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Family That Plays Together…

The twins have ratcheted up their roughhousing recently.

They usually alternate between crying (in earnest) and laughing (super hard). And it typically ends poorly. One day, Fisher walks away from the tussle and swings an arm back toward Cory, not realizing that she was following to get in a final push. BAM! Fist to the face, lip busted, tears. The next day, real screams of pain erupt from their room. An investigation reveals a very bloody finger that she bit, hard, with her remaining front tooth, but “only because he put it in my mouth, Papa!” More blood and tears. 

Papa introduces a non-contact game from his childhood.

He demonstrates it a couple times, in single-player fashion, lets them each give it a whirl, and then gets a phone call. The twins try to take turns.

“But, something went wrong! I pressed it, but it didn’t go. I get another turn!”

“But I only got to press it three times!”

Once in possession, neither wants to give it up. Daddy makes them hand it over…to him for a turn.

C: Daddy, see if you can get past 10.
F: The high score is 16.

At 10, they cheer. At 15, they are excited. At 20, they are amazed. At 25, they are super-annoyed. At 30, they hatch a plan.

She moves around behind Daddy’s chair to tickle. He climbs on the kitchen table to lean his face into Daddy’s.

F: Oh, I love you, Daddy! You are the best daddy! (Blocking the view as much as possible.) Give me a kiss, Daddy! (Face squarely in Daddy’s face.) I just love you, my Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!

He makes smoochy noises a half an inch from Daddy’s face. Daddy squirms to get Cory’s hands out of his pits, laughing at Fisher and trying to eyeball the Simon. They keep the attacks coming. Daddy messes up (intentionally) at almost 34.

F (faux disappointment): Ooooooooohhhh!
C (equally faux): That’s too bad!

Laughing, Daddy moves away to fold laundry. Their giggles and big smiles…fade rapidly, traded abruptly for an argument over who’s next. Daddy watches. The insults, most of them involving some form of the word “poop,” start. Daddy watches, fascinated. Early signs that it might get physical appear.

A family that “plays” together…busts lips and bites fingers together. Or something.

Field of Dreams

Every child in the elementary school is asked to write out a dream on a little cloud of paper.

“I want to learn how to write cursive.”

“Make new friends.”

“I want to be able to run 2 laps without stopping.”

“Pass the multiplication test.”

“I hope that I have a lot of fun this year!”

“Learn about butterflies.”

The clouds are strung together by classroom, and the strings are hung next to each other, forming a fluttering “Field of Dreams” at the center of the school year’s first assembly, held out on the blacktop play area. The rockstar principal commands the kids’ attention with both her call out…

RP: Almond?
Student Body: Eagles!
RP: Almond?
SB (louder, all other conversation stopping): Eagles!

…and sheer presence. She welcomes everyone to the new year, to the school community. She walks through the importance of having dreams and setting goals, big and small, right from the beginning of something, like a school year, and then working diligently to achieve them, all the while supporting those around in realizing theirs. The talk culminates in the distribution of tiny bottles that the whole student body uses to blow hundreds of bubbles to symbolize letting dreams soar before she busts out the gong.

RP: This gong will help you focus on all the great things you are going to do today and this year at Almond. I want you to listen to its sound, and when its sound ends, I want you to raise your hand. When you can’t hear its sound anymore, raise your hand. Now, you can’t do that if you aren’t super quiet, okay? (Lowering her voice as the crowd quiets.) When I strike the gong, it will make its sound, and I want you to raise your hand when you can no longer hear it. (Lowering her voice even more.) This is an activity that you might want to do with your eyes closed. That might help you really focus on the gong’s sound. (It couldn’t be much quieter.) Ready?

She strikes the gong, holding her microphone next to it. As the sound fades, a hand or two goes up among the seated children, then more, then a wave of them, from the kids and the teachers…and a few parents around the periphery.

RP: That was great, everyone. Let’s do that again. Listen to the sound, and when it ends, I want you to raise your hand. (Pin-drop quiet.) Ready? Here we go.

She strikes the gong again: one or two small hands up prematurely, a few more, many more, big hands up, from all the teachers and now, most of the parents.

Everyone, a hand in the air, smiles around at each other in the silence. A birthday presentation and the Pledge break the spell, somewhat but not entirely. The assembly breaks up, kids, teachers, and parents starting this Friday just a little more mindfully.

That Fleeting Icky Feeling

Papa is off settling Cory into her classroom.

D (circling Fisher’s): Well, let’s find it, Fisher.
F (holding Daddy’s hand): Okay.

The other parents are smiling over kids rummaging around their new desks. A boy Daddy has never seen before looks up from his. His name is long and precarious. It starts with an “m.”

M: Hello.
D: Well, good morning. Are you excited for your first day of first grade?

The boy shakes his head “yes.” Daddy is too distracted to ask him how to pronounce his name or introduce Fisher.

F: Daddy, where’s my desk?
D: I don’t know, Fisher. I don’t see it. It must be here.

The circling continues. A parent or two starts to watch a little bit. Daddy gets the first signs of that icky feeling in the pit of the stomach, flashing back to being a little kid: “they forgot me,” “maybe I’m not supposed to be here,” everyone’s watching. A definite bout of introversion.

F: Maybe I don’t have a desk, Daddy.
D: Noooo. Fisher, we must have missed it. Where could it be? (Circling a bit awkwardly.) Oh! Here, it is!

There is Fisher’s desk, directly across from the new boy, who sits smiling shyly. Relief floods Daddy. Daddy’s a bit embarrassed that relief is flooding him. Fisher plops down.

D: Fisher, can you say hi to your new classmate?
F (waving across the two desks): Hi.
M: Hi.
F: My name is Fisher.
M: My name is [something long and precarious that starts with “m”].

Daddy doesn’t really hear the boy’s name, still a bit distracted. Later, Fisher confesses that he saw his name tag on the desk the whole time but didn’t want to point it out because, he claims, he was hoping to have to go talk to Mrs. Benadom, the school principal and a rock star in all the kids’ eyes, about the situation. Daddy knows it isn’t true, based on his earlier, worried face, but doesn’t call him out.

Better to play along.

Scrambling Eggs

D: Fisher, it’s your turn to scramble the eggs today.
F: Okay, Daddy.

He drags over a chair. He cracks the eggs. He pours the milk. He attempts to scramble the eggs. Daddy steps in and scrambles a bit more for good measure. He applies spray to the nonstick pan. He pours the scrambled eggs onto the frying pan.

F: Can I turn on the stove?
D: Well, you have to turn on the stove to cook the eggs. They aren’t gonna cook if you don’t turn it on, are they?
F: No. Which one do I turn?
D: See this, it says, “Front.” Is that the one?
F: No.
D: This says, “Back.” Is that it?
F: Uh huh.

He turns the stove’s knob until he hears the click and blue flame lights.

Julie Lythcott-Haims has a chapter in her book “How to Raise an Adult” called “Teach Life Skills.” In the chapter, she describes neighbors with four kids, each of whom, from the age of four, was expected to make her own breakfast, freeing up the parents to work out, shower, and get ready for the day. While the oldest kid is visiting, Julie asks him how it works: “The cereal is in the bottom cupboard, so are plates, and cups, and the milk is on a low shelf in the refrigerator. [My parents] showed me how to do it when I was little and my brother and sisters figured it out by watching me.” From age four. The takeaway is to resist doing things for kids that they can do for themselves…and kids can do a surprising number of things for themselves if they are allowed to try. It isn’t as easy to teach a young kid to prepare his own breakfast in the face of a parallel commitment to include, as often as possible, some good clean protein (through eggs) in the first meal of each day (especially after that damn classmate of Cory’s ruined hard-boiled eggs for her), but Daddy smiles finishing Julie’s chapter on the BART train, already having gotten six-year-old Cory and Fisher up on that chair, scrambling away at their own eggs.

Speaking of which, Daddy steps in and adjusts the heat, explaining where the arrow should point.

D: Are you missing anything?
F: Um…a spatula?
D: Yep.

He gets a temperature-resistant spatula. He puts one hand on the padded handle of the frying pan. (“Once you get going, there are only two things you can touch: the spatula and the handle of the pan. The spatula and the handle of the pan. They’re the only two things.”) He uses the spatula to stir with the other hand. He keeps stirring until the eggs are cooked just right. Daddy steps in to carry them over to the plates.

D (eyeing the 65-pound puppy): Fisher, one jump from Cinder, and those hot eggs and that hot pan are going to go flying.
F: Oh, thanks, Daddy!
D: Fisher, did you forget anything?
F: Um…

Daddy flicks eyes to the stove while Cinder’s eyes stay trained on the pan, alert for loose bits falling.

F (turning the knob back to off): Oh, thanks, Daddy!

The eggs look exactly like Daddy’s, but Cory thinks they are “too watery.” Sigh. Always a critic.