No-Class Baby?

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned a time or two, our kids have the good fortune to attend a really awesome school. Awesome academics, awesome teachers — even a Music & Movement class for toddlers.

It seems a decade ago now, but James and I did Music & Movement at a community center when he was a toddler. Unfortunately, because of the despised music part, most of the movement consisted of James throwing tantrums in my lap for 30 of the 45 minutes. We did not re-enroll.

Because I have given up on life have a very busy schedule, it never occurred to me to put Thomas in any such class — until I saw it advertised on the door to the kindergarten classroom. It stared me in the face daily this past January, making me feel guilty about spending Monday mornings at the gym when I could be playing and singing with my youngest after pre-school drop-off. Would this be something Thomas would enjoy?

The answer, as it turned out, was a resounding yes. Less enjoyable, however, were the experiences of the music teacher and his fellow classmates. (Although the music teacher is very gracious, and it doesn’t hurt that he gives her hugs and kisses every week.)

We spent an entire semester going to “baby music class,” where the other babies would clap in time to the music and participate in dancing circles and bang in an adorable manner on their xylophones (waiting patiently in a mother’s lap, of course, before getting their instruments).

The entire semester, Thomas would run around the seated circle of parents and babies, jump in the teacher’s lap, make a beeline for the forbidden drum kit, and generally raise Cain.

I have learned over time that nearly all of us moms have those days when we think our kids are the naughtiest, most ill-mannered children in the room, but in Thomas’ class, that really is the case.

(Not that he isn’t the cutest little naughty monkey ever. He really charms the socks off everyone there. But still.)

Anyway, a new semester started a few weeks ago, and two new families came in, including a mom with twins. They were extremely well-behaved, much to my dismay and good for her! It was the first baby music class of the semester, and all the kids were in high spirits. None more so than Thomas, of course, who ran around like a crack-addled spider monkey, opening cabinets and trying to flee the music portable when he wasn’t trying to distribute free xylophones or use maracas as hammers.

Two kids got taken out of class early by their mommies that day. Neither of them was mine. I think one was expelled for running and the other for excessive crying. I’m pretty sure neither of them tried to shoplift the guitar (thanks for that, Thomas).

I remarked to the mom of twins that her kids were enviably well-behaved, and that I felt bad for the moms who left because their kids really weren’t doing anything terribly naughty. (Let’s be honest — if I left every time someone was sort of ill-behaved, we would be hermits!)

The other mom replied that she had had to take her daughter out of gymnastics for being disobedient, but once was enough.

I’ll admit it — I felt a little like a bad mom. Do I let my kids head-butt people in the face while I turn a blind eye to what the little darlings are doing? No. I’m not that mom, at least. They do get in trouble for hurting their playmates or destroying property. But while Thomas’ energy level causes me no shortage of dismay, he’s a pretty nice little toddler. And I’m a sucker for my high-energy but generally nice little cuties. Consequently, I haven’t removed anyone from an activity since James initiated his exit from swimming class by emitting a series of ear-piercing screams and trying to clamber out of the water onto my head.

After that conversation, I thought about taking Thomas home next time he runs away from the group — laughing hysterically as he bolts for the door — or tries to pull instruments from the cabinet when he gets tired of waving scarves to the music. But you know what? He’s two years old. He has the attention span of a gnat. Would it help? Maybe there’s an off chance. But it would probably sink in about as well as the 500 times I’ve put him to bed early for throwing food and jumping out of his high chair.

So instead, the next time I ran into one of the moms who had left, I told her I was sorry she’d had to go early, and assured her that all of us have toddlers and that a little toddler-like behavior is to be expected.

I don’t know whether to feel happy for her or guilty for endorsing bad behavior. But this past week, she and her son stayed for the whole session. And (with some occasional laying down of the law, of course) our toddler boys ran around wreaking harmless mayhem like only toddler boys can.

P.S. If you are interested in baby music class, contact me. I will put you in touch with the teacher, and offer you my personal guarantee that you will not have the naughtiest child in the class!

Wanted: For disorderly conduct

Breaking Bad

Ahhh, spring break! Remember spring break? When we were in college, it was a time to go skiing or party at the beach, or perhaps to take advantage of the underage-drinking loophole in the great state of Louisiana.

Once you have kids, however, they have spring breaks of their own. And if you do go skiing or visit the beach, it is most certainly not a break for Mom and Dad — no matter how many tequila shooters you do. (Just kidding! I didn’t do any tequila shooters, because we have no tequila. Believe me, I checked.)

Because our children don’t travel well, we opted to stay sane home this year.

The week began promisingly enough. The kindergarten’s class mom organized a series of group playdates, with the first at one of our favorite local parks. The kids did a fantastic job of not being complete hooligans, and nobody had to have a time-out in the stroller. I started the next day with a 6 a.m. workout and a coffee, confident that this spring break would be different. It would be exciting! Productive! Or at least somewhat less insane, and I would not spend days on end in my pajamas, binge-eating tortilla chips and counting down the hours.

Right now, James is in a contrary phase. Well, the contrary phase has technically lasted about a year and a half, but right now he’s in a particularly contrary phase. So we’ve been trying to keep him out of the other kids’ hair on difficult days. Our innovative strategy has involved lots of Scooby Doo in Daddy’s office.

However, seeing as how Daddy is the sole wage earner, sometimes James had to mingle with the other children. Occasionally, the mingling involved insisting that everyone watch his favorite episode of Scooby Doo. Other times, it involved throwing a blanket over his head and volunteering for a beatdown (a.k.a. “ghost wrestling”). But this is how several hours of each day went:

James: “You can’t play with my Littlest Pet Shops!”

Maddux: That’s my Littlest Pet Shop, Jamesy! Stooooooooop!”

Me: “The Littlest Pet Shops are in time out now.”

Thomas (fending off James’ grabby hands): “Screeeeeeeeeeeeeeech!”

James: “I want that Percy train!”

Thomas (clubbing James over the head with Percy): “You no take my train!”

Me: “James, get in time out! Thomas, time out!”

Maddux: “Mommy, Jamesy’s not in his time out!”


Mommy: “And Scooby Doo is going off the TV now.”

James: “Mommy, you’re a poo-poo-head robot.”

Thomas (escaping from time-out and dancing in the middle of the room with enormous cheesy grin): “Thomas poo-poo-head robot! AHAHAHHAAAHAAA!”

Me: “Sweet merciful crap. I need so much more coffee.”

And so were great amounts of coffee consumed.

Because a little crazy is never enough, I decided to undertake two spring break projects (three, if you count the Christmas tree, which is stripped of ornaments but still standing). The first undertaking, Thomas’ potty training, was a complete bust — unless letting a 2-year-old pee in Disney Cars underwear instead of Pull-Ups and then feeding him jelly beans for sitting fruitlessly on the potty constitutes success.

The second project was eliminating James’ nap.

I have tried many times to cut out the nap, but James tends to crash hard around 4 or 5 in the afternoon, after which point our adorable child might as well be a wild boar on methamphetamine. But after a nice, refreshing afternoon nap, James was staying up until 9 p.m., or, occasionally, 1:30 a.m., and acting like a meth-crazed wild boar in school.

If my child is going to race about growling and attacking people like some feral animal, I’d rather have it be at home than at school. So we stuck it out through two horrible, irrational days of meth-crazed wild-boar boy, and finally James started going to sleep at a civilized hour and acting human during the day. Success!

Until …

Somehow, a year or so ago, Maddux got it into her head that there is nothing cooler in all the world than — get this — a sleepover.

Raise your hand if you think this is a good idea. No one? Yeah, me neither.

But gut feelings aside, in 2009, on Christmas Eve, I agreed to sleep in Maddux’ room along with her and James. They were very excited, because we have a hard-and-fast rule that people sleep in their own rooms. (You know, so they can sleep.)

Maddux was bright-eyed and giggly at first, but she’s a morning lark rather than a night owl, so by 8:45 she was exhausted. James, however, chattered away nonstop about trains until 12:45 a.m. Maybe longer. I don’t know, because I fell asleep. Then Maddux woke everyone at 6.

I swore it would never happen again.

But somehow, the kids finagled another sleepover during winter break. This time, I was smart enough not to try to sleep in the room with them. Not so smart, however, was Maddi’s decision to wake James at 9 p.m. because he was drooling. Having been completely reinvigorated by his 20-minute nap, James stayed up into the wee hours and the sleepover was aborted. Apparently, though, in my half-asleep delirium, I promised the children that they would get a second chance over spring break.

Let me make it clear that neither do I remember making any such promise nor do I find it plausible that I would have done so. Nevertheless, I let the little ones have another sleepover. (Well, once I found them entrenched under Maddux’ bunk bed at 8:45 p.m. surrounded by everything James has ever owned and looking up at me with their most plaintive saucer eyes, anyway.) They were asleep by 10, but the next day, James was so tired he had a nap. As the kids say, facepalm.

Add to all that a shopping trip on the penultimate day of spring break, which — in addition to the usual mirror-licking, begging for everything in a 5-meter radius by Maddux, rejection of any and all new clothing by James, and throwing of decorative rocks in fancy stores — also included the improper use of the stroller as some sort of MMA fighting cage on wheels.

Corn chips — check.
Pajamas — check.
Tequila shooters — checked. Couldn’t find tequila, settled for Riesling.

The only thing breaking this spring was my sanity.

Last, But Not Least

As the eldest of four children, I’ve never had much sympathy for the complaints of those born last. Sure, they may not have never had the complete attention of their parents, but the silver lining is that … they never had the complete attention of their parents.


Firstborn: Mom, I’m going to South America to help build a school for orphans.
Mom: Well, your Aunt Mildred’s friend Bessie’s minister said that 10 years ago, some teen-agers nearly fornicated on one of those trips. I don’t feel comfortable sending you into that kind of environment until I know exactly where you’re going, who’s supervising, and who else is going. Also, I’m implanting you with a subdermal GPS chip. And LoJacking your underwear.

Youngest: Mom, I’m going to go party with Charlie Sheen. Don’t wait up.
Mom: Oh, how nice. Charlie Sheen needs more good influences in his life.

Mercifully, Thomas is decades away from partying with half-men, but he still gets away with plenty. All he has to do to get out of trouble is blink innocently, cock his head, and ask — as if surprised and horrified — “I being bad?” Last night, as I stood sentry at James’ door, it occurred to me that even the middle child has it exponentially easier than the eldest: I was playing bedtime prison warden when Maddux was just 18 months old.

Despite the carefree existence a youngest child enjoys, there are tradeoffs. Only now, as a mom, am I keenly aware of how many achievements are overshadowed, how many activities missed, how many pages left blank in the baby book. (Note to self: Buy baby book.)

Maddux gets plenty of blog entries. She’s the eldest and hits all the exciting milestones first. Before this blog, there was her baby blog, and before that, my pregnancy blog. Both are chock-a-block full of weekly posts and pictures. James had a few entries, but his blog was nothing like Maddi’s. Thomas’ personal blog had two posts: One said “I’m pregnant” and the other said “Baby’s out.” And even in this blog, which I started so the boys would be included in more posts, Thomas is rarely the star. His last post was in April. Whether it’s walking, talking, or destroying a room with poop, someone’s done it before.

Until recently, Thomas also got short shrift on activities. When Mads was a baby, she went to Baby Talk, playgroup and library sing-a-long. Later, it was ballet, soccer, gymnastics and swimming. James had a few Music and Movement classes, but he screamed at the top of his lungs and clutched his die-cast school bus the entire time. We decided large, noisy classes were not his cup of tea. And it seems we got so used to avoiding activities for James that his little brother got lost in the shuffle. Besides a few seasons of swimming classes, Thomas had nothing until this winter’s Music and Movement classes. And we only signed up for those because they were held at his siblings’ school, right after drop-off time, and I would have felt guilty missing them to go to the gym.

So now Thomas has classes. He feels very grown-up and toddles into the music portable with a little backpack on his shoulders. (Then he makes a break for the drums and tries to destroy everything. He is, after all, a lastborn child and has a reputation to uphold.)

In the interest of unabashed bragging highlighting more of Thomas’ achievements, I should also tell you that he knows the phonics sounds for at least half the alphabet, can count a bit and identify several numbers, is maybe two-thirds potty-trained and can sort of use chopsticks. He likes to shout out the answers to James’ homework before James can open his mouth. Oh, and Thomas is an old hand at the iPhone. Or, as he calls it, his iPhone. Yep, he’s a youngest child. No doubt about that.

On the social front, Thomas is a very friendly fellow. We are not sure who to blame for that, but it is what it is. His sometimes-playmate Ayden still regards him with faint suspicion after a particularly enthusiastic tackle hug this fall.

Even the grown-ups aren’t safe. Once Thomas has spent time with an adult more than once, he feels free to run up and hug that person’s leg. If he is picked up by someone who does not have a scratchy beard, kisses aren’t out of the question. Today, he ran up to the head of school squealing, “Hi, Mr. Grieve!” and then wrapped himself around Mr. Grieve’s knees. (FYI, Thomas has not spent significant amounts of time socializing with the headmaster, unless you count the time he was in a Santa costume and Thomas teleported into his lap from across the room in .005 seconds.)

That’s our youngest, in a nutshell. Thomas may not get our undivided attention, but he can wheedle a snuggle out of us — anytime, anyplace. He’s a smart, humorous, gregarious little guy. He likes to tear pages out of books (still!!) and scribble on nonwashable surfaces, and he sometimes slugs siblings or pulls hair, but he always apologizes in the cutest way possible.

One day, the kid will be a great influence on Charlie Sheen.

Everything about this picture is completely normal



Some babies really enjoy their babyhood. They refuse to drink from big-kid cups. They rebel against toilet training. They’ll give up the pacifier — when you pry it from their gritted teeth before sending them off to preschool.

But not Thomas. No. Because he is NOT a baby.

Well, sure, he’s only 18 months old. He certainly looks like a baby. His dining chair sports a tray and he rides in a carseat. But rest assured that Thomas is — in his own mind, at least — a full-fledged Big Kid.

He’s happy to slap high fives, blow kisses, speak words on command, and generally show off how big he is. If we’re leaving someplace, Thomas insists on saying good-bye to everyone personally — with a pageant wave, no less. If James is on the potty, Thomas wants to sit on the potty too. (Except, while James sits on the little potty chair, Thomas demands to be placed on the big potty. He’s just THAT grown-up!)

For awhile, Thomas was happy to stay in my arms while I dropped Maddux off at preschool. But eventually, he realized that all the other children were taking learning toys off shelves and playing with them. So he had to, too.

Then, he noticed that the teacher greeted and dismissed all the preschoolers with a firm handshake. So, in January, Thomas began thrusting his hand at the teacher for a good shake.

Recently, he noticed that none of his siblings’ classmates are carried around by their parents. So while we’re in school, he insists on being let down to walk.

Last week, the first time I took the kids to school by myself on James’ preschool day, Thomas seemed inordinately excited all morning. At the entrance to the building, he leapt from my arms and toddled at top speed toward the classroom.

After greeting the teacher with a cordial handshake, Thomas motored over to a nearby cubby and proceeded to remove his shoes and place them on the shelf.

Oh. No.

I suddenly realized why Thomas had been so unusually eager to drop his siblings off at school. In all the hubbub over James’ going to preschool, it never occurred to me that Thomas might have assumed he’d be staying all day as well.

As I put his shoes back on to leave, Thomas realized he was not going to school with the big kids after all. And he began having a most un-big-kid-like tantrum. His eyes welled up with tears. His lower lip curled into a plaintive, quivery gasp. And the screaming commenced.

I thought about scolding Thomas for wailing loudly in school, something I often have to remind James that “we don’t do.” Then it occurred to me that although Thomas likes to think he’s 3 or 4 years old, sometimes he is just a baby after all.

Nobody puts baby in a corner


Being a mom is slightly exhausting on a daily basis, but in case you are a sucker for punishment, there are a few things that really wear a mom down in a hurry. Chances are, if you’ve had a kid or two, you are thinking of a few examples already. A toddler cutting canines, for instance. The chaos and insanity of school breaks. And the mother of all nighttime-candy-binge triggers, potty training. Oh, I’m sorry. Potty training a boy.

So, with which of these nerve-wracking situations might I be dealing, you ask? Try all of them.

Yes, in my infinite wisdom, I decided it would be easiest to potty train my middle child during spring break, when our days would be lazier and more suited to hasty trips to the toilet. I realized, of course, that Maddux would be out of school and, unaccustomed to so much unstructured time in the middle of the day, she would probably invent new ways to amuse herself. Ways that involved dressing Thomas in doll clothes and taunting James by putting his favorite toys where he couldn’t reach them. What I didn’t realize was that my 18-month-old would be cutting four enormous, daggerlike eyeteeth while I was busy battling sibling rivalry and a mad carpet assassin.

Every day of this spring break has been a little bit like battling a horde of relentless robotic Kewpie dolls.

Here’s a little picture of yesterday, by the numbers:
50 — Gummi bears dispensed to pottyers and siblings of pottyers
12 — Time-outs given
8-10 — Toilet overshoots mopped up
8 — Lectures given
3 — Quarts of green snot wiped from Thomas’ face
3 — Doses of Infant Tylenol administered
2 — Applications of Orajel administered
2 — Near-removals of my fingers by brand-new teeth
2 — Sets of pants and underwear changed
0 — Naps taken by any child
1 — Bag of ketchup chips eaten by me
1 — Package of Reese’s cups eaten by me
1 — Episodes of “Real Orange Housewives” consumed while eating chips

Wait, you might be asking, Zero naps? Why? Why would you do that to yourself, you crazy woman?

Well, the answer is quite simple. I wouldn’t.

I put all three kids to bed after lunch. Thomas, who finds new teeth very tiring indeed, was delighted to jump into his crib. I’m pretty sure he was asleep before the other kids’ heads hit their pillows. James was tucked in with tractors, diggers, trains and trucks all lined up in the appropriate places on his bed, shadows and monsters shooed from his room, and the requisite number of “You Are My Sunshine” encores and kisses. And Maddux, who had woken up at an unholy hour that morning and antagonized her brothers all day, clambered up into her bed for a story about a skeleton princess’ spooky surprise party and an admonition to take her nap or there would be no playground afterward.

Confident that I would be enjoying two full hours of NOT being smeared with snot and drool, NOT being sprayed with urine and NOT having to lecture anyone about tormenting siblings, I settled down with some Halls Centers and the previous night’s episode of “Project Runway.” (Did I mention I have a cold and that my throat feels as though I swallowed a set of Chinese throwing stars? I didn’t? Hmm, guess that’s because that was the least painful part of my week.)

But alas, Tim Gunn and friends would have to wait. The kids had been down for barely 40 minutes — not asleep, mind you, just down — when I heard Thomas fretting over the monitor. Now, having been slathered with a heaping dose of Orajel before his nap, I knew he wasn’t waking up on his own. So I turned up the volume on the monitor. Sure enough, I could hear the faint sounds of banging. And shrieking. I raced upstairs to tell James to pipe down.

But it wasn’t James. Oh no. James was happily playing with diggers at his regular naptime volume (which is loud, but not loud enough to wake a tired baby). The banging was coming from Maddux’ room, where she was doing goodness-only-knows what. And despite my having shut her door and told her to keep it shut so that the baby could sleep, my darling princess had flung her door wide and was singing at the very top of her lungs.

When she saw me coming, she clambered (noisily) into the far corner of her bunk bed and pretended to be fast asleep while sitting upright. I was not convinced.

The thing about the kids’ naps is this: If Thomas gets less than two hours, he will cling to my head like a drowning swimmer all night long. If James gets less than two hours, he will not pee on the potty. (And if I sit him on the potty, he won’t tuck. Which means I will reek of urine by the end of the day) If Maddux starts her day on the wrong foot and misses a nap, the mischief is compounded by a factor of approximately 3,000. Maybe more. If all three kids miss naps, well, we’re talking flying toys and a portal to hell in the closet.

“WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING IN HERE WITH YOUR DOOR WIDE OPEN??!!!” I yelled, channeling Joan Crawford. Shaking with the psychological devastation of an epic nap fail on the day when everyone (not least, Mommy) most needed it, I rushed a thrashing, screeching Maddux down the stairs, away from her brothers and their potential sleep. Of course, screaming at one kid is generally a pretty good way of waking the others up. So there we were, in the middle of what should have been naptime, back in the playroom. Thomas clinging to me like a hybrid koala-piranha, wiping snot in my hair. James refusing to sit on the potty or share trains. Maddux coloring in Daddy’s office so I wouldn’t accidentally strangle her.

There would be no restorative sleep for the cranky, teething baby. There would be no pee making it into (as opposed to in the general vicinity of) the training potty. There would be no acts of kindness from a well-rested oldest child. And there would be no break for Mom until after 8.

Don’t get me wrong. Potty training is still WAY easier during a break, when we’re not racing around to the gym and school. However, I cannot be held responsible for any junk food and terrible television I may consume after my adorable little mayhem machines are plugged into their recharging stations.

Tale of The Ripper

The year is 2010; the setting, a cold and gloomy playroom in Western Canada. Fingers of pale sunlight angle through the wooden blinds and rest, as if exhausted by the journey, on a train table. Their presence does little to cheer the room or allay its wintry chill. Magnetic trains huddle together, lips pressed shut, shivering not with cold, but fear. The mountain winds whistle through the trees like harbingers of the terror that lies in store. As the voices of children echo off the bare walls of their nursery, no one notices a small figure crouched in a dim corner — or the faint shredding noise — until it is too late. Minutes later, in the same corner, a scream pierces the air. A broken shell of a book has been discovered, pages rent from binding. The Ripper has struck again.

This ghoulish mutilator of literary gems has been the scourge of the playroom for a few months now. He preys on its quietest denizens. Although he is well-read, mercy and remorse are not in his vocabulary.

The Ripper’s first victim was, at one time, believed to have been a beloved copy of “Busy Little Mouse,” whose back was brutally broken and torn to small shreds one day in early December. But after some investigation by the intrepid Inspector Mom, it became apparent that a serial mutilator was on the loose.

Who knows which classic story was this bookthirsty fiend’s first victim? It could have been “Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too?,” which was discovered with its skin nearly gnawed off. Or the venerable copy of “Farm Friends,” whose pages, torn asunder, were found in various locales. (This is no easy feat, as this particular victim was a board book.)

Criminologists say to catch a serial criminal, one must look to his first crime. The 2009 mutilation of “Where Is Baby’s Mommy?” — if that, indeed, was the original crime — would suggest that our Ripper is either a baby, or a mama’s boy, or both. Some in the house (Sherlock Mads, for instance) have suggested that Inspector Mom herself has, in fact, caught the ripper in the act and let him go with a mere warning — and that The Ripper is her own son, Thomas Phillips, a known frequenter of the very bookshelf that so many of The Ripper’s victims called home.

The case against Thomas is strong. When the sound of tearing paper rends the winter air, Thomas is often found cradling the latest mangled victim of The Ripper. And the victims are often “his type” — small, colorful board books with a lift-the-flap feature that toddlers find impossible to resist.

Furthermore, the other possible suspects don’t fit the profile. Maddux is a known mutilator of paper and cardboard, but these are without exception stolen from the recycling bin and all the crimes have occurred in her own room. Even as a baby, she has never been anything less than gentle with books. James, on the other hand, refuses to touch any tome other than “The Monster at the End of This Book” and, that aside, has a concrete alibi for each crime attributed to The Ripper. (However, his constant and noisy activity with diggers and trains has provided cover for The Ripper’s crimes, so a conspiracy cannot be ruled out.)

What we do know is that, for now, no book is safe. “Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom” and friends have sought safety on a high shelf. The Karen Katz Lift-The-Flap collection is in protective custody. The watchful eye of Inspector Mom looks over “The Greedy Python” and “Slowly, Slowly, Slowly Said the Sloth.” It is a dark and forbidding time for nursery literature here.

There is faint hope that The Ripper will pay for his crimes, but many here fear that the corrupt, complacent authorities will simply wait it out, assuming his lust for paper will one day abate and books will again be able to lie about the room, unshadowed by the spectre of disarticulation.

For now, “Sadie the Ballerina” hides, motionless. “Curious George” dares not peer from his perch. Optimism is as dim as the wan February sunlight in this bleakest of Canadian playrooms. Wary eyes survey the floor constantly, hoping that today will not bring the discovery of The Ripper’s latest crime. Those who spend their days in this nursery jump at the merest turn of a page. Perhaps, as spring turns and days are spent watching yellow rays dance on warm, bright grass, summer’s optimism will overtake the dark mood here. But until then, in this interminable season of terror, the shrieking of bitter winds portends but more grim deeds at the hand of The Ripper.

Thomas: Innocent book lover, or scourge of the family library?

Double Doody

The first thing you’ll read in any book or article on potty training is this: Kids potty-train on their own time. Let them pick the pace. Of course, another pellet of wisdom from the potty experts is that children need to be physically capable of removing their pants, which is why Thomas — to his undying chagrin — is not being potty trained yet.

You see, Thomas is very pro-potty. Anytime James happens to be sitting on his little blue Baby Bjorn potty chair, Thomas squeals with glee and places the training seat on the big potty and shrieks at me until I deposit him atop his throne, to a chorus of triumphant cackling. In the event that he is not placed on the potty while James is trying for No. 2, Thomas will angrily drop a deuce in his diaper right then and there.

While Thomas’ goal is to use the toilet like a big kid, James’ goal is to transcend the excretory system altogether. Oh, sure, he is happy to put something in the potty if there’s a treat on the line. But James has far greater ambitions.

“I stay dry all day,” he tells anyone who will listen. “I never EVER EVER go pee! I NEVER go poop!”

And with that goal in mind, he stayed dry all last night, for the first time ever.

“Would you like to pee in the potty, James?” I asked after retrieving him from his room.

“No, Mommy!” James shouted. “I stay DRY!”

“James,” I explained gently, “The way people stay dry is by using the potty so they don’t have pee accidents.”


“OK, James,” I said. “We’ll try after breakfast.”

After a two-juice breakfast, I asked him to sit on the potty again.

“No, Mommy, I stay dry ALL NIGHT. I never EVER need to go to de potty. I STAY DRY!”

All right, then. Of course, it’s no easy task steeling oneself against bowel and bladder evacuation when one’s attention is divided between holding in a night’s worth of pee and playing with toy excavators.

Ten minutes in, James stood stock-still in the middle of the room and hailed me with a familiar refrain: “I so soaked, Mommy! I so pooped!”

“James,” I asked as I escorted him to the bathroom, “Do you think maybe you should have gone in the potty when I asked you to?”

“NO! I stay DRY!” he insisted, Pull-Ups drooping heavily with evidence to the contrary.

As I cleaned him up, I could hear Thomas banging on the door and squealing with anger at my failure to include him in the festivities. Once James was ensconced on his wee throne, I opened the door to an overwhelming statement by Thomas, in olfactory form, that one can indeed attain yogi-like control over one’s bodily functions.

In a world in which Thomas was not one of three spirited children, I might consider toilet-training a baby who was neither able to remove his pants nor climb onto his potty of preference (yes, the Baby Bjorn is great for putting toys in and all, but nothing beats a giant, flushable potty into which you can fit your entire body if you so desire). But there are other kids in this family. Ones who are likely to start jumping off tables or get into the glitter glue if I disappear into the bathroom to keep the baby from drowning himself in the loo. So until the summer, when Thomas has reached the 18-month mark and isn’t swathed in heavy winter clothing, we’re just going to have to put up with on-demand pooping synchrony.

In happier news, James has stayed dry all afternoon. Now, if only we can convince him that his big-boy underpants are, indeed, NOT made of stinging nettle …

It’s Sockey Night in Canada

When I pulled the hockey sticks out of storage and wrapped them, Chris told me it was a bad idea. We’d bought them on sale at Costco when Maddux was about 18 months old and James wasn’t even holding up his own head, let alone a hockey stick.

Before the kids were big enough to interact with each other, we had visions of our adorable tots playing backyard games of ball hockey. When the kids finally did interact with each other, we revised that vision. The new vision looked more like a cross between Jai-Alai and a gladiator deathmatch, so into storage the toddler-size hockey sticks went.

But a few years had passed, and the older kids were big enough to know that high-sticking gets you a lot of time in the “time-out” box. Plus, what we’d managed to scrape together on our recession-era Christmas budget was looking pretty sad when we laid it all out to wrap.

“I’ll probably regret this,” I admitted as I surveyed the assortment of weaponry I was about to bestow on our band of tiny hooligans. But Maddi had already spied the sticks in the furnace room, so I was committed to the process.

When the paper came off the ball-hockey set on Christmas morning, the boys’ eyes lit up. “Sockey ball!” James giggled. No matter how many times I tell him that we play “hockey” with a “puck,” James will always insist that Canada’s national winter sport is sockey ball.

Ever since they were tiny, the boys have enjoyed watching sockey ball. James enjoys sockey and baseball in equal measures, but Thomas has a particular love for the ice. Before he was sitting up on his own, he’d watch hockey games with his daddy, his little eyes tracking the players and the puck. He’d squeal at the action and pump his little fists until the commercial break, at which time he went back to being a normal infant.

When Thomas was about five months old, we took all three kids to see the local WHL team play. Guess who started jumping up and down and squealing when the players skated onto the ice? As his siblings sat in their near-rinkside seats, somewhat bored, our not-yet-crawling baby tracked the action, waved his arms and jabbered gibberish in an urgent voice to the players. When we left at the end of the first period because Maddux and James were getting tired, Thomas howled his disapproval.

So now that Thomas was walking, I figured it was time to break out the hockey sticks. Insane, I know. Chris and I fully expected those sticks to be in permanent time-out by noon Christmas Day. But the kids proved us wrong. To be sure, there have been a few checking and high-sticking violations (for those who aren’t hockey fans, that means the boys have used their sticks to whack bodies and heads instead of the puck a few times).

However, this is what usually goes on: Thomas picks up a stick and holds it exactly like an NHL player. James does the same. If the puck (a blue ball in their case) is available, James will move it around with his stick while Thomas roars with laughter and swings his stick wildly (it’s as big as he is, and he’s new at this whole walking thing).

In the very likely event that the puck has gotten lost behind the couch, the boys will simply run around the playroom with knees slightly bent, sticks out, and their super-intense pro-hockey “game faces” on. James’ “game face” is concentrated scowl, with a slight flare of the nostrils, his eyes a few feet ahead of his stick on the “ice.” Thomas’ “game face” is a little different — his eyes wide, alert, a little crazy, and he’s usually jabbering some baby trash talk in James’ direction.

And on Saturday nights, we can always count on one thing. After dinner (usually pizza) and before bedtime (usually a bit late), the kids jump on the bed and watch “Hockey Night in Canada” with Daddy. Maddux, who’s going through her (realllly long) princess phase, doesn’t usually watch long, but if it’s Hockey Night, the boys happily watch the game until they’re dragged off to bed wailing “I watch sockeeeeeyyyy!”

Tonight, because the Canucks are losing*, the boys are celebrating Sockey Night downstairs with their own sticks. They’re good little boys and have watched enough hockey to know how the sport is played, so my refereeing skills are needed much more rarely than we thought when I pulled those sticks out of storage.

On the rare occasions when a boy raises a stick over his head and begins chasing the “other team” with wicked glee, all it takes is the question, “How do good little hockey players hold their sticks?” Down go the sticks. On go the “game faces.” It’s Sockey Night in Canada.

Watching the home team win the midget sockey championship

* The Canucks did not, in fact, lose and the kids got to watch the recorded version of their win after dinner. There was cheering and arm-pumping and the usually-coordinated Thomas was so excited that he took a header off the end of bed for the very first time. (Don’t worry, he was fine and went right back to jumping on the bed and cheering on the Canucks!)

No Holds Barred

Thomas hugged me yesterday. Now at this point in parenting, you’d think I wouldn’t care where my hugs are coming from. A hug is a hug is a hug, right?

Um, big “No” on that one. When you have a baby who is capable of slapping high fives with peers and offering his hand for adults to shake, I don’t think it’s too much to expect him to be able to give a proper hug to his own mommy. Especially when he is more than happy to bestow affectionate squeezes on the very brother who, just moments before, high-sticked him (a generous euphemism, as the hockey puck is nowhere to be found).

Maddux was never a hugger. Still isn’t. She’s more of a wrap-your-arms-around-a-neck-and-then-dangle-limply-with-your-full-body-weight-while-emitting-a-strange-high-pitched-giggler. But she abuses hugging technique with equal abandon upon all her victims, so that’s OK by me.

James, on the other hand, was born hugging. His arms just naturally curl into a hug position anytime he’s near anything remotely huggable. A mom, a pillow, a truck. If you’re on his VIP list, James will drape himself across your chest and ask you, with that huge smile that showcases all 20 of his teeth, “Sing sunshine song!”

Of course, if you are a baby, James finds that it’s easier to subdue you by giving your head a big squeeze. You can’t see. You can’t move. It’s perfect. So the key to getting a really good hug out of my middle son is to avoid being below the age of 14 months. (Luckily for you, you’re reading this, which means either that you’re older than 14 months, or that you’re a very bright baby indeed. In which case, you’ve been warned about the hugging.)

So anyway, James and Thomas have been hugging each other for a few weeks. At first I thought it was just a new grappling technique in their Fight Club.

“Stop that fighting at once!” I barked at my two smiling boys. Then I thought to myself, “Why are both of them smiling? Shouldn’t one of them be screaming for mercy?” And I realized that instead of a mutual stranglehold, I was witness to the most amazing thing ever: Two boys hugging each other nicely instead of face-checking each other. And I had just yelled at them to stop. Oops.

Luckily, my children are incredibly disobedient, so telling them not to hug was perhaps my parenting coup d’ etat. They embrace each other in between head-butts at home, and give each other big bear-hugs at the gym. Go, me.

But was I on the receiving end of any of these full-contact hugs? No, I was not. Although Thomas was happy to slap me fives or shake my hand or descend into my knee whenever a spot happened to be available (he will plop himself on any open lap, a fact which delights his siblings to no end), his mommy-hugs consisted of a hand on each shoulder, his head laid sweetly just below my chin. Nothing to sneeze at — but then he’d go give his brother a hearty squeeze around the neck. Where’s my squeeze, kid? You wanna talk squeezes? You don’t even want to know how long I spent trying to squeeze your giant full-term head out, and you didn’t even have the courtesy to face the right direction! Don’t you think I could use a hug after all of that?

But after a few weeks of practice, Thomas decided his hugs were ready for prime time, without me ever having to unleash my “Where’s Mommy’s hug?” rant on his unsuspecting ears. (Besides, I’m saving the agony-of-labor card for something really important, like sleep.)

Yesterday, as the boys and I were dropping Maddux off in her classroom, we all hugged each other good-bye as usual. Then James gave me a hug good-bye as well, hoping that this was the day I’d let him stay in Maddi’s class and play with all the fun blocks and beads. (He keeps forgetting this is contingent on being potty trained.)

“Aww, James, what a nice hug!” I exclaimed.

Then Thomas flung his chubby arms around my neck and crushed his cheek against mine. I just about fell over. (And not just because I was squatting and the giant baby-hug threw off my equilibrium!)

I’m a pretty tough cookie. I can ice a bloody lip or nose without breaking a sweat. I can scour dried poop clumps from a windowsill with the calm of someone sweeping away a few dust bunnies. And on Sept. 11, 2001, when my radio alarm clock woke me with news of planes flying into American landmarks, I went to work on what should have been the first day of my weekend (24-year-olds don’t get real weekends off in news) and edited stories of death and horror for another week. The only things that can dissolve me into a quivering puddle of goo are that impossibly sweet “Silent Night” Pampers commercial and hugs from babies whose little limbs can barely encircle your neck.

And I finally got my big, soft, heart-melting baby hug from Thomas at the moment when I least expected it. If it hadn’t been for the swarm of 3- and 4-year-olds watching and judging, I would have wept for joy right there. There’s just something about a toddler’s glorious abandon of affection that can turn a mom to jelly in an instant. A hug is not just a hug when it’s my baby’s first, no matter how many kids I have. (Although, given my feelings about the third stage of labor, I think it’s safe to say we’re done.)

Fun and Games

For more than a century, athletes from all over have converged every couple years for the Olympic Games. Sometimes, the games are held in scary locales with creepy, oppressive cultures and corrupt officials — Hitler’s Germany, Soviet-era Russia, Salt Lake City. But this year, the Winter Olympics are but a few hours away in beautiful and friendly Vancouver, B.C.

One of the perks of living a few hours away from the Olympics’ host city is that the torch relay passes through our town. Since it’s not a terribly big city and we weren’t sure when we’d be on the relay route again, we decided to take our kids out past their bedtimes. Just this once.

Since this blog is basically birth control in written form, you are probably expecting this to end badly. As much as I would love to give you a satisfying tale of terrible kiddie chaos and frenzied coffee-swilling madness, I must regretfully announce that there was a minimum of insanity.

OK, fine, James and Maddux both licked the railing on the park bench and Thomas managed to create for himself, in a matter of 2.5 seconds, a handsome cookie beard. There was also the small issue of the single light-up Coke bottle someone handed the kids, so that instead of having some boring conversation with my husband on the ride home, I could spend my time refereeing a heated toy-custody battle. (Luckily, these bottles do not have a very good battery life.)

However, things could have been much worse. Let’s face it; they usually are much worse. Since nobody pooped an entire outfit or split their face open or had a tantrum that attracted stares from a block away, I shall consider our outing a smashing success. The kids bounced around excitedly, Maddux proclaiming early, often, and loudly, in her best Rose-Bowl-parade-announcer voice, “The Olympic TORCH!” (Bystanders stopped looking around for it after about the fifth time.) James also enjoyed playing Official Announcer, baffling those around us with his triumphant shouts of “Da whipping porch!”

While James and Thomas enjoyed the torch relay, they are newcomers to the Olympic scene. Not so Maddux. Our little preschooler has been hosting pretend Olympic games in the playroom since July, often being the only contestant, which lends credibility to her amazing gold-medal streak of some 800-bazillion and counting. She never tires of skipping across the room, giggling in pageant-perfect faux humility as she receives her prize from the invisible panel of judges, and racing back to me proclaiming “I won another GOLD MEDAL!!!!” in a voice so excited it might surprise you to learn it was her 400th GOLD MEDAL!!!! of the afternoon. (Just wait until she learns about Academy Award speeches. She’ll be unstoppable.)

Maddux’ skipping always represents the sport of figure skating, that pinnacle of winter sports for girlie girls. She used to call it “girl hockey” because in a local ice arena where we watched an exhibition hockey game, there was a mural on the wall portraying a female figure skater. After leaving the game, she told me “I want to be a hockey ghoul (this is how she pronounces girl), because I just LOVE their outfits!”

“Really?” I asked, rather skeptically.

“Yes, they are just like PRINCESSES!” my daughter exclaimed rapturously.


“That’s not hockey, that’s figure skating. Hockey girls wear the same thing as hockey boys. Figure skaters wear little skirts, and the boy figure skaters wear pants and fancy shirts. They don’t play hockey, they do the same things you do in ballet class, except on ice skates.”

Maddux’ eyes went from her regular-cartoon size to full-on anime-heroine size.

“I’m gonna be a figger satyr!” she exclaimed with a squeal.

So a figure skater she is, winning thousands of gold medals weekly. (Take that, Michael Phelps!)

But now that we’ve watched the Olympic torch come through town, James is ready, too. The whole ride home, during his turn to hold the coveted glowing Coke, he held the bottle aloft as if it were the torch itself, yelling as it changed color: “RED!!!! GREEN!!!! BLUUUUEEE!!!! YEYYOW!!!!RED!!!!!!!” (This is always a delightful thing in the car, as James has only the one volume: Super loud.)

So for the boys, we’ll have hockey — or as they call it, sockey ball. (Yes, they realize that sockey ball players use a “puck,” but that doesn’t change the fact that its name is “sockey ball.”) And for Maddux, we will record figure skating. Although we really need to work on pronouncing those ‘K’s and ‘G’s, since nimbly sliding across the tile in the mall in slippery shoes while you’re yelling loudly, “Look, I’m Satan!” tends to draw stares.

Happily, no such stares were drawn last night and we all survived the torch relay — the only casualty being a healthy dinner (unless you believe Kraft’s claims). The next Olympian feat: tomorrow night’s family hockey night with Maddux’ school, in which we will attend a Rockets game right around bedtime. Stay tuned for the exciting sporting action!

Waiting for the torch