Monday, January 05, 2009

The Year of Civilization Begins

It is time, Sweetie and I have decided, to Civilize the Babies!

They don't want to be civilized, and they are fighting it tooth and nail, but we made the decision: they are to be Civilized, without further delay.

I proposed that we do that -- Civilize them-- as we were loading them into the car on New Year's Eve to take them on our fun New Year's Eve shopping trips, a shopping trip that now included "trying to find a glass store" because we had to repair the window that Mr F had broken.

Before we decided to Civilize the Babies!, one of their hobbies, one of the main things they enjoyed in life, was throwing furniture. It began with the slide they got for their birthday. When they were not sliding on it, they began shoving the slide around. At first, we thought they were trying to slide in new locations, seeing what it was like to slide over there, or slide in the family room instead of the play room. But it wasn't that, or it wasn't entirely that, because they do move the slide around to different locations, maybe to spice things up a bit. The other night, for example, they moved the slide from the playroom all the way to the other side of the family room, doing so, I think, not just to see what it was like to slide near the couch (something that seemed not-so-fun, given that they set it up at first so that they would slide right into the couch) but also so that they could slide and watch "Baby Noah" at the same time.

"Baby Noah" is one of those "Baby Einstein" DVDs where the makers have combined footage of animals and animal-related toys with classical music and sold it to people like me, who think that it is marginally better to let your two-year-olds watch a DVD nonstop for hours if that DVD has Beethoven music in it and promises to teach the Babies! something while they watch it. "Baby Noah" has a "repeat play" feature that lets the DVD run forever, and "Baby Noah" is the current favorite of Mr F and Mr Bunches in their DVD rotation. Sweetie popped it in for them the other day, just as a break from "Bunnytown" and throwing furniture, and they were hypnotized. Mr F stood at the plastic fence that provides the security for our TV and just stared, for two consecutive playings of the DVD-- almost thirty minutes. Mr Bunches sat on the couch.

And they learned stuff. I know they learned stuff, which made it okay for them to watch that much TV, and I know they learned because they applied what they learned. There is a part in the DVD where they show a gorilla, and it makes a gorilla sound: oo oo oo. Whenever the gorilla comes on, Mr Bunches says oo oo oo just like the gorilla. And, yesterday, when they showed a monkey on TV (which was on in the background while we played "Rrrowr Monster"), Mr Bunches stopped and went oo oo oo to the monkey, too. So at only two years old, Mr Bunches is already fluent in Gorilla, and we owe that to the "Baby Noah" DVD which by my unofficial count they watched, in the past week alone, roughly 133 times.

I am not one of those parents, as you might have gathered, who thinks that TV is a bad thing. I think TV is not a bad thing at all, and I like to let the Babies! watch TV, provided that it's something that I think they should be watching, like "Bunnytown" or "Baby Einstein" or "The Critic," which I like to watch and which they seem to like, too, although they probably don't get all the jokes. They also like to watch "Robot Chicken" with me, and sometimes when Sweetie's not home we'll watch "Reno 911" together. TV helps the Babies! learn, even if sometimes they only learn how to speak "Gorilla," and even if other times all they learn is "Man, Daddy sure will find any justification, however weak, to watch his TV shows when he's supposed to be babysitting," although to be honest, I do think that it's good for them to watch Battlestar Galactica because they can learn about space and also about how Hollywood can take a perfectly good thing and wreck it. I'm assuming both of those areas of knowledge -- space, and Hollywood-distrusting -- will be critical to their survival in the future.

Besides, it's not like all they do is watch TV, and it's not like I just sit and ignore them when I watch TV. We play while the TV is on, all sorts of games, like the newest one that Mr Bunches loves, which is "Rrrowr Monster." In "Rrrowr Monster," I have to crawl on my hands and knees around the playroom and whenever I see Mr Bunches, I have to dive and him and growl Rrrowr and then if I catch him, I tickle him or drop him on the couch. Mr Bunches loves Rrrowr Monster, loves it so much that he'll bully people into playing it, coming and grabbing their hands and pulling them until they are near the slide and playset in the playroom, and then if the person still isn't down on hands and knees and growling, he'll shove them until they do that. Mr Bunches gets superexcited by Rrrowr Monster, so excited that he puked the other day from laughing too hard when I lunged at him, and even then he wanted to go on playing it, but Sweetie has a strict "Once you puke the game is over" Rule, so we had to move on to other games, like The Tackle Game, or moving the slide around and then sliding down it while Daddy hums the Last of the Mohicans theme.

So in some way, I guess, it's partially maybe a little my fault that the Babies! are not civilized, because most of the games I play with them are not Civilized games. It's hard to spend 99% of your time playing "Cloverfield" and "Dr. Slider" and "The Tackle Game" and "Tickle Bugs" and "Rockets To The Moon" (where I hold them and toss them up in the air) and "SuperSpinning" and the rest, and then expect them to behave like perfect angels the rest of the time. But it's hard, too, for me to understand how they go from playing all those games to enjoying throwing furniture around, which is the stage they progressed to over the Christmas holidays.

Like I said, it began with the slide, which they at first would just push around. They learned, then, that the slide would tip over, so they began doing that, and they spent their time tipping it over and standing it up and tipping it over again and knocking it into walls, and we'd lean in and make sure that they at least weren't tipping it over on each other's heads, and let them play. What harm could come of that? we thought.

Then they moved on from the slide to other pieces of furniture. They began taking the cushions off of the chairs and couches. Then they would tip over the hassock, over and over, knocking that around.

Things were worse on the middle level. They knocked over the piano bench, for no reason. They'd tip over the end table. And then they found the kitchen chairs, which were simple to tip over and which made a satisfying thump and which they could then stand up and tip over again, and again and again.

This all took place in about two months, and we didn't know what to do. Or, to be more accurate, we knew what to do-- stop them from tipping over furniture-- but we didn't want to do it because stopping them from tipping over furniture is a lot of work, and we already have a lot of work to do in the house. When there's two teenagers and two two-year-olds and Sweetie, it's not difficult to find work to do in the house, work that ranges from the usual like cooking dinner and doing laundry and getting the paper to the less-usual, like encouraging The Boy not to store moldy bread in his room.

The Boy stores moldy bread in his room whenever he can get away with it, which is a lot, because I've been training myself to not look at The Boy's room, trying to avoid looking at it no matter what, because if I look at the room, I will have to see that it is a disaster, and if I see it's a disaster, I'll get all depressed about the resale value of our house and I'll think that I'm destined to live in this house forever and never move because we'll never be able to resell it because there's no way The Boy's room will ever be clean again, and there's no way we'll ever be able to get the slightly-onion-y smell out of his room.

The slightly-onion-y smell comes from The Boy's football gear, which for some reason smells more and more like onions as the football season goes on, so that by the time his team made the playoffs this past year, walking by his room was kind of like walking by an onion farm. It's not that the uniform isn't clean; Sweetie washes it all the time, but the onion smell continues to grow, like he's using onion-scented deodorant or something.

So the smell of moldy bread at least combats the lingering onion scent, but that's not a good thing. The Boy got a job working at a bread-and-sandwich shop, and when he closes, he's allowed to bring home the leftover bread. That's not as good a deal as it sounds, because the leftover bread is all the stuff that people didn't want to buy, so it's not like he's bringing home leftover "Everything Bagels" and muffins and sourdough bread. He brings home a lot of baguettes -- baguettes are the most overrated bread ever-- and a lot of rye bread.

It's also not as good a deal as it sounds because The Boy claims that the bread is for his football team, and that he's supposed to take it to the team's weight room so that the football players can eat bread in between lifting weights. I'm skeptical of that claim, because the bread, as far as I can tell, never makes it to the weight room, and also because the bread spends a lot of time first in The Boy's car, and then in The Boy's room, making it not-so-edible. The life cycle of the bread is this:

1. Get brought home by The Boy in a giant plastic bag in the back seat of his car, next to the backpack that has his homework in it (but not the homework that he needs for that night, which is why he has to go back to school later on and get the homework that he needs for that night, and NO, they do not have a textbook for their math class, well, okay, they do but he didn't bring it home because the teacher doesn't want them to read the textbook, they're just supposed to do the worksheet.)

2. Sit in the unsealed giant plastic bag for two or three days (or weeks) in the backseat of The Boy's car because he had to carry in his backpack and his coat and also Mom wanted him to get the mail so how is he supposed to carry in the bread, too, and it's not like it goes bad or anything.

3. Get brought in, finally, to be set on the counter in the still-unsealed giant plastic bag, where the bread will sit through three sarcastic hints and a command: "Hey, I didn't know we were storing bread on the counter," "I wonder if there's a better place to store stale bread than the counter," "It sure would be nice if I could make dinner but I've got 43 pounds of stale bread just sitting on the counter," and finally "Get down here and put the bread away!"

4. Take portions of the bread, bread that nobody in the house now wants to eat, and put them into loosely-wrapped plastic bags that when noticed by me will prompt the umpteenth lecture on "Why Air Is Bad For Stored Food & The Importance Of Closing Bags And Containers," a lecture which will be ignored for the umpteenth time. Leave the rest in the giant open plastic bag.

5. Sit in the loosely-wrapped bags in the freezer until I throw them out, and sit in the opened giant plastic bag in The Boy's room until forced to take it to the garage, where it will sit for several more weeks until finally being stuffed into a garbage can by me, because it wouldn't fit in the garbage can when The Boy took it out because there wasn't any room in the garbage can because nobody around here knows how to take garbage out and why doesn't Middle ever have any chores to do anyway because he just wants to finish watching the basketball game and Geez, doesn't anyone ever leave him alone?

So with all of that, it's understandable that Sweetie and I might, when the Babies! decide to take up chair-throwing as a hobby, think it's just a phase, they'll outgrow it, which is what we say about everything they do that we're just too tired to correct right now:

It's just a phase, eventually he'll leave his diaper on.

It's just a phase. Eventually, they'll eat something besides Doritos.

It's just a phase. Eventually, they'll stop trying to run away anytime they're in Shopko.

It's just a phase. Eventually, we'll figure out what happened to the other cat.

But like all good things, or all things that aren't good but parents have opted to ignore them, that phase had to come to an end, and the end was when Mr F broke a window on New Year's Eve.

I have only myself to blame, a fact which doesn't keep me from secretly blaming Sweetie. Officially, I have only myself to blame because I was supposed to be cleaning up after breakfast while Sweetie got ready to go grocery shopping with me and the Babies!. Mr F was hanging around, and I thought he might still be hungry. So I put him on a chair and gave him some cereal on the table to munch on while I started Step One of clean-up: Putting on music. As I loaded up iTunes to play music while I cleaned, I forgot entirely about Mr F until I heard the crash of broken glass and Mr F started crying, at which point I turned around to see him standing on the chair in front of the broken window the chair was leaning against.

So you can see how that's really Sweetie's fault: if she hadn't insisted on bathing and leaving me in charge while she did so, she would have been the one in the room when Mr F broke the window. I hope she's learned her lesson.

Mr F had, as far as I can reconstruct, thrown the chair against the window and then when he broke the glass, climbed up on top of it and cut his finger, so we had to clean off his finger and clean up the glass and take the window pane out and put a blanket up over the window (classy!) and load the broken window pane and the Babies! (including a still-upset Mr F) into the car and find a glass shop before we even went grocery shopping, all of which ate up the all-too-short time that we had planned to use to relax on New Year's Eve.

The glass shop said it would take a week to get the pane of glass to install in the window -- a claim about which Sweetie had this to say: "Don't they have glass there? They're a glass store!" But apparently they didn't have this glass, or enough of this glass, or something, or they just didn't feel like doing much on New Year's Eve, so they measured the pane and then told us to take the remainder back home until they called.

We were left with the pane of the window put in place and then cardboarded over and then draped with a blanket which I duct-taped to the frame because there are still little pieces of glass in it, creating a lumpy green window treatment that almost, but not entirely, lets all of the cold air into the house and is giving our furnace workout.

That whole adventure led us to decide that it was time the Babies! became Civilized: No more furniture throwing, we decided, and no more of this just a phase stuff. We implemented our decision right away, outlining what activities were now off-limits for Mr F and Mr Bunches. The new rules are:

No throwing furniture.

No touching the TV.

Leave your pants on.

The penalties for violating those rules are an immediate time-out, escalating in time. The first time-out of the day is 30 seconds. The next, 60 seconds, and up by 30 seconds each time they break one of the rules.

Yesterday, Mr F made it all the way up to 8 1/2 minutes -- and that was after I'd given him two freebies, and also after we decided that "Leave your pants on" could be an optional rule, so Mr F was allowed to walk around for a while without any pants, and he still was up to nearly nine minutes in time outs.

That length of a time-out is really hard to enforce, too; the Babies! are only two, so it's not like they'll just sit somewhere for any length of time. To give them a time-out, I have to take them and sit them in the time-out rocking chair and hold them, hold them while they struggle and squirm and complain and try to escape and cry and once Mr F hit me. I try to bribe them during the time out, saying "If you behave, I'll knock a minute off" but they never fall for it, they just do their time in the hardest way possible. I finished the 7 minute time-out with Mr F upside down on my lap, feet in my face while he arched his back and yelled at me.

At least I'm trying, though. Sweetie had to give Mr F a thirty-second time out, and while she swears she counted to thirty, I'm skeptical because I was at the top of the stairs when I heard her say "That's it, it's a time out" and I went downstairs to help and by the time I got to the bottom of the stairs, the time out was done... and we only have four stairs.

We're going to keep working on it, though. 2009 is the Year The Babies! Get Civilized, and we're going to win this round, no matter how many time-outs we have to give them. If I have to spend the entire year holding them in the time-0ut rocker, I'll do it.

And if that doesn't work, I'll make them smell The Boy's room.


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