoided. There's still no help at home; education itself is deemed worthless and pointless. For those kids and their teachers, it's the ultimate uphill battle.
We've put down a half-payment to a contractor toward a set of built-in bookshelves. The installation will be in a couple of weeks. We have plans for a second set later this year.

We both have the new-house itch, and we could have saved this money toward that, but there are a lot of factors at play. The most obvious one is that we may not move at all, and we're living here now, and this place has very little storage space. Even if we were to move (elsewhere in Seattle), it wouldn't be until we're done paying some $2000 a month for child care, i.e. when the boys and maybe Ellen are in Kindergarten. We're certainly keeping an eye on the market, though.

The theory is that home improvements add their cost to the value of your idea, but from what I'm seeing, that's not the case. Maybe certain highly-sought amenities will do that, but you certainly can't count on it. Rather, we're adding these shelves because we need the storage, and we think it'll look good. If it makes the place more appealing when we sell - whether three or thirty years from now - then that's just a bonus.
We've sucked it up - no pun intended - and ordered another lion binky for Ellen. She's just not ready. It's only one, though (they're expensive), so if she bites through this one, we'll have to decide again.

When we relented, I asked if she wanted another monkey, or lion, and she picked lion. I was surprised, but come to think of it, she does seem to be getting off her monkey obsession.
Valentine's Day was bad, as the kids got lots of sugar at their pre-school, and their baser instincts came through. They were cranky, bossy, yelling, you name it.

The next night, Liss had a work thing; she never even made it home before the kids were asleep, so I had them to myself. They were totally fine - cheerful, respectful, playing well together, etc.

I dodged a bullet.

This has become a running joke in our house, like when we actually get time to pick up around the house, or any other non-kid project. There's just always so much to do, that we end up doing a little of it in a lot of places, rather than a lot in one place.
Last weekend, Andrew was reading a book in the car when I had to brake suddenly. The first thing I heard wasn't commentary on the scary situation or even a question about why I'd done it - it was a simple "My book!", which had flown out of his hands. Yep, it's all about them.

This weekend, Liss baked the cake for a one-year-old's party, which sat in her lap on the way there. It was an hour drive, and that braking incident was fresh in our heads.

"My cake!"
"They fix six fish sticks?"
Our kids will probably go to some "diverse" schools. Part of me hopes that some budding comedian of color will see the boys and go "Man, you white folks all look the same to me."
Yesterday at the piano, Andrew showed interest in playing a song with me, instead of their usual "pound the keys" method. However, he wasn't happy with the alphabet song or whatever; he kept wanting me to do the Adele song he'd picked among the music on the stand. Like the reading (below), he was trying to sing along.

There's a general thing with all of the kids, whereby when one of them has an idea, the other two want to stop what they're doing and join in. With the piano, it's counterproductive, especially if one of them wants me to play. We even have a second keyboard, but it's all or nothing. Besides the small bench, they usually pound, not play, so it's just a cacophony anyway, and not much of a teachable moment.

In related news, I picked up some new headphones for the kids, with the boys in tow. The piano has two out jacks, so I asked about a splitter to let all three kids use at once. The guy behind the counter instead grabbed a headphone amp, with "This is the right way to do it" in an attempt to upsell me. I pointed at my boys and said "They're three."


"Fair enough," and he got the splitter.
The boys have started a few "pre-reading" habits. One is that they've memorized a few of their books, and move their fingers under the words (like we do) while reciting, which makes it look like they're "reading." The other major one is that they're trying to read out loud with us, which ends up sounding like a half-hearted murmur of what we say, half a second later.

They know their letters, though applying the sounds is proving stubborn ("What does 'jelly' start with?"), but they can both spell their names, and they're curious about the concept. So, it'll come in good time. I remember reading my first book solo at age four, and Liss was around that time, so ... it'll come.
For the past three mornings, Ellen has woken a little before the boys, and spent several minutes happily resting her head on my shoulder after being carried down, while I sit on the sofa. It'd be cliche to say that I could stay like that forever, but in this case it's apt.

February 12th+

The day has come - Ellen's lion binky bit the dust. Like the others (and the boys with theirs), she was forthcoming about its being broken, and fine with cutting off the binky part.

We know of one standalone binky in the house, so we're letting her use that in bed, but it's hard to find. She's been fussier and waking earlier these last two days. The boys didn't get weaned from theirs until they turned three, so if this keeps up, we may relent.
The boys are in that transitional period where they use the toilet, but aren't good at wiping themselves. It's nothing to them to announce boldly that they've "peed and pooped!" - it's never just "pooped" - and then bringing their bare-but-poopy asses out to meet us at the changing table so they can crouch down. It's easier for us to wipe them in that position, you see.

It's certainly practical, but our adult sensibilities mean we find it quite amusing, as well.
At dinner for the past two nights, Bobby's asked when their next bath will be ("Thursday"). Then he asked if we'd wash his hair that time, and we say no. When? Sunday.

Then he lost it - real crying and angst and dread, imploring that because he'll be getting haircuts, he doesn't need his hair washed, ever. It was only slightly less dramatic than his meltdown over the potential blood draw that didn't happen.

I told that, since he dreads it so much, maybe he shouldn't bring it up every night. Our answer doesn't change, and it sets him off. Lose-lose.
Now that the boys are such good talkers - and not shy about it - we hear all kinds of stuff about the nanny. Apparently when they cough, she slaps them on the back, which is a total cultural thing that does no good. They've even asked her to stop (according to them), but she still does it. That brings up another point - whatever they say, you have to take it with a grain of salt.

She also takes them to her house a lot; it's just a couple of blocks away. I guess she feels more comfortable there. She shows them more videos than we do, but not an aggregious amount. Really, if I had to take care of my three kids for five days in a row by myself (as opposed to two days with Liss), I'd probably have the Toy Story movies on an endless loop.
There's a co-worker in the same group as I, who's due next month. Last week it hit me that no one had said anything about a baby shower, so I asked her if I could set one up. She said sure. So, I sent out the preliminary "here's what's what" to get it on people's radars, though the shower won't be for a few weeks.

Besides the generally positive response, a team manager said that he's glad he was "invited," because his mother would have stepped in and said in no uncertain terms that baby showers are a women-only deal.

When Liss was pregnant with the boys, it was still a bit of question, but we had a co-ed shower and no one batted an eye. Most of them since have been the same way. This time, it didn't even occur to me. Maybe part of it is because the work environment is so co-ed, but I think it's more that my generation just doesn't agree. That might be split along liberal/conservative or regional lines, but it's not like I've done a study on this.
The hope is that we can start doing sleepovers soon with other families to give each other breaks - maybe in a year or so. It's not so much bedtime and sleep time that will be the big win there, but the morning after. We get crap all the time for leaving parties or whatever "early," like 10:30, which I quickly diffuse with "Our kids get up at 7 regardless of when we get home." But if our kids are outsourced to someone else's house, who will wake with them (and their own), give them breakfast, and casually bring them home late in the morning ... well, that just sounds like a slice of heaven. Meanwhile, ours spend time with theirs, without realizing that this is more a treat for us than for them.

This would, of course, be a dual exchange with those parents. Currently our exchanges are just night babysitting, but this will be the next step. The only real question is, when can the kids handle it?

We've been looking at bunk beds for the boys, but will probably get loft beds, instead. However, someone had the idea of getting one of each, for these sleepovers. Brilliant!
Yesterday we went to a new playground, with a boy who's a year younger than the boys, and thus six months older than Ellen. We hadn't seen him in a while - maybe a few months - but he's a lot more interactive and verbal than he was. I was pushing him on the swing, and he was very clear about wanting to continue, when to be pushed, etc. The clear verbal thing is big, which makes me all the more glad that Ellen was so early with that.

The real switch from before, though, was that he and the boys were playing together pretty well. They were chasing each other, taking turns with a football about as well as one could expect, and generally being civil. The boys are a year older, so 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 is still a big developmental gap, but not nearly as much as, say, 1 and 2. When they're 5 and 6, it'll be even less noticeable. There are a couple of even younger boys we see (barely two, and two-and-a-quarter); the interaction thing is just catching on with them, but it's there. That 2 to 2 1/2 area is a big mental growth time.

Ellen tries to keep up, and for the most part can hold her own, but any older three boys mixed together are generally going to be more than an almost-two-year-old can keep up with. At this park she pretty much gave up, yet realized that with three parents and four kids, she could sneak in more one-on-one time than usual, and exploited the opportunity.
Sometimes it feels like all I am is a dad.
That was back in 2008, and it hasn't changed.
Between us, Liss and I have only one blood sibling - her brother - and therefore only one possible source of cousins for our kids. He has a serious girlfriend, and we've already made the cousins joke once or twice, which is probably once or twice more than we should, but far fewer than we've wanted to.

This weekend the boys and I were personalizing some blank valentines they'd made with Liss, using a big sheet of letter stickers they have for such occasions. I was writing the names on a piece of paper to help them look for the right letters one by one. When it was time for his, I wrote his name, but said hold on, boys. Instead of that, we could spell out "cousins." What's that, they asked, so I tried to explain. However, they strongly opted to stick with writing out his name.

So, I suppose it's either they prefer to go with the familiar, or they simply have more tact than their father.
I've grown my own hair out a couple of times, so I know about that awkward stage where it's too long to do much with, but too short to pull back. Ellen's in that stage. In the back, it goes to maybe the neckline of her shirt, and on the sides, goes wherever her ears push it. We always have a barrette or something to keep her bangs out of her eyes; she's even developing the hand-swipe gesture to move it out of her face.

Still, it won't be much more time before braids, pigtails, ponytails, and all that can start. Our glee at The Cute will be hard to contain.
So Friday night we told the boys about their imminent diabetes study visit and subsequent blood draw. Andrew was upset for a little bit, but soon was eating his dinner again. Bobby never recovered. The fear was palpable. Eventually, Liss said that they could skip the draw this time, but they have to at least do the one at their fourth birthday, since we assume that'll include another celiac test for him.

At the study they sometimes give us surveys about how we feel about our kid(s) possibly getting juvenile diabetes, about the study, etc. I don't remember the exact wording, but for the first time, I marked that I was Somewhat Disagreed that I wanted to stick with it. It's really becoming a grind for me. Besides the draws - always a big deal - there's the poop collecting every month, food logs (which Liss does), now a saliva stress test at home, questionnaires and surveys, and probably other here-and-there stuff I'm forgetting. There's a little money it in, but that's keeping us in far less than the "it's for science!" aspect, but how far does one go with that to include making our boys suffer despite expressed lack of consent?

February 5th+

Tomorrow, the boys have a diabetes clinic visit, whereby they'll get their quarterly blood draw.

We haven't told them yet.
Contains profanity:

9 Things I Learned In The Parent Encouragement Program, AKA Shitty Parents Anonymous

So, what does it mean that my wife sent me this?
As part of the kids' bedtime routines, we tell them to "get a book" for us to read to them. Last night, Liss put it to the tune of the William Tell Overture.

It's quite a tongue-twister.
Two nights in a row, soon after putting the boys down, I heard almost-crying over their monitor. I went up to investigate, and Bobby claimed to have had a bad dream, and wanted me to hold him. I did, but with annoyance, telling him that I knew he hadn't slept yet. Last night I said I wouldn't respond to that kind of thing unless he'd already been asleep. Nothing happened.

It's nice to be wanted and all, but there are limits. There are also ways to get attention from us without having to lie about it.
As part of Andrew's deal to let his hair grow out, we're now washing his hair twice-ish a week. As part of Bobby's deal to get regular haircuts instead, he does his about once every two weeks, whether he needs it or not. Ellen's probably somewhere in between, though her hair is getting long enough that she should be on Andrew's schedule soon.

They all hate it, but with the frequency (I guess), Andrew's no longer complaining about it. He's just "let's get this done." When we did it this weekend, he was first, and I praised him for not crying or whining. This was, I admit, also a passive-aggressive stab at Bobby, who still does both, and had spent the last hour delaying and loudly expressing his dread at the 30-second event.

I took Andrew out to our room to dry, and Liss took over to wash Ellen's hair next. From the bathroom, I could Ellen saying "I not crying, I not whining!" It was true, until the very end; maybe a little soap got in her eyes or something. But, it's progress.

And then it was Bobby's turn, and he screamed bloody murder the whole time.
The boys got sick just in time for the weekend - I blame the new pre-school - but for the second time in a row, we dodged the respiratory infection bullet. At least, we think we have, because we never took Andrew in, though it was close for a bit there. We did the albuterol treatment for both boys, as well as Andrew's usual steroid for his pre-asthma; Sunday's overnight was better than a whiny Saturday's, so we think we're over the hump. There was no vomitus this time.

Sunday I went to pick up a refill of albuterol at 2pm. The guy in front of me at the pharmacy said he'd been there (Urgent Care) since 7am, so thank goodness we hadn't had to go in.

It also turns out that we'd been doing the albuterol incorrectly. The pharmacist asked if I wanted instructions, and I said sure as a refresher, and it's a good thing I did. It's not like we've done them harm, but we weren't getting them the medicine as effectively as we could.
Andrew was carrying around a "penny" - actually a dime - most of the weekend. He kept licking it, and we kept telling him how gross that is, but that's not the punch line.

They know the heads or tails concept, as we've used it a couple of times to decide things. It helps them see the concept of a true winner and true loser based on a completely fair and dispassionate system. Rock, paper, scissors will come in a year or so.

So there they were at their little table, flipping the coin repeatedly while saying "Bobby has heads, Andrew has tails" beforehand, and winning and losing with no consequences or complaints, with Ellen watching, and it was all in good fun. Then Liss casually said to me:

"We're totally going to rig this system, aren't we?" With two coins, "Heads-heads Andrew, tails-tails Bobby, heads-tails Ellen."
The Bobb-a/Bobb-y controversy continues, but I think it's dwindling. The peak was after the boys' bedtime one night. Sometimes they want Liss to sing with them while saying good night, so they sang some Old MacDonald, e-i-e-i-o. Later, we were on the couch, and heard Andrew over the monitor singing "b-o-b-b-a" and Bobby getting indignant. Thankfully, it didn't get bad enough that we had to intervene, but it's one of many moments of "Really, guys? Really!?" that go on around here.

January 29th+

Liss and I have started playing games a couple of times a week after the kids' bedtimes. The first time we played a new one, I got pretty frustrated at how the dice treated me.(*) Last night, Liss did the same. We're pretty even-keeled adults, but I think it will serve us well to remind ourselves that our kids aren't, and their similar frustration will be quicker to form, and harder to control. Since we want them to play games, yet play them well, we need to bear this in mind and help them with it, without getting frustrated ourselves. It's not easy.

(*) It's a Vegas casino type game, so I joked that the dice had left me in an alley after taking my kidney.
A year ago, we were afraid that the boys would start rejecting the idea of bedtime while it was still light outside. That turned out to be a false fear, though they did start rumbling about it near the Fall equinox. Now that the evenings are lighter, and Daylight Savings is coming, this time I expect a full-blown revolution. Come June, it stays light past 10pm.

Eventually, the boys won't need 12+ hours of sleep a night. The problem is that we'll still need them to be asleep for 12 hours a night. The hope is that, as their bedtime gets later, their care will require less and less of our intervention. That's how it works, right? Please?

When she was a baby, Ellen went to bed a half hour before the boys, and then just before, but they've had the same bedtime for a long time now. I don't think we could bump theirs to later and not hers, without causing some serious disruption. As it is, we don't anticipate needing to do that. We joke that she thinks she's three, but in some ways she really is. There are some advantages to having a kid so close in age to her older brothers, and that's one of them. Their example is just close enough that she can realistically try - and in trying she can sometimes achieve.
Last night we came home to the kids playing Duck, Duck, Goose, as taught to them by the nanny. They were playing it a little differently than I remember, which was that the Goose would chase the person who was It. If It sat down in Goose's spot before being caught, It was still It, else Goose became It. Instead, when someone became Goose, everyone sitting down got up and chased It, until caught. Chaos.

A few minutes in, Ellen instead wanted to play Sleep, and asked Liss to join her. Liss lucked out, as this involved lying on the sofa with a blanket.

So us three manboys played DDG for a while, for which I was thankful for my superior physical abilities.

One day, and it might be soon, we'll have to forbid running in the house. Hell, I was doing it a little, but that's just dumb.
Ellen's favorite game, by a longshot, is now Sleep. It's pretty simple - lie down on a pillow, and put a blanket over yourself. To spice things up, you might pretend to snore or wake up, or ask others to join you. I'm happy to comply.

It does give her a chance to be bossy, though, as she doesn't like to share pillow or blanket, so I have to get my own. And then she'll take off my glasses without asking, which she knows I dislike, but that's all minor.

In the end, she'll lie there for quite a while as her brothers create havoc. Even when they join her, they'll only do so for a few minutes, then leave her to it. It's symptomatic of what "they" say about boys versus girls.
We were going through old pictures - Bobby thought last year's fracture was on his right leg, but it was his left - when we came across a set that included this one. The boys zoomed in, talking over and over about how they wanted this car for Christmas, that car for their birthdays, etc. There's no way we're getting them electric cars like that, and we were running out of ways to gently say so. So, I did the endaround, which I probably should have done in the first place - I don't really want to hear about what they want until a month or so before the event in question. It's rude and selfish, and they're probably going to change their minds twenty times, anyway. That, if I remember it, should become my default response when things go down that path, which they do a lot - like almost every day. Plus, we need to keep slipping in the fact that just because they want something, doesn't mean they're going to get it.
The boys were rummaging about for something else, and came upon some Wii games on a shelf. They'd never seen it in use, so they didn't know what they were. Liss told them, so of course they wanted to try it. We'd already discussed that they were probably ready, so we did an attempt at training and playing.

Before starting, we told them that any yelling, fighting, etc. and we would stop right then and there. I should have included grabbing, but that'll be next time.

We started them on the easiest game would could think of - a shoot-the-bubble mini-game - and I guess it went okay, because they didn't want to stop. They just couldn't get the concept of "aim at the TV" and what the goal was. More vexing, they refused help repeatedly, insisting that they know what they were doing, when they clearly didn't. They just wanted to be in control, regardless of the outcome. With only two players and two controllers, we had to rotate a lot, which the not-currently-players got very antsy about, including Ellen.

Things broke down near the end - this was maybe thirty minutes in - as Bobby and Ellen were playing what I clearly said was the last round, but Andrew yelled a little at Ellen, and I stopped it cold. Andrew lost it, though the other two were mostly fine. As he kept yelling, I said I guess he wasn't quite ready for it yet, so we'd wait a week before trying again. He yelled some more, so now it's two weeks. We'll see.

We used to play the Wii quite a bit (2007 picture), but it's been generally unused for about three years. However, back in the day we'd made characters for the infant boys (called a Mii), which are still on there. They thought they were neat, but you could tell how dated they were: besides their bald heads, the one in red was named Robbie.
When it comes to food, I'm not accustomed to being the median of pickiness.
The "Bob-a" controversy is hitting a fever pitch, as Bobby has made it clear that he wants to be called "Bobby" and nothing else, and his siblings delight in pretending not to notice in order to rile him up. And then, he calls them other names ("An-droi", "Elliebelliebellie") and wonders why they object. This morning, I heard the boys talking about it over the monitor. I guess it won't be going away anytime soon.

Speaking of which, we were around a little boy named Elliot this weekend, who has the nickname Elli-Button. That starts out as Ellie, so I was getting momentarily confused every time.
Sunday some friends of ours came up from Olympia; they'd just moved there after three years in Wales, where we visited them in August. Their son is a few months older than the boys, and their daughter is just turning one.

The three boys got along great, so much so that we could mostly leave them to play without much supervision. Ellen, thinking she's three, spent most of her time with them, but not able to keep up with their rougher times. Our boys try to include her, though, so it was mostly fine. The little girl hung out with the adults and tried to climb the stairs, which she doesn't have at home.

So, with the kids being more self-reliant than not, we actually got to talk about adult things. Granted, half of that means talking about our kids, but that only being 50% of the conversation is quite a positive sign, thankyouverymuch.

In mystical future months, the kids can play outside, which will be even more fab.
On Saturday we went to a swimming pool event with the twin club. It was okay, especially for Andrew, who really liked it; Liss might find some swim opportunities for him in the summer. Ellen was sort of participating, and Bobby barely stuck his toe in the water. I'd say Ellen's excitement over going - evidenced by this picture seven hours before we left - was more than her enthusiasm at the reality.

The real coup was the swim diaper that we'd borrowed. As Liss reported after the fact - it worked. Ellen had pooped while in the pool, but we had no idea until Liss was half-naked in the locker room and started changing her. Now, those diapers still get wet - they just don't let anything out. The boys and I were mostly done with our potluck dinners before the girls even showed up, and now we know why.

At the potluck we sat next to a couple that also had twins plus one, with their boy twins a month younger than ours, and their plus-one boy born the day after Ellen. So, they were/are clearly as crazy as we were/are.
The kids are bad at hide and seek. Like, really bad.

We play upstairs, which is all three bedrooms, and two bathrooms. Generally, I can hide behind any door, and they won't find me. I once sat in Ellen's tarp castle for a few minutes before giving myself away on purpose.

When they hide, it's usually in the same spot - under the boys' beds, or maybe just under their blankets. And then, they laugh and say "I'm hiding!" and so on. This is bad strategy.

Apparently Liss and/or others pretend to look "everywhere else" before finding them, which I've also done once or twice, but usually I'll find them right away. Bobby and Ellen think that's fine, but Andrew gets annoyed. I tell him that it's best that he hide away from his siblings, who clearly don't care if they're caught soon, and make a go of it. He's actually trying, but they follow him. He'll have to get more cunning.

All in all, they need to step it up. Maybe soon I'll start their education.
From out of nowhere, Bobby's on a minor carrot kick. He asked for them for breakfast on Saturday, even though his siblings were already eating Cinnamon Chex. He then asked for one as a snack Sunday. Considering he's usually into nothing but sweet and salt, it's a pleasant change.

Andrew, possibly playing follow the leader, asked for them at a potluck we went to Saturday afternoon.
On Saturday, we were getting ready to go to a birthday party for a one-year-old. On a piece of construction paper, Liss had put the girl's name in stickers, then asked the kids to write their names as the "From" people. Ellen scrawled back and forth as she does.

Then I got Bobby to try. And ... he wrote his name in the middle of Ellen's scribblings. He had never written a single letter before, let alone a word.

Looking at the picture, the first was a line and two circles, which kind of looks like an 18, for the first B. Then a circle for the O, "18" for another B, and then a sort of half-assed b that looks lowercase. Then on the far right, you can see three vertical lines that are clearly a Y. Much praise ensued.

Andrew kind of wrote "Andrew"-like letters, though right to left and hard to recognize, so we'll defer his fireworks. Soon.

January 22nd+

Bobby relishes in telling us what he wants for his birthday - presents and cake, what he wants to be for Halloween, and what he wants for Christmas. The topic comes up a few times a week. We try to explain that those are all a long time away, but it's still a minor obsession. Andrew joins in a little bit, but he doesn't start it.

One way we try to give perspective is to mention that everyone else in the family has a birthday before theirs. Another that I tried was to say that hey, you know how long ago this past Christmas was? Halloween is nine times that far away. They don't get it, but I feel better for trying.

Hopefully, when his birthday gets closer, he'll pick something other than the current leading contender - a cake in the shape of a garbage truck.
Twenty-two months old.
It just hit me that the habit of responding to every answer with another "Why?" might be over with. Andrew was back to it just a week or so ago, but it's been a while. Or, perhaps I'm jinxing myself.
The boys had gotten into the habit of going the bathroom very soon after bedtime, which was delaying their sleep, but more importantly, annoying us. Going is part of their pre-bedtime routine, so there should be no reason to go again thirty minutes later. However, if you gotta go, you gotta go.

So, the new rule is that they can still go, but only after they've slept. This has worked great. In fact, it might have had an extra consequence of making them a little gun-shy to go in the mornings (before the green light), but I think that's fading, as they did so this morning. That's totally fine with us, and they know that. I know I have urges after twelve hours.
I'd kept Bobby's cast (picture) from last year's fracture, as one of those interesting reminders of how little he was and what he (we) went though. Recently, he asked to see it. He held it for quite a while, asking questions and so on. When it was taken off, they'd cut it, so Liss had taped the halves back together, but he wanted to untape it. However, the edges are sharp, so she wouldn't let him. I guess that made him think it wasn't fun, because when he was done, he said he wanted to throw it away. The archival pack rat in me mourns a little.
From Liss:
I got so annoyed when everyone cackled that three [years] is worse than two. And in some ways they were wrong, but oh, in some ways they are so right. Now our dudes can really communicate their complete lack of reason. But Ellen is such a different 22-month-old than they were, that I have hope that she'll be a different (better) 2-year-old and 3-year-old than they have been too.

I'm finding three to be much better than two, as in no contest. With the Terrible Twos Times Two, I just remember a lot of this - melting down at the drop of a hat for no discernible reason, or for really dumb reasons. This is less frequent and more manageable now. Now I can explain things and they'll generally understand - if not agree. Time outs are rare. They're eager to learn and see and do new things, and it's less of a big deal to do them. They're potty trained.

I'm still looking forward to more mature boys, but the Twos? They are over. Good riddance.
Liss had to go back to work at 6 last night, so I had the kids to myself for an hour, and then bedtime. I don't dread that like I used to, as the boys have grown more reasonable, and generally involve their sister in their goings on.

Except for about one minute of Andrew hoarding two pillows so Ellen couldn't have one, I was rewarded with a very pleasant time. They mostly played on their own, whether it was the boys chasing Ellen, or pretending to sleep on the floor, or whatever.

For about the twenty minutes before bedtime, Ellen was on the floor with a pillow and blanket, just lying there without a care while the boys were doing their thing. When I went to start getting her ready, she got mad at me - for interrupting her pretend sleep in order to get her to her crib. She's shown lots of instances of just chilling for relatively long stretches of time, which the boys never did at her age, and mostly still don't.

Bedtime was a breeze. Since they don't like surprises or changes to routine, I told the boys beforehand where the routine would deviate - being only me and not two of us - and it went fine. Andrew, the one who gets bothered by routine changes more quickly - became impatient when I was putting Ellen down, but not in a bad way. I was downstairs by 7:29, which is a good bedtime when it's the two of us.

This isn't to say that the next time (next week) won't involve emotional explosions of angst and yelling, but I figured I should chronicle a good one.
Last night Andrew leapt from the stairs, and said he'd "jump-ed." I corrected him with "jumped," but I felt bad doing it. His response was a sort of "uh, whatever, dude" look on his face, like he knew I was probably right, but that it doesn't matter. If that's what it was, then he has a point.
During her three snow days, Liss grieved for the snow days of her past - hot chocolate, a book, and a blanket. In my past, I'd play games or write music or code or get stuff done around the house. Now, it's just like a weekend day - thirteen hours of child care - except with no way to get out and about.

A friend in Iowa is going through a snow day now, with his girls, aged 13 and 9. They're playing board games - and not just Chutes and Ladders, but real strategy games. I can't wait.
The kids have been changing up word pronunciations, like "pizz-ee" for pizza, "eet" for it, and so on. We tell them that it's okay, since playing with language is a way of learning it - but that other people aren't going to understand them when they do that. That won't be driven home until they actually talk to other people more, like when the boys start going to pre-school next month.

When it gets dicey is when Ellen calls Bobby "Bobb-a," for example. He gets mad - screaming mad - then turns right around and calls me "Dad-o," when he knows I prefer Daddy. There are tons of instances of such hypocrisy - like "Don't hit!" then hitting back - and we point them out all the time, but it still has only barely sunk in. I keep waiting for epiphanies that don't come.
When hiding - say, during hide and seek - it seems obvious to not yell out that you're hiding, nor where you're hiding.

Our children have yet to grasp this.
We had a week of snow-ice-snow-ice-wind here in Seattle. With the MLK holiday last Monday, Liss worked a total of four hours all week - that is, four hours at her job, as she spent the other four days taking care of the kids. The big shining light (no pun intended) is that we kept our electricity the whole time, unlike a lot of people we know.

Rather than risk the commute and leave her alone with the kids, I locked myself in our bedroom and worked from home, occasionally emerging for breaks and eating lunch with them. After the first few tries at opening the door or hollering enough for me to come out, they pretty much left me alone, but on Friday Ellen knocked and did a sweet "Come on out, Daddy!" that I couldn't resist, behavior reinforcement be damned.

We went outside once a day, and the kids were generally into it. Ellen wanted to go inside first each time, but she can't do what the boys can do - pick up hunks of snow and chuck them at trees. Sledding was limited to Liss pulling them individually down a gentle slope, but the hills in our neighborhood mean greater things as they become more daring.

The whole thing was also good prep for what we anticipate will be our first big trip with the kids - Minneapolis this coming Christmas. We think they'll be ready. Ellen should be potty-trained well before then, they've now had some prolonged snow/ice experience, and we know they'll want to see this mythical Minnesota they've heard so much about(*). They boys are maturing - if slowly - and will be four-and-a-half by then (oy!), so yeah, it looks like a go.

I've been there twice for Christmas already - her parents and brother live there - but both times I was disappointed by the weather. It was mostly 28-ish and partly cloudy the whole time. I lived in Iowa for four years, so I know what Winter-with-a-capital-W is capable of, not to mention my meterology degree implying a desire for interesting weather, so when I go to Minnesota in late December, I want to see some Winter, dammit. In future years, we'll need to go there or to Texas for some Spring, i.e. massive lightning and thunderstorms, which we don't get here.

(*) Though we hope they won't be disappointed by the fact that Minneapolis is actually a lot like Seattle, just colder and with louder liberals.
When the boys were about fifteen months old, they got a taste of the good life - facing forward instead of backward in the car. After that, there was no turning back. Per the standard guidelines, that was early, but Liss was pregnant by then, so it wasn't going to last much longer anyway, given our vehicle seat configurations.

Ellen is almost two, and still facing backwards. She's faced forward several times in the sedan, but still has no problem facing backwards in the van. The theory is that she likes being able to look at Andrew.

A week or so ago, I took her and Andrew somewhere in the van, while Liss had Bobby in one of our divide-and-conquer schemes. Preparing to go back home, I had the idea of offering Ellen to take Bobby's car seat. Then I checked myself. Not only would Bobby be pissed if he found out - and none of them knows how to keep a secret - she might decide that maybe this forward-facing thing was pretty awesome, after all. So, I kept my big mouth shut.
With the cold weather and occasional bouts of illness around here, Liss has been making chicken soup once in a while. This includes chicken broth, which the kids have unwaveringly begun to call "chicken juice."

While they're technically correct ... eww.
I took a video of the boys wrestling naked on Andrew's bed, which is about as graphic as you'd expect. They ask to watch the videos on my phone sometimes, and when this one came up, they thought it was a great idea. They went upstairs, took off their clothes, and wrestled naked on Andrew's bed for a while.

Greek genes that I'm not aware of, perhaps?
Andrew was taking his inhaler medicine while sitting on the edge of the sofa; after he was done, I took a chance and pushed him over, onto it. He thought that was great, then climbed back and asked for another push. Bobby - as one does when a sibling is doing anything - wanted the same, so it was a quick little game before bed. Liss joined in, so we took turns pushing, and they being pushed.

Now Andrew always wants his medicine from the edge of the sofa, and to get a push or two.

We admit, without remorse, that it's more than a little satisfying.
From Liss:
Every night as part of our bedtime routine, I ask the boys two questions. The first is: "What was fun today?" They used to answer pretty straightforwardly, but lately, unless we did something completely spectacular, Bobby just says "Pizza!" (whether we ate pizza or not), and Andrew says, "Everything!" It's a little lazy, but whatever.

The second question is: "How did you help someone today?" Again, they used to try to answer the question. I'd help them think of simple ideas: finding Ellen's monkey, putting some dishes away, sharing toys. But I guess that got boring, because now they both think of the most fantastic stories they can. Now they anticipate it: "Mama, ask me how I helped somebody!" so they can say stuff like: "I helped Keagan [whom they haven't seen in 6 weeks] because she was stuck in a fire and she couldn't see" or "I helped Zach because he was stuck in a hole after he planted some blueberry plants" or "I helped Grandpa Sage make some mint ice cream." Stuff like that, different every night. What? I try to lead them back to things they really did, but compared to putting out fires, sharing your teddy bear is awfully dull.
From Liss:
I know I whine about not being able to sing. It's true, I'm not singing in a group unless you count our regular family renditions of "The Wheels on the Bus." But Ellen and I do a duet every night.

It started with Ellen refusing to have her teeth brushed. She'd clamp down on the toothbrush, suck out the toothpaste and declare: "All done!" So I started opening my mouth and going "Aaah" to try to get her to do the same while I was brushing her teeth. At some point I started singing it, kind of like in Disney's Cinderella, instead of just saying it. She thought it was funny, and then she joined me. Now we're both "Aaah"ing random melodies the whole time I'm brushing. My range is coming back, and let me tell you, that girl's teeth are clean.

How long before I can teach her the second part to The Flower Duet from Lakme?
Editor's note: The boys and I join in, too.

January 15th+

The boys each have a couple more freckles. Every time Andrew gets one, he wants me to take a picture of it. This applies even to those he can see, like the new one on his finger.

Still no true birthmarks on either of them, that I've noticed.
The picture in the entry below is a good example of why it's so easy for us to tell the boys apart. They're really very different in a lot of ways, like how they smile (that's Bobby's "camera smile"). Their voices are different, too; I'm getting pretty good at telling who's who just from voice.
My dad recently went through his departed dad's stash of pictures, and scanned a couple hundred to help preserve them. Many are from the 1920s, when taking pictures was a big deal. Now they're reaching 100 years old, but scans don't fade.

For my generation, the baselines are 35mm and 110 film cameras, and Polaroids. Color was standard by then. I remember asking my grandparents when, while a black and white movie was on TV, if the world was black and white back then. I didn't know why they laughed at that; I was maybe nine and thought it was a completely valid question. So did they, I suppose; it was just an unexpected consequence of the two-generation gap, and therefore funny.

Anyway, I have maybe 20 pictures from my childhood, not because no one cared, but because I hated having my picture taken - plus, taking pictures was kind of a big deal. As we became adults, digitals took off, and now most people I know mainly use the camera in their phone. We take a lot more pictures and especially videos than we used to, as it costs basically nothing in time or money. (Culling for the goods ones - especially videos - is another matter).

That's the baseline of our kids' generation. Ours are used to being in front of a camera, because we always have cameras (phones) in our pockets. Several thousands of pictures of them exist, like this collage I made from a series of pictures I took over the weekend. It took five seconds to take eleven pictures - "developed" and all - and two minutes to make the collage online. To them, film will likely be a relic, like cassette tapes. Remember those?

What the baseline of their kids will be, one can only guess.
"I'm not a bear, I'm Ellen!"

This is now sometimes Ellen's response when I call her "honeybear." Similarly, I called her a goofball for something, and she said "No, I'm Ellen!" It's nice that she's getting a stronger sense of self, but if I have to stop calling her my beautiful honeybear, the mourning period will be deep and dark.
Just yesterday, Andrew switched from random lines to drawing. He's also done a couple of As and a 9.

Bobby can't do it yet, which frustrates him, but frustration is a great motivator.

Ed: Addition from Liss:
I think this is the first developmental difference between the boys that they've been consciously aware of, eh? Andrew didn't even notice Bobby rolling over, they've always been at about the place same as far as language, Bobby wanted to keep up when Andrew started walking but not in a really self-aware way. Bob "got" counting first, but Andrew didn't notice. But this, Bobby gets that Andrew has him beat for now. He's frustrated at not being able to draw, but he's also impressed with Andrew and keeps asking him to draw stuff.

The first of many many, many of these things.
Seattle is forecast for 12-18" of snow for the 36 hours beginning tonight. We're assuming a power outage and being snowed in, but with very little idea of how it'll affect the kids. They were inside most of yesterday - icy sidewalks, cold - and got pretty antsy. Maybe we'll spend a lot of time in the garage.

January 8th+

Bobby's making strides of maturation, but it feels like five steps forward, four steps back, so it's hard to notice the one step of net progress. It's there, though there's still a lot of growing up to do, there. One of these days it's going to sink in that he's not the master of the world, and it won't be pretty.
Liss had the brilliant idea of, when the boys start pre-school three days a week in the fall, having them go together two days, but each have a day without his brother. This will help prime them for separate classrooms the next year in Kindergarten.
The pre-school we wanted has two spots open now, so the boys will start in February, two days a week, 9a-12p. It's cheap enough that we can swing the cost along with the nanny, who will now get a relative break two days a week with just Ellen. The current plan is to bump them to three days in the fall.

They've gone to other little school things, but I suspect this will greatly accelerate what they bring home in terms of "things we didn't teach them." We look at each other in "where'd they get that?" moments a lot, but I think those will soon become too common to bother wondering. The nanny's good, but she's not an educator.

The school is requiring the boys' birth certificates upon registration, which I suppose is standard, and makes sense. However, you could line 100 kids of the exact same age and find huge discrepancies in development in all kinds of areas. I guess age is the baseline they work with, though, and deal with the differences as they come up.
Three and a half years old.
Last night the boys were playing a variation of their "It's time for lunch" game. Normally, they play the proprietors, listing what flavors of ice cream (usually) they have, and asking me to pick one. Then they jump on the bed for a while. The cycle takes a couple of minutes.

Instead, they made me the salesman, and asked what kind of porridge I had. I'd make something up, and they'd either go "yum yum yum yum!" and pretend to eat some, or stick out their tongues and say "yuck!" ... and pretend to eat some. That's all fine and cute, but then they'd ask again. Now the cycle was taking ten seconds, and I was quickly running out of ideas.

But the most telling part, to me, was that after every flavor I'd make up, Andrew would look at Bobby for his reaction. Usually, he copied it. Bobby made no such effort to figure out what his brother was doing.

Alpha, Beta?
Sunday afternoon was bad, with lots of kid-fighting and Daddy-rejecting and therefore Mommy-exhaustion and so on. You know it's bad when I get short with Ellen, but she's started thinking that climbing onto the dinner table is a great idea, despite our clear directions to refrain. Her brothers encourage her, which doesn't help.
We went to a pre-school fair on Saturday, with a sitter watching the kids so we could concentrate. The choice is based on a lot of factors, including location/convenience, cost, curriculum, and whether they could take Ellen. We went from table to table - maybe twenty-five programs in all - and talked to a lot of people. We have a first choice, and in fact may ask if we can enroll the boys now instead of waiting for the fall.

Speaking of the fall, because this was mostly to see where to put the boys come September, we had to keep saying the phrase "The twins will be four in the fall." The first couple of times I said that, I had to pause, because it's a little crazy to say.

Of particular note was a French immersion program. Liss speaks French, so she and the cute little teacher behind the table talked for a bit. I have no idea what they were saying, but I, uh, sure enjoyed hearing it.
Sunday morning the boys emerged from their room to potty, per usual, but this time Bobby locked the door. We're okay with their going by themselves ("private"), but they don't normally do it during their early morning runs. Andrew was upset, knocking on the door, which made me get up and deal with it. I told him that it was okay for Bobby to lock the door, and Andrew could either wait, or go downstairs and use the toilet down there.

I wasn't expecting him to take me up on the second option, but he started to go down the stairs. That's when I thought he'd ask me to come with him, if only to turn on lights, because there weren't any on between there and the bathroom. To my pleasant surprise, he went down the dark stairs and the dark hall, into the dark bathroom, turned on its light, did his business, turned off the bathroom light, and came back up through the dark again.

January 1st+

Some good friends of ours have a boy who just turned two. He calls the boys "BobbyDrew."

They all play together well, but he and Ellen are especially close. More than once, they've retreated to his room to play. After enough silence to make any parent wary - which isn't much - one of us will go check on them. Twice now, I've found them just sitting on his bed, "reading" books.
Despite the next school year being eight months away, we have to make a pre-school decision in the next couple of months. Liss has been looking, and we'll be doing tours and whatnot in the coming weeks. It's obstentiably for the boys, but we might be able to sneak Ellen in, especially if she's potty trained by then. Either way, the nanny situation will have to change, since we'll probably only need half-time. Even at that, the pre-school plus nanny costs will be more than we pay her now. Oy.

The annoying part is that there's a pre-school in Liss's work building. The problem is, it's a bad one.
I'm a smartass at work, too.
I annoyed Bobby somehow (it's not hard) as I was leaving their upstairs play to go to the kitchen. Ellen was on the counter, so I was holding her there a bit, when I felt a few taps on the backs on my calves. Bobby had come all the way downstairs just to gently kick me; he then went back upstairs. Right behind him was Andrew, who did the same thing - not because he was also mad at me, but he was just following Bobby and I guess felt that kicking my leg and bolting back upstairs looked like fun.

I was too amused to really say anything.
Ellen was rejecting then requesting me in rapid intervals, so I told her she was being fickle.

Liss's response: "You know what she's going to be when she grows up, right? A woman."
If I were Native American, my name would be He Who Turns Off The Lights.
Another nonsensical toddler conversation:
The boys were talking about Batman, and what he can do, so I made sure to note that he's just pretend. Then, in my need to refine, I almost said "like Santa."

I'm so glad I stopped myself from dropping that bombshell.
Someone needs to make a short film about a court case where the jury is made of three-year-olds.
Last night we presented the boys with their hair choice - grow it out, which means washing it twice a week and knowing that some people might (will) mistake them for girls, or get haircuts when we say so. They both chose to grow it out. This weekend will be the big test, when we try to wash their hair, because they hate that. I guess they hate haircuts more, even though they'd be getting one for every twenty washes or whatever it is.

It would have been convenient if one had chosen long and the other short, but they're not in the business of being that independent of each other yet.
The night after Bobby's pukefest, Liss brought up a plastic bowl for them to use, just in case. At bedtime, instead of acknowledging that it was for whomever might need it, the boys fought over whose it was.

If there's a dumber thing to fight over, I can't think of it.
Every time we go to the quarterly visit for the diabetes study, they give us some swag. Sometimes it's utilitarian, like snack cups or drink cups. One time about two years ago, though, they got small teddy bears with little shirts containing the name of the study - Teddy.

For the most part, the boys never cared for them, but we kept them around. However, Ellen's love for stuffed animals has really ramped up lately, perhaps fueled by many stellar Christmas acquisitions. She came upon one of the bears, which is now known as the "Teddy teddy," and tried to claim it as her own.

Now, when one sibling expresses a desire or preference, the others immediately drop what they're doing and focus their entire psyches on the same thing. If this were some random doll, I'd vouch for Ellen's claim to "ownership," or at least make them rotate who gets to sleep with it, or some other sort of forced solution. However, the boys got this bear during a clinic visit where their blood was drawn. While I think they should let her hold it and not think it's some major affront to them - since they never really cared until she did - I feel I have to support their claim to it.

Unfortunately, we only know where one of them is. Bobby, being the alpha twin in general, had it going to bed last night. The tone of Andrew's voice when he asked "Where's my Teddy teddy?" was a little heartbreaking.
In the span of a few days, Ellen has bitten holes in both of her monkey binkies. She took the news well enough, allowing us to cut off the binky part and keep the monkeys. They now have eerie green smiles where the cuts were made.

This leaves her with just the lion. We're debating whether to get a new monkey, or risk her doing the same to the lion and saying that's that. With the monkeys' demises so close to each other, we may have to decide fast, but I think we're leaning that the lion is the end.

The boys had a binky deadline - their third birthday. Ellen may be done before she's two. However, she takes comfort from toy animals themselves, as much as from the binky sucking.
I had to stay late at work last night, so I got home just before the kids' bedtime. The boys were still eating dinner, but Ellen had finished and was coloring on the bathroom wall, a sanctioned activity (old picture). She asked me to join her, handed me a marker, and asked me to draw "right here." I asked what she wanted me to draw, but she didn't quite understand the question ("here!!"), so I asked the leading question - should I draw a kitty? "Yeah!" I ended up drawing several small, crude cat faces, much to her delight.

Ten minutes alone with her in a good mood - enough to erase a bad work day.
I told the boys during my few minutes alone with them at bedtime that I didn't really want to talk about puke anymore. So, Andrew asked about the smoke detector in their room, which led to talk about fire. It included this: Pretty soon I think I'm going to take the boys into the garage and show them a little of what fire can do. They're curious about it, but they have no idea how it really works, let alone the real harm it can cause. After some candle and paper demonstrations, I can load up YouTube for some real education - house fires.
Bobby was chipper this morning during the boys' potty excursions, as though he genuinely liked me.

Maybe he was sleeppooping.
Since the dawn of time - as far as they're concerned - we've always closed the boys' bedroom door at night. The reasons are obvious: we don't want to wake them up and cause consternation during the two hours before we go to bed, and we don't want an open door to invite them to wander out before the appropriate time.

The reason we tell them, though, is that if the door's open, the cat will come in. This is a perfectly valid reason, as they're afraid of her, and she could indeed wander in. We close our own door to keep her out, because she announces her arrival with several meows, even at 3am.

However, she's about to turn 17. What do we do when she passes on? How do we get the boys (and later, Ellen) to keep their doors closed? My hope is that, by then, they'll listen to reason, and either keep it closed on their own, or be able to acknowledge without complaint that we watch movies or whatever after they're in bed.
I pick things up with my toes all the time. It's a habit I got from my dad.

Now Andrew's doing it. However, he's very bad at it so far.

Liss says that sometimes, when it's time to get clothes for the day, he'll use his toes. With little control, he'll say "I'll wear whatever my foot gets." That's fine for the underwear drawer, which is the lowest, but the shirt drawer is at his eye level. I want to see this in action, because I'm sure it's hilarious.
We don't know where the boys got it, but Bobby required that Andrew do "the secret knock" before he'd let him into their room.

The secret knock? 1, 2, 3, 4.
Before his grandfather's arrival, we asked Andrew if he was going to be nice to him.

I recently decided that the boys were ready to try a movie in the theater. The new Muppets movie seemed to be one they might like, that I also could handle (unlike, say, Chipmunks), so we did some prep. I told them how it was different than watching a movie at home - louder, bigger, they won't stop the movie if you have to pee, you can't talk, etc. They watched the original Muppets movie to make sure they were okay with the characters and such. I watched it with them as a practice for not talking and making sure they could last for the whole movie. They did okay, so with Liss's dad, off we went.

The main concern was noise, so they brought their headphones, and we tried to time our arrival with the start of the movie, not the previews. We missed badly, because there were tons of previews and such - maybe twenty minutes' worth. At first we stayed in the hallway, but they wanted to go in.

It was a 10am show, and the movie had been out for a while, so I expected a sparsely-populated theater, but I was wrong. It was maybe half full. It's a good thing they wanted to go in when they did, because we barely found two good seats together as it was. We were on the top row, in the corner, for easy escape if needed. They sat in the seats, while I sat on the floor in front of them (fire hazard!), and Grandpa found a single a few rows down.

From the looks on their faces, they were just kind of taking it in. They left their headphones on most of the time, and didn't seem terribly into the movie, but they were still paying attention.

And then Andrew fell asleep.

All in all, it was a success. They'd said they'd be game for another one sometime, and I actually got to see the whole movie without leaving for potty breaks or meltdowns.
At Westport, we saw the display of a whale calf's skeleton outside the [closed] maritime museum. The conversation ended something like this:

I have a couple of Mariners t-shirts that I wear once in a while. Whenever I do, Bobby asks why I'm wearing a baseball shirt if I'm not going to a baseball game. It appears to be a major faux pas in his mind.
The boys are obsessed with death and killing, neither of which they really understand. It's a phase that I'm sure every little kid goes through, so we need to temper it when we can. Liss reports that today it's been bad enough that she had to tell them that it's only okay to hurt someone if they're already hurting you, though running away and telling the police is better. That prompted this:

Now, they love their little sister, and ... it's hard to be outraged at this.
The boys are really good about asking if a food has wheat or gluten in it. It's about the best we could hope for, which is a consequence of Andrew being diagnosed celiac so young. It's all they know, really.

In fact, they ask even though we often say "we will never give you gluten," which can be interpreted as asking it too much, but we don't want to actively discourage the question. When it's not us doing the prep, they need to ask whoever is.
Christmas morning, Andrew was getting a little sick. Since he's had a pre-athsma diagnosis, we're supposed to give him albuterol at the first signs, so we did that.

At 10pm Christmas night, he puked in his bed. We decided to see how he'd do after that, but he was still feeling badly later, so I took him to Urgent Care around 5:30am.

The previous time I was there (with Ellen's fracture), the doctor made a repeated point to say how much more responsive and quick they were now. Well, that went out the window this time. Maybe it was lack of staffing for Christmas, but when you're waiting in a room with a sick three year old for two hours, and can see that there are five patients on the board, the combination of previous "we're quick!" emphasis and lack thereof this time really grated me.

To her credit, when it was our turn but Andrew was pooping in the bathroom with my help, she waited instead of bumping us.

With all of that waiting, I was afraid that they'd do what I recognized as the normal procedures for a suspected respiratory infection - fifteen minutes of albuterol, wait, x-rays, wait, another albuterol treatment, wait, x-ray results, wait, diagnosis and go home. If it took two hours to go from triage nurse to doctor, how long were we going to be there?

While all of his was going on, Liss and I were in mild panic mode via text. We had reservations to a coastal hotel, just us two, and had for months. Where would be the line to staying home, and would we draw it, or would Amy, the first (of four) people slated to watch the kids?

To our great relief, the doctor - taking care to say she'd seen a lot of similar cases recently - said she heard no signs of infection. It was just a cold, he'd be okay soon, and keep up with the albuterol just in case. Between that medicine, his steroid inhaler, and bringing him in on the early side, we'd done everything right, and possibly dodged a bullet.

So, we got to go do nothing for two days, and Amy reported that he was fine.

Meanwhile, Bobby, without his twin there, did his normal bathroom break and then slept *way* past the green light, like 9:15. They really need their own rooms, or something.

While getting ready for Westport, Bobby went to get his new Buzz Lightyear doll - and by "new" I mean about a day, at that point - and said I could take it with me. When I was back home but sick a few days later with what Andrew had (and Ellen had had first), he brought me his favorite bedtime stuffed animals to sleep with in bed.

Maybe he doesn't hate me, after all.
Christmas night, putting the boys to bed, I asked Bobby what presents he got that he liked. His answer was that "I didn't get a hammer. I asked Santa for a hammer and he didn't bring me a hammer."

Ah, three year olds.
There was some controversy between us over which twin is which in this photo shoot, and I'm happy to report that I prevailed. Bobby is in green.

But then, if I'd been wrong, I wouldn't have written about it.
Last night was bad.

To set it up, Grace had puked on the stairs the previous night.

I lie between the boys for three minutes before saying goodnight and leaving their room. When I did so last night, Andrew asked about Grace, why she'd puked, and why on the stairs. We ended up talking about puke for three minutes - try to make it to the toilet if you can, but if you can't that's okay, we'll clean you up, etc.

At 11:30, I heard crying from the bathroom and bolted out of bed. Bobby was in there, with puke on himself, his clothes, the toilet seat - and a little in the toilet. Liss came in, and I asked her to get him another shirt, during which she found the mother lode in the boys' room. She cleaned that, I cleaned him, and he handled it relatively well. By that, I mean that he was clearly upset, but let us help him and didn't scream at us (me) for it.

Unfortunately, their room now smelled like puke. With that and the clean up, I was starting to feel ill. The smell may or may not have contributed to a reprise from Bobby some 45 minutes later. This time, however, he made it to the toilet. This is clear, solid progress, and I will praise him about it for days. He was still upset, of course, but this time calmed down quickly and went back to bed. Liss was reaching exhaustion. This morning Bobby was wary, but seemed okay. I, however, didn't make it unscathed.

There's no real way of knowing if our conversation made him think about puking, and therefore triggered it later. I asked, and he said no, in fact saying so in a rather grown up way: "I wasn't thinking about it, I just did it."

Hell, just writing about this is making me queasy again. Sorry if you're experiencing the same.
Liss's parents came for the week after Christmas. For two months before that, we'd bring up the idea of haircuts to the boys, and they'd quickly say no, Grandpa has to do it. Once he got here, they were really fishing for excuses, and coming up with some truly dumb ones.

Finally, on his last day, I asked that he do it, because we didn't want that procrastination precedent to work.

Now, we really would be fine with the boys having long hair. However, there are two things to consider. One is that they hate to have their hair washed. We'd make them wash it twice a week. The other is that, after a certain length, people would assume that they're girls.

If they can get on board with both of those, then they can grow it out. I highly doubt they'd agree - actually, that's not true. I think they'd agree until we followed through with the twice-a-week thing, and then they'd go back to excuses for putting off haircuts.
After we comb his hair, the first thing Bobby does is run a hand through it to muss it up.
The boys are obsessed with the concept of Jail, and they often say they're going to put us there, either when very playful or very mad. My response is hey, three hots and a cot! This doesn't amuse the boys, but Liss likes it even less. One iteration involved Bobby leaving me alone on our bed and closing the door, which hey, there's a bathroom, DVD player, and TV in there, and I know Liss would never let me starve. Sounds good to me.

Instead of Jail, sometimes they say they're going to put her in Ketchup. Yeah, I don't know.
Just in the last week, all three kids have been able to go upstairs and play without us for extended periods of time, by which I mean twenty minutes. This is a huge development as far as we're concerned.
Another new game for the boys is pretending to sell ice cream or something else they like, going around to everyone else and asking what flavor they want. Liss started with conventional things like strawberry, vanilla, etc., but I brought it to the next level by requesting Poop flavor. You can imagine the hilarity that ensued.

I think their favorite is Spider.
In any other situation, calling the boys a "baby" will incur their wrath, and rightfully so. However, after a bath, they still want me to wrap them in a towel and "Hold me like a baby" and carry them to our bed to finish drying off. It's very cute.
Today a co-worker and his wife and small son shared the elevator down with me. After about fifteen seconds of observing the kid, I said that I guessed he was 13 months old. The wife said "You're only off by seven days - he's 13 months, 7 days."

I wasn't off, lady. I was on. That's well within the acceptable margin of error which I just made up.

However, this isn't a skill I ever really dreamed of having.
There are lots - and I mean lots - of times where, if taken out of context, my actions could be seen as those of a child molester. The sad part is, I'm sure they do the same things I do, just with completely different intent.

Bobby and I were tickle-playing on the bed, and he was only wearing underwear - very common for the boys. One of their most ticklish spots is where the torso meets the hips, right on the underwear line. Through our roughhousing, his underwear had slid off a bit. After that, before each round, he asked "Are you going to take off my underwear?" with a wry grin, hoping I would, though that just meant pulling on the strap a bit.

That's just one example. I pat their butts. I inspect Ellen's vagina for cleanliness. I smooch them in lots of places.

Someday - maybe someday soon - we'll need to discuss boundaries. They're already getting a foundation with bathroom privacy; the boys prefer to go by themselves now (except the early loophole below). They lock the door, knowing that I'm the only one who can easily unlock it (Liss can with some effort). However, they also prefer to witness us in the bathroom, which was fine when we needed them to see what to do, but now we're trying to taper that off. The boys have, uh, seen menstruation in action. "Do you need a band-aid? Why is there blood?" "Because we're not having any more babies."

Anyway, we'll need to teach them that it's okay for some people to touch this and that, but even that will fade out to "doctors, and us during emergencies."
While the boys and I were playing on our bed, I got into a crouched position for some reason, and Andrew started to climb onto my back. I leaned a little bit to throw him off. He did it again. Bobby saw and joined in. We did this for maybe fifteen minutes. I called it the scorpion game, which they didn't get.

After the first several, I started having them request to which side to be thrown - left or right. We might as well get some educating out of it.
"I peed-ed."
The boys were turning on the light in their room upon waking up, which removed any chance of their falling back asleep before the green light. So, we told them to stop doing that.

To compensate, they started exploiting the loophole that lets them potty if they need to, by doing it every morning, then both staying in there and chatting or playing with their toothbrushes or whatever. So, now we have to shoo them back to their room every morning.
I haven't seen it yet, but Liss says that Ellen will go into the bathroom, put the toddler seat onto the toilet herself, set up a little stepstool we have, then climb up and do her business. When she's done, she calls for help, because she can't get down yet.
Things are starting to swing back to normal, sort of.