School meeting prompts self-evaluation

By Michael

At this writing, it’s the night before our first real parent-teacher conference, and I’m not kidding — I’m kind of freaking out a little bit.

For starters, it’s at our house. When I was a kid, these things were held at the school, during an open house, with all the other kids and their parents.

But there are no secrets at your house. I already feel like it’s Judgment Day.
I’ve met Miles’ teacher once, and she seemed like a perfectly nice and reasonable person, but still, you can’t help but feel like she’s going to discover every single flaw.

I haven’t been this nervous to have somebody over to my house since my first date with my future wife. But then, I didn’t have two kids, and the place was already relatively clean.
After a whirlwind housecleaning session, I’m still not satisfied. I keep finding all these little reminders of what imperfect parents we are.

Over here, a stray McDonald’s receipt on the table; better make sure to get that. We wouldn’t want Miles’ teacher to know we feed him McDonald’s on occasion. Do we eat McDonald’s too much?

Over there, in a corner, the crusty remnants of something that probably once qualified as food. It looks like chewed-up pasta, but it could be a dried-up piece of cheese, or maybe a desiccated chunk of pineapple. Why is this here? Don’t we have a dog to take care of this sort of thing?

There’s an epic layer of dust, dog hair and assorted kid-related sticky bits on the TV and the stand it sits on. This is not just a minor dusting session. It’s a good 10-minute job, in which I have the opportunity for further self-examination. Do they watch TV too much? Are we addling our kids’ brains with nonstop viewings of “Thomas the Tank Engine” and “The Wiggles”?

Another black mark.

Miles’ room, hah, let’s not even tackle that, we’ll just close the door. But wait. What if she wants to see his room to get a glimpse of his home life? Or worse yet, what if he asks her to come see it? That would not be good. I’ve been told there is a floor in there somewhere, but it hasn’t been beheld by human eyes in quite some time.

Best to just close off that entire section of the house altogether, I guess. If somebody needs to go to the bathroom, the Marathon station across the way isn’t too bad.
But the most concerning part is his behavior. We’ve gotten a couple hints lately that he “has trouble listening” which with Miles is code for “completely ignores you when you’re telling him to do anything he doesn’t want to do.”

We are doing our best to try to remedy this behavior that is definitely exhibited with us but we — up to this point — have consoled ourselves with the knowledge that he’s always been a model student at school. What do you do when that isn’t happening anymore? Should we be more strict? How do you do that and not stifle his individualism, crush his spirit?

This whole new-age parenting thing is really tough sometimes. Hopefully all this worrying is unwarranted, and we’ll find out that it’s really not that big a deal.
In the meantime, I’ve got a kitchen to scrub.

 

Germs seem to be winning the battle

By Michael Doyle

It’s 2 a.m., and I’m staring at the endless wall of cold medicines at the drugstore when I get a major sense of déjà vu.

Then I realize, it’s not déjà vu; I actually did do this before. It was probably about a month ago that I stood in this exact same spot in this exact same CVS, probably shuffling my feet while taking in the enormous variety of red, green, purple and blue syrupy, boozy bottles guaranteed both to taste terrible and knock you flat on your back for an evening of non-cough interrupted sleep.

I picked out a green one. The guy in the checkout line in front of me got red.

“You know they have the two-packs of this stuff,” the cashier quipped. “You want to go back? You look like you might need the two-pack.”

“Seemed like a jinx,” I told her. “I’m just gonna hope one is enough.”

At our house, cold season has been going on for a while now. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that young Miles started back to preschool in late August and the germs started taking over about a week later.

I’m sure it’s uncomfortable for the little ones. But they can shrug it off a little better, it seems — wipe your nose on your sleeve and get on with the business of being a kid. For all the confluence of green goop always pooling around Miles’ nostrils, you won’t ever hear him talk about feeling “sick.” And even Owen, who just turned a year old, seems to take it in stride. His poor raw, red and crusty little nose doesn’t really seem to deter him from his daily routine of household exploration (AKA destruction) and dog-tail chasing.

For me, though, it’s another story. I already have such chronic sinus and allergy problems that getting a full-blown cold on top of that is just about all my immune system can take. I feel feverish and get chills, my throat hurts, my body aches and get a heavy hacking cough that always seems to linger for weeks. By the end of the day, I’m a disaster, all used up by 7 p.m. or so, which just so happens to be my bedtime for most of the last week.

And what’s worse is, right when you think you’re starting to get better, it comes back on you full force.

I don’t know if we’re just passing the same set of germs back and forth among each other or if there are new invaders constantly making their way into the house.

It certainly can’t help that we’re all in close quarters, breathing and recirculating each other’s germs constantly. My guess is if you had a microscope the place would look like a bacteria’s dream come true, complete with a little bacteria Statue of Liberty right outside the front door:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses of germs, waiting to break free.”

Surely this whole season of germ-giving will come to an end soon enough. In the meantime, we will continue to live in a world where there are too many boogers and not enough Kleenexes.

From swaddling clothes to waddling in blink of an eye

It’s hard to believe, but my baby boy is already 1.

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It seems like just yesterday we were bringing him home from the hospital in the tiniest little giraffe-print outfit, loving every minute of the experience and wondering just what in the heck we were going to do with two kids.

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Now, I look up from my easy chair to see Owen flailing his way across the living room in that way that newly-walking toddlers have, hellbent on destruction — gotta knock all the DVDs off the shelf, then dig in the recycling bin, then a leisurely stop at the kitchen cabinets because that shaker of cinnamon isn’t just going to spread itself all over the floor on its own, mom.

And guess what, a year later Michael and I still wonder — at least several times a week — what the heck we are going to do with two kids.

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Owen has always been a happy soul. There was nary a cry for the first several months, or at least that is how I remember it. I’m sure there was fussing here or there, but when I think back to those first few months with Miles, who’s temperament is much different from his baby brother’s, I know just how easy I have had it this go-round. The nights were sleepless — aren’t they always — but the middle of the night nursing and snuggle sessions were filled with giggles instead of cries. That was quite a relief — since his older brother Miles posed more difficulties in that area as a baby.

Looking back I wonder if the difference was in the babies, or instead in the mama who was much more relaxed and confident the second time around.

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Baby O, as we often refer to him, and I have spent thousands of hours over the past year in my dad’s old green chair I inherited. That’s my “nursing” chair. While I struggled with breast-feeding Miles, Owen and I have had a healthy breast-feeding relationship since Day 1 that is still going strong. And as any breast-feeding mom will tell you, that stuff can cure all the world’s ills. And I have loved every minute of it.

Well, maybe not so much all the biting, but other than that it’s been an amazing experience.

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The interesting thing about raising babies is not how much work it is — the lack of sleep, the constant messiness or any of that stuff. Instead, it is how quickly you integrate all of those things into your daily life. It becomes the norm.

What once seemed like a huge mess on the living room floor now gets a weak shrug: “Meh, I’ll pick it up tomorrow, maybe.”

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When in reality tomorrow will be gymnastics or we’ll decide to spend the evening at the park or going to cMoe — there’s always something and it is most assuredly more fun and valuable than a tidy floor.

There was a time when five hours of sleep would’ve left me staggering through the day, ordering the bucket-sized iced coffee (with sugar-free vanilla flavoring) just to keep my eyes open until lunch time. Now, five hours of sleep is practically a dream come true.
None of these are complaints, of course — it just goes to show you how your priorities, and life, change.

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All of those long nights, messy floors and bite marks are completely worth it when I see that beautiful little face each morning, smiling that cute gaptoothed smile of his, wrapping his arms around me and delicately placing his head on my shoulder when I lift him out of the crib. I am reminded, once again, that I am doing exactly what I was meant to do with my life. This little boy — along with his big brother — has made me the happiest mom in the world.

Happy birthday, Owen.

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Wrong way to save money

One day a couple of weeks ago, my 4-year-old son Miles walks up to me with one of those sad, puppy-dog expressions on his face.
It was just then I realized that the house had been a little too quiet for a little too long that afternoon.
Uh-oh.
“D-d-dad,” he said meekly, with tears welling up in his eyes, “I made a mistake.”
Understand, Miles is an extremely energetic, strong-willed kid; spirited is what my wife calls it. He doesn’t talk quietly about anything, and he certainly doesn’t admit to doing anything wrong. I started having a mild freak-out.
“What is it? Is everything OK?”
“Uh, I think I swallowed a nickel.”
“You think you swallowed a nickel? What does that mean? You either swallowed a nickel or you didn’t.”
“Yeah, I swallowed the nickel. I don’t know why. … Dad, I feel a little sick.”
I am pretty proud of the way we handled it.
We figured out that his “sick” feeling was just anxiety. I calmed him down and did a little research on the Internet. Abbey called our pediatrician. The nickel should, she explained, “turn up” within a week or so. If it didn’t, we would have to have a doctor extract it.
The prescription: Make sure he gets lots of liquids and fiber. I don’t think I have to spell out the implications for anybody reading this.
Unfortunately, I did have to do just that for the nickel-eater. And it just so happens that, being the typical 4-year-old boy, that particular bodily function is one of his very favorite subjects.
“OK Miles, here’s the deal.”
“Yeah, dad?”
“We’re gonna have to watch out the next few days for that nickel to come out.”
“It’s going to come out? Where?”
Sigh. I can’t believe I’m having this conversation right now.
“It’s going to come out in your poops.”
Of course, a fit of laughter ensued.
“The nickel’s going to come out of my butt! Hahahaha!!”
He literally rolled around on the floor laughing. His laughter is contagious, and despite myself, I got the giggles too.
“Hey dad?”
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“How are you going to find the nickel?”
“Well, first thing I’m going to do is go to Rural King and buy the best metal detector they have.”
Fast-forward to the next day, and I’m on my hands and knees on the floor, poking around a pile of you know what with a plastic fork. Who knew metal detectors were so pricey?
Eventually, mom retrieved the treasure. Of course, she got it on her first attempt. In the meantime, I had been forced to repeat this rather odious task three more times that week before her first attempt.
“I don’t think so … Wait! Here it is!!” she crowed triumphantly from the bathroom. “Thank goodness we don’t have to take him to the doctor.”
So, we’re five cents richer. Sort of. We have saved the nickel and are accepting ideas on how best to “preserve” it for posterity’s sake.
I just hope he doesn’t ever decide to reinvest in that particular savings plan.
Michael Doyle is a stay at home dad to Miles, 4, and Owen, 1, and married to Features Editor Abbey Doyle. He also is a freelance reporter. You can read more about the Doyle’s parenting adventures at their blog, A Parently Obvious at courierpress.com/aparentlyobvious.

Home is empty, but memories endure

Wanted: Fun family looking for a house with character and charm.

Requirements: Must be willing to overlook the banister that may be a little loose from being slid on one too many times; to love the crisp smell of autumn that comes from being surrounded by century-old oak trees; to embrace the rustic brick steps I slipped on every spring; to explore the nooks and crannies that only homes built a few centuries ago have; to plan for family meals and game nights around the kitchen table; to wish for decades of giggles and memories.Abbey's Vincennes home at fall. Photo by Abbey Doyle

In December of 1987, the Brown family — my family — answered that want ad. We saw the seemingly giant 1800s white brick, two-story house, an historical landmark on one of Vincennes’ main streets, and decided this will be home. I’m not sure if mom and dad realized we’d be settled there for as long as we were — my whole childhood really — after moving several times over the previous few years. When I think about growing up I don’t think of any “home” but that one. When I talk about going “home” that’s the place I picture.

It’s where just about everything happened.

Sleepovers in grade school, with all of my and my twin sister’s friends, complete with silly rounds of truth or dare, popcorn and drooling over New Kids on the Block posters. I can still picture us all laying on our stomachs, slipper-clad feet kicking in the air, in a giant circle on the living room floor giggling while playing the silly games my parents had planned for the party. First teeth were lost in that kitchen, first kisses in the backyard, adventures making mud pies in the yard and messes out of Barbie’s hair salon in the bathroom sink — a huge chunk of my life happened there. My first fender-bender even happened there, when I backed my mom’s car into my dad’s car. Maybe that’s a memory better forgotten. …

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The old, Colonial home created its own headaches every once in a while — no central air-conditioning made for some pretty hot summers — but it was so much fun making up stories about different parts of the home, which has been featured in a few pictorial histories of the state’s oldest town. We would scare friends with ghost stories of Civil War wives pacing on the home’s Widow’s Walk, waiting for their husbands to return from war, or of spirits left behind in the smokehouse in the backyard that was once part of the underground railroad.

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And we were always finding (and then later digging and burying our own) treasures in the yard. Old railroad ties could be the key to just about any mystery of imaginative 10-year-olds.

Another charm of the old house were the 12-foot ceilings that you’d think would certainly be tall enough for any Christmas tree we’d find at a local tree farm. But every year we’d manage to bring home another challenge. I remember one year my dad’s “creative” solution to keep the tree upright included tying it to the indoor shutters. That was also the year that the shutters were pulled from the wall.

But the view of that gloriously imperfect tree overflowing with handmade ornaments from decades of crafting and collecting was amazing. I get teary-eyed thinking of it. What waseven more amazing was the fun that we had around that tree. Board games, remote-controlled robots, movies and, of course, lots of laughter. Oh, and egg nog.

The kitchen, once a cabin and later a stagecoach stop, is long with plenty of room for a big table. It was home to some serious family talks. But what I remember more from that table was passing the peas and “fighting” over the last crescent roll (I know how many you had dad!)

And memories of my dad, who took his last breath in that house, are all over the place. It’s like I can still hear and smell him when I am there; I can still feel him there.

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This house has been a character in the story of my life, a huge part of who I am. I’ve lived EVERYWHERE — from Bangladesh to Louisiana and Alabama to Illinois — but that house was always home. I knew it was always there.

But now it’s not. Well the house is still there, but our home isn’t. Right now this amazing house is sitting empty, a shell, because it’s missing its heart. It was time for the Brown family to move on. As hard as it was for me to see my mom sell it, I know it is the right thing for all of us. And I’m blessed — and stoked — that my mom has moved here, a mere 20-minute drive from me and my boys.

So now it is time for that amazing house to become a home again, for another family to breathe life into it once again and allow it to fulfill the purpose it has served for more than 200 years. It’ll be tough to see someone else’s things sitting on the front porch when I drive by, but I’ll be happy that my old friend can once again be a home.

Throwback Thursday: My favorite time of year

Much to my husband’s chagrin, I’ve been opening the windows and enjoying the couple cool days and nights we’ve had recently. Fall is almost here! I can smell it in the air. Here’s a few pictures of the last three falls with Miles. This year we’ll have Owen digging in the wheat table at Goebel’s Farm with his brother and going down the slide! He made a brief appearance with his first fall but at just a few weeks old didn’t enjoy it too much!

Owen is in there, promise. His first trip to a pumpkin patch. Fall 2014

Owen is in there, promise. His first trip to a pumpkin patch. Fall 2014

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Fall 2013

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Fall 2012

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Fall 2011

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Nickel for your time?

Anytime a conversation starts out with, “Do you want me to tell her or are you going to tell her?” from my husband referring to our precocious four year old I know it isn’t good.

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My head jumps to all kinds of conclusions — did he get sent home from school for bad behavior? What’s broken? What condition is the house in?

I hear a sheepish Miles whining.

“You tell her,” he says.

“Your son,” Michaels says (as if his son would never do such a thing), “just swallowed a nickel.”

“Yeah momma, I swallowed a nickel,” he proclaims. There was both pride and shame shining from that statement.

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I was surprisingly cool during this exchange.

“A nickel, eh. It couldn’t have been a dime or a penny?”

The irony of this situation (am I using irony correctly, Alanis has ruined me for life) is that just the other day Miles had a coin close to his mouth and my mom warned him about that saying, “You don’t want to put that in your mouth. You might get surprised and accidentally swallow it.Your aunt Sarah swallowed a coin and had to go to the hospital.”

Still on the phone with Miles: “So, why’d you swallow a nickel buddy?”

“Aunt Sarah swallowed a nickel so I can swallow a nickel too.”

Sigh. There are plenty of things about Aunt Sarah we should strive to emulate… this is not one of them.

“OK, well, Miles, we don’t swallow coins.”

“But Aunt Sarah did!”

“Well we don’t!”

I called the doctor just to get some direction. The nurse laughed; I even laughed too. I can definitely see the humor in this.

Our orders from the doctor: “dig for gold,” or I guess silver may be more appropriate. I don’t want to be too gross but we are to keep tabs on his poo with the mission of finding the nickel. If we don’t find it in a week then we are headed into the doctor.

No more “monies” for the kiddo!

Extracurriculars, already?

I have no one to blame but myself (well, maybe my mom too since it was a Christmas gift) but my kiddo already has a “thing.”

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He’s only four and already has an extracurricular activity! I’m not really upset about it; it just makes me feel old (and a little nervous as to what a hectic, “scheduled” life we are too soon going to be leading.)

We signed Miles up for gymnastics about a month ago, and he’s already gone to two sessions. The third is tonight. He LOVES it! One of his buddies from school is in the class; he gets to run and jump and twirl.

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And they mean business in this class. He sits on a dot, does stretching, has spun around the tall bar on the uneven bars, jumped on a balance beam and even vaulted! We are very pleased with this. It was one of the reasons we joined the YMCA. Thankfully our family is enjoying some of the other benefits (swimming and working out so far!)

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We love that Miles is involved with this, but decided one thing was enough. Let’s wait a little while longer to get too much on our plate.

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How do you keep your kids from getting overscheduled?