I’m not funny after all

We are not a farty family. I know that there are many families who openly let ‘er rip to the delight of men and children everywhere. Hey, if they’re happy, I’m happy. But we are not those people. This explains the exceptional delight in this house after the receipt of two whoopee cushions as birthday favors on Saturday. Sally didn’t particularly get it or care, but Luke’s enthusiasm more than made up for it.

Yesterday afternoon we plugged the kids into a movie and Tim and I sat together in the kitchen attempting conversation. With tremendous (but still not quite enough) effort to be quiet, Luke sneaked up behind Tim’s chair with his whoopee cushion poised for maximum fart-plosion. His objective: to trick Tim into thinking that he, himself, farted. The first time, Tim jumped out of his seat and ran to the bathroom holding the back of his shorts as if he just had a sudden and messy surprise. Luke’s glee was unparalleled. Absolute fits of screaming laughter. His plan had worked! Even better than he ever could have anticipated. Tim exited the bathroom clearly relieved that his shorts were clean.

Since a good joke cannot be done enough times in a row, Luke left the room to “subtly” refill his cushion. He could barely blow it up for all of his giggling. In the meantime, Tim actually did subtly fill up the other whoopee cushion and placed it under his leg. The moment before Luke gave his own a squeeze, Tim let his concealed cushion fly. Flabbergasted, Luke nearly collapsed from surprise and joy. “It wasn’t even me this time! Daddy really did it! It was Daddy!” he shouted while showing us his still-inflated whoopee cushion as evidence. Once again Tim ran to the loo.

The two of them did this another 6 or 7 times. At first it was genuinely funny. Not the joke itself so much as Luke’s reaction. He HAD NO IDEA that a second whoopee cushion was in play. It stopped being so funny, as most things do with successive repetition. I said something to that effect to Tim, also mentioning that the whole construct of Luke’s prank was absurdly illogical. After all, Tim would certainly feel it if he crapped his pants. Luke was doing it all wrong. My reasonable comment was met with an eye roll and I was told that I’m just too intellectual (implication: not fun enough) to understand a good fart farce.

“I am NOT too intellectual for a whoopee cushion!” I found myself saying, genuinely miffed.

To prove my ability to be just as juvenile as the next guy, I inflated the whoopee cushion and placed it up my shirt. I stood strategically behind the kitchen island, concealing my stuffed shirt. With a simple shift in weight against the counter I too could delight my son. I’ll show them that I can be just as funny and stupid as they are! I called Luke over with the pretense of whispering a plan for a new way to trick Tim into thinking he shat himself, not even mentioning the illogic of the sham. When he got close, I pressed myself against the granite and…



I obliterated the whoopee cushion.

I utterly failed at fart humor.

Tim practically fell off his chair laughing and I broke into that weird laugh where you also sort of cry. Luke still had no idea that there was another whoopee cushion involved in all of this and he took the loud explosion in stride, as if giant BANGS! happen all the time. He simply said, “Stop laughing and tell me the plan!”

I was unable properly execute a joke perfected by 6-year-old boys the world over. It turns out that I might be too intellectual for whoopee cushions. My attempt at fart humor resulted in breaking my daughter’s toy. When I recovered from my hysterics I felt sad, but only for the briefest moment.

Maybe I can’t pull off farty jokes. I’m OK with that.

At Least One of my Children is Mine

Our children take after us in so many ways. Your nose, his ears, grandma’s slender feet. Their personalities do this Frankenstein match-up as well. His sense of humor, your temper, grandpa’s love of music. My kids didn’t use Frankenstein as a model. They just came out like Tim. Luke is a carbon copy. The only thing he may have inherited from me is his temper and total disregard for rules and authority. (Lucky me.) Sally came out looking exactly like Luke. Clearly, I was merely a vessel to create little Tims. I had no genetic input.

Luke’s Timness isn’t limited to his looks. He is incredibly physically adroit. This body awareness, athleticism, and stamina certainly don’t come from me or my side. It’s all Tim. Lately we’ve had the two of them diving into the pool side by side. Not only is Luke crazy good at diving for a 6-year-old, but he does it exactly like his father. The run up, arm swing, timing of the chin tuck, angle they hit the water – it’s uncanny. I dove beside him to see if it was just a matter of two people diving together, and it’s not. Our bodies took different shapes as we ran up, sprung into the air and hit the water.

Luke’s mind works as differently from mine as his body does. This morning he was playing with his Skip It toy and kept tripping himself up. I suggested he try to say the alphabet while doing it. Having his mind on something else, his feet easily maneuvered the toy, spinning and hopping to the rhythm of the ABCs. Next I asked him to sing Twinkle, Twinkle.

“OK! Twinkle, twinkle ….” He tripped. “Um, twinkle, twinkle…” Tripped again. “How does it go?”

“You don’t remember the words to Twinkle, Twinkle?”

“No. I really don’t.”

“Twinkle, twinkle little star…”

“Oh yeah!” He begins skipping again. “Twinkle, twinkle little star…” He stops. “What’s next?”

We sang the entire song this way. My son doesn’t remember the words to Twinkle, Twinkle, a song he’s heard a bajillion times! I asked if he could sing Happy Birthday. He couldn’t. I’m not kidding. WTF? The kid is just like his father.

While Tim probably does know Happy Birthday, (I’ll have to ask him,) he can’t remember Twinkle, Twinkle. Or Row, Row, Row Your Boat, or Baa, Baa Black Sheep, or ANY other song in the universe. This is insane to me. I can hear a song and remember it. (Especially a children’s song full of repetition, rhyme, and glaring obviousness.) Words are my thing. It’s hard for me to understand not being able to remember the words. They both can’t even repeat a line of a song back to you the instant after you sing it to them.

As Luke learns to read, we practice the same simple books over and over. Each time he reads a book, he has to really read it. He doesn’t have the books memorized, or even remembered well enough to guess and predict. It surprises me that he needs to sound out the same word with every reading. Doesn’t he remember? Can’t he see the picture of the goat? It’s a GOAT for goodness’ sake! He finds reading extremely frustrating, and I don’t blame him. I find his reading extremely frustrating too. But there’s something that’s making it worse: Sally memorizes the books after one reading. Turns out words are Sally’s thing too.

She can speed “read” all of his books. While he’s stumbling, slowly pronouncing the letters, she’s filling in the blanks. Even in books she’s never read before she correctly guesses the words before he struggles to read them. She uses the pictures and rhymes (and basic common sense) as clues to finish the sentences. When she “reads” a book it’s easy to follow the story because she speaks fluently with regular intonations. When Luke reads a book it’s impossible to follow because he reads it in stops and starts, robotically, ignoring normal pauses and intonations. The disparity between them is not lost on him.

I feel for Luke and worry that he will be forever turned off of reading, falling behind his peers, causing lifelong scholastic under-achievement and misconceptions about his own abilities. I mean, if he can’t freaking guess “house” after reading “mouse” in text that is immediately beneath a picture of a mouse and a house, how can he not get frustrated and want to quit? Especially with his baby sister shouting out “house! house!”

I’m a reader, always have been. Tim reads just about never. I can count on one hand the number of books he’s read since we met fourteen years ago. He read each of those books at my prodding. I know I can’t change Tim’s reading, but it saddens me to think of Luke not loving books.

When Luke was born I read him Goodnight, Moon every night. Every night for about two years. He never once sat down to listen. Had I juggled or bounced a soccer ball on my knees instead, he would have sat there, mesmerized, learning. Of course I can’t do either thing to save my life, and they’re not important to me. But reading?

Turns out I can’t control anything about my kids. (Surprise!) Luke will probably be a just fine person, who happens to not love books or reading. Afterall, I think Tim is a just fine person despite this horrible character flaw. Likewise, he thinks I’m just fine even though my soccer skills allowed our child to outplay me when he was just four. To him, this trite inability might seem important. Even though that’s silly.

But while I worry for Luke, I am so proud of Sally. Finally, a child that takes after me in some way! She remembers songs and sings along. I remember songs and sing along! She stays up at night in her room “reading” books. I stay up at night reading books! She plays back her arguments with Luke accurately, despite Luke’s protests and completely wrong versions. I play back my arguments with Tim accurately, despite his protests and completely wrong versions! She’s a mini me! At last, a child I can understand.

While I’m determined to teach Luke to work through his frustrations with reading, and I hope to keep him on par with is peers, I need to accept that he might always struggle with wordy things. I write. Tim doesn’t. If a letter needs composing I do it. (If a lawn needs mowing he does it.) If Luke struggles with writing the way he does with reading it might break my heart, but I should prepare myself. We already know he can’t make up a story to save his life.

Recently, Sally told this story:

Did you know the microwave is running away? It’s true. It’s going to Target to meet a girl microwave. They’re going to get married and have babies. Their babies will be toasters. Then he’ll come back so we can still cook in it. Is that a good story?

Impressed and not wanting to be outdone, Luke told a story of his own:

The, um, refrigerator and, uh, the microwave, no not microwave, the oven are getting married and they’ll have baby, uh, um, blenders!

His is lacking a certain something, no?

Oh well. At least I know one of them is mine.

Mommy is not in the picture

We had a perfect winter Sunday. Sure there were the usual battles, and we may have locked the kids out of the house for a while to force them to play on their own, but it was about as perfect as a winter Sunday at home with two little kids can get.

As a family, we got all bundled up to go sledding. By “go” I mean we walked up the hill between our neighbor’s house and ours. It’s the perfect sledding hill for little kids. Sally can go down on her own; she skids out further than anyone because she doesn’t break through the crust layer of snow. Luke takes huge, fearless running leaps. We slid (sledded? slode?) down the hill in all sorts of piling configurations with all four of us laying on our bellies, stacked up together. The kids took turns sitting in my lap on the little round sled while Tim gave us huge pushes and we flew down the hill at lightening speeds, spinning ourselves dizzy. It was fun.

Later in the day the kids wanted more. Tim had some work to do so I took them out myself. That’s right. I put on my snow gear to go sledding twice! I set the kids up on two tracks and pushed them off for races. I raced them back up the hill or dragged them on sleds. We made snow angles and tried valiantly to build a snowman with the wrong kind of snow. Sally went inside cold and wet after a while but Luke and I stayed out there. We must have raced down that hill 100 times.

He was all rosy-cheeked and glowing with joy, Sally too. So much so that I forgave the battle and tears when it was time to go in; I accepted that more snow was dragged in than left out; I acquiesced to the sweaty work of bundling and unbundling two kids twice before being able to bundle or unbundle myself. All this is to be expected. Sledding as a mom is, at it’s best, 40% play and 60% work. But it was all worth it that night when Luke said as I tucked him in, “I had the best day sledding with you, Mom.” A huge mom-ego boost.

That ego boost didn’t last long. Every Monday in school each kid reports, and draws, their weekend “news.”  On Monday afternoon Luke came home with this:

KId's drawing of family

kindergarten school work, writing, drawing

WTF, Luke? Where’s Mommy?

This is typical. I’ve said before how much Luke prefers his dad over me. I could spend the weekend with him flying on magical unicorn dragons; if he came home from that adventure and watched an episode Peppa Pig with his dad, you’d better believe that his weekend news would read, “I watched TV with my dad.”

I figure that for him I’m like air. It’s life supporting and he’d certainly notice if it were suddenly gone or unavailable, but it’s invisible and taken entirely for granted. No one reports how many liters of air they breathed over the weekend. I wonder if air feels sad about it? Does it wonder if it’s all worth it? Is air thinking of all it does for everyone and how it gets all the shitty jobs and none of the glory that, say, Dad helium gets?

This is what people mean when they say that motherhood is a thankless job.