B-R-O-T-H-E-R spells Trouble

Making a Trip to Universal with a Tween and Teen Magical

Universal-boysWe recently took our tween and teenage sons to Florida and spent several days at Universal Studios. We bought wands at Ollivanders, rode the Hogwarts Express, tried Butterbeer -- only the teenager actually drank it, wholy moly is that stuff sweet -- battled with Optimus Prime and escaped The Mummy. A dream family vacation, right? It was, except they complained. They complained so much I wanted to stick my fingers in my ears and start screaming at the top of my lungs at least once every day of our vacation. Here are a few things I’d do differently the next time around.

  1. The Single Rider Line. They will beg you to buy Fast Passes. Do not do it! At around $80 per person (prices seems to vary) you are sure to regret it when your Visa bill comes in. Our boys were infuriated watching people stroll past us while we stood watching the minutes tick by. This wasn’t so bad on rides where we didn’t have to store our belongings in lockers because they would play on their iPods. However, waiting for the water and roller coaster rides was painful. When they finally accepted we weren’t budging on the Fast Passes, they started begging us to use the Single Rider Line. My husband and I weren’t keen on the idea of splitting up at first. We’d saved for a year for this vacation and it was family together time, damn it! But if you’re kids are big enough to ride without an adult and you’re not planning on buying a family photo from the ride, it’s a pretty good idea. You still stand in line together, but for minutes rather than hours, and get on the ride within minutes of each other. Not all rides have Single Rider Lines, but it’s usually the really popular ones with the long lines that do.

  2. Make everyone memorize the locker number. After several days of nonstop fun, your brain is going to start turning to mush. There are many wet or action packed rides that advise or require storing your belongings in a locker. Often in a situation where I want to make a note of something I might forget later, I take a picture or make a note on my phone. This is something you can’t do when you are storing your phone inside the locker for safe keeping. After one such ride, we spent fifteen minutes with a rather annoyed staff member insisting we had stowed our belongings in one particular section when we were actually in the next section over. Our children were thoroughly annoyed we were not fulfilling our parental responsibilities of complete omniscience. Make everyone memorize the locker number so you’re not that family.

  3. Pack sugar. Everyone knows park food is expensive and that water is worth its weight in gold once you enter the gates. Every day I packed water, sandwiches, protein bars and other snacks. Every day we ate and drank all of it. You’re only allowed to carry in so much food, so there wasn’t room for too much more. However, I was trying to be healthy on top of being cost conscious. I should have packed bags of candy on top of everything else. The last thing you want to be dealing with while standing in line for over an hour is a teen or tween on a sugar crash.

  4. Always pack the flip flops. If you are spending an entire day walking around a park, it’s probably advisable to do that in sneakers rather than flip flops. However, few things are worse than walking around in wet socks and sneakers following a particularly drenching ride. If you happen to have a teenage boy that is coming off of two weeks at camp, this will be the final straw to him developing trench foot. Said teenage boy now owns a lovely second pair of $30 flip flops.

  5. Always say yes to ridiculous, free fun. One night as we were walking out of the park, we bought ice cream and were lingering in the promenade. There was a fountain area with a grid of spouts that shot up from the ground at different intervals. The boys started trying to time it so they could walk all the way across without getting wet. I could have stopped them. I knew they were going to get soaked. But I let them. They danced and jumped around the spurts of water and laughed their fool heads off without a care or complaint to be heard.Making a Trip to Universal with a Tween and Teen Magical

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Take Me Out to the Ball Game

One thing I want to be sure to document about this year is our little league season. I've never been much for sports until I had two boys, but I have definitely become one of those crazy team moms. This year, baseball has been quite the family affair for us. For once, and most likely the only time since they are three years apart, both boys are playing on the same team. Blackstone is coaching and I score all the games. It's been a wonderful season and I'm sorry to see it come to a close. Trouble is our best first baseman and has hit several home runs. LT is our number one catcher and a pretty fair pitcher. He'll be a threat as he starts to bring the heat as he gets a little older.

Cole_pitchingBlackstone and the team have worked very hard. We entered the playoffs in third place and are heading to the championship in first. The game we played last night against the first place team was unbelievable. We were losing 6-0 heading into the third inning. It wasn't looking good. LT scored our only run that inning. He walked to first and on the next pitched ball, stole second, third and home. We tied it up in the fifth 9-9, but then let up three runs. We entered the sixth and last inning losing 11-9. We scored three and had to hold them 12-11 at the bottom of the inning. The bases loaded with two outs, they hit a ball deep into left field. The kid on third made it home, but the run didn't count due to the amazing throw from left field to third base for a force out to win the game!

It took me over 12 hours to stop feeling like I was wound tighter than a drum. This included vodka, herbal tea, trying to sleep, exercise and a facial among other things. I woke myself up screaming something in the wee morning hours. My husband is already used to stress causing unfitful sleeping for me, talking and laughing. Screaming is a level of crazy he only has to deal with occasionally, but apparently really close baseball games are capable of inducing it.

Connor_battingI am so proud of all the work the entire team, parents included, has put in over the season. It has not always been easy. Keeping 11, 8 to 12 year-olds under control is no picnic. We have had name calling and scuffles in the dug out. We've had bad games where were pummeled by the opposing team. Through all that, my husband has impressed me to no end.

Blackstone is a baseball coach that hands out patches after every game that the kids iron on their hats and wear proudly. He holds 2 hour practices twice a week and sometimes extra practices for the catchers and pitchers. He moves the kids around and allows them to play other positions. Every kid has been in the infield at least twice. He had me create a Google Group to organize his emails to the team. He texts and emails reminders of practices, games and forgotten equipment. I score the games using an app for him, and he studies the stats to best position his players. He arranges transportation for any kid that needs it. He quotes Abraham Lincoln in his emails. This week he had all the kids write down one nice thing about everyone on the team as a team building exercise before the championship game tomorrow.

None of that guarantees a win tomorrow afternoon. It would be a wonderful way to end the season and I know our team has what it takes, they certainly proved that at the game last night. However, these are just kids and some games they're on and some, well some are painful to watch.

But whatever happens, this season with all of us together on one team, it was absolutely amazing.

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P.S. The amazing photos of my boys are courtesy of another player's mom.


Boys and Hygiene

I know, scary thought right. My boys at eight and eleven are way past the ages where I bathe them anymore. It's been at least a couple of years since I felt the need to wash LT's hair and body for him. And I figured after bathing them each for five or six years that they sort of had the process down, but there seems to be some confusion.

My boys are clean after they bathe. It's not like they haven't been using soap or anything like that. The confusion came in this year after Trouble started on the swim team. His hair quickly became the texture of straw from the chlorine. So I bought him some special shampoo and conditioner for swimmers. Now this was new to him. He'd never used separate conditioner before. When he first started using it I talked to him about it. He was putting them both on his head at the same time. I explained this was not how it was done. He had to use the shampoo first and then use the conditioner.

I thought that was the end of it for some number of months. His hair still had the texture of straw put at least slightly fresher and more pliable straw. I kept reminding him to use his special shampoo and conditioner after each practice. I bought travel size bottles so he had his products in his bag and at home in the tub.I really thought I was on top of this.

Yesterday he got out of the tub and I asked how he had conditioned his hair when, for some unknown reason, the conditioner was on the shelf above the toilet.

"Well, you said I should use the shampoo and then the conditioner. So one time I use the shampoo and the other time I use the conditioner."

Oh, for the love of all that is holy! How on earth did using the conditioner after shampooing turn into only use one or the other each time you bathe when you processed it in your brain? And how am I just finding this now when this has been going on for MONTHS?!

The child has swim practice four times a week. I know his hair is getting washed plenty. But it would look more like hair and less like a scarecrow at Halloween if he was using the products correctly.

I very carefully explained that he has to use BOTH every time he washes his hair. BUT not put them on his head at the same time. First you put in the shampoo. Then you rub it in. Then you rinse it out. Then you put in the conditioner and rub that in. Then you rinse it out.

I really think he's got it this time. Of course, I can never be completely sure that Trouble completely understands anything I tell him. It's not that he's not listening, or that he's not a very bright boy. He is. He just has his own take on doing things and it never really occurs to him that he might be doing something wrong.

I am fairly certain he's got it this time. His hair is looking a little more like, well, hair.

I was trying to remember about how I learned to shampoo and condition my own hair. I don't remember my mom ever having to explain it to me. Maybe being a girl with long hair she conditioned it separately for me right from the time I was small enough that she was doing it for me. Or maybe I learned from watching advertisements. Or maybe I simply read the directions on the bottle. I really have no idea.

I will always remember how Trouble learned, though. Seriously, never even occurred to me that washing and conditioning one's hair could be so darn complicated.

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Swim Team or a Working Parent's Nightmare

Over the years, we've encouraged our boys to try different sports. I admit, there are some that we haven't tried, golf, hockey, and tennis, to name a few. But Trouble and LT have tried their hand at karate, dance classes, baseball, basketball, football, soccer and swim lessons, not to mention piano lessons, boy scouts and school band.

If they don't like sport then we don't make them sign up for it again. Trouble did one season of basketball and football and then didn't play again. Those two sports were definitely not for him. We made him stick out the season. Once you make a commitment to a team you should honor that commitment. With football that was downright painful for everyone involved.

Cole_footballThere also have to be some limits about how many sports or activities they can do at one time. When LT is in football, there really isn't time for much else. Practices begin this Wednesday and for the rest of the summer he will be in practice five nights a week, two hours a night. Hopefully, practice doesn't conflict with cub scouts once school starts and they scale back to practice three nights a week. But he loves football, so we're willing to make that investment of our time. One or the other parent needs to be there for the duration of practice. Football is pretty intense, even when they're not yet into physical contact, and I'd hate for him to get hurt and neither of us be there.

 However, we're working parents, and not just working parents but each of us with our own careers that we've invested ourselves in. If Blackstone has a town meeting to attend and the boys have practices or games at different fields, I have no choice but to leave each of them and do my best in volleying back and forth. How parents with more than two kids involved in sports and activities do it is beyond me. Especially, when we're talking different age groups and different activities.

Connor_swimSwim has proven to be particularly elusive for us. First of all, swim teams don't advertise. I had known there was a swim team at the YMCA that we have belonged to for over a decade, but had no idea what it was about. The only promotion they do is a board by the pool where they post winner's names and pictures. When we asked about signing Trouble up at the information desk, they told us they didn't have any information to give and that we had to email the swim coach. Since when does a gym not have information about its own programs? It was like I had just asked for directions to platform 9 and three-quarters.

Trouble tried out last fall but didn't make it. We inquired about try outs in the spring and were told to just sign him up. Okay . . . Great! Except . . . . He had to attend three out of five practices a week at 4:30 in the afternoon. And he was already signed up for baseball. And Blackstone was coaching his team. And even if it weren't for baseball, 4:30 in the afternoon! Ugh! Blackstone's hours are all over the place and I work until 4:30 and am 30+ minutes from home.

Swim team is definitely a rich person's sport. Or at least the sport of a kid with parents who work nontraditional hours or where one parent stays home. (Note: I do not mean to insinuate that staying home is not work. I know it is. However, it definitely affords opportunities for kids that can be very difficult to finagle when both parents work outside the home. And yes, my husband does work out of the house, but his office might as well be in Timbuktu most of the time for the flexibility it affords us when it comes to situations like this. It will inevitably be the day he spends 12 hours in the field, or the night he has to drive to Boston for a meeting at 7pm. Then I end up going to my boss sheepishly at the last minute to say I need to leave.)

So now we're trying for the third time. I'm not sure what his chances are since I seem to be gathering that fall is the competitive season, and it seems we'd have more luck come spring. So just to cover my bases, I'm also going to register him for two swim lessons a week to keep him practicing and help him continue to build his endurance. If he does make it, then I know I need to request to flex my hours a bit at work, which is slightly less awkward since I've been there over six months now and the big project should be launched at that point. One way or another, we'll find a way to make it work, even if I have to pay someone to drive him to the pool. But then you have to remember that all this craziness is just for one kid's activity and that LT will also be in football. I fully expect that there would be plenty of nights when Blackstone would have a meeting and I would need to pick Trouble up and drop LT off at the same time, in different towns, neither of which we live in. Not to mention we'll also be juggling cub scouts and boy scouts.

When the heck dinner would figure into this mess? I'd have to pack it in the morning and carry it with me, or pick up take-out in between the running from the pool to the football field, only getting home around 8:30 at night. And homework? They better get it done at daycare or in Trouble's case at home, because we have agreed to start letting him be home alone after school. He is in middle school after all. This has not been without its issues since we started in the spring, but that's another post.

We haven't even gotten into the games and meets yet either. I gather that swim meets are often on Sundays which is also game day for football.

It is no wonder parenting drives so many of us to drink. This isn't just the lazy parents either. If I were a lazy parent, I wouldn't need a drink so badly at the end of the day. It's because I try to balance so much that I drive myself to drink. It may be time for one now.

Cheers,

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Yes, I'm Seriously Inappropriate

I probably shouldn't let my eight-year-old watch horror movies, but I do. And since I let my eight-year-old watch them, well, the five-year-old watches them too. Usually he falls asleep five minutes in before anything scary happens. Usually, but not always. I guess I just only have so much fight in me, and since Blackstone and I just love a good horror movie, I figure it's just encoded in his DNA.

When Trouble was maybe three, he walked in on me watching Thirteen Ghosts. Pretty gruesome movie if you haven't seen it. I didn't realize he was in the room right away, and as soon as I did, I changed the channel. He had a fit. "Put it back! Put it back!" he yelled.

He started watching Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings movies around this time too. He was one of very few three-year-olds asking to watch Frodo over and over again I'm willing to bet. Nothing ever scared him. Nothing gave him nightmares. Still, I've tried to curb him from some of the more terrifying movies, or at least what I'd consider scarier. I know plenty of grown adults that are scared watching Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. But Blackstone and my dad are even less restrictive than I am. So they were watching Alien vs. Predator and Eight Legged Freaks, and who knows what else, years ago. They absolutely love it. I still try to keep it to the lower end of scary. I'm fighting a losing battle. I lose more and more ground every year.

They had been playing outside a couple weekends ago and happened to walk in shortly after I flipped on The Mist. That was gruesome. I'm going to give away the ending here, so if you haven't seen it, and don't want me to give it away, stop reading now. *SPOILER*. Honestly, had I known it was a movie about huge, killer bugs, I might have never put it on. Bugs are seriously not my thing. It's based on a Steven King story. One I probably read, but don't remember. I read a lot. I forget at least half of everything I read. The boys were enthralled. The only thing that appalled them was the ending, which was not so scary but seriously, ironically tragic. It certainly sparked some interesting conversation. Not just the ending, but the demented, religious zealot, offering any unbeliever to the giant, other-worldy bugs as offerings to appease God, who obviously unleashed them on us as punishment for our sinful ways. Perhaps Trouble has a slightly better understanding of my opposition to church now. So that, and the ending in which the main character shoots all the other passengers in the car, including his son, so they don't have to be eaten alive by the bugs, raised some questions. He would have shot himself too, only there weren't enough bullets. So he goes outside awaiting his terrible fate, only to have the mist begin to clear and the army arrive. Now that's something difficult to explain to a child.

It hadn't really occurred to me after having watched all of these scary movies, that I would eventually find one that scared Trouble. Really never thought it would happen. It did. And oddly enough, I didn't think the movie was that scary. No one actually died in the time span of the movie. Oh there were ghosts of people, bodies that had died long ago. But none of the main characters in the current story died. Again *SPOILERS* people. The Haunting in Connecticut has had Trouble sleeping with his light on for a week. At the end of the movie, the poor, sick kid tormented by all the ghosts is cured of his terminal cancer. I mean, yes, it was scary. Yes, there were dead bodies in the wall. Gross. Not nearly as gross or scary as watching spiders hatch inside a person and eat him alive. At least, not in my mind. Trouble seems to have a different opinion.

I figure it must be because huge killer bugs seem so outrageous, so far out of our reality, but maybe spirits of the dead, are a little too easy to imagine as real? I guess I'd better be sure not to let him know that it's supposed to have been based on a true story. Of course, I take all that with a grain of salt, but something tells me Trouble wouldn't.

So has that stopped me from letting him watch scary movies? Not really. I've started watching the series Supernatural recently and they love that. And they saw Coraline this weekend. *SPOILER* A kids movie, but pretty scary, and honestly, another scary spider. EEeeww. I've had enough with the damn bugs lately. Animated, mechanical, or otherwise. I've always had a spider phobia. Nothing terrible. But I do yell for Blackstone to come kill them for me. Apparently, that's nothing compared to my babysitter. I had to take down some of our Halloween decorations; the spider web and fake spiders, and the large mechanical one that drops from the ceiling when you clap. Now that's some serious arachnophobia.

So this Halloween will be spider-free and will probably still find Trouble sleeping with his light on. At least I bought some of the new energy saving bulbs. You can get them in soft light now, too. They're not nearly as terrible as they were at first. I can't stand flourescents and these are do-able. Peace of mind for me. Peace of mind for him. And we can still have our horror movies. Everybody wins!

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The End of an Era

Tomorrow is LT's last day of pre-school. LT spent two years at this pre-school, Trouble also spent two years at this pre-school. We have spent four years with the same wonderful group of teachers. The boys have loved their time there, and I am sad to see it come to a close. Much sadder than they, I'm sure. Trouble moved on three years ago, so it's of no consequence to him now. Though he's been jealous as all get out that LT gets to play all the time at school, go swimming on Fridays, when he has to work all day. He'd go back to pre-school in a heart beat if you let him. LT can't wait to go to kindergarten. He's way too excited to be one of the big boys to miss his beloved pre-school. He will miss it, though. I know he will, even if he's too excited to see it.

I already have LT's yearbook and report card. I won't be dropping him off or picking him up tomorrow. My final trip to the pre-school has been made. Somehow this mile stone is much more bitter sweet for me than so many others. I couldn't wait to stop nursing. I threw out the last bottle with glee, did a dance for joy when the diapers came off and diaper pail sat on the street, was thrilled to have spent the last dollar ever on pull ups. The sippy cups are still sitting in my cupboard, though I'm ready to toss them, and will be thrilled to rid myself of those stupid spigots, every cup with a different one, somehow I can never find the right one for the cup I'm trying to use.

Babyhood aggravation be gone! I do not miss their baby days. I do not have baby lust.

I am so glad to have my two little boys, riding bikes (LT's just learned the two-wheeler this week. Skipped training wheels altogether.) and playing baseball. It's so much easier, so much more fun than the sleep deprivation, spit up, diapers and mastitis.

LT's made so much progress in the last two years, it's utterly remarkable to me. He was so little last year, and shy, clinging to my legs when I dropped him off in the mornings. There's been none of that this year. He's a big boy now. He knows his colors, finally, and most of his letters. Can count to thirty without too many mistakes. He's yards ahead of where Trouble was at this point, which is such a relief. I'm sure some of that is due to being a younger sibling and watching as his brother learn his letters, and paying attention as we practice spelling words. Still, reading and writing has been such an uphill battle with Trouble, it's nice to see him progressing without the fighting, complaining, obstinance and tears. And Trouble has been progressing too. He finally met his language testing benchmark a few weeks ago, for the first time EVER! It's really been a big year for them. They're still my little boys, but they're not quite so little anymore.

Somehow saying good-bye to their pre-school years, that time when they're so full of energy, so happy, learning and growing so fast, making their first friends, really becoming their own little person, is not all that joyful. Realizing that they're growing out of that stage is much harder for me. Now I want them to slow down a little. I want them to stop growing up and maturing quite so fast. I don't want to see that glint of innocence go out of their eyes too soon. They're not teenagers yet, but somehow it's starting to seem much closer on the horizon than I'd realized.

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Mom, You Kind of Suck, but I Love You Anyway

Vicodin is a beautiful thing, people. I believe I've been suffering from a pinched nerve in my neck which is radiating pain down my right shoulder to my wrist. It's been doing that for a week, despite the Motrin, heating pad, ice pack and Biofreeze I've been using. It's only been getting worse. I have an appointment with a chiropractor on Tuesday. Until then, I now have prescription Motrin and vicodin, which means the brain skills are a bit stilted. Especially after the vodka. So I'm just going to give you the low down on the Mother's Day card I received from Trouble. It read:

Mom,

You are lots of fun and play baseball with us.(This is how I believe I pinched a nerve in my neck.) You watch movies with us too, but boring ones. You are fun anyway.

Love, Trouble

If I just let them watch things like Alien vs Predator every movie night, I'd get much higher praise.

I'm thinking at his High School Graduation, his card should read:

Dear Trouble,

You are a very bright and talented young man. You've been a really great kid when you weren't stealing, being brought home by the police, and complaining about everything twenty-four hours a day.

Love, Mom

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Sticky Fingers

Trouble came to us at the beginning of the week saying he had found twenty dollars at school. It's not the first time the child has told us he'd found money and we were suspicious. We sent him back to school with the money and a note to his teacher explaining what he'd told us. He said he found the money outside at recess. They hadn't had outdoor recess that day, it was too cold. So we knew he was lying. Further pressing got him to reveal that he'd taken the money from my purse. We had a stern talk with him about stealing and how you don't take money from anyone. He was grounded for four days.

The next day he stole a candy cane of m&m's the teacher had in the classroom. He admitted it a day or so later to his teacher who was threatening to punish the whole class. Now he's in further trouble at home and also at school. He's grounded for the rest of the month. No karate, no friends over, no going to friends houses and no video games. He can still attend cub scouts and basketball. We lectured him on how disappointed we were with him, but that we knew he was a good boy. He promised he wouldn't steal anymore.

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And now it's two weeks later because I've been sidetracked by Christmas, the snow storm, and the boys with the stomach flu.

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The day after our lecture was a Saturday. I brought LT to karate and then ran some errands. Blackstone was home with Trouble who decided to run away. He left a very endearing note on the fridge telling us he was sorry for being such a bad boy and that he would love us and miss us very much. He put on his coat (no hat or gloves in the 20 degree weather) and left the house with two stuffed animals. He was picked up by the police a few blocks away and brought back to the house, much to Blackstone's surprise. They had a nice sit-down with the officer, Trouble showed him the note he had written, and the officer decided to leave Trouble in my husband's care.

I got the low-down on all this when I arrived home a little while later. While I'm quite relieved things worked out as they did, it could have been much worse, it's also disturbing that this is the third time our boys have brought the police to our house. I certainly hope this is not foreshadowing of what's to come. I also hope that we don't end up with DCYF questioning us at some point. We do watch our kids, play with them, read with them, chauffeur them to classes, practices and games. It just seems every time we turn around, they're attempting some other daring, stupid or treacherous act.

Trouble returned to school and lost his lunch bag for a few days. It showed up again a couple of days later, but we had switched him to hot lunch and it wasn't until the end of the week that I opened his lunch bag and found a wallet I didn't recognize. A kid's wallet with just some loose change in it. At first Trouble insisted he had no idea how it had gotten there. After some pressing, he finally came to me and asked, "So if I make a mistake, you can help me?" Which is one of things I've been telling him, that he has to tell the truth and if he does, we can help him make it right. And he confesses that he found the wallet on the floor at school. I asked why he didn't turn it in to his teacher. He says it was time to leave and he didn't get a chance. The boy always has an answer for everything. I told him he has to give it to her after vacation and explain it to her, and that he is NEVER, FOR ANY REASON, to bring home anything that doesn't belong to him. If he doesn't have time to turn it in, he should leave it on the floor.

So I'm a little nervous as to what the future holds for our little klepto. He knows better than this. And while on the one hand his running away because he's so ashamed of himself might show remorse and a true understanding, what do I make of the wallet turning up after that? And running off in the cold, no idea where he was going, only stuffed animals with him, the boy is smarter than that. I feel like it's more like him manipulating us than an honest attempt at running away. I know this likely is him seeking out more attention from us, so we're really trying to work on that too. Providing him lots of positive attention (another reason I'm finding less and less time to blog). And to that end, I'm off to take my boys to the movies.

Happy Holidays! May your children not be escorted home by the police.

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