It's another Our Monkeys, My Circus Podcast, and on the latest episode, the nine-year-old and I talk about his latest birthday, the joys of having an infected big toe and what it's like to deal with a sometimes-insane name-calling little brother.
The eight-year-old is now nine. I have a hard time wrapping my head around this because I vividly remember sitting in the hospital with my very pregnant wife, who was already two weeks past her due date for reasons that have become crystal clear over the years.
(By comparison, the four-year-old was two weeks early. This also makes perfect sense. It's amazing how two people, sharing much of the same genetic information, can be so completely different.)
Anyway, the now-nine-year-old seems a lot more mature than I was at that age. In fact, as a third-grader, I once knowingly peed in my pants right in the middle of class. In my defense, my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Hare, was something of a hard-ass and I was overly sensitive. (Related: this trait has made its way to the four-year-old. It is eminently annoying.)
We were in the middle of some standardized test, and Mrs. Hare made it clear before we began that if you have to go to the bathroom, do it now. For reasons I still can't explain, I didn't go, and not long afterwards, I had to pee.
(Another of life's great mysteries: WHY DO YOUNG KIDS REFUSE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM?! What do they think they're missing? I can tell them one thing it guarantees: Your parents losing their minds about it. But by all means, continue to dance around and deny it right up until the moment it's too late. We love that.)
Instead of raising my hand and facing Mrs. Hare's wrath, I decided to hold it. In terms of thinking strategically, the only worse decision may have been announcing to the class that I would be wetting my pants in roughly 4-6 minutes. At this point, the pressure was such that I couldn't think about the test at all and alternated between moving my legs furiously in an attempt to stave off the inevitable and trying to formulate a plausible excuse for when, you know, the inevitable happened.
Oh, I should mention that our desks included wooden slatted seats, which meant that there would be no chance the pee would be contained to the chair. Nope, it would make its way through the aforementioned slats and right onto the hardwood floor, plenty loud for kids actually trying to concentrate on the test to notice.
So it was no surprise when one girl -- I still remember her name but I won't implicate her here -- notified Mrs. Hare that some dumbass wet himself and his surrounding area. I have some recollection of Mrs. Hare asking me what happened. Thinking quickly on my feet, I offered up this wholly believable excuse: I fell in a mud puddle at the bus stop that morning.
I'm fuzzy on what followed -- though I can imagine it involved plenty of laughing -- but the poor woman must've taken pity on me because I don't recall her making a big deal about it.
Silver lining: 30 years later, I have an awesome story. It also sets a low bar for those that follow me; as long as the nine-year-old doesn't pee in his pants over the final three months of the year, he's done better than his old man. That's called sacrifice, people.
Back on Earth...
So what did the nine-year-old want for his birthday? In continuing with the retro theme, he asked fora Rubik's Cube, Hungry Hungry Hippos and the original Monopoly.
I'm not even kidding.
By the way, the children's version of Monopoly is a joke. Mostly because it discriminates against old people. Kids get to roll first -- because, hey, this is supposed to be fun! -- which virtually guarantees they'll win every time. So it was with great pleasure that the nine-year-old and I spent three hours with the original version last night ... and I DOMINATED.
Hours later, while he was upstairs reading on the iPad, he sent me this text:
Him: You're going to get crushed in Monopoly!
My response: FAMOUS LAST WORDS.
Of course, I regularly engage in that type of gum-flapping, usually with little-to-no repercussions. Because, you know, he's barely nine. But the day before his birthday, we played chess, like we had hundreds of times before.
Except I lost. For the first time ever.
And secretly, I wasn't happy about it. Devastated might be too strong a word but it's probably closer to the truth than I care to admit. I won the next day but the damage was already done: It was the latest reminder that the balance of power is shifting. Not long after, he had solved one side of the Rubik's Cube. Back in the day, that took me weeks, (and maybe months).
But hey, I still have Monopoly.
I once heard that the number of kids you should invite to your kid's birthday party is n+1, where n = your kid's age. So for my youngest, who turned four in a Harrisburg, PA hotel room last week (more on that in a second), that would mean four friends would join him in celebrating his big day.
On Saturday, we had the party and while I didn't take a head count, I'll conservatively guess we had 50 people at our house. In my defense, this was less about my son's birthday and more about me and the wife blowing off steam. (In completely different ways, mind you; she loves to cook and entertain, I love to pound beers, commiserate with like-minded -- read: overwhelmed -- dads and eventually pass out face down in the play room.) After a summer that went by in fast-forward in July only to feel like slow motion in August, I was ready for school to start. The lack of structure, both for me and the kids -- but mostly the kids -- along with the constant complaints of boredom and hunger are enough to make you an unwavering proponent of year-round education.
So last year we began this tradition of inviting neighbors, family and friends over to celebrate both the little man's birthday and the return of another school year. It went so well we did it again over the weekend -- this time with an expanded guest list.
We probably had 20 kids there, from 18 months to 14 years old, and other than the play room looking like it had been carpet-bombed by a drunk Santa, there wasn't any child-on-child violence that I was aware of. Though, to be fair, I make it a point to be blissfully ignorant of what kids are doing to each other because I don't like dealing with the inevitable awkwardness that comes with having to confront someone else's little monster.
Great parenting, I know, but don't misunderstand: It's not like I'm abandoning my kids in the face of danger. I only ignore the potential "Lord of the Flies" situations when my wife's around. But if I'm running solo with the kids, I go to great lengths to avoid these circumstances altogether. That means no playgrounds, malls, after-school get-togethers and play dates because little people, in general, are nuts. And forget trying to rationalize with the truly insane ones. Invariably, that leads to blank stares from horrified onlookers and "What the hell did you think would happen?!" looks from parents who have been there before.
And yes, I know, a lot life is about managing the dumbasses in your universe. Don't worry, I've got that covered; I'm the dumbass in my kids' lives. Trust me, they get plenty of practice with that.
(So here's the lesson: Hey parents, if you're in public with your kids, how about you keep an eye on what they're up to? I know you're exhausted and possibly hungover but guess who else has problems to work through? Problems, by the way, that shouldn't include making sure your lil' pumpkin isn't wreaking havoc in our general vicinity. Okay, that escalated quickly. Moving on...)
About that hotel birthday...
So we traveled from upstate New York to Asheville, NC and back over Labor Day weekend, and while 800 miles is a long way to drive under any circumstance, there's no way it's happening with two kids in the car.
(Not an exaggeration: I heard "Do we have anything else to eat?" every 15 minutes. This is not an exaggeration. Hey, kids, you realize we're in the car and not sitting in La-Z-Boys in the Twinkie aisle at 7-11, right? RIGHT?!)
So we stopped on the way down and again on the way back. And when we woke up Monday in a Harrisburg, PA Residence Inn to drive the last leg of the trip, it also happened to be the newly turned-four-year-old's birthday.
That conversation went like this:
Me: Hey, it's time to get up, we're going home today. Oh, and it's your birthday!
(His eyes open, he quickly sits up, looks around, and realizes where he is.)
Four-year-old: How can it be my birthday in a hotel?
Me: (stares blankly)