I’m such a dork…

Zack: “Where’s Mommy?”

Me: “Where’d Mom go? She fled off screaming into the night just to escape you and your brother from driving her insane. Last I heard she was swinging from tree branches and howling at the moon at the top of her lungs. Either that, or she had to go use the bathroom.”

Dad, you're so weird.

Dad, you’re so weird.

Sarcasm is wasted on a four-year old.

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It’s Toddler Photography Friday!

Our youngest photographer takes aim at Daddy.

Our youngest photographer takes aim at Daddy.

We take lots of pictures around here, so it’s no surprise that our son’s Zack and Josh are obsessed with our camera. On several occasions they’ve stolen it and then proceeded to run around the house like crazed lunatics taking “Toddler Photography” photos of whatever captures their interest at the moment.

This is the picture that Josh took of me.

This is the picture that Josh took of me.

Each of them has a different technique. Josh loves to carefully aim and focus, and usually takes still-lifes or extreme close-ups of items around the house (and then laughs maniacally after he takes each picture). Zack does what we call “shotgun photography” holding the camera way out in front of him and snapping haphazardly at pretty much everything. We end up with tons of strange pictures, but on occasion he gets some really cool shots.

When Zack was 1 1/2 he climbed into his brother's baby swing and inadvertently took this self portrait looking in a convex mirror.

When Zack was 1 1/2 he climbed into his brother’s baby swing and inadvertently took this self portrait looking in a convex mirror.

It’s interesting to see the world from their unique point of view. My kids are pretty prolific little photographers (they’ve taken over 200 pictures in the last month alone), so I thought it would be fun to share some of their “Toddler Photography” each Friday.

Josh decided the banana he dropped on the floor needed to be documented.

Josh decided the banana he dropped on the floor needed to be documented.

These pictures are taken by Zack and Josh themselves. I don’t tell the boys what to photograph and other than an occasional crop, I haven’t altered these photos in anyway.

Another shot by Zack, this time looking through his Lego house at his brother on the other side.

Another shot by Zack, this time looking through his Lego house at his brother on the other side.

Who flipped the switch?

It’s amazing how quickly a little guy will bounce back from feeling bad, the parents… not so much.

Yesterday afternoon Zack came down with a bad cold. The poor little guy was pretty miserable. Sniffling, sneezing, buckets of snot, the usual. When I got home from work I could hear him coughing in his room, unable to breath due to the face full of boogers.

Last night quickly turned into one of “those nights”. You know the kind, up and down over and over, running in to check on a munchkin time and again. Ultimately we ended up dragging him into our room to sleep in our bed with us, hopeful that at least one of us would get some sleep.

Our plan was a disaster and Z didn’t do much better. He still woke several times from being stuffed up, but at least we were literally an arm’s reach away to help him.

Cut to this morning, Kat has staggered sleepily off to work and, thanks to an extra-large iced mocha, I’m barely functioning. I called Zack’s school bus driver and preschool teacher to let them know that he’d be absent today because he doesn’t feel good and didn’t get much sleep.

I swear as soon as I set down the phone the laughing started. Josh and Zack began playing and having a spirited debate over whether their Transformer Bumblebee toy was a “Robot-Car” or a “Car-Robot”. Since then it’s like someone waved a green flag and the two of them are off to the races.

Zack and Josh take a break from running around like crazy people to take a few pictures.

Zack and Josh take a break from running around like crazy people to take a few pictures.

In the last hour they’ve done laps around the inside of the house, stopped for “toddler photography”, played dress-up, petted the cat, ate breakfast, played in their trampoline, got dressed, spread legos all over our living room floor, picked the legos back up (under threat of death from me), and are now back in the trampoline wrestling.

Kids bounce back, much better than Dads in their forties do. Zack is probably going to be a little out of sorts today, but nothing that an extra-long nap, a few well-placed nose wipes, and some extra cuddles won’t fix. Kat and I will be lucky if the two of us have recovered from Zack’s being sick by tomorrow or maybe this weekend.

Handy hints for helping “Helpers”

I’ve learned over the years that the boys absolutely love “helping” me whenever I work on a project around the house. It doesn’t matter if I’m cleaning the garage, building a fence, or just doing the dishes. Whatever it is that I’m doing they want to be involved in it. Since there is little to no chance of discouraging my stubborn little monsters I’ve come up with a few helpful strategies that I thought I’d share with other Dad’s out there.

 

#1 A flexible time schedule

Whenever you do any task it's important to have close supervision.

Whenever you do any task it’s important to have close supervision.

What this means is that I’ve learned that anything done with kids hanging around is going to take much, much longer than planned. Interruptions have a way of doing that. Even if the boys are actively “helping”, there is constant stopping to break up fights, put shoes back on, change butts, and kiss boo-boos. What I had thought was going to be a weekend long job, could stretch out over several days. There’s no way to predict how much additional time will be needed, so it’s best to plan for the worst and then be pleasantly surprised if it didn’t take weeks to finish something that could have been done in an afternoon. 

 

#2 “Decoy Tools”

The boys "help" me disassemble our Christmas fence. Zack is ready to jump in with his toy drill if I need a relief.

The boys “help” me disassemble our Christmas fence. Zack is ready to jump in with his toy drill in case I need a relief.

When I work on a project and I know the kids are going to be underfoot (which is pretty much every project) I make sure to have plenty of extra screwdrivers, tape measures, or whatever else I’m using handy or better yet, toys that look like what I’m using.

Inevitably I’ll reach for something only to discover one of my little kleptomaniacs has run off with it or is by my side happily playing with that one crucial tool that I needed. Having toy facsimiles or extra “stunt” tools lets them have fun while helping me keep my sanity.

The boys have amassed quite a collection of miniature tools, vacuums, brooms, and other household items. As an added bonus, this has made huge difference with Zack’s sensory disorder. This kind of play demystifies the sounds that these items make which helps him cope with noises that may have previously frightened him.

 

#3 Distraction… Er, Involvement

Zack mans the full size swiffer while Josh has the kid sized version. As an added bonus, they may accidentally get the floor clean too!

Zack mans the full size swiffer while Josh has the kid sized version. As an added bonus, they may accidentally get the floor clean too!

While my little guys are still a bit too young to offer much real help, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to. When I plan a project I try to find things that they can do to feel involved.

It’s amazing how excited they get just doing a small task like dumping the dustpan, handing me screws, or putting loose nails in a jar. It can be tricky because the novelty of actually helping wears out quick and they’ll start entertaining themselves by just getting in the way.

 

#4 “Stunt projects”

Josh shows off the plastic hammer he uses "pulling nails just like Daddy"

Josh shows off the plastic hammer he uses “pulling nails just like Daddy”

Having a little project of their own goes a long ways towards keeping kids happy. If the kids see me busy pulling nails for instance, I’ll make sure that they have a few boards of their own (minus the nails of course) to pound on with toy hammers and pretend to pull out their own nails. Josh loves to “help” me do dishes, which in his case involves standing on a chair next to me endlessly pouring water from one cup into another while I scrub all the dishes.

 

#5 A Backup Plan

The guys take a Play-Doh break while helping Mom & Dad clean and organize the garage.

The guys take a Play-Doh break while helping Mom & Dad clean and organize the garage.

No matter what their level of fascination is with what Daddy is doing, they are bound to eventually tire of what I’m working on and want to be entertained (by me). This can get awkward, especially if I’m still knee deep in the task at hand and I can’t break away from it.

Having a backup plan ready can be a life saver. Just about anything qualifies as a “back-up”. The only rule is to make sure it’s something the kids really enjoy, doesn’t need lots of direct supervision, and will keep them in the immediate area (Play-Doh, coloring books, snacks, sidewalk chalk, etc.). A few well timed granola bars and a magna-doodle can be a real life saver.

Zack decides to "help" by filling one of my work gloves full of fencing nails.

Zack decides to “help” by filling one of my work gloves full of fencing nails.

I would have put “Patience” and “Sense of Humor” on this list too, but I think it’s a given. As with everything involving kids, having a lot of patience and a sense of humor is a must. Try not to stress out, appreciate the ridiculousness of the situation and enjoy the chaos that is unfolding around you.

Even when we have big equipment the kids have to get in the action. Don't worry, the landscaper was shut down when Josh ran in to "help"

Even when we have big equipment the kids have to get in the action. Don’t worry, the landscaper was shut down when Josh ran in to “help”

Best laid plans…

It’s crazy how easy it is for even the best laid plans to go awry. This past week we had planned to have a glorious three day long weekend filled with completing “honey do” lists, watching the playoffs, and going out to dinner with the boys.

I realize now that we were tempting fate with our unbridled optimism.

Friday night I got to sleep early (well early for me anyways) in hopes that I would wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to get a lot done. Saturday started off well enough, the only sign that things were amiss was when our little one Josh turned his nose up at eating anything for breakfast.

Josh "helping" clean the garage in Daddy's hat (before things went south)

Josh “helping” clean the garage in Daddy’s hat (before things went south)

As the day went on I tackled the garage, cleaning it out and creating a studio space where we can do future arts and craft projects. Kat kicked butt going through the piles of papers and filing them all accordingly. The boys had fun “helping” me in the garage (I’d planned to write a blog about this later), but as the day went on Josh got fussier and fussier. We had even talked about inviting my Mom and taking the boys out to dinner (IHOP or Izzy’s Pizza) but by evening Josh was just too cranky to deal with and Zack had started acting out of sorts too. Tired of being yelled at by our offspring, we decided for an early bedtime hopeful that they would feel better with some rest (again with the optimism).

This looks good now, just wait until it's spread all over the floor... yuck!

This looks good now, just wait until it’s spread all over the floor… yuck!

And that’s when it happened… the vomiting… and vomiting… and vomiting. Josh turned into some demon child launching the contents of his stomach all over his bedroom. While not as bad off as his little brother, Zack had a turn at getting sick too. Saturday night we spent debating whether or not to take our poor little guys into the ER.

I imagine it’s a debate that every parent has had with themselves time and time again. How sick is “too sick”? Under the circumstances he didn’t have a fever and seemed in good spirits so we opted for the watch and wait option. I stayed up until one in the morning with an eye on the baby monitor ever vigilant that our little guy didn’t wake up and start throwing up again (I also scored my personal best on Candy Crush). Jumping up at the slightest sign that anything might be wrong, we didn’t get much sleep. Thankfully though, the boys slept just fine, but the next day my wife and I were total zombies.

Josh was no longer the crankiest little butt-head this side of the Mississippi, but in his place we had a “snuggle monster” who refused to be less than an arm’s reach away. I have to admit, I did breathe a sigh of relief knowing that at least we’d get to watch the Hawks in the playoffs and not spend our day that the hospital, but our dreams of a super productive weekend had flown out the window.

A happier picture from a happier day, because quite frankly... when the kids are sick I'm not gonna be taking pictures. (and who wants to see that anyhow)

A happier picture from a happier day, because quite frankly… when the kids are sick I’m not gonna be taking pictures. (and who wants to see that anyhow)

One of the biggest adjustments I’ve had to make to my life since becoming a parent is learning that there are no certainties. Kids are ever unpredictable, so I’d better get used to rolling with the punches.

Unfortunately I’ve also learned that if one of the boys gets really sick, it’s a good bet that I’ll come down with the same bug about half a week later. But that’s a blog entry for another time.

Oh Brother, “Your Brother”

I like to think I’m a patient man, I really do. But sometimes that patience really gets put to the test. My oldest son Zack has a bit of a speech delay which makes getting through to him a little tough sometimes. He is going to preschool and gets speech therapy once a week, so it’s improving, but it can still be infuriating at times.

How can someone who looks so sweet drive me so very very crazy?

How can someone who looks so sweet drive me so very very crazy?

Right now, the most annoying thing in the world is “Your Brother”. I don’t know when it happened, but once too many times while I was talking to Zack I referred to his little brother Josh as “Your brother”. Instead of making the connection between “Your ___” and “My ___”, Zack started using “Your brother” as another name for his brother Josh which drives me absolutely bonkers.

A typical conversation between me and Zack:

Me: “Where is your brother?”

Zack: “Your brother is in the living room”

Me: “No, my brothers are your Uncle Dick and your Uncle Bob, your brother is Josh”

Zack: “Uncle Dick and Uncle Bob aren’t your brothers. ‘Your brother’ is in the living room.”

Me: “He’s not MY brother, he’s YOUR brother. You should to say ‘MY’ brother is in the living room”

Zack: “My ‘Your brother’ is in the living room”

"Your brother"... I mean "My brother"... uh, "Little brother"... er, "josh"... or whatever.

“Your brother”… I mean “My brother”… uh, “Little brother”… er, “josh”… or whatever.

Hopefully we’ll get it straight sometime. I should learn by my wife’s example, she found a way to avoid this whole headache and just calls Josh “Little brother”.

The Yin-Yang Twins.

At this moment I have two little boys. Zack & Josh, and even though they are brothers, they often have little in common.

Since he was a baby Zack has always been my cautious methodical problem solver. He won’t do anything until he is sure that it is safe and nothing will go wrong. This can make playground visits, *ahem*… challenging. More than a few times we’ve found ourselves coaxing him across a platform that he’s refused to cross despite it being only a few inches off the ground (because it lacked hand rails), or squeezing one of our big adult sized butts into a kiddie slide just so that we can prove to him that it won’t collapse and send him careening off to his doom.

My wife Kat accompanies Zack on a slide while Josh impatiently waits for another little boy to move so he can go down by himself for the third time.

My wife Kat accompanies Zack on a slide while Josh impatiently waits for another little boy to move so he can go down by himself for the third time.

Josh on the other hand is our dare devil. His style is 100 miles an hour with his hair on fire, run first & look second. It’s unusual if he doesn’t have at least one or two bruises and band aids on him (we’ve already been to the ER twice). Fortunately he bounces well. We once let Josh run wild in a grocery store, within moments of being taken out of the cart he ran head first into a store shelf. Plow! He knocked himself right on his butt, then jumped up, said “oops!” and ran off again in a random direction. It wasn’t until after he’d taken off that I’d noticed the bewildered look on the face of a woman who had witnessed what happened and had been coming over to see if he was alright. Too late, crazy baby was already off to the races.

We're raising a crazy person.

We are raising a crazy person.

It’s not just their demeanors that are such opposites, but they also pull this yin-yang stuff at almost every meal. Breakfast will come to a screeching halt if Zack spills milk on the table so that I can clean it up, meanwhile Josh will be happily pouring Cheerios down the front of his diaper. Quite often one boy will nearly refuse to eat while the other one is a bottomless pit. Thankfully with this, they take turns. Josh might not eat much for breakfast while Zack can’t get enough, but then they’ll trade spots and Josh will chow down for lunch and Zack turns up his nose.

Zack takes after his mother and wakes up bright and chipper every morning. He comes into my room at 6:30 a.m. on the dot and wakes me up. His little brother is just like me and hates getting up early. The other day he didn’t stagger out of his room until nearly 9:00. I asked, “Hey buddy, how’s it going?” Josh glared at me and said “Uh-uh” and then went back to bed for another half an hour.

I discovered Zack had moved chairs into the kitchen so that his little brother can raid the cereal box while he "washes" dishes.

Zack had moved chairs into the kitchen so that his little brother can raid the cereal box while he “washes” dishes.

The two of them have teamed up and used their super powers against us a few times now. Zack will figure out how to escape or get into something they aren’t supposed to and then sends his little brother flying like a wrecking ball into whatever mayhem he can create (trashing the garage, armed with finger paints, chasing the dog with yard tools, breaking Christmas decorations, etc.)

Yet another wacky thing Zack talked Josh into trying.

Yet another wacky thing Zack talked Josh into trying.

What frightens me is the great unknown. And by “unknown” I mean… Andrew James. The new baby will be here April or May. What will be in store for us? Will AJ be the schemer Zack is, or the chaos magnet Josh is? Or will he be an evil mix of the two? Only time will tell. I do know this for certain. With three little boys running amok in our house I’m going to need a lot more patience… and super glue.