thedadblog

a dad and his blog

Kids are more capable than we give them credit for.

If you can master this little secret, you will be heralded as an amazing parent.

It is no small part, a huge important thing that we’ve used to make our kids stand out in a few remarkable ways.

And of course… Again… It is down to my wife’s no nonsense belief in kids. And her excellent intuition on child rearing.

It comes down to expecting more from kids.

Society tells us so many stories about life, and they become our inner stories. Things we take to be true, but are not necessarily.

In your home, if you have the privilege (really?) of being at home with them from birth, you can create the reality.

It is your world. Make it how you want it.

And fuck the rest of the world.

Take, for example, this cute little book called Little Pea. In which a pea is forced to eat candy »blech« in order to get the privilege of eating vegetables.

Well guess what the real message of the book is? Kids need to eat yucky vegetables in order to get dessert.

Fuck Little Pea.

Make your own world, with your own rules, and block out everything else for as long as you can.

Here are some things that amaze other people about our children:

» They walk long distances (like more than 2 miles) up mountains, without being carried (at age 2).

» They eat vegetables.

» They eat REAL food.

» They talk to adults.

» They eat spicy food.

» They have independent activity time every day.

» They take a “polite no” for an answer

And what is the great secret? There is none. We just opted out of the false narratives from birth.

Or actually before birth. My wife was eating spicy vegetables all during pregnancy, while breastfeeding (guess what, the tastes come through the milk!) and our kids first foods included spicy Thai chicken soup.

You don’t have total control for long, so take advantage of it. Eventually, friends, school, media will start giving your kid ideas.

Yes it is true that when you have more than one kid, ideas trickle in from the older ones down. Which might explain why my three year olds say fuck. Yes. We’ll blame the 10 year old. I don’t cuss.

But there is a tiny little bit of good news for those you with growing broods. It’s a lesson taken from the Montessori classroom with 3 grade levels all commingled in one class. Once the culture is set, the new kids fall in line. The first graders come in and see second and third graders unrolling mats, and so they accept it as just what you do.

So for us, having done the hard work with the first kids, watching the twins follow along without pushing back has been a bit of sweet reward.

If only they would all stop their goddam cussing.

So one of my kids loves to cook.

It's uncanny, his ability to just wing it, and make yummy food.

The other morning, before he went off to camp, he asked if he could make muffins.

My answer?

“Yes, but don't ask for any help.”

Lo and behold! A bowl full of batter and chocolate chips was sitting on the kitchen table as I clicked open the van door, and began the 10 minute process of getting kids into shoes.

“There's no time to bake them,” I said in what was probably too gruff a tone. To which he replied, “That's okay, they're for family day. You can bake them for my siblings while I'm gone.”

He's 8, and without a recipe, he made muffins that were actual muffins. Yes they would have done well with a little more (any) butter in the batter, but they rose! and they had chocolate chips! and they didn't taste like baking soda!

A resounding win all around.

This morning, I started making pancakes. (Thank you Kodiak Cakes for making pancakes with protein, that are yummy, and have slightly less sugar crashiness).

The first three were doing their thing on the griddle when he asked “can I flip them when they're ready?”

“Yes please!” was the obvious answer. I had to make coffee. Pick out outfits. Let out the dog. Pack a snack. Check water bottles for strange smells. Gather shoes and track down masks.

“Oh no! I'm horrible at pancakes!” came the sad sound from in front of the cooktop.

I turned and saw a half-cooked pancake half on the griddle, half on the glass cooking surface.

Somehow, in a moment of grace, I thought not about the mess, but the future.

“That's awesome!” as I sidled up to his gloomy (nearly teenage) response of “why?”

And so I explained to him that it meant he was learning how to flip pancakes. And that next time he would flip it a little better. And maybe the time after that, he would nail it.

And that meant that in the very near future, he'd be making me pancakes. Just like he'd made the muffins.

And maybe. Just maybe. SOMEday... that might translate in to 10 extra minutes of sleep for me one Sunday morning.

Bedtime is a war of attrition.

And with 5 kids, us parents are doomed to lose.

And so, one evening, in a fit of flabbergastion deeper than our pile of laundry, the “bedtime ticket” was invented.

Have I mentioned that my wife is a genius? Well she is. Every idea intuition she has on rearing kids is astoundingly spot on. This one hers.

We kick bedtime off after books, at 6:30pm. That's when our 10 year-old heads to bed, and I start corralling kids up the stairs to start brushing teeth. going potty. drinking water. being tucked in. getting hugs. getting kisses. getting flies out of rooms. going potty again. kissing again. going potty again. putting oxalic acid on warts.

And finally I make it back downstairs to await the next interruption.

What follows is an onslaught from all directions.

The creak at the top of the stairs presages a descending need “to find the library book I left in the living room.”

The sound of a sliding door creaking open to send up a pretty pair. One complaining their white noise machine is off, and the second, an adoring sibling tailing like a puppy.

Occasionally my heart lurches as I hear the front door opening. A half-proud / half-guilty kid (or pair of kids) slinks inside holding up a handful of freshly dug carrots.

“Look what we found!” is met with “Why are you out of your bed? Take those carrots to your rooms right now.”

And thus, in a characteristic stroke of genius, my wife said “You just used your ticket.”

“What ticket?” came the confused kid's response.

“Well, from now on, you get ONE bedtime ticket every night. If you forgot something... a book, a midnight snack, or an extra goodnight kiss... You get one chance to come to the living room. Then you've used your ticket, and are henceforth banished to your room.”

And somehow... it worked!

The scarcity begets a sense of hesitation which forces them to take stock “Is this what I want to use my ticket for?”

Now, of course, nothing is a perfect system.

As I've said many times, you can only baby-proof your house for kid you had YESTERDAY.

So there are inevitable relapses. Emotional breakdowns are met with hugs, and talking, regardless of ticket status. And some nights the tickets seem to have no magic power at all.

And, with 5 kids, as soon as they are all using tickets, that's 5 interruptions a night! Too much. So we are preparing the older kids that soon they'll be down to one ticket a week.

Assuming it all works as planned... that's less than one interruption a night (on average).

Of course I know how well plans work with 5 kids, so my expectations are tempered.

But any reprieve is gratefully accepted.

At the moment, I've got a three year old. Well, two actually. We ended with twins.

Last night he was crying because he really wanted to outside and play in the garden.

It was the kind of crying that had no end.

The kind of crying born of tiredness. And three-year-old-ness.

So what did I do?

I squatted down to look his tears in the eyes, and spoke quietly to him.

He couldn't hear me. The cries continued.

I repeated myself even quieter.

He couldn't hear me.

He quieted. Hesitantly. Distrustingly.

He wanted to know what I had sad. But he is learned enough to know this might be some sort of ploy.

And so my gambit began.

“We've had dinner. We read books. So now it's time for bed.”

And the wails were back.

He has nodules in his throat from crying.

And so... Quietly... Again.

“We've had dinner. We read books. So now it's time for bed.”

My sweet little boy just wants to go outside. That's all he wants. But it's too late. He should be in bed. With teeth brushed.

“We've had dinner. We read books. So now it's time for bed.”

Confession time. I was lying.

We hadn't read books. None of his siblings had heard any books yet.

And so my deed was done.

I had replaced his need to go outside with 2 more primal needs:

  • the need to not be left out, and
  • the need to correct the adult who is wrong.

One more time to set the hook:

“We've had dinner. We read books. So now it's time for bed.”

He stops crying. Struggling, he gasps to catch his breath from the sobs.

I wait.

“I”

“didn't”

“read”

“a”

“book!”

I can't let him have it this easy. He needs to feel like he worked for it. So I counter in my steadfastness:

“We've had dinner. We read books. So now it's time for bed.”

“I didn't read a book!” comes his reply.

And now my face drops. The moment I've been waiting for.

I transform from the villain of bedtime, to the hero.

“What?!?!?!?!?!??”

“You didn't get a book?”

“Oh no!!!!! You need a book!”

With doe eyes I say optimistically: “Do you want a book?”

And so he has transformed from devastated wild child to hopeful literary audience.

And I can deliver to him a win. He has corrected the adult. He will get a book.

And I will get bedtime.

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