Unusually, we drive home from school in relative peace and quiet as the boys’ word bank reads empty. My daughter and I chat. I am fascinated to learn about her new hang out, a cool place for pre-teens.
“Mom……..I was wondering?”
“Maybe Mr. B could take me to the 7 11 to spend my allowance?”
“For a treat.”
“A treat…..maybe we should all go. I’ll treat you all. You can save your pocket money.”
“Yeah Mom!”
“So which would you rather have? A nice healthy juice and a broccoli sandwich or chocolate milk and a doughnut I wonder?”
“Slushy and a doughnut!”
“What about you chaps?” Silence continues.
“What would you like as a treat from the 7 11 guys?”
Silence. I concentrate on driving in heavy commuter traffic. “You ask them dear.”
“Hey you guys!”
“What would you rather have? A disgustin healthy sandwich on yucky brown bread and sugar free juice or a delicious Slushy full of chemicals and a doughnut slathered in chocolate and filled to the brim with E numbers?”
“Okay. So I have proposition one and proposition two. Which do you want?” She repeats the choices with ever more colourful language and descriptions. Silence. “Geez guys. Proposition one or proposition two?” She repeats the choices in purple prose, hand gestures and more animation than you find in the average cartoon caper. “So? Come on! Answer me!”
“Firstly……proposition one is……..long and…… proposition two is……… I dunno what yur talkin about.”

And not a meltdown in sight.

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I become intolerable

One of my children plays away on a Friday afternoon, so I only have two of mine and two others for the play date. Two boys down stairs, two girls upstairs, that is the overall plan.

I’ve been borderline before, but now I’m teetering on the edge. I already knew that she was an assertive child. Although she exudes confidence I know that the truth is otherwise. Aged 8 she comes to play with my 10 year old daughter. She is two months older than my son.

I drive them all home. The girls chat in the back of the car.

“Your car is huge.”
“Yeah. My Dad bought it for my mom for a Christmas present.” I decide not to mention it, that it was a replacement car that happened to arrive at Christmas.
“Geez, you must be real rich!”
This is how the myth survives.

“Why is he all……you know……floppy?” she asks me.
“He’s tired, it’s been a long day for him.” I avoid the subject of poor core body strength and vestibular issues.
“He looks all…….you know……weird.”
“Tired! Aren’t you dear?” I say by mistake. Should I have mentioned that ‘weird’ is a banned word?
“Why isn’t he answering. Hey you! Your mom asked you a question.”
“It’s ok, he’s tired. He doesn’t usually talk at the end of the day. He needs a rest.”
“A rest?”
I want to shout ‘drop it!

The boys giggle and squirm together in the back of the car.

“What are they laughing at? Hey, whataya laughin at?”
“They’re just a bit wiggly after school,” I offer weakly but my daughter adds her support, “you know……boys! They can be kinda silly sometimes, just let em do their thing.”
“But they’re so loud! What’s so funny?”
I don’t want to explain that his word bank is exhausted, so I distract instead.
“What are you going to play when we get home girls?”

Once home the boys are out and gone in a flash. The girls saunter into the house, “eeoow! What is that?”
“Oh dear. I think one of the cats must have had an accident. Looks like he’s been eating grass again.”

I rummage under the kitchen sink for equipment.

In the family room I set about cleaning up. She stands over me as I crouch on the carpet scrubbing, “eeow! Are you going to clean that up?”
I lift my eyes to her face which is screwed up in an expression of disgust. Sarcasm tickles the edges of my lips but I resist, “why don’t you two go and play upstairs together?”

They move off, into another room but I can hear their conversation.
“Say it again!” she teases.
“Monna Ray Bay.”
“Hee, hee! He called in Monna Ray Bay! He got it wrong!”
“Das o.k. I know it’s ‘Monterey Bay’ but I like Monna Ray Bay betterer.” He grins at his pal, two guys back from a school field trip. He slips his arm around his wordless pal’s shoulders. One grin reflected back by the other. I nip back with my Marigold clad hands, “why don’t you girls go upstairs and play?”

I hear the cat retching and dash back to the family room.
I hear my son slurping milk.
“Does he always do that?” she asks my daughter.
“Yeah, but it’s o.k., he’s jus real thirsty, he’s not doing any harm huh?”
“That’s gross! My mom would kill me if I did that!” I hear him wander away from the table, soft, irregular foot falls.
“Excuse me! I wouldn’t jump on that tramoplene after that huge glass of milk, you may throw up!” I hear him bounce as he gradually picks up a rhythm. Well done! Great coping skills! Wordless self regulation.
“D’you hear me? I said you’re gonna throw up! Jus like the cat!”

Bounce, bounce, bounce. Good boy! Where is the dividing line between assertive and bossy?

I finish up but the cat still looks a little green around the gills. I whip open the door and park him on a garden chair. I dash back inside and skid to a halt near the trampolene.
“O.k. I think he must have some kind of speech thing,” she announces to the room as she stares at my son. I put a hand on the shoulder of each girl and propel them towards the table.
“D’you know I have a friend who has epilepsy?”
“Really?” I watch him bounce out of the corner of my eye.
“Yeah and she has allergies and asthma and all sorts.”
“Really?” When we’re 15 paces away he stops bouncing to sit on the edge of the trampolene. He and his pal exchange wordless glances.
“I can’t remember how many things she’s allergic to though.”
“Here, have a Satsuma,” I deflect. Maybe if I can fill her mouth with something….
“Sat what?”
“Satsuma. They’re very easy to peel. Try one, you might like them?”
“The orange things?”
“That’s right.”
“I have a rule.”
“You do?” Somehow that doesn’t surprise me.
“Yeah. If I eat bananas then they have to be cut up for me first.”
“Really?” He flops back on the trampolene, a soft pliant body at rest.
“Is this our snack?”
“Have you got anything else?”
“Afraid not.”
“Can I stay for supper………..please?” My son sits upright, like a ramrod, across the room, wordless. His pal flinches.
“Not tonight I’m afraid, I think your mother has other plans.” The ramrod wilts and expires back into his original position. His pal lolls over, inert on the sofa.
“Can she stay for a sleepover tonight Mom, please?”
I watch him rip off his shirt, roll off the tramplene onto the floor and cover his head, nose buried in the carpet fibres.
“Er… it’s a little short notice dear, maybe another time.” A huge sigh wafts out of my son as his arms flop out to the side.
“Eeoww, he’s taken his shirt off. Why d’ya take yur shirt off?”
“He’s hot. Let’s leave them both be, and you girls go up and play.”
“We’re just gonna finish our snack here.

I go over to my son and his pal, “come on guys, lets leave the girls in peace and go and play in the family room. It’s clean now.” We bumble off together.

I put of box of bricks over the damp patch and sit on the carpet next to sack of Pokemon.

They lie on the floor surrounded by pictures of Pokemons that he and his brother made yesterday, carefully, painstakingly and then cut out. This is a feat of unsurpassed manual dexterity, determination and motivation. They turn the paper figures around in their hands making soft little Pokemon noises together, gentle communication. No words. They giggle and grin. I watch and listen. I watch her walk up to him and pounce,
“They’re evil! There! I’ve killed them all!” I stop watching her as she stamps all over the papers. I jump to my feet as I watch them and their mystified faces.

I take a breath. This is not my child, merely a child in my temporary care. My son rolls up in a very small and silent ball. His friend is static, watching. I don’t really want to explain the inexplicable to an 8 year old in front of the boys. I hunker down and touch her arm to turn her towards me, “you know, I think you have hurt their feelings…..quite badly……..look.” She looks at the curve of his exposed vertebrae.
“I din mean to,” she offers and I think she probably means it.
I blurt out the first thing that comes into my mind, “it’s o.k. for people to like and dislike different things.” It’s one of my many, more nauseating statements, that I say hundreds of times a day. If I known that I would be saying so often, I would have chosen a better statement. Once the words leave my mouth it is as if they are carved in stone.

When would any one need to use such a trite statement? Why is it so hard to explain? How can my choice or preference be so upsetting for someone else? An example, may, help.

For years I wore the same old ratty T-shirts and jeans, a mummy uniform but for different reasons. If I wore something else it would upset the boys. A few years ago I would have become unrecognizable just by this one change. It doesn’t really matter what I wear, it will smell differently, or maybe rustle. Sometimes, especially if I’ve not planned ahead, he may need to chew the hem of my shirt to calm himself but not if it feels strange in his mouth. There might be static electricity. The texture and colour will be different. A button, zip or snap fastener may offend, especially if we come in to physical contact, which we frequently do. If I take off my glasses, who am I? Even a pair of earrings can be too sparkly or distracting.

All these things caused tremendous meltdowns. We did have an inkling of some of the issues but when words started to come, the picture became less blurry. More intuitive parents fare better. We used this annoying phrase to try and build tolerance and chip away at their rigid rules.

These days, so many years later, their ability to put up with their wayward parents is quite astonishing.

It makes a welcome change to use this phrase now, to someone else and probably, for the first time………. entirely appropriately.

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St. Patrick's Day

What my children, don't know about making Leprechaun Traps isn't worth knowing. Their knowledge of other Irish trappings, or symbols has reached it's zenith. The subject has been fully covered in each of their classrooms, interwoven into every lesson including occupational and speech therapy. Yup, around here, the subject has been licked. Since St. Patrick's Day is not a school day this year I am saved the pain of trying to dress three children from head to foot in green. We have always failed in the green shoe department, so that is yet another couple of meltdowns that we have managed to skirt. I must admit to being ignorant about the ‘mint’ lure, but there always seems to be something new every year that I’ve missed.Yes, ‘Green’ Day has arrived. Senior is o.k. with ‘green’ just as long as you don’t refer to it as green. He needs specifics; chatreuse, lime, neon. Junior shuns green as a secondary colour, currently not in favour. He is mollified by because ‘golden’ or yellow a primary colour is also king. We have pots of ‘gold’ cut out at great pains due to the torture of scissors on the fine motor skills, lined up with precision, accompanied by a lot of screaming since Scotch tape is the material from hell. There again he did help me hang to Shamrock decorations that adorn our home, held gingerly between thumb and forefinger in a squeamish pincher grip. He did drop them a few times because obviously holding paper is similar to holding a hot coal, but with persuasion he would try again.

I contemplate some kind of burger [meat] on the barbeque, whether that would increase my chances of success? Caramelized cabbage and onions instead of a dill pickle? Cucumber relish as our token green? I know that a baked potato would fly, but that would probably be literally thrown, depending upon how you define fly. Irish stew in the garden when the temperatures in the mid 70’s doesn’t sound that attractive to me either.

I chop parsley to throw into the Irish Stew, my mother's not particularly authentic version. I peel some potatoes in case the Colcannon doesn't fly and ensure that we have a full bottle of tomato sauce at the ready to disguise, if not drown the menu. I rinse the cabbage and tip it into the steamer. I debate the ultimate destination of each? There is a wide choice of options, between the floor, the compost bin or the garbage disposal unit. I blink hard and think positive = liquidize to make soup.

I regret that the tricks of yore with a different generation of children, fail so miserably with the current one:
“They're strawberry flavoured crisps!”
“No, really, it is a Kangeroo burger.”
“The more green food you can eat the faster you'll be able to run.” I feel quite wistful thinking how easy it all was once.
It's a good thing really, that as a parent I have learned that 'lies' are not the best policy, even if it's taken me a couple of decades to come to this realization.

We will don our sparkly green bowler hats, well everyone except junior of course, as his head is still strictly off limits. Since they have already had their classrooms destroyed by a plague of marauding leprechauns, I’m probably not obliged to repeat the exercise at home. Junior was not impressed with this social joke and needed a great deal of reassurance that we probably would not be similarly invaded at home.

All in all, I think maybe we got off quite likely by comparison with last year. We may not have advanced to St. Patrick’s Day Parades, but a lot of people don’t like crowds. Perhaps next year they might actually enjoy it, a bit of it, or a few bits. There is a watered down Irish gene in there somewhere, at the end of some rainbow or other, even if the pot of gold is made of scratchy paper.

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Time to clean up your act

Around this neck of the woods where fine motor skills are in short supply, the management relies upon the use of liquid soap to keep hygiene at acceptable levels. Cleanliness for one of my boys, is a high priority, falling into the OCD category. My other chap is indifferent. I sometimes consider allowing the dirt to build up to the level where I can simply chip it off like a crust with a chisel, to save time.
Liquid soap of course is one of those new fangled extravagances of modern life, but I hadn't realized quite how insidious such shopping preferences can become, especially for one such as myself, someone “allergic to shopping.”

I decide to indulge my family. I ponder if I really want to squander this gift upon my unappreciative herd, but the thought of those beautiful bars of soap spending another year on the top shelf of my closet, makes me wince. It smacks of the 'best china' or 'parlour,' things that are only used on High days and Holidays, imposing an unnecessary paucity on daily life. I pull off the lid to be enveloped in wafts of lemon scent. It even smells clean, which is just how a cake of soap should be.
I am apprehensive in view of junior violent objection to cleaning solutions that involve fruit. I determine to choose my words carefully.

“What it is?”
“It is soap”
“Soap! Soap? It is not soap!”
“It is really. You use it to wash and get clean.”
“Er, no, I am finking dat you are making an accident, not a deliberately.”
“Because dah soap is er…..I dont know er……dis is not soap because it is being hard.” Oh of course, why didn't I think of that?
“I see. Well this is an old fashioned cake of soap, this is what people used before liquid soap was invented.”
“Cake! Cake? I am never eating it, it is terrible for me!”
“Ah, no, you don't eat it, you wash with it, just like liquid soap.”
“Not cake?”
“No that's just the descriptive noun, like 'pod' of whales.”

I demonstrate usage of the strange item to my kinesthetic learner. He makes no comment upon the lemon fumes, merely wrinkles his nose. “Here, you have a try.” I realize immediately that it's a large item to hold for small hands. I also realize seconds later, that it has a hitherto forgotten flaw as it shoots out of his grasp and skids into the other room, an erratic spinning top. He squeals with glee and chases after it. His delight alerts the others that something is afoot. I observe three children gamboling in my kitchen, as smears of soap begin to adorn every surface.

Junior has his own light bulb moment, stops abruptly and takes a marching step towards me. “You know, I fink dat it is fun to be playing wiv cake. We should be having dah chocolate soap because it is smelling nicer than lemon fruit stuff.”

Those moments of self generated problem serving reward us both – isn't that killing two birds with one stone?

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