Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Confession #7: How I Faked This Year's Christmas Photo

By the time I post this, my annual Christmas photo cards will be in the mail.  In the spirit of keeping it real for the five people who read this blog, however, I hereby confess that this year's family photo is a fake.  That's right.  After an hour of cajoling, bribing, pleading and yelling at the boys to give me one good pose with everyone smiling at the camera, I was left with only one option: PhotoshopIn the two hundred shots we took, every picture featured at least one member of the family squinting, grimacing, tripping, shoving, or otherwise not spreading holiday cheer.  Necessity being the mother of invention, this mother merged two different shots into one holly jolly pose to send to unsuspecting friends and family.

I am not proud of this forgery.  It was not so much clever as it was desperate.  You see, every year, the annual family photo session is the boys' dreaded event of the pre-holiday season. Perhaps if I had given birth to four girls, I might have produced children who enjoyed donning formal attire and striking glamorous poses for a family portrait worthy of adulations, tears and followers on Pinterest.  With four boys, however, a successful photo session is simply one in which no one is sucker punched.

In order to understand the challenges of taking photos of my boys, I present a random sampling of what I usually capture on film after the phrase "smile for the camera" is uttered. 

Lest you think I'm making this up, here is another set of vacation photos sabotaged by my boys:

I have literally hundreds of photos like theseThey are not products of a parent prompting, "Come on, boys, let's make some silly faces!"  No, these are actual shots of my offspring refusing outright to give me one decent smile.  These pictures are only good for one thing: making graphics for my blog.

So, here is a rundown of the morning we attempted to have our family photo taken for the annual Christmas card.  
9:00 a.m.  Begin dressing four boys in coordinating outfits.  Field indignant questions from older two sons on why they have to wear "fancy sweaters" instead of rumpled t-shirts they slept in overnight. 

9:15 a.m.  Search house frantically to find matching shoes for the baby.  Ignore reasonable requests from husband to calm down ("He doesn't walk yet, so why does he need to wear shoes?  Who's going to look at his feet anyway?").

9:30 a.m.  Chase boys around house in futile attempt to apply hair gel.  Field additional questions from sons on why they have to comb their hair anyway.

9:40 a.m.  Locate pair of matching shoes that are unfortunately two sizes too large for baby.  Accept defeat and vaguely nod to voice of reason, i.e. husband, who mutters for the third time: "Trust me, no one's going to notice." 
9:55 a.m.  Swipe hair gel in boys' hair as they run out the door.

10:00 a.m.  Attempt initial shots at first choice of location.  Listen to repeated complaining from boys about the sun being in their eyes.  Ignore melodramatic demands to be provided sunglasses to wear in photo.  Realize that one of baby's ill-fitting shoes must have fallen off his foot on the way to photo location.
10:10 a.m.  Move to a shady location after prolonged complaints about the sunAttempt further efforts to recreate saccharine "hugging family" pose pinned last week from Pinterest.  Efforts are derailed when oldest son begins to climb "hugging family" like a tree trunk.
10:15 a.m. Baby and 4-year old begin odd combination of yelling, laughing and crying in sync.  Take 15 minute break for younger sons to calm down.  Upon realizing opportunity for freedom from onerous family obligation, older sons use breaktime to climb trees.

10:30 a.m.  Resume phototaking attempts.  Baby begins grabbing my nose and poking fingers into my nostrils.

10:45 a.m.  Take second break and attempt discussion with baby on the inappropriateness of sticking fingers into other people's orifices.  During fruitless negotiation, boys quickly become bored and resume climbing trees.
10:55 a.m.  Baby falls asleep.  After series of shots with baby's face turned away in sleep position, photographer (my ever-patient sister) asks if we want to try again next weekend.  Husband and I look at each other, glance at our boys hanging from tree branches, and shake our heads "no" at the same time.  Photo session is officially canned.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Missing and Broken Parts

I have a box in my storage closet labeled "Missing and Broken Parts."  It contains knobs, handles, and various other household items that may (or may not) be fixed, reattached or salvaged in the elusive "someday"... when I have the time.

I had forgotten all about the "Missing and Broken" box, until last week when the boys "accidentally" steered a remote control helicopter right into the crystal chandelier that hangs in our foyer.  The little helicopter dislodged a large crystal, which swiftly plummeted two stories and shattered on the ground below.  The crystal splintered off into tiny shards too numerous to count.  Unfit for residence in the "Missing and Broken" box, we swept and vacuumed up the remnants.

Lately, quite a lot has gone missing and broken around here.  The chandelier was only the latest casualty in a long line of dings, dents, scratches, tears, breaks, holes, and drywall damage that have become commonplace in a house with four rowdy boys.  Exhibit A is the leather bench that now has an unsightly, grapefruit-sized milk stain on the seat, after a sippy cup was left overnight with the cap loosened.  (Side note: What is the deal with milk and leather not mixing well? I mean, don't they both come from cows?)  Composite Exhibit B is not one, but six doors in the house, all of which have come unhinged after the boys spent the last year swinging from the handles like monkeys on a jungle gym.  Exhibit C is the minivan, for which I recently paid $200 to remove a glow stick that had been jammed into... well, never mind where. (During this repair, I was informed that it would cost another $300 to replace the sunshade that was ripped in half by my 6-year old.  This latter repair will have to wait until we deposit more change into the Raising Boys Insurance Fund.)

And don't get me started on the things that go missing around here.  The surest way to lose something of value is to share your home with a band of rogues aged eight years and under.  I once spent an hour looking frantically for missing car keys, only to locate them in the bottom compartment of the freezer, right next to the frozen pizza.  What must I have been thinking?  After all, the freezer is a patently obvious place to store one's car keys... if you're two feet tall.

So, after some contemplation, I realized there are two things I can do about the escalating costs of raising boys in this household.  First, I can train the boys to become bandits and recoup the value of the things they break around here.  After all, they would make excellent pickpockets.  They have a natural ability to create distractions by the whirlwind of energy that accompanies them.  They are small and wiry, and can deftly shimmy into crawl spaces before you realize they've disappeared out of your line of sight.  And they have a penchant for storing their treasures low near the ground, escaping a grownup's normal range of vision.  (After all, didn't the narrator in "The Shawshank Redemption" say: "I mean, seriously, how often do you really look at a man's shoes?"  Apparently, the same thing goes for the bottom drawer of the freezer.)

Okay, I'm just kidding.  Well, sort of.  Before you cry "Fagin!", here's my second idea: I can enroll the boys in courses in basic carpentry, plumbing and maybe even HVAC repair at the local technical college; and then I can start employing them for free instead of hiring licensed professionals to clean up their messes.  Last time I checked, the Fair Labor Standards Act is okay with this arrangement: It's not illegal child labor if Mom's the boss.

But, alas, I opted for a third choice.  I took my "Missing and Broken" box from the storage closet, took five minutes to say goodbye, and threw its contents away.  For the most part, I had completely forgotten all about the little things I had stored up over the years: tassels torn from upholstered chairs by baby fingers; finials broken off ceramic lamps by flying Nerf darts; and pieces of wooden baseboard trim knocked loose by remote control cars.  I had been so busy raising my band of highly destructive but happy ragamuffins to remember all those forgotten segments.  After all, there really was nothing broken and missing in all the important parts of my life that mattered anyway.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Talking is Overrated... Blah, Blah, Blah

My 4-year old spends a lot of time in the car while we shuttle his older brothers to and from school, soccer practices and piano lessons.  Therefore, it is only fair, in my opinion, to give him the right of first refusal when it comes to the all-important decision: What DVD should we watch in the minivan?

Lately, however, the grumbling from the two older boys regarding the little guy's viewing choices has become more pronounced.  My 8-year old, in particular, frequently protests that his brother's choices are "baby shows".  Said protests are then followed by vociferous arguments to replace "Blue's Clues" or "Thomas the Tank Engine" with something vastly more sophisticated... like "Elf".

This afternoon, the protests began the minute the older boys entered the minivan after school.

"Another baby show?" one of them exclaimed indignantly.  "Why are we always watching baby shows in the car?"

"What exactly is your problem with baby shows?" I asked.

"They're so boring," he replied.  "Nobody fights, and nothing gets blown up.  Usually somebody walks around and tries to teach you the alphabet.  But mostly it's a lot of nothing."

"Boooring," my 6-year old sighed from the back seat.  "We already know the alphabet.  Blah blah blah."

The exchange reminded me of another conversation I had with the boys over the summer while we watched "Kung Fu Panda".  On that evening, I had suggested we fast-forward through the fighting scenes. 

"They're rather violent for a kids' movie," I muttered, reaching for the remote control.   "And besides, the last fifteen minutes has been nothing but a montage of kicking, punching and jumping in the air.  It's kind of repetitive.  Boring.  Let's just watch the scenes with dialogue to see how the story develops.  That's more interesting."

"What?!?" my 8-year old gasped.  "I'd rather fast-forward through the talking scenes and just watch the fighting scenes.  The talking scenes are the boring parts."

"Why would we choose 'Kung Fu Panda' if we don't get to watch kung fu?" my 6-year old added, aghast.  "That makes no sense, Mom."

Alas, I realized there are two things going on here.  First, my boys are growing up.  Few are the years when their favorite shows are cartoons that teach you the alphabet.  Before I know it, my youngest son will be a third grader scoffing at "baby shows" and all the other things he loved as a little boy.  Time marches forward, even when you're not ready.

Second, a fundamental difference between boys and girls can be boiled down to this point regarding entertainment value: For boys, dialogue is overrated.  If nothing is blown up and no one gets shot at, boys wonder what they've just sat through.  

There's an excerpt from Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz that always makes me laugh.  I like to imagine one of my boys writing something like this when he's grown up.  Donald mentions a piece of dating advice that he received from the opposite sex:
Here’s a tip I’ve never used: I understand you can learn a great deal about girldom by reading Pride and Prejudice, and I own a copy, but I have never read it.  I tried.  It was given to me by a girl with a little note inside that read: "What is in this book is the heart of a woman." I am sure the heart of a woman is pure and lovely, but the first chapter of said heart is hopelessly boring. Nobody dies at all. I keep the book on my shelf because girls come into my room, sit on my couch, and eye the books on the adjacent shelf. "You have a copy of Pride and Prejudice," they exclaim in a gentle sigh and smile. "Yes," I say. "Yes, I do."
To me, the funniest part of the paragraph above is the fact that Donald can't get through the first chapter of Pride and Prejudice because nobody dies in it.  This is funny because it illustrates the point that boys (of any age) really just want to see (or read about) stuff getting blown up.  

And this point rings no truer than with the largest boy in the house, my husband.  When we first started dating, I forced him to watch all of my favorite movies: "Anne of Green Gables", "Emma" and "Pride and Prejudice."  Oh, the things a man will do for a woman when they're dating.  The first time he watched "Emma," he may have fallen asleep. 

"That movie was pointless," he told me later.  "There's no storyline, no actionIt's just a bunch of women gossiping about other women.  Blah blah blah." 

"What?" I exclaimed. "Were we watching the same movie?  It's a love story between Emma and Knightley.  She is the earnest but flawed heroine who learns through her mistakes what is really important; and Knightley is the noble friend who loves her, despite all her shortcomings.  But he too is misguided in matters of the heart.  They both take a lot of wrong turns but eventually realize how much they need and love one other.  That is the heart of the story."

He paused and shook his head.  "All I heard," he replied, "was blah blah blah."

Monday, October 1, 2012

Siri-ously Outplayed

Last night, my 6-year old ran over carrying my iPhone and asked, "Hey, Mom, can I talk to that funny girl on your phone again?"   

My first reaction was to sit down and have another discussion about stranger danger, but then I remembered that the "funny girl" he was referring to is Siri.  Encouraged by his brothers (and goaded on by his father), the kid has been trying all week to find new ways of stumping, confusing and otherwise embarrassing poor all-knowing Siri, who only wants to tell you where to find the nearest Starbucks.

It started a few nights ago.  First, my husband thought it would be funny to ask Siri about her religious beliefs.  They asked her, "Is there a God?"  Siri's reply was very diplomatic and careful not to offend:  "I would ask that you address your spiritual questions to someone more qualified to comment.  Ideally, a human."

Unable to chisel away at Siri's conscientiously scripted responses, the boys became bored with this line of questioning, and the conversation quickly degenerated into potty talk. H

"Are you a boy or girl?" one of them asked.

Siri replied matter-of-factly: "Animals and nouns have genders.  I do not." 

Not satisfied with her answer, my 6-year old continued: "Where is your penis?"  His brothers exploded in laughter.      

Poor Siri answered: "My name is Siri, and I was designed by Apple in California.  That's all I'm prepared to say."

"Do you fart?" my 4-year old asked, grabbing the iPhone from his older brother.  Another round of self-congratulatory laughter.  By now, they realized they had stumbled onto a new form of entertainment.

Unfazed, Siri replied tactfully in her monotone voice: "I've never really thought about it."

"How do you poop?" they continued.  "Do you ever have diarrhea?" 

I started feeling sorry for Siri.  Here she was, Apple's highly touted "intelligent personal assistant" for the iPhone, a modern day genie trapped in a bottle... currently reduced to being bossed around by three little boys who wouldn't stop asking her about poop.  I imagined her as the digital version of a young career woman, eager to please and ready to fulfill the aims of a hard-earned education... only to be assigned the task of babysitting the boss's bratty kids for a day.   

And then it dawned on me.  Siri never loses her temper and raises her voice.  She doesn't get frustrated when she can't understand what a child is yelling at the top of his lungs.  And even if she's sleep-deprived and suffering from a bad case of PMS, Siri tirelessly endeavors to answer any question posed by a 4-year old boy, no matter how inane or repetitive.  I could learn a lot from Siri, I thought.  And more importantly, I think I've just found my replacement.  Siri... is my new best friend!

So, after dinner tonight, I handed my iPhone to the boys and told them Siri would be babysitting while I finished the dishes.

"Do you have a butt?" my 6-year old began, rather pleased with himself.

"You have the wrong sort of assistant," Siri replied calmly.

"Okay, then do I have a butt?" he continued, giggling.

"No comment." 

"I said, do I have a butt?" he repeated, a bit frustrated.

"This is about you, not me."

I was starting to like Siri more and more.  She no longer seemed as spineless as I first imagined.  This sister was actually kind of sassy.

Finally, the boys gave up trying to unhinge Siri.  Clearly, she wasn't about to buckle under a little bullying by a posse of presumptuous young boys. 

"I don't like you," my 6-year old sighed, concluding this exchange wasn't as much fun as it originally seemed. 

Unflappable as ever, Siri retorted: "I would rather you didn't."  

He silently handed the iPhone back to me and bounded off to play with his Legos.  Standing at the dishwasher, I chuckled to myself.  Unwilling to be an easy target for the boys or a thankless babysitter for me, Siri had just outplayed and outsmarted all of us in one fell swoop.