Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Brawl

Siblings fight, right?  My brother and I fought like cats and dogs for years.  We fought hard.  I mean, we like beat on each other.  At some point it stopped.  I think it stopped about the time we figured out we had better things to do with our time and we had the freedom to leave the house to go do those things.  So, siblings fight and then they find something else to do.  
Among Coco, Flynn and Margot, Coco and Flynn play together the most.  Both of them are imaginative, energetic and physical.  And they’re both bossy and stubborn.  So when they play together there’s a lot of declarations, orders and yelling.  There’s usually running around and jumping on and off things (except when Papa’s home; when Papa’s home there’s no jumping on and off things).  Lately, their play has been all about capes, superheroes and magical powers.  Super magical powers.  Like ice power.  Like Elsa’s ice power.  I’m not allowed to have super magical powers when I play with them; I'm just the target for their super magical powers which I think is totally “no fair!” 

Of course, playing leads to arguing and bickering.  Recently the bickering has become more physical.  Sometimes there’s a bit of pushing.  Occasionally Someone hits Someone Else and then Someone Else hits Someone back, and then both Someone and Someone Else end up sitting on the steps.   

Margot consistently stays above the fray.  Quite often she prefers to play by herself.  While Coco and Flynn are running around and jumping on and off things, Margot is setting up a tea party, feeding one of her dolls, or playing with Flynn’s Barbie house.  Once in a while she even asks me to tell Coco and Flynn NOT to play with her since she knows they’ll swoop in and wreak havoc on her otherwise organized and orderly play.  (Margot’s need for organization, order and a plan is a topic for another post.)

One morning last week Coco and Flynn started their day with playing that turned into arguing.  Not an unusual occurrence.  I was getting dressed for work and I could hear them in the other room arguing about something.  Flynn came into the room where I was getting dressed.

“Coco being mean,” he reported.  Not a surprise.  If there is a refrain in our house right now it is definitely “Coco being mean.”  I mean I hear it multiple times every day from Flynn and Margot, or I hear variations on the theme:  “Coco being mean,” “Coco not letting me play,” “Coco’s a meany.”  Coco defends herself by telling me that Flynn and Margot are not listening to her and they’re not doing what she tells them to do.  Now, pause, and consider this.  I am listening to my six-year-old daughter complain about someone who is not listening and not doing what they’re told.

But, back to Flynn and Coco.
“Coco being mean,” Flynn reported.
“No, I’m not!” Coco yelled from the other room.
“Coco being a meany.”
“No!  He’s lying!  He’s just trying to get me into trouble.”

So, what did I do? I did what any parent would do: I extracted myself from the situation, made some half-hearted remark to Coco about being nice to Flynn, and went downstairs to pack my bag for work.  About five minutes later Margot came looking for me.  “Coco and Flynn are fighting,” she said.  I stopped and listened.  I could hear them upstairs yelling at each other.  The yelling sounded more intense than usual.

So, I trudged upstairs to see what was happening.  I could hear the screaming as I climbed the stairs.  Yep, the yelling had definitely turned into screaming.  The needle on the “fight-o-meter” dial had moved into the red.  As I reached the top of the stairs I could see Coco and Flynn on the couch in the TV room.  It was not good.  Flynn was on top of Coco, straddled across her stomach, holding a fist full of her hair and screaming at her.  Coco was under Flynn screaming back at him and trying to kick him as hard as she could.  Both their faces were scarlet red.  Coco was crying.  They were clearly trying to inflict pain on each other.  It was a full-on brawl. 

I was shocked.

And then I lost my mind.  

Now, before I had kids I was always appalled when I heard parents yelling at their kids.  Not just barking orders at their kids like, “Hey, stop doing that!” No, I mean all-out yelling at their kids.  I would think to myself smugly, “I would never, ever, yell at my kids like that.”  Well, you know where this is going.  Every parent has a point, a threshold, where they’re exhausted and their kids have worked their last nerve and stretched their patience to the breaking point.  Fortunately, for me – and for Coco, Flynn and Margot – it’s not often that I reach that point.  But I admit on some rare occasions I lose my mind and yell at my kids.

I stormed into the TV room, yelling, “What is going on?!!  What are you doing?!!” I pulled Flynn off of Coco.  He was like an angry cat, hissing, with claws fully extended.  Coco was sobbing, “Flynn hurt me!  Flynn, hurt me!”

But I was not done yelling.  “You will never, ever, ever fight like that in this house.  Ever!  DO YOU HEAR ME?!!!”

Well, they heard me.  And so did the neighbors probably.  People walking their dogs in the park at the end of the street probably heard me.  And maybe some smug, no-kids fool walking past the house heard me too and thought to himself, “I would never, ever, yell at my kids like that.”  Whatever.

Fortunately, all those things my kids have learned on PBSKids, well, I’ve learned them too.  As Daniel Tiger says, “If you’re frustrated, take a deep breath and count to four.”

I need to take a minute and calm down,” I thought to myself.  “Coco and Flynn,” I said, “I’m going to walk out of this room right now and decide what I’m going to do about this.  Do not talk to each other.”

When I came back into the room, much, much calmer, I put them in separate rooms, sitting on beds, looking at the walls and left them.  Ten minutes later I came back to talk to them, to hear their sides of the story, and to pass judgment.  They pled their cases in very different ways.

I talked to Flynn first.  He was quite calm.  He sat on the bed, waiting for me to come back, like he was waiting for a bus, or for a cup of coffee, or for the start of a business meeting of some kind.  When I asked him what happened, he was very clear about the extent of his guilt.

“Did you hit your sister?” I asked.
“Did you scratch your sister?”
"Yes, he did!” screamed Coco from the other room.  “Yes!  He!  Did!”  She was crying again.
“Did you pull her hair?”  There was a pause.  “Flynn?”
“Yes.  But that is it,” he said emphatically, gesturing with his hands like he was an umpire calling the runner safe at first base.  “That is it.”  And with that, it was clear he had nothing further to say.  He rested his case.

Coco was the opposite of calm.  She was crying, complaining about her injuries, and immediately showed me the scratches on her arms and legs.  I think she probably had been searching her body, hoping to find a place where Flynn had actually drawn blood, but no such luck.  There was no blood, but she was pretty scratched up.

Of course I don’t know what started the fight.  As a parent, nine times out of ten, you don’t know what happened.  You don’t know who started it. You don’t know whose fault it was.  You do know, however, that it’s only a matter of time before the next fight, the next brawl. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Day Margot Stayed Home

     Margot had a fever.  She had had it off and on since Sunday evening.  She had been up for a good part of the night on Sunday night and then again for a good part of the night on Monday night.  Both nights Margot and I ended up in the guest room together, neither of us sleeping very well.  Now it was Tuesday morning.  A school day.  She would not be going to school today. 

     Margot not going to school was not a problem.  Flynn going to school without Margot would be a problem.  By himself?  For the first time?  A big problem.  How would I break the news to him? 
     To state the obvious, twins are together all the time.  They’re never without their best friend, their wingman, someone to give them a bit more confidence when they go out into the world – together.  Flynn and Margot have spent very little time apart from one another.  Margot took swimming lessons last summer while Flynn didn't.  Each of them has gone to Los Angeles with Papa for his work.  That's about it.  This would be different.

     Flynn is very attached to Margot; honestly, more than Margot is attached to him.  If you ask him who he plays with at school, he’ll tell you “Margot.”  If you ask him who his best friend at school is, he 'll tell you “Margot.”  Margot knows the names of other kids at school; I am not sure that Flynn does or cares.  At school Flynn and Margot sit at the same table together, they play together, and they eat lunch together.  At the school’s cultural celebrations, they sing and dance next to each other.

     Going to school without Margot was going to be a very big deal for Flynn. There were going to be tears.

     Before breakfast I sat down in the big chair in the kids’ room and pulled Flynn onto my lap.  “Flynn, Margot isn’t feeling well today so she can’t go to school.”
     “Me stay home too,” he said.
     “No, Flynn you have to go to school.”
     The tears came swiftly as I knew they would.  “Me not want to go to school by myself!  Me want to go with Margot!”
     I hugged him.  “Flynn, I know you don’t want to go to school by yourself but you need to go to school today.  We’ll go together.  You can ride on my shoulders all the way to school and all the way home! Won’t that be fun?”
     “Nooo!  Me no want to go to school by myself!” he said, crying.
     I really wanted to tell him he could stay home.  I was tired.  I had been up with Margot two nights in a row.  My FitBit told me I had gotten only four hours of sleep that night.  I was imagining Flynn crying all the way to school, through the park and on the bus, and then clinging to my leg and crying when I tried to leave him for the day by himself.  I had so much to do at work.  Why couldn't I leave Flynn at home with Mari, go straight to work and avoid all of the drama?  It would be so much easier for both of us.
     At that point Margot came in.  “Why is Flynn crying?”
     “Margot, since you’re not feeling well today you have to stay home from school, and Flynn doesn’t want to go by himself.”
     And then Margot started crying, which I hadn’t seen coming.  “Maestra mad if I don’t come to school!”
     “No, Maestra won’t be mad.  She’ll be sad but she won’t be mad.”
     “I don’t want Maestra to be sad!” she said crying even more.
     So, there I sat in the big chair in the kids’ room.  Flynn on my lap in his Christmas nightgown crying because he had to go to school but didn’t want to, and Margot standing in front of me in her Pull-up crying because she couldn’t go to school but did want to.
     I needed to change the subject.  “Let’s have breakfast.” 

     Downstairs, I texted Ken.  “Margot’s still sick.  I was up part of the night with her.  She can’t go to school  When I told Flynn he was going to school he burst into tears because he doesn’t want to go by himself.  Margot then burst into tears because she wanted to go because her teachers will be sad if  she doesn’t come.  I have a ton going on and don’t know that today is the day Flynn has to fly solo at school.  It would be good for him but not sure if today is the day I can make that happen.”
     Ken texted back.  “I think he should go by himself.”
     “I know that,” I thought to myself.  That wasn’t the question.  The question was whether I could be lazy or if I had to be strong and make him go to school by himself.
Apparently I was going to have to be strong.  There was no getting out of this – for Flynn or for me. 

     Mari arrived and I told her Margot would be staying home with her and Flynn would be going to school.  “Solo?” she asked in Spanish.  “Si, solo.”  Mari gave me a look that very clearly said, “Are you sure about this?”

     So, at 8:00 a.m., after more tears and protests from both Flynn and Margot, Flynn and I left the house.  On the porch, I asked him if he wanted to ride on my shoulders.  He nodded without a word and wiped his tears with his sleeve.  I hoisted him up on my shoulders and we left for school.

     The walk to school with Flynn was wonderful.  I have often thought about how very different my trips to preschool with Flynn and Margot are from my trips with Coco.  Coco and I had conversations on the way to school.  She would ask a string of questions (mostly “Why?” “Why?” “Why?”) and I would try to answer them as best I could.  She would tell me about things that popped into her head.  She would ride on my shoulders.  If we were late for the train I’d pick her up and run for it. 

     Flynn and Margot, on the other hand, play with each other on the way to school.  They run around, hang on to poles, jump off front porches, hide in doorways and point out circles and squares on the sidewalk.  They are very clearly a team of two.  Thing One and Thing Two.  While sometimes I might get brief fragments of conversation from them, for the most part I merely accompany them and herd them down the sidewalk and on and off the bus.  I sometimes put them up on my shoulders but that always involves negotiating taking turns and making sure the turns are not “No fair!”  If we're late for the bus, there's no picking them both up and running for it. 

     So, taking just Flynn to school was wonderful.  He rode on my shoulders the whole way to school.  High up on my shoulders he reached up to touch the tree leaves and the street signs not worried about sharing or taking turns.  Whether it was because he was nervous about going to school by himself or because he didn’t have Margot to play with, he talked with me the whole way.

     When we arrived at school without Margot the teachers knew this was a big day for Flynn.  They gave me looks and nodded, acknowledging the event.  One teacher whispered to me, “I have your telephone number.  I call if any problem.”  I said thank you.  I gave Flynn a hug and a kiss good-bye and turned to leave.  He didn’t cling, he didn’t cry.  He went about his business of finding a place to play.  At the end of the day when I picked him up, he was happily building a castle with his teacher.  He didn’t immediately want to leave as soon as I arrived, he wanted to play for a few more minutes so we did.  He rode on my shoulders all the way home.  It was a good day for Flynn.  And it was a good day for Daddy too.    

     So what about Margot?  Mari told me later that around the middle of the morning Margot wanted to get dressed.  And she wanted to put on a pretty dress with tights.  After her dress and her tights were on she announced to Mari, “Me go to school now.”  Margot was determined to go to school.  Around noon I texted Mari to see how Margot was feeling, if her fever was gone.  After my text my phone rang almost immediately.  It was a call from Mari.  When I answered, though, it was Margot on the phone.
     “Hi, Daddy.”
     “Hi, Margot.  How are you feeling?”
     “Good.” She said.  “When are you going to take me to school?”  She was still determined to go to school.
     “I’m sorry, Pumpkin, you can’t go to school today.”
     “Oh, me want to go to school.”  Margot was all dressed up, in a pretty dress and tights, waiting to go to school.  She'll go to school on Thursday.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


     Every parent knows there are going to be “firsts.”  Some of those firsts are going to be the happy, amazingly wonderful firsts; the “oh, they are growing up so fast!” kind of firsts.  And some of those firsts are going to be the lump-in-your-throat, my-heart-just-skipped-a-beat, “oh, my god what is happening?” firsts.  I had one of the latter this week. 
     I walk Coco to school at least twice a week, sometimes three times a week.  We walk to school through the park, past the playground, up the stairs next to the community center, around the hospital, past the corner grocery and onto the lower yard at her school.  More often than not, we arrive just before the bell rings and the principal, Ms. Pope, starts the morning announcements.  Coco gets in line with her class and I wait and listen to the announcements with the crowd of parents standing and milling around behind the kids lined up with their classes.   After announcements, the kids, lined up behind their teachers, walk to their classrooms.  As Coco’s line passes on the way to her classroom, I dart up, give her a kiss, tell her to have a good day, and then head to work.
     Now, many parents – ok, most parents – drop their kids off and don’t stick around.  They drive their kids to school and drop them off in front of the school and leave.  Or they walk them to the lower yard and kiss them good-bye at the gate and leave.  Maybe some kids even get to school without their parents.  I fully own the fact that I am the over-protective, paranoid parent of a kindergartener.  The idea of leaving her before she is in line with her class, in the eyesight and in the custody of her teacher, Mr. Kallock, and on her way to class is, well, anathema to me.
     This week, as Coco and I were waiting for the bell to ring and the announcements to start, she turned to me and said, “Daddy?”
     “Yes?” I said.
     “Charlie’s mom drops her off and then leaves before announcements.  I think I should start practicing that.”
      And there it is.  One of those firsts.  The kind that come out of nowhere.  The kind that make you stop breathing for an instant.  She doesn’t need me in the school yard in the mornings any more.  Waiting with her for the day to begin 
     “But I don’t think I should start practicing today,” she continued.
     And the world started slowly turning on its axis again.
     I don’t know if Coco was floating this possibility of independence for herself; saying it out loud just to see how it felt to her.  Or if she said it and saw the panic in my eyes and then quickly withdrew the suggestion for fear that her daddy might cause a scene in the lower yard in front of all her friends.  Regardless, at this point and at least for a little while longer, I get to wait with her until Miss Pope’s announcements start and then until she is on her way to class fully in the custody of Mr. Kallock.  


First Snow

We’re spending more time in the country these days.  Carting the kids back and forth has gotten easier as they’ve gotten older.  There is just less stuff to take back and forth.  Most times we go up on Saturday morning and come back on Sunday afternoon.  We’ll start going up on Friday nights soon.

Watching the snow start to fall.

This year we were up for the New Year’s Day weekend and we had snow.  It was in the forecast so we knew it was coming.  We stayed an extra day to be sure we didn’t miss it.  It was the kids’ first snowfall.  It’s hard to believe they had not yet experienced snow: waking up to the surprise of snow blanketing the countryside, excited to go outside and play, putting on coats and mittens and boots, and then making snow angels, snowballs and a snowman. 

Waking up to snow.

There was even enough snow for sledding.  It was Ken who remembered we had sleds in the barn.  The same sleds Scott and I used as kids nearly 50 years ago; sleds that sat in the rafters in Mom and Dad’s garage for decades, were driven down from Port Angeles with other stuff from Mom and Dad’s garage, to sit in the barn in the country, waiting for snow.  And finally the snow came. 

We’ve been lucky this year.  We’ve had snow twice since then.  Our place is high enough that if there is going to be any snow we’re going to get it.  Once we start down our driveway the snow is gone by the time we reach our gate.

10 hours. 56 minutes.

7:34 p.m.  Laying on the bed.  Daddy and Papa’s bed.  TV’s on.  Margot and Coco and Flynn watching.  On the bed too.  Bubble Guppies.  Sarah & Duck.  Octonauts.  I doze. 

8:02 p.m.  The show ends.  I hear it.  I wake up.  “Time for bed.  Time to brush your teeth.  Let’s go.”

8:17 p.m.  Singing bedtime songs.  “you are my sunshine”  “three little monkeys”  “tickle spider”  I lay down on each bed.  Sing each one a song.  “Funny kiss!  Funny hug!”  Hugs and kisses goodnight.

9:48 p.m.  I wake up.  Laying on Coco’s bed.  Under the Elsa and Anna blanket.  My head on a big green dinosaur.  Margot and Coco and Flynn sleeping.  I hear them breathing.  In the dark.  I get up, gently, slip out of the room, quietly.  Shutting the door.  It clicks.

10:12 p.m.  Dishes done.  Lights off.  I go to bed.  My bed this time.  How long will I sleep before I’m awake again?

12:31 a.m.  “Daddy?  Daddy?”  Margot calls from her bed.  “Yes, Margot?”  “Daddy, will you lay in my bed?”  I lay down in her bed.  I’m asleep again.

1:19 a.m.  I wake up.  With Margot.  Under her blankets.  My head on a giant white bunny.  I get up again, gently, and go back to my bed, quietly.

2:46 a.m.  “Daddy?  Daddy?  Me want to snuggle with you.”  Flynn stands next to my bed.  I lift the covers, pat the bed.  He climbs in.

3:50 a.m.  My alarm rings.  Margot and Flynn in bed.  Sleeping next to me.  When did Margot come in?  I slide out of bed, creep out of the room.  Down the stairs.  They creak.  I make coffee and toast.  Turn on my laptop.

5:43 a.m.  Footsteps above me.  In the bedroom.  I listen.  From the top of the stairs, “Daddy?”  Margot.  Always Margot.  I climb up the stairs and pick her up in the dark.  I whisper.  “Hi Sweetie.  It’s not morning time yet.  You need to go back to bed.” 

6:31 a.m.  Sitting on Coco’s bed.  I gently shake her.  “Coco, it’s time to get up.”  The day starts.