Mission Impossible theme plays. You sense the tension mounting. It’s only a matter of time. This thing is going to blow. Take cover!
Okay? That’s it? This house is about to self-destruct in an epic way and you come back with “OKAY”?
What does that even mean? Aren’t you going to intervene? DO SOMETHING!
There you go again, just calmly sitting there. We want to see some action. Panic. Even a raised heart rate. GIVE US SOME REACTION, WOMAN.
It has taken me years to get to this point, and I sometimes still fall into the snare that those little tyrants set, trying to pull me into the dark abyss that is “Their Problem”. I am mostly certain that this technique evolved out of inertia, nay laziness, but it works. Trust me.
He took more chips than me.
He won’t pass the grapes.
He called me a dummy.
She’s breathing on me.
It’s my turn to choose a show/use the iPad/sit in the front/
He didn’t take the one he touched.
This mustard is too spicy.
He pointed at me.
He picked his nose.
Okay (but wash your hands, that’s gross).
He peed on the floor.
Okay. Wait, what? (there are some exceptions).
For added effect, just shrug without making eye contact. You’ll foster more resiliency, problem-solving skills in your children, and your wine budget line will decrease significantly. It’s science.
*This technique also works with adults, but with varying results. More testing is needed.
Nothing prepares you for being a parent of a house full of boys. You can read a multitude of online posts or buy all the parenting books you like, but reality isthe best teacher (and she’s merciless). Since I’m in the midst of raising four boys aged ten and under, I will try to help you out a bit and share a few of our house rules. Shake your head and dismiss them if you like, but one day you’ll discover your son cleaning his penis with a toothbrush and you’ll whisper, “She was right, about all the things.”
House Rules for a House Full of Boys
1. Pants are not optional. Ok, they are, but there are conditions. For instance, when we have company. If the doorbell rings, you find those pants and put them on as quickly as possible. Also, you are not permitted to suggest pants removal to any of your friends. Mommy doesn’t want to get arrested. And no matter how much you enjoy the “comfort” and “freedom” of wearing just your skivvies, pants must be worn for any and all meals. Especially in the dining room. Yes, even if it’s just pizza.
2. Change your underwear. Every day. Clean ones. They might look clean, they might smell clean, but no. It’s non-negotiable.
3. Potty Talk: There’s a Time and a Place. I get it, farts are funny. I can appreciate a well-executed burp, I’ll even join in. But you have to know when and where this is okay. Hanging out in our basement? Sure. But the grocery store line is not the place to announce that your “penis is sticky.” If you do let a silent and deadly one rip, don’t feel the need to announce it, especially in the middle of a restaurant…with your grandparents. Randomly tossing out phrases like “butt crack” and “poop” are only hilarious to you and your brothers, move on.
4. We only lick food. Preferably your own. Doorknobs, seat backs, and other people are not recommended. And please refrain from telling your brother he will get super powers if he licks the bottom of his shoe.
5. If the bathroom door is shut, walk away. I get it, you know I’m trapped and you’ll get my undivided attention, but your request for “more Netflix” or the need to tell me your pants “feel weird” will be better received once I’m done. Same goes for tattles about your siblings. I’m not willing to play Judge, Jury, and Executioner from behind a closed door. Go away. And while you’re at it, ignore any sounds that resemble candy wrappers being opened, that’s strictly your imagination.
6. Mommy’s appearance is off limits. Unless of course, it’s a compliment. Please refrain from observing that my arms are “floppy” or my bum is “fluffy”. I don’t need confirmation that I look tired or that my legs are “scratchy”. I have a mirror, I’m self-aware. Please resist pointing out my gray hairs or a new wrinkle. Those are your fault anyways. I’d like to blame you for stray chin whiskers, but let’s at least pretend they aren’t visible. And my tummy is squishy because of you and your brothers (possibly from apathy and chocolate consumption, but mostly from you.)
7. Outside Stays Outside. Water guns do not get used indoors. I don’t care how much you love and cherish the cricket you found in the garden, it’s not a pet you’re keeping in your room. Baseball equipment was specially designed for outdoor use, act accordingly. Snowball fights in the front hall would beamazing. No.
8. Listen to Your Mother. I might not have pinched my penis in a dresser drawer, but I have life experience on my side. If you drop a bouncy ball in the toilet, I recommend you just throw it out, but at the very least do not put it in your mouth. If you breakdance naked, you will get carpet burns. Just because you “tried it with Daddy and no one got hurt” does not mean it’s a good idea.
Parting words of advice: It helps, but saying “voila!” after you do something naughty will not get you off the hook.
It’s taken me just under ten years but I have figured it out.
Cracked the code.
Uncovered the secret.
Distilled the formula.
Want to know what your son is thinking? Interested in his school life? Curious about his peer dynamics? Or just wondering what he really thinks about that girl Paige in his class? (she’s the worst, by the way).
Here’s the answer. And it’s foolproof.
Drive the van.
Load up the van with him and a bunch of his friends and drive them somewhere. The destination doesn’t matter, but try for something fifteen minutes away, minimum.
And drive. Justdrive. Don’t pepper them with questions, don’t insert yourself into the conversation and do not make eye contact. Pretend you are on a safari observing animals in their natural habitat (but don’t take notes, because they will see that and wonder why you pulled over. Same goes for whispering recordings into your phone).
The information you will gather by listening in (it’s not eavesdropping if they forget you can hear them) is astounding. Here’s a recent sampling, in case you doubt my methods:
Josh thinks he’s so great at soccer, but really, he isn’t.
Someone needs to tell Julia to settle down – everyone knows she’s loud just to getattention.
Adam claims he got to level K in math drills, but he totally didn’t. Liar.
Ryan is so mean that they’d like to take a power washer to him and wouldn’t even feel bad about it.
There are also some epiphanies which give you a peek into alternative parenting choices. For instance, one boy piped up with incredulity, “Wait, you can ride your bike on the street? Such freedom.”
You might be tempted to jump in and ask some follow up questions, but play it cool. Stay in the shadows. That time will come later.
It can be challenging to listen and not reply, but it’s worth it. You might want to chime in that maybe Julia feels insecure and is looking for a safe circle to be herself. Squash the urge to point out that maybe life is hard for Ryan and that’s why he acts out. Perhaps Josh doesn’t feel good about himself so he shows off the skill he is most proud of.
There will be opportunities for those conversations, but for now, just listen.
When people learn that I have four boys they usually respond with a shocked look and some sort of astonished reply about how I appear mostly sane. Life with four boys is busy and full of toilet humour, but in so many ways I am grateful. I am not sure I would be cut out to raise a girl. The clothing and hair options paralyze me with fear. When I change my baby niece I am overwhelmed with the decisions involved: Are these tights? Is this considered a dress or a top? Should I be combing her hair? What’s the protocol here?
Boys are simple, at least so far. There aren’t nearly as many choices – pretty much everything matches jeans. Usually our biggest controversy is whether or not you can wear a navy shirt with black pants (no, you cannot). However, even within this simple state, complications and issues arise. Socks can feel “too socky”. Pants can be “bunchy”. A shirt cannot be worn because it just isn’t a favourite. Currently it is our four-year-old who is struggling with these apparel horrors. These deal-breakers have caused us to be late for school, church, even the toboggan hill. So I sat the boy down and said that sometimes you just have to tough it out and wear something that isn’t your favourite because that’s what people do.
Our morning routine had improved immensely since this chat. He was managing his clothing options quite well and I kept my expectations for matching and rotating shirts low. Then Sunday morning hit. He only had two pairs of clean pants that he could tolerate. When he asked me if he matched I discovered a giant hole in the knee. I explained that those pants were goners and “you need to be a big boy and wear the jeans you don’t like as much without crying. Later you can change and we can see what we can do about your pants.” Off he went to change. As I passed by his door a moment later he was getting dressed and I could hear his little voice saying, “Don’t cry. Don’t cry.”
It broke my heart.
It broke my heart just that little bit. I didn’t go and sob quietly in the washroom, but I was proud and sad at the same time. I was smiling as my eyes welled up. I finally understood that all of his upsets about pants this fall weren’t really a power struggle or an attempt to get my attention. As ridiculous as it sounds, pants really matter to him. He doesn’t care about brand or how they look, but some pants are favourites and some are not. He cannot even explain it, he just knows. And now I do.
That afternoon I took my sweet boy to the store, just the two of us and he sat in the cart and we giggled and talked and I could just listen to him. He sat in the cart. As I wheeled my third-born around the store it occurred to me that even though he can print his name and dress himself and is learning to read, he is still little and likes to ride in the cart. And pants matter to him.
I don’t want to forget this: that even though I might not understand why something is important, the person matters. Taking the time to value what’s important says, “you count, I care about you, you are loved.”
If pants matter that much to you, then they matter to me.
There’s a lot involved in raising children. We are responsible for teaching them social skills, personal hygiene, ABCs, colours, what not to lick and that you should not vacuum your brother. I thought we were doing a pretty good job getting all the basics covered with our fourth son, but somehow we’ve dropped the ball with communication.
No matter how we explain it, how often we repeat it, how we model its use in correct context, Little does not seem to know what “I’m hungry” means.
Little, please put your cars away.
No, I hungry.
We’re not having gum right now.
But I hungry.
Please leave your bib on.
You can watch a show later.
Please?! I hungry.
Don’t sit on your brother.
I hungry. Please.
We’re all done drinking pop.
But I hungry.
Do you need to use the potty?
We can do play doh in a minute.
But I hungry.
You can go get your own water bottle. It’s upstairs.
This is Mommy’s coffee. Hot. No touch.
I so hungry.
We’re at the point now where I’m going to give up and just hope for the best. Maybe he’s on to something. This might be a genius tactic for getting out of undesirable things. Actually, I think I might try it.