The other night I wanted to look at a first word book with the toddlers. O wasn't sharing very well and was being a little wild, so I took C by the hand and asked him to help me find the book. I closed all the doors in the hallway before opening the baby gate-- no sneaking in the back bedrooms-- and let C through. As soon as O heard the gate squeak, he threw down the stolen and unshared toys and sprinted after us. C raced to the bookcase and yanked down D's (their older brother) favorite pop-up book. Knowing that pop-up books and toddlers don't mix, I tried to get C interested in a different book, the one we went down the hallway to get in the first place. C didn't want anything to do with board books, nope, only paper books for him. He pulled out book after book, flinging them on the floor. I kindly told him, "No, thank you!" and set him to work putting them back. O, in the meantime, ran to the other side of the bookcase and was surveying the scene. Mistakenly, I thought he would follow after us. I finished putting the books away with C and ushered him back down the hallway through the baby gate. I called to O, "Come on, baby!" I hear the high-pitched squeal, a thud of books, and the quick toddler steps down the hallway. He careens around the corner with a guilty look on his face, "It wasn't me!" C can't resist and must explore. He abandons my lap and races to the gate, faster than I can get there. The hallway is littered with books. O dives back in as well. He seriously starts rolling in the books. C feels skating on them is a better adventure.
At this point, their older brother feels it high time for him to get involved. He hollers from the other room, "Momma, are you doing okay in there?" I assure him I am (I am, after all, their mother). He replies, "Well, I'm almost done, so just let me know if you need me." (He was drawing a picture.) I grab a toddler and nimbly step over the book mess, setting him on the other side of the unlatched baby gate. I turn my back to him and grab the other toddler. When I turn around, the first toddler is not only back through the gate, but reaching out to use my leg to support himself as he makes his way over the books. I abandon the plan of getting the toddlers over the gate and try getting them involved in cleaning up the mess they made. It works for about one or two books. One toddler picks up a book and the other toddler decides that is the very book he wanted to put away-- minor scuffle ensues. I scratch Operation Involve the Toddlers and go back to gating them. I make a path through the books and scoop up one of the toddlers, taking the other by his hand. I put on my best chipper voice, the one that says, "Oh, this is going to be fun!" and encourage them that they want to be on the other side of the gate. "Let's go, little ones! Wee! Let's go! March, march!" They do not fall for it. The toddler in my arms tries to throw himself to the ground. The toddler on the ground goes limp, no bones. I attempt to drag him a step forward, but he is so limp that I am just holding his arm, which I will not use to drag him. Standing in a pile of children's books with limp wailing toddlers, I wonder, "Do I even have the energy to read them a story after this?" I carry on.
A new plan is needed. I go Nike. I let go of the boneless toddler by my feet and continue to carry the flailing toddler in my arms to the other side of the gate. I set him over the gate and latch it. He screams. I make my way back over the books, grab the toddler who not only has found his bones again, but is now using them to crawl wildly away from me. I set him on the other side of the gate. They scream at the top of their lungs and hang pathetically from the gate. I start putting the books away as quickly as possible. While the scream, they realize that they are sitting next to one of Mommy's bookcases. They start ripping the books of the shelves. O sets The Agony and the Ecstasy on the ground and uses it to try to peer over the gate. In doing so, he bends back the cover, ugh. I finish with their books and step over the gate. "All right, little ones, let's read this book!" I look for the first word book. It is nowhere in sight. I brought it out with us on our first book run. Where could it have gone? I move O off the book and clean up my books. "D, do you know where their book is?" I hear him mutter something and ask him to come in and tell me, since I can't hear well over the racket of his brothers. He walks into the doorway holding the very book. "Well, I was just reading my most favorite book ever." I give him a look. "D, you know I got that book out for your brothers to read." He looks right back at me, "Well, this was my book when I was a baby." I felt like I was in Zelda. I finished one quest only to have to negotiate with the town's people. Eventually we establish that, yes, it was his book when he was a baby, but now he is four and he has Spiderman books and other books that are his that are not his brothers, but that will one day be his brothers when they are four, but they aren't four yet and he is four, which makes him a big boy and makes them toddlers, and that one day he will be 10 and they will still be babies, which isn't true and I tell him when he is 10 they will be 7 or 8, and he says that 7 or 8 is still a baby, and then I realize that he is still standing on the other side of the gate holding the book and I have yet to read it to the toddlers.
D makes his way over the gate. We sit on the floor and start reading it.
"Cow. What noise does a cow make?"
"The cow goes mooooooo!"
"Actually, the cow goes baa-baa and the dog goes quack-quack and the sheep goes meow-meow..."
"D, how about we let our brothers read this book and you grab your paper airplane book."
"Well, I don't want to make paper airplanes."
"Very good, C, the dog has a ball. D, please let your brothers see the book."
"He's in my way."
"D, be respectful and listen to your mom. I want to hear yes, momma."
"Okay, dog. What noise does the dog make?"
"D, you need to let your brothers read the story. We're teaching them."
"Yes, C, a ball."
"D, you know what a ball is. O, what are you doing? Get down from there!"
Eventually we found a rhythm. D still insisted on saying the wrong animal sounds and shouting out the animal names when I asked what each animal was. He wanted to turn the page right away and kept trying to sit in front of his brothers. I tried to involve him while still reading the first word book-- made for toddlers-- to the toddlers. I worried that the toddlers would never speak, never learn on their own, never get a chance to figure it out for the themselves. I wished D would go read his own book. I wondered why I went through so much trouble to get this book when it was so much trouble to read this book. I got up to get a square of chocolate when we finished. D took the book and laid it out on the floor.
"Okay, sit down C and O. What is this? Dog. Can you say dog? Very good! Dog. What noise does a dog make? Woof-woof! Can you say woof-woof? Very good! Woof-woof! Where is the dog? There is the dog! What does he have? Very good. A ball. Ball. A dog with a ball. Woof-woof said the dog with the ball!"
I almost spit out my chocolate. The same child who wouldn't participate when I read the story was now actively involving his brothers-- who were sitting and participating!-- in the story. He even got them to say woof-woof! Well, gruff sounding noises imitating woof-woof. Why do kids sometimes just make things so, so, so difficult, I wonder? Did he feel that I was leaving him out so acting that way got him attention? Was he just bored and felt this would be a good use of his time? What motivated him to be so contrary while I was reading? I shrug it off. Who cares? He's reading to them now. While he read, he sounded out letters. The first word book was full of small words with familiar "sounds." He sounded out "cow" and "dog" and wondered why "ball" had "two lines" instead of just one. C eventually lost interest and climbed on the back of the armchair. O sat and watched his older brother and tried to imitate the sounds he was making. For the first time, he said "ball." By the end of the night, both the toddlers were mooing.
Sometimes I wonder if it is really worth it to go through all the trouble for a certain activity, whatever it may be. Was it worth 20 minutes of shenanigans to get that book? Was it worth struggling through a reading with three wild boys? Watching the three of them on the floor, reading together made me feel like it really was worth it.