The Justice of #4

The ability to recognize that it is not a good practice to tattle on someone when you are the entire cause of the problem is not known to children naturally. They have to learn it. And we parents are to be the unwitting teachers in that endeavor. Sooner or later, the kids pick it up. However I would have thought that #4 would already be familiar with that truth. I have written about it before in the past post Discipline and Observation.

When #4 walked in hauling #5 by the arm, he looked as guilty as if he had been caught stealing cookies. #4 presented her captive to Wife as to an executioner. She announced, “He stepped on #6’s head!”

You've just been told on.

You’ve just been told on.

Wife turned to the four year-old. “Why did you step on your brother’s head?”

#5 stammered, “I… well… I didn’t… well she pushed me!” He pointed an accusing finger at #4.

She seemed to shrink into herself like a turtle as Wife rounded on her. Before Wife could unleash her reserves of discipline upon the little girl, #4 blurted out her defense as only a five year-old could. “I didn’t know! I didn’t know that if I pushed #5 he would step on #6’s head! I didn’t know!”

Needless to say, her excuse was not enough to save her from the trouble she was in.

Of course it must be mentioned that #4 is more intelligent than I would like. A stupid child might take some time to learn what is unacceptable, however once learned they simply stop. But a smart child takes longer, especially if they are obstinate like #4, for once it got through her thick head picking on her younger siblings by tattling would only get her in trouble, she quickly began to explore other avenues. So now we have to watch out for her more subtle manipulations. Let me illustrate.

#4 had been waiting for her turn with the toy that #6 had. #6 decided that he had not had enough time. #4 took matters into her own hands. “Ok,” she said, “if you don’t give it to me I’m gonna to count to ten. I’m going to count to ten and if you don’t give it to me I’m gonna tell you that your drawing, the one you drew for mommy, I gonna tell you that it is ugly. Ok. One… two… three… four… five… six… seven… eight… nine… ten! Ok! Your drawing is ugly!”

The shock of all was it worked! The three year-old burst into uncontrollable weeping until his sister took the toy and then assured him that his drawing was not ugly.

Back to My Roots, Way Up High

Wife cut the children free from their home studies early one Saturday and we all wandered over to my parents. Yes, when the schooling gets behind Wife will make them study on the weekend, provided she is up to the extra work. But sometimes even Wife needs her rest. That was how we ended up sitting in my mother’s garden with my parents and several of my siblings while the children literally ran off all the pent up energy that was nearly bursting from their little bodies. Strangely, it seems to be the same kind of energy they build up when they clean the house. Huh?

Climbing trees

Climbing trees

I sat in a remarkably comfortable wire patio chair and absentmindedly rocked for the baby that I was not holding. After almost ten years of constant babies, I sometimes find myself rocking or swaying out of habit, and it can be embarrassing. However, as I was in a rocking chair, nobody noticed. As I sat and visited with my family, I just noticed out of the corner of my eye that some of the children were playing around and in the lower branches of a pine tree.

Some part of my mind woke up memories of long ago when I was nimble enough to scale the tall trees and light enough for the higher branches to hold me. I remembered looking out onto the world that spread out below. Even though I had just been among the landscape, it always seemed to fall away as I left it behind and disappeared into the green world high above. And if my mother happened to see me, which happened quite often as children like to show-off their achievements, she would usually have something close to a panic-attack when she saw me ten, twenty, or even thirty feet high, and demand that I play closer to the ground.

Two to a tree.

Two to a tree.

While I remembered and lost the thread of the conversation around me, we all heard several of my daughters squealing for our attention. After a minute of pondering what the children wanted us to see, we saw it, or rather saw them. #1 was a little way up the pine tree, but the excitement was all over #4 who had made her way up to the very top of the tree. Once their grandmother saw my daughter way up there on the thin branches she let out a squeak that brought me right back again to my childhood.

Way up high.

Way up high.

Predictably, my mother made both of the girls climb down so that she could be sure that neither would fall out. I’m glad to see that some things never change.

Little Fears

The fears of little children can be quite comical from where we stand with our many years. But to the small child, they are as real and terrifying as falling out of bed. In the little one’s eye, the prospect of travel down a dark hallway is alike to following a rattlesnake down a gopher hole. So to add to the many hats of parenthood, add Trauma Counselor.

In the early hours of the night, two pair of feet padded down to the bathroom. My younger children seem to visit the bathroom in pairs as the dark in our house is just as dangerous as everywhere else. But what woke me out of the peace of dreamless sleep was #5 screaming, “Mom!” or “Dad!” alternating until one of his parents arrived.

Toilet FearsI stumbled in to find the little boy trapped on the toilet while #4 was supposed to be keeping guard. With the out burst of #5 I immediately learned what she had been doing. “She says the Toilet Monster comes up the toilet and it will… it licks my butt!” At that point he was so worked up, he was almost in tears.

#4 was not slow to spin around and defend herself. “Well Uncle ah… Uncle… he said…”

I cut her off. “The Toilet Monster is not real. Your uncles were just telling stories. Nothing is going to lick your bottom. They’re not real. Now finish up and go back to bed.” That bit of disappointingly brief comfort was about all I was capable of at that hour.

As I turn to take my own advice I heard #5, “See, I told you they’re not weal! You were juss trying to scare me.”

#4’s retort was lost to me by my bedroom door.

As I crawled back under my blankets I knew exactly where the Toilet Monster had come from, my younger brothers. In order to have a little fun, they introduce that imaginary fiend to my little ones, with the desired result. I know it happed exactly that way, because I did the same to them when they were about my children’s age, so many years ago, when I made up the Toilet Monster.

Never thought that one would come around to bite me in the butt.


Discipline and Observation

I never found scolding a child enjoyable; but discipline is as much a necessity as bathing. If Wife and I ever fell behind, we would have a huge mess on our hands.

And so, Wife found herself scolding #1 because she had let #7 (the baby for now) get too close to the stairs. After the rebuking, #1 felt properly chastened and Wife was properly satisfied with the results.A favorite pastime

Then, the wide, gleeful eyes of #4 poked around the doorjamb. She slid into the room bobbing like a vulture and grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Her hazel eyes looked between her sister and mother attempting to uncover the recent happenings in the same way an archeologist reasons out a past civilization. “What’d she do mom?” was her jovial inquiry.

Wife, who was not enjoying her motherly duties as disciplinarian, found the joy that #4 got out of the misconduct of #1, absolutely irritating. She stood up quickly, which brought on a wave of contractions, and told #4 that it was none of her business, while clutching at her pregnant abdomen.

#4 did not dally after she had been reproached, nor was she gone long. Since one of her favorite pastimes seems to the observations of her siblings’ reprimands, another one must be informing on their ill behavior, whether real or imagined.

When she came back to her mother, it was to inform her that #5 was hitting #6.

“Did you see him hit your brother?” Wife asked with exasperation.

“Um, no, but he is crying… so he got hit,” was her explanation.Bumping the Table

“If you didn’t see it how do you know? Go, show me!” And Wife waddled after #4 to a false alarm. #6 had walked into the table; #1 and #2 were comforting him. When Wife rounded into #4 she cringed as she blurted out the term of general defense, “I didn’t know!”

The War of the Stones

One morning I was splitting wood in the yard with #4 and #5 looking on. They played musical logs for a while, and asked many silly questions as children do, and soon became bored with both. They began to re-explore the yard as I started to split wood once more.

In little time #4 had found two prizes. She hurried up to me, arresting my attention and presenting her prizes, while #5 tried to arrest her attention from behind. “Look Daddy,” she squealed. “I found two wocks. They look like teeff.” She rethought it, “Dwagon Teeff!”#4's rocks

I acknowledged how interesting they were and waved them back so I could continue my work.

They walked back and the little boy still pleaded to hold the rocks. After a short time the little girl thought of a way to satisfy her brother. She turned to him, holding the stones behind her back. “OK, OK, here’s what I do, I will trow the wocks and whoever gets them gets them. I will count to thwee, weady, I will count to thwee. Wait ‘til I count to thwee! One, two, THWEE!”

And, true to her word, she threw the stones. However, the rocks became airborne at the same moment she started to run. Her strategy had put her at least a pace ahead of her brother. The outcome was foreseeable. “I got them!” she said while #5 shouted, “Aww, nuts!” No joke, he actually said it.The rock of #5

This game played out several times before #5 just quit and began to search for his own unique rock; and it was not long, not at all.

He came trotting back not to show me his rock, but his sister. When she asked to hold it he said, “I phrow it, and we see who gets it first. I count to phree. One, two, phree!” And when he threw the stone, he was already at a dead run which ended with him shouting, “I got it!”

After two bouts of that, #4 came whining to me. I dropped my tools as I started a gut wrenching laugh. “You just did the same thing to him not two minutes ago. I’m not going to get after him for doing the same to you,” I said as I wiped the tears from my eyes.

#4 scowled, frowned, and I think was even able to touch the tip of her nose with her eyebrows. Knowing she would get no better response from her mother, she turned back to #5 and proceeded to tell him just how much better her rocks were.

#5 was perfectly content with the rock he had. Though I had my doubts whether it was the same rock he had at first.My rocks are better

#4’s Birthday

The time: after dark.
The day: #4’s birthday.
This explosive combination could only add up to one thing… birthday cake. Wife was in her element.
She started by turning off every light in the living-room, which by itself was not an uncommon practice. After all, many people follow the time-honored tradition of causing an artificial black-out to celebrate birthdays. This way, only the flickering candles on top of the cake illuminated the festive family; and once they are blown out, one or more people stumble dangerously around in the pitch black looking for the light switch. Beloved Wife is a loyal supporter of this well-worn tradition. And as you may have guessed, I’m the stumbler.
Once Wife was satisfied with the mood, she felt the need to lay out the rules before she set the cake down on the table. “O.k. birthday-girl, first we will… DO NOT BLOW OUT THE CANDLES YET! Alright? FIRST, we will sing “Happy Birthday,” then, and only then do you blow out the candles. Understand?”

Listening to instructions

And while #4 listened intently to her mother’s instructions, the rest of the children worriedly watched the candles burn lower and lower. At last the singing started, ended, and the candles were blown out. Ah, but this time I had the upper hand, while Wife gave her pre-blow-out instructions, I turned on the hallway light. Not stumbling this time.
And as I turned on the rest of the lights, the children argued amongst themselves who would get their cake after the birthday-girl. All the while #6 screamed to be the first from his high-chair. I actually think he won out, squeaky-wheel and all. But I wasn’t paying attention. When I did start paying attention was after a little cough was followed by a, “DO NOT COUGH ON THE CAKE! YOU KNOW BETTER.”
What a way for a birthday-girl to end her day. I’ll let you all know if the whole family comes down with the flu.

Mr. Collin’s Memorial

The balloons were a send off by the preschool kids on the first class after his death.

Saturday we went to the memorial for the children’s preschool teacher known to them affectionately as “Mr. Collin.” However, to be perfectly honest I heard him referred to in the plural of “Mr. Collins” more often than not. But the kids always seemed to adore him for I never heard any of my four girls say anything bad, or even remotely close to nasty about him. Because of that reason, Wife and I took the four girls, ages seven, six, five, and three years, to the hour and a half memorial of Mr. Collins.

While we were waiting for the service to start several of the preschool moms had gathered with some of the teachers and were comforting each other. At some point #4, who had Mr. Collin as a primary teacher this year, yanked my arm to get my attention. She then demanded, “I want Mr. Collins!”

“You can’t little one,” I said. “He is in God’s hands now. We can’t see him any more.”

#4 gave me a frown as if to say it was all my fault and stomped her foot. But with youth comes a short memory. In little time she was playing with her sisters before we all filed into the high school gymnasium.

The gym was decorated very nicely with flowers around the stage, and poster size pictures, and a screen that flickered through a slideshow of home photos of Mr. Collin set to music. Poor #4, she was fine until she really studied the slideshow. After about ten minutes of watching she simply broke down and cried. Wife was starting to tear up herself and had to pass the whimpering little girl to me.

I held the child as she sobbed out, “I miss Mr. Collins.”

“I know little one, but we will pray for him, and God will take care of him.” After a few more words of encouragement I just held her, and that was what she needed.

Once people began to talk about Mr. Collin the children were fine. Sad to say, but I don’t think they understood, or were listening to half of what was said. And to illustrate that point, #3 and #4 and #7 the infant all decided to get too hot at once. I spent the last quarter of the memorial in the lobby while #3 and #4 ran in little circles and #7 fell asleep on my arm.

After the service we drove to the preschool for the wake. The kids were ready for that. Young as they are, they all understand that every good funeral is followed by an even better wake. While the adults grieved together, the children ran circles around them. The preschool was vibrantly alive with the loud music of children running off the cookies and cakes they ate. I think for most people the infectious joy of small children is the best medicine for grieving. God bless you Mr. Collin, and may you rest in peace.