Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Fond Farewell to Day Care

And now, to get a little wistful.

For the past two years the boy has gone to the same day care inside the home of a wonderful woman named Beth.

Beth has looked after Master Blackwell and four to five other kids between the ages of 3 months to about 3 years.

From her education, to her day care experience, to being a mother of four, Beth is a kid expert. Nothing phases her and it shows each and every day in the calm that permeates her home.

"I'm sorry, I was told summer lasts forever. What exactly is
preschool anyway? They've got a beach there too, right?"
Beth is the picture of consistency. She knows what each and every kid has eaten, how often they went to the bathroom, how well they slept and how well they behaved.

Santa's list has got nothing on Beth's.

Her home is a wonderfully warm and reliable small pond inside of which the boy has flourished. Amidst this small crowd, he's learned valuable lessons in how to behave and, in general, how to be a congenial creature.

He's learned not to push. Not to hit. Not to shove.

He's learned to share. He's learned to be social. He's learned to do what he's told, even when it's not mom or dad giving the orders. Along the way, he's made friends.

In dropping him off and picking him up, we parents get to know the other kids too. So along with our own kid, we're watching others grow before our eyes.

One little girl started out at Beth's as a three-month old. When I first saw her, she was a cute little infant, who was sleeping in a cradle every day. Slowly she grew into a crawler, who screamed and cried whenever I smiled and said, "Hi," to her. I'm not sure what it was, but boy, she didn't like the looks of me.

But then, in the blink of an eye, she became toddler with long hair who was as charming as a toddler could possibly be.

This is a good world in which to leave your child for a day. As a parent who relies on day care — as most of us do — we put our faith in the competence, intelligence and goodwill of others each and every day. To be able to do so with complete peace of mind is a blessing.

It's also temporary.

Now midway through his fourth year, the boy has reached the age of preschool. It's time that we put him in a bigger pond with new challenges and new possibilities.

So we're leaving the familiar, trusted warmth of Beth's home for a whole new ballgame.

He can read the sign but, does he really
understand what it means?
Instead of four kids in his class, the boy will have 14. Instead of a home, the boy is going to a bigger school with bigger rooms for different activities. He'll be bringing his lunch. He'll be afforded more space and responsibility.

Instead of Beth,  there are a number of teachers who will be getting to know him. At the same time, we'll be getting to know them too.

Naturally, Mrs. Blackwell researched many possible destinations for the boy before determining that this was "the place." Of course, selecting a preschool isn't that simple. There's always a few hoops to jump through, not the least of which is ensuring that they actually have an open space for your kid.

Fortunately, the place we wanted had a spot for the boy. Mrs. Blackwell and I have re-adjusted the pick-up and drop-off protocol and lined up our other respective ducks.

Planner that she is, Mrs. Blackwell also shopped obsessively for the perfect lunch pale before finding one that met her exacting specifications. She completed a grocery list, including numerous nut-free options so the boy's lunches are nutritious for him and not fatal for others.

So on the eve of his first day, all that was left to do was hope the boy would adjust to his new world with minimal friction. Of course there was no way of knowing how this would go until we tried it.

Well, those questions were answered yesterday.

We had the good fortune of the boy waking up in a fabulous — and decidedly chatty — mood. As we worked our way through one of his favorite breakfasts (waffles with butter and strawberry jam), he provided an ongoing narrative. Lately, much of his dialogue has consisted of talking about the "snow" one receives on their TV when the cable goes out.

"Does the snow scare you mommy? Does the snow scare you daddy?" the boy will ask, before answering his own question, "Yes, the snow scares me."

The good mood continued when we buckled him into his mom's car. We were off to a good start. But, the reality of a new world awaited.

Friday, August 28, 2015

It's Potty Time

Alrighty. We're now firmly in the third month of potty training and I can say without equivocation that the folks who told me "it's easy" are as full of it as my son's shorts last Saturday.

That's not to say progress isn't being achieved but, it's been incremental.

And, as Mrs. Blackwell and I were recently discussing, "incremental progress" in the world of potty training looks an awful lot like Day 1 of potty training.

No need to get into the particulars of that observation; suffice it to say it all looks the same, except of course when it's far, far worse.

For his part, the boy is taking this evolution in stride, which is to say that his level of engagement rests somewhere between willing participant and oblivious bystander.
Note the book title. At the bookstore, Mrs. Blackwell giving
the boy a subtle hint. (Mrs. Blackwell would of course want
me to point out her baby bump. We're getting close folks!)

For now, he wears regular underwear during the day — assuming your definition of "regular" includes briefs plastered with superhero logos or astronauts. When he goes to sleep he wears a pull-up diaper, except when I absent-mindedly put him in the briefs, in which case the cleanup duties are mine and mine alone.

While he's getting better and beginning to ask to go to the bathroom, we're still at the point where the boy requires regular inquiry by his mother or myself to determine if he needs to go.

Every so often we'll ask, "Do you need to go to the bathroom buddy?"

Invariably, the boy's response is, "No."

He'll say, "No," even as he's jumping up and scampering off to the bathroom to go.

Then there are the other times when Mrs. Blackwell and I know for certain that enough time has passed and he needs to go, yet he completely shuts down.

He'll begin to cry, occasionally he'll flail or let his body go limp before exclaiming to anyone who will listen: ""No! I'll not go potty anymoreeey!"

Getting to the point of remembering that he needs to go to the bathroom is an exercise in abject fear.

It's like an alarm simply goes off and you realize it's been two hours since you last asked him if he needs to go.

In the ten seconds between this thought occurring to you and bolting to check the kid, you're faced with a 50-50  proposition — either they've done it in their pants or they haven't.

In retrospect, Indian food was not the wisest choice. But,
the boy loves him some Tikka Misala. 
And my, how those ten seconds drag until you get your answer.

The aforementioned allusion to the boy's pants last Saturday, is a perfect example of this.

We put the boy down for his afternoon nap.

Not long after we'd closed the door to his room, and unbeknownst to Mrs. Blackwell (who was working on her computer) and I (who am bereft of a reasonable excuse), the boy filled his diaper.

He no doubt called out for assistance but we didn't hear him. Naturally the boy didn't want to wear a full diaper, so the diaper went bye-bye.

Let your imagination run wild with the rest. Just know that, like any mess created by any little boy, it wasn't confined to a small area.

Sure, it's just pee or poop — along with every parent who's ever lived, I get it. That said, developing a tolerance for something is not the same as accepting it. And, let me tell you dear reader, I don't accept it.

But for now, my tolerance is growing by the day and it's buoyed by the fact that the boy really is progressing.

Until we get there, it's two steps forward and one often very icky step back.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Say Goodbye to Your Perfect World

A letter for my three-year-old son written as if he were a rational 30-year-old man.

Son, I want you to know that even though you've got a new brother arriving in a few months you'll always be our special little guy. 

I've loved you since before you were born. 

Thanks to a complicated pregnancy, your mother and I got twice-weekly looks at you via ultrasound. It was a two-hour drive from our home to that ultrasound but it was worth every mile to see you. 

You're forgiven if you thought this revolved around you.
We watched you grow from the size of a bean to the three-plus feet you are today and every inch has been pure joy. From the moment I first heard you cry when you entered this world, you've owned my heart. 

I feel no pain greater than the pain you feel. There are few prospects I dread more than the prospect of anything less than the best happening to you. 

In my every waking moment since you arrived, I've tried to be better in every way I know how. 

More patient. More tolerant. Less swearing. More sensitive. Less cynical. More patient. Less sarcastic. More mature. More considerate. Less impulsive. More patient (that's not a typo. I've got a real issue with patience).

In doing so, I've partnered with your mom to make your world as comfortable as it makes sense to make it. 

We make sure the cuffs of your pants aren't too high. That your shoes aren't too tight. That the elastic waistband on your underwear isn't folded over and chafing you. We wipe your nose. We make — and remake — your dinner. We take you to the park. We stop what we're watching whenever you ask to watch something else. 

If we're in the middle of a song and you ask to "start over," we do it. (Honestly, I don't know how many times I've heard the first 30 seconds of a song over and over and over and over and over.)

We make sure you've got the particular blanket you need every, single night at bed time. That you've got your plush turtle that shines a constellation from its shell. That you've got your Mickey Mouse Nightlight. 

If you want bubbles in your bath, by God, you get them. 

If you want letters to play with, you get them. If you want another bowl of Froot Loops, you get that too. If you want to read another book, it gets read. 

The world is yours my boy and it's been our pleasure to help make it that way. 

It is therefore my sad, solemn duty to tell you that this amazing world we've made for you, this beautiful, perfect, little Master Blackwell world, is over. 

Done like so many of the dinners you refused to eat. 

Gone, like the good nights' sleep your mother and I used to enjoy. 

Over like the many fun dates your mom and I used to go on. 

Withered and dried up, like my tolerance for new music.

You see son, you're about to get the greatest gift of all, a brother. And, like any great gift, or anything worth having, when something is gained, something else is lost.

You're about to learn some new values and acquire a new set of virtues. Your mother and I could teach you these things but, nothing will be as effective as this.

You're going to learn that the first 3.5 years of your life have been, in many ways, one giant tease.

You'll learn the value of sharing — not just toys either. The value of sharing your time, of sharing attention, of sharing success and, yes, of sharing blame and responsibility.

You're getting a teammate, a buddy that you'll have for the rest of your life. He'll be the only person who understands just how truly nuts your father is. You two will bond over this fact and, even if you have nothing else in common, this will hold you two together no matter what the world throws at you.

You're also getting an occasional adversary, the likes of which you'll never encounter elsewhere. He'll know all of your weak spots and you'll know all of his but, because your brothers, you won't exploit them.

You'll sneak in and dump a cup of ice-cold water on him when he's having a warm shower.

He'll draw on your face with a marker if you fall asleep before him. You'll tie his shoes together and you'll tell him that the brown stuff on the ground is chocolate and he should try it.

When you grow up, there's going to be times you hear something funny that makes you think of your brother. You'll chuckle to yourself because you know that no one else would be tickled by this joke the way you are, except your brother.

When you're older, you'll realize that sharing like this makes life's moments richer and having a brother means having someone to share with — always.

In the tough moments, you'll find strength and motivation from one another. You'll push each other to be better, and not just in a competitive light.

So, you're losing a lot to be sure.

But, my son, you're gaining so, so much more.