I don’t know a thing about raising girls. I do have some experience with raising boys.
Whether I’m doing anything right is an entirely different animal.
It has been my experience with boys that they need to move their bodies around. Frequently. So, we hang at the playground after I pick them up from school every day. Before you go kidding yourself that I’m a great Mom, allow me confess…it’s a selfish move on my part. This playground situation is ideal for me. Because the second that my kids enter my car to drive home from school, the commotion reaches an immediate peak. And it remains there, at that ungodly high level, until they are all finally in bed. That’s 6 solid hours of commotion.
Um, no thanks.
The playground sets me up for a mere 5 solid hours of commotion.
It’s less than ideal, but I’ll take it.
One day last month, we’re at the playground. There are a few regulars, who are there every day, like we are. The groupies. I love these other broads. Some are Moms. Some are nannies. We are different ages, different ethnicities, different backgrounds. So, while my kids shake their sillies out, I enjoy the camaraderie of these women who share their unique stories with me.
Maggie is a groupie. Maggie has one son, Eddie. Eddie is a good buddy of Waldorf’s. Maggie stays home with her son. And his other Mom, Jaclyn, works full time. We adore this family.
Maggie: Half smiling, “So, Jaclyn and I were talking to Eddie about what were to happen if we both die.”
Me: Eyebrows raised, “Oh, yeah? Serious chat to have with your 10 year old.”
Maggie: Nodding, “Yeah, but you know it’s just the three of us. So, guess what he said?”
Maggie: Big smile, “He says, ‘If you both die, I want to live with Waldorf.’”
Me: Incredulous, “Shut up! He did not!”
Maggie: Nodding, “Yes, he did. He said he wants to live with you guys.”
Me: “Jesus, Maggie, seriously? It would be a tight squeeze, but we’d be happy to have him.”
I am smiling. Glowing. I stay home with the kids, right? But I am somebody who thrives on setting goals, working toward them, and achieving them. That means I have to derive a great deal of pleasure from cleaning a sink full of dirty dishes. Because I don’t know whether my raising of these kids will be successful for another 20-30 years. Waldorf’s friend wants to live with us if his parents die? That’s an enormous compliment to me. Positive reinforcement at its finest. And I’m a sucker for positive reinforcement.
We love this boy, and we’d be honored to welcome him into our family if, God forbid, he ever loses these wonderful women.
Why us, I wonder?
I wonder if it’s because he sees how I interact with my own kids.
Maybe it’s my brownies. Oh, and the chocolate chip cookie bars! Yes, he loves my baking.
Mom who cooks.
You know what? Eddie’s an only child. I bet he’d love to be a part of our crazy dynamic.
Mom who gives her children siblings.
Oh, wait…how could I overlook this one? It’s B&B! He’d love to have B&B as a father figure!
Mom who is married to virile man.
Maybe it’s the entire package!
I smile, look at Maggie, and she smiles back at me.
Well, how about that…maybe we are doing something right.
Me: Excited, “Did he say anything more? Did he tell you why he’d want to live with us?”
Maggie: Nodding, “Oh, yeah, yeah. We asked him ‘is it because you see how good Waldorf’s Mom is with him and his brothers?’”
I raise my eyebrows expectantly….
This is the greatest day of my life. I am savoring this moment. This one right here. Moment of happiness.
Maggie: “He said, ‘nope.’”
Maggie: “We asked him, ‘is it because Waldorf’s Mom is always bringing those delicious snacks to the playground? Because she always has the good food for Waldorf and his brothers?’”
Eyebrows back up…
The way to a boy’s heart is through his stomach, yes?
Maggie: “He said, ‘nope.’”
Maggie: “We asked him, ‘is it because of B&B? You know, cuz you don’t have a Dad, you just have us women?’”
I raise my eyebrows again…
Sometimes the sheer Leave It to Beaver-ness of our family makes me nauseous, but maybe it’s appealing to a kid whose family is less traditional. And B&B is a stud of a Daddy.
Maggie: “He said, ‘nope.’”
That settles it. Must be all the Gremlins under our roof.
Maggie: “We asked him, ‘is it because they’re such a big family? All those kids to play with? All that fun to be had?’”
My head hurts from all of this eyebrow raising…
Has to be. Doesn’t it?
Maggie: Smiling, “He said, ‘it’s not that Waldorf has so many brothers. It’s that he orders them around. And they listen to him. I watch them. They do it here, on the playground. Waldorf tells the younger ones what to do…and they do it. Every time. I want to live with them so I can give the orders and watch the younger boys carry them out.”
Me: “Well, Maggie, this has indeed been both an enlightening and a humbling conversation.”
Maggie: Laughing in agreement, “That’s what he says. He wants to live with you so he can order the younger guys around.”
Pfffffffffft. That’s the sound of my bubble bursting.
I pick up what remains of the homemade brownies, along with the pieces of my shattered ego, corral the kids, and head to the car for my 5 consecutive hours of commotion.
The Pecking Order of siblings. It exists indeed. And it is alive and well in our home.
The Interrogator recently celebrated a birthday. I was slightly nervous about his reaction to his presents after our Valentine’s Day debacle. But, he was thrilled with everything…hard to go wrong with all things Ninjago.
The behavior of his brothers, older and younger, during his opening of the presents was especially interesting to watch.
Typically, I am awake and downstairs by 6AM, finishing the packing of the lunches and the snacks for the kids to take to school. I am vigilant about where I place my feet when I walk down the steps. I know which floorboards creak the loudest and avoid them at all costs. A quiet exit from my bedroom and stealthy descent down the stairs will ensure I’m able to listen, even for only a few minutes, to Howard Stern. Or to the beautiful silence of no one asking me for a goddamn thing.
This happens once every 3-4 weeks.
On birthday mornings, everybody gets up extra early, so any plans for solitude are shot.
But, that’s OK, because I am as excited for the kids’ birthday as they are.
Every morning, the Verb jumps out of bed with the gusto only a 3 year old can possess.
Verb: “MOM! I’M ALL DONE SLEEPING! I HAVE TO GO PEE!”
The loud boom of the Verb’s feet hitting the ground usually wakes the Interrogator, who sleeps in the bunk above his younger brother. If not, the follow up announcement about relieving himself typically does the trick.
The morning of the Interrogator’s birthday, my little Verb is up before 6. The birthday boy awakes then as well. Within 2 minutes, the Kenyan and Waldorf appear in the hallway.
Me: “What’s the special occasion, guys? Everybody’s excited to get to school early?”
Waldorf: Straight faced, “Ha ha.”
Kenyan: Laughing, “Oh, yeah, Mom, let’s go right away!”
Verb: “Huh? Mommy, it’s the Interrogator’s birthday!!”
Interrogator: Smiling shyly and rubbing his tired eyes,“It’s my birthday, Mom. My 6 birthday. Now I’m 6, Mom.”
Love. Complete and unconditional.
I hug and kiss my birthday boy, the baby who, upon his exit, left me feeling as though my uterus was carrying around a bucket of marbles for a solid 6 months post-partum. Heavy marbles. That moved nonstop.
Me: “Happy birthday, sweet boy.”
The kids race down the steps in anticipation of the Interrogator’s opening his presents. The Interrogator, smiling, reaches for the first present. The biggest present. On the bottom of the present pile.
Waldorf: “Wait, hold on! Don’t you want to open THIS present first?”
He hands the Interrogator a different present.
Waldorf always has an agenda. Always.
Interrogator: “Oh, yeah, yeah, this one, right. OK, I do want to open this one!”
He tears open the wrapping paper and immediately smiles.
Interrogator: Grinning, “Oh, a Ninjago skeleton. I just love Ninjago skeletons. This is perfect.”
He struggles to open the packaging. The Kenyan thrusts a different present under his nose.
Kenyan: Excited, “Interrogator, Mommy will open that for you. HERE! Open THIS present!”
Let him open it if he wants to open it. Good God, these kids are pushy.
Interrogator: Easily convinced, “Oh, yeah, here you go, Mom. Can you open it please? I want to open this present.”
He digs into the wrapping paper, uncovering another…different…Ninjago skeleton.
Interrogator: Smiling, “Wow! 2 Ninjago skeletons! For me? This is the best birthday. I love being 6.”
Again, he attempts to extract the skeleton from the packaging. Impatiently, Waldorf shoves a present between the Interrogator and the unopened skeleton.
Waldorf: Curtly, “Here. Open it.”
I catch B&B’s eye. We exchange angry faces at our older kids’ attempt to control the Interrogator’s birthday present opening sequence.
For the love of God, let the kid open the presents in the order he wants.
Both Waldorf and the Kenyan look at me. I silently take my hand and wave it back and forth across my throat. International sign for “cut it out”, right?
Kenyan: “Someone’s dead? Who’s dead?”
Waldorf: “You’re going to chop someone’s head off?”
This is what it’s like to be surrounded by penises. I mean idiots.
Me: “Waldorf and Kenyan, maybe we’ll let the Interrogator choose which presents he’d like to open next. You’ve both done a nice job helping him. Thank you for that. But let’s let him decide. Go ahead, Interrogator, which present do you want to open next?”
The Interrogator looks at me, then at his remaining pile of wrapped presents, then at his two older brothers.
Interrogator: “Um, I don’t know. Which one do you think I should open, Kenyan?”
The Kenyan grabs a present from the pile. Before he has the chance to hand it to the birthday boy, Waldorf puts his hand on the Kenyan’s arm to stop him.
Waldorf: “No. You want to give him THAT one.”
He points to a different present. The Kenyan immediately obeys. Puts down his first choice, picks up Waldorf’s recommendation, and hands it to the Interrogator.
What the hell kind of Jedi mind trick was that?!
The Interrogator rips the wrapping paper off, unveiling the coveted Ninjago blade cycle. A collective gasp is heard.
Interrogator: Nearly screaming in excitement, “Oh! Oh! It’s just what I always wanted! It’s just right! And I knew Santa would bring it for my 6 birthday because I’m a good boy, Mom, right? Right Mom? Santa bringed this blade cycle for me because I’m such a good boy?”
Me: Struggling not to laugh, “You know what, buddy? You are SUCH a good boy. That’s from Mom and Dad and all of your brothers. Santa’s taking a vacation, and we’re celebrating your birthday.”
Waldorf: One eyebrow cocked, “Um, Interrogator, I need to see that box. For JUST a minute. Please.”
The Interrogator has a death grip on the present he desired most for his birthday. He hugs the box to his chest, takes a deep breath, then hands it over to his oldest brother.
Waldorf’s eyes light up. He smiles. He looks at the picture. He whispers to the Kenyan. The Kenyan’s eyes light up. The Kenyan smiles.
What are they up to?
Waldorf: “OK. Interrogator, we’d like to make a deal.”
Look out. The chief negotiator is on the case.
We listen to Waldorf sell a used car to his younger brother. The Kenyan occasionally chimes in for good measure.
The Interrogator is unsure whether he should accept the offer. He is a hoarder. Not in the way Waldorf hoards items, like aluminum foil hotdog wrappers from school, but a hoarder no less. The Interrogator is famous for taking 8 different Lego characters, all wielding weapons, with him to the bathroom. To pee. It takes him longer to set the Legos up on the windowsill than it does to relieve himself and wash his hands. He has a phobia of his brothers stealing his Legos. We have rescued many a Lego from the toilet as a result. And soaked several in bleach before returning them to his little grabby hands.
But his need for his brothers’ approval surpasses his desire even for his most coveted birthday gift.
Interrogator: “OK, Waldorf. I’ll trade my two new guys for your old guy you’ve been hiding in your closet.”
Waldorf and the Kenyan high five. Waldorf runs past us, averting his evil eyes from our disapproving parental glares.
We’ve just witnessed the perfect illustration of why Eddie wants to live with us. The sway the older brothers posses to manipulate their younger brothers. The pecking order at its best.
Or, from a parents’ perspective, the pecking order at its worst.
B&B and I step out of the room to discuss what’s just transpired.
B&B: Angrily whispering, “This is horse shit. I am going to beat those two morons. I am going to hold them down and beat them. And I’m going to enjoy it. The way they took advantage of that sweet, innocent Interrogator. They deserve a beating.”
Me: Agreeing, “They do indeed. But there’s nothing we can do about it.”
B&B: Feeling challenged, “The hell there isn’t. Watch me. Watch me while I beat them.”
*As an aside, B&B never lays a hand on the kids. I hand out the beatings.
Me: Shaking my head, “It’s the pecking order. You can’t mess with it. Circle of life and all that shit.”
B&B: “It’s bullshit.”
Me: “Yep. But it’s a rite of passage. Nothing you can do about it. You’re the youngest, you should know. Didn’t your sisters dress you up as a girl and put makeup on you?”
B&B: “Maybe. Probably. I know I watched a lot of daytime soap operas. God, I loved Guiding Light.”
This is life with B&B. One minute, he’s preparing to hold the children down and enjoy beating them. The next, he’s fondly reminiscing about daytime soap operas. He is one of a kind, indeed.
I remember the pecking order in my nuclear family growing up. My brother is the oldest, therefore he rode shotgun and dictated the music choices in the car. He also capitalized on his status as oldest sibling in order to bamboozle us out of our very favorite candy during our post-trick-or-treat trading fest at the kitchen table.
Big Brother: Straight faced, “Little Sister, I’ll trade you one of my Charleston Chews for 2 of your Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.”
Oh, that’s junk. Nobody wants a Charleston Chew.
Little Sister: Eager to please Big Brother: “YES! YES! It’s a great trade! Actually, take all 5 of my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.”
Me: Looking cross-eyed at Little Sister,”Have you lost your mind? Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are your favorites. And Charleston Chews are junk. That’s the worst trade of the night.”
Little Sister: Beaming, “No, it’s fine. I want him to have them. All of them.”
I look at Big Brother, who’s smiling like the cat who swallowed the canary. He throws a Maryjane at her for good measure. Then he laughs.
That’s just plain evil. But it’s the pecking order.
I was guilty of abusing it as well…
Me: “I notice you didn’t make your bed this morning, Little Sister.”
Little Sister: Tossing her curls over her tiny shoulder, “What? Oh, yeah. I wanted to play with my dolls. Don’t tell Mom I didn’t make my bed.”
Me: Taking advantage of my poor, innocent younger sibling, “Give me a reason not to tell her, and I won’t.”
Little Sister: Pleading, “I’ll buy you a pack of gum if you don’t tell her. Grape Hubba Bubba. I know that’s your favorite. Please don’t tell?”
I consider her offer. Before I have the chance to accept it, she sweetens the pot…
Little Sister: “And a cherry flavored Laffy Taffy! I know you love those too! I’ll buy you both if you don’t tell Mom I didn’t make my bed.”
The Pecking Order. The Rite of Passage of Siblings. The Survival of the Fittest.
Eddie wants a taste of it? Heck, what’s another boy in this house. Welcome to the jungle, Eddie.
I sure hope you’re not allergic to dust, my boy.
*Special thanks to Maggie, Jaclyn, and Eddie, a family of rock stars, for allowing me to include them in this story. Our school, our community, and our families are richer for the friendship, love, and laughter you’ve brought to them. XOXOXO