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Dad's Coping Mechanism - 2014

2014 begins with the boys at 5 1/2, and Ellen approaching 4 (!).
No Urgent Care visits since: October 27, 2013


The boys each got a pair of headphones from my grandmother, but they don't have anything of their own to use them on. They've been asking to listen to a song on my phone, which I suppose gives me a chance to further impart my musical tastes upon them. So far they've been happy with my choices.

Ellen, keeping up with her brothers, wanted her own headphones, to which I point out that she already had a pair (in bear shape), so she's also asked for music. Last night she asked just as dinner was being served, so Liss asked that I make the song short. Well, Yesterday is barely two minutes, so there you go. She liked it for being "sweet," but also because "It's about playing a game!" Well, not quite, honey.
While the boys are okay with regular four-slot, six-color Mastermind, we also have a three-slot five-color one that Ellen likes. At first, as the codemaker, she'd almost always do pink-purple-pink or purple-pink-purple, since those are her favorite colors. Liss dubbed the former the "Ellen special," which Ellen's embraced, but has also spurred her to maybe try other combinations once in a while.
We visited some friends with a son Ellen's age. He'd gotten a couple of 100-piece puzzles for Christmas, which we adults suggested the kids do, which they agreed to, so we opened it up and spread out the pieces. Then the kids went elsewhere in the house.

Cars theme or no, a mere hundred pieces or so, we slowly started noticing a corner piece here, an edge piece there ... and soon enough just us adults were doing it. Well, that brought the kids, who have their own urges, like not letting adults have any fun that they could be having.
With all their new Christmas stuff, we wanted to encourage the boys to keep it in their room isntead of the living room, which has kind of always been the hope. The spur this along, I offered to bunk their beds. They readily agreed, even coming to quick consensus on who got the top(*) and where in the room it would be. Part of the original appeal of the beds was their future bunkability, but we bought them when the boys were just turning four, and they weren't ready. Also, Liss wasn't ready to have a boy sleeping six feet up.

So, I found the extra parts and hardware, installed a guard rail on Andrew's bed, and we put it above Bobby's, then they switched stuffed animals and such, since Bob's first up there. Andrew was quick to try the ladder, but Bobby both was too afraid, while also insisting he had already done it. At bedtime, Liss made him actually do it before she'd leave him to sleep there, lest we find him on the floor in the morning. He finally did it, and is fine now.

A bait-and-switch requirement during my work was that the boys pick up their room. Under Andrew's old bedspace was a mess, but really the whole room needed help. They did a decent job with a lot of help from me, so it looks okay for now. They've since started doing their wrestling in there, which was a major goal of this, kitchen ceiling bumping and all, but also means they've kept the area pretty clear for the first few days. Here's hoping it lasts.

Ellen got jealous, and now wants bunk beds, too. Oh, and someone to share her room with. Neither of those is happening, but apparently we can do well enough by raising her bed to its middle tier (she proved she can do it by climbing onto Andrew's at that height, much to his dismay) and putting a small bed underneath for one of her new dolls; she'll pretend to be on the "top bunk" above the doll. We figure to go ahead and get an actual mattress to put under there, since it's about time for the occasional sleepover as it is.

(*) Bobby at first, then switching every Saturday.
The local zoo has a holiday light thing that we went to with Liss's visiting godmother and the kids. The lights were pretty impessive, plus we hit the carousel. There was also an indoor "snowball fight" area set up with plush balls, which the boys and I did (along with some other 60 people or so) for a good half hour. Smacking your son's face with a ball from thirty feet away is surprisingly cathartic.

The kids are still small enough to be swung while holding an adult with each hand. They wanted to do a "triple swing," meaning all three at once. That doesn't work on the surface, because there's no linear AKAKAK configuration whereby every kid holds two adults' hands. I simply said "It'd have to be in a circle," seeing if they'd get it. It took Ellen about four seconds to go "Oh yeah!"

So they were on board, even knowing they'd probably end up kicking each other. Or maybe that was part of the appeal.
Christmas was mostly good. The kids were mostly happy with their hauls(*), spent much of the day playing with their new stuff or reading their new books or whatnot. It's not like you can really go anywhere that day.

The low point came at dinner, when Bobby went to the bathroom to cry, because "everyone's been laughing at me all day." I don't even remember what we were talking about before he broke down. Whatever it was, it was most certainly in the spirit of gently ribbing one another, which he and Ellen still can't handle. Andrew's not much better, but is relatively so. If you're going to grow up in our family, self-deprecation is a key.

(*) Ellen at bedtime: "I didn't get everything that I wanted."
Liss took the boys to see Big Hero 6, which they now claim is one of their favorite movies. We weren't sure they'd like it, as apparently a brother dies, and something else I'm forgetting, but maybe they've gotten to the point where they can tell fact from fiction well enough. Ellen certainly isn't there yet.

When we first told them the plan, they asked if they should see movies 1-5 first.
Except for their names, the boys' report cards were exactly the same.

Two for the price of one, indeed.
When the boys had some (birthday?) money, they spent $5 at Target to buy a pretty terrible Berenstain Bears DVD. In fact, it's so bad that they wanted to try to sell it; you know something is horrible when two six-year-olds agree to get rid of it. Bobby suggested he stand outside the house and offer it to passersby. The price: $5.

I told him that wasn't going to work, but there were companies that would pay him less for it, like $1 or $2 is he was lucky (though probably more like a quarter). I have a box of DVDs of my own to sell to Half Price when I get around to it, so I said they could put it in there, and I'd give them that money when the time came. They said fine.

Ellen, however, never wants to get rid of anything, and this was no exception. She likes a few of its episodse. I explained how the boys had bought it with their own money, so it was theirs to sell or give away or throw away or whatever, but maybe they'd agree to give or sell it to her instead of selling to Half Price. They agreed, and Bobby stated his price: $5.

I advised that that wasn't going to work on his sister either, mostly because I wouldn't let it. I said that since Half Price might give you a dollar, but maybe you and Ellen could agree on that, or two. After some hemming and hawing from the boys, they agreed on two. One problem, though; Ellen said she was saving her money for some Frozen dolls. I asked if it was more important to get the DVD now and wait longer for dolls, or to get dolls sooner. She chose the DVD; it turns out she had something like $2.35, so she barely had enough, but the disc is now hers. And the boys got $1 each out of the deal, so they were happy, as well.

As it turns out, I'd already bought two Frozen dolls for Christmas for her, so that'll come out in her favor, as well.

And since the boys are bound to get money for Christmas, this can serve as a "think before you buy" reminder.
Pretty much ever since I had a daughter, I've wanted to take her to a performance of Nutcracker, which is totally stereotypical of me, but I'm okay with that. We almost did it last year, but decided she wasn't quite ready. This year I found a dance school that does it every year, which was more affordable and probably much more accessible to a four year old than the professional versions. Plus, it billed itself as an hour long, pared down version, instead of the usual two and a half hours or something. It sounded ideal.

It was a decent show, with some forty dancers overall ages 4-16 I guess, plus several adults in supporting roles. Since they apparently do it every year, and several shows' worth, it wasn't new to most of the students. They just knew what to do. The sound could have been a lot better done, but that's my own background talking.

There was an area right in front of the stage for kids to sit and watch, but Ellen didn't want to go there at the start. I mentioned the idea again during intermission, and this time she wanted to go - with me. And that was how it was going to be, darn it. We found a place where I wasn't going to be in anyone's way, and she sat in my lap, so it was fine.

When I later asked what her favorite part of the show was, the dancing or the music, she said "everything." She really liked it. It may or may not have rekindled her interest in dance classes instead of soccer or sing or whatever else (time is limited, alas), but she certainly enjoyed consuming it. I'll track down a good version of the music, and maybe I can find a production airing on PBS or something.

So, as the stereotype goes, I'll likely be taking her every year, and I think I've found the production that we'll go to for some time.
My new chorus's concerts were a Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday matinee, so naturally we brought the kids to the Sunday one. The kids did a good job not disturbing the performance - really the only goal - and seemed to enjoy it, or at least think it not terrible.

The encore involved the chorus spreading out in a big circle around the seated audience for "Silent Night." I was right by the family. Ellen really wanted to come to me during the song, which would have been fine with me, but she held back. As it ended, I took the two steps to her to smooch her head, which the director may have seen and disapproved of, but whatever.
From a friend:
How I know my life has changed: I now more often look up what time a place opens than what time it closes.
Liss took the kids to Santa (while I ran another errand); they'd been debating what to ask him for weeks. Meanwhile, it had been getting close to enough to Christmas that we'd already bought most of their gifts. Bobby's ask (movies) coincided well with what I've already gotten, as did Ellen's (dolls of Frozen characters).

Andrew's was more problematic - a Star Wars remote control ship. Like, one that actually flies. Besides that he's only six, something like that is a few hundred dollars. I tried to find some middle ground, but everything non-RC still seems to either be shit or cost $150. Plus, I'd already spent quite a bit on some magnetic tiles that he liked at school and mentioned wanting for Christmas a month ago. So, Liss found her own middle ground - some Star Wars themed Lego Sets. Let's see how he reacts. We've been trying to prepare all of them with something like "He may or may not give what you ask."

Which brings up another point about Santa. If we could have done it differently, we probably wouldn't have done the Santa thing. It's become this Big Deal that's all based on a lie. It's cute when they're 2 and don't question much in life, but nowadays they question everything. But even the boys still believe in Santa, maybe because they desperately want a parent/gift loophole. This might be the last year they do believe, but whenever it is, they'll surely try their best to convince Ellen five minutes later, even if she's not ready. We haven't constructed Big Lies about anything else, but they'll surely all be suspicious of other parental truths once this one unravels.

Anyway, when Liss was researching the Santa situation, she saw that if you pre-purchased a photo package, you'd get to use the Fast Pass line when you did the visit. Well, this conflicted greatly with her sense of the Spirit of Christmas, as she put it - but not enough for her not to do it. Standing in line with three Santa-excited children surrounded by other people's children in similar states ... yeah, I can see how you'd want to reduce the time you spend doing that.
The new school does an evening winter concert at a nearby high school, in which the boys were performing, though no one bothered to tell Liss until maybe a week or so beforehand. She seriously considered skipping it, but we went anyway. Even with the higher capacity in the bigger school, the theater was packed beyond fire marshall safety numbers, I reckon. Ellen and I found a seat near the front, while Liss corraled the boys and her own students to a lesser extent.

First up were the K-3 students singing three verses of "It's a Small World." I couldn't really see the boys, as they were sitting behind a speaker, so that was kind of a dud.

Next were middle school dancers, which while they weren't exactly Barishnikov, it was clear that they'd worked hard and enjoyed doing it, if not so much doing it in front of 1000 people.

Then the 4th grade band came (Liss's students), which if you've ever heard a 4th grade band, oy. They only played three different notes, and not well. I'm sure that'll be our boys in three years, too. Heck, I'm pretty sure that was me when I started the clarinet in 6th grade.

Bedtime was fast approaching, so we booked it out of there before the rest of the show started, which was of progressively older bands. I'm sure the quality would have increased, but we'll certainly see those kidns of results at future shows.
Saturday Liss took the kids to Santa and soccer giving me time to pick up the dollhouse from the lady who'd had it in her garage sale. She'd decided that she wouldn't take any money for it, just happy it was going to a home to be played with. Merry Christmas, indeed.

It's hidden in the garage now, which I know I couldn't have done a few months ago, when the sale was, but it's too cold for the kids to play in there for now. I couldn't find a tarp, so I used a spare blackout curtain to cover it up.

There was a box of a few accessories, including a little Christmas tree, but it'll be sparse at first. That's okay; someone grabbed a cat family set from the wish list, and Ellen's birthday's in three months, so I think she'll do fine.

She's something of a light sleeper, so I don't think my idea of setting it up overnight in her room is going to work, but we definitely want it to live there. So, I'll put it just outside her room and set up some of the extras; she can wake up to it.
With the girls away, I showed the boys the first hour of Master and Commander, one of my favorite movies (and book series). It's about a naval ship at war, and rated PG-13, but I figured to use it as a counter against the idea of gratuitous violence. Something they don't seem to grasp (especially Bobby) is the idea that violence begets violence - if you learn karate or whatever and use it, that person's going to fight back.

They ask a lot of questions during new movies, so when showing them Empire for the first time, I asked them not to, and they can ask the second time we watch (which hasn't happened yet). This time, I said to go ahead even though it was the first time, because the setting (c. 1800 A.D.) is so different from what they know. And boy, did they ask. That first hour took an hour and forty minutes to get through. That's fine, we'll finish another time, because they really liked it. Like, maybe more than Star Wars. Maybe.

The book series is way past their comprehension level, but they know they're on the shelf. Maybe they'll give it a whirl someday.
It snowed here, which it does on occasion, in this case maybe two inches. It was going to stay cold, so while the kids were outside revelling, Liss asked the boys to clear the snow off the car, focusing on the windows. They took to the task, wiping it off with their gloves on. Bobby asked if he could get on the hood and trunk to better scrape the windshields, but Liss nixed that, then came inside to the warmth.

A few minutes later, I went to check on them, and Bobby was standing on the snowy hood.
So freakin' blessed!


Despite cold and rain (and crowd), we went to Seattle's annual Thanksgiving parade, thanks to the light rail. It may not have been our best idea ever, but two of three children didn't help matters by refusing to wear coats. But that's the weather's fault, not theirs, according to them. Besides, nothing's open that day, and keeping them in the house all day would be ... suboptimal.

So, we ended up staying at the parade itself for maybe 45 minutes, which that plus the round trip, took up some time. During the long weekends, especially, sometimes that's the only real goal.
Thanksgiving included a kids' table, with our three and a boy Ellen's age who's something of a handful. This particular kids' table has happened many times, with varied results. The trend, however, is toward polite table usage with no more than a reasonable level of shenanigans. This time, it was with fondue forks in hand.

So, progress.
I'd put our copy of Life in the garage, since at the time I didn't think the kids were ready for it. The boys asked me to bring it back up to try. After a few slow starts, they've got a good grasp of it, and the boys can do the math for the most part. You just have to make sure an adult is playing The Bank. The disadvantage from a Helicopter Parent perspective is that there's almost no strategy.

The boys have also gone back to liking chess, and fortunately are still happy if they get a few of my pieces as I destroy them. I figure I have about two years before they start beating me. They also play each other sometimes, which makes for a good photo op, but they don't quite have the weirder rules down (when you can castle, en passant, recognizing valid moves to get out of check), but if they're happy, I'm happy.

Ellen tries to keep up with them, which is more or less the driving force in her life (well, that and drawing). I think she actually will catch up to them eventually, but not for some time. They try to be patient with her, but sometimes she gets frustrated and actively sabotages their games, too.

Kind of lost in the shuffle are Connect Four, Qorridor (Andrew beat me stone cold last time), Sneaky Snacky Squirrel, and Mastermind. They still like to play them, just not as much, which is fine. I'm glad to move on to more complicated games. We have several that they're just not ready for, but if this progress keeps up, we may introduce them soon (e.g. Forbidden Island, Pandemic). However, the Cards Against Humanity will have to wait a while.

One of these days they'll discover Monopoly. I remember playing it with friends for hours at a time at roughly age nine, but in hindsight I also remember we weren't that smart about it. We would never trade. So, if no one got a natural monopoly, we'd just swap small amounts for hours and eventually wear someone down or call it a draw. I have a feeling my grandmother was happy to let us spin our wheels while she did her own thing. :-D

I'm sure Uno will become a thing, too, which along with Monopoly and (bafflingly) Life, is on this list of games most likely to start fights. That list has no numbering, but I'm calling Uno #1.
We had to ban Bobby from Andrew's bed. He'd been bullying him there after bedtime, after we'd left. He'd go in and wrestle him, not leaving when Andrew asked then later demanded, then getting in a punch when finally going. It got bad enough that Andrew left his room to tell, which he isn't prone to doing.

Bob did not take it well, trying to explain that he hadn't done anything wrong, that Andrew was lying, that he'd just wrestled but not hit, and so on. It's part of a pattern; he does not like to be called out. According to him, he's never wrong, and he never lies.

We're obviously trying to address it, but apparently not well. What worries me is that he won't always be six. As he gets older, he could get worse and harder to handle. He could get smarter about it, more manipulative, more devious. It's not like he doesn't know we disapprove, but he's showing very few signs of changing.
At some point Bobby said, "I don't like people." Andrew goaded him a bit, asking him who his favorite person was. "Mom." Second favorite? "Dad." And it kept going:
  1. Mom
  2. Dad
  3. Me (as in, himself)
  4. Me
  5. Me
  6. Me
  7. Andrew
  8. Me
  9. Me
  10. Me
  11. Me
  12. [boy in Olympia he's seen about eight times, but has an XBox]
  13. [boy we see a lot who's Ellen's age]
  14. [girl we see once a month or so who's a year younger than Ellen]
  15. [older girl they have a bit of a crush on]
  16. Ellen
  17. Me
So - the pecking order is set. Well, not exactly set - I'll bet if they did the same thing after all of the relatives visiting this coming month, it'd change. At least, I hope so.
As a member of the generation that grew up with the Star Wars movies, I've been careful in rationing them out to the boys (Ellen's not ready). Last year they saw the original for the first time, and maybe twice since. This weekend we went to the next step - The Empire Strikes Back, which is generally considered a little better than Star Wars, and I agree. However, there's also the Big Reveal of Vader being Luke's father. To people my age, this was a defining moment in pop culture. And now that we're parents, there are videos of our kids seeing that part for the first time, and their reactions. So I've had time to anticipate an awesome one from the boys.

It was a total dud. Bob just kind of got this "huh" look on his face. Andrew said he remembered hearing that line from Toy Story. Even my video of them was extra blurry for some reason. And that was kind of it. Granted, they later asked more, like if it was true, and how did Darth become evil if he was a dad, and so on. So at least they were paying attention.

But really, if Ellen doesn't step up when it's her turn (and she doesn't learn about it beforehand), it looks like we're just gonna have to have more kids.
Halloween worked out pretty well this year. First, Liss brought the brood to my workplace, which was having a small scale thing that most people didn't care to attend, having their own activities to attend to. So, ours didn't get overwhelmed. Everyone thought they were cute in their costumes, of course. They was enough candy being distributed to keep them there for a while, but none of them cared for the BBQ spread that was being served.

We then drove to Capitol Hill and somehow found a place to park, though it may not have been technically legal. We met up with some friends to go to a section of the neighborhood - about six square blocks - that goes all out for trick or treating. Almost every house had lots of decorations, and people sitting on their front porches distributing candy, because there was no point in closing the front door for all the kids drawn to the area. It was quite a crowd; we estimate that over the course of the night, each house might see over a thousand trick or treaters. We wondered how many people bought their houses not knowing about all of this, but we also figured the older neighbors made sure the new ones knew soon enough, and hopefully helped them get started. Maybe the house sellers even left behind a starter kit of decorations, for better or worse.

We managed to hit about one square block, both sides, plus maybe ten more houses, and that was enough to make the kids happy with their haul, even remembering that we'd tossed most of their candy stashes a few days earlier. It didn't take long after we got home before they started trading, giving us the stuff with gluten, and so on. It's become a currency for them.


This past weekend we went to a "pumpking patch" that clearly was a small livestock farm that bought pumpkins from elsewhere and scattered them about their unused fields at a markup. However, this is not a complaint, as the woman was pleasant, the kids got to see various animals, and the pumpkins were good quality and decently priced. The real pumpkin farm we went to a couple of years ago, with hundreds of people traipsing about lots of misshapen gords in search of perfection, was no better.

In addition, Ellen's pre-school had a field trip to another patch, so she got a second, smaller pumpkin. Fortunately, the boys seem to be okay with it.

The kids kept asking when we could carve them, which we had to put off again and again until last night. Liss cut out the circles, then the kids got to work scooping out the guts. Ellen made it about 25% through before asking me to "help," meaning take over and do the rest. The boys got a lot further along, maybe 80% each, before the same. There will be lots of roasted pumpkin seeds in our near future.

Then they set about drawing their jack-o-lantern designs with a Sharpie, not quite grasping that (say) a circle within a circle isn't going to be there when we were done carving, nor individual strands of hair, and so on. In the end, I was able to do "well enough," which is pretty much the goal these days.

The irony to all this is that we won't be home on Halloween night, instead going to a thing at my work before hitting a friends' neighborhood in hopes of a better candy haul. Speaking of which, we'd been telling them for a couple of weeks that we were going to just dump their existing candy stashes in anticipation of their imminent bounty, and they were surprisingly fine with that, even when we actually did it. In the process, I tucked away a couple of them for ourselves as part of the Parent Tax, but when we ate them, we realized just how old some of their stuff was. Ick.
At some "try these bikes" activity at the kids' school, they had helmets for those who didn't have any or didn't bring theirs. However, then you're sharing headpieces with other potential lice carriers.

The school's solution? Upside down coffee filters.
At a friend's house, Ellen picked up a juice pouch, grape flavored. She came to me asking what to do with it, because she didn't like it. "It tastes like medicine."

Well yeah, it tastes like your medicine.
Recently Ellen was awake early and a little upset. The usual means of calming her weren't working, so I tried something else - I drew back her curtain and pointed out the sunrise. That worked well enough that I didn't hear from her again until breakfast.
The soccer place is smart in that they have about 20 of those "insert quarter, turn crank, get crap" machines to entice the several hundred children that enter their building every week. The quarter thing has often been a highlight of our kids' time there, in that they'll often get some candy with their quarter. At least it's their quarter they're spending.

Anyway, once it was just me and the boys, and Andrew spent this quarter on Skittles. They mostly spat out onto a little tray at the base of the machine, intended to catch the ones that hands don't get the first time. One of them rolled to the side toward a watchful Bob, while Andrew didn't seem to notice. In the span of about five seconds, these things happened: So, I think he knows he dodged a bullet. There's what he wants, and there's what he can get away with, and the union of those two sets is not nearly as large as he'd like it to be.
The boys are up to 100-piece puzzles, which they're doing together and with a lot of actual cooperation. They usually need help, or at least they think they need help, when really they just need more patience. Soon enough they'll move on to ... it looks like 150 is next. How long that'll last, I don't know. I mean, I'm happy to sit down with a 1000-piecer for an afternoon, but I'm also a lot faster than they are. I wouldn't want them to feel left in the dust, so I'll need to remember to have them set the pace.
A few months ago, I hit a garage sale that had a doll house the owner had made, but never quite completed. I was intrigued, but couldn't get it at the time - I had boys with me, who can't keep secrets - so I got her number and called her after the sale was over. She said she still had it, and I said I'd take it - but not yet, since it's hard to hide that kind of thing for six months. She understood, so I'll contact her after Thanksgiving and we'll see how we can handle it. I'm pretty sure Ellen will be thrilled. The plan is to put it in her room while she sleeps, to wake up to it on Christmas morning.

With that in mind, when we've since visited toy stores and Ellen's inevitably gravitated toward the doll house displays, I've watched and asked for what kind of things she likes as doll house accessories. I've put several on the kids' wish list, to get a primer if others want to help stock the house (the Calico stuff).
The boys are on a bit of a Mastermind kick. Usually they want to make the code, and I'll guess. This is fine until they mess up how many whites and reds I've earned on a guess. I've run into logical impossibilities and had to ask them to review their whites and reds. It's all part of the learning process, but I still get annoyed at the waste of what little brain power I have left, mixed with the thought that maybe I'm the one who's just not seeing something.

They think they're being tricky with their codes, but there's no real way to be tricky once the guesser has some experience and elimination patterns. The board allows up to ten guesses, and it's rare for me to need seven.

When it goes the other way, they have trouble. I've tried to talk them through the logic, like combining the results of one guess with the results of another to eliminate possibilities, but they're not interested, especially Bobby. So, I just let them make their guesses, often to ten. Andrew has a little better luck, being more patient and thoughful about it.
The boys are crossing into self-reading territory, and I mean chapter books, not little kid books - probably solidly in the third grade level (around M-level here. It's getting to where they don't want Mom to read to them at bedtime anymore, as in "we've got this." It'll take a lot more than that to get her to stop.

Liss is teaching fourth grade this year, and she has kids who are at the college reading level. Her challenge is finding things that push those kids' abilities, but are still age-appropriate. Well, we can already see this becoming an issue with our boys, but at least she'll have lots of solutions by the time they're that age. And we have every reason to believe Ellen will present the same "problem" at some point, probably even sooner, meaning she'll play keep-up and not be 20 months behind them, like her age is.
You know those realistic dolls that, for example, will pee after you "feed" them water, or will say things like "I love you, Mommy!" when you squeeze them?

If they want realism, they should sell a doll with long hair and a comb, who says things like "Ow!" and "Mommy, you're hurting me!"
The kids got silly string last Halloween to take on their trick or treating, so they asked for it again this year. We don't want that to become the norm, since it's messy, but also because it's one of those things they'll talk about incessantly. Not wanting to commit either way, we said that we'd do it if they didn't talk about it for a week - and if we did it, they'd have to clean up their sprays.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and they hadn't mentioned it again, so we said sure, and got each of them a $3 can "for Halloween." However, they wanted to do a quick spray that day, to try it out. Okay, we said, but clean it up.

Liss said she'd even be okay with them spraying the whole thing now, to get it out of the way. Andrew took that to heart, spraying almost his whole bottle off our patio. Bobby sprayed a few times and saved the rest of his bottle. Ellen was content to spray a little, but then Bobby kept goading her to do more, until hers was almost empty. That's the kind of thing Bob does - maximizes his later enjoyment, while maximizing his enjoyment now by getting his little sister to deplete hers. She wants him to like her, so she plays along.

Then came the reckoning - clean up. We'd told them to shake before spraying, but they rarely remembered, which makes it come out in confetti-like spurts instead of a cohesive line. And it was a little wet out there. And then? It started raining. That stuff reacts to water about like toilet paper. They spent more time cleaning than spraying.

Overall, it was kind of disaster. Bobby couldn't understand why he had to clean more than a little, but we told him his goading made him fairly responsible for Ellen's amount as well. They each had a different color, so they only wanted to clean up "their" string. Their little fingers can't pick up much at a time. Attempts to use things like a broom or dustpan were fruitless. Heck, our back area still has quite a bit of the little stuff.

At some point, Bob came inside and yelled at Liss that she had to help, too, because we'd bought the stuff. Yeah, that's a slippery slope you don't want to go down, Little Man.


We went to an open house, which is something we like to do to looky-loo and involve the kids in our unrealistic ideas of a bigger place as they grow. Pretty much every house we go to, they want to buy, so as I often say, it's a good thing they're not in charge.

This one was odd. The broker was the owner's nephew, who straight away said his aunt was a hoarder, and they'd spent a lot of time and money just trying to get the place staged for sale. Looking through the house, his claims were validated by tons of shelving, extra storage space, and extra windowless rooms that she'd built into the hill that abutted the house. It had a bit of a Silence of the Lambs vibe, but with more light - when the doors were open.

The broker made the mistake of telling the kids to feel free to play hide and seek. Minutes later, Bobby was yelling at Ellen that he'd found her, and she yelling that he'd scared her.
While Bobby was eating breakfast while both siblings were still asleep, I excused myself upstairs to our restroom. While there, I heard the click and close of the bedroom door, which I took to be a kid looking in then leaving. I finished my business, opened the bathroom door to the dark room, and "Boo!" Bobby had been waiting to scare me.

I don't take being scared very well, so my first reaction was to loudly and sternly say "Don't do that!" He yelled back "Okay!" and left the room, closing the door behind him. I finished getting dressed and went downstairs.

He had wedged himself between the sofa and the wall. I had calmed down by then, so the first thing I said was that I wasn't mad, but he turned around and yelled, ironically, "You yelled at me!" Of course, my denial at having reached that level were for naught, so it ended with me saying sorry for something I didn't think I'd done, and him yelling sorry for something he had (scaring, then yelling).

By then Andrew had come down, so I got him some breakfast. While he ate, Bob was still in his spot by the wall, occasionally smacking the wall or sofa, then grabbing a toy and playing with it in his wedge. He was there for at least twenty minutes, during which nobody wanted anything or asked me any questions. It was the most peaceful twenty minutes of my day, until they were asleep later. It was well worth the tension.
The kids' air conditioners are stowed in their closets until next year. Funnily, they hadn't noticed I'd done it until I pointed it out.

Overall, they were a success, though not used as much as I'd have thought, given their [valid] complaints about being too hot and humid on the worst days. I mean, 86 degrees at bedtime isn't a comfortable situation. But often, Ellen wanted the quiet more than the cold, and the boys (Bobby) wanted their door open.

A lot can change in a year, though, and these things had better last for several of them, anyway.
While I was smooching the boys good night, Ellen came to their doorway and asked me to turn on her red light. This light is on a regular switch, and she definitely knows how to turn it on - and she had to pass it to get to the boys' room to ask me to do it. Her rationale for not doing it herself?

"I don't want to get out of bed."
Amy scored some free tickets, so she and Liss and the boys went to the boys' first soccer game. They enjoyed it quite a bit, despite knowing very little about the actual game. Their seat neighbors were enthused to have first-timers nearby, giving them high-fives on lots of occasions, and it was a relatively high-scoring affair, with the Sounders winning 4-2. Bobby has asked for me to find him a Sounders shirt of some kind.
We've always been tired of "the spinning chair" ever since the boys and then Ellen used it as a merry-go-round. It was an office chair that was used in that function before kids, then something to sit in while feeding them as babies, but for the last four years, it's been a source of fun and friction, with a lot of friction. Plus, it took up a lot of space for being used less and less.

Anyway, I brought it downstairs to sort of stage it, intending to put it on the curb as a giveaway. The kids protested the idea, but didn't mind it being downstairs, and they still played with it a little there. And it still took up space there. They were fairly adamant that I should "Never give it away!" I did it anyway, when they were off somewhere with Liss, with someone picking it up within an hour.

It's been about ten days, and no one has even noticed.
We struck a deal with the kids that marks the end of an era. They can stay up until 7:20 instead of 7:00, we said, but we'd no longer have the three-kids-three-books part of the routine. They readily agreed. Despite its obvious charms, the reading were often a source of friction, with kids bumping into each other, or one picking up a book that another didn't realize they wanted until then, at which time they really wanted it, even though it was already going to be read thanks to the other kids, and so on. Besides, the boys are getting too big for most of the books we'd been reading at that time.

So now, right after brushing their teeth, we go straight to the part where I join Ellen in her bed - usually to read to her - while Liss reads to the boys from a chapter book. I've been casually taking books from the boys' room to bring into hers, so I'm not reading the same things every night, though she definitely has her favorites. With the migration all part of a change of routine, it's also given me a chance to sneak some books out of the house to give away - and never read again! - which I've done for about eight so far, and will be growing. I even have a little staging area just in case they ask "Hey, where's such-and-such book?", but they never do.

The later bedtime also means dinner isn't so rushed, which was at least partially spurred by the later school day.
Liss equated her new school and teaching job with the opening scene of The Sound of Music, with Maria spinning on the mountaintop. It's become a recurring theme and inside joke.

There are only two drawbacks, really. One is that school ends at 4, which is much later than before. That gives less time for anything after school, including her actual work, before she has to schlep the kids home to feed and bed them. Even with my longer commute these days, I routinely get home before they do, if only by a few minutes.

The other is the relentless "money!" messaging from the PTA. Liss doesn't mind as much as I do, maybe because she seems where the money is doing good, but oy.

On the plus side, Liss gets the "who's out and does/does not have a substitute" e-mail every morning. Unlike last year, if someone doesn't have a sub, it's Not Her Problem. There are parent volunteers who are genuinely helpful. The general feel she gets from the whole school is "let's work hard together to make a good school."
As fall approached, Liss and I brainstorm possible activity ideas for the kids, including violin, piano, soccer, karate, basketball, cooking classes, and other stuff. Our plan was to get each kid to choose his or her top three with no input from siblings, then research the ones that fit our budget and schedule.

The schedule part turned out to be a problem. For almost any of their choices, most classes were during the work week - and I don't just mean in the evenings, which would have been inconvenient enough, but during the day - and not in our poorer section of town. Our guess is that the proprieters have enough stay-at-home mothers and their children to keep busy, and therefore the rest of y'all can suck it.

I ended up taking Andrew to soccer, which was his second or third choice. Bobby came with, and declared he wanted to do that instead of karate (his first) or whatever else. Even though we were planning to have them do separate things, the ease of two-birds-one-stone was appealing, so I went to sign him up as well - but Andrew had taken the last spot in that class. After quite a bit of wrangling with the lady and negotiating with the boys, we were able to move Andrew and enroll Bobby in a Sunday class, rather than the Saturday one we'd originally gone to.

For Ellen's part, besides the scheduling problems above, the other obstacle was her age. Her first choice was violin, which around here at least, most instructors don't seem to want until kids are six. Even though the boys have been in soccer for three weeks now, Ellen's not signed up for anything. She has been pressing the point, and it's not like either she or Lissa mind having an hour+ with just each other every Sunday, so inertia might win out.
"The boys make my life so much easier. They listen, I don't have to repeat myself, they're helpful, etc." - Their first grade teacher

Who the hell are these children!?
Emphasis mine, Bobby referring to the bear he got during a past diabetes study visit:

"If we lose Teddy in a fire, then the next time we go to TEDDY, if I'm still alive, I'll ask for another one."

Way to work through the contingencies, dude.
Ellen really doesn't like cleaning up after herself. Her most-used argument against is "But I don't want to!" Well, no shit, honey. Neither do I. Items have gone into time out over this, which I guess is working.

For some reason, we have this jar of little beads. She likes to dump scoopsful of them from a tea kettle to a measuring cup and whatnot, spilling out however many in the process. I've told her to clean up afterwards, and she's refused, to which i've said any left on the floor I'd vacuum up later. Her response was to get the dustbuster and do it herself, because that's fun for them. I'm not sure she realizes the permanance of that.

And then there was the self-inking stamp she had in her room, which she used to stamp roughly 100 times on her door, the walls, and our door. That's the one that pushed me into securing any drawing implements and only doling them out as needed, with a cleaning rider attached to the giving part.
Every day, the boys (mostly Bobby) ask "temperature?" before picking their clothes. They only have a passing understanding of what it all means, but they know zero is really cold, and 85 isn't. Maybe there's some kind of forecast display we can get to put on their dresser. Or, we can show them how to use the kids' Kindle to look it up themselves.


Ellen has picked up "That what" from the boys' habit, though they're not doing it nearly as often anymore. When we mention it, she claims we just didn't hear the "'s."
The boys will be in the same first grade class this year. We didn't request they be split, not really caring either way, and it's the teacher Liss had a better vibe from.

Both scenarios have their plusses and minuses. Together, they'll always have the same classwork, same [minimal] homework, half the birthday party invitations they'd otherwise get, etc. The largest downside is that they already spend sooo much time together; Andrew especially needs time to be himself rather than just someone who's doing what Bobby wants. Maybe we'll ask the teacher to put them on opposite ends of the room.
We're coming upon a three day weekend, with an odd combination of being busy, and having nothing planned. Liss has been preparing for the school year, but still has a lot to do there, and now we have to do Ellen's paperwork for her new school, etc. But we have almost no plans for the weekend itself. There's a birthday party for a one-year-old, and ... I just sent her a link to an open house? There's no way we can just chill; the kids would drive each other crazy, and us in the process.
The first night the box for the a/c went into her room, Ellen slept inside. She had me put her sleeping bag in there, because she couldn't find a blanket small enough. She brought her pillow and Big Monkey, and ... it was warm in there after five minutes. But she didn't care.

In the few nights since then, she's slept on the sleeping bag, outside the box, on the floor. This would be after turning the a/c off, for the boys' turn. However, last night the boys decided they're rather have the door open - theirs had run for a while, and the night wasn't going to be bad - so seeing Ellen's room was at 80, I turned hers on. She said thanks, oh but wait, I can't sleep with that much noise. I said how about you try it, and I'll come back in twenty minutes to check on you? Okay, she said. Twenty minutes later, she was out cold, no pun intended.

Bobby slept in his box the first night, and kind of tried the second, but I think they may be over it now.
Worth a post of its own, after I'd installed Ellen's air conditioner, she was the most affectionate she's been to me since her wall was painted - thank yous, smooches, and the real bellwether, she had me read her bedtime book instead of Liss.
Liss just found out yesterday that her new school/workplace has a pre-school. Today, she found out that it's actually cheaper than Ellen's current school, even if they take the boys after school for three days a week. And they have one full-time slot left.

Downside, they don't provide lunch, which the other does.

But, with the above, plus the convenience of location, and that Ellen's been having a hard time with the boys at her current school, this looks like a no-brainer. Oh, and the pre-K interact with the K sometimes, so she'll get to know next year's teacher ahead of time, and vice versa.

It's certain enough that Liss told her, and she was ecstatic.
Speaking of car seats, the boys still love their boosters, but they're the only two we have; the sedan still has two car seats, as does Ellen in the van. Since she's almost their size anyway, I'm on the lookout for a sale similar to when I got the boys', to get three and be done with car seats forever.
We got portable air conditioners for the kids' rooms, which has been a mixed bag.

Their windows slide side to side, not up and down, but the portables come with kits to help you fill the gaps either way. Amy installed the boys' first, and that night went fine. When we started it up, the thermometer display showed it was 82 in there. Ugh. Bobby has been keeping their door open at night - which we don't like - so a side benefit of the a/c was the closed door.

I installed Ellen's the next night, which showed 85 there. Double ugh. So, as bedtime was getting into gear, we had both of them going.

And then ... darkness.

We'd tripped the breaker. So while we haven't done any other experiements with what combination might work - extension cord to the bathroom? - we've only had one on at a time since then. The general idea for now has been to have Ellen's going until bedtime, then turn hers off and turn on the boys'. Last night, though, the window-gap hardware wasn't doing a great job - probably due to my installation technique - so her room was back to 82 by the time we'd finished reading books.

The second morning after, the boys were fighting. Bobby wanted the door open more than he wanted the a/c on. Andrew wanted the a/c on, even if it meant having the door closed. I tried some resolution, but nobody under seven (at least) understands compromise, so after a while I just left them to stew in their resentment.(*) We talked about it during dinner, and it seems we've agreed to have it on at night, then turning it off and opening the door in the morning is okay - or at least we're now 1 for 1 in that routine.

All of this is going away soon, though, as Seattle autumns start in earnest in mid-September; this week's forecast is mostly highs of 70. So, we'll stow these things away, throw their windows wide open, and hope they're better about it next year, to say nothing of my increased installation experience.

And as a segue, the boxes these things came in were huge. Bobby slept in one for a night, as did Ellen, but they get too hot in that kind of enclosed space, so they'll probably hit the recycle bin soon enough.

(*) This is partially due to a growing weariness on both our parts to playing referee, which just ends up with them mad at us as well as each other. They go into every argument wanting 100% of what they want, and anything less is a crime against their very souls.
We were driving about town, and very out of the blue, Ellen states that "I'm going to marry a man with white skin!"

Uh. Okay, honey. Good to know.
The boys have savings accounts now, with $20 each, but they have an unrealistic concept of "And your money will grow!," a line touted by the bank person who set up. A few weeks after the deposits, they guessed their accounts would have "at least $30 by now!"

Uh, sorry, guys. If you have $20.01 by now, I'd be surprised.
The kids are in a phase of putting their stuffed animals in our various refrigeration units. At first, it was a couple of small animals in the fridge, but that's already cramped, so they switched to the freezer. Disappointed with animals that were merely cold but not icy, they started wetting them and then sticking them in the chest freezer. A few days later, they'll take them out ... and lament how wet they'd get on thawing, and how long they'd stay wet. Science, kids. Science.

The freezer-but-dry part of this included Big Monkey, to which Ellen casually said she'd substitute a different doll overnight. She did, and it was no big deal. If we were to suggest the same thing, mind you, she would have stayed up all night crying about it.
I'm pretty sure I've spent more of my lifetime looking for Big Monkey than my own car keys, despite Monkey being in my life for a much shorter stretch of time.
The kids', and mostly the boys', and mostly Bobby's habit of messing with babysitters continues. Liss's commentary to this picture:
We had a babysitter tonight. Little man insisted he would stay up until midnight; sitter had sent him back twice but this time he was so sneaky she didn't notice him.

He comes by his stubbornness honestly.
The shirt over his privates was added by his mother after she took her more incriminating first picture, for the sake of public consumption. The less modest one may or may not be shown during his wedding rehearsal dinner.
Seeing as Inception is my favorite movie of the last ten years, I'm very surprised that I never connected the triple nap phenomenon with a similar dynamic from that movie. Now, I'll never be able to see one without thinking of the other.

But really, if you haven't seen it, please do.
Parenting, it's like this. Your battery is still there, but it's never fully charged.
Liss and the boys start their new school in two weeks. Liss is very happy with the new vibe. We still don't have the boys' official classroom assignments, though, like even whether they'll be in different classes, which we'd prefer.

With a new school, though, comes new germs. Let's see how much PTO I burn this year.
We wanted the kids, especially the boys, to clean up their rooms, including finding things to throw or give away. However, they kept saying there wasn't anything they didn't want to keep. So, Liss had a stroke of genius - we'll pay you five cents for every thing you're willing to give away. All of a sudden, they were On The Job.

In total, each boy found 26 things. So that was worth $2.60 to us. However, they favored very small things, like bouncy balls. We may need to come up with a sliding scale, like up to a dollar for whatever criteria we come up with.

A direct and repeated quote from Bobby lately is "I love money!," so go with what works, I guess. Our house has So Much Stuff that it's very worth it. If they're not going to do it, I am - when they're away and not making the choices.
I've ordered portable air conditioners for the kids' rooms. In a way, it makes me feel like an entitled middle class scumbag, though in another, it feels like too little too late, being late August and all. Seattle fall starts - and abruptly so - in mid-September. However, we've got some 85 degree days coming, which is laughable to some readers, but 85 and sunny outside means 82 in their rooms at 10pm, or maybe 78 if we set up fans ... which mean opening curtains and getting early sunlight that wakes them up.

Anyway, these things will have rules, which we've not cemented in place, but the gist is that we have veto power.

Ellen hasn't had the heat-and-humidity skin problems she'd had the previous two summers, but still. At first, I was only going to buy one for her, but that clearly was going to present a constant battle with the boys; besides, they've been legitimately uncomfortable during the hottest days.
Our power went out recently, though we were away when it happened. We needed to reset the kids' alarm clocks, which in the boys' case is just a clock for now, but Ellen still has a green light. Well, I screwed up in my attempts to reset it, so she was up at 5am claiming "the green light is on!" and expecting me to get her breakfast. Uh, sorry kid.
We had a thunderstorm recently, and the boys' window was open. Bobby came downstairs and said, quite sincerely, that "Somebody's attacking our city!"

Oh, Bob. One day you'll experience true severe weather, instead of the puppy play that Seattle gets.
The boys have started opening their door at night. Or rather, like with so many other things, Bobby has started opening it, and Andrew just goes along.

This changes our post-bedtime dynamics. We have to be quieter, so we are. They should be quieter, but are not - or rather, they weren't, but they've been getting about it.

If their window is also open, this being summer and all, the draft sometimes slams their door shut. This has woken them up early a couple of times, which is definitely no bueno. I've started putting a small towel on the top of the door to prevent this.

On the more plus side, it's easy for us to peek in on them, so I've been saying hi and, more often than not, getting in a morning smooch before leaving for work.

When Grace was alive, we told them she'd sometimes come into their rooms at all hours, meowing louding for attention, so they should have their doors closed. This was no idle threat.
Liss's parents and aunt came to town, and all seven of them went to Port Townsend, a cozy little town in the straits, for a few days. It was a decent time for the kids, but the adults were especially taken in. It seems we're going to move there and install teleporters so we can keep our jobs in Seattle.
While playing with the sand together (below), I noticed they were being particularly negative with each other, saying who couldn't do this, or no, you have to do it this way. I grabbed the click counter and recorded 43 "Don't" or "No!" or "Can't" or whatever ... in eight minutes. That's an average of one every ten seconds.
My dad got the boys something called kinetic sand for their birthday, which I'd never heard of. We were relunctant to let them play with it indoors, for the potential mess, but we finally relented. It's been a big hit, and the stuff stays "kind of" together, so the mess has only been "kind of" bad. We tell them that whatever we vacuum is gone forever, so I think that helps. Kind of.

The boys like to make "army boats" with it, which is just a big lump that they poke holes into as portholes. It can't just be a boat, mind you. It's an army boat.
The kids have had a pretty active month, and ... littie in the way of baths. They finally had one; you almost couldn't see the bottom of the boys' tub when they were done.

Yeah, not too proud of that.
Speaking of Ellen's school, they're doing the same thing as last year, namely closing for the first three days of public school, for teacher training. It would be far better if they could do that the week before, like any other school; I can only assume the reason is they can't or don't want to pay the teachers for those extra days. However, it's a major pain for us. We can either choose to pay someone to watch Ellen all day times three, or I can take PTO, or some combination. Since I have a new job and little PTO, we're going with the expensive option. Goodness knows what the dual-but-less-income families do.

When she's older, I can just bring her to work, or work from home, as she'll be able to entertain herself - but by then she won't be in pre-school.
Ellen's blood test results (below) were all negative, so no celiac, or any other indication of a physical problem causing her stomach aches. Our lead suspect is now anxiety about going to her school. Well, there's no much we can do about that except not take her, and that's not an option starting soon. Hopefully her new classroom dynamic will exclude the kids there that are giving her problems.
Liss made three back-to-school haircut appointments for the kids, to which Bobby said no thanks. Okay, that's fine. But then she mentioned that it might be better to start the school year with the boys having different hair. Well, that changed Bob's mind real fast. "I want whatever haircut Andrew gets."

Then later, Bobby says he wants the "smallest haircut ever." What about you, Andrew? Eh, medium. "Then I'm getting medium. Whatever haircut he gets, I'm getting!"

We often joke that we named the boys wrong, as Bobby is the namesake of three very mild-mannered Roberts in our families. This is one of those times.
Ellen's been complaining of stomachaches lately, especially after meals, and mostly after breakfast. Liss took her to the doctor for it today, and they drew blood to check for celiac.

We've said since Andrew's diagnosis that if Bobby tested positive, we wouldn't bother with an endoscopy like we did for Andrew; the same applies to Ellen.
The boys have been asking for superlatives - what's the fastest baseball pitch, what's the oldest anyone has lived, etc. So, I randomly got them each a paperback of the Guinness book. As Liss put it, "They may never sleep again." I'm pretty sure they read them late into the night, and this morning their light was on a 6:45, but they hadn't made a peep.

For the most part, the reading is above their level (2nd grade), but there are enough pictures and easier words to keep them interested. I showed them how to use the index, and they discovered the table of contents on their own, so they can learn those skills, too. Not bad for $14.
The boys spent maybe half their birthday money on terrible movies, which is no surprise to anyone. The other half, though, they mostly spent on books for the kids' Kindle. Now, these are also terrible for the most part - shallow super hero things - but the precedent is gold.
The boys still think hiding from babysitters is hilarious. Yesterday they wanted to make a "No Babysitters" sign and tape it to their room, then hide until we got home, but then realized that our room was better, since it's been [relatively] hot and our room has a window unit. They discussed this right in front of me, so it wasn't much of a secret, but they knew I wasn't going to help. Andrew got a piece of paper and crayon, and they all (even Ellen) pitched in to try to make the sign, but they knew they were falling short. So, they went downstairs and asked Liss how to spell "Babies," because they claimed they were making a "No Babies" sign. She told them, and they slinked away giggling, then finished their "No badie siters" sign and taped it to our door, to riotous laughter.

We have their favorite sitter coming Saturday; we'll see what happens.
We had some houseguests stay for a few days, including their five-year-old boy and his toddler brother. The little one was a gem. The older brother, something of a handful.

The topper was when I wasn't there, though. He and our boys were playing together in the garage unsupervised, and details are hazy here, but it seems our boys were egging him on, and he peed on our garage floor. As in, he emptied his bladder.

I figure if we ever go visit them, I owe him one.
"I can die now, because I know you'll at least make sure they eat some fruit with every meal." - Liss
Summer break is halfway over, so the boys will enter first grade in a month, and Liss will start her new job.
We've been getting "are they triplets" pretty much since Ellen could walk. Lately, though, a new phenomenon has hit a few times - people asking if she was the older sister.

That's how tiny the boys are.
Back when I was the boys' age, I had some random coinage, just like they do now. I had some pennies with the building on the back, plus some of the older ones with wheat on the back, which was discontinued after 1958. In my juvenile brain, I thought they turned from building to wheat when they turned a certain age. I had a 1959 building one, so I figured that one would turn at the new year. It never did. Okay, maybe at some later day of the year. Nope.

We've all seen those state quarters for several years now, and the boys have some of their own. Recently, Andrew wanted to get a quarter to spend at a place he knew had a gum machine for that. He patiently sifted through his piggy bank's contents, shunting aside various quarters, both from other states, and the normal eagle-backed ones. When he finally found a Washington quarter, he said "Yes!" and pocketed it.

Simiilar to my own misunderstanding, they thought you could only spend a state's quarter in that state.
Ellen's newly painted wall.


During the school year, another teacher's seventh grade daughter watched the boys if Liss had a meeting after school or something.

With good babysitters hard to find, Liss wanted to "cultivate this relationship" even though she's changing schools. With the girl now entering eighth grade, Liss figured she was old enough to have the boys for a few hours - Ellen being in school - while she met with a new co-worker to plan. Things apparently went fine.

The kicker is that her hourly rate is less than anyone else's - enough that Liss is (jokingly) considering taking a few days off.
The cruise had a lot of art up for auction - it's one of their "things" - but we didn't go to any of the actual auctions. However, our rooms were right by the gallery where most of it hung when it wasn't auction time, so we walked past them a lot. Each time, the kids would point out their favorites, which is cute the first couple of times.

Ellen and I had the same one, a 3-D representation of this print. However, it cost a lot more than I was willing to pay.

Bobby's was this one, depicting the story of Esther from the bible, because hey, violence.

Andrew had a few favorites from the same guy, whose name I never got, but they were various Statue of Liberty paintings that frankly looked pretty amateurish.
Ellen's losing her baby looks, especially in her face, and turning into a full-fledged girl. In a way, it's sad, because we love our little girl, but there's no stopping it. I'm sure we'll love her as a bigger girl, too.
"Can you buy us some wood so we can build a house to go to in case this one burns in a fire?"

They were dead serious.
We hired a former co-worker of Liss's to paint our entryway, and one wall of Ellen's room. Last month, Ellen opted for a sort of four-square design - think of a square with a plus sign inside - with pink on two corners and purple on the other two. She actually wanted a very dark purple, which we had the guy buy the one two shades lighter, hoping she won't notice. It was just too much contrast, plus darker would make it harder to paint over later.

We may have to have her sleep in our room tonight, because of latent fumes. Better ours than the boys' room, I say, and I'm sure the boys would agree.

Last night she said that instead of one wall, she wanted her whole room painted. Sorry, kid.
Ellen's come to dread going to her pre-school. Her best friend is gone, and while the summertime enrollment is much smaller, it has a few boys that "are mean to me." Liss needs to drop her off once or twice a week so she can do other things - sometimes with the boys, sometimes not - so it's kind of unavoidable. The teachers are aware of the situation, but they can't be everywhere at once. With reduced enrollment comes reduced staffing.

The plan is to split those boys and Ellen into separate classrooms once things are in full swing again, which should reduce the problem, but not eliminate it, since classes co-mingle sometimes. And then there could always be new unsavoriness with the new year, but we'll cross that bridge, etc.
Small children are like tiny politicians: They'll say what you want to hear, then not seconds later, just do what they want to do.
Our phones require a four-digit passcode to get in, which we refuse to tell the children. They have their Kindle now, and have no need to use our phones.

Bobby's started asking "Can you tell me just one number on your phone?" Y'know, just one of the four, because what's the harm in that, right? Yeah right, kid.

Hm, maybe I'll tell him a number that isn't actually there.
The boys took some of their birthday money to Target to spend, and got the usual terrible movies or whatnot. Ellen was feeling jealous and pouty about it, which Liss reminded her that she'd done the same after her birthday, and it was the boys' turn.

However, Bobby stepped in and offered to buy her a movie. She got a $5 Barbie thing, and she was happy.

They surprise you sometimes.
We have friends visiting, who have two boys. Over came other nearby mutual friends, with their two.

So to sum up, we had six boys in the house, aged 6, 6, 5, 4, 1, and 0.

And then there's Ellen, trying to hold her own.
Ellen's classroom had a teacher for the first week who moved on after that, but Liss kept in touch. She's since started grad school or certification classes or something, for which she needs to practice administering a test for smaller kids. Liss volunteered Ellen, partially to help out, but also to see the teacher, and even more so to get a read on where Ellen is these days.

I wasn't allowed to be in the room, but I listened from the next. It was an odd test. Among other things, she'd show Ellen a picture with a lot going on, then give her some instructions like "point to the hat that is on a person not wearing a blue shirt, and is sitting down." There would be multiple hats, colors, and people, but only one hat fit every criterion. This went on for some 45 minutes, which is the limit of Ellen's attention span these days.

It turned out that the teacher is only learning how to give the test, not how to assess or grade it. So, we're not going to get a score sheet or anything. However, she did say that her fellow students had practiced on each other well beyond what their instructor expected kids to go, and that Ellen had gone beyond that. She had to wing it after a while.

Ellen starts Kindergarten in fourteen months(!), but I wouldn't be surprised if she were ready for first grade by then.
So, a cruise happened.

We got two rooms, with the idea of the kids having one, and us the other. We'd teach them how to dial our room if they needed us, also leaving their Kindle ready if they woke up, and bribes with soda each day they let us sleep. After bedtime, they could read or whatever, with one of us checking on them every ten minutes until they were asleep, then going to our room to read or whatever while they other roamed the boat. The night we boarded, we taught them how to phone us, wrote the number near the phone, and had them practice. Our rooms were farther apart than we wanted - about five doors down - but what can you do?

Meanwhile, our room steward came to introduce himself. When I told him our plan, he immediately response was "But who is going to supervise them?" He was clearly surprised, maybe even shocked, at our plan.

That night, I slept terribly. My brain wasn't used to the environment, or the boat's gentle rocking, or having the kids unable to just walk in for help. I guess Bobby had similar problems, because he called at 3am just to hear our voices. At 3:30 he called again, this time saying "I want a grown up." I went, thinking I was going to just stay there, and stay I did. Now, the room has two bunk beds that normally affix to the wall; the steward had brought down one of them, so I had no bed in there. I tried to fit into Ellen's bed, but she tosses around too much(*), so I ended up on the floor. My sleep did not improve. For the rest of the trip, we had the steward put both beds down (he put them back up every day for whatever reason), which we never needed, but the boys were happy to not have to swap who got top bunk every night.

Subsequent nights were better. For the most part, they didn't call us until at least 7:20, and sometimes it was after 8 - their normal "okay to come downstairs" time, calling at 8:20 to wonder why we hadn't come to their room yet.

It's interesting to me that Bobby was the one who had the most trouble. He always puts up such a front, but he's also the only one to ask to be held because of a bad dream. He can be sweet, and insecure, but calling him out on either one puts him right into his tough facade.

We had them spend quite a bit of time in the kids' area, which was basically an on-board day care center. Bobby started to object toward the end of the week, but was usually happy to be there once he got there. Since much of the point of the trip was down time for us, especially Liss, it just didn't make sense to have the kids everywhere we went. We wanted to sit and read, and by read I mean books meant for adults. With the kids, it's I want this, let's fight about that. We saw lots of older kids just doing their own thing without parents, or doing things with their parents, but there was very little overlap in what interested us and our kids.

One of those overlaps was food. The cruise has you sit at the same table every dinner, so the waitstaff can get to know you, and vice versa. That helped with the gluten-free thing for the boys, who both settled on bun-less hot dogs with potato chips as their dinner (with a reluctant side of fruit), while Ellen was more adventurous, sometimes to her chagrin. For breakfast, the boys kept getting gluten-free pancakes, plus bacon and fruit. Ellen experimented for a few days, but started getting her own pancakes as well.

One morning the waiter or cook misinterpreted what the boys wanted, and put their strawberries in the pancakes. That did not go over well. They did it again when going the extra mile to make them a gluten-free birthday cake, which they also mostly shunned. (The face paint on Bob is from a party in the kids' area).

By the end they were asking if they could live on a cruise boat. Uh, sorry guys.

Overall, it was a decent trip, which hopefully is just a step toward near or full kid autonomy during such things. I wouldn't mind having a kid (or three) sit on a deck overlooking the ocean, reading their own books while I read mine. But we're not there yet.

(*) When I was telling this story last night, Ellen said "I take up a lot of space!"
The boys, especially Bobby, have taken to saying "That what" instead of "That's what" to begin a sentence. I barely notice, but it bugs the hell out of Liss. It's become a source of friction between them. I figure he'll just switch over when his brain realizes it's the right way, but now I'm starting to think he might not survive that long.
Liss had the second-best Kindle tablet, so for her birthday, I got her the latest one. The upshot of this is that her old one is now the "kids' Kindle." Mostly it's for their five minutes of game time a day, but on that thing instead of my phone or her Kindle. However, we also use it to bribe them with screen time so they won't wake us too early on weekends. Plus, it has lots of kids' books they can read whenever, though a lot of them suffer formatting problems in the transition from actual books.
There's a lot of stubborness in our family; we're basically five for five there. One recent manifestation of that is the boys refusing to put their clean clothes away, therefore we couldn't use the basket to cart their dirty clothes downstairs to launder. Instead of Just Doing It, the instead went commando and wore dirty shirts and pants for a few days.

They finally acquiesced after much material cajoling, but the cycle shall likely repeat itself soon.

Ellen has a bit less of a problem, in that she is drowning in clothing. All we have to do is keep her underwear clean, and she can go weeks without wearing the same thing twice - as long as it's still warm enough to wear dresses.
It's a good thing the school year ended when it did, because Bobby was starting to pick up on the idea of "cool." By that, I mean that whatever the older kids he admires thinks is cool, he thinks is cool. Guns? Cool. Little sisters? Not cool.

Being the egotist he is, he, of course, is very cool. I'd say his genetics and upbringing put a large hurdle on that being reality.
I was putting the boys to bed, lying with Bobby, when Andrew announced he had to go to the bathroom, bad. He was nude, halfway out of his bed, butt facing me, which ... had already started.

I got up, picked him up such that he was in a Superman-flying position, and carried him to the toilet. While the end result included messy thighs and some on the seat, it wasn't bad enough to draw a bath. If it had happens two minutes later, after I'd left, it would have been much worse.

Plus, Andrew has a history of self-shame concerning poop. He might have had a messy accident and never told us about it, leaving us to discover via poorly-concealed evidence later. We've told Bob to tell us if this kind of thing happens, but he never has.
We're going on a cruise next week. Please don't rob our house.

We took a three-day cruise when the boys were 15 months old and Ellen was a kidney bean inside Liss. That was kind of terrible, in that her parents paid a lot of money for us to take care of the boys on a boat all day, when we could do that at home for free. While cruise lines have day care centers, kids have to be potty trained for the parents to leave.

We have high expectations that this will be better. Everyone's potty trained, of course, so we anticipate a lot of kid time at the center. We've told them that some rules will kind of go out the window, like what and how much you can eat (dessert after lunch and dinner!?), bedtime, screen time, etc.

They'll share a room, and we'll have one across the hall; we'll put Ellen's old baby monitor in their room just in case, plus so we can keep an ear on shenanigans. Andrew thinks that if he needs us and we don't respond, he'll just go knock on our door. Nude. I told him to think again, but I have a feeling one or three nude children might end up in the hallway at some point.

Anyway, besides child-free time together, this will also allow one of us to do night-time stuff on the boat, while the other lies around or reads or showers or whatnot.

Rumor is that they'll have World Cup viewing parties. Given the international flavor of these ships, that should be a par-tay.


The boys got yearbooks from their elementary school, which are surprisingly well done, full color magazines. They keep them in their beds, and read them quite often, which by "read" I mostly mean look at the pictures of the people they knew. And that's "knew," not "know" for the most part, since they're switching schools.

Almost all kids' books in the house belong to all three kids, even those that were gifts to one or the other. Like, the boys got several during a giveaway during the last week of school, which we said could be "yours" for a week before becoming the normal common property. We encourage book movement between bedrooms, but certain genres tend to gravitate to certain bedrooms, along gender lines.

The yearbooks are an obvious exception to the common rule. The only other one I can recall is an "Ellen's Second Birthday" custom book that Amy gave her at that time.
Ellen is in full on girl mode. Her latest trip to the library resulted in nothing but books starring princesses. She wears "pretty dresses" almost every day. She goes with Mom for pedicures. Her favorite colors are pink and purple, then more pink.

It's normal, as this is the age that kids realize the socialized definitions for their genders, and latch on hard. And boy, has she

Speaking of which, we're probably painting her room soon. Guess which color(s) she wants?
There is a really terrible set of Early Reader super hero books, and by that I mean dozens of these things exist. The boys keep getting them at giveaways, like at school and the library, so they've infested our home. They love them, we hate them.

There were six-packs of them Costco, which of course the boys wanted. Liss agreed on a new condition - that no grown ups read them. The boys are to read them themselves. If they need help with a word here or there, that's fine (as will always be true).

This is a slippery slope in our favor. Getting them motivated to read without us is, paradoxically, kind of the point of having read to them since birth. They're both reading on a second grade level, so it's time to lessen their dependence on us; it's just turning out to be them resisting the move, not us.
I never saw or read Harold and the Purple Crayon as a kid, so it was new to me when Liss brought it home. It's now one of my favorites among the kids' books.

When I take Ellen to her room at bedtime, she has me read a book she chooses, then usually asks me to go get another one from her shelf. Upon bringing Harold, she's now told me multiple times that she's tired of it, and to get another book.

They never get tired of a book. As in, after some sixteen parent-years, this is the first time. And it just had to happen to a book I like.
As far as the boys are concerned, chicken drumpsticks are tasty. Chicken thighs, however, are nasty, and they would rather go to bed without eating dinner than deign to eat that stuff.
Bob woke me one morning with a "really, really, really, really bad dream," which he never does any "really"s when he wakes me for nightmares, and he was clearly distraught besides. While holding him, I asked if he remembered it. He said bad guys had gotten into the house and come upstairs between our rooms, so he couldn't get to us for help. Yeah, that'd be scary. It took several minutes for him to calm down, based on his heart beat and breathing. I can only guess how long it took him to work up the courage to walk through the same dark area to get me.

Normally when the concept of bad guys comes up, he claims he knows how to fight, and would dispatch them posthaste. I know it's a front, but to what extend he knows it's a front, I don't know. I guess we both know a little more, now.

I told him something like that wasn't going to happen, but if it were, he was to scream as loudly as he could to try to wake us up. Now, what we (let's face it, I) would do is a matter of debate, but at least I can be loud.


Andrew's end-of-year test scores were just a tiny hair above Bobby's in both reading and math. If they did margins of error with such things, the difference would be way smaller than that, but of course they don't. He has not been lording it over his brother, whew.

Edit: I was wrong; they do report margin of error. Bobby's math was within Andrew's margin, but not his reading. but we won't be passing that along to them. Percentile ranks are 99/96 for Bobby's math/reading, and 99/98 for Andrew.
Liss and I both have new jobs. Mine is doing pretty much the same thing as before (database analysis), but for substantially more money. The old company wouldn't come close to the new one's offer, which didn't surprise me in the least. So, we can finally start saving for real, which is supposed to happen way before our age, but here we are.

Liss needed to get out of her current school, for reasons spelled out elsewhere, but one of them is that she doesn't think it's the right place for our kids to go. If she were to get a job at another school, they would be able to go with her, no matter where it is. Seattle allows a lot of choice, so there are high-demand schools, but her working somewhere would put ours at the front of the line.

Liss's search for a new school was a stressful and depressing affair. She'd gone on seven interviews, and been rejected six times. There were a couple of "you were our second choice" letdowns, which only very slightly helps. Some of these were places she really wanted to go, though not her top choice. After all that, her seventh interview and top choice, of all places, called and gave her a verbal offer. However, it was over a week before the district office made it official, and she wasn't taking the verbal Yes for an answer. Now that it's official, that's a whole other thing entirely. She starts in the gall.

The school is a K-8, so the kids can commute with her for many years to come. It's a pretty hippie, alternative kind of school, and with demographics that lean closer to our own, though it's still pretty diverse. Liss wanted them to have peers, and the boys just didn't have any of those in this year's classes.

Liss has been playing this song a lot, partially because the kids like it and it's not from Frozen, but also because she fantasizes about singing it in the old school's talent show, except it got cancelled. Talent shows, after all, don't help test scores.
New jobs.
While Liss took the boys to a birthday party (below), it was my task to do soemthing equally awesome with Ellen. I took her to the library, where she got her first card, and checked out a couple of things.

Then I told her we were going somewhere I wanted to go, but that I thought she might like it. It was Guitar center, which my excuse was to look at the digital pianos, but really I just wanted to show her around. We spent maybe 45 minutes there, including strumming every pink guitar in the place.

Near the end, she said "This is more fun than I thought it would be." Now that's high praise enough, but the extra layer on top is that she never complained about going in the first place. Instead of insisting that we do soemthing she knew would be fun - like, she'd suggested going to a movie - she let me pick and didn't argue. Progress.
The kids and Liss's mom were playing a Go Fish game with actual seafood type cards, when I overheard this: Yes, there's still a little twelve-year-old in all of us.
I've started a new job, which has a longer commute. The old one was about 45 minutes in, 50 back. The new is maybe 60 in, 70 back. It's considerably shorter if I drive instead of taking mass transit (maybe 35, 40), but then I'm a bad liberal, parking must be found, and it's a really bad drive. I used to drive a 25, 30 that was almost all highway, and I actually kind of liked that one. Driving this new one is bad enough that the extra time to crowd onto the bus and train is just about worth it.

So, I'm getting home later, which means less time with the kids, rushing home on T-ball practice days, Liss might always have to pick up Ellen, things are less flexible for me to get the boys off the school bus, etc. Basically, it puts a little more stress on both of us.

Rumor is the company will move in about 18 months, which is great until one considers the "To where?" question. If they move even further north, oy.
After Andrew wasn't invited to a birthday party for a girl in Bobby's class, Liss RSVP'ed for Bobby, and without any mention of Andrew, the girl's mother said Andrew was invited as well. So, he got to go after all, but we tried to make plain that this was a coincidence, and pouting wasn't always going to get him what he wanted.

Apparently the girl in question didn't want anyone to feel bad by not getting invited. In the end, though, there were about a dozen kids and dozen adults, so that's not bad. The kids and their peers aren't at the age where parents can just drop them off (though it does happen a little), but it will probably become more of a thing over time. I think once it reaches a certain point for our brood, they'll just have to stop having birthdays.
It's only 98% official, but it look like Liss is switching schools next year, and going back to the classroom instead of being a math coach. It's at the school that she considers the best combination of environment for our kids, work environment for her, and commute, not to mention she likes teaching 4th grade (as opposed to 1st, too dependent, or 7th, too hormonal).
The boys wanted to watch The Wizard of Oz after Liss had told them about it. They thought it was okay, but Ellen was scared by the wicked witch and the evil monkeys. She spent most of the movie in my lap, trying not to watch, but unable to look away.

I don't remember the Lion being so annoying. Yeesh.
Bobby's year-end standardized test scores are in - middle of 2nd grade level reading, late 2nd/early 3rd for math.

Andrew is next week.
Ah, The Onion, you take us back.
The boys' teachers had them made Mother's Day gifts, which were essentially baskets of candy wrapped in tissue paper. They were very excited, similar to when they had Ellen's birthday presents ready. "Mom, don't look under my bed!"

They typically sleep nude. Sunday morning 6:20am, Andrew came busting into our room fully dressed, plopped his on our bed in front of Liss, and said "Open my present!"

Not wanting to set this as precedent, we shooed him out of the room.

Later, Liss was in the bathroom. Bobby walked in on her, just to say Happy Mother's Day.

Patience: not a trait in your typical five-year-old.
The Frozen soundtrack has been playing in the van pretty much non-stop for the last month. I made Sunday an embargo day, declaring it Frozen-less so we could have a break. Ellen recovered from her initial disappointment, having the idea to simply sing it all herself.
We figured it would happen sooner or later, and it's happened - one boy was invited to the birthday party of someone in his class. It happened to be Bobby. Andrew is not happy about it. "I'm going, too!" No, dude, you're not.
Ellen's started talking gibberish to amuse herself, for minutes at a time. If she had a twin or even a brother who didn't treat her as an inferior, I'm certain they could use that as a starting point for their own private language.

After she'd done it for a while as we lay in our bed, I asked how she'd come up with all that. She said, "It's Spanish!"

I know enough Spanish to know that it wasn't Spanish.
My old section of town organizes an annual garage sale day, that has hundreds of houses participating. I sold on the very first one, so I have something of an affinity for it, but I never remember until it's too late. This time a friend gave me a heads up around 8am that day, so we said what the heck.

We decided to split, with me taking Andrew and Ellen, and Bobby going with Liss. This is part of our "one adult, one boy" thing, since we rarely get that kind of time. I suggested that we tell each kid they could get $3 worth of stuff, subject to our veto(*).

Our group did pretty well. Andrew spent two of his dollars on a movie, plus a quarter each on a book and three toy cars. Ellen only spent two of hers (also cars, and some little stuffed animals), asking to go home instead of continuing after about the fourth house, and actually doing so after maybe the eighth.

When I told Liss we were going home after two hours of saleing, her response was "Already?" Bobby had spent all three dollars at the first house, but was still raring to go.

At one house, the owner saw Andrew and Ellen, and asked if they were twins. Andrew said "Yes." Because, you know, habit.

(*) Like, just because that knife is fifty cents, doesn't mean you can buy it.
For some reason, the boys want to hide from the new babysitter, as a joke. She came for her second time, and hid in the garage - with so much success that she couldn't find them despite looking in there, then wondering if maybe she'd misunderstood and the boys had come with us and she was only sitting for Ellen. Liss texted her back that no, the boys should be there, and were probably in the garage.

Bear in mind that we couldn't get them to stay hidden quietly anywhere if we heavily bribed them.

We told them not to do that anymore. It's not safe for the sitter not to know where they are, even if it does make her job way easier.
On the calendar year, our birthdays go Ellen, Liss, and me all six weeks apart, then the boys ten weeks after me. On my birthday, I predicted to Liss that it wouldn't be long before the boys mentioned that theirs was next.

Bobby said it the next day.
While the boys were at a playground, a girl in Kindergarten at their school was also playing. They all acknowledged each other, and went about their way.

Soon, the girl's friend found Andrew by myself, and told him "Andrew, J hates you!" just out of the blue. He didn't believe her, thankfully, and went to ask her himself. She reponsded with an equally incredulous No.

Later, the boys were together on the slides, and said something to J; her friend then said "Nah, nah, you love J!"

The girl is five or six years old, and already creating seventh grade queen bee type drama out of nothing.


True to my word, I talked to Ellen about getting a new Big Monkey. She was on board, and he arrived at 6:30 last night.

At 7:30, Andrew was randomly looking for something under his bed, and found the old one. Of course.

New rule: a Monkey must be in her bed at all times.

Side note, the new Monkey is so soft, plush, and clean. It's remarkable what three years of high usage will do.
We keep the team's T-ball equipment in the trunk-thing of our van. It's probably $500 worth of stuff new, though of course it's seen some wear. We generally don't lock the van, on the theory that we'd rather someone just open the door to steal the non-valuables we keep inside than risk them smashing a window.

Last night, someone broke in, i.e. opened the door. They stole one thing that we know of - a $16 package of granola bars that Liss had bought for her tutoring students. The baseball stuff was untouched, but she says the perp opened the trunk to look. So, either they though it'd be too heavy, or wasn't worth anything, or maybe, just maybe, they saw it and thought "Even I'm not that cold."
As a side note to the stuff below, while Andrew was away Sunday afternoon, Bobby and Ellen were great together. They played so well that I was able to take a nap while Liss mostly lay on the couch, reading.
Big Monkey Is Missing.

I repeat.

Big Monkey Is Missing.

It's been five days now. The first two bedtimes, Ellen cried quite a bit. On the second and third, she insisted she couldn't sleep without him, which of course she had on the first night. I'd swear we've looked everywhere, except obviously we haven't. The last couple of nights have been okay, though she wake me with a bad dream on the fourth.

Yesterday Andrew was slated to go to the Mariners game with Amy. To distract the other two, Liss was going to take them to some kid zone place. When Andrew heard about it, he wanted to do that instead. In fact, he offered one of his stuffed animals (a frog) to Ellen as a bribe for her to go to the game in his stead, so he could go to the kid place. When we said the kid place was only an idea, not certain, he tried to take the frog back. This caused quite the ruckus, but I was able to convince Andrew that, with Big Monkey gone, it was important that Ellen have something to help her, and that I would try to get him the frog back when Big Monkey was found or she was okay with returning the frog. He relented on that, which to me shows some budding, long-awaited maturity.

So, back to Big Monkey. We're now at the point of buying another one. It turns out they're only nine bucks(*). However, she's too clever to think a new Monkey is her Monkey, so we're going to ask her if it's okay.

Now imagine if we get a new one, then find the old one in say, a month? Would we even let her know? Will she favor one of the two, or treat them equally? The latter would actually help with the continually-lost-Monkey lifestyle we seem to live, unless - horror of horrors - she insists on having both Monkeys at bedtime. And if there's one thing I've learned about having kids, it's that you can't predict how they'll react to anything, but you should probably assume it'll be the worst you can think of, even though it'll often be even worse.

(*) Our daughter's happiness is priceless, yadda yadda, blah blah.
Friday, I let Bobby carry the metal bat as we walked to the park. He swung it at the air once, and I asked him not to, as it wasn't safe. Later, he placed it on the sidewalk in front of Ellen on her bike, saying "I'm going to trip you!" I took it away. He spent the next 20 minutes hiding in bushes when Andrew and I played baseball, vowing not to come play until ... I'm not even sure.

Saturday, he was reverting to his old baseball throwing style, where he'd lift his right leg while throwing with his right hand (try it). I walked toward him to give him pointers, like to remember what his T-ball coach has taught him, and he ran away and hid behind a tree, vowing not to come out until I promised not to talk to him. After about fifteen minutes of this, Andrew hit a ball near him, so I casually walked over to pick it up, then sprang "BobbyDon'tLiftYour starts running away RightLegWhenYouThrow," which thank goodness he actually found funny, except he then bragged that he hadn't heard me - except he had. His throwing has un-reverted since then, which is a great improvement.

Sunday, Andrew was away with Amy; Bobby and Ellen wanted to go to a park. Bobby chose one, and Ellen agreed. When we got outside, Bobby changed his mind to another park. I asked Ellen if she agreed, she said no, so I said since he's the one who wanted to go to that one in the first place, and Ellen didn't want to change, that's where we were going. As happens a lot, it's "someone's going to get pissed off, now choose who." Bob said he was going to walk [by himself] to the park he [now] wanted to go to, which of course he didn't. I said if he didn't want to come with us, he could go back inside with Mom. Instead, he walked about sixty feet behind us almost the whole way, muttered something about not playing when he got there. When he got there, he had fun.

And ... that's Bobby.
With the improving weather and T-ball, the boys (Andrew's) asked to start using the metal bat and soft baseball when we play in the yard, instead of the big plastic bat and ball. I said sure, then grabbed my glove, because while softer than a regulation ball, it's still hard enough to hurt. Plus, the big plastic ball would always bounce out of a glove. I'm fielding much better than I had been, to their dismay.

I warned them that, like with the old bat and ball, a pitch was still going to hit their hands once in a while (they have trouble laying off), except it's going to hurt more. It hasn't happened yet, though, after about six hours (in the last three days, oy). However, since the new ball is much less susceptible to the wind, my control is much better. We've also been doing it without a helmet, which is unthinkable in Little League circles, but just seems overkill (until someone gets bonked), especially when we play for over an hour. I moved the imaginary home run line from the street to the line between first and third bases, but moved it back to second base after that seemed too easy. I doubt they'll ever go back to plastic, which I'm fien with.

Ellen did okay when she tried, getting two fouls from nine pitches with the heavy metal bat, which I can't expect the boys to have done any better at her age. Generally, she's just not as interested, though; she wants to stop at T-ball after 40 minutes or so, including not taking her turn at bat(!), but at least she doesn't actively dislike it.
One recent evening Liss was away. During dinner, the kids asked me if they could have a bath before bed. Sure.

Because of fighting, Ellen usually bathes by herself in our tub, and the boys share the other. For whatever reason, they wanted to switch this time. Sure.

I got the water ready, and told them to go ahead. I checked that Ellen was okay, then went to check the boys. Andrew wasn't in yet, but Bob was - and proudly standing in the water, peeing. Andrew was nearly as gleeful.

"Get the drain." He did. I pulled him out. Our water heater had already exhausted its load on two full baths, so I told them they could get into the other tub with Ellen, which I knew wasn't going to last long, though at least nobody protested the idea. After about ten minutes, though, Bobby and Ellen had frayed each other's nerves, and therefore mine, so I got everybody out to get ready for bed. Bobby didn't want to, so his manner of protest was to not dry off with a towel. For some reason, he's big into self-harm to punish us, like an older version of holding one's breath.
The parents of one of the girls in Ellen's class are, or were, going through a divorce. Details are sketchy, being passed along second hand by our four year old, but it's easy to guess based on things like this:
When the kids are playing crazy, as we call it, on another floor than us, occasionally Ellen will scream in a way that you can't quite tell whether it's in agony or glee. I suppose due to our frequent investigations along those lines, Andrew has taken to immediately shouting downstairs or upstairs, as the situation requires, that "Everything's Okay!" We are thusly reassured, and they continue about their play.
Liss and the boys share their spring break, obviously. Ellen's pre-school was in full session. For two break days, Liss put the boys in a day camp so she could get some work done around the house, plus have some time to relax. So that part went fine.

The boys' camp's entire cirriculum, though, seems candy-based. Between the two of them over two days, they came home with approximately eighty pieces of candy. And that doesn't include whatever they ate while they were there, which I'm sure wasn't zero.
Liss had an evening thing, so she broke out some frozen pizzas for me to heat in the oven. Unfortunately, they didn't all fit at once, and they had different temperatures and cook times. To reduce the risk of over/undercooking, I did the boys' first, since you're always supposed to do the gluten-free first (like, to not contaminate the pizza cutter with gluten). I informed the kids what I was doing, so Ellen wouldn't wonder why the boys were getting their pizza ten minutes before she.

As theirs was coming out of the oven, I heard Bobby tell Ellen "Ha ha, you don't get your pizza yet."

Instilling proper behavior is, from what I can tell, a never-ending, pointless process. They know to say please and thank you, because we've reminded them literally thousands of times. They know not to tease, brag, fight, shove, get in each other's faces, scream in the house, sing the "nah nah" song, drop random stuff on the floor, leave lights on, play with their privates in front of us, pick their noses in front of us, begin every other sentence with "Oh my god," or write on the walls, tables, or carpet. But they still do them. Does it ever take hold? Does it ever end? Because holy shit, it's tiring.

Anyway, I told Bob that he was going to have to wait three more minutes to get his pizza, because of what he said. He almost lost it, but to his credit, held it together enough to wait that long. Maybe punishment works better than constant reminders, but I really wish it didn't.
Getting ready for the second T-ball game, we figured to take both cars so Liss could leave early and work on the cake she was baking for an auction. The boys were ready and Ellen wasn't quite, so they went to the van while we told Ellen that Mom would take her in a few minutes.

Well, the girl lost it. Now, you might imagine several reasons this might be the case, such as wanting to go with the boys (ha), or with me (ha!), not wanting to be alone with Mom (Ha!), but you'd be hard pressed to guess the actual reason.

Our copy of the Frozen soundtrack, you see, is in the CD player of the van. She didn't want to miss it playing for the four minutes it takes to drive to the baseball field. In fact, she screamed and cried about it for longer than it took to get there.

I will not let this become a precedent. I will not let this become a precedent. I will not let this become a precedent.
During a recent bedtime, the boys put their blankets over the portable fans that sit on the foot of their beds, then got under the blankets. They said all of the air was staying under the blanket, and none escaping, aren't we clever?(*) I explained that if that were the case, the blanket would be blowing up like a balloon, so the air must be leaking out. Why did they make them like that, they asked. I said they don't make air tight blankets, because if you were under them, like after pulling it up in your sleep, you'd suffocate and die.

"But you could use a fan to blow them up like balloons! That would be fun!"

(*) I may be embellishing a little.
The last thing Liss does during the boys' bedtime routine is the kiss their heads ten times, and vice versa. Andrew started this exchange after he claimed that he'd done much more:
Some small milestones.
Nowadays, the kids load themselves into the car before we adults even leave the house. That's fine with us, though it does perhaps slow us down a notch, what with the quiet and all.

One recent day, I was taking all three somewhere, when Bobby did what he does - opened the passenger door - and then did what he sometimes does, which is close the door. The problem was that Ellen was just about to get in, and he wasn't paying attention. She lunged forth to "stop" the door, and it closes on her hand. Fortunately, I was right there to console her, but it was a very frightful moment for both of us. I texted Liss to come outside and help; Ellen now wanted to stay at home with her, which meant so much for Liss's alone time. There was no permanent damage.

At the time it happened, I snapped at Bobby, so he got somewhat upset as well. I apologised once Ellen had left, but said he needed to watch next time. Later, I told Ellen to just let the door close; we can always open it again. Hopefully, lessons learned.
The boys can read about 90% of first grade reading material. When Bobby hits a word he doesn't know, he makes his best guess and moves on. Andrew doesn't seem to have a go-to strategy for that. He'll either guess like Bobby, or ask what it is, or just get stuck and frustrated. Ellen writes a lot of letters correctly but in non-sensical order, and is more interested in being read to than actually reading, but she's coming along.

There's some idyllic vision in our heads of [three] children reading quietly in their own nooks in the house, leaving us free to concentrate on our own weekend hobbies without needing to attend to them [meaning, break up fights or conjure up entertainment] every five minutes. I had a lot of such visions before I had kids, though, and I think all of them have been shattered at the appropriate ages.
Andrew is around third grade level for math, Bobby second. Most of the gaps between their age and their math level are a lack of instruction and experience, with some frustration throw in. As previously noted, Bobby is especially prone to giving up if he doesn't understand something right away. It's not that we're pushing them, but if something real-world comes up that gives us a chance to explore new territory, we're pretty likely to try to get them to explore it.

But the main thing we notice is that they'll do math in their heads that Liss says most of her third-graders have trouble doing on paper. Like, we were talking about how "you kids" will probably go to college at eighteen, but they aren't even eighteen years old together yet, being 5 3/4s times two, plus Ellen's barely-four. About five seconds later Andrew guessed that was fifteen. It's actually 15 1/2, but you get the idea.

In all fairness, they're also still wrong a lot, and resort to guessing pretty quickly. Math, as we're trying to emphasize, is not conducive to guessing.
T-Ball has started, with all three kids on the same team. They're doing fine, though Ellen has trouble keeping up for the whole time. It's become normal for her to lose it toward the end, such that one of us has to take care of her either on or off the field. Toward the end of the last (second) game, I sat on the dirt with her in my lap while the other team batted. Thankfully the team parents are as collaborative as last year's, so it's no big thing for one of us to have to focus on one kid instead of the big picture.

However, in the first game, the first time she crossed home plate, she had maybe the biggest grin of her life.

The boys are a stablizing influence on the rest of the team, which is all four-year-olds except one other boy. Besides having done this last year, they play with me at home a lot, and just know a lot about baseball for their age, so they don't require as much hand-holding as the rest, which models for those younger ones.

Next year Ellen can't be on the same team as they (splits are 4-5 and 6-7), so we'll have to revisit then, assuming any of them still want to do it.
At Ellen's birthday party, we had a split-the-kids strategy, with Curious George episodes playing on the basement TV, and a small bouncy house going in the garage. It didn't quite work, though, in that everybody went to the George. The bouncy house got maybe 60 total kid-minutes used, with a dozen+ kids there.

I guess in the end, George did the job, freeing us adults to socialize and such, but I just imagine the kids telling their friends about the party later - "We went to a birthday party, and watched TV!"
We all know about Big Monkey, Ellen's number one animal. Well, for her birthday, she got a sparkly blue horse. She named it ... drum roll ... Big Horse.

She did buy a doll at Goodwill with some birthday money, whom she named Emily, so I guess that's progress.
"I love you so much, honey."
"I knoooow! You tell me every daaaay!"
"So, do you want me to stop?"

"... No."


Liss and I went out Friday night, and the [new] babysitter kept them up a little late, maybe 8. That may or may not have been what set off a horrible Saturday. There was hitting, fighting, name calling, yelling at mom and dad, time outs, cubes revoked, dads pinched, you name it.

I did and said some things I'm not proud of.

For the record, Bobby was mostly lovely.

That night was my poker game, which we had been considering taking them, even though it meant a bedtime after 9. That got squashed by their shenanigans, though it also meant Liss had to do bedtime alone, which she reports went fine, thank goodness.

Sunday night was my chorus concert, which we were now very iffy about taking them, since that'd also mean a late bedtime. I mentioned this to the guy who runs poker, who offered to have us drop them off there instead, so Liss could still go. I'm not sure he quite knew what he was offering - bring over the kids if they're not doing well enough for the concert, but still past their bedtime?

Sunday morning we told the kids the score. Have a good day, you go to the concert. Don't, and you get dropped off (they've been there before) and Mom goes with whomever did have a good day.

In the afternoon, Bobby had a random poop accident (something's going around). It was all over his legs, so I started to draw him a bath. He started getting upset at the unfairness of it - "If I get a bath, they get a bath!" I believe my reply was "They're not the ones who pooped their pants, dude," followed by a notice that this was the kind of thing that would keep one from going to the concert. That may not get me father of the year honors, but my sanity is on thin ice as it is lately; perhaps I can get more votes by mentioning the square foot of poop he'd smeared on the underside of the toilet.

Anyway, they were calm enough to go, and like last time, did fine. Well, Andrew got a little testy in the middle, I think bugged by Ellen - it's hard to tell when you're singing thirty feet away - but Liss worked that out. Like last time, other attendees and choristers praised our children for their quiet attention from the front row, which in my view just shows how good they are at being awed by unfamiliar situations.
Liss picked up a pre-fab monkey piñata at the party store for Ellen's birthday. They wanted to start stuffing it right away with the candy and stuff she'd also bought, but unfettered access seemed like a bad idea. Instead, they made their own "piñata" to play with, with a small metal bucket, a length of string, little plastic pieces from a game, and a stick. They'll hit it, a few things will drop to the floor, which they'll scoop up, only to put them back in the bucket and start over. It's cute most of the time, but eventually the arguments break out over whose turns it is or who picked up what. The stick has been used for purposes other than that intended.
Four years old.
We've gotten less and less patient with the boys' attitude about homework, which isn't fair in a way, because we have a pretty bad attitude about it ourselves. However, it's their homework, and do it they must. The whole year, though, it's been nag this, bribe that, remind them every day, blah blah.

So, we're lessening our involvement. Our job is to help them understand what they need to do by reading instructions and checking their answers. The first part will diminish as they learn to read better, and the second will fade as they get better or we think they should just get incorrect marks. We still remind them, but not to the point of nagging. If it doesn't get done, the consequences will follow at school.
We have a townhouse, with stairs going up the middle. It makes for an echo chamber, such that you can just talk up or down in a normal voice and people on the next floor can hear you just fine.

When Ellen would go the bathroom before the green light, she'd do like she always did, YELL "Daddy, can you please wipe me!?" as though I were on the other side of the world. I asked her not to do that, that I could hear her just fine with a normal voice, even downstairs. She's taken to testing this by whispering it very softly, even when she knows I'm downstairs. It works.
We have a couple of Olivia books, which are mostly Ellen's. Recently I was reading one, pronouncing it Uh-livia like any sane person, when she kept insisting that it should be Oh-livia, with a very heavy Oh. Since we're both stubborn, it caused a bit of a ruckus.

I got her five more for her birthday, so I hope she'll succumb to my superior knowledge and phonetic laziness.
Ellen's presents are starting to come in the mail almost daily. I've gone through them after bedtime to figure out what's wrapped and not, who sent what, etc. She'll have a bounty on her actual birthday, and surely another at her party.

The boys brought down the presents they got her, and told her to go ahead and open them, before I stopped them. So, as I was putting them out of reach, they just told her what they were.

I guess they wanted to get the gun on everybody else's presents, so theirs would seem special? I don't know for sure, but what I do know is that this continues to prove that you can't trust the boys with secrets.
T-Ball is starting up, and things are shaping up a lot better than last time. Besides an actual coach (our kids' friend's Poppy), I have last year's experience to go on.

Our roster has 12 kids, which has one five-year-old plus our boys, and the rest are all four-year-olds (including Ellen). We have only one other girl, and she might not be able to stay on our team for scheduling reasons; I really hope she stays, or we get at least one other girl. Ellen will probably be the youngest; she doesn't need the double whammy of being the only girl as well.

With all that youth, plus their one season of experience, the boys have a chance at being leaders, so we'll see what comes of that. They still won't be the biggest, but maybe they'll be average sized for the team. They can hit the ball pretty well for their age, and surprisingly well for their size. Andrew can throw it well (Bob's "okay"), so all in all, they can show the younger kids how it's done.
I think Andrew is ready for violin or piano lessons, starting this summer. I don't think Bob is ready - less disciplined, less actual interest. I think he'll want to do whatever Andrew decides, except that he doesn't actually want to do it, he just wants what Andrew has.

So I think the solution is to sit them down individually and steer them toward something we approve of that's still their idea, or they at least think is their idea. And we have to time it such that each one decides without knowing what the other decided.

Bobby's will probably be karate. He's been talking about that for some time now. I don't have a problem with it in general, but we've been emphasizing that it's for defense only, but it falls on deaf ears. Fortunately his hypothetical instructor will do the same.

I also have a theory that when he gets his first kick to the face, he'll want to quit, but I'd be happy to be proven wrong there. He needs something that he'll stick with even after it turns out he's not good right away. I guess he's that way about baseball a little, but he thinks he's awesome at that, and he's merely decent.
We had a student from Liss's alma mater stay at our place for a few days as part of a job shadowing program. Within five minutes of her arrival, Ellen had her hooks in her, charmingly asking her to play this with her, watch her prance about, etc. Whatever "ham" qualities she had when she was younger are showing no signs of going away.
Bob's defiance manifests itself in really weird ways. I guess Andrew's does simiarly, just less often.

They'd gone to the dentist recently, and come home with identical swag bags, including toothpaste. At bedtime I put some from one of the two tubes onto their new toothbrushes. Bobby insisted that I'd used Andrew's toothpaste, and he wanted his own, so he went to wipe it off on a towel, which I told him not to. So, he went into his room and wiped it off on his own bed. Letter of the law, and all that.

Last night he revealed that he'd brought a flashlight into his bed. I don't trust him not to use it after his reading light goes off, and especially not to turn it off before he falls asleep and therefore run out the battery, so I took it away. He was livid, mostly insisting that he needed it in case the power went out. Bear in mind that this has happened for a net total of five minutes since he was born. It was just an excuse.

I compromised and put it on their dresser, saying they could only use it if the power went out. Bob didn't see that as a compromise, but me imposing my will, which I guess it was a little of both, but my real will was way tougher than that.

So at our bedtime, I checked. The flashlight wasn't where I'd put it. I searched their beds a little, but didn't find it, and fearing that I'd wake them, left it for this morning. I checked then, and it was back on the dresser, but in the different place that I hadn't looked, so I can't know for sure if anyone had it overnight or anything. More evidence is needed.

I'm convinced he's going to move to New York the day he turns 18.
With the improving weather, Ellen and I have walked home a few times. She is the epitome of "stop and smell the flowers," or rather, pick the flowers. Between my being her beast of burden, and her own small hands, we end up with about 15 samples by the time we get home.

One of her favorites is this kind. I don't know its real name, but she says it was featured in an episode of Dora, which honked in that cartoon. So, she calls it a "honking flower." Even if I do learn its name, I may not correct her on that one.

Update: Liss's mother tells me they're daffodils. I feel I should have known that.
From Liss:
[Self] takes a mini peanut butter cup from Andrew's candy stash. Ellen notices and whispers conspiratorially, "Will you share that with me?" When [self] shakes her head no, Ellen bellows, "ANDREW. Did you give Mom a candy?"
Ellen has been pushing back on my shows of affection. Sad. And then when she wants to rope me in - like to extend bedtime - she says to smooch her. Crafty.
Andrew's been undergoing some serious poop issues lately. He'll spend 20+ minutes in the bathroom, using up lots of toilet paper and wipes, and still not be clean. However, he doesn't want anyone to help. We'll smell leftovers on him later, and basically have to hold him down to wipe it clean, while he yells at us.

There's some extra stuff going on here - something to do with shame, embarassment, or the like. He's smeared poop on the wall with his fingers a couple of times. He'll hide soiled toilet paper in the trash can rather than risk overflowing the toilet. He denies everything until caught, uh, red-handed, and then he gets mad at us for prying into his affairs, or something.

It's somehow gotten worse lately, maybe from his having larger movements as he gets bigger, yet his skills aren't elevating in proportion. Anyway, it's a thorny problem, and one that will probably never get settled until he's great at doing everything himself, which may be some time from now.
After touching her bare vagina, we told Ellen to go wash her hands. I went to help her with the water and such, during which time she dutifully washed the one hand that she had used.
Bobby and I were playing monster tie-tac-toe (this), and I beat him for maybe the tenth time in a row(*). Very clearly and with a little firmness, he said "Fuck!" I was pretty sure I'd heard what I'd heard, but I said "What did you say?" "Fuck."

Now, I'm not a huge anti-swearing person, even for a five-year-old, but there are times and places for things, and that's what he has trouble with. I just said "You don't use that word" as though it were a done deal, and left it at that, since making it a big deal would make it more enticing. He later said "Darn!" to a loss, so he placated me for now.

Really, it's just one of those things that kids learn not to do in front of certain people, i.e. adults, until they start testing the waters during puberty. At least, I hope that's the case. For the record, he has no idea what it means, in any of its many definitions, except as something to interject when you get beaten at a game. Heck, I got in trouble using it in third grade, and I didn't know what it meant then.

(*) I don't believe in letting them win, but I do believe in handicapping. However, we haven't come up with a good handicapping scheme for that game.
I made a "piggy bank" for Big Monkey, which was just a piece of paper I'd cut, folded, and taped into a cube with a slot. In no way did I expect it to last as long as it has - two weeks now - but here we are. It's got so many gaps in the bottom that the coins keep coming out, which almost makes me want to make a new one, except the kids don't complain about it.

The real point of this, though, is Andrew. He was counting the coins to see how much was there, starting with two pennies and quarter, so he casually said "That's two, and a quarter makes twenty-seven" and kept on going. Liss says that's kind of head-counting is something a lot of third graders have trouble with.
I bought single hooks to install in the bathrooms as a place to put hand towels, as the normal racks are too high for the kids. However, my electronic stud finder lied to me, so my first attempt ended up with a stripped hole and nothing to grip the screw. Now, every time I wash my hands, I see the 0.5cm hole out of the corner of my eye - to me, a gasping chasm of failure.
Ellen's been able to click herself all the way into her car seat a few times, but not enough for me to call it a done deal.
In trying to keep up with the boys, Ellen's been doing "homework." She insists that her teacher told her to do it, but we know better. Mostly her attempts involve finding more blank printer paper to staple together, which we've had to curtail, she was using so much. She's slowly changing to more normal crafty stuff.

The boys aren't terribly into it, and bark at her to stop once in a while, but it's better than if she were getting into their faces about something else while they're trying to work. They can't see the big picture, though, per usual.
The boys get what I consider an appalling amount of homework for Kindergarteners - a packet a week of maybe 25 pages of busy work. For the most part, they're not even good leaning materials. If Liss didn't work at their school, we probably would have raised a stink or even opted out from the beginning.

Liss takes special time with them to get it done, and it's still not enough. By Thursday (due Friday), we're usually nose down, tearing through the last of it. Since they can barely read, let alone form the words into the instructions being given (often weird), we have to take an active role in keeping them going. She's started bribing them with a chocolate chip for each page they complete without having to bug us. They still have to bug us, or they don't because they want a chip, but get it wrong.
Ellen's definitely going through something, possibly a growth spurt. The signs are there, similar to when she had them as a toddler. She's super clingy to Liss, and barely acknowledges me. She's [even] quick[er] to get cranky or yell or resist responsibility.

When she wakes up, she immediately wants to go to the boys' room, because she gets bored and lonely. If they're not aware, tough for them, even though we tell her not to wake them. If they're awake but don't want her there, all hell breaks loose. Andrew's more likely to concede and perhaps migrate to her room to play, but not enough for her liking.

At bedtime, she'll sometimes resist going to sleep, finding all manner of excuses. The latest was monsters, which when Liss said there was no such thing, Ellen said she was scared of "real and pretend monsters." In exasperation, Liss found a tiny sample spritz bottle of something, dumped it out, made a "monster spray" label, filled it with water, and gave it to Ellen. It worked. The problem was that it quickly became both Something Else To Find At Bedtime, and Something Ellen Has That The Boys Don't.

The latter was its demise. They were playing with it upstairs, enough to spray all of it out, so they (mostly Bobby) were thinking of other things to put inside to make it more effective. He put in some toothpaste, which I said would likely clog it up, but whatever, we could always clean it.

For his next idea, he peed in it.


One recent Saturday afternoon, Liss was going to a indoor play area place that the kids been to once or twice, to meet up with local alumni from her college. At 9-something in the morning, Bobby asked if they could just go early. Liss had all-day discount passes, so she thought, why not?

The idea was that they'd be able to run around like maniacs while she read her book, but it didn't turn out that way. They wanted her to join in the fun! Or help them go to the bathroom. Or get them a snack. Or, or. Still, she doesn't regret going early, especially for the Wife Points she got for leaving me at home for so long - not like she needs the points.
We have tacos about once a week, which everybody assembles themselves (though Ellen still gets help). Lately, Bobby's been stuffing them with as much meat as he thinks the tortilla will hold. Some spills out, of course, but he's gotten good at eating over his plate and using that on the next taco - probably thanks to three years of reminders from us.

There's also a new development in that all of the kids suddenly like spinach. Liss eats lots of things with spinach leaves, and they asked for some and liked it. The ranch dressing helps a lot, of course, but still. Ellen's gone back and forth on it, but the boys would never even try it.

So now Liss is serving it a lot, which I hope doesn't mean they'll get tired of it quickly.
There's a phenomenon of Disproportionate Response in small children, and ours have it in spades. It's supposed to get muter over time, but I'm not so sure I see it in the boys.

After bedtime last night, I thought I heard something from upstairs, but couldn't quite tell if it was crying or horseplay. I went to the boys' room to investigate. Andrew was kneeling on his bed in hysterics, tears streaming down his face. I'm thinking he's in major physical pain, or pooped in the bed, or something. I asked what was wrong, and he said one of his stuffed animals was missing.

Which one? The purple one? The puple bear? No, the hippo.

Ten seconds later, I'd found it under his blanket, eight inches from where he was kneeling.

Now, if he'd just spent 10% of the effort into looking that he had into getting all worked up ...
The boys were reading (or spelling out the letters for me to read) the days on our wall caledar that have various holidays or otherwise noteworthy days. At one point they got to Mother's Day, which brought up the age-old question - when is Kid's Day - with the age-old response: every day is Kid's Day.

"No, it's not!" said Andrew.

"Dude, what are we doing today? I'm taking you to IKEA so you can use the play area and we can eat cheap hot dogs. Then we're going to Target to look for stuff for you. Then we're going to Zach's to play before coming home to a meal that Mom will make sure you like enough to eat. Does this sound like the kind of day that's for us, or for you?"

I remember being annoyed by the "Every day" response as a kid, but my grandma didn't get pissy about it like I did.
Liss had some time to kill with just the boys, so I suggested they get Ellen's birthday presents. That they did, then went home to wrap them in tissue paper and hide them behind their dresser. Then they wrote a sign saying "Ellen - don't look behind the dresser!" and taped it on the wall over the dresser. When she got home, they told her to come upstairs so they could show her the sign. She couldn't read it, so they read it to her.

Then they had to physically prevent her from trying to look.
Ellen's school has Friday off for teacher training, but Liss's (and the boys') school doesn't. So, Liss is taking a personal day while the boys still go to school, so she can take on the awesome task of caring for Ellen by herself, all day.

No, the other definition of "awesome." Like, with an exclamation point.

They're both really looking forward to it.
"I want to paint my room." - Ellen

So, we may have a summer project coming.
The kids have always liked helping, or rather "helping," Liss cook. She likes the idea of it, but it's rarely just one kid - one gets the idea, and the others think that's a swell idea and want nothing more than to horn in. This behavior is not exclusive to cooking, by any means.

So, her new idea is to have each kid pick one dinner a week, and that kid helps make it, and the others have to stay away. No kid can pick the same meal until after the other two have also done it. It's been working well, with the kids learning something and being a small net gain to the actual cooking instead of a net negative. When we eat, there are no complaints, since they pick things suitable for all kids. That's the only drawback so far, really - the monotony of what they've been picking. It's been a never-ending rotation of chili, tacos, pizza, and pasta. But hey, I like those things, too.
It's been a long week of bad sleep. Besides late Olympics coverage courtesy of the CBC, Bobby and Ellen have found reasons to wake us. Andrew never does, like ever. He's been known to wake next to a puddle of his own drying puke.

Thursday morning around 4, Bobby barged in yelling that he was getting sick. That's fine, kid, but why yell? You know how to wake us nicely. He had a 101 fever, and wanted to sleep with us. Um, okay. It turns out that he's a fidgety sleeper.

Friday morning around 3, Ellen woke me to say she couldn't find Big Monkey. Fifteen seconds later, he emerged from the first place I looked, under her blanket, so she was happy. Me, not so much.

That's us - the twenty-four hour concierge service.
Liss picked up some of those pre-fab valentine's cards for the kids to give out. Ellen's had little cards with small boxes of temporary tattoos of the animals. She tore at the perforations, and I affixed the boxes. They were well designed.

The boys' were Star Wars themed, this time with sheets of temporary tattoos that had a pretty badly designed way of connecting them to the cards. So, they did the names and I mostly did the taping. Liss got class lists so they could do one for everyone. More than anything, I was surprised that they just bore down and did it without complaining. Andrew did his in an evening, while Bob did a few a night. They did a lot of writing without our help, which is certainly good progress.

Tonight they'll come home with lot of crap, but that's okay.
Ellen has come up with a thing where she turns into a "hugger machine," whereby she'll open and close her arms until you walk into them, or she walks into you.
Seattle schools has something that was completely foreign to me, having been raised in Texas - a mid-winter break. It's next week, after just six weeks of school following Christmas break, and about the same before spring break. The union has been back and forth on whether to keep it - sometimes it's "just" been a four-day weekend - but it's back to a full week. Liss likes it, but would prefer that the school year to end a week earlier instead(*).

Any break is a pain in the ass for parents, but less so for us, because any school break is also a work break (in theory) for Liss. Meanwhile, Ellen's pre-school (not affiliated with the district) only has Monday and Friday off, so Liss will have those two days with all three kids, and three days with just the boys. For one of those days, she's putting them into a day camp for a "break within a break" for herself. For another, she's thinking of taking kids to see a movie or two, but it doesn't look like Frozen will hit the second-run theater by then. I think the boys could handle the Lego movie, but not so much Ellen (too kinetic), though that's also first-run. With us, everything is "multiply by five," or in this case four, and four movie tickets, even kid plus matinee, is something like $27 to see something we can buy for $10 by Christmas.

Somewhat related, Bobby brought home a field trip form and asked me to "take one of your PTOs" so I could help chaperone. He doesn't quite get that my time off is limited, but beyond that, the days in question are during my heaviest work days (month end), plus my idea of a day off doesn't include herding 30 Kindergarteners around the Aquarium. To me, a day off is better spent with my wife on that day next week when the boys are in day camp and Ellen is in school.

I guess that makes me a bad member of Hillary's village.

(*) "Mid-Winter Break is completely unnecessary. It impacts lower-income families disproportionately, both for child care reasons and for the kids' nutrition. The upcoming week off interrupts the momentum of learning at a time when we can least afford it.

Thank God it's here."
Perhaps because they need to be downstairs to get ready for school by about 7:45, the kids have been waking up at 7 or earlier, including the weekends. It makes the 8am green light obsolete on school days, and very important on the weekends. If Ellen is up before the boys, it gets worse, because she gets bored, and her go-to is to play with the boys, and if that means waking them up against our wishes, sometimes that means doing that.

This Saturday, when Liss left our room to go running at 6:45, she found Ellen standing outside the boys' door, clearly weighing this conundrum in her head. Liss tried to get her to go back to bed, and when that looked to be a hornet's nest, she invited her to go snuggle with me in bed. She agreed, and I got an hour to myself with a mostly quiet and bundled up girl.

That's a good way to start your weekend.
The boys arguing:

And so on, until broken up by Dad. It's unclear what they were trying to Win.

We wanted to keep the boys from knowing who was born first, so Andrew wouldn't shove it in Bob's face, but here we are. He doesn't do it much, but it's also a gift that'll keep on giving.
The boys and I made it to the Seahawks victory parade - or rather, we made it to where the parade was going to be, but left.

This was on a Wednesday, so the boys skipped school and I skipped work. This was a no brainer as far as I was concerned. Liss offered to their teachers (her co-workers) that they write about it afterwards, and they readily agreed. To further set things up, it was 20-25 degrees out with a slight but steady wind. Ellen went to pre-school and Liss went to work.

Getting there was its own thing. We went early - we thought - to the light rail station by our house, to discover 300 others waiting. Two trains went by packed with people, each getting maybe ten of those waiting. So, I gave the boys two choices - we could take a train away from the parade in hopes of getting onto one upstream, or take that bus right over there, that had seats because the route starts there. They split their choice, so I chose the bus.

The bus ride wasn't bad, though it also got packed and skipped stops full of waiting people. And then, it stopped early, on the edge of downtown. So, we started hunting for a spot.

Now, I don't mind crowds. I could have woven through the throngs for blocks without any problem. This time, though, I had two short people that others were having trouble seeing, let alone bothering to move aside for. We didn't make it far before I found a spot a few feet from the street and behind some adults, kind of half in the shade and half not. I set down our blanket and we started waiting, with the parade scheduled to start a little over an hour later.

It wasn't great. It was cold, with that steady wind, Andrew shivering in my arms but wanting to stay. Were were by a foot traffic lane, so people kept walking right in front of us. They couldn't see, with people in front, and I wasn't going to ask strangers to let them in, since they're strangers and I'd have to go with them lest they freeze.

At some point, Bob asked if the parade would be on TV. I was certain it would, but a quick search on my phone confirmed it. Andrew asked if we could go home and watch it on TV. I weighed everything together: it's not an "experience," but it's warm, and getting back early would be a lot easier. They could even write about what we'd done so far. Okay, boys, let's go. It turned out that the parade started 45 minutes late, predictably enough because of the parade traffic. So, thank goodness we left; being at the end of the route, we would have ended up waiting three hours in the crowded cold. There were 700,000 people there, which is more than the population of Seattle proper.

All in all, they took it well. They wrote their essays, watched the parade, and everyone had a reasonable if not once-in-a-lifetime-memorable time.

Regardless, they're proud "their" team won, even though they have little grasp of the game or anything. For now, they're just feeding off adults' excitement, and maybe some from older kids at their school. But nothing sets a kid up for later fandom like success. It's now going to be easier to sell them on the Seahawks, and therefore football in general, than on baseball, since the Mariners have been crap since before they were born.
And incomplete list of things that will happen once Ellen turns four: Sorry, honey, but your list of responsibilities has nowhere to go but up.
One night, at 12:30am, I was awoken by the girl, who came to me to fix her bed. She had peed in it, you see, which hadn't happened in ages. The thing was, though, it was the smallest pee accident ever. She clearly noticed what was happening and successfully held most of it.

I instructed her to pee in the toilet while I got new sheets. The ones I found were dark blue, which when she came back to see me putting on her bed, incited her to literally jump for joy. Repeatly. I had to ask her to keep it down, lest she wake up her brothers or mother. Who knew?

Maybe half the work of all this was taking everything off bed - stuffed animals, books, etc. - and putting them back on the new sheet.
"Only my Daddy. Andrew and Bobby are just visiting."
Bob's become a social butterfly, especially at school, where he knows a lot of kids by name, even ones Liss doesn't(*). My wonder is for next year - will he be the same way toward new Kindergarteners, when he's in the lofty First Grade? Or will he consider them not worth knowing?

(*) He gets indignant at her about that last part.
Ellen's gone through a phase of calling for us after we've said good night, with a trend of doing so sooner and sooner. It got to where she'd call for me the second Liss left her room. Some memorable excuses:
The boys occasionally ask Ellen questions they know she doesn't know the answers to, like their math, or if they know so-and-so from their class. They do it to feel superior; Andrew will even pipe up with "I can do anything you can do," which I take as a challenge, but she finds all of it funny. While she's twenty months behind them chronologically, she's maybe fourteen behind developmentally, so ... they'll get theirs.
The Seahawks won the Super Bowl, which is a big deal around here. The parade is tomorrow (Wednesday), and we're pulling the boys out of school so I can take them. Liss can't get off work so easily, so she'll refrain, and be on Ellen duty. If she could have, we'd probably take Ellen, too, but she won't really understand anyway. I mean, the boys don't really, except they're feeding off everyone else's happiness. They've been to parades before, but this one will (my guess) probably be the biggest in the city's history, hence my reluctance to include the little one for three-on-one wrangling.

We watched the game at a friend's, with lots of other kids there, so they mostly kept out of our hair. When something would happen and the adults cheered, Bobby invariably ran in to see what the deal was. Andrew sometimes straggled behind to keep up on things. Ellen was aware that we cared about what was going on, but she was my biased, single-entry cuteness contest.
We've been having friends over for brunch, including some without kids, and some that the kids had never met. We're noticing a trend, which isn't surprising, but has been enhanced by these interactions.

Ellen is a ham. She revels in the attention the newcomers give her, and the more they dote, they more she soaks it up. I've had her answer the door, to give our friends a surprise hello of cuteness, and it goes from there. (Andrew is now jealous and wants a turn)

Meanwhile, the boys disappear. They go upstairs and play. Sometimes they'll come down and poke their heads around whatever corner our guests are near, laugh at the hilarity of being "discovered," and run back upstairs.

During the actual food, they all do something unusual - stay quiet and let the adults talk. Ellen's usually that way anyway, but not the boys; they normally talk more at the table than we do. It's nice to get a break from the five-year-old level of conversation.

All of this is an extension of their normal selves, where they're quieter and more careful in new situations, then they get more rambunctious as they get more familiar.


The movie Frozen has become something of a cultural Thing, and we haven't seen it. It's a kids' movie, mostly, and taking the kids to see a movie is expensive and, historically, they've sometimes wanted to leave in the middle. So, we've been waiting for it to hit the second-run theaters. However, it's a Thing, so it's still in the first-runs after eleven weeks. In fact, Disney is re-releasing it with a sing-a-long.

If this were a few years from now, Ellen probably would have begged us to go see it, because all of her classmates would have by now. We are still insulated, but the boys are only a few years away from feeling left out of stuff like this. For the most part, Things like this are crap, but from what my fellow progressives are saying, this one is not.
A couple of nights ago at dinner, we told the kids about alcohol, and what it goes to your body, and how long you have to wait before you can drive, and so on. This morning, while Liss was getting them ready for school: This is a classic example of "knowing just enough to be dangerous," or really, knowing just enough to think you know everything.

And, y'know, I like Drunk Liss.
Liss, with Ellen at bedtime.
On the heels of Andrew testing in the 96th percentile in both reading and math, Bobby got - wait for it - the 97th percentile for both. Liss's comment: Good thing they can't compare yet.

In between, an announcement came that a new elementary school (re-opening an old building, but with a new program) is hiring. Liss is applying. It'll have a gifted program, but even if the boys don't make it, they can go to that school since she'd work there, which would give everyone a fresh start. We just don't see the current school working out in the long term, either as her employer or their educator.
While we're not fans of the boys getting standardized-tested three times in the school year, Andrew's results are good - the 96th percentile for both reading and math. He didn't do so well on the reading at the start of the year (40th %), which we think was because he couldn't quite grasp how to do the test in the first place.

He's now within the range for the district's advanced programs, but can't be assessed for that until next year. That's okay, as there are other considerations, like his siblings, the logistics of getting everyone to and from school every day, etc. Speaking of which, Bob is [re-]taking the test this week.
When we put the kids to bed, I take Ellen to her room while Liss reads to the boys, then Liss comes in and I go to the boys. Almost every night, she asks when Mommy will be here. One recent night, I got this: I told her that made me sad. She tried to backpedal, squeezing her fingers together and saying it was only by this teeny much, but, you know, damage done.
From Liss:
I've given the kids breakfast and prepped the chili. "I'm going upstairs to get ready," I say. "I don't want to hear any playing or fighting unless you have your socks and shoes on and you're done eating."

Later, after the fastest shower of my life, I hear gleeful shrieking from downstairs. "Are you all ready to go?"

"Yeeaaah," they say in unison.

Then Bobby adds: "LET'S FIGHT!"
Now that swimming lessons are done (though to be continued another day), the kids want to move on to the Next Big Thing, like soccer again (Ellen), or karate (Bob), or something else. Little League is coming up, so whatever it is needs to have minimal overlap with that. In fact, Liss decided to not sign them up for anything for now, and instead have people over for brunch every weekend for the next couple of months. We used to do that all the time, before All The Activities, but now we have to make this conscious effort to connect with ours friends around our otherwise busy schedule. So, we made it a little less busy for now.
Now that Fred Meyer has us pegged, and our boys are too old for their child care service, Liss was stuck a bit. IKEA has a play area, but you have to be 37" tall to go, and Ellen was barely under. Well, last week, they tried again, and she barely made it. From what Liss says, they're hard core about it - shoes off, feet flat.

So between that and the cheap food, it was a successful excursion, so that's a new "thing" we can do to get a break now and then. She also looked for a little sofa-type thing we can put upstairs to make a reading nook, but nothing tripped our fancy.
Telling Bob that we weren't going to do a second baking experiment right away (see next section) started a chain of events that ended with him in a major meltdown. When he really wants something, anything we say or do that's counter to it just sends him further down the rabbit hole. He ended up carried by me into his room, which he said was a mistake, because he'd break stuff in there. His idea of "breaking" was a little slapstick, though: he unplugged the green light, and unfurled his bedsheets about six inches. "And I'm not going to fix them!" Okay, whatever, dude.

Liss wanted to take the kids to a park to run off their energy, but not with him that way. She probably waited over an hour for him to calm down. One of these days, maybe she'll just go like I say she can, but mostly just doesn't have the heart to do that.
The kids have begin baking experiments. It started with Ellen in Minnesota over Christmas, but they did another one this weekend. Both turned out "edible," which given that they were mostly throwing sugar, eggs, flour, and butter together, makes sense.

They actually get into it, in fact a little over the top - they kept thinking of new things to put in there. Vanilla! Brown sugar! I had to be the brakes - keep it simple, guys. Some of the tastiest food, especially desserts, have very few ingredients. Then while it was in the oven, they wanted to start the next one, which we foresaw as being an endless parade. Sorry, guys, let's see how this one turns out, finish it, then change the next one accordingly.
Ellen's going to turn four in less than three months.

The kids, especially the boys, complain a lot about the dinners Liss makes. This is after she bends over backwards to provide the kinds of things they like. So, she's thinking of saying screw it and making the shi-shi foodie stuff she wants, since they're going to complain anyway.

The complaints have died down since our last talk with them about it, but at the time, I said if this continued, I was "going to get meaner" about it. Andrew, in a low voice that did little to conceal his resentment, said "You're mean enough already."
When Ellen does something particularly sweet with just us, we've taken to saying "We made that" to each other in a low voice, when she walks away. Sometimes, there are high fives.
The kids were having a rough day. To try to switch them up, we asked them to think of something nice to say about their siblings.

Total, total blanks.
The boys are diverging. That is, the differences between the two seem to become more obvious over time. This is to be expected, because as I've noted many times over the years, they are different people. However, any descriptions usually involve comparison, because that's what people understand when confronted with the appearance of sameness. Andrew is sweeter. Bobby is more social. They're doing about the same in school.

In the name of fairness, when doing this sort of thing, I'm supposed to think of an equal number of positive adjectives for each, an equal neutral, and an equal negative (if any). But that's getting harder and harder to do. Bobby is far more challenging than his brother, and is becoming more so. He's more selfish, more defiant, more creative using words to hurt, quicker to exclude his sister, quicker to stack the deck against her, quicker to frustration and giving up. Now, he's always been like this - he just figures out more sophisticated ways to do so as he gets older.

Not having had kids before, I don't know if they change much from how they seem when they're five. My guess is, not very. The kid's going to start puberty in eight years; I really have no idea what that's going to do to him - to us. I won't be able to carry him to time outs or whatever else requires physically overpowering him. Whatever patience and moral authority I have left after five+ years of trying to be his father may be worn to the nub by thirteen+.

I honestly wonder what kind of person he's going to grow into, like what kind of career fits the personality that he's shaping. And what kind of relationships will he have after so many formative years of, quite frankly, teaching himself abusive language?

I worry.