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Dad's Coping Mechanism - 2013

2013 begins with the twins at 4 1/2, and Ellen at 2 3/4.

December 14th+

Usually when we walk in the door after Amy gives us a date night, her first words are "Your children are delightful!"

This time, she did not do that.

December 7th+

I joined a community chorus recently, and our Christmas concert was this past weekend. Liss brought the kids, even though it started at their bedtime, with the usual "this is our latest test to see if you can stay up late."

As for the actual concert, they sat in the front room, and did great, staying quiet during the singing and clapping with everyone else. They (and we) got lots of compliments from the other singers and attendees.

When we got home, a little after 8, Ellen lost it after a perceived shove from Andrew (they have a "thing" where they want to be the first up the stairs), which I told her didn't bode well for future stay-up-lates. But overall, they did well.

A co-worker is in another chorus, which has a concert at 3pm this Sunday, so we might do that. I asked if they wanted to, and they were all enthused, but I'm waiting to see if the guy can score me some comp tickets.
Ellen's pre-school closes at noon on Friday, so I'm taking the afternoon off. I'm probably going to take her to a matinee of Frozen.

Yes, without the boys.

I understand there will be repercussions. The extent and severity of them, nobody can predict. I put over/under of the words "not fair" at 7 1/2.
At school, Ellen fell while running, and I mean hard. She managed a smile for the camera, but for the most part, she's been pretty whiny and pathetic. All we can do is give her some lame kid's pain reliever and tell her her body will fix it, especially while she sleeps. Well, and give her extra snuggles.

The school gave us an accident form that includes things like "[Teacher] saw the incident" and "Here is where she shows visible injury." I call it our get out of jail free card, or at least get out of CPS taking her away.

Saturday? Pictures with Santa. So, it'll be immortalized - his red cheeks, her red nose and forehead. Her right knee also bore some of the brunt.

As an aside, note her eyebrows in that picture - the sort of ^ shape. One of mine is like that, the other not, so I guess she got it from me. I'm sorry, honey. That'll be a lifelong maintenance project, if I'm any indication.
Andrew, loading my clothes into the washing machine: "Dad, excuse me, but you have too huge clothes."
Conversation with Ellen:
The boys' (and Liss's) school had its first of two talent shows. Bobby wanted to be in it, "I can tell jokes!," on which we put the kibosh. Instead, I took them, so they'd know what to expect if they did have a real act later.

Now, elementary school talent shows are a special kind of lame, and that's squared when you don't have a kid in. This one had 25, count 'em, 25 acts, 18 of which were singing along to their favorite pop songs. Oy. The boys started getting rowdy around Act 18, which I was more than happy to use as an excuse to leave. It was already after their bedtime, anyway.

Now that they have a frame of reference, we might be okay with them being in the spring one, except they don't have any talents in the mold expected at such a thing. The things they've been in (soccer, baseball, swimming) don't lend themselves to that.

However, the spring one isn't just for kids, so it's possible that Liss and I might sing something, which if the boys aren't doing anything, might really peeve them off. (Well, probably just Bobby)

While at the show, I was able to confirm what Liss had reported, which is that the boys are popular. Bobby is especially out there, saying Hi to older kids by name, and getting them back. Andrew is known and liked, but not winsome like his brother, so he's more like his parents are.
It's been in the 20s here, and Bobby still refuses to wear a coat. He normally goes from heated house to eventually-heated car to heated school/store/whatever. He'll get shivery in between, but not complain about it, since he knows we'll say some version of "told you so." I mean, if we cared enough, we'd make him wear it, but he wouldn't be thinking about how awesome it is to be warm, but how mean and oppressive we are. This is one of those things where we'll just let him learn by doing.

Especially when we're in Minnesota in two weeks.
I haven't been there for it, but word is that three months after he "killed" Grace, the boys are still mad at the vet. His clinic is right by the fancy grocery store Liss likes, and every time she drives there and by the clinic, they say something like "I hate that vet! I'm going to kick him in the face!" I think mostly it's just routine right now, rather than actually wishing harm, but I've still told them a couple of times that they shouldn't be mad at him for doing it, but mad at me for deciding it. They're not swayed.

November 30th+

We both went to the boys' parent-teacher conferences. It's a little different when your wife is a co-worker of the teacher, as everything was probably a lot more "insider" than normal. The first thing Bobby's teacher did was blow through an assessment that she said she had to do and couldn't stand.

They had early and recent examples of the boys' work, which shows clear progress in reading and writing. Math has improved a little, mostly because they were already way up there. They're both tops in their classes in math, and near the top in reading. This is very similar to how I was in school (until high school).

We missed the opportunity to say "there's too much homework." We kind of half blanked, half bailed. But boy, do we hate how much they get, or even that they get it at all.

Liss and the teachers kept segueing into gossip, as teachers tend to do, but I hear enough at home that I felt up to speed.

It looks like next year, the school boundaries are going to be redrawn such that our house will belong to a different elementary school. Liss, as an employee, can keep the boys where they are, but whether she will is another matter. Heck, whether she's still at that school is unknown. She's doesn't know the new-boundary school nearly as well, but knows they can't reach their potential where they are. It's looking like they won't quite qualify for the gifted program for next year, though that ship hasn't fully sailed.
I did Ellen's parent-teacher conference, which can be summed up by her lead teacher declaring that "Ellen is amazing," to which I was quiet, but inside was thinking "Well, duh."

Back when she started there, they had me fill out some questions about her, including a generic "describe" one, in which I started with "very sweet, very creative, very stubborn." The teacher said she'd reviewed the file before the conference, and went ... that's Ellen, all right.

Despite the class being half-English half-Somali in theory, there's been very little actual Somali, because only two of the kids are native Somali speakers, and the whole point is to make the transition easier. They're going for fuller emersion, instead. That's fine with us, but it would have been neat to have her learn more of the language. They might take the opportunity to mix things up a bit, like have some Spanish or French days, instead.
"Benadryl smoothies for all!"
For a while after Halloween, the kids were obsessed with their inventory. They'd get their buckets, count how many of this candy they had, how many of that, maybe trade between themselves (under our supervision, lest the boys take advantage of Ellen), count again, etc. Eventually this evolved into swinging the buckets over their heads, trying to challenge themselves not to let any pieces fall out. Then they'd be surpised when they'd open a candy and crumbles fall out, or they'd hit a sibling with a swing.

Eventually we had to put a stop to it, and the buckets are now living over the washer/dryer. That's what we did last year right away, but silly us, we thought maybe they could be more responsible with them a year later.

Now the Christmas candy is coming. Oy.
Liss took the kids to her school's Math Fest, which is supposed to be a "look how fun math is!" kind of thing, which is mostly does just fine. The way it was set up, you won small prizes for completing various math challenges. This presented major problems for her plan of get in, get out. The kids Had To Have every prize. To do that, they Had To Do every challenge. Most of them were way above their current math knowledge. Meanwhile, Liss didn't want to discourage their enthusiasm, even if the end result was taking home a pencil and a sticker, or whatever the prizes were. So, they came home after bedtime, crap in hand, with a frazzled mother.
There are a couple of local Fred Meyer stores with child care, whereby you can dump your kid(s) for up to an hour while you shop. We'd been using it quite a bit, but it's for under-five only. Liss took all three to one, and the lady asked if the boys were in Kindergarten. "Yeah!" Smart lady. Except this makes us much less likely to shop there, to the tune of about $80 a week. Oops.

That's only one store, so we might try the other close-ish one. I mean, if they're smart, they'll look the other way, but if they don't, it's better for us to squeeze in shopping without them - somewhere closer.

November 9th+

The boys' pre-reading has really come along in the last few weeks. This morning Liss "caught" them with a library book that we don't care for, it essentially being a recap of the Planes movie, but this kind of makes up for that. Hey, they're engaged, and not requiring much help to do it.

It's more than that, though. Probably the biggest change is that they're becoming more willing and sometimes eager to try. They still get stuck a lot, like last night with a date they couldn't figure out "June" or "Sunday." But it's coming.

I usually put on subtitles for movies, mostly as backup for myself, but I've also had the idea that maybe it'll help them with the reading. That never happened until last night (Sound of Music), when they kept spotting the words they know, and even linking a sung word to its subtitle ("How," as in "How Do You Solve ...?"), when they hadn't known that written word before.

So, it's coming. Liss has been drilling them on their sight words at bedtime, and of course they're getting a lot of instruction at school, so it's just a matter of time.

For her part, Ellen is been progressing in their wake. She has their examples, and has just been more curious about it than they were at her age, so I still wouldn't be surprised if she were off and running before she turns five.

November 2nd+

This morning, I emerged from our bedroom to find Ellen, nude, sitting at the top of the stairs. That's not a big thing, as she'll sometimes wait for us on that top landing for whatever reason. I cleared my throat, she turned her head, and I said hi honey. Can I help you? "I need to be wiped."

I'll let your brain put the clues together now.

October 26th+

I've calculated that on December 26th, the boys will be the same age that Ellen will be on her first day of Kindergarten.
There's a phenomenon that may or may not have a name, but it's one I think we all experience. When driving, I can look away for a few seconds before I get an overwhelming urge to look forward again. The actual length of time is a function of what I saw the last time, maximized on a straight road with no other vehicles, and minimized in foggy, twisty traffic. The urge itself is hard to describe, but it's very real, until I just have to look again, for obvious reasons.

Having one's children nearby elicits the same feeling, though after more time. Liss and I joke that we constantly "take inventory," counting to three in our heads at regular intervals - which is how we figured out about Andrew.
The kids have been taking Sunday swim lessons for a month now. Liss wanted them to learn how to, you know, not die. It's all well and good, but it's One More Thing. She also kicks herself for not waiting a few more months; Ellen was just young enough when classes began (under 3 1/2) that Liss has to be in the pool as part of the class. Ellen's the wise old woman of their class. The boys, meanwhile, are off in another class elsewhere with other kids their own age.

In general, they hate it, which Liss sees as a good thing, because they won't want to continue. They'll do their ten weeks, learn how to not die, then move on to the next thing.
The fact that the boys are in separate classes is mostly just an afterthought these days. We never put much thought into it, because it seemed fairly obvious to do it. Now that they're several weeks in, there haven't been any glaring downsides. I think the largest benefit is that it lets Andrew out from under Bobby's often overbearing self.

Liss did ask their teachers to try to give them the same homework, and they've agreed, so that helps. There's still waaaay too much of it, in our opinion, but at least we're not figuring out twice the instructions.
Big Monkey leads a complicated life. To quote Liss, "Big Monkey is a girl, but prefers male pronouns. His full name is Big Monkey Tom Munger. He is a first soprano. Middle school is going to be tough for Big Monkey."

If it were up to Ellen, Big Monkey would go everywhere with her, including the swimming pool, preschool, the bathtub, you name it. We're ruled by the other side, that being a large amount of paranoia at losing said Monkey, and the fallout of such a loss.

He also has familial relations, most notably that Ellen is his "mommy." Andrew and Bobby kind of switch off being Daddy or a Granddaddy or Brother or some other male relative. This also makes us Grandma and Grandpa, which I suppose is helping us get ready for the real thing, but is still a little disconcerting. And now there's a new wrinkle. Big Monkey has a kid - a small hippo named Pippy.

So now, we're great-grandparents.
When we got home recently, Liss thought I'd be unbuckling Andrew from his seat, and vice versa. We were all inside for maybe a minute before we realized we were missing a boy. I ran out to the van, to a find a screaming, tearful one, indeed.
Ellen's been potty trained for a year now, so the fact that she's had a few accidents lately is very odd. This included a 2am bed wetting, and random "oops, I peed" events. Since it seemed to come out of nowhere, we thought it might be medical, like a UTI or juvenile diabetes. She had an incident Saturday, so Liss called the consulting nurse, who did what they do - told her to bring Ellen to Urgent Care, in case it was a UTI. We put it off until Sunday, and that only because there were no Monday appointments.

The short version is that everything was negative. The longer version is that they were there for three hours, though apparently she was in good spirits and charmed the pants off everyone there, as she does. It's certainly not how Liss wanted to spend a chunk of her Sunday, though.

Now we're back to square one, wondering what the problem is. All we can really say now is that it's a regression, and it'll pass.

October 19th+

The boys gang up on Ellen a lot. I don't mean physically (but it does happen during roughhousing), but certainly psychologically. They exclude her from games. Or, if they do play with her, they'll stack the rules against her, or make sure she has the last turn. They'll play some random game and form a team against her, two against one. It's mostly Bobby initiating it, with Andrew playing along, perhaps because he'd rather annoy the weaker than stronger sibling.

One random example was that they all stripped after dinner, and were trying to throw their underwear in the air and catch it. The boys were "on the same team," combining their scores, and Ellen was copying them, counting her own. At one point Bobby bragged that "We have 71, and you only have 27!" Well, no shit you're way ahead of her, asshole. She's younger and by herself.

It can't go the other way, though. We were playing monster tie-tac-toe and trying to figure out how to rotate who played when. Bobby said that he and Andrew should be a team against Ellen. I said in that case, how about you two against me and Ellen? "Oh, no!," they quickly replied, "That wouldn't be fair!"
You can tell Ellen's preschool is a non-profit, because it takes them weeks to deposit our checks.
I pick up Ellen from preschool about half the time. They're always out in the fenced play area. Invariably, when she sees me, she starts yelling "Daddy! Daddy" as she runs to me.

What happens next depends on where the going-home snack tray is. If it's outside the fence, and therefore behind me, she'll run into my arms and give me a big hug, then get her snack. If the tray is inside the yard, she'll run (yelling "Daddy!" straight to the tray, then walk through the gate to me with a sort of "hey man, what's up?" vibe while she checks out what she gets to eat on the bus.
We had a babysitter coming, and based on the timing, gave the kids a choice. They could either stay up late and have her put them to bed, or go to bed a little early, and we'd do it. They were to-orn, eventually deciding to stay up late, since they hadn't seen this babysitter for some months. Liss may or may not have nudged them in that direction during their hemming and hawing.
Liss says the boys are something of celebrities at school. Besides being identical twins, they're tiny, they're the kids of a popular teacher that goes to all the classrooms (thus all the kids know her), and they're generally smart and likeable. Bobby, especially, has been his usual braggy and outgoing self. Andrew's been his usual sit-and-be-nice self; at least, that how he is in crowds. Overall, they're not trying to stand out; it's just the hand they were dealt.

We'll see how it holds up as they get older, or more to the point, as their peers get older. If they end up at another school, of course, all bets are off.
The boys have been taking their baseline math and reading tests this week, which Liss is obsessing about, seeing as it's her job to administer the tests, on top of the fact that it's her children finally taking it. She's been texting me their scores in real time, which in general have been very good, except for Andrew's first-half reading score. That may be some two standard deviations below the mean, whereas his second-half score might be two above. It's very odd; he was the first in his class to move up to the second reading level.

This is also the first step toward potentially getting them into the district's accelerated programs, at a central school that does that. It wouldn't happen anytime soon (like maybe next year, maybe not), but it's still part of the obsession.
The boys had a tootsie pop between them, and they each wanted it. It didn't seem right (to any of us) to have one boy suck on it for three minute turns, switching mouths in between, but we were almost to that point. Instead, I tried to use a knife to cut it in half, perpendicular to the stick. It was too hard, so I got a hammer - to hammer the knife in. I was worried about it (the pop) shattering, so I got a plate. Then I was worried about the plate, and how I'd have to hide the evidence confess to Liss if I shattered that ... but that worked. However, a tiny piece of the stick was in the top half, which Bobby had me remove with the knife, and all was well. The halves were still enough for it to make him look like a chipmunk.

Handy Dad, that's me.

October 11th+

This morning we had a minor incident that reminded me of this one from March. Liss woke up the boys for school, and Bobby soon asked "Why is this poop on the floor?" Andrew, meanwhile, refused to come out from under his blanket.

So, Andrew had at some point gotten out of bed and failed to make it to the bathroom. It also appears that he tried to clean it himself, judging from the smear pattern. That's right, every Dad is a forsenic scientist.

It wasn't a big deal, and in fact, poop is one of the Five Things it's okay to wake us up for, but just like in March, he didn't do that. Between that and the blanket hiding this morning, he's clearly ashamed of anything like this, which we just need to keep reminding him that things happen, as is asking for help when it does.
When Mom has a late meeting or what-have-you, odd things tend to happen with Dad in charge.

I can only vouch for the cleanliness of Ellen's.
Bobby's gotten in the habit of pretending to shoot people when they annoy him or whatnot. It's a quick little "pew pew," and I guess on the surface it's cute, but definitely not what we want his first instinct to be. And, we've asked him many, many times not to do it. As with so many other things, merely asking hasn't done shit.

So, I tried to new thing, whereby I'd count his doing it, and when I got to ten, I'd take a cube out of the cube jar. Like, it's not a cube-worthy offense on its own, but it's something to discourage, and something that may only respond to consequences. Soon after I'd instituted this, he'd hit two. It was probably more like four, but he's already adjusted to making it harder to tell, like doing the noise more softly, and without the hand gestures.
Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention.

The boys wanted to play football. They're not ready for "Hike!" and running plays and the like, but just playing catch isn't football as they now understand it, either. They started running around, with one having the ball, and the other trying to tackle him, but they kept ending up hurt and/or dirty, and they have low tolerance for either. So, in the middle of all this running around and bad feelings, I was trying to come up with an appropriate game.

What I thought of was that I throw the ball to a boy, and I start counting seconds. If he threw it to me and I caught it before the other tagged him, he got the points I'd counted up to. If he threw and I missed (almost always because of a bad throw), he got nothing. If he was tagged before throwing, he got nothing. Besides fairness, I was trying to go for strategy. Do you run around avoiding for a long time to rack up points but increase the risk of a zero, or do you act fast and get two or three easy points?

We tried it, and it mostly was okay. As with anything, some fine tuning is required, like waiting two seconds before you can tag, starting a certain distance apart, etc. The two-second rule fostered a change in their thinking, in that they'd throw as I was saying "two," so I proposed that you can't throw until "four." We changed that to "three" after a bit.

However, it's a competitive game, whereby you keep score and compare yours to your brother's. They are neither good losers nor good winners. They don't just get mad, they get pissy, whiny, throw the ball at each other, etc. I mean, it's all "What a great teaching opportunity for Dad!" on paper, but when you're mediating petty, pointless disputes for the 7,245th time, it gets really old. With baseball, they pretend they're on the same team, so it's less of a thing.

I got tired of all that, as Andrew was having an especially hard time, so we started just playing catch. Then, when a boy would miss one, his brother would jump and a "woo hoo!" in celebration.
Liss picked up a few 50-ish piece jigsaw puzzles, to stoke their interest at the next level. It's been "okay" so far, in that they need a lot of help. One positive is that they've picked up (from me) the strategy of finding the corners first, then the edges, then working inward. From what I hear, a lot of other kids don't see the value in that, and just kind of pick up pieces hoping to stumble upon a match.

One thing they're not quite getting is that edges go together to form one long edge. They'll often try to get two similar-looking edges pieces together, but with one edge "south" and one north. I'm sure they'll make that leap soon enough.

They're also getting better at putting all of the pieces away, thank goodness, though Ellen still has a long ways to go there.
After much changing of mind since last November 1st, and I mean that literally, the kids have decided on their Halloween costumes:

Poisonous tree
Poisonous pumpkin
Poisonous princess

October 5th+

The boys thought they'd be clever today and dress alike to "trick people." I'm certain it'll work some extent, but my perspective is biased, in that even with that static picture, it's very easy for me to tell who's who.

This probably came from a conversation I had with them during bedtime. They started talking about being identical and looking alike and how they can trick people; I said they could try switching beds and seeing if Mom noticed when she came back in. But then they'd have to go beyond that - each trying to copy how his twin talks, laughs, smiles, walks, etc. They'd have to change car seats - which they did this morning, unheard of in the "Mine!" world of little kids.

If they try to go beyond that, they'll have issues. Like, it's one thing to switch Kindergarten classrooms, but the gig would be up as soon as a boy doesn't go straight to the right seat or otherwise know that class's routines. They'd have to have the foresight to switch backpacks, again one of the very large set of "Mine!" objects. And so on.

Bobby on your left, Andrew right.
We're starting to suspect that Ellen might have an overactice immune system. Like her mother, she almost never gets sick, at least nowhere near the frequency and severity of her brothers. That sounds great, but in Liss's case, overactive means autoimmune, i.e. lupus. Andrew's celiac disease is also autoimmune (just more targetted). In other words, we have lots of precedent, which fuels our suspicions.

Whether it makes us too suspicious compared to reality will only be answered with time. Liss's lupus didn't really manifest until her late teens.
I've joined a chorus run by a nearby community college, which consists of mostly retirees, but it's a good outlet. Part of my task is also scouting it for Liss to possibly join next quarter, though that brings up kid logistics issues, of course.

We were talking about it at dinner last night, since I needed to leave early for rehearsal. I explained how we were going to have a concert in December, so we were doing Christmas music, which is a little odd to sing now, but we needed to practice among ourselves before singing for people who came to the concert.

Bobby asked if they (the family) could come, which isn't the real story. It's the way he asked, which reminded me of Oliver asking for more. It was like he wanted to go more than anything he'd ever wanted before. And of course you can, little man.
Yesterday after work was a sort of perfect shitstorm.

I usually get Ellen from pre-school on Mondays. I take the bus from work to there, get her, and we take the bus home.

Yesterday I got our new phones. They weren't activated yet, but for some reason, linking them to our account de-activated our old ones. So, all of a sudden, our phones had no means of communication.

While still on the bus downtown, there was an accident in front of us. The bus stopped, and stayed there. After a few minutes, the driver told us we'd be there a while, and we might as well get off if we had other means. Well, we were right by the light rail station, so my bright idea was to take the train to a station that happened to meet the same bus route, and meet up with a bus that had gone past that point. The train is faster, after all - but doesn't go near the pre-school.

I got to the new bus stop around 5:05, which is normally when I get Ellen. The deadline to get her is 5:30, or we start paying. It's about two miles away. Meanwhile, at this stop, there are a lot of people, which tells me that there hasn't been a bus in a while, and I've missed my window. I watched two buses of another route go by before ... kind of panicking. By now it's 5:15, Liss doesn't know what's happening and is expecting us any minute, and I have no way to contact her or the school, or get to the school. I briefly considered hitchhiking.

Instead, I started to jog. Now, people who know me will realize how desperate I was, since I normally don't run unless someone's chasing me. With a knife.

I made it one bus stop before I had another idea. Our dentist's office was right there. I went in and asked to use their phone, and the secretary thankfully agreed. I called Liss, but of course her phone wasn't working. I called H's parents (they live fifty feet from the school, H goes there, and they're on Ellen's pick-up list), but one of them didn't answer, while the other did but somehow couldn't hear me.

I went back to the [second] bus stop, and was just about to start jogging again, when someone else waiting stopped me, saying a bus was coming. It was a pair of buses, in fact, and we got on our way.

Normally the kids at the school are outside playing, but it was after time. The keypad was even locked, so I knocked, and the director let me in, at 5:40. Fortunately, there were two other kids as well as Ellen, which lent credence to my story about the bus and the accident. We'll still be paying a late fee, though.

Just then, H and his poppy showed up at the door. It seems the school called Liss, then me, and getting no one, called the #3 on the list. They saw me at just turned around.

So we're 30 minutes late, and by now I know Liss is kind of freaking out. So, I ask Ellen to hurry, because Mom must be worrying. However, she always gets a snack when leaving school, and she really wanted one. The director found a cheese stick somewhere. At dinner later, I told Ellen I was disappointed that she was more interested in a snack than her Mom's feelings.

So we finally got home around 6:00, just in time for me to scarf down dinner before chorus practice. Oy.

September 28th+

I finally screened Star Wars for the boys. Bobby declared it "great" and was on the edge of his seat. Andrew got a little bored, saying it was very long, but that he still liked it.

It'll be a while before Empire, like a year. They can watch the original a few more times before then.
Ellen's pre-reading has gotten to the point where it's conceivable that she'll be able to truly read before the boys, and I don't mean "them at 6, she at 5 1/2," but rather "she in mid 2014, them in late 2014." She's curious about what it all means and how it comes together into words and stories. They barely make an effort at it; they just want grown ups to read to them.

The boys are very indignant when we point out that she may overtake them. Well, good. Maybe the kick in the pants will motivate them.
See, boys? See!?

Not an acceptable word!
A friend of ours took the kids away for over 24 hours this past weekend, as part of a barter, and of course it was fab. We stayed out, going to sleep at 3am and waking at 10.

Her boy is six and has both a genius math brain and sensory/overstimulation issues. Her report included this:
Liss and James have three very adorable children who are scary good at taking turns, doing what is needed before they are asked, and when asked, responding right away. They also seem to only ever get spun up to about a three on a scale where zero is calm and [her son] is ten.

Best moment showing how used to an only child we are was last night when [her husband] waited in the dark parking lot with the 4 kids, for me to pull the van out of its spot. "Ellen? Ellen! Where's Ellen?!? Guys, do you see Ellen?" Everyone looks around confused, and I wait to drive. Then he says, "....oh. I'm carrying her."
Bobby hates my all natural peanut butter and eschewed the scrambled eggs. He seems to be subsisting on toast, cheese, and potty humor. Oh, and gluten-free chocolate chip cookies.
I had Ellen by myself one late afternoon, and she wanted to go to the "blue" park, which is about six blocks away. Walking there, as often happens, I got ahead of her, and she asked me to stop so she could catch up. After a while, it was clear it was going to be even slower going than usual. That preciptated this exchange: I was unaware, silly me, that my daughter's mouth was connected to her feet.
Along with various super heroes and snack manufacturers, they boys have developed a tremendous amount of brand loyalty toward ... Delta Airlines.
Baseball is all but done around here, as fall has made things wet, chilly and dark. We may be able to squeeze in a few more rounds, but just a month ago, we were out there almost every day.

Toward the end, the boys finally started playing catcher on a regular basis. This makes things much easier for the other two of us (Ellen rarely joins in). Without a catcher, either the pitcher (me) or the batter has to get every ball, including fouls and swings-and-misses. A catcher speeds things up tremendously, to say nothing of keeping my energy level up from not having to chase every foul down the base lines (these are common). The boys got pedometers from the diabetes study, and wore them during a 50-minute baseball session. They each took about 3300 steps.

Now, we just need to get Bobby throwing well back to the pitcher.
After several rounds of what-if and number crunching, we've decided to stick to having two cars. There are just too many times that we need to be in two places at once, and that's only going to increase as the kids' outside activities increase in frequency.

The van is 12 years old, the sedan 17. They're both doing "okay," but also getting more expensive with repairs. We bought the van (used) with the goal of having it last seven years, and we're halfway there. The real hope is that whenever they conk out, they don't do it together.
We keep a pack of butt wipes on the kitchen sink. Ellen's developed this habit of putting water in it, to make them "work better." And it truth, it kinda does. But we're still going to try to untrain her of it.
After observing the boys eat their homemade lunches in the school cafeteria, Liss felt compelled to write a '1' on each of the sandwich containers, as in "eat this first" perhaps with a ", dammit!" at the end.
The kids were playing memory, and taking about six minutes to play a 20-card game. That's fine at their age, but I wanted to show them how it's done. I told them I thought Liss and I could do it in under a minute. They didn't believe it, but were stoked to see us try.

43 seconds, baby.

They thought it was awesome.
When Grace died, Liss made a book about her with the kids' help. However, they all wanted it in their beds. So now there are three.
The boys' school - also Liss's employer - badly managed the first day.

Amy and I and the boys showed up a little early, along with some 300 other parents and kids. The front doors were locked, while they set up tables about five feet inside. Nothing was communicated to us. When they opened the doors, the crowd crammed into the narrow doorways to get to what we assumed were tables full of useful information, like where to go. But then, a few teachers started yelling over the crowd that if we already knew our classroom, we should go there. We knew who, but not where, so we asked that. The way to them led through the queues packed in the doorway and tables. Solutions: someone outside getting our attention to communicate "if you know;" handing out building maps and teacher/classroom lists; maybe posting master teacher/student lists.

We split up - me with Andrew, Amy with Bobby - to go to their classes. When the bell rang, the teachers introduced themselves, and then kicked us out to attend new parent orientation. Where? The auditorium. Where's that? We were the first, so we weren't sure. Solution: signs; aforementioned maps.

The orientation wasn't terribly useful, apart from putting face to the names of the principal and assistant principal (though I'd met the latter). The rest of it was various paraprofessionals introducing themselves and saying what they do, which is mostly a waste, since of the dozen people, each parent will interact with two at most. I'm not saying (at all) that they don't do important things, but in this context, we're just not going to remember name/face/job when we actually need to four months from now. Solution: brisk, firm agenda; quick name/job introductions; hand out contact list.

And then they sent us away. We had about an hour to kill before the boys' half-day was over. When we came back (from the bakery *cough*), we saw Andrew and classmates waiting for us by the front door with a para. It seems that's standard procedure, which is fine, but we didn't know that. It's a good thing we hadn't come in through the other main door. Bobby and class came soon after. Solution: communicate the pick up expectations before shooing parents out of the classrooms.
There's a minor character in the comedy movie PCU whose thesis revolves around his theory that Gene Hackman or Michael Caine can always be found somewhere on TV. To prove it, he has to always be glued to the set. Near the end, he finds his closing argument - a movie with both of them in it. He concludes with "I can stop watching TV!" You'll need to listen to the sound clip to hear the pure joy in his voice.

I think about this when I remember that we have our girl. "We can stop having children!"
Ellen got placed into the Somali class, not the Vietnamese one as we'd been told. That was our second choice (after Chinese), so it's all good. She hasn't brought home any new words or anything; I think they're sticking to English most of the time for now.

Her new teacher, who was transferred from another class in the school, seems very stressed out to me. I only see her in minute-sized chunks, but that's my impression. Her old one seemed to be much more in control of herself and the kids.

September 14th+

I sometimes sing "My Little Buttercup" to Ellen.
L: Boys, we can go as soon as I finish 11 more names.
A: How many did you have to do?
L: There were 106, but I already did most of them.
A: So that makes 95.
The boys were bringing home their banana peels after lunch. Liss told them to just throw the peels away, and don't bring them home.

Monday, Andrew peeled his banana, threw away the peel, and brought home the uneaten banana.

Now, this is actually the kind of defiant humor I would do, following the letter of the law, if not the spirit. I don't think he was doing anything that sophisticated - just trying to follow our latest seemingly arbitrary request so he doesn't get reminders of same. But it's a start.
Grace was clearly losing her battle with comfort, so I took to her to vet. Her kidneys were failing, she'd lost a lot of weight, and all those other signs. In an effort to make her more comfortable, at least, the vet had us start giving her fluids with a needle every other night. That didn't seem to help.

While taking care of the kids, Amy noticed some blood, and took her in. The vet called me, saying it was an open ulcer brought on by an abscessed tooth, and she wasn't in any condition to take on the procedures that would fix it. Combined with more weight loss since I'd taken her in, no improvement with the fluids, etc., we decided over the phone to have her put down the next day.

Amy went to pick her up, when the secretary pulled a very odd blunder. As they were leaving, she called out [in a fairly cheerful voice, says Amy] that we'd see her tomorrow "to put her down." Now, Amy hadn't told the kids this, so of course they asked her what that meant, and she had the unenviable task of having to tell them. The secretary sort of forced her hand, instead of letting us plan the best way to do so, such as with their Mom and Dad around.

The next day, we tried (and mostly failed) to make her feel better. Then we had a sort of "waking wake" where we all said goodbye and pet her and so on. I took her in, and the vet and his techs did what they do, which was actually more involved than I thought it would be (they shaved her arm to insert an IV), but it did the job.

Ellen never quite "got" it. At first, Bobby took it pretty badly, then Andrew, but Andrew seems to have gotten over it more or less. Bobby, however, is still mourning two weeks later. At one point soon after, he was thinking about it and got upset, and told me "I'm mad at you for killing Grace!" I mean, I understand, because I'm not exactly doing cartwheels over it either, but yeesh. They don't bring it up with me anymore, but during her final bedtime stuff with them, they seem to bring it up fairly often. It's now getting to where Liss thinks they may just be using it as an excuse to be upset at us, but we can't discount the possibility that it's still true grief, or how they express it.

Update from Liss: Bobby's teacher told me he got all sniffly yesterday while doing a math problem about 2 cats + 1 cat.

The topper to all of this is that she was put down on the first day of Kindergarten. That was quite a day.

When the boys go in for their diabetes study clinical visits, we get asked questions about life events. "Death of a pet" might be one, though "Death of a family member" definitely is, and then they ask how stressful it's been on the boys. The answers this time are "Yes" and "Very."
At what point does "new underwear!" stop being exciting? We have evidence that it is not age five.
Amy took the kids to a protest. She got them on board by saying that they were going to be able to yell as loudly as they want. And boy, were they on board.
"My body is big enough to hold three penises!"
While the kids were in Minnesota (below), I'd removed their car seats to do some hauling. When we put them back, we'd switched the boys' seat locations. And boy howdy, did they complain about it.


After that, they just settled in and haven't mentioned it since.
The boys have started having homework. It's not much, but we still both chafe at the idea of Kindergarteners having it. The only plus I can see it that it gets them into the habit for later years, but I'm not sure it's worth that. We've already had a day with "Sorry, no baseball with Dad until you finish," and then by the time they finish, it's dinner time. I only get so much time with them a day - about two hours. And there's only so much sunlight-when-Dad-gets-home left.

Ellen insists that she also has homework, just to fit in.
Our house loop, which has about 20 units, has blossomed with kids lately. They're mostly good kids, with attentive parents, so for the most part it's been a good summer for getting to know the nearby famliies.

There's a common problem we've had at night, though, in that many of the kids have later bedtimes than ours. With our open windows, we'll hear them playing outside, with random squeals and shrieks that sound very much like those of our own kids. It confuses us just about every time.
The boys are taking the school bus home for the first time today, and boy howdy, are they exciting about it, especially Bobby. What they don't seem to realize is that they won't be segregated with other small kids like themselves, but rather thrown onto a large sardine can full of older kids. Their bus route is, historically, the one that gets into the most trouble.
I've been calling her Ellen Joy a lot - not in that "if I include your middle name, you're in big trouble" sort of way, just ... she likes it, I like it, everybody wins.
Liss says that one of the Top Six dumbest things she's ever done in her life was to take the kids to Target the weekend before school started.
Liss is quite proud that our daughter holds pencils with the tripod grip, as opposed to the "fist" grip that most little kids do, including the boys most of the time.

With all the pracrice she's been doing with colored pencils and paint brushes and so on, it does look like she's settling the handedness question: right.
I took Ellen to the first Aggie football broadcast (we alumni get together at a sports bar), where of course she charmed everybody. She actually spent maybe an hour with a wife who'd been dragged along, which was a nice break for me. We'd already exhausted the books and coloring papers and such that we'd brought to keep her busy, eaten lunch, etc. It was going to be touch and go until she explored and found her new friend. The guy next to me said E was "pushing the snooze button on [the wife's] biological clock." I said no, she's revving it up.

I'm sure I'll take the boys to one, as well, which in previous years has been a mixed bag. They also get bored with the football and lack of kids, and in the past have explored the area and perhaps made a bit too much noise in the process. We'll see how they are this year.

The idea, eventually, is for the kids to actually watch the games as part of the crowd. That might be a while, yet. The boys seems to be getting into baseball, and with its more-frequent television coverage in our house, that makes sense.
Ellen has really latched onto the concept of "I'm in charge of me," which is something we emphasize for the purposes of keeping hands to oneself, for example, especially as it pertains to private parts. However, she's started interpreting it as "I get to do whatever I want." That includes screaming, hitting her brothers, and watching whatever movie she feels like at that moment.
The kids have been making "rain pies" out on the patio, which brings a little water into the house, but keeps them occupied, so it works. Basically they just fill cups with water and then pour that into places or pans.

Somehow included in this, though, is that Ellen will fill a little storage container that's out there, get nude, and "take a bath" in its rainwater by kneeling down into it.

I'm sure the neighbors think we're nuts.
Ellen's pre-school teacher quit the first week, as did the director of the school. Things still seem to be running fine, but it was still disappointing, and there are no permanent replacements yet.

They have nap time there, during which it's okay to just lie there quietly, but Ellen claims she actually naps. She rarely naps at home, so it makes me wonder what their secret is. However, it also may or may not be making it harder for her to fall asleep at night, so the jury's still out on the return-on-investment there.
"How many miles per hour does our pee come out?"
Now that the wedding is over (below), as well as the Kindergarten half-days, we're settling into the "new normal." Well, sort of. Liss has somehow become the de facto emergency on-site substitute teacher, so far spending nearly half her days taking other people's classrooms instead of doing her job. She got moved off Kindergarten lunch duty, so she sees the boys less at school. There are meetings and such, which they're learning to handle quietly with other teachers' kids. She makes the boys' lunches, but the school serves breakfast, as does Ellen's, which also includes their lunch.

My routine hasn't changed much, though I do get Ellen twice+ a week, stopping off the bus to get her. At first I asked if she wanted to walk home or take the bus, but it only took the second time for her to say "I always want the bus," which is a shame, because the weather is about to deteriorate around here, to say nothing of it being dark when I get her (at 5:00). Maybe she'll be more amenable to walking in the spring, when the bus isn't a novelty anymore.

She sure does charm the hell out of the other bus commuters, though.
L's union had a strike vote the night before school started. The district's previous offer had been voted down the week before, by a vote of "unanimous minus two." They didn't move much in the next week, but just enough for the union bargaining committee to pass by one vote, and the member body to pass by a voice vote, though that almost went to a ballot.

The vote itself was something of an event. It was close to my work, so at first we thought I might go and vote for L by proxy, but then we found out they didn't allow that. Instead, I was going to accompany her in the venue. Well, that wasn't allowed, because of the voice vote thing. So, I ended up just waiting out in the foyer like a schmuck. I did talk to a guy whom the union hired as a consultant on the negotiations, so that was interesting.

The uncertainly threw everything askew. L's godmother was flying in to help with the afternoons, since Kindergarten starts with half-days. If there was going to be a strike, those half-days might extend past her stay, and then what? Thankfully Ellen's new school let her start a bit early.

As it turned out, everything went as scheduled, though not without grumbling at the new contract, which of course was the goal - give away just enough to divide the voters. Mission accomplished.

I have other theories about education these days, but suffice to say, the whole thing to me felt like the two sides were trying to decide the best way to go down the wrong path.
Amy was bringing the kids back from a park, when they came upon a hamster cage - that someone had left on the curb for someone to take home. And oh yeah, there was a hamster in it.

What to do? Leave it there and hope someone else steps up? Step up ourselves? Somehow track down the person and ... then what?

Well, Bobby was insistent that he wanted the hamster and that they should take it home. That ... was not happening.

She also took the boys bowling, which they reportedly enjoyed and have since asked to do again. The gutter bumpers were in place, which certainly helps at that age.
We went to Minnesota in August for the wedding of Liss's brother. For the most part, it went well, even the air travel. Probably the one best improvement over last Christmas was that her parents were able to borrow three car seats, so we didn't have to lug three through our travels. They're also better able to carry their own stuff better, though not completely yet, especially Ellen.

They again all slept in Liss's childhood room, and Ellen was again The Instigator in generating slumber parties. L's mom calls it "the hostel."

For the wedding, they were "ushlings," handing out the program as people filed into the ceremony. (boys pic) For the reception L's mom hired a couple of [fraternal twin] babysitters so we could handle other things, since L was "best sister" and we were both at the main table. L baked a gluten-free cake so the boys (and her dad) would have something. Anyway, the wedding was a lot of work [though not for me] and it came together well.

There was a fireplace lit outside after nightfall, and people brought out the makings for s'mores. Andrew made one of his better jokes, say he only wanted a "plain s'more," which apparently consists of a eating graham cracker and then a marshmallow, with no need for the fire.

The day after the wedding, we drove to Iowa for a gathering with friends from when I lived there in the late 90's. There were some 25 adults and 15 kids (ages 1-15) there, so it was nice to be part of a group where we didn't have the majority of the children.

We stayed overnight in a hotel, which had two queen beds and a sleeper sofa. We told the kids they could split between a bed and the sofa, but none of them wanted the sofa. Then I pulled out its bed, and they all wanted it. So, the three of them slept in ridiculous fashion, their feet touching (the horror!) and waking each other in the middle of the night. At least we didn't have to deal with bedtime - one of the old kids took care of that while we hit a bar with the adults.

The room was called a "suite," but didn't have a door between rooms. That's not a suite, it's just a big room with an archway, thankyouverymuch.

Iowa and Minnesota get hot and humid in the summer. I mean, it's nothing like Houston, but it's certainly worse than Seattle. Oy.

Anyway, the trip was good, and hopefully they've settled into the idea of it and how to behave.
It's been obvious to us for some time, but now the boys are starting to pick up on it - Andrew is the kind of person who will practice and fail and practice again, while Bobby wants to be good at new things right away.

When the recent dust settles into the new normal, it might be time to start music lessons for them, but maybe it should only be Andrew. Or maybe doing something regimented and routine will help Bobby learn that practice is important, if we can just deal with a lot of initial frustration. They've both shown interest in violin. We'll see, I guess.

August 31st+

So much to write about, so little time to write it.

August 24th+

The kids have been taking to jigsaw puzzles lately. We've had a lot of simple ones (~12 pieces) around for ages, and they'd previously shown interest but not ... competence? Wherewithall? Anyway, something's changed such that they not only can do them with relative skill, but can do them without our help, even ones we've never done with them. Things get dicey once we hit 20 pieces or so, but they'll progress. I have a few 500 and 1000 ones just waiting, waiting for them to be able to handle them.

In true pre-schooler fashion, I recently witnessed Andrew do a simple one, dump it, do it again, dump it, etc. about four times. Kids are weird.

Unlike in the past, they (especially the boys) are actually careful to keep track of the pieces so none get lost. Before, I've bristled at puzzle play because they wouldn't put them away, would throw pieces, mix up different puzzles' pieces, etc. Ellen still does those things a little bit, but the boys try to keep her in check.
Ellen and I on a recent morning, after I'd heard her stirring.
There's an interesting pattern that all three kids have followed regarding swing sets. In every case, when they were little, they wanted low and gentle swinging. When they were about 2.5, they wanted to go as high as possible, which generally meant as high as we felt safe doing (about my head height). Now, they want gentle again. Odd.

Actually, the swing has been much less of a thing than in the past. I guess they'd rather run and slide and climb and jump. Fine with me.
The kids, and especially the boys, have been on something of a planets kick, learning the basics about them and how far away they are, etc. It's nice, since I'm into astronomy, and Liss knows quite a bit, as well.

While I was driving, the boys asked how the moon got where it is. I couldn't remember, but some vague notions were in my head. I told them it was either a large meteor hitting earth and breaking off a chunk that became the moon, or maybe just an asteroid that got caught in our gravity, or something else, and I would look it up. It turns out that my "I'm not sure" was the same as the current scientific consensus.
One recent morning: Now, that's a bit of selective reporting on my part. The rest goes like this: We don't call her Stallerina for nothing.
The boys have taken to their new pedal bikes, after a tentative start. The circle near our house has a slight incline for half, and down for half; at first they were coasting/pedalling down and then walking the bikes up. They can pedal all the way now, a couple of weeks later.

Their progress is such that we've officialy bequeathed one stride bike to Ellen, and another to their younger friend, who's taken to it quite quickly. Ellen's not exactly zooming around with hers, but she's enjoying it.

I also put their old "motorcycles" (tricycles) on the curb; they were gone within an hour. I felt a little bad about it, because the wheels are worn smooth, but I guess that's someone else's problem now.

I also put out their wagon, made famous in this video, but it surprisingly wasn't picked up a day later, so it got donated.
Nearly every time the boys endeavor to say the word "easy," they instead use the phrase "easy, peasy, lemon squeezy."

This is clearly better than certain race-based variations of the past, but it's still eight syllables instead of two. They're clearly not on our Efficiency Bandwagon.
The kids have a silly underwear themed book that they like. It includes "Don't put your underwear in the freezer." They wanted to know why - well, because underwear is gross. What if it's clean?

So, yeah, there might be some [clean] kids' underwear in our freezer right now.

August 3rd+

Ellen's new pre-school has been a bit schizophrenic about when she can start - at first, it was the last week of August, then the second week of September, and now the 19th of August. However, she'll be in Minnesota then, so she'll start the day after we get back, Wednesday the 28th. Normally we might give her a day of rest before going for her first day, but there's a field trip the next day, so we didn't want that to be the start. Plus, I'm taking that day off, so I can stay a bit to help her settle in.

Their next week is a little odd, with training days, but they'll be open when the boys have their first day at Kindergarten, so that'll surely help.
A friend of mine's wife-of-six-months died suddenly this past weekend. She was 36. She had a son the boys' age. The friend's quote: "The absolute shittiest moment I have ever had in my life is the moment that I had to tell [him] that his mother was dead. That has put pretty much everything else in stark relief."

Grace is going to die pretty soon. She's 18 and in declining health, and her behavior has changed in the last few days, which I hear is the beginning of the end. I make it a point to check for breathing whenever she's still, and look for her whenever I wake up.

We hope the kids aren't the ones to find her dead. They're too young for that. They already know about death, but they don't know about it. The, uh, saving grace here is that they rarely seek her out; heck, they might just walk past her and not notice. But even if she just disappears, from their perspective, we'd still have to talk about it.

This is all sort of macabre, but the friend's wife reminded me of the lesson coming for the kids, so she therefore gave me a lesson, and the cycle continues.
Liss and I met in a chorus that happened to go under just as she was incubating twins. She tried a community chorus after they were born, but it wasn't challenging enough for her, and she felt bad leaving me with the boys once a week.

It's my turn to try, we suppose, so I'm joining the chorus at the community college near us. I expect I'll have the same two detriments she had, but it's time. We're in a rut, especially creative and meet-people ruts, and this helps with both.
Andrew's been putting on his own shoes for a few months now, considering it a point of pride. Bob took a lot longer, eventually setting a goal for himself to do it by the time he turned five. As that day approached, he'd increment it - one sock today, both socks the next day, then two socks and shoe, then two shoes. So, it's not that he couldn't do it, but more that he didn't want to. This is classic Bobby.

Ellen, on the other hand, has been putting on her shoes and socks for weeks.
The diabetes study gave us activity belts for the boys to wear for a week. It has an accelerometer and logging software, or something, and we're supposed to log their time wearing it. It's not a big deal, especially for just a week.

However, it's pretty funny to see them wearing it while nude. There's a scene in the movie Parenthood where a toddler boy comes into his parents' room wearing only a cowboy hat and gun belt. The nude boys and their little belts always remind me of that. Minus the hat.
Whenever the boys go to the diabetes study, they get some swag. In fact, Bobby was looking forward to the visit, blood draw and all, because he gets some prize and a lollipop out of the deal.

This time, the swag was an art kit, with a few markers and crayons, but also stencils and rubs. Ellen got a set, partially because she got her blood drawn, but also because one does not give stuff to five year olds right in front on their little sister.

Later, while I was doing some of the rubbings for Ellen, Andrew was picking through her kit, and noticed a stencil board with a rocket, boat, etc. Well, Bob perked right up. The remarkable thing, however, was his next action - he went to his kit to find a stencil to trade for that one. He found one with a sailboat, palm tree, etc., and offered her the trade.

Now, my being right there, I still needed to mediate. I considered it a fair trade, but that's only half the battle. I had to make sure that Ellen knew exactly what she was getting into, because misunderstanding is easy for a three year old. So, I held up both, told her he wanted to trade, then offered that even if the trade happened, both could use the other's stencil once in a while (Bobby agreed, perhaps after a tiny hestitation), and that was that. She gladly accepted, and everyone was happy.

But again, the real point is that Bob handled the problem (his want) exactly how we've been hammering into them their whole lives.
The boys had their semi-annual diabetes study visit, complete with blood draw. This time, they also wanted Ellen's, which we weren't quite sure how to handle.

As part of prep, they send you some numbing cream to rub on the vein sites (both arms) at home, and saran-wrap-like plastic to keep it there while it takes effect and you drive to the clinic. However, they'd only sent two sets. So, we stretched the cream out among six arms instead of four, and got out the actual Saran Wrap to compensate for the missing medical versions. We are classy, classy people.

By the time we got there, the cream had been on for a while, so we wanted to get the draws done before it wore off and/or the improvised wraps came off (one already had). My idea was for one boy to go first, so Ellen could see the procedure and nothing surprise her, but not both boys, to lower the chances of one of them freaking out and therefore freaking her out. There's a lot to it from their perspective, what with choosing a lap and the elastic tourniquet and buzzing bee thing and lollipop and needle.

Bobby went first, and he did great - nary a peep. The technician got his vein on the first try, which helped, since they've had a lot of problems finding his veins in the past. It took a little while to get enough blood, but it wasn't a big deal.

Next was Ellen, in Liss's lap. Tourniquet, bee, candy ... needle. Not a peep. She barely noticed. The lady got it on the first try again (Ellen had a very large blue vein to tap). This time the blood flowed fast, and the whole thing from pierce to done took maybe 20 seconds. Crisis averted!

Andrew followed suit in every way. Three for three. You couldn't have asked for a better set of three pre-school blood draws, especially when one was doing her first.

One curiosity is that they asked if we wanted to test Ellen's blood for diabetes stuff like they do the boys. Well, of course we do. What we thought to ask later was, could you also test for celiac, since she has a sibling with it? We'd have paid good money for that. We did ask last year when they drew ours, but got a no, so that was probably precedent anyway.

Two days later, when the boys had their checkup and Ellen was tagging along, the doctor noticed that Ellen was due for a blood test - lead levels and anemia. So, she got two draws in three days. I wasn't there for that one, but apparently it went just fine, as well. Again, we forgot to ask about celiac. Bah.
Ellen's been having a rough time settling into bed. Her technique is the equivalent of the political gambit known around the Internet as moving goalposts. Oh, you've satisfied the requirements I set forth? I shall now come up with new requirements!

Or, she'll insist on something we can't deliver. "I just need a book that I already know!" We will show her 50 books, and claim that she doesn't "know" any of them, even ones that worked in the past. Last night she claimed hunger, an hour after dinner.

She knows we can't stand it, and we've been getting tougher with her, with sloooowly improving results. Two nights ago was hellish, to the point that I was sitting outside her door; when she'd open it, I'd pick her up and put her back on her bed. After four or five of those, she calmed down enough - which she knows is how to get our attention - to ask nicely for what she wanted.

Two nights ago was fine. Last night it started to explode again, but this time I only had to put her back into bed once. Normally we wouldn't give anyone food in bed, but I figured she'd calmed quickly enough that it was better to reward her with apple slices that risk descending back into screaming.

One thing we tried was to put a small picture of us on the wall where she sleeps. That way, hopefully, she won't feel as lonely and needing to see us.

After I agreed to go get food, she took a shot at me as I was leaving her room - "That was mean of Daddy!" So, I went back in and explained that actually, she was getting what she wanted, and that was very nice of me. I think she got the point, but that was another risk.

It's all a big regression. She's been great at bedtime for months. My knee-jerk reaction is to blame our heat lately; it's probably been about 82 in her room when we put her down.
The boys had their 5-year checkups. Highlights:

Boy Height % Weight % BMI %
Andrew 3'2.5" 0.74th 30 lb 0.27th 14.2 12.1th
Bobby 3'3.5" 2.76th 31 lb 0.72th 14.0 7.1th

So, they're still tiny, no surprise there. The BMI thing is weird in that Bobby's is lower than Andrew's, even though he's taller and heavier. That's because of the square meter denominator (kg/m^2); he's an inch taller, but he's supposed to be more than a pound heavier for it, and he's not. The paperwork says you're underweight at the 5th percentile of BMI, so no concern there, but boy howdy, are they going to be some small Kindergarteners.

Their eyes checked at 20/30. Doctor said to wait until the school screens them. You normally get glasses at 20/40, so I suspect they're coming. It might be fast; when I started 2nd grade, my glasses were already so out of date that I couldn't see flash cards ten feet in front of me. I tested at 20/300. A year later, 20/600.

Their hearing is fine. She asked them lots of questions designed to test their cognitive and language progress, looking for complete sentences and the like. Is it overachieving that they often speak in run-on sentences?

July 27th+

Conversation between Liss and Bobby at the Burien Dairy Queen: Damn straight!
I used to be pretty averse to watching all three kids by myself, but it's become not such a thing anymore. They behave pretty well, especially out in public, and tend to stick to me and not cause a ruckus. However, it's still almost never my idea to do so.
The girl next door is about three, and she's becoming friendly with our kids, and vice versa. While we were outside playing, she invited them inside, which her dad was okay with, so we all went in. Mostly, my kids played with the girl's toys in their living room, but she also took them upstairs to show her room and whatnot.

The high point, though, was when Ellen told me was going back home to pee. I said okay, and she opened the door, walked home, went in, did her business, and came back over. I didn't have to walk her or even watch her. I did text Liss what was happening, and she replied on the return trip, so we haven't cut the cord yet, but it's good progress.
Liss bought "me" MLB.TV for Father's Day, so I've made it a point to have it on a lot. Here's what the boys say every time: I guess the bright spot is that they usually will root for whichever team I do.
Everyone in our family not named Ellen tends to forget just how young she is. Part of the reason is that she plays pretty well with the boys much of the time, and talks about as well as they do. I think we collectively "round her up" to the boys' level, and then get knocked down again when she does something immature, like put things in her mouth, wander off during dinner, not dump her potty, throw game pieces all over the place, throw a sudden and loud tantrum, etc. Meanwhile, the boys will get mad at her for any affront, and treat her as though she should have behaved like they would today, not how they would have at her age.

She and the boys will always be 20 months apart, but that means a lot less than it did three years ago. Maybe that lulls us into thinking it means even less than it does.
It's not quite true, but we joke that our weekends are planned around kids' birthday parties.
I had a rare moment with Andrew one weekend morning, whereby Bobby hadn't woken up by the time the green light came on. I was still in bed, but Liss wasn't, and Ellen went downstairs to be with her. Andrew crawled into bed with me, and I held him for maybe twenty minutes while neither of us said much.
The couple whose dad called me for advice on learning his wife was carrying twins ... has lost one in utero.
We went to the one-year birthday party for the son of one of Liss's co-workers, and were blown away. That's not to say we were impressed; it was more of a "what the hell?" kind of thing.

My impression was the event was very much like a wedding reception. It turned out I was more right than I thought, in that it was being held in the same venue as the parents' reception a few years prior. There were some 120 seats, a dance floor, catered buffet, video slide show, uncles reprising songs they'd sung at the reception, etc.

Our only guess it that it's a cultural thing, the parents being Asian. I mean, common wisdom is that one-year birthdays are for the parents, not the kid. It's not like the kid has any idea what's going on, or will remember anything. In our social circle, the theme is "we survived!," whereas in this case ... well, I don't know. Are they expected to blow a wad for year one? Would it have been any different if it had been a girl?

My estimate is the whole thing cost $6000.
Ellen's cut pillowcase blanket has helped through our scorching summer, but she kept waking us up to "fix" it, i.e. put it back on her straight after she'd bundled it up in her sleep. Liss's solution? Two large safety pins. The two corners at her feet are now pinned to the bedsheet.

Desperation: breeding innovation since the creation of life.
I haven't heard it yet, but Liss says that Andrew has been making the sad trombone sound, the "WAH, wah!" I really should be encouraging this more. She says it's very cute.
The boys' five year checkup is next week. We mentioned that they probably haven't gained much weight. Bobby came up with a plan to counter this: "I'm going to hold [in] my poop so I can be more than 30 pounds!"

July 13th+

Conversation between the boys:
The boys' diabetes study wants Ellen's blood, as part of their data-comparison collection. She decided that she's ready, and will get drawn during their appointment next month.

The question now is, does she go first, or last? If she goes last, she'll get to see how it works, so she's not blindsided. But then on seeing it, she might balk.
The boys each got a $15 Target card for his birthday, so off they went yesterday. They spent quite a bit of time deliberating; eventually they each got a DVD, and Andrew also got a plush Spider-Man that talks when squeezed, but not obnoxiously so. Liss blanket-vetoed "any weapons" and a Power Rangers movie when later asked. It turns out that Bob's movie was mismarked, do he still has $5 on his card.

It's a little surprising that they didn't just load up on candy; I think it's because they don't equate Target with candy, since we've never bought it there.
We may have had the last birthday party at the house, at least for the boys. They and their friends get one year bigger each time, and this one was pretty intense. Our house just can't handle it, or we at least feel we've been pushing our luck. It's in July, so the weather's always been fine, so maybe we'll look at a park or something.

We might be okay with Ellen's for a few more years. Her friends tend to be calmer and younger - like her - plus March is generally rainy around here. That makes outdoor options less viable, and also increases demand for the indoor ones.
From Liss's perspective, the summer is zooming by. In just five weeks, she'll be on a plane with the kids to Minnesota, then come back a week later to start her school prep. (I'll fly out a few days after her).

She also laments that some of her "me" time, between end of school and getting home, will be taken up with boys. It's one thing to knock out a couple of quick errands, or maybe sit down with some hot tea for a few minutes, and quite enough to try those with two five-year-olds in tow.

There's also the question of Ellen. Either of us could get her - Liss in the van, or me on the bus (her school's on the route) - so it'll probably switch between us, depending on those errands. Or that tea.
We got the word from Ellen's new school that she'll be in the Vietnamese class, which was our third choice of three (behind Chinese and Somali), but it's all good. It's half foreign and half English. A good friend of hers will be in the same class, so that'll help, too.

I told her that some of the kids in her class won't speak any English, so she can help them, and they'll help her learn Vietnamese. She was excited at the idea of helping the other kids, which didn't surprise me at all.
Ellen's still showing some toddler traits, like putting things in her mouth, yelling as a first response, refusing to try the toilet, running away when we try to clean her, etc. Lately she's been extra whiny, which is by far the worst one, even according to science.
There are only a few professions whereby one can be successful while having each of these traits/beliefs: These are the traits of pre-schoolers. Based on these, we figure all three of our kids would make excellent Senators. There being three of them, one would have to move to a new state. Since Bobby appears to be the most Republican of them, I figure he can move to a red state to find his seat.
Ellen said something to the effect that it would be fun to be an Iron Man Princess. Andrew quickly said she couldn't do that. We quickly told him sure she could.

I mean, she's going to get enough "girls can't do that" from everyone else, but her brothers are already pretty firmly "girls/boys can/can't do that" about lots of stuff. We know they got some of it from the nanny, but I think they've gone beyond whatever she might have imparted. Is it just one of those gender-identity things that kids go through, coupled with their black and white view of the world?
Prior to their birthday party, Bobby warned us that dancing would not be allowed. We informed him that he was full of shit.

Well, not in those exact words.
Warning: This post involves analysis of the children's excretory habits.

Before the green light - of course - Bobby called down to us. I came up, and he said that Ellen didn't flush. She immediately screamed something; it was hard to tell exactly what, but the gist felt like a denial of the accusation. I asked Bob how he knew it was her, and he said because he asked Andrew, who had said so. I looked at Andrew, who was getting under the covers of his bed.

Now, not flushing happens all the time. They just forget. We don't consider a big deal, but we do call them back into the bathroom to finish what they started. Ellen often forgets to dump from the potty into the toilet. Actually, "forgets" may not be right word, as she often flat out says that it's not her job.

Anyway, my investigation took all of five seconds. There was a little pee in the potty. Ellen had therefore used it, but not pooped (or dumped). The poop in the toilet was long and straight and lined up with the hole, consistent with someone sitting on the toilet as opposed to dumping it from another receptacle.

This whole episode highlights several traits of the kids. One, Bobby believed Andrew's false denial (delial?), but didn't believe Ellen's true one. He also felt the need to tattle to us about it. Ellen, falsely accused, rebutted by screaming as loudly as she could. Andrew, having denied and been caught, hid. Later, I noticed his butt wasn't well wiped, so that was further proof, which I told him as I was finishing that up for him.

I actually caught Bobby in a lie a few days later - we told him to finish the whole banana he'd asked for, he said he had, but half of it was in the compost - and when I brought him the evidence, he broke down crying. However, most of that was that he was mad at me for calling him out. I guess that's still part of this age - he wants things to be how he wants them to be, reality be damned.

Welcome to parenthood.

July 6th+

Five years old.
From Liss: "For the past 10 days, I've let the kids have their afternoon rest time wherever they want, as long as they can't see each other. They've chosen our bed, the futon downstairs, under the dining room table, etc. This has turned 'Quiet' Time into Actually Quiet Time."
The subject of the Super Bowl came up (below), and I mentioned that football was coming back in two months. Bobby immediately said "Noooooo!!!!!" I said what's wrong with football? It's fun, I like it.

No, no. He said that because it's not coming back for another two months.

That's my boy.
Liss makes these mini pigs-in-blankets that are pretty popular with the kids, especially since they get a little maple syrup as part of the deal. The first time she did it, she used a sausage that she'd thought they'd like, with a little apple and salt, no big deal. It turned out that it was only in stock because of the Super Bowl, so she couldn't find it for later batches. Each attempt was met with minor disdain about how, while I design to wolf these things down, this new sausage isn't as good as the first one.

Now that we have a chest freezer, she went searching for the "real thing," and found it from some place in the Midwest. In order to get free shipping, she had to order something like seven packages, but (1) chest freezer and (2) it's the real thing. They arrived, she made a batch, and ... the boys complained about the sausage.
The Touch-Screen Generation
The kids have Pirate Camp this week. This morning, Andrew complained of an upset stomach. Then, on the way out the door, he puked.

He'll be tagging along with Mom instead.
Bobby's still in the habit of waking us up 2-3 times a week. He method was to open the door and call to us across the room, waking us both in a bit of a start.

So, I tried a new thing. (After breakfast), I took him upstairs and showed him how I wanted him to do it. "If you want Mom, walk to here and ask for her, just loud enough to wake her but not me." "If you want me, walk [all the way, which I did to show it] over the me, and do the same." The look on his face was very ... well, he can't quite roll his eyes yet, but he was trying. Dismissive, that's the word I'm looking for.

Fast forward a week, and he's come to wake me three times. Each time, he's done it exactly the way I modeled it. Huh.

It's only three times, but I think it definitely helps me get back to sleep more easily.
We have some medical stuff coming up for the boys. Next week they'll go in just to get some shots; they need the last four before Kindergarten. Their next diabetes study visit is two days later, complete with blood draws, including a celiac test for Bobby. Two days later is their five-year check up, which will also include a small eye exam, which if either fails, he'll get a real eye appointment. I had glasses at 4, so that's a real chance, but we haven't seen any signs.

The vaccines means we'll be able to finally turn in their final immunization paperwork for school. We wouldn't want them to be turned away at the school door, after all.
Liss enjoys doing Ellen's hair, what with ponytail or pigtail or braids or whatever. Yesterday she remarked that this "little girl" phase is what she'd always envisioned in a daughter; she just had to slog through the baby phase to get there.

I, being a man and all, did not fantasize about five-year-old sons, because they can't do manly stuff yet. Tick, tock.
I remember knowing of Amelia Bedelia as a kid, but never reading the books. Our kids have discovered her, and boy, do they want the books read and re-read.

The text never just refers to her as "her," "she," or even "Amelia." It's always "Amelia Bedelia." Her name appears maybe thirty times in each 60-page book. It's like running a hurdle race when the distance is already taxing.
We're going to Minnesota for Liss's brother's wedding next month, and using the proximity to take an overnight drive to see old friends in Iowa. I lived there for four years, and many people are still in touch; Liss went to college there, but it being college, her friends are more scattered.

Anyway, there's an Ellen in the group. I innocently told the kids that I could carry ours up to her and introduce her with "Ellen, this is Ellen." It's been over a week, and the kids still laugh about this. Every time the Iowa trip comes up in conversation, they go straight to this hypothetical introduction, and laugh like fools.

The Ellen in question is currently a "maybe." Perhaps I need to prod her, lest our children lie crestfallen on the corn-laden plains.
The kids, Ellen especially, are on a fad of making crowns out of colored construction paper. That's not a paricularly strong medium, so they break easily, creating demand for ... more crowns. But that's okay. Liss is going to experiment with cardboard backings, with the colored paper glued over, with hopefully the cardboard not making them too thick or rigid.

The usual crown creation goes like this - we cut the actual crown, and glue strips to make the back. The kid cuts random scraps of another color. We then glue 10% of those scraps to the new crown. 40% of the scraps end up on the floor.

Ellen wears her crowns in public, and really, the only reason we haven't done the same (yes, we have crowns) is that she hasn't asked us.
The boys borrowed a Samurai Rangers DVD from the library. It's the continuation of the old Power Rangers show, but not quite the same thing; I guess they needed different toys to sell.

Anyway, I watched the first episode with the kids, and ... then we returned it. I guess we could have tolerated more, but it's just not the kind of thing we want them to latch on to, mostly sword violence without consequences. However, the cheesy one liners, gratuitous explosions, rockin' soundtrack (but only during fights) and obvious marketing gimmicks just piled turd on top of turd.

Also borrowed was a Hello Kitty "life lessons" disc that, if there had been any rope handy, I might have hanged myself. The idea was "whine, learn lesson, behave correctly," but if I wanted to listen to whining, I'd hang around with my own children. The irony is that screen time is supposed to relieve the whining in our house - and there it was on the screen. The kids kind of understood the messages, though, so we might let them finish it.

On the plus side, we liked this book that Ellen borrowed, so much that we bought it. She's becoming more and more into the princess thing, but this one makes the point that you can be a princess in your own way.
We were at the library, a little scattered about. I was sitting in a chair; a mother and her blond boy were doing a large puzzle in front of me. From a little ways back I heard "Andrew, look at this!" and Bobby walked up and crouched by the boy on the floor. "Andrew, look what I ... oh" and he walked away to actually find his brother.

So for all of you who have mistaken one boy for another - take heart! Bobby mistook a complete stranger as his identical twin!
We went to a July 4th barbeque where there was a six year old girl. This scene, of her marching as our kids follow, was about 30 minutes after we arrived. Followers, they are.

One of the guy's neighbors had many and varied firecrackers, including large booming ones. Our kids did pretty well, considering; in fact, that girl who lived there had more trouble with the largest few.
Ellen paints a lot, but never such that you'd look at a finished one and go "Oh, that's a ... tree" or whatever else, because it was mostly random. That changed on a recent morning, when out of the blue she handed me this. "It's you, Daddy!" That's right, I was her first representational painting. That may have just been because I was sitting the closest to her, not from some profound need to immortalize me, but I'll take it.
During Liss's time with the boys at their bedtime, for a long time she'd say goodbye with a phrase that begins with "I love you no matter what" but is actually much longer. The boys latched onto it, but as a final parting thing that would allow them to get out of their beds and semi-yell out their open door as she went downstairs or to the bathroom or whatever other the-children-are-down! thing she wanted to do. Since it's a sweet sentiment and all, she couldn't exactly get mad, or at least that's what they picked up on, because they wouldn't stop. She tried to make deals with them, cajole them, etc., or I intervened with less "aw shucks."

Somehow, they eventually understood that the length was part of the problem, so they started abbreviating the entire thing with "alligator." That lasted about two days, when they changed the abbreviation to "Star Wars." Around this time, she made a new deal with them; she'd come back to their room after saying good night to Ellen, smooch them each ten times, and each boy would say "Star Wars" to her ten times. In exchange, they don't leave their beds. It took a few days, but it seems to have taken hold ... for now?
We took the kids to the poker game I sometimes go to, that usually has lots of kids. It was an experiment in staying up past their bedtimes. They did great that night, eventually going to bed a little after 10(!). The next day (Sunday), they were doing okay, and Bobby and Ellen napped during their quiet time. Andrew didn't, however, and we felt the full brunt of it later that evening. It was his second "act like a two-year-old" thirty minute tantrum that weekend. Ugh.

July 4th was a similar experiment, keeping them up to see the many municipal fireworks visible from their bedrooms. It ended poorly around 9:30, with meltdowns from Bobby and Ellen - and I was kind of losing it, too - though once the actual fireworks were visible, everyone was happy again. Ellen woke up before the green light the next morning, but not the boys, and in general the next day was okay. The had lunch with me at work, which went about as predicted - nice and quiet for a while, then less so as they got used to being there.

Maybe in the future we'll put them down at the normal time, then wake them when fireworks start.
Ellen had her dance retical. It was actually for all of the classes at the school, so the place was fire-hazard packed, with no a/c or even fans, so it was pretty stifling. The dancers, especially the instructors having to lead each class, were having a hard time of it.

Ellen's group was second. Each set was about two minutes, with the instructor doing the moves off to the side do the kids could follow along. Ellen was the smallest of her class, and farthest away from the instructor. She was either nervous or (more likely) not quite following what was going on, because she mostly just stood there until the last ten seconds or so, when she caught up.

Semi-fortunately, there was a girl that missed her cue to dance in the first place, so later on, her class went again. I say fortunately because Ellen did just fine the second time, but semi- because we were all pretty miserable in there.
We recently had the Seattle version of heat. It presents a conundrum. There are only so many places that have a/c around here, especially cheap kid-friendly ones, and they fill up fast.

Ellen's room seems to get the hottest in the entire house; it gets the most sun. While we don't have a thermometer up there, it was 82-83 in the dining room at their bedtime, and her room noticeably warmer. She couldn't sleep with her regular blanket, and with no blanket the fans would bug her, so after some trial and error, Liss cut up an old pillowcase as a thinner blanket.

We also opened the kids' windows, which is only a last resort kind of thing, because of the distractions they provide.

We'd like to get her a window a/c, but her windows slide left to right, not up and down, which makes for a harder (and more expensive) logistics problem.
I remember being one of the best readers in my first grade class, which I don't mean as a boast, but to set up this story. In fact, it's my lack of reading comprehension that provides the punch line.

The reason I remember my relative acumen was that our class was in the library, sort of browsing and such, and I was reading a book out loud with several classmates around me. What was drawing them in was the laughter, because each page ended with something like "And that's what anybody would do," except I was mispronouncing it as "any booty." My fellow five and six year olds found this to be hilarious, and they waited expectantly for me to get through each page to that risque line.

As I neared the end, the librarian came to see what the fuss was about. I told her; she looked and said "Oh, that's anybody" and casually walked away. I remember wondering why she would spoil our fun like that?

That may have also been the same day I found the first Boxcar Children, which I must have ended up reading twenty times.

June 29th+

There's pretty much only one thing that consistently works when trying to get Ellen to do something (or stop doing something), and that's slowly counting down from five. She'll usually do (or not) whatever it is by the time you get to three. Granted, it's often accompanied by her shouting "Don't count!" or better yet "You don't have to count!", but by the time we reach the counting stage, we very clearly had to do it.

I'm surprised it's still effective, and the counting stage is the second-to-last resort, since we don't want it to lose its power. The last resort is picking her up and moving her, or some other display of our superior physical prowess.
Heard while the boys did little races around the house, with no malice in their voices:
The Seattle Public Library has a summer program that gives away books. Since reading books to our pre-readers totally counts, we're filling up their sheets about every two days. Andrew's even taken to writing abridged versions of the titles on his form.

The first time we cashed in and they each got a book, they spent the next three days telling anyone who would listen about them. This always included the phrase "and we get to keep them forever!"
As I was leaving a tight space in a parking garage, while another car was waiting for me, Ellen said it was like a tooth coming out, and a new one coming in.
I took the kids to see a movie. First, we stopped on another errand, at which Andrew found and picked up a black rock, which was actually just a small hunk of asphalt.

We got to the movie, and the boys did their usual thing of wanting to sit at the very top. That doesn't bother me in the smaller theaters, so up we went. As we sat through the incredibly loud trailers in the mostly dark, Andrew dropped his new "rock." I told him it would wait until the movie was over. He started to lose it, right there in the movie theater. Well, fine. There was actually a decent amount of room behind the seats, but not enough for me to squeeze to where he was sitting. My phone didn't have enough light to get back there.

So, I told him I couldn't find it, and we'd look after the movie. He immediately got up and went behind the seats, the way I had. Some seconds later, I heard "Dad, can you shine your phone?" So, I reached my hand between the seats with the phone light on, and he found his rock pretty quickly after that. He came back out happy, but I told him to put it in his pocket and not take it out. For all I know, those pants are already washed and put into his drawer with a now-cleaner rock inside its pocket.

So when you watch that Peanuts cartoon and hear Charlie complaining about getting a rock, you send him to me. My son would love to have it.

As for the movie, it was okay, nice visuals, predictable plot. Bobby and Ellen liked it okay, but Andrew said he didn't - because the fairy queen died. "Why did the people who made the movie make her die?"

So, we won't be screening Bambi anytime soon.
One evening, while Liss was cooking, the kids were in the dining room "reading" a book together. I came from downstairs and saw what they were doing, and quickly changed course and hid in the kitchen with Liss. I figured, if they were to see me, they'd want me to read the book to them, which I don't dislike or whatnot - it's just that reading without adults around is the kind of thing we want to encourage.
We went to an afternoon Mariners game, which is something we make a point to try every year, and every year it gets better. This time we lasted until the 8th; Ellen was starting to get overly cranky, and Bobby was asking to go, so it was time to book our profits and skedattle. We might hit another this year with friends, but it's a big maybe.

There was a family in front of us; their boy said he had to go to the bathroom, and the dad asked if he was okay to go by himself. The boy thought for a second before saying yes, and off he went. I asked the dad how old his son was, so we could get a feel for when we can look forward to that, and he said nine, but that it's new and he (the dad) worries a lot. Nine, huh, well that won't be for a while.

Oh, wait. That's just four years and change from now.

On the way there, we took the light rail, which they'd done dozens of time by now. However, as the train came into view, they got super excited about it. I take it to work, and have the utilitarian mindset about it. What if, thought Liss, commuters like me were that excited about the train showing up? It'd be a festival every morning!

June 22nd+

We went to the birthday party of some twins the boys' age, at the arcade/ice cream parlor we'd been considering for the boys' party. They'd said yes months ago, but changed their minds before this party.

It was pretty choatic. The parents had bought tons of cupcakes (easier than cake), small buckets of quarters for the games, and an open ice cream tab. Plus booking the venue, my guess is they spent about $700. Kids were all over the place, too young to really understand the games, but old enough to play them. The games (including pinball) were in constant use.

Anyway, we had been a little sad that the boys didn't want their party there, but this changed our minds. Besides the money, it's actually easier to have the party at our house. However, this party changed Andrew's mind - but fortunately not Bobby's, so we were able to claim inertia.
The boys had their last T-ball game. It was fine, nothing special. At first we thought there would be no snack afterwards, because no one (including ourselves) had volunteered, but one family stepped up. So, a bunch of us hung out longer than usual, it being the last time.

Talking about it with the pop of one of our kids' best friends, who will be four by next spring, he said he'd coach if his boy wants to play. I was wavering on even doing it again next year, what with the implied-coach thing this year, but if he's happy to do that, I'm happy to stay team parent, and all four of our kids can be on the same team.

Once thing I noticed while looking at their website - they kind of rope you in. With the little kids, it's one practice and one game a week. The next level (coach pitch) is two practices and one game. Then (kid pitch) three and one. By the time the kid's a teenager, it's 4-5 practices and 1 game a week. Oy. How do they get anything else done?
Today is the nanny's last day.
The boys had a rough couple of weeks, with meltdowns that reminded me of the Terrible Twos, and just as unreasonable. Back in the day, when they were babies, we knew that they'd have these periods - a few days at a time - where they'd be extra cranky because their brains were reaching for some new stage of development. We've gotten out of that mindset, such things happening much less frequently now, but I think that's what was going on. So, maybe we're moving toward this whole "five is like a sunrise" thing we keep hearing about.
The boys have a small fan in their room, which one night they suddenly started scream-fighting about who got to point it where, instigated by Bobby. Liss found a cheap one somewhere, so now they each have their own ... and Bobby rarely turns his on. Bah.
Bob's had allergies for some weeks now, and Andrew to a lesser extent. A few nights, I've loaded Bob up on Benadryl, but that's not the kind of thing you want to do all the time with someone so young. He sure gets miserable, though.

June 15th+

We bought one of those mini-trampolines at a neighbor's garage sale. The kids wanted to try it, so I took it onto the grass outside, and told them to take their shoes off when it was their turn. While Andrew was bouncing, Ellen got the old wagon, and she and Bobby started pushing each other down the sidewalk.

So, barefoot Ellen fell while running, and scraped the tops of her feet pretty badly. She was pretty far away, and ran to me for help. Once she got to me, though, she suddenly "couldn't walk" and I had to carry her.
Last night, as is typical, Ellen didn't have Big Monkey with her at bedtime, and Liss went to look. Usually we can track him down, but not this time. I tried to give her a surrogate monkey for the night, which she seemed okay with. After I finished putting her down, I found him downstairs pretty easily.

Normally, I'd have gone back up and given him to her. This time, I decided to experiment. In the past, when none of us remembered he wasn't in her bed, she'd wake up and notice at some gawdawful hour, and come crying to us. Since she seemed okay knowing ahead of time, I figured maybe she'd be okay. As Liss and I discussed later, giving him would make her happy now (and a happy Ellen is nice to see), but getting through the night without him might help her be a happy person later. It's the whole "I did it on my own" kind of thing, which seems trivial in the face of a small stuffed monkey, but she's three and clings.

She made it fine. I'd put him in a prominent place, but put him back in his "hiding" spot the morning, lest she catch on that'd we found him and not brought him up. And this time, Liss could "find" him later.
We'll often look at the other and say something like "She's your daughter" in that mock-exasperation tone - a running inside joke. This weekend, Liss said to me "*tsk* Your boys, man" to the twins wrestling or something. Bobby immedatiely replied "I know, I can't have a baby!"

He's misunderstood, thinking she was addressing them, with a "you're" instead of "your."

But, y'know, good to know he knows his facts.

June 8th+

Last night was the final T-ball practice. The bus and train were being weird, so Liss had to jump a couple of hoops to make sure the boys and I got there on time. As it turned out, it totally didn't matter, because one other kid showed up, and thirty minutes late, at that. To be fair, the dad had texted me beforehand that they'd be late.

In theory, with the last game this Saturday, we could have a celebratory picnic/potluck, all go out for pizza and/or ice cream, whatever. But the general give-a-damn level has gotten so low, that mine has, too.
There was a close shave at T-ball practice last week. The rambunctious boy was batting, and Andrew was in front of the mound. The batter hit it very weakly, and Andrew came up to field it, but the batter came up to try to "golf" it to salvage a hit. The two converged, and the kid swung the bat, missing Andrew's face by inches.
From Liss, titled "How I used my [Religious Studies] degree today."
At bedtime, when Liss was in with the boys, Bobby was mad at her about something, and said she could never smooch him again. This is typical, so we don't think anything of it; it's just his way of trying to control the situation.

As she was leaving, Andrew left his bed to catch up with her, and said "Don't listen to him, Mom. You can smooch him again."

The instigator and the mediator.
There's been a trend among parents for some time now to give "goodie bags" to attendees of birthday parties. We do not subscribe to this, but just about everyone else does. Perhaps that makes us seem cheap or lazy - and let's face it, there's some of that - but whatever. We conscientiously object.

My theory is that someone, somewhere started doing this to show off, and others wanted to keep up, lest they seem cheap or lazy. And then it spread. Nothing spreads a meme among parents like guilt.

So anyway, the kids went to a birthday party this weekend, and among their goodies were water guns. We're not a gun household by any means, though not zero tolerance, either. So, it was time for New Rules, stuff like only outside, only 'shoot' someone who's also playing, no yelling, no faces, etc.

And really, they did pretty well. Ellen had the worst time of it, but hey, she's younger. When it was just the boys, they did really well for a long time, like maybe thirty minutes, before someone broke down over something. All things considered, I'll take it.
Speaking of bikes, it looks like I'll get pedal bikes for the boys for their birthday, plus training wheels. Bob asked for a kickstand for his next bike, too, which is reasonable, so we'll be sure to include those.

There's a donation-driven bike shop near our house, which I visited by myself. They said kids' bikes go fast, so come at such-and-such days and times for the best selection, etc. I'll want to bring the boys for test driving and the like, so they're already in on the gift.

As with any Next Big Thing, there will be rules. Number one to me is that as soon as they get pedal bikes, Ellen will be able to ride their stride bikes, and inherit one once they're used to the pedal bikes. The other will go to another kid. And then once Ellen's comfortable with the stride bike, the plastic "motorcycles" go away. They're very "in the way" in the garage, especially since they're barely used anymore.
Saturday Liss took the kids to a park with a bike trail. Ellen wanted to try riding the path on one of the boys' old "motorcycles," i.e. plastic tricycles. Bobby was having none of it, to the point of taking his along instead of his stride bike, for the sole reason of preventing Ellen from using it. She used Andrew's instead, who couldn't have cared less.

Report from the front was:
Bob clearly regrets bringing his motorcycle.

Well, good.
In T-ball, everyone gets a trophy. I have small issues with that, but the boys were super excited when I told them, so I guess that helps make up for it. I made the mistake of telling them right before bedtime a week ago, so there was a bit of a slumber party that night.

Fast forward to last Saturday, and I went to pick up the team's trophies. There were nine instead of ten. The missing name? Andrew. And honestly, he handled it as well as he could possibly handle it. Liss's comment was "Glad it wasn't the other way."

Bob, meanwhile, got a little braggy about having one when Andrew didn't, which I put a stop to real quick, saying I'd take his away until Andrew got his later. Not a peep since.

The League got back to me Monday, something about the trophy place mixing up the fact that I had two players, instead thinking that "Andrew goes by 'Bobby.'" I'm picking up the make-up trophy after work today.

There have been a lot of little things like this. Now that the season is ending, the League president is asking for help running the show. It's a situation Liss and I are both highly familiar with - a group run by too few people, so things get missed, and you want to help, but do you have the time and energy to expend when so much help is needed, when you know you'll be beating your head against the wall all the time?

So, I'm thinking not.
I figure when the time comes, she'll publish as E. J. Munger.

June 1st+

Grace is finding her way into the kids' closets more often now, so part of the bedtime routine is now checking to see where she is, and shooing her out of a closet/room if necessary. She didn't used to do that as much, so I guess it's one of those old-cat things; you often hear of them passing away in those kinds of dark, cozy places.
Wednesday night, midnight, I could have sworn the distinct sound of a kid turning our doorknob, and seen the door opening. I was expecting the inevitable wakeup, presumably Bobby saying sorry, but he'd had a bad dream. The voice never came, because there was no one there. I was half-awake, half-asleep, and just imagined it. However, it took actually waking up for me to realize this, and even in my reduced state, the anticipation was killing me.

So, now the little @#% is waking me in up in my sleep.
Sometime this summer, the boys will be going to a week-long day camp with a pirate theme. They were excited about this, and Bobby still was when we brought it up at dinner last night, but Andrew said he didn't want to go anymore. You don't want to go to Pirate Camp? No. You don't want to pretend you're a pirate, yarr? No!

We went back and forth like this for a while, until we asked why he didn't want it. By this time he was tearing up, and was just able to point one index finger at each of us. He didn't want go without us. As in, he didn't want to "go camping" without us, i.e. stay overnight.

Well, shoot. It's a day camp. But he didn't get the difference between that and the other definition of "camping."
Ellen was trying on some of her costume princess-type dresses, and the boys joined in. Andrew didn't his on long enough for a picture, but Bobby did. However, as I was getting the camera set up, he said I could take it as long as "you don't send it out." That's how we've explained posting pictures to Facebook, e-mail, etc.

They've getting more and more savvy.
Ellen and I had one of our "dates" Sunday morning, which stretched through lunchtime, while Liss and Amy took the boys to a gluten-free breakfast place and a couple other spots. She brought them home for lunch, but made the mistake of telling them we wouldn't join them because we were eating out. "They got to go 3 places! I wanna go out for lunch!" Oops.

My response, to Liss only, was that Ellen and I had actually been to 5 places, and oh yeah, tough shit.
Some time ago, I took the boys to a kids' music show, which Andrew enjoyed and Bobby didn't. This time all five of us went - same performers, same tone, different show. Now Bobby was doing the singing and arm motions and whatnot, and Andrew wasn't. When I wasked Andrew about it, he said he liked it, but was just tired. Okay, fair enough. Ellen spent most of the time in Liss's lap.

They had three supporting brass musicians. The trumpet player just got his master's in performance. The trombone player did the same ... and it now going for his PhD. In trombone performance.

I hope his college fund was better stocked than our kids' will be.
Sunday morning, 2:20, Ellen woke us up because her blanket had fallen to the floor, and she couldn't get it back onto her bed.

An hour later, she came back to complain that she couldn't get it to cover her feet.

Not acceptable, little lady. Not acceptable.

May 25th+

Today is the last day for the boys at their pre-school. They're having a "graduation" ceremony, complete with paper versions of caps, Pomp and Circumstance, and probably speeches about moving on to the next level, i.e. Kindergarten.

Stop the madness!
Liss sings to/with the boys at bedtime, while I put Ellen to bed. She asks for requests. Lately, as in at least the last five nights, the request has been "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad," because they think it's hilarious to substitute "Railroad" with "Penis."
We've made the last payments to the two pre-schools. This week we'll give the nanny her antepenultimate check.

We are here.
There was no T-ball game on Saturday due to the holiday weekend, so I took Ellen to her dance class. The parents aren't allowed to stay, but there's an all-too-convenient coffee shop next door. Liss had said she'd gotten a pretty sweet deal, and she was right. Sit, read, drink coffee? Sweet. Wrangle ten pre-school boys on a baseball diamond in the drizzle? Not so much.
I downloaded some old Bob Ross episodes, and have shown the kids a few. They like him enough that they've requested more, so that may be our new thing for a bit.

And then this came, from Ellen's pre-school teacher:
After closing up the home center I went into the art room to help kids paint. Ellen was narrating the story of her painting as she worked. "This is a duck and this is a duck, too." There were many happy ducks, many of whom were growing babies in their bellies and some who had recently given birth. Then she looked up from her piece and said, "I guess it's a Bob Ross kind of a day." I'm going to carry that one with me to think about when I need to smile. Priceless.
You may or may not be able to also see this similar short video.
Grace the cat is 18. We've told the kids that when she passes, we won't be getting a new cat. Last night, Andrew asked me why. I told him that I've had cats for about 25 years straight now, and I was ready for a break.

He said, but I've only had one for four years!
Another one that was thrown back at me: "Sometimes, you don't get what you want."

Bob tried to use that to justify continuing to do something I'd asked him not to. It ... didn't last.
It's a common joke to continue "me too" with "me three," but the kids take it literally. They think it's "me two!"
Liss: "Ya know, I try to be open-minded, but I simply cannot accept the combination of poop and shenanigans."

Bob found an old cup. He decided to try pooping into it instead of the toilet. His attempts were ... not successful. Some even ended up on Andrew's toothbrush; we have no idea how. Andrew got a new one out of the deal, to which Bob took umbrage. I hope this doesn't mean he thinks he should get poop on his own when he wants a new one.
There are nine tubes of toothpaste in the kids' bathroom.
We went to the Museum of Flight on Memorial Day, and thankfully got there as they were opening, because the place filled up fast.

They had various musical acts in a big foyer area. The first one was a North Dakota teen choir that specialized in traditional Germanic music, on a road trip. There were some forty kids, in choir-appropriate business casual. Ten of them in the front were holding accordions. It looked as odd as you think it did, though they were musically fine.

You wouldn't know it from our kids, however, as they covered their ears while walking past.

May 18th+

Ellen, very casually, at the dinner table: "I'm gonna kill myself one day."
Texts from Liss while out with the kids and another family: Also: And the double standard lives on!
Yesterday I took the kids to "train Target," meaning the one down in Federal Way whose mall has a big train-shaped play area. It turns out a large area of the mall, including the train, were blocked off for construction. The lady at the information booth said it'd be about a year, but there was a similar area on the other side - a boat. So, that placated the kids, though they said they like the train better (as it has a slide).

While in the store itself, I bought 13 boxes of cereal and 10 of the big jars of creamy Jif. Hey, it was the lowest price we'd seen in years. And ten jars might last us through the summer. Might.
Liss recently found out that, no matter where in the district she teaches, her kids have first priority to attend the same school.

Her words: This changes everything.
The wife of a former co-worker, who was around when Liss was pregnant with the boys, is now pregnant with twins herself. Despite having moved out of state a few years ago, he called me the night he found out, kind of freaked out and wanting some experienced advice.

That's me: twin parent role model.

May 11th+

Ellen correctly used the word "goodly" in context. She never would have heard that from us; it's likely she just thought that was the adverb form of "good" instead of "well." If so, then she built a word the right way, and it's just one of the many exceptions to the rules of our language.
We went to a post-adoption baby shower, and the parents had a kiddie pool set up, which the kids loved, especially Ellen. It makes it tempting to look into such a thing for them, but if nearly everything else in their lives is any indication, they'd play the heck out of it for a week, and then we'd have this big plastic thing collected dust and/or mold.

The real kicker, though, is that the builders of our townhouse put the only hose connection on the other side of our building, a good 150 feet from where we could set up a pool. Why there isn't another one on our side, we'll never know, and it's a constant source of frustration.
The kids all love books. They ask us to read at random times during the day, expect their three books (one each) at bedtime, take books into their beds, Ellen wants more books read to her in bed, etc. When their library books expire, they're eager to go get new ones. They can't read yet, but we think the boys will by the middle of Kindergarten, Ellen might before she gets there.

We've always read to them, as you're supposed to, but we can't claim causation, just correlation. Still, it's hard to imagine it being such a big thing for them without it.
In this book, the old man on the cover gets heatstroke, which the kids have always laughed at. From the beginning, and every time hence, we've told them that's not funny, heatstroke is terrible, etc.

The last time, Andrew must have reached his breaking point: "Mom, it's just a book!"

Okay. Fair enough.
Bobby still comes into our room once in a while to say that he had a bad dream, but this latest time he said "Sorry, but I had a bad dream." So, finally, maybe it's starting to stick that it really takes a toll when he wakes us.

Or maybe not. Last night he came in distraught that he couldn't find his stuffed turtle, which has increased in importance these last few months, for no reason I can discern. Anyway, he did this at 2; we got back to sleep around 4. The little turd was probably out cold by 2:10.
The kids have a new dinosaur book, with lots of illustrations. This conversation ensued: He'd actually said "predators," but it sure didn't sound like that to us. He was unamused at our laughter.
I got hit in the head at Little League, behind the right ear, by a ball hit off the tee during warm ups. Liss and Ellen were there, so Liss got to watch me collapse, knees then back. I was okay, but she didn't know that at first, of course.

My first words: "I'm glad he's only five!"

The "he" in this case is by far the most stereotypically boyish boy on the team - doesn't listen, snatches the ball from teammates, yells for them to throw it to him, etc. Oh, and after all the adults are saying to get into the dugout to start the game, he hits one off the tee despite this adult walking ten feet in front of him to herd the others. Bam.
Sunday morning, an hour before the green light, with Liss in the restroom, a naked Ellen opened our door. She surveyed the landscape, saw me lying in bed, climbed up, and snuggled close.

Green light, schmeen light.

May 4th+

As I came home yesterday, the kids were outside with the nanny. Bobby came inside with me, saying that he had touched mushrooms, and they were poisonous, so he was coming in to wash his hands so he wouldn't die.

At dinner, the boys were talking about poison ivy and oak, and how it "grows" on your shoes and body, and kills you. Whatever was the topic of discussion that day, it was both morbid and false. We tried our best to correct their information.

About half an hour after bedtime, I heard "Mommy! MOMMY!" coming from the boys' room. She went upstairs to investigate, but it turns out that Andrew had actually been yelling "Bobby! BOBBY!" Bobby had fallen asleep, but Andrew thought he had died - from the mushrooms. He was beside himself with grief. Liss explained the deal, and he finally calmed down.

Knowledge is power, but incorrect knowledge can be just as powerful as correct.
Two books, Those Darn Squirrels! and No, David!, have had heavy rotation in our house lately.

Squirrels tells us that the eponymous animals are the smartest of all woodland creatures, including that they are excellent at math. The picture has a pair of squirrels high-fiving over an abacus, so now Liss and I high-five each other at that part of the book. Bobby keeps telling us not to, which just makes us want to do it more. We are, after all, both excellent at math.

David includes a picture of the eponymous animal running away nude down the sidewalk. The kids giggle at his exposed butt.

Last night Ellen had David in her bed, while I was holding her good night. She was reading it, and came to that page, and smacked his butt. "I'm smacking David's butt!" Tee hee.

"Are you saying his butt is ... excellent at math?"

That elevated the giggles into sheer delight, and then many more smacks. "David's butt is excellent at math! *smack*"

So, when Liss came back in for final good nights, I got the page ready. Ellen had difficulty saying her phrase, because she was too busy laughing about it. Liss thought she was saying something like "David's butt is actually bad! *smack*" But then she got it, to more hilarity on Ellen's part.

Liss's hand covered her own smiling face, in the sort of mortified amusement that means she loves me.
Bobby's big thing lately is to always "win." I use quotes because what we considering winning, and what he considers, are very different. Bobby will change the rules after the fact, just so he can say that he won. "Whoever got there last won the race," that kind of thing.

Contrast to his sister, who ran ahead of me to the car, and won as we would understand it. I then realized I'd forgotten something in the house, so I said we needed to go back. On the way, she took my hand and said "This time, let's both win!"
Somehow Ellen decided that "Daddy and Ellen time" sounds like "Valentine." I'm not sure I agree, but I'll take it.
Ellen loves sour cream, which she pretty much only gets when we have tacos, about once a week. She'll try to sneak some extra on a spoon and lick it, which she's not suppose to, hence the sneaking. The last time, I caught her, so she went to put that spoon in the sink and get a new one, lest she double dip and get her spit into the container.

Except, she was extra diligent by opening the dishwasher and putting it in there. The only problem is that those dishes were clean, so she "contaminated" about eight utensils in the process.

Good idea and thinking ahead - poor gathering of all the facts.
Way back when I was a kid, I heard some radio guy mentioning that kids will hear something like "Would you like an apple?," then later asking "Can I have another napple?" The English language is funny like that.

Bobby did something similar. "When are we going to Little Eague?" And that makes total sense.
"Are we inside a book that someone's reading?" - Ellen
There's a lice scare at Ellen's school; two kids have had them in recent weeks. With only a few weeks left there anyway, and her only going once a week, I wonder about just pulling her out now. But she loves it so. I guess we'll just start checking her hair more closely.

April 27th+

The boys are starting to put the toothpaste on, and brush their own teeth. As with anything, these require calibration and oversight, but they're catching on. The hard part of that is that they don't want us to watch them brushing, so how do we know they're getting everywhere? From what I've been able to glean so far, though, they're doing well enough that such supervision isn't a must. Bobby's a little ahead of Andrew in all this, which is just motivating Andrew more.

This is all part of a future day when they can put themselves to bed. Now, we like a lot of the bedtime routine, but it's nearly an hour each night. We've been in yet another period of expansion, and there's little room to contract short of reading to them less. So, we'll take any trimming we can get, especially of the parts they should be picking up themselves anyway.

I'm not sure what will happen with all this when the boys start reading.
Sometimes I think this blog reads like this.
The boys are getting better at wiping their butts. Often, they'll use actual [flushable] wet wipes instead of toilet paper, which is fine, except they were doing a small wipe, putting in the toilet, getting the next wipe, etc. Those things are way more expensive than toilet paper. So, I'm teaching them what I've been doing since they were born - wipe, fold, wipe, fold, wipe, fold. Next step is to teach them not to do that when use TP.
Liss has been sick for about two weeks now, and she never gets sick. It got bad enough that, combined with other signs, we had a very minor pregnancy scare. It was unlikely enough that we could still joke about it. For instance, she asked if we could give it up for adoption, to which I counteroffered that we'd keep a girl and give away a boy. She agreed, then realized she probably wouldn't be able to give him up after all. Then we started coming up with names, and actually got down to some finalists.

This morning she wished me a happy birthday and handed me a small paper bag. Inside was a pregnancy test, already peed on, already negative. Because, you know, 98% sure still isn't 100% sure.
The boys' T-ball team is a mix of 4- and 5-year-old boys, and they're by far the smallest of the bunch. I find myself being a little overly annoyed at the other boys, because fielding isn't like you see at a real baseball game, but rather more like a rugby scrum, with everyone on his own one-man team. I've seen much larger boys run Andrew down and tackle him to get the ball after he's already got it in hand. We've all been trying to have them tone it down, or even use their brains about what defense is supposed to look like, but at this age, it's all about me, baby.

There's one boy in particular who has Bobby's me-first attitude about everything, except he's 5-going-on-6 and has the physical ability to back it up, especially compared to them. I've been a little harder on him, but I don't think outside the bounds of reason.

I wish there were a girl or two, but alas. Maybe it would take the boyness down a notch. There haven't been any on the two teams we've played against, either. But, seeing how our team has acted, do I really want to put Ellen in the middle of that kind of melee?
The boys have picked up that Ellen can sort of whistle (entry), and they are jeal-ous. We've taken them through the mechanics, and they try, but it's just not coming yet. But hey, this won't be the last time their sister motivates them through their own feelings of inadequacy.

I remember figuring it out when I was three or four (while in a high chair, even), so it'll happen. As for how much we want them to actually whistle tunelessly around us, well that's another story. It's not like many of their noisy toys, where the batteries eventually run out, or perhaps "run out" with some adult help.
While Ellen's pretty much not napping anymore, her quiet times have gotten better - less attempting to go to the boys' room, staying in her room longer before coming out for us to entertain her, etc. This weekend, after some 40 minutes each day, she asked me to join her, which I did - hopefully not setting a long-term precedent in the process, but trying to help her pass the time while getting some rare Ellen/Daddy time in the process.

However, this hasn't improved her evenings in the least. Those have definitely reverted into Terrible Two territory, though trepidatiously termed temporary.

April 20th+

Last night Liss took Ellen and Bobby to a neighborhood meeting, while Andrew and I went to Safeway. With time to spare following our errand, Andrew opted to play baseball outside. Bobby saw us on their return, and wanted to play, but it was already past their bedtime.

Well, boy howdy, was he mad about that. "Andrew, I'm going to be mad at you forever!" "Dad, you're never going to hold me [at bedtime] again!" And so on. The silver lining there is that he used words instead of actions (hitting, yelling) to get his point across.

But he's also got to learn that sometimes, people are going to do cool, fun things without you. The reverse is also true, but he won't even notice that when it's happening, or if he does, it'll be so he can brag about it. Bobby's still very "Bobby first."
Amy has signed up with the Girl Scouts to be Ellen's Daisy scout leader when she's old enough.

... which will happen in two and a half years.

Last night she was singing scout songs to her. "Again! Again!" I have a feeling this will be a constant theme for years to come.
I've told the boys that they can have Kindles when they learn to read. Liss and I each have one, so they know what they are. They were interested, but not "Well, let's get working on that!" or anything. I guess an argument could be made that I'm even doing it backwards - get them now to incent them to read on them - but ... nah. While we're definitely still in Can't Have Nice Things territory, I can at least hope that by the time they're slightly literate, we'll be further on the path to Having Nice Things again.

(Of course, I'll be trolling the used market for theirs - good enough for mine, good enough for them!)
Amy: "We have one cup, but three kids. How many more cups do we need?"
Ellen: "Two!" ... with a sort of implied "Duh!" tone.

Barely three and already doing math, with attitude.
Ellen and I had another random outing on Sunday, meant as a divide and conquer while also making up for the T-ball time I'm spending with the boys.

Sitting at a bakery while she ate a cookie, I realized that some people might assume that I was out with my only child on a visitation weekend. I relayed that to Liss, who said that probably wasn't the case, since I had my wedding ring on.

As far as she knows.
The boys had their first T-ball game Saturday (pic). You might notice Andrew (left) huddling a bit there - it was cold, maybe 48 and breezy. It's bound to get better, and at least it wasn't raining for once.

The actual gameplay is very fundamental. The kid hits the ball and runs to first. There are no outs, no scoring. In the case of our team, when fielding, wherever the ball goes becomes a free for all rugby-scrum trying to get it. Ah, small children.

They seemed to have fun, which is far better than not.

April 13th+

Ellen's on a kick of showing us the food in her mouth. She'll chew for a bit, see we're looking at her, and open wide. We tell her it's gross, which just fuels her.

She was doing it last night, so I tried a new tactic of looking away. So, she got off her chair, walked to wahtever vantage point I had, and ... opened wide. I'd move my eyes elsewhere, she'd follow, open, repeat, repeat.

I was trying not to encourage her by laughing. I don't think I fully succeeded.
Liss flew to Denver yesterday. I'm sick, so I took some NyQuil before bed, knowing full well that it might get me in trouble with kids waking and needing stuff. There's been a spate of that lately. I also turned off the alarm.

Sure enough, at 3:45, Ellen was yelling for "Mom!" over and over. I went in, and ... she couldn't find her Monkey, who was tangled in her blanket a bit. I'd just gotten back to sleep when, at 4:15, she yelled "Dad!" over and over. Look, honey, you have to give me time to get out of bed and walk to your room. Please don't wake the boys with your incessant yelling every four seconds. Anyway, this time she needed her blanket put over her. The only positive is that the NyQuil was still working, so I was able to get back to sleep (both times) fairly easily. But ... yeesh. We might be in for more of these "Really, I just miss Mom" loneliness moments.

Then, at 7:30, Bobby came in and said someone was knocking on the door. It was the nanny, right on time. She might not agree, but those extra 75 minutes of sleep after our normal alarm time was totally worth her waiting outside for five minutes.
I had the Masters on most of the weekend. I only sort of care, but I put the majors on sometimes, and figured they hadn't seen it played in some time. As with everything else, the boys were full of questions. What's that? Sand. Why is it there? Why do they want to make it harder? There's water, too? Can you go into the water to get your ball? Who's the white team? And so on.

They picked favorite players, pretty much at random, and rooted for everyone else to do badly. Someone would miss a putt, and "Yessss!" That's my boys - sore winners, sore losers.
We went to a no-kids(*) baby shower Sunday afternoon.

I looked at the no-wrap gift table, and said "Hm, this looks a lot like our garage."

(*) Huh? It was quite a 'do for what it was, so I guess I understand.
The cat sometimes falls asleep in the closet of a bedroom, which we may not notice at the time. Saturday night, around 10:30, I heard the familiar pathetic meow she does when she realizes she's trapped, this time in Ellen's room. I went to let her out, but by then she'd already woken Ellen, who was sitting up watching her, half-asleep in the red glow of her overhead night light, like a scene from The Excorcist. Notice I didn't include a link there. Fortunately, she just went back to sleep.
Since I was the one who picked up the hats and shirts for the boys' baseball team, they got to pick first. Andrew just wanted the first one on the stack, but Bobby wanted the one with the highest number, which turned out to be 14. What I didn't know was that they were sized, so Andrew got a small, and Bobby a large. Bobby's goes down to his shins, but there's no way he's giving it up without a fight. It's the biggest number! Maybe he'll trip over it a few times and learn something. I guess it's just a good thing that there were no extra-large.

On the way home, he was still bragging about having the biggest number, so I explained that in sports, it's actually number one that's celebrated. The top team is called the Number One team. No one cheers "We're number 14!" Andrew, having the first shirt, actually got the #1 shirt. He's much less of a braggart than Bob, so with Bob down a peg, and Andrew now up a peg, the whole number controversy may be curtailed. Maybe.
The kids' most rambunctious friend was here for much of Saturday, which have been pretty harrowing, but fortunately it wasn't. I mean, things were more kinetic than usual, and we were on higher alert than normal, but it wasn't bad. It helped that I took our boys(*) away to baseball practice, which we're finding breaks up the day nicely.

Another thing I've noticed is that kids in general start to calm down when they get more verbal. He's into that zero-to-sixty learning period that we've seen a few times now.

(*) With the extra boy around, I can't say "the boys" like normal, but "the twins" still just sounds wrong.
Liss is on spring break. She got a scholarship to attend a conference in Denver, so she's leaving for four days Tuesday. The nanny has school breaks off, so Liss's mom bumped up her May visit to help out. The kids seem to be on board, but we'll see how they handle Life Without Mommy ... especially Ellen.
It's been Sick Week at our house. While I've picked it up, I think I've been affected the least. Liss is having a hard time of it, and she rarely gets sick. For reference, I think this is the tenth time I've been sick since the school year started, and maybe the third time she's been sick since we met nine years ago. It's the upside of autoimmune disease. The rarity doesn't make things better than she's actually sick, though.

The boys both wanted puke bowls on their beds, just in case. Andrew's coming out of it, but Bobby's still at the peak. Ellen's coming down.

A few weeks ago, I took the kids to a bakery with the train table. Another family was there, when Ellen stuck one of the little trains in her mouth. The other mom talked to her about not doing that kind of thing. I just kind of threw up my hands, saying "We have so many disease vectors in our lives ..." that you just kind of let it happen after a while. They mostly understood.

April 6th+

The boys have started T-ball and Ellen a dance class ... and we're fully aware of the gender stereotyping involved. The boys keep asking for sports stuff, and Ellen gave an enthusiastic Yes to the idea of a dance class, but it's not like we asked the boys about dance. But we're also not going to have any kid in more than one "thing" yet (and will cling to "all three" or "two and one" as long as possible, rather than having each kid in his or her own thing).

We actually hope Ellen doesn't get really into dance. There comes a point where only those girls who damage their bodies can succeed. That point is many years away, but still something for us to remember.

Ellen will barely qualify for T-ball next year, so while she'll be technically old enough, I might wait another year before seriously offering it to her. Her skill, and more to the point her enthusiasm, are way below the boys' when they were her age. Heck, maybe she'll just go back to soccer. Or dance.
Liss took all of the kids on a bike outing, on a rainy day. Now, rain is the first thing people think about when they hear "Seattle," but most of the time, it's just drizzle. Now that it's spring, though, it's a little heavier, but still cold. That's what they went into, though with large raincoats.

She reports that it was fine for about two miles, and then they all broke down at once. By the time they got home, they were still whiny and miserable and asking me to take off their wet clothes but "oh, I'm still cold!" in their nakedness, so I wrapped them in blankets, and blah blah.

Mother Nature cares not for your desires.
Liss was teaching the boys a math game kind of like tic-tac-toe, in that there was a simple offense-and-defense mechanism, when Ellen wanted to join in. Liss dumbed it down a bit (hey, she's barely three) and proceeded. The boys, in response to Ellen's horning into their fun, decided to gang up on her. It wasn't exactly cooperation, but they both had the same goal. Fortunately, she didn't mind and had fun anyway.

We joke that the boys will one day pretend to be each other to trick us, or switch classes, or collude in some other devious fashion. Is this how it begins - teaming up against their kid sister? Bleh.
Ellen starts dance class Saturday morning. She even has a leotard already, which is just as adorable as you think it is.
Little League is starting to pick up steam. Our first two practices were rainouts, but we still met to try to find coaches and discuss other logistics. In the process, I found that I'm fine with being a team parents and managing the adults; it's the kids on the field that I'm not so keen on. Since I'm doing what I'm doing, it's been easier to find other parents for the on-field stuff, knowing they won't have to worry as much about the off-field.

Last night was our third practice, which went pretty well considering we parents didn't know what we were doing. We split the kids (all boys, sadly) into small groups and showed them batting, running, throwing, fielding, etc. These are all four- and five-year-olds, so it's all very rudimentary. I was doing the fielding/throwing stuff. I had to come up with some easy ways to explain some concepts, like throwing a ball fast is great, but it's important that it actually come to me instead of flying over my head or ten feet to my side. Slow and "to me" (it's hard to explain "accurate" at that age) is better than fast and over there.

Our Thursday nights and late Saturday mornings will be taken up with this until mid-June. At least it's a lot cheaper than soccer.
Last night at bedtime, Bobby asked how many days until Kindergaten. Oh, about a hundred and fifty. How many until our birthday? Oh, a hundred or so. So, after our birthday, it'll be fifty days?

That was a subtraction word problem, sort of. He took (A+B) and removed B to get A. The concept is there, at least.

When they were at the school a few weeks ago, one of the teachers talked to the boys for a bit, and said later that they're at the second grade level for math.
We constantly wonder when the kids will stop depending on us for every irrational little thing (as exemplified here). But no older parent can tell you. It's too gradual. They don't wake up one day and start fending for themselves; it happens in small steps. My joke is that everything is three steps forward, two steps back. So, it's hard to tell the long view.

Bob is probably our best example of this. He used to get mad at us (me) more often than he does now. He still does, but what I've noticed is that he no longer "punishes" me by not letting me hold him at bedtime before saying good night.

Meanwhile, last night, Andrew got mad because Liss didn't put mint in their hot cocoa that she makes from scratch, then refused to ask for it in a nice way. "You have to put mint in!" ten times in ten minutes. He's not quite up to Bob's "just let it slide" level, not to say Bob's an expert at that.

Sunday was the real two steps back, though. It was just a bad day. They fought, yelled, hit, grabbed, lied, complained, asked for things they know they're not supposed to, disagreed over what to do, what to play, etc. All day. We were at the end of our ropes. We put them to bed early.

One morning it will all come together, and we'll wake on a Saturday at 9 to silence, and wonder if all of our children died or ran away, and they'll just be downstairs quietly watching TV while their rinsed-out cereal bowls sit neatly in the sink. Or they'll move out. Whichever comes first.
Our streak of not going to Urgent Care ended at 15 months. Andrew complained of both ears hurting, which after his having been sick earlier in the week, fits the pattern for ear infections. It being Saturday, I couldn't take him to the normal clinic, so to Urgent we went.

I have to admit that there was a slight hesitation on my part, for the mere reason of not breaking the streak. I guess that's how Cal Ripken felt.

We showed up, and he was almost immediately called to the triage area. They took his vitals, looked in his ears, and ... nothing. He was just really congested and stopped up, putting pressure on his ears. They recommended a hot bath, and the humidifier at night. And ... we left.
Ellen had her three-year check up, with no real news, which is good during that sort of thing.

They had Liss fill out a questionnaire about her, with things like "Speak in three-word sentences?" The answer to that is "Only when she's feeling terse."

"Does she know her first name?" "She can almost write it." I mean, there's a reason they ask these things - they want to identify the kids with issues, and as early as possible. But those question were Yes before she turned two.

She weighs 30 pounds, exactly 3'0". Andrew weighed in at 31 at Urgent Care, and Bobby showed 29 on our iffy bathroom scale. She got no shots, which was surprising.

March 30th+

For Easter, we had some eggs dyed at Amy's house, and Liss bought a few candies, and I hid everything in the back yard. Before turning them loose, I told the boys that they needed to give Ellen a chance, to which they got that look of "We'll say we are, but we won't" that we know so well. And that's what happened. Actually, Andrew even went a step further by being overly aggressive, shoving Bobby out of the way when they both found something at the same time. Fortunately, I'd hidden some things beyond their ability - not even on purpose, just overestimated - so we were able to point out items to Ellen and Bobby on the sly.

The boys wanted to believe in the Easter Bunny, even denying that I'd hidden the stuff, but we weren't having it. Santa is enough of a lie to make me feel weird; I don't need more. The tooth fairy will again test that, when that becomes necessary.

We'd also said that no matter who found what, the goods were divisible by three, and we'd split them evenly afterwards. So, they all had a small chocolate bunny, which they wanted after lunch. It being too big for one sitting, I said they could have the head, or the feet, or whatnot, pointing out that some people like to bite off the head. To my surprise, no one wanted to do that. I'd figured four-year-old boys would be all over that. Instead, Andrew had me use a knife to "cut it off at the bow tie."
Last night Bob asked me when the first animal was, a question that has earned many students their graduate degrees and many authors their publishing deals. I tried to start him off with the version appropriate for the audience, saying that it probably was in the ocean, and ... and that's when he said that God made it. I said well, that's what some people believe, and he said no, that's what happened.

The nanny has definitely put her Christian influence on the kids, which we haven't curtailed. Seeing what's has come of it, we won't. We just consider it part of the innoculation process. They're going to run into this stuff all the time, so they might as well have exposure now, so they can make informed decisions when the time comes.
It sounds odd, but one week into our nice weather, I'm already getting park fatigue. No sooner do we come back from one, that the boys want to ride their bikes outside, soon after to ask to go to the park down the hill. So, they'll end up going to two or three a day. It's nice to see them active, but man.

I guess a lot of it is that with the weather so freshly nice, the parks are crowded. At the one nearest the house, especially, there have been more older kids around, flinging wood chips and dropping f-bombs.

But another is how to handle the apparati that can accomodate two kids, like two swings or a see-saw. If two of the kids are doing it, the other wants to. How to deal with that? Timed turns? I guess, but who stops their turn first? I've decided to just start making them wait for a sibling to finish. The problem there is that the other two then hold out as long as possible while the other sulks. My point, though, is that they need to learn patience, or better yet, the art of Just Go Do Something Else, Dammit.
Slowly but surely, there are signs of our lives coming out of the fog of having three toddlers, in that they are now merely pre-schoolers instead.

Liss is considering stopping grocery delivery. It's more expensive, but the extra cost has been worth it. Now, maybe not so much.

We're thinking about not renewing our membership in the twin club.

Liss is going to Denver for a conference this month. Her mother is coming to help me, but Liss turned down similar opportunities in recent years.

We've signed up for Little League, though so far that's proving to be more work than is worthwhile - too much of that familiar fog.
Having watched the boys ride their bikes around the "big grass" for some total months now, I feel pretty good about their safety. One edge of the circle is a sidewalk that goes parallel to the main street. They've never missed getting to the sidewalk, even though they've been getting faster as they get older, so no worries there. The presumptive worry is that cars won't slow down, but they almost always do.

They still fall occasionally, which is going to happen, but there haven't been any nasty spills. Blood has been rare and confined to scrapes, not gushes. I consider them learning experiences. For example, they both fell this weekend while wearing pants, so they didn't even break skin. I made sure to point this out, because they're going to want to ride in shorts soon. We'll mention that pants are safer, and they'll reject the idea, but I'm doing my due diligence. When, not if, they get a bad scrape while wearing shorts, it'll be lesson learned the hard way, which is pretty much still how they learn any lesson at this age. "Parent saying stuff" doesn't cut it.

Anyway, I think they'll be ready for pedal bikes and training wheels for their fifth birthdays in July. That brings up the constant questions - will Ellen be ready to get a hand-me-down stride bike? Will a boy be willing to relinquish his? Will Liss run backwards in front of her with a large pillow?

Gift timing is usually a little weird. Like, giving Ellen something for her birthday implies that it's hers, even if it's something we'd really like to give to all of the kids (say, a movie or board game). The same goes for the boys' birthday and Ellen. All we really have is Christmas to give something "To: The Kids," and there's such a vast difference from March to December in a kid's development at this age, that the window of usefulness might pass by altogether.
During our date night, we ran into our new neighborhood babysitter, also out on the town, probably spending what used to be our money. That's cool, she earned it, but it was still a sort of "huh" moment.
Amy babysat Saturday night, and texted us at bedtime that Big Monkey was missing. Ellen, of course, didn't know where he was, and things were breaking down. We texted back some possible places based on when we last saw him, and Amy eventually found him in the garage. Crisis averted.

It's Ellen's job to keep track of him, but hey, she's three. We tell her all the time to just keep him in her bed, but no. This wasn't the first such crisis - more like the hundredth - and it won't be the last. But to Ellen, the hierarchy in the house goes Mommy, Big Monkey, Everybody Else. Actually losing him would be bad mojo. She won't even let us was him - and boy, does he need it.

So the question comes up, so we buy a spare? I've looked, but Amy actually found it. That doesn't mean we should get it. The boys rejected backup green bears back when they were attached to those guys. More to the point, I think showing her that her Monkey isn't a unique creation might blow her young mind, in the bad way.

March 23rd+

From Amy:
Dear Ellen,

I've been honored to be part of your life for the past thirty-six months. That means that today you are THREE YEARS OLD! I honestly have no idea where the time has gone, but I DO know that every day I spend with you is brighter because of your presence.

Every time I come to your house, you are so excited to see me, "Amy!" you shout while you run to the stairs to greet me. Your face is always full of smiles and you can.t wait to give me a huge full body hug once I come upstairs. You love to snuggle your head into my neck and play with my bean necklace. You think that that necklace is one of the silliest things ever and you like to try to stick it in my mouth, move it around, and see what kinds of tricks it can do.

Usually shortly after this sweet exchange, you.ll ask to play a game on my phone. You really enjoy the puzzle game and connect the dots. Maybe someday soon, you'll start doing some more of the reading and phonics stuff that I've put on there. You have great patience for the puzzle game and even when a piece confuses you, you show great tenacity and figure it out - usually on your own.

You love to be involved in whatever your brothers are doing and often get frustrated when you are told that you are too small. You want to run, jump, ride, and play just like the big kids. You are by FAR the most social of your family and will usually say hello to almost anyone and assume that they will be your friend.

This summer at an event for marriage equality (Referendum 74) at the Zoo, you were only one of three kids (the other two being much older school aged kids) to eagerly get up on stage with a musical group. It looked like you belong up there. You are still very musical and enjoy singing along, playing the piano, or strumming your ukulele.

You love going to school and delight in sharing what you've learned or the projects that you've made. I can.t wait to see how much you love going to the new school that your parents have enrolled you in. We are all hoping that you'll be in the Chinese immersion program - I'm particularly excited for this because my dad is trying to teach himself Chinese and I think the two of you will have great conversations. I think you'll thrive going to school five days a week.

Trying new foods is something that still delights you. Sure, your favorite food is probably sour cream (smart girl) but you'll eat pasta, fish, tofu, and LOTS of other things that your brothers and Dad wouldn't even consider. Plus, that means that you get a few special trips with adults for gluten-indulgences.

I've said since you were several weeks old that you are the nicest person I know. I think that's easily still true. I love you more and more every time I spend time with you and can't wait to see what this year brings for you.

Much love, Your Un-Godmother
Ellen had her first trip to the dentist yesterday. Unlike the boys, she let them do a(n age-appropriate) cleaning.

Come bedtime, Liss was away at a dinner; Ellen insisted that she didn't have to brush her teeth, because the dentist had cleaned them. I said no, you still have to brush - you ate dinner! Eventually she let me sort of do it.

When Liss came home, she asked if Ellen had mentioned that she didn't have to brush her teeth. Well, yes, but. Oops.

I heard her early this morning, so before I went to work, I went in and apologized.
Ellen's figured out how to whistle, or at least to make a weak but true whistle sound. Obviously she's not busting out "Dixie" anytime soon, but the foundation is forming.
The boys were very in-her-face in "helping" Ellen open her birthday presents. If it had been up to them, they'd have just opened them without her. We had to repeatedly remind them to back off and let her try, ask her before helping, let her try/play with whatever before they do, etc. When the shoe's on the other foot in July, if she's the same way, they'll surely be highly indignant at the intrusion.

Similarly, they've (mostly Bob) been saying how unfair it is that her birthday is closer than theirs. Now that hers is over, they've (mostly Bob) started bragging about how theirs is sooner.
No more Terrible Twos.
Sunday afternoon we went to a fundraiser silent auction for Ellen's pre-school. We're counting the days until we're done with the school, but they try hard, and it's not like it's a bad place or they're bad people. So, since everyone had jobs to do, including us, we did them.

Liss gathered our three things to auction off. I worked the registration area as a "monitor" for a couple of hours, keeping kids from getting rambunctious or food/game messes from getting out of hand. We traded off our kids in various configurations here and there. There were a lot of kids at the thing, though never more than 20 in my space, and usually with their parents nearby. It's when they weren't directly supervised that they got a bit on edge, which isn't surprising, but intervening with strangers' kids is weird for me. There were several older siblings, who gave me the occasional "who the hell is this guy telling me what to do?" vibe.

The main room had a band, and boy, were they loud, so I was glad to start my shift in the quieter room. It might have been ideal, except someone had the bright idea of bringing a small drum set for kids to slam sticks on, when they weren't fighting about who got to do the slamming. It was by far the worst part of the room, constantly firing up tensions among kids fighting, or tension among adults who didn't need literally hours on end of back-to-back four-year-olds drumming. I have no idea what this person was thinking. None.

Anyway, we got a few things - mostly gift cards/certificates for less than face value - and completed our work, and got out of there. That's one more "thing" we never have to do for a pre-school again; Ellen's new one for the fall has none of that stuff.
Liss admits that, when it comes to her daughter, she's way more sexist and way less feminist than she ever thought she could be. A pretty dress? Yay!
Ellen's birthday is Monday, but her party was on Saturday. For some reason, we repeatedly made the point she wasn't three yet, even though we were having the party. On her actual birthday, after all, we had to work. Well, she embraced it much more than the boys did, correcting everyone at her party and beyond. "Two and a half!," she'd say, despite really being, oh, 2.997.
The boys are very close to reading on their own. However, one thing they never see is their parents reading for the sake of reading. We actually do it all the time, but not when they're around; they take up too much of our attention. There's just no way to sit on one's butt and concentrate on the written word with them nearby. So, that part of "modeling nehavior" is non-existent, even though we perform the behavior quite a bit.
While I "slept in" until 7:30am Saturday, I refuse to accept that 7:30 is an acceptable definition thereof.
Saturday night we left the kids with the new babysitter to go out with Liss's brother and his fiancee. This included bedtime, for which we left instructions and a general "they'll help you through it," though knowing full well that they tend to lie about their rights and privileges to people whom they think don't know any better.

When we got back around 9:45, Ellen was up and crying. The sitter had tried to console her here and there, but to no avail. I went up. No dice. She wanted Mom, and only Mom. Liss - or rather Liss's presence - had her calm in about two minutes. A similar thing happened the last time Amy sat. Look, kid, we can't never go out, okay?

Around 2:30, Bob came into our room, already mad. "You have to put water in my water bottle!" When he starts mad, it probably means that he called out to us a few times first, and we didn't answer. The mere act of opening our door is usually enough to wake us both, which is what happened this time. However, an empty water bottle isn't on the list(*) of things it's okay to wake us for; they're supposed to check while getting into bed, babysitter or no. After our general "tough shit, kid" stance for a while, which had descended into him repeatedly screaming, Liss put a small amount in there and said the only reason she wasn't taking him downstairs to scream it out was that her brother was visiting. Since she didn't tighten it as much as I do (hey, man, leaks!), he later filled it all the way himself.

Meanwhile, it took us each two hours to get back to sleep. That's the killer with those wake ups.

And then, no one woke up by 8, when their green lights turn on. Ellen came out around 8:15, good morning sunshine, like she'd hadn't been yelling for Mom for three hours the previous night.

By 8:30, I went to see what was going on with the boys. I heard some "No! No!" coming from their room, so I went in. They were both slightly awake, Andrew making a small dog of his make noise (it has batteries), and Bobby telling him no. Meanwhile? Their red light was still on. Liss later determined that it had somehow been changed to 9 instead of 8. I don't think the sitter did that - I'd told her the clock was good to go - so I think they messed with it, perhaps in an attempt to get the green to come on sooner. Well, if so, it backfired, suckers!

Playing a game on my phone for five minutes is pretty much the only green-light reward the boys still get, and after the bottle incident, Bobby wasn't getting it until he got a nice lecture (we like lecturing) about it. Well, he didn't want to talk about it. He avoided the issue until Sunday's bedtime, when he was kind of trapped. I went over the five acceptable reasons(*), to which he added fire. Well, I guess so, kid, except the smoke detector will probably tell us way before you do. But sure.

(*) Poop, pee, puke, blood, nightmare.
Last year I took Ellen out to breakfast on her birthday, obstentiably to get her out of the way while Liss prepared for her party, but really to get some rare Daddy-Ellen time. In the process, I seem to have trapped myself into only doing it once a year, when I'd rather do it more often.

To placate the boys, who were annoyed that she was going out and they weren't, Liss was going to take them to the bakery with gluten-free choices. Well, then Ellen wanted to go too, instead of out with me. After much unsuccessful bargaining, including saying that we could go to the other bakery near the breakfast place, she specifically said that she wanted a cookie. That was easy enough; the other bakery has those, of course. We can get a cookie after breakfast, no problem, I said. She calmed down, and off we went.

Last year I got this picture of her. This time, I wasn't able to get another great one like that, despite many attempts, so my work background remains unchanged for now.

When we sat down at the restaurant, I ordered her some decaf tea - lemon mint. Great for a little one who asks for tea a lot, right? Not so much - she didn't care for it. Sad.

As for food, though, she downed as many pancakes and eggs as I could put on her plate, along with a little fruit and bacon. Then, she gobbled a large cookie at the bakery.

Needing to pick up some things, but also looking to extend our outing, we went to Target. Hey, the others weren't back by the time we got home, so no skin off theirs.
Three years old.

March 16th+

Liss's brother and his fiancee are flying in tonight, but we made the mistake of only telling the kids that they were coming "today," and not after their bedtime. So, they woke up this morning all "Are they here!?" and were put out that, from their perspective, they won't be here "today" at all.
Back in the day, the kids had a choice of adding Carnation to their milk. When they asked for milk, we'd ask if they wanted chocolate milk or "white milk." We fazed out the Carnation when Ellen got big enough, because she wasn't the one who needed the calories, and there's the sugar aspect to consider.

Back in the day, when Ellen got her now-favorite stuffed animal, a monkey, she also had a binky with a monkey attached. The new aquisition became known as Big Monkey. The binky money, however, is long gone, thanks to Ellen's sharp teeth.

So, despite the comparison items that necessitated the differentation, they still call them "white milk" and "Big Monkey." The milk thing, I think, is going to be a topic of conversation in Kindergarten; the boys may get some funny looks.

Mostly, though, I just think it's an interesting study in habits, and attachment to names as we learn them.
We're seriously considering this for our fridge, for the kids' milk. It wouldn't take up any more space, since you can dump an existing gallon jug in there. My main worries would be cleaning it and the fact that it's glass.

The immediate implication is obvious - shifting the burden of getting a new cup of milk. More hidden, this would be part of our plan to have them wake up on the weekends and not bug us. After all, it wouldn't have to fill a cup; perhaps a cereal bowl instead?
Andrew, saying our good byes as I was leaving to Ellen's school meeting:

"I love you, Dad."


"And I love when you put Bobby in time out."
Ellen asked for a butterfly theme for her birthday party. Liss is making - making - a cocoon piñata with little butterfly chocolates inside.

After the boys' store-bought piñata took Herculean efforts to open last year, she's making it purposefully wimpy, so hopefully one of the 2-3 year olds can whack it open.
Last night I went up to bed, when I heard a slight whimpering from the boys' room. I put my ear to the door, and heard it again. So, I went in, and asked if everyone was okay. "No!" I turned on the light.

Andrew was nude, as usual when he's in bed, but on all fours with his butt in the air. "I pooped in my bed!" He was clearly distraught. I got some wipes from the bathroom, but it was soon clear that I needed to get him into the bathroom. "Andrew, I'm going to carry you to the bathroom." "Okay."

Cleaning him there, it was clear that this hadn't just happened. It was too dry, after starting out runny. And then it was also clear that ... he wasn't done. I put him on the toilet, just in time. Diarrhea, of course.

How long had you been on the bed like that? "A long time." My guess is thirty minutes. Thirty minutes, on all fours, using Kleenex to wipe himself then drop the tissues in the gap between his bed and the wall. Thirty minutes, probably most of it whimpering and us not hearing him, while he held the rest in.

I finished cleaning him, then changed his sheets and blanket - which had very little on them - and he felt a lot better. I reminded him that some things are worth waking us up for, worth yelling for us for, and this was one of them. Poop, pee, puke, blood, nightmare. Maybe he could try to wake Bobby and have him come get us. Whatever he needed to do to get our help. I'll talk to them tonight about it - make sure Bobby's on board, and ready to ask Andrew to help him in similar situations.
Last night was the Little League coach's meeting, and to no one's surprise, the boys' team doesn't have a head coach, just an assistant coach - me. I said straight up that I don't want to be a head coach, but they don't have the bodies; six teams don't have any adult attached. There are way more kids than adults willing to coach (at about 10-12 kids per team).

I did what I could there - picked the team venues, schedules, and colors, and took the team's equipment home. I have a roster, and now it's up to me to call the other families and find a head coach. If I don't, and the league can't find anyone else ... I'm not going to do it. I can be the support guy my first year, but not the head guy. It's too much. I'll walk away.
Three weekdays out of four, I'm attending child-related meetings during bedtime - the CPR class last week, a Little League coach meeting tonight, and the parent meeting for Ellen's co-op pre-school tomorrow. Besides doing the co-op's newsletter, Liss also has to do the bedtime routine by herself those nights, also while doing prep for Ellen's birthday party.

We almost never do anything for ourselves, but whenever things like this come up for the kids' sake, we just do it. It feels like messed up priorities, but my armchair psychologist tells me it's from our mutual spousal/parental guilt. We don't want to put more responsibility on each other's shoulders unless it's for a good reason, and "good" reasons seem to only be kid-centered things, not self- or couple-centered, to say nothing of fostering or maintaining friendships.
"I love the cherry [flavor] because it tastes like medicine!"
Ellen's nap days are probably numbered. She's been getting worse about actually sleeping, mostly spurred by her ability to open her door and check things out, like the boys and their quiet time. I'm not going to "lock" her in there, so we're probably screwed. Maybe we should give her some boring time and delay the boys' quiet time until she's quiet up there; I guess we should at least try it.

The main problem is that, when she doesn't nap, she gets extra cranky in the evening. If she didn't, we wouldn't mind so much; we'd just have her do quiet time as well, perhaps even with the boys, since that's what they'd fight for, anyway. So, we're in this middle ground where she's getting too old for naps, but isn't old enough to handle being tired later.

Her future school has nap time, though. They're allowed to just lie there and "read" during that time, but she's not good at that when there are so many other stimuli, like Other Kids; she's an Instigator. Fortunately, it won't really be our problem, but depending on how things go until then, might be something we need to warn the school about.
We tested out a new babysitter this weekend, leaving them in her care for two hours while we took a long lunch. During that time, they watched all of Iron Giant, didn't eat their lunch, and Ellen didn't quite get the idea of sleeping during her nap.

She'll be doing bedtime this Saturday. I wonder what other "oh, this is normal!" stuff they'll pull on her.
Since no one's signed up for any Saturday morning activities for a while (soccer, Busy Bees, etc.), I was planning to take the boys garage sale-ing. However, it looks like it's too early for that, at least as my online search found. So, at sort of the last minute, I took them the big semi-annual sale for the twin club.

We got out of there for twenty bucks, which is a very low amount for us. This is the sale where we spent $500 while the boys were feti, and generally $100-150 each time after that. We probably would have been fine not to go at all, but it's a good place to look, at least. We mostly ended up with a few books and shoes.

There was also a bike there with training wheels. I had the boys sit on it and try to pedal while I lifted the seat. They did fine. They had some trouble on the down-pedal, but the seat could have gone down another inch or two. Adding to this that they've been pretty good about riding their pedal-less bikes safely, and they just might be ready for pedal bikes and training wheels. I almost got the one at the sale, but I can't have them fighting over who gets to ride it, plus it had a little more wear on the chain than I was comfortable with. I'm also not sure they'd take to the lessened mobility compared to the stride bikes.

Still, maybe for their birthday in July they - and we - will be ready for that next step. And that's about when Ellen might be ready to inherent one of their stride bikes.
This weekend was hard. I mean, it was First World Problems hard, but still. There was a lot of yelling, hitting, defiance, frustration, demanding, refusal, denial, lying, I could go on.

Liss clearly has it worse than I do, because her job is much more demanding than mine.

But I (we) get really tired of running an all-day pre-school two days a week with small people who often show a lot of disdain for us.

March 9th+

I got home from the CPR training at the end of the bedtime routine, but early enough to say good night. The boys' reading lights are timed to turn off at 8, but they'd already turned them off as Liss was leaving. They generally seem to be off when they go to bed, meaning they aren't keeping them on all the time and letting the timers take care of things.

I'm tempted to just let them have control, but ... why rock the boat? They're satisfied, we're satisfied. The only real annoyance is that "someone" tampers with the timers a bit, that someone being their sister.
I haven't even met anyone else involved in it, but Little League is already looking like an organizational and logistical annoyance. They called a coach's meeting for tonight, only to cancel it because there's a CPR training instead. And oh yeah, coaches need to be certified, so make sure you pay the $30 and go to that, and the actual meeting is now Monday. We already had plans Monday (since cancelled for other reasons), so the five days' notice wasn't great, and neither was not knowing that I had to be certified at my expense, not that being CPR certified (again) is a bad thing, but ...

... it just makes me wonder how much other last minute "oh yeah!" stuff is coming, at or not at my expense. I already figure I'll be buying equipment for the boys, but not because the league has told me.

And I asked to reserve my space in the training this morning, with no response yet, so I might show up only to be turned away.
After we warned them again that they're on thin ice sleeping in the same bed, Andrew volunteered to go back to his. Bobby immediately said he'd switch over the Andrew's, too. Sorry, kid, you need a supermajority.

And then this morning Bobby said he'd had a bad dream. Correlation?, yes, causation?, unknown.
Another bonus of Ellen's new pre-school (below) is that they follow the public school calendar, though not exactly. They're open during most of the breaks - Christmas, Spring, etc. Our agreement with the nanny is that she has those days off. This new schedule will give Liss some flexibility during her breaks, when the boys will also have off. She also has professional development days, which she'll work and the boys will have no class, but they'll probably be able to accompany her for some of those.

I might also be able to work from home, especially if it's just boys, and Ellen is taken care of elsewhere. Both possibilities - being with me or Liss all day while we work - assumes they'll be able to handle themselves without intervention for longer periods by then. Not having Ellen around will help with that a lot.

They're also open during the summer, but we likely won't use that much - maybe a couple of half-days a week or something. It wouldn't be this summer but the next, so we have tons of time before we have to think about it. Besides, she'll be four by then (eek!), and who knows how much more mature. We'll have to pay for it anyway to keep our place, so we might as well use it.
We're on a sort of large cul-de-sac, with a nice green area in the middle, which is where we tend to play baseball, soccer, etc. The boys ride their bikes around it. However, Ellen, being so much younger, isn't allowed to do that yet, and boy, does she hate that. The last two times she's come out on her "ice cream truck" or Andrew's old tricycle, I've had to forcibly keep her in the safer area near our driveway, and she's gotten very angry at me for it. I can understand, what with her brothers right there, zooming around and around, but they've proven to me that they can be safe-ish about it. She hasn't. Besides, she's allowed to go exactly where the boys were allowed at her age. But try to explain any of that, and it just falls on deaf ears. If her boys are doing something, she wants in, dammit.
The boys are very close to losing their right to sleep in the same bed. The problem is when either of them wakes up - say to go the bathroom in the morning - he inevitably wakes his brother, and then par-tay! This has been happening at 6:45 every morning, a good hour+ before the green light. It doesn't take much for Ellen to hear them and join the fun.

This morning they were still asleep when I left at 7:30, but I think this is a positive blip that won't last; I attribute it to daylight savings and an active Sunday.
Friday night I heard some rustling after bedtime, which at first I recognizing as someone going to the bathroom, no big deal, but the noises didn't stop, so I went up. This is what I found. Ellen had gone into the boys' room and climbed onto their bed. I got various excuses out of her: "I just need to tell them something." "I'm not tired!" "They need me!" before she finally let me carry her back to bed. The boys were mostly asleep and not amused by her efforts.

She had indeed gone to the potty, so I hadn't imagined that, so at least we don't have to push her to go before bedtime like we have been; she can take care of it herself. Actually, I think she's only wet the bed one time.

We have child-proof grips on the front door, and one on the door to the garage, to prevent them from going out. I thought about moving the garage one to the inside of her door, but that would freak her out; it would be taking away her newfound freedom, plus she couldn't take herself to the potty anymore. Since the main purpose was to keep her from bugging the boys, I instead put it on the outside of their door, for which they were enthused. Their bothersome little sister can't just come into their room anymore. If she knocks, though, it seems they're happy to let her right in.
Ellen has two weeks left before she has to give up binkies. Well, she bit through one of the two remaining, so that got tossed. One left. And oops, last night we couldn't find it. And it wasn't "oops," but truly oops, or more like oh crap, is she ready for this?

Well, she had a bit of trouble falling asleep; she came out of her room on some pretext or other, but after a little while, she went down. This morning she woke up a little early, but instead of complaining or coming out to harass the boys, she was just singing softly to herself. She'd forbade me to say good night to her the night before, so I took the calculated risk to go in and praise her for doing a good job waiting for the green light.

Almost three.
Sunday Liss took the kids on an errand, and got gas on the way home. The keypad on the pump wasn't working, so she could "only" get 12 gallons with her card, but no big deal. Well, she mentioned it to the kids ... and Andrew lost his shit. "YOU HAVE TO FILL IT UP!" "PUT IN A MILLION GALLONS!"

He screamed all the way home. Even his siblings were calling him out, saying it wasn't a big deal. When they got home, the other two came in (since I was there), and she stayed with him. After about thirty minutes of this, she texted that he was asking for me to come out. His cheeks were wet with tears. I asked if he was okay, and wanted to come in now. Yes.

That's the general "solution" when they lose it - to do what the offending parent wants, but for the other parent. It's how they save face, I guess.
Ellen's signed up for pre-school, at the place that was our first choice.

Her friend is also in - the rambuctious boy we hang out with. Afterwards we got together to commiserate about it. They had a friend there who asked why no one knew about it. The simple answer is that they have no internet presence, so the normally research-heavy white people have no clue. We're those kind of people, so we basically got lucky, and heard about it by word of mouth.

I went to sign the final papers, during which the enrollment lady said that their tuition was going up by fifty dollars - except the new amount was still ninety less than we thought it was going to be. So, bonus.

The place does half-English and half something else. We would prefer Chinese, but we won't know until the summer, when enrollments are cementing in place. That's because most kids speak the other language at home, and will be learning English in the school, instead of vice versa like Ellen.

Her current pre-school is a co-op, so there's all this volunteer work on top of the cost (for the permanent teachers, venue, etc). I just did the math, and the new school will actually be cheaper on a per-hour basis, without all the volunteer requirements.

But for now, the best part is that it's settled. We can cross this off our very long list.

March 2nd+

We've filled out the paperwork for our first-choice pre-school for Ellen. They're telling us not to worry, but they can't straight up say that we're in; mostly they just have to review the papers.

Something surprising to me is that they didn't ask for a copy of Ellen's birth certificate. Little League requires that for the boys, as does Kindergarten enrollment. They do, however, need immunization records (as does Kindergarten).

Update: They need her birth cert after all. That would have been nice to know before Liss went to drop off everything else. It's in our safe deposit box, which just adds to the annoyance.
The kids are afraid of the dark, which is normal enough, but the boys are afraid of being alone. With a few exceptions, they tend to lose it. It's so acute that we can't even leave them alone at the dinner table; someone needs to sit there while they finish up. This is part of why they sleep in the same bed now, and part of why we're putting them in separate Kindergarten classes.

Ellen doesn't have the same fear; after all, she's been sleeping in her own room for as long as she can remember.
There's a neighbor boy of 13 that the boys have taken a liking to, and there's even some vice versa. He'll come out and "race" his scooter or bike with thiers, losing on purpose. He has a sister that's about 8 that he seems to dote over.

The boys aren't ready to be outside on their own yet - maybe another year? They're usually very good about staying safe, within our boundaries. If we get to know this family a little better, we might leave them be with this boy sooner than we would by themselves.
Last night the boys were highly insulted by the dinner Liss made - chicken burgers. Mind you, they like chicken, and they like burgers, but this was somehow offensive. "Disgusting!" "Only cow!" It's the same chicken they shove down their throats when lightly seasoned and served on tacos.

Liss made a point of telling them in strong terms not to complain of hunger this morning.

The real objection is that they don't like change. It scares them, and they lash out. However, Liss says that if they're going to bitch about bland, kid-friendly food, she might as well make something she actually wants to make. So tonight: mussels.
With the weather getting slightly better and the spectre of "organized" T-ball coming, the boys and I have been going out to play/practice when we can. I'm also using the opportunity to practice the coach role, which I think will be scuttled for the others kids by my boys' generally feeling that I don't know shit about baseball.

It also looks like I need to buy them their own equipment, though I think they're only really missing helmets. Their bike helmets won't cut it. To the second hand stores we go!
The boys continue to sleep in the same bed - now Bobby's instead of Andrew's - which for the most part is fine, but has its issues. Just before midnight last night, Bobby came into our room to complain that Andrew was hogging the sheets. I was a little short with them when I went to rearrange, because I knew what would probably happen, and did - it took me over an hour to get back to sleep.

I've said to them many times that they can come get us for puke, blood, nightmares, or poop/butt wiping. This was none of those. They shall be reminded tonight.
Bobby asked how many questions they've asked me. Ever.

Last year I did an experiment and calculated about 1200 questions in a single day. That pace has not diminished that I can tell. However, that was on a Saturday, so about 13 hours, whereas in a normal day, I'll see them for maybe 2 1/2 hours. So, in a normal week, I'll see them (13 + 5*(2.5) + 13) hours a week, or 38.5. At a rate of 1200/13 questions per hour, that's 1200*38.5/13 = 3556 per week, or 3556 * 52 = 184,800 a year. They've maybe been at this pace for a year and a half now, so let's say 184,800 * 1.5 = 277,200. The nanny has about the same number of hours with them a week, and Liss has one more hour a weekday than I do, so all told they're probably well over half a million.

Rough guess.
Ellen's bedtime has deteriorated mightily in the last few weeks. The gist is that if you leave, she yells. You can say you'll sit for one more minute, she'll say okay, and then at the end ask for two more minutes. If she doesn't get it, woe. The same goes for one more story, reading her one more book, etc.

She's made claims that she's not tired, or is afraid of the dark, or just "want you." None of this was a thing until recently. She used to go down pretty easily. Now, instead of being done at 7:40, Liss comes away at 8:05, and much crankier than before.

Also complicating matters is that she can open her door now. While I don't think she ever felt "trapped" before she could do that, I think she feels "free" now that she can - free to come out into the hallway to better voice her gripes, free to go to the boys' room and bug them.

So, there may be more carrots and sticks in the offing.

February 23rd+

The nanny needed another day off for the funeral, which sent us in a scramble. It ended up that I stayed home with the kids until 9 while Liss got some important work done, then came back and took them to work with her. The boys are in the Kindergarten class, which they were very excited about. Ellen will shadow her around the school, including a couple of classroom lessons she's giving.

I'd place bets that the boys are smaller than the smallest Kindergartener, including the girls.

Update from Liss:

Toward the end of the 5th grade class, I was letting Ellen draw on the board. Someone had drawn a rabbit previously. I was trying to explain how to find quartiles of data sets. The kids were working and listening quietly. Out of the blue, Ellen loudly proclaimed: "I'm going to erase that bunny."

The class cracked up. "Erase his ear!" She did, with vigor. They laughed. "Erase his foot!" She did, dramatically. They laughed. "Erase his eye!" She did, almost violently. They laughed. And on and on.

When the rabbit was gone, she announced: "I'm going to draw another bunny and erase it." Howls of laughter.

We did not finish the rest of the lesson.
The boys are still sleeping in the same bed, now both facing the same way instead of their feet meeting in the middle. Well, I guess technically they still meet there.

It's been four or five nights now, and Andrew still hasn't fallen out of bed. However, they've had some "don't touch me" moments, and woken each other up early. We might put a rail along the side, we might not. We might push the beds together into one big one, maybe not. It's still early.
Bobby was mad at me during bedtime recently, so after I brushed his teeth, instead of spitting out the toothpaste into the toilet, he spit it into Ellen's potty.

You sure showed me, kid.
It turns out that they don't have umpires in T-ball for small kids. So, I had a choice of being a coach for the boys' team, an umpire for the older kids, or nothing. I told them I wouldn't want to be a head coach, but could be an assistant coach. They agreed. And that's how you rope people in.

Another way is to later say that we couldn't find a head coach, and could you do it? I will be saying no to that when, not if it happens.
Our nanny had a family emergency yesterday, so we each took half a day off work to take care of the kids. I had the morning, which by 7am was already looking to be a bad thing. The kids were up, Ellen was in the boys' room (on their invitation), and things were going south with the grabbing and yelling. Andrew spent a good 20 minutes in time out after a meltdown over which stool to sit on at breakfast.

The saving grace was that Ellen had pre-school at 10. That kept everybody focused. With lots of time to spare, I offered to take them for cocoa. Of course they agreed. So, we sat in a Starbucks for about 30 minutes until they got antsy - and after about 10 napkins' worth of spills - when I got them out of there, and got to the school right as it was starting.

The boys stayed and they all played well for some 20 minutes, before I quit while I was ahead, and told the boys it was time to go. I asked them where they wanted to go. "The library!" Uh, sure! However, it doesn't open until 1pm on Tuesday, so that was a bust. I offered to show them a movie they hadn't seen before, The Iron Giant, which they loved quite a bit. That's right, I stooped to Screen Time. I regret nothing.

Liss took over at lunchtime, and ended up taking them to the library, as they still wanted to go. They got their very own library cards out of the deal, as well, signed and all.
Our current car situation is that Liss drives the sedan to work, while the van stays at home for the nanny to ferry the kids around. In the fall, with the kids in school all day, and likely in very convenient locations, we're considering dropping the sedan.

Pros: Cons:

We figure we can wait a month or two into the school year making a deliberate attempt to only drive the van, and go from there. We'd probably end up getting another [used] vehicle in a few years, especially when/if the kids start to splinter to different activities. Maybe, though, we could last until they start biking places on their own. I guess we'll see.
Bobby's been making this face for ages, which became he substitute for actually saying something mean. It's basically his "you suck" face. That picture was taken Christmas morning. Good times.

Now Andrew and Ellen have both started doing it. Andrew in particular seems to be adopting a lot of Bobby's less desirable traits. During one recent tantrum, I said he seemed like the Bobby of three months ago.
Star Trek (TNG) hasn't really set in. Ellen's only marginally interested. The boys forget to ask to watch it for days at a time. We're only in the middle of the fourth episode.

I actually understand. Watching Season 1 for the first time in forever, it's more cerebral than I recall. There's a lot of dialogue. The kids still show curiosity, but mostly about people's names and why such-and-such alien is "being mean." But hey, it's a start. They don't dislike it, but they're just not really on board.

I think Star Wars, which has a lot more action, will be something to debut around the boys' birthday.
About a month ago, placards for the local Little League started going up on street corners. I looked, and from ages 4-6, it's T-ball only, which I didn't think anyone of. However, when I brought it up with the boys, they were motified. After all, I've been underhand-pitching to them since last year. A tee? Pshaw!

I tried again a couple of weeks later, to the same response. Well, we don't want to do soccer again, at least until they've tried other things, so back to the drawing board.

Saturday was my last attempt. I went to YouTube and found a random T-ball game to give them more context. Uniforms! Metal bats! Bobby was on board. Andrew wasn't, and even mentioned soccer again. After all, that's what he's familiar with. Now, I don't despise soccer or anything, but they've already done the same class twice, and won't qualify for the next tier until the fall. New things, kid.

By now, though, Bobby was my ally. After a couple of minutes more of the video, and possibly helped by mention that I would volunteer as an umpire, Andrew came along. I wasted no time getting them signed up.

And a new chapter begins, and very few chapters end poorly that begin with Baseball.
Sunday morning the boys were being a little rambunctious before their green light, so Liss asked them to tone it down so they didn't wake Ellen. Bobby said something to effect of "Well, we'll just kill Ellen!"

When one doesn't know the future, or has no precedent, the default thing to do is to take the current trajectory and continue it upward to its irrational conclusion. In other words, to imagine the worst. The simpler view is that Bobby's good times are getting better, but his bad ones are getting worse. And where might that lead someday? We don't know. Probably nowhere.

But for now, when anything does slightly not his way, he gets mad. If you correct a misconception he has, he gets mad. Anything that goes against his view that he's the center of the universe, and should always get what he wants every time, makes him mad. Sometimes he lashes out verbally, like the above.

February 16th+

From late May to the end of June will be a time of major changes. To wit, during those five weeks, we will: In the first six months of the year, we'll pay about $13,000 for the nanny and the two pre-schools. In the last six months, we'll only have to worry about Ellen's new pre-school, whichever one that'll be, and only from September on. Estimated cost for those four months? $3,000.

We've been slowly bleeding our savings these last few years. First up: repay what we've "borrowed" from ourselves.
Ellen and Andrew like to start an interaction by saying "Boo!" You're supposed to respond with "Eek!", then you both chuckle and life moves on. Except they'll often do it again. And again. And again. And it keeps going.

I try to encourge it, so my Eeks become weaker and weaker. To Ellen, this is just part of the game. Her Boos get weaker. Eventually she whispers her Boo, so I have to whisper my Eek. Then she'll just mouth without sound. Two-year-old hilarity, but eventually I stop.

To help me get as far with it as I do, I figure it's a good lesson for them in the Law of Diminishing Returns.
After we read books to all of the kids at bedtime, Liss and Ellen go to her room while I stay with the boys. We switch several minutes later. One of her things is now to ask us to tell her a story. What this has mainly done is reinforce that I am not good at writing fiction.

What I can do is talk about things that have actually happened. I used to live in Texas. We used to go for walks and assess the real estate aesthetic of the neighborhood. We pained the walls in the house ourselves, before moving in, except the boys' room, when she was pregnant with them. We're the ones who named her Ellen and the boys their names. And so on. She's satisfied, and she learns some little things about life.
The boys have ramped up their wrestling. It's a good thing they're twins. My step-brother was three years older than I, and on his high school wrestling team. Any roughhousing between us was, shall we say, one-sided. Our boys, however, are forever in the same weight class.

Bobby has the upper hand most of the time, because he's more aggresive. That doesn't keep Andrew from instigating him over and over. They both get hurt now and again, which they usually cry foul for five seconds, often looking at me in intervene (rare), and then happily start up again.
Andrew: "Bobby, mayonnaise is just butter that is slippery."
Liss is at the end of a four-day weekend, her school having a "mid winter break" that's been cut to that from what used to be a week. Friday the kids were being horrible, but she seems to have kept them active in novel things today, so reports are more positive.

The thought of having to take care of our kids by myself all day? It frightens me. Like, if I got laid off or something, I think I'd be the most exhausted yet motivated job seacher in history.

Yet she'll do it all summer again.
Last night, a little after we'd said good night, the boys came out of their room. They said they were afraid of the smoke detector, so they wanted to sleep in the same bed. I told them that the detector was there to help them, and keep them safe, but I knew that wouldn't change anything. I helped Bobby move his dozen stuffed animals, pillow, etc. to Andrew's bed. He had his head on the opposite end, i.e. their feet met in the middle.

This morning they said it worked out. I expect it to last until the first argument, but so far they're 1 for 1. So, tonight I'll move Bob's reading light. In fact, if I can find a spare socket splitter, I might hook both of their lights to the same timer. I've heard "[Brother]'s light is still on but mine turned off" a few dozen times in the six weeks they've had the things. The timers are dial types, and hard to synch up.

I could also move Bobby's bed to jut against Andrew's, but I'm holding off. If they can get along in the same small bed in the long term - again, not expected, but why not find out? - then I could just put Bobby's in the garage and free up a ton of space in their room (which we'd likely fill right away with the train table currently in Ellen's).
One night I was lying with Ellen at her bedtime, and said something about her having school the next day. Currently she just goes for three hours every Tuesday, so I said you know, when the boys start Kindergarten, you'll be going to new school - and you'll get to go every day! She got quite gleeful over the prospect. May it last.

We should know this week or next whether she'll be going to our first choice school.
Sunday afternoon the boys and I went to see Ice Age 4, which despite its 37% on Rotten Tomatoes, didn't make me want to claw my eyes out. Mind you, it wasn't good, but for $10.50 for the three of us at the second-run theater, I'll take it.

Immediately as the credits started rolling, Andrew asked "Can we buy this movie?" Now, in theory, we can; it just cam out on DVD. But the DVD market is such that you can pay $25 when it comes out, or get it used in three months for $15, or in nine months for $5. Very few movies get bought by us right away; I think the only one we got New last year was Hunger Games. (I used to buy about 8 used movies a month, but have since kicked that habit.)

So anyway, I told the boys a half-truth - that they put movies in theaters first, then you can buy them a few months later for home. I figure this one will, coincidentally, come down to an acceptable price right around their birthday.

February 9th+

Ellen's rough time continues. Last night she had a messy face, which Liss cleaned just after bedtime toothbrushing, and she (Ellen) lost it. She screamed throughout books ("I wanted it on!"), refused a book for herself, and refused to have me even come into her room to say good night. Liss ended up staying with her for maybe an hour; she was still there after I'd made a trip to the grocery store. Ellen clung to her ("I just want you") until she fell asleep, and Liss was reluctant to dare move so she could leave.
"I hugging you for one minute so I can have candy."
Sunday morning, long after I'd been up but before the green light, the boys came out of their room yelling in a panic. I ran upstairs and tried to calm them down and tell me what the problem was. They were finally able to get it out - they'd heard a beep.

It's the same thing that happened less than a month ago - they think any unknown beep must be the smoke detector, and they needed to get out before they die in a fire.

I calmed them down as best I could, though it didn't help that I hadn't heard a beep, because they I couldn't explain away whatever it was.

However, I did them that later (like after Ellen was awake) I'd do the Test button on one, so they would know what the actual beep sounded like, especially how loud it is. I did so later that morning, so hopefully next time another beep randomly pops into their hearing, they won't treat it like the apocalypse.
With Amy's help as the third adult, we each took a kid to do something one-on-one. I had Andrew. We started batting ideas around, but instead of going to one of the places we'd been so many times before, I wanted to do something new. Liss, ever the knowing wife, searched for "free kid activities Seattle" and came up with this new thing - a museum that included free sailing excursions. Off we went!

The free sails are Sundays only, which was fortunate, because without actually getting on a boat, I think it would have been something of a bust. It's a small place, and mostly set up for classes and such about making boats and sailing them, so it's not a museum in the classic sense. There were no cool models to gawk at, or murals, or anything like that, just mostly nondescript canoes docked here and there, and lots of books for sale.

We got lucky, though, in that we signed up for the last two slots on the last boat of the day. However, we had 40 minutes to kill, which can be deadly with a four-year-old. They had little boats for sale, though - seven bucks - so I bought one at his repeated yet polite requests, and we went off to a little pond they had nearby. It was a little tricky, but he was happy.

We went to the sail dock, where they tracked down the only life vest small enough for him, and followed the group (of 15) to the boat. Here's where I was scared that he was going to get scared, but he was fine even after we got underway. As the only kid on the boat, let alone the only small kid, he was very popular.

The only real drawback was that it was cold out there - 45 with varying winds. He didn't even notice his hands getting cold, but putting them under his vest fixed that. I held him as I could, but our two vests combined didn't help matters there.

For him, the payoff came when the seaplanes started landing - then taking off. He must have seen six planes go down and up.

It's a good thing the sail was short - 45 minutes - because after 35, he asked when it would be over. That's the attention span of youth, though I think the cold had a lot to do with it.

Overall, he seemed to like hit a lot, and we can probably take the kids in random groups over time. I'm sure it's much more popular in the summer, though, and I'd feel bad taking up a third of the boat with the five of us. Plus, they're better in public (and private) when they don't have their siblings around.
Our best guess is that Ellen's a combination of sick, and going through a growth spurt. She doesn't get sick as often as the boys, but when she does, it hits harder. She gets crankier and clingier than they do. This weekend, though, she's ramped it up, hence the theory of a spurt. I'm hoping it's one that gets her out of the Terrible Twos.

Meanwhile, we have to deal with her. Last night she woke up sobbing some three times, and would only let Liss near her. The first of those times, they were together maybe half an hour while Liss waited for her to fall back asleep; any movement to the door would set her off again. She woke again at 4 and 5:30. This ... is not viable in the long term.
This weekend was anchored by shoes. That is, the kids needed new ones.

Saturday morning I was feeling pissy at the boys for some reason, and they were pissy right back (the order of who started what is open to debate); Liss suggested I go get some things from the store. Ellen wanted to come with. She needed new shoes, so off we went. However, the boys were really mad about this. Andrew even choked out an "I'm sorry" between yells, but by then it was too late. I was in no mood.

So off Ellen and I went to Fred Meyer's shoe section. Now, we're cheap, especially with kids' stuff, since (a) there's no historic correlation between cost and how much they like something, and (b) they outgrow everything within six months anyway. I mean, I still have shirts and pants from seven years ago. Value, people, value. What I keep forgetting is that new kids' shoes are around $30 a pair. I sought out the clearance rack, which was sizable, and tried to keep her there.

Now, Ellen had had her size 5 "fancy Dora shoes" for some time, and we knew they were too small for her by now. We found one of those sizer things, which - well, her big toe landed on the 7, and little toe on the 5. I think that means 7.

Thus, we'd narrowed down our search - 7s in the clearance stuff. Another wrinkle came up, though - lots of them were the kind that flash lights with each step. Bobby found a pair like that last year, but the lights are pretty low-key. The ones we found were in your face bright. Let the redorection begin!

It helped that the bright light shoes were 7s, and as it turned out, too tight. We tried a few different 7s, and the same thing. So, we tried 8s. Those fit. Yes, our little girl had gone from a 5 to an 8 in maybe eight months. We ended up getting her some fairly girly pink shoes, but not a character this time, no lights, and on clearance for $13. I'd consider that a success.

Sometime in the middle of this, she randomly piped up that "I hope the boys are still crying!"

The next day, the boys wanted their own revenge. They kept talking about how they wanted to get new shoes, too (and they knew we knew they needed them), but with the kicker that "And not Ellen!" So, the meanness goes both ways.

I indeed took the boys early on Sunday, to the same area. In those seven months, their feet went from 8s to ... 8s. Now, we'd bought big last time, but were still around 7s then. We tried some 9s on Bob, but they were way too big. Oh, well. Like their sister, they each came away with mildly garish but not light-up shoes from the clearance area. I consider this a success - three pairs of new shoes for $50.

February 2nd+

The heir, the spare, and the honeybear.
I trimmed my beard four days ago, and it's still a topic of wonder with the kids. Why isn't it long yet? Don't smooch me, you're spiky! When will you trim it again? I like it better long!
Last night I went into Andrew bed to hold him, only to find him contorted. He was biting off some toenails. The diabetes study needs toenail samples, so he was handing me the results. Awesome.

Come to think of it, I put them my front shirt pocket, which is now in a dirty laundry basket. Maybe I should go fetch them so we can send them in.
Just before bedtime Monday night, the boys were punchy as hell. They were running all around, nude, coming up to each of us in turn, then pretending to pee and poop on us. They'd laugh hysterically, then run to the other parent and do the same. We told them we didn't like it, but that didn't stop them. Eventually I said "okay, this is the last time," and they stopped - with me, at least.
I'm used to Ellen rejecting me in favor of Liss, but not to mean I'm at peace with it or anything. It's more like I'm numb to it. I expect it. Last night she was crying loudly in her bed at midnight. I offered to go to her, though we both knew that she'd probably just yell "No! Mommy!" and yell it louder the closer I got. I walked in, got my "No! Mommy!", and walked out.

The crying was because she'd asked me to "Tell Mom to come back" during bedtime. She asks this about 75% of the time. Of those, Liss goes back about 75% of the time, because she doesn't want Ellen to be charge, though she clearly is. By the time I'd told her of the request at bedtime, Ellen had already fallen asleep. She woke at midnight realizing that Mom had never come back, and started crying about it.
I'm a lazy shaver, in that I let my beard grow to Mountain Man proportions before trimming it to almost nothing. I did so this weekend, to which Ellen had a firm opinion: "Your beard is ugly!"

So, yet another thing we don't say to each other. Later, just to Liss, she reiterated that she likes my beard "big."

When it reaches a certain point, Liss tells me that it's time to trim. So perhaps now I have to decide which of my girls to appease.
Ellen was having one of her epic tantrums, this time because I insisted she dump her own pee from the potty to the toilet. "You do it!" "Go away, right now!" "Leave this house!"

"Wait. Leave the house? Sweet, I'll go the cafe with a book, and ..."

"Not so fast, mister. Take me with you!"

"Well, if we both leave, then we'll have to leave one of the kids in charge of the house. Bobby, you've been the calmest lately, you can do it."

"If I'm in charge when you guys leave, I'm going to make toast for dinner. And blueberries." (He could probably actually manage this)

Ellen was not amused.
"I'm going to kill myself!"

This is (was?) the latest hilarious phrase the boys started spouting during play. We used Lecture Mode to say why it's now added to the list of things we don't say.

January 26th+

From Liss:
Ellen came out wqearing one of my random rings and saying how beautiful it was.
"Where'd you get that?"
"My tub!"
Actually, she got it from Liss's jewelry box, along with a few others. So, now there's that.
The kids have been on a bat kick for a couple of days, flitting about the house while they flap their arms, turning off the lights to be in the dark, etc. Last night: ... which, as far as we can remember, is his first pun.

Knowing his father, it won't be the last.
From Liss:
When I got home from the gym this morning, I puttered in the kitchen for a while, made my lunch and stuff before I went upstairs. I heard some whistling and giggling, but nothing extreme. When I went up to get ready for work, Ellen's door was open and she wasn't in her room. They were all playing happily in the boys' room, and did so until the green light. I decided that not requiring my intervention was good enough to count as "waiting for the green light."
Now that Ellen can open her door, she comes out of her room after her green light. However, she does it in stealth mode. Saturday I didn't know she'd joined the rest of us downstairs until she was standing there. Sunday I expected her at any time, so I waited on our bed, but eventually got suspicious. Her door was open, and she was already downstairs. I hadn't even picked up her departure on her super-sensitive monitor.
In our social circle, the fact that our children were conceived "the old fashioned way" puts us firmly in the minority.
While driving, we were talking about how Seattle is a hilly city. However, Minnesota is flat, but it didn't use to be - there were mountains, until huge sheets of ice flattened everything. But don't worry, that was a long time ago, like 30,000 years.

That's when Andrew piped up. "But it started at zero and it's only 2013!"

Oy. Smart boys.
Friday afternoon we toured a couple of non-profit pre-schools, as Ellen will need one starting in the fall. We went with the pop of one of her closest friends, a boisterous boy who just turned three.

One place was the clear winner - closer, cheaper, better hours, meals included. The other had better facilities - larger and more open/lit, but that was its only "win."

The programs seemed about equal, except the first one has a half-immersion program, where half the days are in English and the rest in another language. We'd prefer the Chinese class for Ellen, as being the most practical later, with Somali as second and Vietnamese third. Those are the languages most in demand in our neighborhood, i.e. the parents of the local kids include many immigrants. (They recently dropped Spanish.) While for Ellen, hearing another language is just an add-on, for many of her classmates, it'd be the first time to hear English on a regular basis.

From the tours, we found out [again] just how lucky we are with Ellen. She's already potty trained. Her friend isn't, and seems to have very little interest in being so. The two schools were both "he needs to be trained," but the first-choice place was a little more flexible about that, like he'd be okay if he's just having the ocasional accident. Ellen's had three in the last six months - way less than "occasional."

As is the stereotype, we're now on both places' waiting lists. If we end up at the second place, it wouldn't be terrible, but we all want the first. We should know in about a month.
The boys had their clinic visit for the diabetes study this weekend, which are now every six months instead of three. There are still blood draws, though. This time, neither boy cried and yelled, despite saying it was painful. Big boys, those.

Unlike last time, they were able to get blood from Bobby, so we'll get a fresh celiac test for him.

As part of the deal at their age, they got to take their samples to the lab, and the [student] workers gave a mini tour showing what happens to it. There were two techs, one who clearly was happy to show little kids around, and the other who just wanted to get his work done.

They also get swag each time, which is usually pretty decent. This time it was bubble bath, which could have gone either way, since they already have a bigger bottle at home, but they were both happy.

We've been pretty remiss about collecting and sending their poop. When they were in diapers or using the potty, it was easy enough - self-collecting! Now they use and flush the toilet, so we have to remember these "hat" things that fit on the toilet, and admittedly, motivation is low.
I smack Liss's butt, and when the kids ask why, we've said because I love her. Andrew especially has taken up the mantle, and smacks hers. Usually she tells him that's just for me, or to stop, or whatever. Well, Saturday she told him not to, and he lost it - "But you like it when Dad does it and I love you too!"

She, in her own words, "caved." "Okay, but only my butt. And gently."

Then Ellen, ever the sweetie: "You can smack my butt, too!"

January 19th+

From Liss:
I was late getting out of the shower [Tuesday] morning. So I was still drying my hair right at 8:00 when the boys burst into the bathroom, buck-naked and sobbing hysterically. "Guys, what's wrong?"

"The smoke protector! The smoke protector! I think there's a fire!"

And come to think of it, once the hair dryer was off I did hear a loud beeping sound.

"We need to get out! The smoke protector!"

So I followed the beeping to their room, where the green light was on ... and so was the alarm. Somehow in the midst of yesterday's shenanigans(*), the switch had been flipped to make the noise sound. I turned it off and reassured them that if they left their clock alone, it wouldn't happen again.

And then Ellen emerged from her room with a sleepy, sunny "Good morning!"
(*) Visitors, including an eight-year-old boy.
We're checking out two pre-schools tomorrow, and probably making a final decision based on those visits. One of the places has a waiting list, though, and the other either doesn't right now, or has a shorter one. It's also cheaper and more convenient. So, I think you can guess where we're leaning. We just need to confirm it's not secretly a meth lab using child labor. Well, I guess that'd be okay if Ellen were just keeping the books or managing inventory or something.

However, it's also a 12-month program instead of 10, so we'd be paying full time during the summer - to keep our spot - when she wouldn't be going full time. Liss will find some silver linings, though, like still having her go twice a week so she and the boys can do something, or finding someone to take just two instead of three for a bit so she can relax, etc. Of course, this isn't even a thing for this coming summer, but the next, so we're getting way ahead of ourselves.
We went to a neighborhood thing last night, which had name tags. It was the boys' idea to write their own, which is a change; we've previously suggested such things, and they've often said no.

In fact, after the border of his first attempt peeled off, removing his A and half of the W, Andrew wanted to start over.

And I'm declaring it official: they're both right-handed.
There's little more heartbreaking than your nearly three year old daughter beginning to understand what death means, and crying and screaming "I don't want to die!" over and over in your arms.
Now that we've blown through Tom and Jerry and Schoolhouse Rock, we've moved on to something completely different: Star Trek, the Next Generation.

Since the others were about 7 minutes (when doing to Rocks), we're going to try to have the same amount of ST:TNG each day. So, last night they made it through the opening credits and the first scene of season 1, episode 1.

And boy howdy, did they have a lot of questions. Why is there a shield? Why did he freeze that guy? Did they start at Earth? I think the Q&A session after their 7 minutes lasted longer than the 7 minutes.
Last night while putting the boys down, I noticed stuff smeared on the wall by Andrew's bed, in smears the size of a four-year-old's finger. I was pretty sure it was poop. He denied doing it. I asked Bobby, who confirmed both the culprit and the material. Now, this wasn't one or two streaks. He'd loaded and wiped his finger maybe two dozen times.

He knows better than this. The boys wipe their butts after using the toilet all the time. When they're done, they ask us to check their handiwork, and we'll finish the job if needed. He also should know, at least, that poop doesn't go on walls.

So instead of holding him for two minutes, I spent about ten minutes cleaning up "with" him, in that he didn't have the strength. In most spots, it required taking off the outermost layer of paint.

He was very put out that he didn't get held, but I had to drive the point home somehow, and after cleaning poop off the walls, I wasn't in much of a place for creative thinking.
We went to the science center's annual train show, which in my opinion was a little oddly planned.

First there was an area set aside for actual model train enthusiasts to set up their stuff. However, those guys don't want to tear down their best stuff just to build it up and tear them down again over a long weekend, plus risking them around small kids. So, my impression was that they brought what they thought was "good enough" for the show. Things were also pretty high for the kids to see, which I found out was because 40" is the international standard for the tables. That's a bit of a problem when you're 37" tall.

When we went to the children's museum a couple of weeks ago, they had a much larger single display with a better layout, larger train pieces, and lower sight lines (and a budget). It was much less slapdash, and held the boys' interest much longer.

There was one eccentric fellow with some very detailed sets, but no trains running, yet he was engaging with the kids, showing them his models and sets. His was also the only display with a bench to stand on.

Next was an outdoor "train ride," which consisted of a riding mower with a wooden train engine built around it, towing five other set cars. It wasn't bad, but cold and twice as long as it needed to be, which meant the wait in line was, as well.

Inside another building were lots of interactive stuff, but also kind of slapdash. Most of the kids' time was spent at a Lego table that had several "5 and over only!" signs lying about; we estimated the average age of kids was under 4.

Overall, it was good and necessary for getting the kids out of the house, but ... eh.
"Who knew ocular mastication could be so hilarious?"
Liss makes gluten-free granola so the kids can have an easy treat. They always mispronounce it as "granilla," though, to which I constantly have to stifle (a) giggles and (b) correcting them.
Andrew got some plastic golf tees as a stocking stuffer type thing at Christmas. He wanted to "play golf," even though it was a wet 35 degrees, so out we went. We grabbed a couple of whiffle balls, plastic hockey sticks for clubs, and gave it a shot, no pun intended.

The hardest part was getting the large ball to stay on the small tee. The trick was to get the tee sticking straight up despite the uneven ground. The silver lining of that ground were some pre-made "holes," at least dips large enough to hold balls. Most were from the tree-felling a couple of months ago.

Naturally, it didn't take long for Bobby and then Ellen to want to join us, so out they came in their winter gear, and now we had more kids than tees, balls, or clubs. Ellen took one of each to play on the "big grass" by herself, which was okay since the boys were doing well sharing the others. The whole setup didn't last long, though, mostly from the cold, but also the tee-on-ball frustration.

But hey, at least we got outside for once.
Bob got mad at me for whatever reason, and decided that he'd get back at me by putting several stuffed animals on my leg, so they would eat me.

Then Andrew would come along and gleefully kick them off. So Bob would mad get at him, then put the animals back.

Then Ellen came and happily smacked them off, and he'd get mad at her.

None of this is unusual in our house.
It's getting harder to trick the boys:

January 12th+

This morning I bumped into Ellen in the doorway of the kids' bathroom. The grip thing on her doorknob disappeared days ago, so she'd opened her door bare. I'd seen her do that before a couple of times, so I haven't been really searching for it.

I asked if she needed to pee. "I already did." Sure enough, there was still pee in the potty, which is a common thing for her - just getting up and walking off instead of transferring to the toilet. I had her do that, then smooched "That's my big girl" as she went back into her room, closed the door, and went back to bed.

So, sort of a double milestone event, especially since it required (though eventually received) no intervention on our part. I mean, it'll be better if she starts remembering to dump into the toilet herself, but between leaving it or needing our help right away for any part of the process, I'll take her self-help anyday.
"I hear the sun rises at 5."
I can do some freaky things with my eyes - shake them back and forth quickly (ouch), move one but not the other, and the standard crossing. Last night I showed Ellen, who was very "whoa!" about it, in a good way. Ah, easily impressed youth.
Last night Andrew wanted this book at bedtime, which is way over their heads, since it teaches about geology - igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic, all that. The pictures and text are way too busy to let them focus.

However, it reminded him of this book, in which a young donkey, in a panic, wishes himself to become a large rock, then can't undo it. Liss borrowed it from the library ages ago, and probably returned it last June, but he still remembered it. He asked me if we could borrow it again; I've just ordered it. Hey, it was four bucks, and we didn't hate it either.

Talking about it with Liss later, when I was recalling its plot, I said that the science book had reminded him of it, since Sylvester turns into a rock ... an igne-ass rock.

That's when she started punching me.
It's not in stone, but we may have settled on a day care/pre-school for Ellen for next year. The place is a little out of the way, but close enough that it would become routine quickly enough, and I could train/bus to get her on the way home from work if something were to come up. The cost is about half what we pay for the nanny plus part time pre-school now for all three kids.

The site is actually at another elementary school, as part of a company that puts pre-school/day care in public schools' extra space. If Liss has her way, they'll take over such duties in her work school starting fall 2014, when the current provider's contract expires and Ellen is four ("and a half!"). However, she was on the committee that chose last time, and it was a contentious battle that she lost. The provider selected is bad enough that she won't use them, hence the inconvenience of finding somewhere for Ellen.
The boys aren't allowed to jump on furniture anymore, being too big and their legs too strong. They still sometimes do it without thinking, for which they're quick to stop once we remind them.

Naturally, they think "that's not fair!" that Ellen can still jump, to which we always say that sure it is. They got to jump for a full two years before she was big enough to do it. So she has about two years to go.

Besides, we need to set that precedent for other things that will happen because of their age difference, like her having less homework.
Ellen and I were upstairs just kind of hanging out, she jumping on our bed or whatnot, when she decided we needed more light. So, she said, I'll get Bobby's flashlight. Oh?, I said, and would he like it if he found out? "No!" and off she went.

Now, the kids all have tubs that they keep near their beds, for keeping "this is mine!" stuff. They haven't worked very well, because no one accepts the boundaries. They want their own tub to be sacred and untouchable by siblings, but their siblings' tubs are fair game.

While searching for a flashlight in his tub - the boys were downstairs - she found his toy barn and accessories, which she quietly played with for some time. I asked if she was supposed to play with those things, she said no. Not wanting to risk a meltdown of both her and Bobby, I asked if she was going to put everything away when she was done. Yes. A few minutes later, she did exactly that, leaving no trace of her "borrowing" of his toys.

In fact, she knew not to push the button that they all love to push, which starts up some music. That might have alerted him, you see.

January 8th+

Liss early-registered the boys for Kindergarten at her school. We can still submit forms saying another school is our first choice, but we at least have our safety school.

The real question is what we'll be doing with Ellen next year. We'll be going to a couple of pre-school fairs this weekend, but Liss already has a first choice in mind. We'll need a place that can take her from about 8 to 4:30, occasionally later.
Ellen was being Terrible during a taco dinner, and dropped her cilantro to the floor. She likes cilantro, so she was clearly not thinking clearly, but when we told her to pick it up, she went bonkers.

Eventually she calmed down and went to get it, but in a defiant way, of course. She said "I'll get it like a bird!" and picked it off the floor with her mouth.
I've been holding the kids at bedtime since they were out of cribs. It's taken on various forms as they've gotten more used to the darkness, or been mad at me, and so on. Now that they have their reading lights, I might as well not be there. The boys just lie there and "read" while I lie next to them and maybe have an arm around a waist. Ellen wants me to read a book to her, then read it back to me, instead of playing or talking like we used to.

Oh, well. Progress.
Andrew went to the endocrinologist yesterday for a consultation about his size. He's even a little smaller than Bobby now, so we just wanted to make sure it wasn't something invisible, like lower hormone levels or bone problems.

The endo didn't have the x-ray our pediatrician took for a preliminary diagnosis, months ago, but he had the radiologist's interpretation. That had basically said he had the bones of the three-year-old, which isn't a bad thing, just late. After talking to Liss and Andrew and seeing that report, he still wanted to see the x-ray himself, but the preliminary diagnosis was the same. Now we know the medical term for "late bloomer," which is "statutory delay." We'll follow up in a year.

This comes as no surprise; we were both late. I was always the smallest boy in my class, I looked (look) young for my age, etc. Eventually I came to embrace it as "aging slowly." My family tree is full of octogenarians.

Bobby was very jealous that Andrew "got" to go to the doctor, i.e. anyplace without Bobby.
One night we were running late to bedtime, and then Andrew announced he to poop. Getting exasperated with the lateness, I grabbed his medicine anyway. So there he was, sitting on the pot, nude, having strained out the first poops, when his dad started his four sets of inhalar medications.
We've told the kids that they're not allowed to hit people or say certain things when they get mad. They sometimes forget - especially Ellen - but it's sinking in. However, they don't do nothing; they just keep coming up with new outlets for their anger.

Bobby's go-to act of defiance? Turning the nearest ceiling fan all the way up.
Letter dictated to Liss, now sent:
Dear General Mills,

Please can we have gluten-free Cheerios? It would make gluten-free people really, really happy. Mom says she will pay extra for the gluten-free Cheerios. Do you have gluten-free oats? Could you please buy some if you don't have some? We use gluten-free oats for oatmeal. We used to eat Cheerios when we were younger, but now we have to eat gluten-free food and we miss Cheerios.


Andrew, age 4.5
Bobby successfully added 4 and 10 in his head yesterday. Oy.

And it's not like Andrew's not picking it up, too; he's just merely "far ahead" of most kids his age, instead of "whoa."

I distinctly remember when I found out I was good at math, which was in third grade. After the day's math lesson and some classwork about that lesson, we'd have competitions [about the previous day and its homework]. Two kids went up, the teacher gave a problem, and the first to solve it stayed up there while the other sat. I probably won about 90% of the time. The other kids were ecstatic when they beat me. There was another kid who was the clear second, beating me maybe 1 in 3, so we had a nice rivalry going on. You, know, about math. (It's also when I learned I was gracious in defeat and victory.)
Liss promised pancakes for Sunday morning, which isn't the same thing as promising "shape" pancakes, but the kids certainly made that assumption. We have a ton of cookie cutters around, which she uses for pancakes, though it takes longer and increases clean up. However, not making the connection between the extra work and the extra time it takes, they got impatient. I think the average interval between someone asking "When will pancakes be ready" became about 90 seconds.

In related news, I've started giving them maple syrup for such things, though only a teaspoon each meal. They got measuring spoons for Christmas, even. Liss suggested a tablespoon instead, but I figure it's easier to decide you've started too small and increase, than the other way around.
"I'm having strawberry yogurt, in theory."
"No, I'm having strawberry yogurt in theory!"
"And I'm having peanuts, in theory."

They only did this once, but it was odd - or, at least, odd to us, since we know that it's nonsense and all.
The kids asked to do the job jar, repeatedly. They asked when they could do it, repeatedly. We finally "caved" and we got a lot done, even adding some new things to the jar.

Andrew's Achilles's Heel is the job of putting the books back on the bookshelf. He can't get them to stay upright, so he gets frustrated, especially when we don't want to stop what we're working on just to do that.

Ellen doesn't have much stamina for it, but that's to be expected at her age. She doesn't have the mental stamina for much. Squirrel!
Saturday Ellen was pretending to be Santa. She'd go off for a bit, come back to where the rest of us where, say "Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas," and proceed to give us random toys she'd picked up while she was away.

Bobby played along by telling "Santa" how bad Andrew had been, and he shouldn't get any presents. Actually, it was hard to tell if he was playing or sincere.
Bobby appears to be on an upward trajectory. He's still bossy and sullen and a tattler much of the time, but the sullen part is the hardest to deal with, and the most noticeably waning in the last couple of weeks.

Sunday morning he was in my lap being downright happy, and it was remarkable how much more he looked like Andrew than usual. We say they don't look very alike to us, but this was just more proof that it's more because of how they carry themselves than anything else.

January 1st+

Last night we had two other families over. The first arrived with their daughter, and noticed that Ellen was going commando under her dress. One of the moms said "Ellen, there are boys coming, maybe you should put on some underpants. Where do you keep them?"

With something of a what a dumb question tone, she quickly answered "My vagina!"
We've told the boys for months that when they turn 4 1/2, no more jumping on furniture. They enjoy jumping on our bed and the sofas, but their legs are just getting too strong for them to hold up. I'm sure there will be a mourning/rebellious period, especially since Ellen will have no such rule yet. Not only is she not as strong, but they've had another two years of jumping fun than she has. Right now, we're thinking when she turns 4, maybe 3 1/2.
Ellen has started doing what's called representational drawing, which before that picture she said she was going to draw me.

Some things to note: one, she was drawing with her left. However, after a few drawings like that, she switched to her right for a few. She still kicks soccer balls with her left, but hits her brothers with her right. This is about the time handedness is supposed to start to "set," but we're still not sure which way she'll go. Maybe she'll go both. It's not like it matters - it's just a point of interest.

Another note is hard to notice in the picture, but she was drawing at a 90 degree angle. As in, "my" neck is going across her body, not up and down as you'd expect. This might be related to the lefty thing, making it easier for her to see what she was doing.
My gift to the kids was a pairing of an LED reading light with a plug timer. The idea is that, while they can't read yet, they can practice lying in bed quietly and "reading" or whatever else until it turns off or they click it off themselves. It was actually very hard to find what I wanted, and had to settle for this combination.

The kids love them (Andrew) though they don't love the rules. Through the timer, the lights can only be on from 7-8pm and 7:30-8am. I've told them that can expand as they show they can use them responsibly, like not messing with the timer. Andrew and Ellen have both done exactly that, but we're not even near the point of taking them away.
Going to Minnesota screwed up the kids' sleep schedules. Besides the early wake-up issues there, they'd been getting up early ever since we'd gotten back home, maybe around 7, and instead of waiting for their green light at 8, finding ways to get our attention, especially Ellen.

We might have fixed it by keeping them up on New Year's. The idea was to keep them up to watch the New York broadcast, but holy hell, it's tape delayed on the west coast. So that part was a complete bust, but they wanted to stay up so badly that they still behaved. So, they went to sleep around 9:30 instead of 7:30, and the next morning they woke at 8, and again Wednesday morning. Two days is only the start of a pattern, but after five mornings of whining at 7, we'll take it for sure.
Bobby is eating gluten again, to prepare for his next celiac blood test in a few weeks. This has made Andrew jealous, since he no longer has his gluten-free partner in crime. Regardless of the result, though, Bobby will go back to GF right after the blood draw.

If it comes back positive, it'll suck that both twins have that diagnosis, but it would only change one thing - he'd no longer get wheat before more blood tests. So, that's a silver lining of sorts.

While Andrew had an endoscopy after his positive blood test, we wouldn't do that with Bobby.
We took the kids to visit friends in Olympia, including one of the families that came with us to Ocean Shores in August. In just those five months, the gaggle of five kids were much better together than they were then. There were some long-ish stretches of time when we four adults could just sit in one room talking, while the five were off in a playroom or elsewhere, and mostly just playing well instead of making mischief.

Please, please let this be the future.
Auto-correct is software built into smartphones and the like that offer corrective suggestions when you're typing, like if you're making a typo, or it will fill out a common word that you've started. Sometimes, it'll steer you in the wrong direction, giving help that is actually the opposite of helpful at all, but it's always there trying to correct you.

"Auto-correct" is my new nickname for Bobby.