Liam’s Forever Family Day... and some make-up time

This month we celebrated Liam’s Forever Family Day: the day he became a Malcolm with the promise of forever. Earlier this month, I started writing a few notes about the person he is at nearly five years old. There’s so much material; here are some highlights. While in Maine over Labor Day, Liam grabbed an ice cube in the kitchen and started walking down the hall, only to return to the kitchen in seconds… doing the universal sign for choking. I grabbed him from behind and did the Heimlich maneuver. Out popped the melting cube. The last time I did this for him, pebbles came out. I was shaking and he was crying, “Did it nearly die me, Mom?” (He knows I don’t like the word “kill”; the avoidance of the word is wreaking havoc on his grammar.) A couple days after this, and after discussing the Heimlich maneuver, the choking incident came up again. I asked if he remembered what I did. “Yes, the Heimlich remover.” Four days later, a little piece of cereal got caught in the wrong place while I was eating. Still coughing, I bent over next to Liam to help him with something. He gently placed his hand on my sternum and turned his brown eyes up to me. “Are you choking, Mom? I will help you.”

There is a void in writing for Liam’s fourth birthday during the winter months, unrelated to me being too tired to write with a bald head. We were in the midst of a “how-do-we-change-this-behavior” quandary. His, not mine. Desperate, I heard “positive reinforcement chart” murmured somewhere and went to work. I made the most intricate chart: gold stars for kind words, for kind actions, and for being helpful. I wrote all these things out in detail – although Liam had a great grasp on ABC’s, words like “action” and “being” weren’t in his reading repertoire yet. In retrospect, this should have been a working document for me in preparing an effective positive reinforcement chart. I hadn’t read up on this parenting trick, so after doling out gold stars for a couple days, I hit a brick wall. Gold stars meant nothing. The negative behavior was still there. One evening I was in overload and facing a tantrum at the dinner table. I grabbed the positive-reinforcement chart off the wall and ripped it in half in front of Liam. “Mom, you ripped Liam’s chart up!” cried Will. “My gold stars!!!” screamed Liam. Wait a minute, he actually cared about them?? Now, feeling like a real goof and seeing my mom-gold-stars shoot away, I promised to make him another one. Searing mad, Liam slowly declared with a snarl through clenched teeth, “I don’t need a chart.” Well, that’s good because I’m crap at effectively implementing gold star bribery – especially with that rip-it-in-half thing.

In Liam’s mind, his fourth summer as a Malcolm will forever be marked by his mother’s crazy act of removing the Nintendo DS and the Wii from the Malcolm household. The state of his being changed from a tyrant demanding more time on the DS and monopolizing conversations with the various levels Mario can go, to coloring with his brother nearly every morning this summer. (Yes, they were drawing Mario levels, but nonetheless…) This was bittersweet because these electronics created a new bond between the boys. They strategized together; they passed the gadgets back and forth, handing them off knowing when the other had greater skill at a particular level; they were problem-solving together by advancing through Mario levels. Unfortunately,outside of this wonderful new partnership, their desperate need for and total engrossment with these electronics games resulted in their disappearance. The elimination rocked the Malcolm house, shaking all three boys to the core. There will be a time and a place for them. But here and now is neither. Last spring, one of Liam’s school friends confirmed Mario’s offensiveness: “Addy gets grumpy when I draw Mario and talk about it at school. I’ll just draw it at home.” Addy’s voice outranks Mom’s, and I’m glad she spoke up.

Bakugans became the new thing last summer and while the “battle brawls” get intense, they are generally kept to the toys, not to one another or to other people (aka: the parents). If Liam is sitting quietly in a ball on the floor, you tap his head, say “Bakugan stand,” and he’ll pop up into the shape of a Bakugan. One problem with Bakugans: recent local studies have shown that Bakugans tend to turn-off ears. We have discovered that ears work much better when the Bakugans are transported in a Bakugan basket upstairs and returned after teeth are brushed, faces are washed, and pj’s are on. Put a Bakugan in the palm of your hand and you’ll forget everything else you were supposed to be doing. They remind me of what it feels like to hold a Slinky: you just gotta play with it.

Malcolm laughter and ingenuity would be decibels lower had the Malcolm trio not become a family of four with Liam. Despite all the attempts to “steer me crazy” and aside from being called a “foolish old woman” this week, he is a charmer. (I am now in search of the book that phrase is from…) We always know where Liam stands: a trait that will serve him well at 25 years old and one that we have the privilege of honing today.