Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This

The “stall” in hacky-sack or soccer juggling parlance is a slick move as any late 80’s/early 90’s University of Vermont hippy worth his weight in patchouli and Phish bootlegs would tell you.  Basically one’s foot catches the ball/sack on its free fall in such a way that the foot moves downwards at exactly the same speed the ball/sack had been previously traveling.  Suddenly, foot and ball/sack pause together as if hovering, until the foot re-launches the ball/sack[1] upwards.  A power knee stall takes this move into an evern more impressive dimension, but I’m ready to move on.

When the bedtime hour arrives at our house, Greta has become a master of her own stall move.  As the eldest of her siblings, she has the right to be last to bed.  But still, she stretches those last few minutes into marathon sessions sometimes.  She’s crafted a routine that has become standard operating procedure.

First, we lay in bed together.  She wants to pretend that we were asleep, but we woke up because we had a bad dream and we have to tell each other what the bad dream was about.  I try to avoid zombie apocalypse scenarios – to ensure she will eventually fall asleep – and focus more on nightmares appropriate for a four year old.  My examples might involve something like an ice cream cone that topples over.  Or crashing on a bicycle.  Or a toilet that overflows a bathroom, creating a river pouring through the ceiling of our garage.  (Oh wait, that last one actually just happened in our house on Friday night.)   Greta will then share her bad dream, which oftentimes resembles my bad dream but with slightly different details.

To distract ourselves from the bad dreams, Greta calls for a moment of silence for us to reflect on happy thoughts.  After sufficient time has passed, she always makes me go first and divulge what my happy thoughts were.  On a good night, I try to come up with something new and unique.  On most nights, though, I fall back on the old reliables: unicorns, rainbows, butterflies, flowers, fairies, ice cream, playgrounds, etc.  Following my lead, Gigi’s turn will coincidentally involve purple, pink, and polka-dot versions of whatever we’ve just discussed.  It’s classic.

For the grand finale, we negotiate a song list.  If I’m grumpy or if she’s at her max, we pick one song and call it a night.  If we’re in a good place, I try to max the concert at three songs.  Most frequently, the trifecta involves “Do-Re-Mi,” the infamous “Cheerios” song we invented a couple of years ago, and “Show Me the Way to Go Home.”

Next come hugs and kisses, an exchange of “I love you”’s, activating the sound machine, and turning on the glow in the dark lady bug.  The door closes.

Every once in a while, as THE WIFE and I are cleaning the fallout from dinner and just dying to sit on the couch, we’ll hear whimpering from the corner bedroom.  Usually, the excuse is a forgotten stuffed animal.  Other times, she has to pee.  Or she’s thirsty.  Or she’s upset because I didn’t sing one of the songs she wanted.  The more tired she is, the more obscure the excuse.

We’ll see how long this current routine plays out.  I’m not sure how old Gigi will be when the routine becomes too juvenile.  Fortunately, if my oldest daughter is anything like her mom, then at least I know we will debate that it is time for bed when she falls asleep on the couch. 

Sweet dreams and happy thoughts.  I’m off to get some Zzzs. 

[1] Yes, I was grinning every time the opportunity to write “ball/sack” occurred. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe

Any John Grisham fan worth their weight is quite familiar with the concept of a billable hour.  I track every single task I perform at work in increments of six minutes.  One tenth of an hour.  Or what I like to call the “point one.” 

Lately, I’ve realized that my children (or at least Gus and Tilly) also kind of operate on a billable hour basis when it comes to stability of mood.  Every six minutes, the vibe around them ebbs and flows in an unpredictable direction.  During the span of a “point one,” any one of the kids can go from happy and fun to miserable and hysterical, or vice versa, or they may just maintain the course for another six minutes of whatever they were just doing. 

Tilly, by far, is the most volatile of the three regardless of the age differences.  Her temper is like nothing I’ve ever seen.  The closest comparison I can think of is the Bigfoot caricature in the beef jerky commercials.  In one moment, the Tills could be hugging and kissing you while grinning and playing.  But in the next moment, she will flail uncontrollably on the floor and contort her body like she has tetanus while screaming at a Spinal Tap 11 level if you snatch a knife/bleach/any aerosol containing a hazmat/loaded pistol/INSERT any inherently dangerous object out of her hands.  And yet, six minutes later, Tilly could easily be laughing at Elmo or Cookie Monster like they’re throwing back martinis together at Hooper’s Tavern. 

Gus is also a fickle character.  Most of his frustrations arise when Tilly is somehow involved.  But he is definitely not innocent in all of their transactions.  The two of them abuse each other pretty frequently in creative ways.  In fact, while enjoying lunch al fresco on our deck today, I went inside to get some more food for my gentle angels.  When I came out, Tilly was smashing her plastic plate over Gus’ head repeatedly as Greta sat by while casually sipping on a juice box.  Gus resorted to his trademark cry move where his shoulders come up, he furrows his brow, and his lower lip moves upward in a pout.  Usually, a good hug and cuddle sesh gets him back on track whereupon he’ll track down Tilly and exact his revenge.   

Greta’s billable hour rate is probably closer to half-hour increments as compared to Gus’ and Tilly’s point one.  She is also the easiest to coax out of a funk mostly just because we can actually have an interactive conversation with her to sort out whatever the crisis may be.  To her credit, Gigi mostly stays above the fray of her younger siblings.  But hell hath no fury like the scorn of a woman if someone dares take whatever toy lay before her.  In those instances when a snatch has occurred and Greta issues a report to the parental authorities, her interests are so plentiful that it’s pretty easy to distract her back into a better mood.  Barbies, princesses, Hello Kitty, Dora, Lala Loopsie, Care Bears, My Little Pony, ice cream, rainbows, unicorns, etc. are tops on the list.    So long as you can come up with some idea that incorporates one of the aforementioned topics, she’ll generally snap out of whatever bad mood she is experiencing. 

When all three of my trifecta are in a good, happy place, there is no place that I’d rather be.  Naturally, the equilateral triangle is the rarest of the possible combinations.  But when the phenomenon occurs, it’s as if you’re taking in a gorgeous sunset with a fantastic glass of wine, a view of Santorini’s caldera, and Enya is playing as the wind blows through your hair.  Or maybe you’re just able to look at Facebook in peace for two and a half minutes. 

As for an appropriate distraction strategy, the key seems to be keeping all of them entertained simultaneously without relying on the same activity to occupy their attentions.  Planting only a single toy in the middle of the trio is a textbook rookie mistake.  Tilly will simply sprint into the middle first and steal that shit with ease as she sprints away chuckling from the scene of the crime.

The better play is to have several of the same toy.  So, for example, if balloons are what you’re thinking, I recommend having at least ten.  That typically will buy you at least a .4 or maybe even a .6  stretch of straight giggles and no crying.  Of course, a fight will absolutely break out the second someone won’t give up the purple balloon, or the balloon with rainbows on it, but that problem can be avoided if you get ten of the exact same color/design. 

Well, this is my life now I suppose, however mundane it may sound.  The lesson is that the law firm of Greta, Gus, and Tilly are not to be approached with ease.  Fight the law and the law usually wins, as The Clash tells us.  But at least I know the mood will change after six minutes or so.