Friday, June 27, 2008

The June Solution

For most of last year, my boys had an uneasy truce. As long as they spent seven hours apart each day at school, they were fine.

Now, with both of them home for the summer, everywhere is battleground.

It usually starts because, like magnets, they crash into each other. Or, because, like tiger cubs, they swipe at each other with their paws, which leads to wrestling. Or, like monkeys, they swing from trees and land on each other. Aww, look at the cute tiger monkey magnets, wrestling in the aisles of Wal-mart! How adorable!

Seriously, I don’t need this drama when I’m trying to pick out face cream.

Usually when they fight, they — and I — get grounded from video games, computer and T.V. for the rest of the day. But I wanted to do something different this time. Something that would really sink in.

Grounding them for a longer time wasn’t an option because, frankly, I didn’t do anything, and did not want to be punished with bored kids who already didn’t get along.

So I told them I’d let them know their punishment by the end of the day.

In the meantime, we went to a lake with my friend. It had a sandy beach, so the boys were busy collecting seashells — or lakeshells, actually — and making balls of clay with the mucky stuff they found under the dock. They got along great, until the end of the day.

When I thought about what to do, I realized I’d already found the solution to my problem in an in-flight magazine. On the plane flying to Phoenix earlier this week, I read an article about the best T.V. doctor, best T.V. space commander, etc…and the best T.V. mom. Can you guess who it was? June Cleaver.

It said that when Wally and Beaver were fighting, which—rewind--when did that ever happen? Must have been the same episode that Ward ran off with Mrs. Haskell and June got hooked on pills.

But what she did was make them write letters of apology to each other.

On the way home from the lake, I told the boys I’d made up my mind.

“Don’t you want to think about it longer?” Johnny asked. “So you can make it really bad.”

Meaning, “Don’t you want to put this off until tomorrow, when you’re sure to forget about the whole thing?”

“No. When we get home, you need to write two-page letters of apology to each other. Richie, since you can’t write, you need to tell Johnny what you want to say, and he’ll write it for you.”

Richie smiled. “I want to say, ‘I’m sorry you have bad breath.’”

Johnny laughed.

“No,” I said. “It’s not listing bad things about each other and saying you feel sorry for them. It’s saying you’re sorry for what you did.”

Back home, Johnny wrote, “Sorry I back flipped onto you.” He read it back, laughing to himself at the wonderful memory of that particular fight. Then he filled page two with “sorry” written in different sizes.

Richie drew two spiders. Then he wrote “E” and crossed it out, writing “AHE Vii. Svos svos,” instead.

Johnny read it back to Richie, and he laughed. When Johnny finished his letter, he drew a giant tick and wrote a story about it. Richie grabbed it and said, “I’ll just copy yours. He wrote, “The evil tick sucks blood.”

“That’s not my letter!” Johnny said. “It's a story about a giant evil tick!” Richie laughed.

Leave it to my boys to turn June’s idea into a complete joke. Oh, well, at least they were laughing together instead of fighting. I went to fold laundry.

When I came back, Johnny had finally helped Richie with his letter, which said, “I am sory I frode sand at you.”

Throwing sand was the last thing Johnny and Richie did to each other. If I’d pressed them to write about the Wal-mart wrestling match, they probably wouldn’t have even remembered it. So much for my June Cleaver strategy.

Then I turned over Richie’s second page (the one with the spiders.) It said, “I love you.”

They were probably laughing when they wrote it. Still, they haven’t fought today. So I think it helped them to say it, even if they were joking around about expressing it in a letter.

The Blame Game

The other day, J.J. started blaming his misfortunes, or rather, my misfortunes, on others.

I don’t know why he decided to do this. It’s not like he cares what people think. If he did, would he dump chocolate milk powder all over the kitchen counter in the middle of ant season? I think not.

But whatever the reason, he walked into the living room with a look of exasperation. Then he pointed an accusing finger at the thin air. “No, no, kids!” he said.

Uh oh. I didn’t like the sound of that.

Taking me by the hand, he led me into the kitchen, where Nestle chocolate was piled neatly — much like an ant hill — on our already infested kitchen counter.

“Who did you say did this?” I asked.

“Kids,” he said.

“So you mean to tell me some kids walked in off the street and dumped our own chocolate on our own counters, even though you were the only one in the kitchen?”

He looked at me as if he couldn’t believe it, either. The nerve of young people these days. “No, no kids!” he repeated, wagging his finger.

“I think you did it,” I said.

But that didn’t register with him, because a week later, he did the same thing to my mom.

After she and the boys made chocolate chip cookies, my mom put one in front of J.J. and told him, “Don’t eat the other cookies. They’re for Richie and Granddad.” Then she left the room.

By the time my mom went back in the kitchen, all the cookies were gone. J.J. covered the crumbs with the tablecloth and said, “No, no, dinosaur!”

When I came to pick them up, my mom told me what happened.

“No, no, kids,” J.J. said. Then, realizing he was getting his lies mixed up, he said. “No, no, dinosaur.”

“A dinosaur ate the cookies?” I asked. “That’s bad.”

“That’s bad,” he agreed, trying not to smile. “Dinosaur bad. Dinosaur eat this house!”

That’s when I realized he was enjoying this. He relished blaming somebody for something he did.

The funny thing is, I think he convinced himself that the dinosaur really ate the cookies. The other day, he found an empty package on the countertop.

He said, "Where the cookies?"

I shrugged. "Maybe the dinosaur ate them."

He shook his head with disdain. "No no, dinosaur," he said, and threw the package in the trash. But this time, he wasn't smiling. It's one thing when dinoaurs come into the kitchen when you're in there. But when they start hanging out with other people, they are no fun at all.

Happy Birthday Richie

Well, I had some technical problems, but am now up and running, so am going to post a few columns. The first one was supposed to be for Richie's b-day, which was a few days ago.

At Christmas or before Richie’s birthday, people sometimes ask what his interests are. Um…I say, thinking hard.

I run through the things boys are usually interested in: Cars. No. Sports. Not really. Superheroes. Not anymore (or so he claims). Trains. Never.

Why can’t I ever think of anything?

Then, after he invited a friend over the other day, it hit me. The friend was quietly playing with J.J.’s Thomas the Train set, which Richie can’t even look at, he’s so uninterested in it.

But Richie didn’t care that this was what his friend wanted to play. He only cared that he had a captive audience.

Resting his chin on the back of the couch, he said, “Yeah, Robbie’s my friend. But not so-and-so. He’s a jerk. He told me I stink. So I said, “No you stink.” Now we’re enemies…but Robbie’s nice. Why is Robbie friends with so-and-so?...You can come to my birthday…It’s at a spray ground…Don’t worry. It’s not a baby place…Do you like Superheroes? I don’t. Except for Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk. And the Flash. And the X-Men. And the Green Arrow. And…”

Richie talked to his friend like this, nonstop, for two and a half hours. The friend didn’t mind. I guess it would be like having a talk radio show playing in the background.

Meanwhile, I finally realized what Richie’s interest was: talking.

The other day, he told me, “Sometimes, when I talk for a long time, I don’t even breathe.”

Ya don’t say. I never noticed that.

But oh the things he says.

The other day, we were at a festival, and you could sign a card to the U.S.A. basketball team. Basketballs literally surrounded us, so I assumed he knew what I meant when I said, “Do you want to say something to team U.S.A.?”

He thought I meant the government. “Dear Mr. President,” he said. “Please bring corn dogs to everybody’s houses.” Then he cracked up.

Saying things out of context is his claim to fame. The other day, J.J. fell off his little toddler car and cut his hand — where he had the stitches. It was bleeding, and Richie said, as if he was Dr. House cracking a medical mystery, “I think he has…blood pressure.”

But mostly he talks about his friends. “I like Drake,” he said. “Even though he doesn’t look like me.”

This week, Richie had his birthday. For his special dinner, he asked for salad, sausage on a bun and cherry pie. He actually hated salad until he saw his best friend eat it at lunch. Now, he can’t get enough of it. Happy birthday to a person whose primary interest is…other people, which is a pretty good way to be.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Minor Surgery

J.J. had his surgery yesterday to remove his extra finger and toe. It went fine. In fact his recovery went a little too well, as he was in maniac mode an hour after we got home.

"Let us carry you," we kept saying as he climbed down from the couch yet again to play Blocks! Choo choos! Trucks!

"I get mo go fish crackers," he announced walking into the kitchen to climb up on the countertop.

"You still have more goldfish crackers in your bowl," I reminded him when he was halfway there.

I didn't want the surgery done. I think that if God gives you six fingers there might be a reason for it. Maybe at some point in your life you'll need an extra finger. Say you're a concert pianist. And your husband hears something he's not supposed to while on a trip overseas. Now, your child is being held captive in a mansion overseas, where you happen to be a party guest. And the only way to save him is to play "Que Cera Cera" over and over and over. (This exact thing happened to Doris Day.)

You say, "God help me. If I have to play this stupid song one more time, I'll need six fingers and not just five."

And he'll say, "I gave you six fingers. But your parents knew better. So you have them to thank for that."

Usually, when I have thoughts like this, I seek out second opinions. Because, believe it or not, thoughts like these occassionally do not shake out in the real world.

As it turns out, the more likely scenario people thought would happen was that J.J. would come to us as an adult and say, "I'm forty-five years old and still wear mittens. Why didn't you get my finger removed at the same time as my toe?"

See, the doctor said he'd always have too many fingers to wear gloves. But to me, that's a glove problem. If your hat doesn't fit you, you don't get part of your head removed.

But Justin thought he would get the finger caught on things. Others thought he would get made fun of.

Kids make fun of each other no matter what, I argued. Yeah, but you don't want to give them extra ammunition, they said.

I said, having a sixth finger is unique. My aunt said, "He's unique because he's J.J. He doesn't need an extra finger for that."

I was out of excuses.

So we had the surgery.

I worried about it for two years. Anesthesia is nothing to joke around about. What if something bad happened? And to think that we could have bought bigger shoes and specially made gloves.

I wanted him to be burly enough to withstand it. When he started looking like a man-child, I thought: he's ready now.

Again, nurses or doctors would tell you that removing extra digits is no big deal. Just do it already. My parents as teachers lady even suggested that I see a psychiatrist when I told her that I was putting off the surgery until J.J. was bigger. (Gee, just what every mother wants to hear: Maybe he's too young to have surgery. Or maybe you're insane.)

I spent the whole night before crying about the surgery, even though I knew we were going to get there and see a kid who was horribly sick or injured and I'd feel terrible about making such a big deal about it.

That's exactly what happened. There was a little boy who was J.J.'s age having his ninth surgery because he'd been run over by a riding mower, leaving a hole in his leg. In the waiting room, his mom said he was just starting to feel better when they had to bring him in for this, which was supposed to be the last one.

When we went back to talk to the doctors, the anesthesiolist was everything I would want in a dream anesthesiologist: nice. handsome. And most importantly, in his 70s. He'd been doing this since the ether days. He knew the routine.

He was the one who carried J.J., kicking and screaming back to surgery. "It'll be okay," he assured us. And I really believed him.

In recovery, J.J. kicked his feet and tried to pull out his I.V. If he was a baby, I would have passed out at the sight. But since he's two, I see him act like this on a daily basis. They gave him some medicine and he was fine.

What upset him the most was the incongruity of his feet. He cried on the way home, as if to ask, "Why in the name of everliving God do I only have one shoe on? Why? Why? Why?"

Really he was saying, "Shoe on! Shoe on!"

Then we got home. People brought him balloons and goldfish crackers. And he was good to go. "Play blocks!" "Play choo choo!" "Play coloring!"

Just like that.

The next couple days were worse, with pain and the nausea from the medicine. But now he's walking around like nothing happened. When his bandage fell off his hand to reveal about twenty stitches, he didn't even blink. We did what the doctor said and replaced it with a bandaid and neosporin. Hardly the remedy I'd expect from an amputated finger, but I'll take his word for it. J.J. liked it because they were Spiderman bandaids.

Come Thursday, the foot bandage will come off, too. He'll be able to wear any shoes his heart desires.

You know, the things you worry about usually turn out okay. It's the things you don't expect that really hurt. Like the poor little boy and the lawn mower. Or so many other things. And you're sitting in the waiting room thinking, "I wish we were here because of an extra finger."

J.J. had taken to calling his little finger "baby" and kissing it goodnight. I think when you're a mom, you don't want to lose any part of your child. But it's just a pinkie finger. One that wasn't even supposed to be there. Maybe J.J. won't even notice that it's gone.