Monthly Archives: October 2010

teach me, brother

Watching Little Boy peer out the window this morning, calling back every ten seconds in a distressed voice, “Mommmmm!  Papa isn’t HERE yet!”, I begin to ponder what a rich experience it is having brothers (I’m sure sisters too, but I have only brothers and sons so my perspective is there).  The Littlest Boy hears him and runs over to climb to his lookout chair, regarding his brother before peering out.  I’m not sure if he even knows what they are looking for, but it strikes me again how rich his life has been already because he has a brother.  A friend affirms that the greatest gift she ever gave her youngest son was that he was born a brother.

A boy who is born a brother has a built-in entertainment system.  Ours is called “Austin TV.”  We watch it all the time!

“Austin TV” beats any channel offered by your cable provider, plus comes with the added feature of being 3D and interactive!  It is also is a fantastic improvement to the only channel available pre-brotherhood: “Mom TV.”   This new channel features shows on trains, planes and automobiles, sandbox tutorials, the need for speed, car crashes, monster trucks, diggers, proper pancake assembly, feet on the table and more.

Frequently I marvel and point out to Little Boy how the Littlest learns how to be a real boy by watching his brother. It goes for more than just playing with cars too.  When he snatches stuff, his brother learns to snatch when he wants something.  When he waits his turn, his brother learns to take turns.  When he shows how to make a fair trade, brother learns how to trade.

One of our stories involves the hypothetical storyline, “If Everyone Were Snatchers.”  We joke and go into detail about what our neighbors might take and hide, then we’d have to go find it and snatch it back, then it would be snatched again and everyone would start getting angry and hurtful, and someone might just want to snatch the van!  Then we’d have no van.  The end is always when the van is snatched and the moral of the story is that snatching (aka toy taking) is never okay, and it doesn’t matter who you are.

The catch about “Austin TV” is that the show’s namesake sometimes needs a respite from the audience or it gets a little ‘reality tv’ around here.  Today we were given new episodes of  “Hoarding: toys” and “None For You!” after the exciting arrival of a gift box from Dad filled with airplanes from the Smithsonian Museum.  In the midst of all the commotion, the Littlest learned how to play with the airplanes by watching his older brother “playing” with them…throwing them jerkily around…only he missed the subtle nuance that it was actually his older brother trying to cope the best he knew how with the dreaded drool, and jerking them away.

When confronted with most things that make me question the wisdom of having children in the first place, I frequently pick up my sibling bible, Siblings Without Rivalry.  Quickly pinpointing what a release it is to feel heard and reflected, I gave it a try, asking whether Little Boy was worried the Littlest would snatch his stuff.  Out came a torrent of concern: fear the new toys would be broken, lost or slobbered on.  Affirming that sounded a bit worrisome, we brainstormed how we could work around that since the toys were for us all.  We came up with some ideas and laid it all out to the Littlest.  Unable to fully comprehend the detailed plan we’d hatched about who was to play with what, and when, and the serious consequences for slobbering on new airplanes (towel them off ), the Littlest continued on as usual but Little Boy was noticeable calmer.

One goal I aspire to as a parent is to meet the rough patches with guidance and collaboration rather than shame.   After all, we have new episodes airing daily but sometime, someone will remember how to distract, how to provide guidelines and boundaries for play with personal items, when to retreat to a personal space, or how to teach his brother what he *does* want him to do rather than what he *doesn’t*.  These lessons will serve them well.  They surely must take lots of practice.

Shoot, I practice every day and still don’t get it right.

But periodically a  little reassurance comes that with all the “learning” they do during the day, their world is richer when they have each other…and deep down somewhere they know it.



We recently had the perfect stuntman trifecta:  one cold blustery day, two boys, and an extra mattress in transit on the floor.  The finishing touch is a buffet to use as a handle and some sweet music…neh neh STUNTMAN!!!!

One of my secret “talents” is hearing a song and completely mis-identifying the lyrics, inserting something that rhymes really well.   After walking by my room as a child and hearing me singing, “The girl is a fan fire….”, my brother popped his head in asking, “What did you just say?”  Nothing…of course.  I quickly was dubbed “Vampire” when he informed me that the song began with, “The world is a vampire…”   This was not an isolated incident

My boys benefit from my continued use of this skill.

One such song I always loved was “Stuntman.”  At our house, flying leaps off of anything are accompanied by “Neh…neh…STUNTMAN!” and a little vocal faux-riff.  When the opportunity for this living room stuntman jam presented itself, I instantly declared that we needed to find “Stuntman” on YouTube to help us rock out.  I called up Pete, who is vastly knowledgeable about connecting what I’m attempting to sing  to the actual song.  He kept our momentum going by immediately identifying the song not as “Stuntman” but rather “Stroke Me” by Billy Squier.  Of course.  musicians and their enunciation.

I still have no idea what the song is about, but have been informed that it is not as wholesome as “Stuntman.”  I have to agree with Eddie Izzard here that it’s 90% how you say it and only 10% what you say.  I was well into my 20’s before it was pointed out to me that “Fat Bottomed Girls” was actually about fat bottomed girls rather than the erroneous connection I’d made in my head that it was somehow about flat bottomed something.  Oh well, the music sure is catchy!  *sigh*  Disappointment followed the realization that I could no longer blare that song in the car near anything public.

Little Boy donned his blue stuntman cape and with the music cranked, we were rockin’.  When it was time, I’d holler my theme song over Billy Squier, “neh neh STUNTMAN!” and they’d jump extra high.

After two rounds of that I pulled up one of the few rock songs that I correctly know the title to, “Paradise City” by Guns ‘n’ Roses.  We didn’t even make it through that and Little Boy requested some “old songs like Papa used to listen to.”  Onto the Beatles.

Once “Let It Be” started, we were back on.  Climbing the filing cabinet to the buffet for the greatest stunt yet…he’s going for it…maybe…

Ohh, no…not today…it’s just too scary quite yet.  That’s okay.  Let it be.

I was awarded a reprieve before the time will come when I need to clear off the breakables from the buffet…

The next day the magic was gone.  The mattresses continued their journey to their final destination as beds for the boys.

But for one evening, the stuntmen were airborne.

If only for three inches.

the most useful engine

Most people have heard of the children’s show “Thomas the Tank Engine” even if they have never seen it.  It is a simple show of little remote contolled trains “chuffing” along, with narrated simple stories by people like Ringo Starr, George Carlin and Pierce Brosnan…always with a British accent.  The engines are always finding themselves in little predicaments and coming up with solutions to right things.  Something each train strives for is usefulness.  Each engine prides themselves on feeling useful, on being thought of as useful.  It’s often a generous compliment paid, or the closing remark of a story, “And everyone agreed that this train was a *very* useful engine.”

Today, as most days, I ponder each individual’s need to feel useful.  This could also be seen as a need to feel important, to feel valued, to internalize that your personal contribution has value.  This need is labeled as one of the criteria of being human by Dale Carnegie in “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”  So it should be no surprise that this quality is also a priority of children, even though it might be met with the concurrent attention span of the child.

Today the boys were useful, and the enthusiasm with which they met my requests reminded me how important communicating value to them is.

I finally  resigned myself to the realization that the kale plants flourishing in our garden were not going to beat the infestation of little gray bugs I had kept hoping would miraculously disappear, and the sturdy green beasts came out of the garden.  As I started rooting around for the shovel, both boys came out of the sandbox to investigate the excitement.  Hauling load after load to the compost I was left with a garden covered in wilted, dead, or ripped kale leaves all covered in the tiny gray bugs.  The grass leaves that had been overshadowed by the kale forest now looked abundant.  I began narrating what I was doing, pointing out excitedly that the dump truck could be helpful in gathering kale leaves and bringing them to the compost.  Little boy quickly realized this useful task he was well suited for and ran to get the dumper.

We worked with focus.  Each task I began was assessed by my Little Boy, who found ways he could participate and help.  We gathered kale leaves, then drove them to the compost.  I began raking leaves together, so he found his own little rake.  I began digging for grass roots and he stood at the ready to fling bits into the dumper and dig holes with his rake so that I could find more roots.  As we rounded the bend of the veggie bed, we discovered a few carrots that had gone unnoticed under the kale canopy.  They were met with great enthusiasm, as they were fully grown and surely “the biggest carrot we’ve EVER seen!”

This discovery derailed all other activity for the moment as both boys became lost in their fall garden treasure.  “Yeah mom, this is totally ‘carrot surprise’!”

As kids munched, grass continued to be removed until both carrots and grass were all gone.  Little Boy stayed in the newly cleaned dirt alone a while longer observing the new look it had taken on in just a short while.  Soon sandbox activities resumed and I began to ponder.

Being a child isn’t about playing all day.  A child’s work *is* play and through it they are learning constantly.  One of their favorite things is learning from people they love.  Cleaning the bathroom becomes not a chore but an enthusiastic discovery of how shiny things get!  Babbling away and scrubbing the floor, pretty soon both boys are peeking over my shoulder wondering what all the fuss is about and ready to try their hand with the squirt bottle.

Most projects assisted by children don’t go faster than when done without them, but choosing to consciously point out the moments where a child is useful can show them they are an important member of the family and means something to them.  When Little Boy holds the screen door open so the stroller can easily be pushed inside, he hears my gratitude.  I genuinely can’t do it myself without risk to the already fragile door hinges.  He soaks it in.  Sometimes he chooses not to hold the door and I lament aloud how difficult it is without him and what a big difference it makes when he is there.

Next time he’s on it.  Feeling valued and needed feels good.

the indoor sandbox!

Today was an excellent day, feeling back in sync as a family and loving it!

Austin informed me this morning he was going  to protect me, which gave me the warm fuzzies.  The fact that he was going to protect me from the fantastical ‘monorail’ that, as near as I can figure, lives in our smoke detector at the base of the stairs and ‘chases’ him back up is beside the point.

Today we had lots of cuteness.

Just to keep it real, we also had our daily quota of “No, *I’m* playing with that!” but that’s to be expected when today is the day we put together….


Each fall, a big gust of wind will whip up and suddenly turn our colorful fall trees into colorful fall leaf piles.  On this day, simmering anxiety begins to gnaw in my mind: what on earth are we going to do inside all winter?  I must find something to stave off mayhem!

To this end, our daily repetoire includes smooshing trucks in play-doh, driving cars through finger paints, jumping on the small trampoline in the living room, bean bag stunts off of high places, and ramps.  One such staple of winter sanity is the indoor “sandbox”.

Originally made when Austin was about 18 months, it was filled with some stale cornmeal in a tupperware.  He quickly learned he could play in the bin as long as the cornmeal stayed in or it would be put away for a few minutes to try again later. Dogs help clean up errant sprinkles here and there that inadvertently jump out of the digger bucket on the way to the dumper, and each session is followed with a little hand broom and dust pan to sweep what the dogs miss.

Our “sandbox” has always been filled with edibles rather than real sand: stale cornmeal, ancient coffee grounds, rice, dry beans, and salt have all graced the bin.

This year I’m debating whether to return to cornmeal or coffee grounds or try rice again.  Nothing beats sand for malleability and intrigue with the addition of water, but nothing also beats the corrosive power of sand when ground into anything in the house.  I recommend experimenting!  Coffee grounds show tire tracks best as I recall and smell heavenly.

Today we started practicing “keep the sand IN the BIN” and busted out the new, improved and larger tub for our sandbox this year.  We are practicing with sand in the bin outside to start.  I tried to gather interest in making a little gnome home, but the most interest I could rally was that the Mustang offered the gnome a ride and asked if he’d like to check out his sweet trunk full of sand.

So, a few pointers to consider when you put your own box together:

  • Select a bin with sides tall enough to discourage spills but low enough for little hands to get in.  Ours are about 6″ or so. 
  • Consider what you want to carry.  You can lift a big under-the-bed storage tote full of grain but will it be so awkward you will dread getting it out?  Ours this year is about 18″x24″.    
  • Experiment!  Kids find totally different things to do when the bin has only 2 cups of rice in it vs. when the bottom is covered with cornmeal.  You really don’t need more than 1/2″ in the bottom for content kids.
  • There is more fun too than just driving in sand.  Sprinkle in a handful of beans and use various kitchen gadgets to sift them out.  Bury treasures, or make a gnome home…or try to anyway, or draw road tracks on paper and lay your sandbox over it.  Little snowplows or bulldozers get to “clear the roads” by pushing stuff around, discovering where the road is.
  • Consider where you will play with the box.  This year we will keep it on the table, just because we can.  Other locations that might be suitable are under a coffee table, in the basement or heated garage.

Ours gets plenty of play, being pulled out at least twice a day all winter long.  It is a supervised activity, but well worth it, providing extraordinary tactile and sensory input as well as being a wonderful diversionary tactic when one is needed.

This fall it is Gabe’s turn to discover that diggers exist.

He has been busy doing his homework.

I apologize

It’s odd how difficult it feels to apologize to my child; as though our culture suggests apology will admit some undetected weakness in myself and give my son pause to consider how he can further exploit this new knowledge for his own gain.  Eww.  That doesn’t sit well with my gut.

Kids seem to me to be desirous of keeping peace in a family but also having the freedom and need to explore and maintain their sense of power over themselves and others.  I’d venture a guess that many adults feel the same way they just have more practice with a finer vocabulary and more complex cognitive function.

While the effects of sleep deprivation are playing its tricks on me tonight, the thought that continues to resurface today is the power of a sincere apology.  I have apologized twice today for things I was doing the best I thought in the moment but in hindsight found regret.

The face of an angel can turn sour fast, taking a pretty firm stance in the face of feeling man-handled, as in the case of my deciding that today was the day we would conquer learning to nose-blow.   That totally ruined our mojo for the morning.  To my surprise and relief, the little black cloud hanging over his head dissipated instantly when I pondered out loud what that experience might have been like for him and that I was sorry our morning got off to a rough start and that I was sorry he felt that way.

I asked if we could do a “Scooby-Doo Ending” where we start back over from where we were still having a great morning and go from there.

He said yes.

It worked.  Surprise.  Our day went on awesome.


I can’t help but think this is profound.  Someday I will have not children but grown men.  Like most of us, I am doing the best I can with the information I have at this moment.  Someday though they may struggle with something, or feel wronged somehow by how a situation was handled.  Justifying my choices will not be what they need, but rather a willing ear and an apology.  Someday when the topics are more complicated, instead of suggesting how they might have felt as when they are young, I will be able to ask how it made them feel.  And then listen.

Apology without excuse can be a gift of freedom as well as a painful and scary gift to give.  Today the only thing at stake was a refusal to blow snot and my delivery was halting and unsure.  I can only wonder how unnerving and vulnerable it might feel taking on something real and hurtful.  If today is an indicator though it could also be immensely valuable for my children.

So, tomorrow will be a bright new day and I get a fresh perspective.

Tomorrow I will let go of who says what age is supposed to be doing what.

Tomorrow is another chance for me to find humor and realize some lessons are better left discovered rather than micromanaged.

Tomorrow I will remember that we are on the same team.

I will remember that the light in this boy’s eyes capture who he is at his core.

Looking forward to tomorrow.

pumpkin carving party

Today was a buzz of excitement around the house.  Today was the day of our pumpkin carving party!  Little boy told me later that he’s been looking forward to this day “since last winter!”   I wonder how the anticipation is weighted when the wait encompasses 1/3 of your existed life.  He was certainly excited.

All morning we prepared!  My aspirations to harvest the earth’s bounty and create warm memories in the kitchen seem frequently thwarted by my greater priority and immediate urgency to attend to small boys.

Today was also a day for earth’s bounty though!  We were to have Sweet Roasted Butternut Squash and Greens over Shell Pasta for dinner made from sage, basil, kale and swiss chard from the garden, with butternut squash, garlic, onions and creamy noodles topped with asiago shavings.

As I prepared, fragrant basil and sage filled my basket with an aroma so pungent I was uncertain whether it would mellow sufficiently in the oven to become the mild backdrop for our dinner it needed to be (it was incredible and perfect).  Both boys wandered over to investigate what was being ripped from the garden and paused to assist and remove a few leaves.  The kale was next, suspiciously checked for any stowaway spiders in need of re-homing before bringing the greens to the kitchen.  Then the bright golden stalks of the swiss chard beaming earthy goodness were added to the basket.  My heart is so full when presented with the opportunity to cook a beautiful fall dinner out of my garden for my family.  It could only be more perfect with Daddy and even more family.

The sizzling herbs and veggies filled the house with an ubiquitous aroma I could almost taste and garlic and herb fragrance oozed out the front door.  Then family showed up!  It’s time for the party!

The day’s warm temperature was a welcome excuse to stay outside and we dug in.  I have to laugh at the pictures taken often in my yard as they frequently have the “green screen” as their backdrop.  If only I could use it as one and set us in a mountain scene, or a fall forest ablaze, it would be perfect.

It is pleasant to be with family and watch pumpkin faces evolve.  Part of the fun is seeing everyone taking moments to be engrossed in their artwork.  Family gatherings have a social context but carving takes on a concentrated look usually reserved for more serious business.  You also become co-creators together and I t’s exciting to watch creation in action!

There is pleasure too in the lazy way each person can focus on the pumpkin, then take a break and check in to see how others’ are transforming.  There is no set agenda or 3-step process to follow, no time-frame to finish in, no ultimate grading system or presentation to fret about.  It is refreshing to do something purely for the sake of smiling and being together, working alongside one another.  Somehow the presence of children, regardless of whether they themselves are old enough to participate independently, creates a need and a freedom to rediscover the simple joy of making memories.  They give value and importance to a small party in a way that is difficult to fabricate without them.

The scooped-out contents of our pumpkins collect into an impressive mountain of slippery orange destined for the compost pile.  What a texture sensation!

Little boy was enthralled with the tiny pumpkin-carving saws and managed to thoroughly serrate the opening to his little sugar pumpkin, claiming it with juicy little hatch-marks and criss-crosses before the original owner (Lisa) ever had a chance.

He chose a “scary!” face to carve with Nana.  It’s a fine line to walk, piquing a little’s interest in the idea of scary without *actually* scaring them so bad they start having nightmares.  Nana made the face scary, but not too scary.

After dinner, which was totally fabulous and finished by a crisp and delicious apple cobbler, pumpkin custard and ice cream bars, the clouds puff in and cover what little light is left before dusk.  Austin diligently unwraps the candles from their packaging and gently places one in each jack-o-lantern.  Then, the magic begins.

One by one the candles are lit and we see how they glow.

Gabe climbs onto the table and lifts the cover off of a pumpkin to peer in.  He is enamored and instantly signs “hot” which he uses synonymously for “fire.”

As the evening wanes and it’s time to shuffle kids upstairs to the bath and say goodbye to our guests, I can’t help but smile.  I am grateful for the family willing to be part of something so simple, making it so special with their presence.

copyright 2010 Ginger Payton all text and photos

my beautiful sick child

A little boy looks up at me with big, miserable eyes.  Using his fingers to pluck something invisible from his forehead he pleads with me, “Momma, just…*take* my fever away.”  It was as though he believed I possessed a power to reach in and quickly snatch the nasty fever out and fling it into the toilet for disposal.  Watching him writhe in pain started a slow panic of not knowing what I was supposed to do to FIX THIS!!

As a Mom, you get used to fixing things.  You’re hungry?  We can fix that.  You’re cold?  Yup, that too.  You’re tired?  Let’s go lay down.  You’re shoes hurt your feet?  Let’s see what’s in the bin for the next size up…you’ve been growing!  Oatmeal too hot?  Sure, let’s blow on it.  Lost toys, pants stuck, bike in the van, boogers in the nose, bug bites on the arms, grumbly tummies, exhaustion, and exasperation about anything, moms live in “problem-solving, fix-it-if-we-can” mode for all things physical.

To watch this very real physical distress and have nothing for comfort other than tea and sympathy can be distressing.

As I watched him, I began to recall being sick as a child.  So rarely as a grownup do I get sick, and then even rarer to be ill vomiting that it took a minute to travel back and remember.  In my recollection I feel the emotion and vividness of “sick dreams”; of having the same odd dream loop over and over again, never quite getting the closure of completion.  My dreamscape always created a drip castle; drippy sand plopping from my fingertips in incrementally smaller and smaller quantities, trying to get the teeniest grain-of-sand-size drip on the top and failing EVERY time.  Eventually I was out of earth’s atmosphere still trying to get that final drip on top and I  I feel memories of writhing in pain, of being too cold, too hot, the caustic taste of emptying one’s stomach, the complete fear that it would happen again, and of wishing so hard that Mom would come check on me so I could ask her to pee for me only to realize hopelessly in my sick-induced haze that deligating the act of relieving oneself was totally impossible…being sick is no fun.

Soon my sick boy has a spasm that empties his stomach.  Little boy eyes then start the slow drift to sleep, drooping down ever so gradually until at last he is released from consciousness; his body rests.  Other memories of sickness wander in now that there is peace again.  The intense calm when at last your body at last everything succumbs to healing sleep, finding relief in its freshly emptied stomach and feeling so heavy your arms couldn’t raise even if you tried.  Emotions of relief and gratitude come to me.  I feel the kind and loving presence of my mother as she would check on me, bring me broth soup, or fuss over my pillows or blankets.  Closing my eyes, I feel her help me get out of bed to wash off the sick as I began to feel a little better.  These are things I could not or would not have done for myself alone.

Sentimental thoughts are then interrupted by Gabe finding the freshly cleaned throw-up bucket. Gleefully discovering that it totally altered his view of the world when placed on his head, he pulled it on tight and began running around giggling, promptly running into the buffet.  The game suddenly loses its humor and we’re off to wipe water from his head.

The tangent of re-experiencing illness as a child prompts me to consider how unique the care and compassion of the sick child is.  Being grownup and ill is pretty thankless.  Work doesn’t always wait and children certainly don’t wait.  There are varying degrees of misery that could turn this whole story into a novella of different ways it’s awful to be sick as an adult, but it is rarely the rest-and-take-as-much-time-as-your-body-needs-to-heal-completely kind of experience that my son wallows in now.

So today I watch little eyes, puffy and half-mast, furrowed in ache and discomfort.  I consider his unconscious knowing that his small self feels safe and cared for, even if he doesn’t realize how special that is until he’s a grown man, or perhaps never.  I ponder how the existence of a small boy randomly and unexpectedly gives me a pause.

I watch little eyes fight to stay awake, and then, finally close again.  His furrowed brow instantly smooths over.

Little shoulders sigh and give over to the relief of rest.  Rest his body has fought for.

My beautiful sick child.