Monthly Archives: March 2014

The because I said so

I’ve noticed that our little guy generally only seems to repeat things he’s heard a few times. Also, because he’s two (and a little bit) he is also at an especially cheeky age where he has an answer for absolutely everything.

The thing is, the words and phrases he’s using in his effrontery are not his, they are ours. Hearing them delivered by our toddler with all the profundity he can muster at this age is a little like firing a cannon ball at someone, which they dodge and then collect, pack into their own cannon and fire back at you. Except there’s no need for matches or loss of life and limb.

The favorite phrase at the moment is a combination of words he has heard us say very often indeed. He’s also mimicking the actions we use when we say them. Imagine for a moment a mother standing with one hand on her hip and the other wagging a finger at a child while delivering a tongue lashing.

Then picture a toddlers caricature of that very same scene. The mother’s wagging finger in his version has the finger bent over almost in a hook shape with the back of his hand squashed against his face, the mother’s hand on the hip in his version is behind his back in a Prince Charles kind of way projecting an air of authority and a sense of being above anything petty that is way beyond his tender years. His head is cocked ever so slightly to the side like a parrot and his serious little expression and tone of voice add a mock air of gravity as he delivers a perfectly pronounced ‘because I said so’ when we ask him why for any reason whatsoever.

It is, to be as honest and impartial as a father can be, very cute. It is also very cheeky and as such we must bite our own cheeks in order to prevent smiles and laughter from bubbling up out of us when he responds in this way.

Yeats, in his poem The Second Coming said things fall apart, the center cannot hold. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t referring to parents keeping a straight face when a child was being equal parts adorable and impudent, but he really might as well have been.


The precision yoghurt

Watching our little guy have a post supper snack before bedtime this evening, I had an insight that I hadn’t really noticed before and it was this; when my two-year old eats yogurt, he does it with such deliberate little movements that they border on the precise.

I’ll admit, precise doesn’t exactly spring to mind when you imagine how a toddler would gobble down a yoghurt, but that’s what he did. What’s more, he didn’t mess a single dollop of his tasty little snack and he was watching television the entire time to boot. To be honest, I don’t think I’d do as stellar a job in his shoes.

I set the tub in front of him at the table and propped him up on his knees. Then teaspoon in hand, he began with an improbable scoop that was overflowing on all sides of the spoon as if it were lava erupting from a volcano. Impossibly, the pink goop made it all the way to the target against the laws of physics and I sat mesmerized as each subsequent spoon was delivered with the same success and at the same steady and measured pace via his seemingly uncoordinated little left hand.

When he eventually reached the bottom of the small barrel of strawberry delight and required my more dexterous hands to get at the last of the loot, it occurred to me that should he tackle life with the same care and patience he had just displayed, he might just end up working at the Large Hadron Collider some day looking for a smidgen of Higgs Boson as improbable as those spoons of yogurt were this evening.

And I’ll be just as proud of him as I am now.

The Steinbeck cookie

Today I was reminded of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men where Lennie, unable to comprehend his own strength, accidentally dispatches his puppy to puppy heaven. Although my story isn’t quite so dramatic or gruesome, there is somewhat of a parallel.

My little guy was beside himself this afternoon when we walked into the house after a morning out and about with friends. To say he wasn’t quite ready for the outing to end is an understatement. In an effort to calm the little guy down I suggested a small snack from the cupboard and he immediately said ‘cookie’ and pointed emphatically at the large tin containing small squares of sugary happiness which are to children what Valium is to adults. While he ate his cookie, his mother tried to make him a little more presentable for nap time by wiping face and hands and feet with a damp cloth. This caused what can only be described as a flood of emotion on the scale of a river bursting its banks, involving tears, the ubiquitous snot and wails of protest.

The little guy continued through the DefCon phases up to the point where the cookie eventually started to become less a tasty treat and more a casualty of an over emotional toddler’s frustration, slowly reducing to crumbs on the kitchen counter. I tried to save it but all that achieved was more ire and eventually the poor cookie was nothing more than a crumbled mix of tears of sorrow, self-pity and indignation. The resulting salty cookie dough crumbs were then scooped into the little guy’s mouth as best as he could manage with a toddlers dexterity in his sad little state.

It really was a scene worthy of pity.

Fortunately, the cookie wasn’t as irreplaceable as Lennie’s puppy or Curley’s wife, so the consequences weren’t as dire. Ultimately though, it seems that Steinbeck had it right, you can love something too much.

The why

Often I find myself sounding like a parent from the old school. This is not an indictment of parenting methods during my parents era and I’m certainly not suggesting that their methods were in any way flawed, it was just different then and rightly so because things were different then.

An old-school scenario I often catch myself in is when I give my child an instruction to do something that falls into the minor category of things to do, like take off your shoes before you climb on the couch or indeed wash your face before bed. More often than not these types of instructions will immediately prompt a ‘Why?’ response from my boys and my instinctive reply to that is simply, ‘Because I said so!’

But that’s old school. It really doesn’t fly with children today and it’s not because they’re being cheeky or defiant, it’s because their generation has to ask more questions that ours did. This is the information age and to cut a conversation short with an old school response is contradictory to everything else we expose our children to. To a child’s mind, their question about why they should or shouldn’t act in a certain way or do a specific thing or not is just as valid as a question about why one plus one equals two or why an elephant weights more than a mouse.

The why phase is built into the child, there’s no escaping it. The difference now is that we live in an age where children are exposed to so much information that they are constantly having to ask why just to keep up with us. So to keep up with them we have to audit our responses and make sure we understand how often we use fallback phrases like ‘Because I said so’ and ‘Do as I say, not as I do’.

Otherwise what will become of the other really important questions we want them to ask us? Like why can we only use one hand on the iPad and not two or indeed why do we need to ‘wipe’?

The apple seed

Last year we went to visit my parents which required us to get on an airplane with the boys. We spent a week there and during that time the eldest decided that he wanted to plant an apple tree in his Granny’s garden.

So the two of them spent some time one afternoon picking a spot in the garden to plant his apple seed and then they watered it a little. I remember being asked a day later if we could go out and see how the tree was getting along and found myself having to explain that the process takes somewhat longer than that.

Holiday over, we flew home and the apple seed seemed to be forgotten completely along with things that are repeated daily like, wash your hands, don’t forget to flush and so on. It remained forgotten until this evening when he took the phone away from his mother so he could say ‘Hi to Granny’. A moment or two into their conversation he asked how big his apple tree was which left my mother grasping for a reasonable answer for the little pup. She settled the discussion by saying that there’d been so much rain at her house lately that the seed might not make it out of the ground at all, which I thought was very creative indeed. It was all completely true but skimmed over the most obvious fact, which is, by now the apple seed would have been taller that he was if it was ever going to sprout into a tree and had probably long since become a tasty meal for a worm.

It absolutely amazes me that he remembered that little seed but cannot remember a single thing that happened to him today from the time he was dropped off at school until the time we got home from work. When I do the bedtime routine with him, we segment the process into clearly defined chunks so that there is no ambiguity about whether or not a step in the goodnight process might have skipped.

First there is ‘Story Time’ where he picks a book off the shelf and we read it together. More specifically, he corrects my rendition as I read it just in case I inadvertently skip anything or indeed if I fumble a word or inject a new character, that doesn’t belong, into the story we’re reading. Sometimes there are questions about which part of the book says ‘Gruffalo’ or ‘Knight’ or whatever else catches his attention and then I show him the arrangement of letters and we sometimes say it out loud while he ‘reads’ the word.

Then the room lights are turned off and the nightlight switched on and so begins ‘Talk Time’ where I ask him questions about his day while he ceremoniously taps his chin with a finger and says ‘ummmm’ a great deal. To be completely honest, I rarely get more than a morsel of detail out of him during these chats but I keep doing it anyway because I hope that on some level it will help him later on in life. I’ve accepted that he doesn’t gave an eidetic memory, he’s going to have to work hard as school like everyone else. Anyway, when he gets bored with my questions, there’s some random chatter about whatever it is that has popped into his head at that point in time. It’s mainly a question and answer session where I try to respond to a myriad of largely unrelated questions ranging from how teeth work to why you can’t glue bananas back together after you eat them.

Second to last is ‘Prayer Time’ where he says a quick prayer. I’m not religious and neither is my wife. In point of fact, I’m in the camp where I don’t subscribe at all to organized religion. However that said, we agreed that our boys will be introduced to spirituality and the ideas about a greater power without formal indoctrination in any one religion and hopefully that will be enough for them until such time as they feel they want to make their own choices about their spirituality and pursue those choices with their eyes wide open.

Finally there’s ‘Sleep Time’. At this point there’s nothing left to do except give goodnight hugs and I love you’s along with instructions that include ‘No getting out of bed for any reason other than a trip to the bathroom’. I must point out that at this stage I do actually get solemn little nods of agreement to the terms.

Five minutes later he’s been out of bed three times for three different reasons. So much for structure.

The precious

Ownership of things in a multi-child household is a complex dynamic. The way it works is that you buy something for the eldest child (Dad) and immediately the questions start being asked about when the cascade of things below it will float downstream. For instance, Dad gets a new iPad Air and suddenly the old iPad2 is a technological dinosaur/orphan that desperately needs a new parent and questions around the transfer of ownership begin to surface like bubbles in a tar-pit.

The idea always was to make the iPad2 a child iPad by removing everything except games and educational apps from it and then handing it over to the boys to play with. The problem of course is that there are two boys and only one spare iPad. So there can’t really be a time when we sit both of the boys down with the iPad and let them play because unless we ‘King Solomon’ the device, sharing simply does not take place. It always degenerates into a scrabble of clenched fists, tears and tug of war in which the stronger (or indeed most stubborn) wins custody. The other will then collapse into a heap of despair until the device is handed over or simply removed from his brother (this option transfers tears from one brother to another).

It is, in a word, a conundrum.

There are a couple of options here in that we could introduce one of the iPhones into the mix. The problem is that an iPhone is simply not the same as an iPad when the two are laid side by side. On its own, an iPhone is a marvelous distraction and is welcomed by both boys whilst having a haircut or waiting at a restaurant for dinner to arrive or even on a long car trip. But next to an iPad it is like we love the child holding the iPad that much more. Not true of course, but it is a difficult thing to explain to a child. Would rather tackle where do babies come from.

So now we have to come up with a schedule of sorts. Something akin to a custody agreement of who gets the iPad at what times. I have no doubt that the first time-slot allocation will dissolve into a small puddle of salty self pity for the brother that isn’t allocated to the slot, but that cannot be helped. The transfer of custody between the brothers after the first one’s time is up is also bound to raise a few hackles. That too cannot be helped.

Of course we could just hand over one of our new iPad’s (my wife has an iPad Mini) to the child without a pad and then I think the children would be happy. I suspect though that there will be parent sized puddles of salty tears about which one of us has to hand over ‘their precious’ to the kids.

What is that word again? Oh yes, a conundrum.

The feed me

Tonight the little guy was so preoccupied with other endeavors, that he did not want to feed himself. This is a task he normally fights tooth and nail to do but I guess it’s like anything else, once you’ve mastered the art, you could really go either way with it and in fact, having someone do it for you is quite a treat.

If I say ‘Roman feast’, it will probably conjure up images in your mind of people in white robes lounging about while being drip-fed grapes and fanned with Palm fronds. Not that I support their other cultural choices, but I think that the Romans might have been onto something with the feeding.

That got me thinking about other things we chomp at the bit to learn how to do for ourselves but then later are not especially keen to continue doing. Like walking. As a toddler taking the first tentative and wobbly steps we teeter out into the world on two pins and are immediately hooked on the idea of walking from A to B. Even if the distance between the two points is negligible. Yes, even if it means moving from one side of a bed to another to pick up a fluffy toy or bottle; the toddler rule is that if you know how to walk, you walk.

As adults we implement a decision system based on situational awareness. So if the current situation calls for it, we’ll walk. In all other instances, we’ll take the line of least resistance. Imagine you’re on the couch, watching television and you realize you don’t have the remote handy to change the channel. You’ll fidget around for it a bit and if you spot it just out of reach on a side table or on another seat, you’ll probably not stand up and walk to go get it, instead you’ll perform some variation of stretching over the divide between you and the remote using a mockery of a plank or by propping yourself up on one hand in a beginners yoga pose while you grab at the lost sheep of a remote with a staff-like arm in desperate grunts of exertion.

In my experience, the line of least resistance looks much easier before I do something than after I’ve done it. It’s a catch-22 really.

I think that in order for my boy to begin to want to feed himself yoghurt again I have to make the feeding process, where I am involved, difficult or bothersome in some way – like putting the remote just out of reach. I thought I might try to mess yoghurt on him while the spoon is on its way to his mouth and then intentionally miss the mouth. Then there’s the obvious ploy where I put such a small amount of yoghurt on the spoon that the entire process becomes an unsatisfying test of his patience rather than an assisted feeding, line of least resistance.

My advice to my boy at this age then is to study hard, get a great job and maybe one day he’ll be able to employ people to feed him grapes. If he has a really good job, he might even be able to employ supermodels.

The mother hubbard cupboard

Tonight I was reminded of the nursery rhyme about old mother Hubbard and her empty cupboard. Yes, except in my version there’s no dog.

Our eldest boy is literally eating us out of house and home. Tonight, if I hadn’t taken the bowl away from him, I’m quite certain he would have eaten the empty shells from all the peanuts he had just eaten. Probably would have had a go at the bowl too.

It’s not as if he’s skipping meals during the day either. I mean I’m there to see breakfast being wolfed down like a vacuum cleaner sucking up lint tumbleweed from a hardwood floor. Then theres’s a snack time lunchbox full of fruit and cheese and other tasty bits to eat at school. After school there’s the sit-down lunch when he gets home, which is usually a full plate of hot food including optional fruit and yoghurt.

First supper is at around five in the evening and is usually a cooked meal of some sort covering a number of the food groups. Later when my wife and I get home from work and prepare our meal for the evening, there is more often than not a plate prepared for the gannet. That takes care of ‘second supper’ which is followed closely by more fruit (tonight there were three pieces) and whatever else might be on offer. In point of fact, he asked for something else to eat but I talked him out of it saying he just needed to wait a while to let all the food he’d already eaten make its way down to his stomach. Wasn’t convinced.

So now I have to ask myself; where is he putting all the food? He’s a slender little guy and only takes me up to my waist in height so even if he did have hollow legs that he filled with everything he eats, he’d probably be overflowing or looking like a miniature version of the Michelin Man after first supper, which by the way he does not. I eat a fraction of what he wolfs down in a day and I weigh five times what he does (or thereabouts but we’re not going to go into the details here).

The other possibility of course is that he’s performing some sort of street magic trick with the food. A mini Chris Angel if you like, performing magic tricks for his parents using food instead of rabbits or cards.

I wonder what we’re going to do when he becomes a teenager and starts eating weird concoctions made from everything in the fridge, the grocery cupboard and the fruit basket? We could see a peanut butter, banana, bacon, apple and melted cheese sandwhich with three slices of bread for a pre-lunch snack followed by a sit-down formal lunch that constitutes three platefuls of something cooked.

All of this is in stark contrast to his younger brother who seems able to survive on half a biscuit and three bites of a banana for the entire day. He’s like a model for clean power, where you get more out than you put in.

I wonder if you can take out a bridging loan for food purchases in the teenage years, might have to look into that.

The air-plant

Dinner time with the little guy has become a trial by fire, for him as well as us the parents. For whatever reason, he has decided he’s simply not going to eat solid food at dinner time anymore. Despite this new and improved food aversion, he seems to keep growing steadily and still has boundless energy. For our part, we have begun referring to him affectionately as the air-plant.

The air-plant has never been a good eater and to be fair this is not really his fault. As a baby he had severe reflux which tied him up into pretzels of pain every time he fed and since then he’s been mistrustful of food. In point of fact he doesn’t even eat a piece of chocolate or a spoon of ice cream as a treat without first putting up fists and making a bout out of it. Of course once he’s tasted something that he actually likes, then he’ll switch off the tears and finish the rest on his own sans boxing.

At least that’s how it was until very recently. Now nothing gets past the gate except for a few choice items like biltong (dried and salted beef), strawberry yoghurt, pristine bananas and Nutella. Indeed there is absolutely always an appetite for and a will to eat what he refers to as ‘moretella’. Our dilemma of course is that we have to try feed him fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy and it is here that the battle lines have been drawn.

The past few nights have seen us using the carrot for donkey technique to get him to eat even a small piece of chicken. Picture the scene :

Here we go my boy, you can have a spoonful of Nutella if you open your mouth, eat and then chew and swallow this one spoonful of normal food, pretty please? What about a choo choo train?

No. Sorry, we’ll have none of that thank you kind Parent. Please bring forth the next course and remand the previous one to the trash – I’ll forego the Nutella.

I guess then what I’m after really is a super-duper food. Which is not unlike a superfood except that it tastes like Nutella.

Wouldn’t that be perfect? I mean how hard can it be really? We have robots that can walk like humans (Asimo) and we’ve landed people on the moon (or at the very least built an incredible sound stage to fake the moon landings on) so why is it that broccoli still tastes and looks like something a child would rather swat away with both hands than eat.

I think this must be in part due to the fact that the honest to goodness scientists and engineers out there doing all manner of unbelievable research into dark matter and driverless cars are essentially not married and have no children or are married and have children but have simply forgotten both of those facts. Because if these scientists were married with children that they actually had to feed meals to, we would have had a chocolate flavored Brussels Sprout at or around the same time that Neil Armstrong was taking his first tentative steps on the moon/soundstage.

So the way I see it, the answer here is pretty simple. We need some fertile volunteers, both male and female, to seek out and procreate with the super-intelligent among us and then force the above average IQ’s to feed their children three meals a day, every single day. In short order I think we’ll have peas that look and taste like Rice Krispies. There, go forth now and multiply by Pi!

ps: I’m pretty sure there was a moon-landing, just didn’t want to alienate the naysayers.

The bad cop

Have you ever had one of those days where you get home and there has been all manner of chaos leading up to the point you walk through the door? Days where it seems the only role you can play on that given night is that of bad cop? Well for me, that was this evening. It was not an especially shining parent moment for me I have to say.

From the minute I drove into the driveway, there were tears. My eldest was busy dismounting from his plastic push bike at the top of the driveway and casting it aside in frustration. His mouth was wide open in a desperate wail and big salty dollops of tears were streaming down his red little cheeks. If I’m honest, I must admit that I considered reversing out of the driveway and going for a nice relaxing drive in the balance of the peak hour traffic I had just spent over an hour driving home through. I resisted the urge though and hopped out of the car, the spring in my step was a little less Gene Kelley and a little more Homer Simpson.

As walked through the door I heard a rap sheet of transgressions being read from the roll in order of severity. There were three main issues of which all but one had already been weighed and judged by Mommy and a suitable punishment metered out. There was still crying as I called the perp over and knelt down to his level whereupon he promptly threw a brand new fit because his little brother had just hopped onto the wrong one of the two identical blue push bikes and made a beeline for the border. The resulting outbreak of emotion (not the positive kind) was followed by an immediate, determined and tear-filled attempt to dislodge the rider from his stolen plastic steed. Unfortunately this was done a little too vigorously despite my warnings to ‘let go’ and ‘be gentle’, so a direction talk was called for in the room.

I had to be bad cop.

Amongst other things, like stop crying, breathe and calm down, this direction talk included a breakdown of events to follow in a specific order, namely dinner, bath and bed. No arguments. The plan, I might add, was followed more or less to the letter.

The trouble with bad cop is that they get a cold little shoulder for the balance of the evening which is not at all great if I’m honest. They also have to miss out on quality time of which there really is precious little on any given weekday. So also not great.

On balance, I’d much rather play good cop.