6/22/2017

The Tobin Times #69

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:17 pm

My sweet Tobin,

It’s summertime, and we’ve barely had a minute to relax and enjoy break.  We’ve been busy-busy-busy with all the activities you and your brother are doing.  You finished up your varied preschool career, and now you’re eligible for a whole new level of summer pastimes.  Around here anyway, it seems all the good camps and classes are for kindergartners and up, and now, that’s you.

Photo by Denny

You did two weeks of Safety Village, which is a class offered by the local school district that taught you all about many different safety topics.  Among other topics, you learned about poison avoidance, animal safety, stranger caution, fire safety, and (your favorite), traffic safety.  I bet everybody’s favorite was traffic safety, because you got to ride in little pedal cars all around a rather elaborate village on the school grounds.  When I first heard about the class, I assumed they set it up every summer and packed it away in a shed somewhere, but when we came to visit on the last day, it became clear that it’s a permanent situation.  They have brick buildings, street signs, working traffic lights, and even a railroad crossing arm that goes up and down.  You went with a friend who will also be a Lucas kindergartner, and you had a great time.

This week you started a paleontology class at Willowwind, where you did one semester of preschool and where we’ve been taking Miles for summer and after-school classes for years.  You seemed a little nervous at first, but you settled right in and now beg to go long before departure time.  For some reason it really tugged at me to see you and Miles walking up to the school together, your big-boy backpacks on.  I’ve mostly accepted the fact that Miles is a school-aged kid, but it hit home that you’re getting ready for that life stage.  If your success and flexibility throughout preschool is any indicator, you will do great.

We’ve had a lot of family togetherness with your dad’s side of the family lately, due to visits to Nana and Papa’s farm, a family reunion on the farm where Papa grew up, and a couple of visits to our house.  You had a blast at the family reunion.  It was a roastingly hot day, but there was a nice breeze, and Aunt Rainey thoughtfully provided a really high-class kiddie pool (complete with working filter).  You and Miles got to know some cousins you haven’t played with much, and I think you truly spent four hours in that pool.  You guys were pretty exhausted by the events, but childhood summers aren’t worth much if you don’t end a good number of days tired, messy-haired, and covered in sunscreen residue.

Our schedule is going to seriously slow down after the 4th of July.  We didn’t do it this way on purpose, but the classes you and Miles chose to take all fell in June.  We’ve also been spending a lot of time out at the ballfield (your dad more than I) watching and cheering you guys on as you play baseball.  Unfortunately, your last game of the season got rained out after just a couple of innings last night, but you got a good hit and made it around the bases.  I think you’ll miss baseball now that your games are over, but it will be really nice to have more around-the-neighborhood time.  We can take more evening walks to Heyn’s and see all your old park friends.

We went to a local teen production of The Little Mermaid last weekend, and you and Miles both seemed to enjoy it a lot.  It’s nice that you’re getting old enough that I can take you to things like that without too much worry about your behavior.  You’re an energetic kid, and while you’re almost always sweet, you do tend to get a little wiggly.  I was telling you and Miles how much fun I had with you at the play, and you said, “Yeah, but I got a little squirrely toward the end.”  You did, but just a bit, and we were sitting in the front row, so at least you weren’t kicking anyone in the seat in front of you.  You’re truly happiest outside doing wiggly things, but I’m glad you can appreciate some culture too.

Photo by Denny

Your current favorites:  Minecraft, playing ball with Papa, rotini with tomato sauce, Popsicles, The Famous Five series of books, demanding bedtime hugs from Callum (who now thinks it’s a game to resist them, which can send you into a spiral of despair), freestyle dancing, and telling jokes.  During the school year, we often listened to a radio station on the way to school that happened to air Nearly Impossible Trivia right during our commute.  You were sad that we wouldn’t be able to do that anymore, so I got the radio station’s app for my phone, and now we’ve been listening to the trivia questions in bed most mornings.  You also like the classic rock songs we hear as we wait for callers to phone in their guesses.  Your favorite is probably “867-5309,” though I was proud when we got out of the car the other day and you said, “Aw, man!  We got here right when David Bowie was playing!”

Photo by Gary Clarke

I’m looking forward to things calming down so we can have some relaxation this summer, my special Tobin.  You require a lot of energy, but you are kind, smart, and trustworthy, too.  I’m excited to get into the downtown fountain with you, because you are really good at splashing.

Love,

Mommy

 

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6/21/2017

Multi-berry Pie with Almond Crumb Topping

Filed under: — Aprille @ 12:55 pm

I made this yesterday and it was a hit.  I hope to make it again next year with the early summer berry bounty.

Adapted from this recipe.

  • 1 pie crust (I used a half recipe of my favorite crust)
  • About 5 cups assorted berries—I used about 3 cups blueberries and 1 cup each of blackberries and raspberries
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • About 3/4 cup sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • splash of vanilla extract
  • 1 (7-ounce) container almond paste
  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 6 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
  • a generous pinch of kosher salt

Gently wash berries and set aside, reserving 1 cup blueberries.

In a large, heavy saucepan, whisk together cornstarch and sugar.  Add berries (except reserved blueberries) and cook over medium heat until thick and saucy, about 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and stir in reserved blueberries, lemon juice, and vanilla.  Refrigerate for at least an hour.

To make topping, break almond paste into smallish (1/2 inch) pieces.  Add to the bowl of a food processor, along with flour, butter, and salt.  Process until clumps begin to form.  Refrigerate for at least half an hour.

Preheat oven to 400F.  While the oven is preheating, put a rimmed metal baking sheet in the oven.  Roll out pie crust and line an 8- or 9-inch glass pie dish with the crust.  Pour cooled berry mixture into crust and sprinkle crumb topping on top.  Put pie dish directly on rimmed baking sheet and bake for 40-50 minutes, until topping is nicely browned.  You may need to cover the outer rim of the pie to keep it from over-browning.

Cool thoroughly unless you want to eat it like a gooey crumble, which wouldn’t be the worst thing.  Serve with vanilla ice cream.

 

6/9/2017

The Callum Chronicle #29

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:07 pm

Dear Callum,

You are napping right now, which is the only reason I’m allowed to do this.  If you were awake, you wouldn’t like it that I’m using the keyboard.  Your anthem these days is “I do it!”  There’s not a task in the world that you don’t think you do better than anyone else.  You want to brush your teeth by yourself, turn on and off the bath water by yourself, buckle into your car seat by yourself, turn book pages by yourself.  Everything takes twice as long and can be very frustrating.  I’ve learned from experience, though, that taking the extra time to let you buckle your car seat is a lot less maddening than yanking the clips out of your hand and doing it for you.  Two minutes of letting you struggle and eventually get it done can seem like forever when we’re running late to take Tobin to his summer class, but the ten-minute drive seems even more like forever if you’re screaming the whole time, broken-hearted about not having buckled your own seat belt.

We do our best to plan ahead and build some extra time into our tasks.  It’s the only way anyone gets anything done without crying around here.

Photo by Denny

You’re definitely, absolutely two.  I know by now that this stage doesn’t last as long as it seems (and that three brings its challenges, too, so I shouldn’t get too excited about the passage of time).  Your growth and development has brought good things, too.  You are talking more and more all the time.  Your sentences are getting more complex, and I get such a kick out of listening to you form them, slowly and deliberately.  The other day you said to me, “I want…a drink…of water…from Tobin’s…water cup.”  Each little section of the sentence was so important to you, and I could almost see the little gears turning in your head as you sorted out how to communicate your message.

You’ve been in a real Mommy-centric stage lately, though I can say with optimism that you’ve been a little more receptive to your dad in recent days.  Some of it has to do with tiredness.  On days that you don’t nap, you get a case of the five o’clock beasties, and you refuse to let your dad hold you or play with you.  That’s right when I need some freedom to cook dinner and regroup my brain a little bit, but you will not have it.  On days that you do nap, things usually go a little better.

You’ve been enjoying summertime and all the treats and outdoor play opportunities it brings.  Your brothers’ schedules have been so busy for the last couple of months (and will be for a few more weeks) that we haven’t done as many family adventures as I like to do in the summer, but we have July and August for that.  In the meantime, you’ve been mostly a good sport about being carted around to their activities.  We’ve worked in a few Flavor Ice and park outings, and we’ll certainly have more of that soon.  You haven’t been in the downtown fountain yet, and that’s a summer rite of passage you definitely need to complete.

We’ve spent some good time with both sets of grandparents lately, and you loved all the outside time you had at the farm.  We’re going to a family reunion at another farm this weekend, and if it’s not outrageously hot, I hope you can do a lot of running around.

You have a sweet smile and a good sense of routine.  You’ve mostly been sleeping well (even though you’re a bed hog) and are crazy about cinnamon toast.  It’s a good thing Costco sells the bread you like in two-loaf packs, because we’ve been going through a lot of it.  You used to eat the crusts, too, until you saw that Tobin doesn’t.

We had lunch with my cousin Debi and her family last weekend, and she asked what your personality is like.  You look so much like Miles that it’s easy to assume you are the same kind of guy, but you really have your own style.  You have some of Miles’s serious nature, but not the timidity he expressed as a toddler.  With Miles, we never worried about him jumping into the creek or climbing too high at the playground.  You’re very brave, probably because you see your brothers doing adventurous things and want to be part of the fun.  You’re one who would jump right into a lake if you thought there was a fish in there you could squeeze.  You love petting dogs and taking off your shoes at the grocery store.  Any button you see is a button you want to push.  You see a big world before you and you want to do everything it has to offer.  You even want to do the things it’s not specifically offering.

Photo by Gary Clarke

You probably shouldn’t do it while you’re wearing Skitter’s reading glasses, though.  Toddlers fall down often enough when they can see where they’re going.

Love,

Mommy

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6/8/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #113

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:15 pm

My dear Miles,

Here we go, off on another summer of fun and adventure.  You’ve finished third grade, and I’m quite sure that it’s been your favorite school year so far.  You were absolutely crazy about your teacher, Miss Lampe, and justifiably so—now and then a person gets a teacher who truly cares and works particularly hard to challenge and engage his or her students and Miss Lampe was one of them.

I was waiting with excitement to welcome you home on your last day of school, ready to celebrate and enjoy the beginnings of summer.  As I saw you approaching down the block, I could see you were wiping away tears.  My mama bear hackles raised (do bears have hackles?  This may be a mixed metaphor) and I immediately started down my mental list of possible issues:  did you get hurt?  Was someone mean to you?  Did you lose something important?

You didn’t want to talk about it, but we sat together for a while on the front stoop, and eventually you told me that you wanted to stay in third grade.  While I was relieved that you weren’t dealing with bullying or any other serious issue, I felt so sad for your tender little heart.  I know you loved third grade so much, and it will be hard for any school year to top this one.  You recovered, though, and you’ve been enjoying several other great things you have going on.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Baseball continues to be a big factor in your life.  Mubby and Skittergramps came to your game last night, and Skitter is sure that your baseball skills have improved a lot since he last played with you.  Your coach and teammates have done a great job supporting you and helping you grow as a player.  I’m really glad you’re having fun, and I’m very proud that you were willing to try something totally new to you.  Last night you stole two bases and brought a runner home, so I can tell your confidence is growing.

Photo by Denny

We’ve had good times with Nana and Papa recently, including a trip out to the farm.  It was kind of a crummy weather day when we were there, but that didn’t stop you from climbing around on the hay bales and taking a tractor ride with Papa.  It’s a good thing I got you some rubber boots to wear in the creek, because they came in handy on a muddy farm, too.

 

Family Folk Machine performed at Arts Fest last weekend, and you got to perform your original song.  The picture here shows you with your songwriting partner, Lynn, who also became a good friend to you during this session.  I don’t know if you grasp how cool it is that you had the opportunity to perform your composition on the Main Stage at Arts Fest—it’s a chance not many people have.  We’re so fortunate to live in a community that gives us these many and varied possibilities.   When I was looking into summer camps and classes for you, I could have easily filled your entire summer with different activities you would have loved.  There are computer programming classes, film classes, outdoor camps, sports workshops, creative writing classes, cooking classes, and just about anything else you could imagine.  As it happens, the ones you wanted to take the most happen to all fall in June.  Along with baseball, our June calendar is pretty full.  You decided on Minecraft Designers, Film, and Animation.

On our few precious unscheduled nights, we’ve been watching movies together, eating popcorn from last fall’s garden harvest, and enjoying the minimal peace and quiet a person can squeeze out in a home that also contains a Tobin and a Callum.  We have a lot more on our summer activity list, but we have to get through our crazy June before we can get started on things like trips to the Splash Pad and signing up for the library’s summer reading program.

We got some really excellent news in the mail on the same day as Arts Fest.  We were pessimistic about you getting into ELP for the coming school year because you missed a section on the first of the two qualifying tests, which brought your final score down significantly.  However, you did so well on the second of the tests that it made up the difference, and you qualified.  You were so, so excited, and I’m so happy for you.  I know that it’s going to be hard for you to leave third grade behind, but this will be a great boost to your fourth grade year.

Enjoy your summer, my sweet boy.  I’m so proud of all you’ve done and all you continue to do.

Love,

Mom

 

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5/22/2017

The Tobin Times #68

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:54 pm

My dear Tobin,

I was going through some documents yesterday, and I found your nearly-expired passport.  We got it when you were just 17 months old in preparation for the cruise we went on.  After a few disastrous attempts by the staff at CVS, we decided to take your passport photo at home.  We read up on the guidelines, got the framing and lighting set up, and noted that you were not supposed to smile.  I guess that must make it easier to do computerized facial recognition, because it seems like other official documents have that requirement as well.

Try as we might, we couldn’t get a picture of you not smiling.  We ended up just going with a smiling picture and hoping the folks at passport control would let it slide.  Now that it’s time to get an updated passport, you’re probably old enough to keep your face neutral.  Still, your default expression is smiling.  Whether the smile is big or small, you almost always have an upward turn to your lips, and that reflects your general life attitude as well.

You’re almost done with preschool, and you’re pretty excited to celebrate your preschool graduation later this week.  I am generally of the opinion that graduation ceremonies for minor academic transitions are stupid, but you’ve been through a lot in your preschool career, and I’m okay with marking that moment.  Though we were concerned at first with how your experience at Kinderfarm would be, you’ve ended up very happy (though this is not surprising given your generally positive attitude).  You’ve made some good friends, and we’ve promised to continue with playdates through the summer.  You love the baby animals that turned up in the spring, and you often say you wish you could stay longer when I pick you up at lunch time.  You’re definitely ready for the next level, including tougher academics and a longer school day.  You’re smart and energetic and sweet, and kindergarten is going to be lucky to have you.

You’ve been having fun with baseball this season, both as a player on your own team and as a spectator for Miles.  Though I usually stay home with Callum, I attended the other night, and it was fun watching you make friends with another little brother.  I am often amazed at how well you mesh with other kids.  Maybe part of that is your middle-kid status—you have plenty of experience in dealing with other kids, and though you sometimes get frustrated with your brothers’ idiosyncrasies, you never stay down for long.  There’s nothing that makes you happier than being included in Miles’s activities.  He had a playdate last weekend to play Minecraft with a friend, and they did a good job letting you take part sometimes.  You also did a good job not being too annoying.  You confessed to me that you sometimes annoy Miles on purpose, which you do well because you’re so good at reading people and knowing how to elicit specific reactions.  It’s a great power and a great responsibility, kid.

Though we’re currently in a cool and rainy spell, we had some beautiful days earlier in the month.  You’ve helped me get the garden in, as you always do.  You’re very excited for the Amish Deer Tongue lettuce (because doesn’t that sound appetizing?), as well as the peas, tomatoes, and popcorn you’ve helped me put in so far.  Because you have a summer birthday and therefore wouldn’t be able to celebrate with your preschool class, I asked your teacher whether you could bring in treats during this last month of school.  She agreed, and you were very proud to bring in popcorn from last fall’s harvest that you had helped plant.  You’re always up for outdoor fun, including our first sprinkler adventure of the season.  We need to get to work on our Summer Activity List, because I know it will include time in the downtown fountain and swimming at City Park.

You and Miles have proven yourselves responsible enough to play down in the (tiny dribble of a) creek together, so you’ve had fun splashing around.  You would probably do it for hours, though your time is usually limited by Miles’s patience.

You told me recently that even after Donald Trump is done being president, you still want to listen to classic rock radio.  I switched from NPR as my default listening after the election, because it was just too depressing a way to start my day.  We took up the classic rock station, and you’ve really gotten into some of the music.  You like Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” quite a bit, and the last couple of nights before bed, you have been running around like a crazy man singing “867-5309” at the top of your lungs.  I’m not sure that really counts as classic rock, but I can’t deny that it’s a catchy song.

I’m looking forward to squeezing out lots of fun time with you this summer.  We kept your summer classes and camps pretty lightly scheduled (at least after June, which is going to be a bit crazy).  I knew when we decided to wait one more year on kindergarten that I needed to appreciate having more time with you for one extra year, and your sweet face has been a joy to me.

I personally don’t care if you smile in every passport photo you take for the rest of your life.  I have the feeling that if the people at passport control meet you for thirty seconds, they’ll understand too.

Love,

Mommy

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5/10/2017

The Callum Chronicle #28

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:47 pm

Dear Callum,

Even if I hadn’t been physically present at your birth, I’d be able to guess right away that you’re two.  Terrible is too strong a word, because you have plenty of sweetness in you, but you’re also becoming more and more opinionated.  For some reason, you are often of the opinion that we are not, in fact, running late to go get Tobin from school, and it’s the perfect time to throw a tantrum that makes changing your diaper and getting you strapped into your car seat really difficult.

Your dad and I have tried to explain to you over and over that if you wanted, you could use the potty like your big brothers, and then you wouldn’t need diapers at all.  You are not interested in that line of logic.  You’re interested in the potty, sure.  You like to open and close the lid, and you plunked a whole new roll of toilet paper in there a while back.  You’re interested in watching other people use the potty, which the others in the family tolerate to varying degrees.  We haven’t pushed it too hard yet, but there will be a day in our future when diapers are no longer a Subscribe & Save item in my Amazon cart.

Your napping has been erratic lately, which may be contributing to your fluctuating moods.  You decided somewhat abruptly that you were done nursing, which was okay with me since I was feeling ready to be done too.  You’ve done very well going to bed at night with no nursing, just lying in bed and relaxing, but naps are a different story.  I think the lack of total darkness in the room combined with the fact that you know fun stuff is happening elsewhere in the house make you less cooperative.  You just get up and leave the room.  On days when I really need you to take a nap, because we have a long evening ahead of us and I can only emotionally afford six tantrums and not twelve, we go for a drive.  That usually knocks you out, and so far I’ve been able to get you into bed without waking you up.  I’ve seen some interesting neighborhoods that I don’t usually pass through as well.

You are currently obsessed with the number 5, and you can’t quite tell the difference between the number 5 and the letter S.  If I’m wearing a shirt with writing on it, you immediately want to search it for 5’s (actually S’s, but we don’t quibble over that).  You really like my Nevertheless, She Persisted shirt for all those bendy letters.  We just got home from taking Tobin to get a haircut, and you were in heaven among all the “Buy one, get one 50% off” signs on the products.

You seem to fixate on things sometimes, like an elephant in a video you saw.  For some reason, you really didn’t like it.  Your brothers get a kick out of asking you a series of questions:

M&T:  Do you like the puppy?
C:  Yeeeessss.
M&T:  Do you like the horsey?
C:  Yeeeessss.
M&T:  Do you like the elephant?
C:  Not so good.

You still bring up the elephant pretty frequently.  You are not a fan.  I hope the elephants don’t freak you out if we go to the St. Louis Zoo during our trip there this summer.  Elephants are very interesting creatures, and I’d hate to see you banish them from your life.

You’re going to have so much fun this summer with your brothers home more.  They’re your favorite people in the world, and if you can manage not to annoy them now and then, I know you’ll have a great time together.  The problem is that a lot (though not all) of our summer activities are going to require trips in the car.  You can get your legs into a kicking position in no time with your brothers next to you in the back seat.  Your dad thinks a minivan is the answer.  I’m not so sure—I love the gas mileage and maneuverability of our car, and one of these years you’ll learn that life is easier if you’re not inciting back seat riots.  We’ll probably need a bigger vehicle as you kids’ legs get longer, but I’m not ready yet.

Your current favorites:  “Daddy Finger, Daddy Finger, Where Are You?” and all the thousand variations available on YouTube, Asian foods of many sorts, Sandra Boynton books, wearing hats, playing with water, and playing outside.  You’ve had miserable allergies this month, and we’ve had some success keeping the symptoms under control with a combination of medicine, frequent hair-washing, and keeping you inside.  I know we can’t keep you locked up all summer, but it’s tough when your poor little eyes get so red and itchy.  We may try to get you into an allergist before the next allergy season starts.

You’re frustrating and funny and adorable and very much two.  You still need mommy cuddles when you wake up every morning, and as long as that’s the case, you’re still my baby, right?  I enjoy your ever-widening vocabulary, because it lets me better understand what’s on your mind, but I also like the fact that you still think kisses cure all injuries.  Last night you bonked your head (not too hard), and you said, “Need kiss…on brain.”

I am happy to say that your brain was not accessible for kissing or anything else.  It was right there in your skull-helmet.  Let’s keep it that way.

Love,

Mommy

5/9/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #112

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:48 am

Dear Miles,

We’re wrapping up your third grade year, and I think you’d agree that it’s been a good one.  You love your teacher, Miss Lampe.  You’ve shown great social growth through some nice new friendships.  You continue to do very good academic work.  You’ve kept busy with your extracurriculars and really branched out by trying baseball.  You’ve done some fun creative stuff, like your writing class, and all the original comics I find littering the house.  You briefly freaked out in the shower the other night because you thought blue stuff was coming out of the shower wall, but it was marker that had smudged onto your hand from your comic creations.

Perhaps your biggest achievement of the month was the concert debut of your first fully-realized original song.  Family Folk Machine performed your co-composition, “How Can It Be Both?”, in our spring concert.  I was so proud of you, and there’s something really special about seeing your name in the program not just as a participant, but as a songwriter.  You performed that as well as our other songs with great aplomb, and of course you had a very supportive cheering section in the audience.

Photo by Gary Clarke

The annual Lucas Elementary Team Spelling Bee happened earlier this month, and your weeks of studying paid off in a repeat win.  Your friend Gabe’s teams won the spelling bee two years in a row as well, so your new life goal is to break his record with a third consecutive win.  I hope you don’t hog up too much triumph from your schoolmates—it wouldn’t be the worst thing if you shared the glory.  On the other hand, you’ve had your share of defeats (see baseball, below), so it’s nice that spelling can be an area of success for you.  You’re not just coasting on talent, either.  You’re a naturally good speller, but you also worked really hard to learn those tricky words.  It’s a good way to establish effective study skills.  Cramming doesn’t work when you have a list of hundreds of words to learn.  You worked on it slowly, with plenty of repetition, and those words really bored their way into your brain.  The look on your face when the emcee announced the winner was a wonderful thing to witness.

Baseball is not something that comes as easily to you as spelling, and unlike academics, I’m not much help in supporting success in that arena.  Your dad has been patient and helpful, and your coach and teammates seem like nice people.  It’s tough, though, since you’re joining in with kids who have been playing baseball or tee-ball for years, and this is your very first time on a team.  But even if you lose every game and strike out at every at-bat, I’ll still be very proud of you for trying something new and challenging.  You chose to go to the PTO meeting last night instead of your baseball game, which indicates to me that maybe it’s not something you’ll care to do in the long term.  In any case, I’m glad you tried.  There’s a new running club starting at school next fall, and that might be a good athletic endeavor for you.

As usual in life, the month has not been without challenges.  Though it seems impossibly early, I’m beginning to see some surly pre-teen behavior in you.  You’ve always tended a bit toward the gloomy, but you’ve been doing these super-irritating grunts and “ehs” in response to questions lately.  It’s become a bad habit, and your dad and I have both talked to you about the importance of answering questions with an approach that indicates something other than “talking to you is the most boring thing in the world.”  I’m sure I did crap like that when I was young, and I’m not proud of it.  I don’t know if it’s something I can change in you, but at least now you apologize when you catch yourself doing it.

You still have plenty of sweet little boy in you, though.  You and your brothers have some wonderful moments together, and I love watching you and Callum hug each other when he comes in for his final goodnight at bedtime.  I went to a party last week that extended past bedtime, and your dad reported back that there was some serious giggling going on from the bunkbed room while he was putting Callum to bed.  He also mentioned frequently overhearing the word “tushie.”

I know you’re looking forward to summer break, and I’m looking forward to having you around more.  We’ve been so busy lately that I’ve barely seen you.  We’ll have to get to work on our summer activity list.  I know you’re not too mature for frozen yogurt, trips to the library, and running through the sprinkler.

Love,

Mom

4/22/2017

The Tobin Times #67

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:40 pm

Dear Tobin,

We took a two-goal walk this morning.  The first goal was to go to HyVee and get some carrot seeds (the Co-op was out of the Seed Savers kind we wanted) and gardening gloves.  The second goal was to pick up litter along our path, because it’s Earth Day today, and you’re taking it very seriously.  You keep turning off lights in rooms where people are using them.  I’ve tried to explain to you that we have moved almost exclusively to LED bulbs in our house, so they use very little energy, but you’re still being kind of obsessive about it.  Still, the path looks nicer now that you tidied it up, and the ducks in the creek will surely appreciate not getting caught up in the big plastic bag you found.

Photo by Denny

As we walked, we enjoyed the vibrant fuchsia colors on the trees.  That seems to be a shade of pink you can see, unlike the pink of the hyacinths I told you to sniff.  “There aren’t any pink ones,” you told me.  Under the fuchsia blossoms, you told me that there are sunny people and moony people.  The sunny people, according to you, are colorful, while the moony people are black and white.  I’m not sure if you made that up or if you heard it somewhere, but I can agree with your assessment that you are both sunny and colorful.

Sometimes we wish you’d tone it down a bit.  If there’s someone running around the house with a kazoo in his mouth and a ukulele under his arm, shouting all the way, it’s probably you.  Your personality is as vivacious as your hair.  The only thing that can flatten it is when you flip upside down onto a chair and watch videos while balanced on your head.  I used to do that as a kid too.  Your dad doesn’t believe that it’s comfortable, but I get it.

We’re heading into your final month of preschool, and you absolutely ready to move forward.  We went to kindergarten roundup last week, and you’re so comfortable and self-assured that I didn’t worry about you at all.  It’s nice not to be one of the parents of the tearful, nervous kids.  I remember being almost as stressed-out as Miles was when he first got rounded up.  Now, we’re well-familiar with the school, the staff, and all the procedures.  You probably wouldn’t have even turned around to wave goodbye to me as you headed off to the kids’ portion of the event if the teacher hadn’t told you to.

You can be a lot to manage sometimes.  You decided to sing with Family Folk Machine this session, and while I’m very happy that you wanted to, you have a hard time staying focused during rehearsals.  It doesn’t help that you have friends there who are also prone to getting riled up, and a lot of mutual riling goes on.  You still have a hard time sitting through a whole movie.  But, like everyone, with these challenges come strengths, and I love how easily you make friends and adapt to new situations.  You truly are a sunny little fellow, and you brighten every room you enter.

We’re going to have some good fun this summer, including a trip to St. Louis to meet up with your cousins.  We had such a good time when we went before, you’re excited to show cousins Aleks and Vera the sights.  This time you have set the Botanical Gardens as high priority (I’m not sure why, but you really want to visit).  You’ve got a couple of summer classes lined up, and you’re looking forward to our usual summer destinations, like the library, the downtown fountain, the Flavor Ice stand, the Natural History Museum, and the swimming pool.

My little spring lamb, you are so fluffy and exciting.  You can be a stinker.  In fact, you’re being a stinker right this moment by using an air pump to squirt Callum with air when he clearly doesn’t like it, and I’ve asked you not to several times.  Nobody knows better than you exactly what to say to irritate Miles.  And yet, we always forgive you.  We’re all going to miss you when you start all-day school next fall.  Let’s try to be patient with each other, and I’ll try to smile as much as you do.

Love,

Mommy

4/11/2017

The Callum Chronicle #27

Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:44 am

My dear Callum,

Your little brain is working so hard lately.  Your latest discovery is the fact that the letter S and the number 5 look a lot alike.  I was wearing a shirt with writing on it that included a couple of S’s, and you poked them and said, “Mommy five shirt.”  It took me a while to figure out what you meant, but you were specific enough that we got it sorted out.  We talked about how that was actually the letter S, and now that’s your favorite letter.  The last couple of bedtimes, you’ve insisted on holding the magnetic S that usually resides on the magnet board in your room.  Some kids cuddle teddy bears, but you prefer a hard little magnet.  We had dinner the other night in Solon, a nearby town, and out the restaurant window you could see the huge letters of the SOLON monument the town erected for their sesquicentennial some years ago.  You got so excited about “big S-5!” that we had to go explore the area.  That was fun until you ate some dirt and I had to take you back to the restaurant to wash your mouth.

The emerging springtime has given us more opportunities to play outside, and boy is it hard to keep you out of the creek behind our house.  You’re still unsteady enough that I’m reluctant to let you play down there unless I’m physically restraining you, and that’s a pretty tiring process.  It doesn’t help that Tobin is pretty adept at creek-splashing, and it drives you crazy not to do everything he does.  We have a summer coming up that might be a little frustrating for everyone, but there are some activities we all can do.  The library has free movies on Monday afternoons, and the big boys are trustworthy enough that I can take you to another room to play if you get too squirrelly.  You have not yet mastered the art of sitting still through a movie, whether at home or in a theater.  That’s not too big a problem most of the time, but I feel bad when you get disruptive and people have paid good money to see a show.  That’s another reason the library is a good choice.

We’ll have the fountain for hot days and the playground for medium days and frozen yogurt for pretty much any day we’re downtown.  I hope we can get out to the Friday Night Concert Series now and then, as well as the various downtown festivals that happen throughout the summer.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Our trip to Nashville was lots of fun, and you kept up with the big boys just fine.  You’re still small enough that the specifics of a destination don’t matter a whole lot to you.  Anywhere you can have playtime and plenty of cocktail hours is okay by you.  You didn’t nap most of our trip, because there was always something fun going on, and you slept great every night.  Since we’ve been home, you’re back to napping a few times a week.  That has its pluses and minuses, since a nap makes you a more pleasant person in the evening, but it also makes it harder to get you to sleep at night.  You’re in a transition stage in many ways, and transitions can be tough.  I do have to give you credit, though:  the eight-hour drive was a lot better this time than last time.  It’s nice that you’re old enough now to be distracted by music, toys, and stories.  You’re also in a front-facing car seat this time, which has to be a lot more interesting for you because you can watch the landscape.

Photo by Denny

You still require a lot of attention and energy, but that comes with the territory and I’m mostly happy to do it.  Sometimes life gets a bit overwhelming, especially with your brothers’ crazy activity schedule that leaves very little time for relaxation and reflection.  That’s one reason I sometimes can’t resist putting you down for nap, even though I know there will be hell to pay at bedtime.  At least at bedtime, your dad is around to contribute to the hell payment plan.

You love to play with your toy kitchen and all the food toys.  You’re also very into Play-Doh right now, although you prefer to rip it into little shreds rather than form anything representative.  You like pouring water (or juice, if anyone was foolish enough to leave a cup of juice within  your reach) from one cup to another, and I’ve more than once heard you yell “Big uh-oh!”  That’s when I gather up the towels and hope it was nothing too sticky.  I’ve cut back on letting you “play coffee” after you dumped about half a pound of organic, fair trade certified ground coffee directly into the water reservoir of my coffee maker.

Next year, Tobin will go to school full-time, and it will be just the two of us most of the time.  Something tells me I’ll find it exhausting, but when that stage is over, I’ll miss it.  As I said to your dad the other night, when I picked you up and smothered you with kisses after a couple of hours away from you, “I need a break…until I get one.”

You’re delicious, and I love watching you learn and grow, even when you do gross things like eat dirt (or Play-Doh).  I guess that’s what a little scientist has to do:  test the world and figure out what’s an S and what’s a 5, what’s tasty and what gets you hauled into a bathroom for a mouth-rinse.

Love,

Mommy

4/7/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #111

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:28 pm

Dear Miles,

We have a ritual each morning:  we check TimeHop, which, for those who don’t know or Future Us who have forgotten about popular apps from the two-thousand-teens, is a tool that shows social media posts from a given day for years in the past.  That is, today we looked at posts I made on April 7, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.  You really enjoy doing this with me each morning at breakfast, because there’s almost always a cute picture of you and/or your brothers or funny things someone said.  Every now and then I even have a good quip.  This morning, you got a kick out of what I wrote eight years ago:  “Miles just handed me The Collected Works of Eudora Welty as if I ought to read it to him.”

Seven years ago today, I wrote, “Getting ready to do an Elluminate session, then off to Willowwind for a pre-preschool visit.”  Elluminate is a video conference technology that I haven’t thought about in approximately seven years.  Visiting Willowwind to see if it was a good choice for you, however, seems so recent.  It was a disastrous visit, as I recall.  For some reason, you were in a brief but painful stage of being absolutely freaked out by anyone who wasn’t close family.  I think you brought your beloved nanny Beanie to tears because you suddenly turned on her.  When we visited Willowwind, you cried the whole time and refused to let go of my leg.

Photo by Denny

Fortunately, that stage passed quickly.  You and Beanie became great friends again (in fact, even these days you text regularly), and once you were in a better frame of mind, you liked Willowwind a lot.  This particular TimeHop memory stood out to me because you’ve been doing so many new things lately, and you’ve grown so much in the last seven years.  You’re still shy and nervous sometimes, but more and more I’m seeing you be brave and take risks.

One of these new adventures was the songwriting workshop we did in Family Folk Machine.  During one of the first workshops, we were to divide into groups.  You were sitting next to me, so it was natural that we’d be in a group together.  In that group activity, we brainstormed ideas borne of the story circles we’d done at a previous meeting.  We wrote down our ideas, and the facilitators grouped them into like categories.  From those categories, we were to pick the topic that most resonated with us, and that would be the group we’d be in to write our songs.  You chose the Nature group, and I was more interested in Peace and Protest.  I made sure it was okay with you that we be in separate groups, and you said it was.  You ended up being the only kid in your group, and you wrote the lyrics to your very own song.  You were so, so proud when we rehearsed it at choir practice, and I agree that there’s something magical about seeing your by-line on the printed score.  It’s going to be a great moment when we sing it in concert later this month.

You also surprised me by sticking to your plan of going out for baseball.  You developed a sudden interest in it last spring, but by the time you told me you wanted to play, the sign-up deadline had passed.  I thought there was a good chance you’d lose interest or lose your bravery by the time this season came, especially since it would be your first time playing a team sport, when most of your teammates had surely played for years.

But no—sign-up time came around for this season, and you still wanted to play, so I registered you.  You’ve only had two practices so far due to the rainy couple of weeks we’ve had, but your dad tells me you’re doing just fine.  I’m so proud of you for striking out on your own (no pun intended) and trying something challenging.  I’m excited to see you play in a game.  I have been to many professional baseball games in my life (due to having been switched at birth with the sports-loving child my parents were supposed to bring home), and I have never once looked forward to the prospect.  It’s amazing what having a kid can do to one’s perspective.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Yet another boundary-stretching activity for you was this year’s school carnival.  I had already volunteered to work one of the games, so you asked if you could just go around with your friends instead of sticking with your dad or me.  I gave you ten dollars’ worth of tickets and set you loose.  We met up again toward the end of the night, when you and Tobin were both freaking out with delight about the fact that you won cakes in the cake walk.  You won yours when you were with your friends, and Tobin won his with your dad.  If I’d been there, I might have declined one of the cakes like I did last year when our family won two.  You haven’t let me forget that, so you were mighty pleased that this year you guys were able to right past wrongs.

The carnival happened to fall on April Fool’s Day, so you and Tobin used some of your sugared-up post-carnival energy to play some pranks around the house.  I don’t know if the fake dude at the computer is supposed to be you or if I was supposed to think an intruder had come in, put on your coat, and started checking his email.

We had a great trip to Nashville last month, and you and your brothers mostly kept it together.  The bed situation in our rental house was a lot like ours here—bunk bed with a single on top and double below.  At home, you always want the top bunk to yourself, but Tobin scrambles up to join you nine nights out of ten.  In Nashville, the top mattress wasn’t very comfortable, so you slept on the larger bottom bunk with Tobin.  Ever since we’ve been home, you’ve been doing your before-bed reading in the top bunk and then at lights-out time, you’ve been coming down and sleeping in the bottom bunk (except for the night Tobin was sick and you were afraid he’d barf on you).

I don’t know what changed, but you guys are pretty cute together.  Sleeping children are so forgivable.

We’re not entirely without challenges.  Sometimes you get huffy when your dad and I ask you to do even the easiest tasks around the house.  Sometimes you’re too harsh with Tobin.  You still won’t eat any vegetables.

You do a good job brushing your teeth, though.  The dentist agrees.

Love,

Mom

3/22/2017

The Tobin Times #66

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:48 pm

My dear Tobin,

A miracle has occurred:  you and your brothers spent 18 hours in a car together with almost no fighting.

We just got back from our spring break trip to Nashville.  I thought it was an eight-hour drive, but door-to-door (we stayed south of the city to be closer to Tyler and Oxana’s house), it was about nine each way.  We broke it into two-day drives, spending the night in the St. Louis area each time, but it was still a whole lot of car time.  You guys did such a good job.  I think you sometimes have it the hardest—you’re old enough to be frustrated that you can’t do everything Miles does, but you’re still young enough that it’s hard to let all of Callum’s pestiness slide.  Still, I was very proud of your behavior.  We listened to Justin Roberts’ Lemonade album over and over, as well as an audiobook (Bruce Coville’s My Teacher Is an Alien).  You got scared a couple of times and needed to turn off the audiobook, so we switched back to music, but mostly you enjoyed it a lot.  You mentioned a suspicion that your teacher might be an alien too.

Photo by Denny

Once we arrived in the Nashville area, you and your cousin Aleks became immediate best friends.  You hugged every time you saw each other, you held hands when we walked outside, and you couldn’t wait for him to come over to our rental house each day.  I’m sure he’s missing you as much as you’re missing him right now.

We did a lot of fun stuff, including almost daily cocktail hour.  Aleks really enjoyed the cherry lemonade cocktails, as did the rest of the kids (except Vera, who’s too little).  We did a lot of cheers-ing, including the Russian version, “За здоровье!”

Photo by Gary Clarke

Another of your favorite activities was a visit to the Monkey’s Treehouse, a fun little play center with a big climbing structure and various areas to encourage imaginative play.  Your favorite was the play kitchen and restaurant, and you served up some delicious dishes while wearing a jaunty chef’s hat.  You didn’t get lice, either (bonus).  The weather ended up being unseasonably cool, so we didn’t do some of the outdoorsy things we’d hoped to.  The last time we visited in July, we took a trip downtown that included seeing some of the famous honky tonk sites as well as enjoying the great splash pad in Cumberland Park.  I was hoping to do some of that again, and I also dreamed of taking a day trip to Mammoth Caves National Park.  Unfortunately, on the forty-degree days we had there, spending a lot of time outdoors wasn’t the best way to keep our family members happy.

Still, we managed to do a lot.  Uncle Tyler even took us on a private tour of the Vanderbilt University football facilities.  Running around on that big field was a pretty great experience for you.  The very best part was spending time with our extended family and letting you and your cousins get to know each other.  We’re hoping to find a time to meet them in St. Louis for more adventures.

Now that we’re back to reality, we’ve found ourselves in that race to the end of the school year that always happens after spring break.  You’re  excited to play baseball, which will start next week.  It’s going to keep our family very busy for the next couple of months, as  you and Miles are playing on the same nights but at different times.  We’re going to be spending three nights a week camped out at the baseball diamonds at City Park.  I don’t even know how I’m going to manage dinner.  I was told that I would be less stressed as my kids get older, but I’m not sure that’s true.  Your dad and I might have to do some tag-teaming.

Photo by Denny

You’re ready for kindergarten and feel quite fancy about the fact that you’ll be taking kindergarten-level summer classes.  By this time next month you will have completed Kindergarten Round-Up at your future elementary school, though with all the times you’ve been there for Miles’s events, it will hardly seem like a transition at all.

Along with that, your personality is such that I’m not the slightest bit worried about how you will handle kindergarten.  You collect friends like Callum collects crumbs in his sleeves.  Your bright smile and cheerful demeanor are magnetic, and I’m really going to miss you when you start spending more time and school and less time with me.  I was vaguely aware that my children would probably grow up (and I’m glad that you’re healthy and strong), but that doesn’t mean I have to like the daily reality of having less of you.  You’re not a peach one hundred percent of the time—you have your crabby moods and tantrums now and then, especially when you’re tired—but you’re still one of my all-time tops.

Your current favorites:  Wild Kratts, pepperoni pizza (this seems like it’s going to be a life-long affection), Geronimo Stilton books at bedtime, playing outside, and a new Lego project you’ve been working on very hard.  Having attempted to help you and Miles put together Lego creations, I can attest that it takes a lot of precision and concentration.

Summer is coming soon, my little heart.  We need to get to work on our summer activity list, because you can bet your cardboard hat that we’re going to have fun.

Love,

Mommy

3/10/2017

The Callum Chronicle #26

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:21 pm

Hello, adventure boy.

Your dad and I were talking about how nice it is that your big brothers are old enough that we can send them out to the back yard or the park right behind our house to play on their own.  We firmly agreed that you’re not ready for that yet.

You have been a crazy, energetic guy lately.  In a way it seems like you’ve taken a step backward in trustworthiness, in part because your growing physical and mental skills have made you brave enough to try many stupid, dangerous things.  I used to be able to leave you in a room for a few minutes while I did something nearby, but that didn’t work out so well yesterday.  I was downstairs helping Miles practice piano, and when I came back up to check on you, you were nowhere to be found (and Tobin was no help).  The door leading to the garage was open, so I went into the garage and started shouting your name.  You didn’t respond, and I didn’t hear any tell-tale scrapes or footsteps.  I was about ready to freak out when I saw that the porch door was open.  You had grabbed a baseball bat and were heading outside.  I’m so glad I caught you before you escaped.  I am going to work really hard to remember to lock the door to the garage from now on.

This morning, you wanted to “play coffee,” which regular readers will remember is when you sit up on the counter and pour water from my coffee carafe into the coffee maker and pretty much everywhere else.  It’s not too destructive a game, so I let you play it pretty often.  You wanted to do it this morning, and I had a few emails to respond to, so I got you safely positioned with a chair right up to the counter so you wouldn’t fall.  I double-checked that the door was locked, got some water for you to pour, and left the room for five minutes.  When I came back, you were pouring my (previously unused) coffee grounds directly into the water reservoir of the coffee maker.  You got probably a quarter pound out of the bag and all over everything.

I got angry.  You got sad.  It wasn’t a great moment for either of us.  I hope we both learned something.

I’ve noticed lately that when your dad or I scolds you for something, you make a face in which you close your eyes tightly.  Last week, I was running on the treadmill while you played downstairs.  You started heading toward the back of the TV where you are most definitely not allowed to mess around.  There are all kinds of cords and video game components and stuff you shouldn’t touch back there.  Before I even said anything, you stopped, looked at me, and made your eyes-closed “punishment face.”  I’m glad to know you’re starting to think through the consequences of your actions.

You give us plenty of non-frustrating moments, too.  Your language skills are really growing, and you make us laugh all the time.  You love to pick up objects and use them as a microphone to sing “Single Ladies.”  You like to play your ukulele along with all kind of different music.  You made Miles’s day yesterday when you requested his favorite pop song, “Stitches.”  You even knew a lot of the words.  You’ve also really gotten into the music and videos of Justin Roberts.  He’s been a family favorite since before we had kids, and I hope he makes a tour stop around here some time soon so you can see him in person.  His videos have been a welcome respite from Elmo (or worse, Barney).

We’re heading out tomorrow for a family trip to Nashville.  It will be fun to see you interact with your cousins, and it will be interesting to see you in the context of not being the smallest person in the room.  I hope the long drive won’t be too hard on you.  Last time we made the trip, I think you cried for a pretty solid two-hour chunk.  Hopefully this time you’ll be a little more easily entertained.  We can listen to music and read books, and we’ll be sure to make time for pit stops so you can run around.  At least we’re not in the middle of potty training.  That could be a disaster.  We’ll start that one of these months, but for the time being, you’re a lot more interested in toilets in theory than in practice.

Well, in typical practice, anyway.  You were very interested in the practice of putting an entire roll of toilet paper into the toilet.

Your current favorites:  reading stories (especially If You Give a Dog a Donut, Jamberry, How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight, and Goodnight Moon), jumping and dancing, playing outside, taking baths, eating a wide variety of foods (including your babysitter Olivia’s lunch), and giving really sweet hugs.  You like to eat, but it hasn’t really shown up in your body too much.  At your last doctor’s appointment, you were in the twentieth percentile for weight and fortieth for height.  You’re kind of a little guy, but you’re a pretty wonderful little guy.

You’re a lot of person jammed into one small body.  It’s not easy to keep up with you, but you’re a great incentive to keep healthy enough that I can love you for a long, long time.  You make me scream and you make me smile, but I’m always glad you’re mine.

Love,

Mommy

3/9/2017

AARP for you and for me

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:16 pm

We were grocery shopping today, and Tobin and Callum partook of the cookies that are free to little kids and senior citizens. They also have free bananas available, but for some reason my kids always want cookies (the reason is that they’re not idiots).

T: Are you going to get a cookie?
A: No, they’re just for kids.
T: And old people. (pause) Well, you’re almost forty.

Thank you, Tobin.

Monthly Miles Memo #110

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:21 pm

Dear Miles,

As I was thinking about what I should write for this month, the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” came into my mind.  Then I thought I should search this site, because I feel like I’ve written that phrase in relation to you more than once.

The results:  two hits, neither of which was about you.  Sorry to malign you with my shoddy memory.  In any case, we’ve been seeing a wide variety of behaviors and attitudes in you lately.  When you were very small, your dad and I read about “periods of disequilibrium,” which are fairly predictable stages kids go through when they’re harder on the adults in their lives.  It probably has to do with growth and learning to manage the new things your brain and body are doing, and I’m sure it’s not easy for you either.  We were trying to remember how it worked, and we recalled that usually the first half of a kid’s year is easier and the second half is harder.  That made us puzzled, because you’re just a couple of months into your ninth year, so we should be in the smooth sailing section.

I looked it up again, and apparently after a certain amount of time, it stops being a twice-a-year cycle.  The graph showed the entire ninth year in a trough.  Oh boy.

I’m not saying you’re a terrible kid, not at all.  In fact, I often catch you being really sweet.  But you’ve settled into some negative attitudes and unwillingness to compromise, and it can be challenging to handle.  I’m an emotional sponge myself, so I can be having a perfectly good day, and then you come in all crabby and rude, and I find myself sinking into a bad mood with you.  That’s no fun, and there’s enough negativity in our world right now anyway.  I want the times with my family to be the bright spots in my day, not the force that drags us down.  When your dad asks what you did in school, you respond with a noncommittal shrug and the word “stuff.”  Fortunately your teacher is really good about using her class website to update us on what’s going on.  If I can ask you specific questions based on what she posted, I sometimes get better answers.

We had your school conference, and your teacher seems to think you’re about the best kid ever.  Either you save your best behavior for her or she’s much less emotionally spongy than I am.  She even used the phrase “happy go lucky” to describe you.  That was a moment when I wondered if we’d shown up for the wrong kid’s appointment.  But I’m glad you’re happy at school, and you’re certainly excelling academically.  You have also shown a lot of social growth this year.  You’ve developed some really nice friendships.  We went to a school event a few weeks ago, and even though we saw some kids from your class sitting at a table, you seemed reluctant to go join them.  One of them beckoned you over, and once you got that welcome, you were happy to go hang out.

I understand how that feels.  I feel shy and awkward a lot of the time too.  It’s good to be friends with people who are more outgoing, because they’ll help pull you out of your head and invite you to have a seat with them.  Your dad just had a big birthday, and we made a special card for him that listed forty things we love about him.  One of the items I chose is that he’s always friendly and welcoming to everyone.  It’s a quality I admire in him and wish I could do better, so I want to help you find it in yourself and develop it.

Photo by Gary Clarke

We signed you up for baseball for the summer, your very first time doing a team sport ever.  When you were little, we asked you if you wanted to play soccer and tee-ball like so many kids do, but you always said no.  Once Tobin got involved, you became more interested, and having a big sports fan for a teacher last year also got you excited about baseball.  I hope it goes okay.  You’ll be in a league where kids pitch, which might be a bit intense, and I bet most of them will have significant playing experience.  We’ll see how it goes.  I’m proud of you for trying in any case.

We’re gearing up for our trip to Nashville, and I hope you and your brothers can handle the long drive without maiming one another.  You’re really excited to see your little cousin Aleks and meet Vera for the first time.  He wants to play baseball with you, so maybe you and  your dad and Skittergramps can sneak in some spring training before the official Little League season begins.  Unfortunately the Nashville area seems poised for a cool snap, so it won’t be much of a fun-in-the-sun trip.  Still, I’m sure we’ll manage to have a good time.  I even bought a box of junky fruit snacks, which are contraband around here.  Don’t let me forget your toothbrush.

I know it can be hard to be a kid, and it can be hard to be the oldest sibling.  We’re figuring out how to be parents to a nine-year-old, and we’re doing our best.  Let’s see if you can bring some of that happy-go-lucky guy your teacher sees home sometimes.

Love,

Mom

2/24/2017

The Tobin Times #65

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:39 pm

My sweet Tobin,

You’re officially five-and-a-half now, and you’re brimming with all the spunk and adventure that’s been stewing in you all along.  We’ve had some unseasonably warm days, and you’ve been using them to great advantage.  I can hardly keep you inside.  All you want to do is play in the creek, run around in the yard, pump on the swings, and shoot hoops.

You are a fun and friendly guy, and I admire your ability to make friends where ever you go.  We were at an event at Miles’s school a couple of weeks ago, and you dived right in and played with all the kids.  At the end, I came up to tell you it was time to go, and you were in the middle of scheduling a play date with a new friend you’d made.  Today when I picked you up from school, I didn’t see your good buddy Chase.  I asked if he wasn’t at school today, and you said he wasn’t, nor was your other good friend Scarlett.  You just shrugged and rattled off the names of a few other friends you played with.  As a mother who has trouble in social situations sometimes, it is such a relief to me that you do so well with other kids.  Miles had a play date yesterday, and at one point she wanted to play outside, but he thought it was too cold.  You pulled on your coat and headed out with her.  Of all the things I have to worry about in this world (they abound), you having friends is not among them.

Your basketball season has been a lot of fun, and you were especially happy to have Mubby and Skittergramps attend a game this week.  You played so well—you hustled in your typically high-energy way, you defended, you assisted, and you even made a basket.  Your team has gotten a lot better, and I know your dad is really proud to be your coach.  I wish I’d been able to watch more, but keeping Callum from running onto the court is a lot of work.  I saw more than I got to the other time I attended your game, because Mubby took Callum part of the time.  I definitely saw your sweaty curls and red cheeks flushed with exhaustion and happiness.

The recent warm weather has given us all a boost, though it’s tinged with the despairing fact that it may well be a product of climate change.  Every day it seems like there’s more disheartening news both from our state and national capitals.  As a pretty privileged family, it’s easy to feel insulated from the blows that many of our neighbors and fellow Americans are feeling, but one of these days it will be us.  I don’t know if it will be due to cuts to the public education system, threats to our natural resources, or just the deepening gloom that comes from reading scary news day after day.  It’s taken a toll on me, I know.  I’m sure I’ve been crabbier than usual, and part of that is the usual gloom that comes with winter.  We’re heading to Nashville in a couple of weeks, and a trip is always a good pick-Mom-up.  You’re excited to listen to audiobooks in the car and play baseball and basketball with your cousin.  I’m excited to shop at Publix.  I love Publix.

I also love you, more than Publix, even.  I was thinking recently about crying out of joy, which is kind of a funny thing to do, but I do it at pretty much every wedding I attend.  That’s usually just a watery eye and sniffle kind of thing, but I absolutely remember a time about six years ago when I sobbed for joy.  I was pregnant with you, and without getting too graphic here, I had reason to fear that I might be having a miscarriage.  We went to the hospital, and the medical staff hooked me up to the ultrasound machine.  I had steeled myself for bad news, trying to be stoic and accepting.  The blurry picture came onto the monitor.  I have a great respect for ultrasound technicians, because I have no idea how they can make any sense out of those blobs.  But even I could tell that the fluttering little pulse on that screen was a heartbeat, and it meant that you were okay.  That moment was the purest sob-for-joy I’ve ever felt.

Medical situations are often vulnerable ones for the patient, and I’m a person who works hard to keep calm and preserve her dignity.  At that moment, I didn’t worry about my dignity at all.  It’s a good thing they stock those rooms with Kleenexes.  I would have gotten tears and snot all over your dad’s shirt, otherwise.

You are my heartbeat, my little Tobin:  a burst of sunshine and warmth unrelated to fossil fuel abuse.  Let’s jump into spring together.

Love,

Mommy

 

2/23/2017

I’ve been pork-an on the railroad

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:21 pm

I frequently make a Thai-inspired dish that doesn’t have a name because I made it up, but we refer to it as pork and noodles.  Tonight we were eating Mexican-style carnitas-type pork, and Callum was really enjoying it.

C:  More pork-an-noodles!

D:  It’s not pork and noodles.  It’s just pork.

C:  More pork-an!

He ate several more helpings of pork-an before dinner was out.

2/21/2017

Hot stuff

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:04 pm

Tobin and I enjoy listening to “Nearly Impossible Trivia” on the radio while we drive to school. Today’s question: 33% of women say a man wearing this makes him look uncool.

A: What do you think the answer is?
T: A too-hot sweater?

2/10/2017

The Callum Chronicle #25

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:11 pm

Dear Callum,

You’ve had a lot to say lately.  Your interests are becoming more broad, and you’re getting better and better at verbally expressing yourself.  You still say a lot of NO, but you also say funny things like “Mama, where are you?” and before I have a chance to answer (because I’m rarely more than twenty feet away from you), you reply to yourself, “Coming, just minute.”  You know all kinds of things I didn’t realize you knew, too.  Today I took you to Miles’s school to pick something up, and while we were there, you very clearly stated the name of the school.  I don’t think I had mentioned it by name before we got there.

Now that you’re over two, we’ve gotten more relaxed about screen time.  I still don’t let you sit for hours on end in front of a show, but I’ve let you have some stretches of Elmo or Wild Kratts here and there.  Unfortunately, the magical power of YouTube suggested videos led you to Barney and Friends, which is about the most annoyingly insipid show ever created for children.  You can somehow sense how much I hate it and therefore request it regularly.

I think you must be growing a lot physically, too.  Earlier this week, two nights in a row you woke up crying in pain.  The first time, you said your feet hurt, and that night was particularly bad because you woke up at 1, 2, and 3 a.m.  The next night you said your back hurt.  I’ve given you a dose of ibuprofen before bed the last couple of nights, which has either helped or at least not hurt, because you’ve been sleeping well again.  Dr. Google says it might be growing pains.  I remember getting those in my legs when I was young, but never my feet or back.  Maybe you were just having a hard time communicating your specific issues.

You love reading stories before bed.  Right now your favorites are a few you got from Mubby and Skitter for either your birthday or Christmas.  You got a couple of Elmo books as well as one called I Want my Mommy.  That one resonates, because you’re in the same mommy-centric stage both your brothers went through at this age.  Mostly you only get clingy to me when you’re tired or otherwise crabby, though.  Most of the time you’re pretty friendly and flexible.  We’ve got a couple of events coming up that will require babysitters, and I’m not too concerned.  You’ve always done a good job with sitters, and the fact that you’ll have your big brothers with you makes a big difference, too.

You’re in a very curious and adventurous stage, and those qualities combined with your increasing physical prowess can make for some tricky situations.  A while ago I caught you standing in the three-inch space between the edge of your dad’s computer desk and the keyboard.  I try to take pictures of the crazy things you do, but that time, I prioritized your safety over posterity.  You’re welcome.

You love to play with grown-up things, like plungers (I didn’t even realize we owned two plungers until you squirmed into the back of the bathroom closet and dragged them out).  You also currently love to play “coffee,” which means sitting on the kitchen counter and pouring water from my coffee pot into the coffee maker.  It makes a big mess, but it’s an activity that really keeps you engaged and has a low chance of disaster (as long as I remember to unplug the coffee maker).  It’s been a good way to keep you out of the scissors and glue lately while your brothers work on Valentines for their classmates.

You’ve been really excited about painting lately, which is also a huge mess, but I’m not too fussy about those things.  I do wish you’d paint on paper, though.  You seem to consider the paper I put out for you as more of a brush-rest than a medium.  You’d rather rub your paint-covered hands on your hair and face than create anything your dad could hang on his cubicle wall.

You love baths, too, but I try not to do that too often because your skin gets so dry.  Part of our bedtime ritual every night is a thorough lotioning of your back and legs.  You would squirt the lotion everywhere if I let you, but usually I can appease you with a “leetle bit,” which you say in a very cute, high voice.  That means just a tiny dab of lotion, which you smear on your shirt or somewhere else where it won’t do any good.

Your current favorites:  chocolate hearts that were supposed to go in Valentines but mostly go in your mouth, fruit snacks, the “Oompa Loompa” and “I Want it Now” songs from the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie, grapes, bedtime stories (the previously mentioned ones as well as How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight and I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More), playing basketball, talking a lot about the potty but declining all suggestions to use it, and applying makeup from my stash of stuff I don’t care about.  You have a knack for doing that when we’re running late to get somewhere.

We had a beautiful day last week and were finally able to get outside to play.  It felt great to do that, and I know there are more days like that ahead of us.  Especially now that your naps have gotten shorter (and sometimes you skip them entirely), it’s good to have opportunities to get out of the house in the afternoon.  That will mean more mud in the short term, and probably more baths, and probably more lotion.  You had a doctor appointment a couple of weeks ago, and I learned that you’re on the small side, just twentieth percentile for weight and fortieth for weight.  You seem so big to me, running and talking and so clearly expressing humor and preferences and many of the things people with grown-up brains and bodies do.  How can such a small boy make things so exciting and exhausting?

You might need to make me an extra pot of coffee.

That’s okay.  I love coffee and I love you.

Mommy

2/7/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #109

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:29 pm

Dear Miles,

I’ve been feeling a lot of tension lately between two opposing desires:  for the next four years to go quickly and for you and your brothers to not grow up too fast.  It’s true that every year of your life seems to have gone faster than the one before it, and that makes me ache, but I also want to get through this difficult time for our nation.  Just this morning, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education.  She is a multi-million dollar donor to the Trump campaign with no degree in education, no experience as a teacher, and no time spent as a student or parent of a student in public schools.  She has spent her career working toward the goal of stripping public schools of resources and funneling them toward private schools.

You went to preschool at a local private secular school that also offers k-6 education.  It’s a wonderful school, and your dad and I struggled with the decision of whether to send you to our neighborhood public school or to cough up the funds to keep you in the private one.  Our neighborhood school faces challenges:  many of the kids enrolled are socioeconomically disadvantaged, and I was worried that such an environment might have a negative effect on you.  Would the teachers spend all their time and resources supporting the kids who need extra help and not be able to give you attention?  I could hardly blame them—it’s a big job to provide not only academic support but also all the other kinds of support teachers give their students, especially those who have higher needs.  You tend toward the tender and sensitive side.  Would bigger, tougher kids pick on you?

We decided to go the public school route, partly for financial reasons and partly because we both believe in the public school system.  I’m sure you would have had a great experience at the private school, and I’m glad it’s there for kids for whom it’s the right fit.  But our neighborhood school has been a mostly great environment for you.  My nervousness about “tough kids” was pretty dumb.  Almost to an individual, the kids I’ve met when I hang out at your school have been very sweet.  Nearly all your teachers have done a great job balancing their resources and helping you and your classmates in a way that’s sensitive and appropriate.

I wish I could promise that it will always be that way.  The future is uncertain for the public school system.  In separate-but-related issues, arts programs are being defunded at the state and possibly national level.  Artists-in-the-schools events are some of the only times a lot of these kids get to see cultural events.  And even people who find the arts superfluous (I don’t understand these people, but I recognize that they exist) should be deeply concerned about the impact of Ms. DeVos and those with whom her ideals align.  You’ll still have piano lessons and after-school enrichment classes and a choir to sing in, but my heart breaks for the kids who are going to get the shaft.  They’re our nation’s future too.

Sometimes the pessimism overwhelms me.  I’ll be honest, I’ve been having a hard time.  We have no beach vacation on the horizon (though I’ve wrestled your dad into a commitment to the Keys in 2018), which is the greatest therapy I have, and some days it just seems like we have to will the days to go by until we can make some electoral change.

Sorry, this is seeming more like a journal entry than a letter to you.  Here’s how you fit in.  We sang along at a rally last weekend opposing the Muslim ban.  You learned some good chants, like “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here.”  I felt a little conflicted bringing you, because I personally find it distasteful to impose one’s political views on children.  I want you to learn and grow and make your own informed decisions, rather than just accepting what I foist on you.  I make a concerted effort not to badmouth Republicans, because there are good-hearted Republicans in your life, and I don’t want you to think in generalizations.  I know for a fact that some of them are also horrified by the direction this administration is going, and I applaud them for thinking outside the prescribed platforms.  Still, this is more than a political party issue.  This is a moral issue.  I want you to look back on my life, decades down the line, and remember that I took a stand and invited you to stand with me.

You’re a great kid.  We have your parent-teacher conferences next month, and I genuinely look forward to them, because your teachers always have such great things to say about you.  What parent doesn’t want to hear that her kid is kind, creative, and smart?  I also am prepared to hear that your desk is a  mess and that you can be disorganized.  I was the exact same way.  I don’t have a desk anymore, but the Arm’s Reach that Callum hasn’t slept in since he was a month old is piled high with clothes and personal electronics.  I’m not perfect; you’re not perfect.  Tidy people are a mystery to me anyway.

You seem to have made some good friends this year and deepened existing friendships.  You can be wonderful with your brothers, but you also need to watch your tone sometimes when you talk to them.  I know little brothers can be pesty, but Callum and Tobin love and idolize you so much, and it hurts me when you get rude and sarcastic with them (mostly Tobin, who is a smart cookie and knows exactly how to irritate you).

You never want to get a haircut.  You still sleep in jeans almost every night.  You will actually dry off from an evening shower and put a fresh pair of jeans on for sleeping, despite having access to plenty of pairs of sweatpants and pajamas.  You’ve made some good advancements in your ice skating, and I think we’re going to go again this weekend.

Your current favorites:  rotini with tomato sauce; the Prodigy computer game, the song “Stitches;” the book The Greenglass House, which your dad is reading to you and Tobin at bedtime; coming up with ideas for future Halloween costumes; and the Harry Potter Wii game you got for your birthday.

Keep up the solid work, my beautiful first-born boy.  You’re what make the days and years bearable.  You’ll brighten the future for us all.

Love,

Mom

1/23/2017

The Tobin Times #64

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:39 pm

Dear Tobey-tobes,

Winter is tough for a wiggly young person such as yourself.  You’re an energetic guy, and we do our best to help you get your energy out with dance parties (recent hits:  “Billie Jean,” “Uptown Funk,” “All About that Bass”), and you just started basketball.  Your dad is your coach, and have been so excited to get started.  You’ve only had one practice so far, but you really enjoy wearing special shoes and athletic shorts.  You’re looking forward to working on skills beyond dribbling.  Your dad told me that after practice last week, you said to him, “I liked playing basketball, but I also liked having time with you.”  Things like that make it worth being on my own with the other guys on basketball practice nights.

You are such a kind little boy.  I can always count on you to share a treat with Callum, or to give me a hug or a kind word.  You’re quick to defend your special people:  I was telling you that one of Donald Trump’s worst qualities is that he throws a tantrum every time he gets a little bit upset.  Callum was overtired one day and throwing a fit over something small, and I said, “Callum, stop being a Trump.”  You got so offended.  You hugged him and said, “Callum’s not like Trump.  He’s a good boy.”  That’s especially impressive considering that Callum loves to grab big handfuls of your hair.  Your curls are pretty irresistible.

You’re doing fine at KinderFarm, though I think you’ll be happy when it’s time for kindergarten.  We have kindergarten registration coming up in the beginning of March, and you’re excited to go to the same school as Miles.  You really want to walk home from school with him, just the two of you.  I know you guys could handle it—you have a good sense of direction, and Miles has been doing it for months now.  Still, I like walking up the hill to get you, especially on nice days.

You’ll definitely be ready academically.  You’ve been doing some good early reading, and you’re really motivated to continue learning math.  This is largely because you have your own account on Prodigy, an online math game Miles introduced you to.  You’ve been practicing a lot of skills and really, really want a pro account.  We’ll see if you’re still interested when your birthday rolls around.

Photo by Gary Clarke

We’re going to Ames for a quick weekend visit, mostly because your dad is going out of town and I am not equipped to handle three squirmy little boys on my own.  You and Miles really aren’t too taxing anymore, though your dad and I were just talking about how it will be nice when you can read for pleasure.  Now, when we want Miles to do something constructive that doesn’t involve screen time, we can send him off to read one of his many books.  Your skills are growing, but you’re not quite at the stage yet where you can just pick up a book and stay happy for an extended time.  It will happen, I know, but for the time being, you’re still happiest with a video game or one of those weird YouTube videos of other people playing videos games.  What on earth is the appeal of those?

Another of your current obsessions is these two young women who are conjoined twins.  We don’t know them or anything, but we’ve been watching a documentary about them, and you can’t get enough.  In their particular physical situation, they have what looks mostly like a single body with two necks and heads.  Each girl controls an arm and a leg, which can make things like swinging a bat and driving complicated.  They have to work hard to coordinate their actions.  But as we watched a couple of nights ago, we noticed that they seemed to work in perfect synch in unconscious ways.  For example, when one girl gasped, both her hands went simultaneously and instantly to her face.  How did her sister know that she wanted to put her hands on her face?  We talked a little bit about how their bodies must have some kind of communication that goes beyond the voluntary tasks their brains command.  It’s all very interesting, and it gives us opportunities to talk about how they’re two separate people, actual individuals and we should think of them as such, even if they seem very different from the people we know.

This may be an obscure approach, but I try every day to remind you that people (especially women, but all people) are more than things that should be easily dismissed or objectified.  It’s something I have to remind myself too.  It’s easy to slip into an “us versus them” mentality, and I admit there are times I don’t think I can possibly find common ground with certain factions of the population.  But having kids forces a person to be better, because I want you to know that I’m trying and I expect the same of you.  I need to model being better, and you help push me there.

You’ve been enjoying games lately, including Uno, Go Fish, and Harry Potter Trivia.  You’d think a trivia game would be hard for someone with only rudimentary reading skills, but you have such a great imagination it doesn’t even matter.  When it’s your turn to ask me a question, you dutifully take a card out of the box and “read” me a multiple choice question.  For some reason my answer is always wrong.  I guess that’s what happens when your brain is in charge.

Last weekend I was in a staged reading of Shakespeare’s Richard III, which a group of concerned citizens put on as a fundraiser for the ACLU and an alternative activity for inauguration day.  It was a really fun adventure for me, since I love being involved with theater but just don’t have the time to commit to time-intensive projects right now.  I was afraid that you kids would be totally bored, but it turned out that two of your friends were also there, so you played with my phone while I shrieked and hollered as Lady Anne.  We talked about the play beforehand, and you had a hard time understanding why my character would agree to marry someone who killed her husband and father-in-law.  To be honest, I still don’t completely get it.  I understand that women’s power was very tenuous in those days, and the opportunity to be a queen might be impossible to decline.  Still, I went from cursing Richard to hell to accepting his proposal within one scene.  We both agreed that it was a pretty weird thing to do.

Because he kills just about anyone who is inconvenient to him, Richard later kills Anne.  We talked about that ahead of time too.  The afternoon of the reading, you said to me, “I think I know the answer to this, but…they’re not really going to kill you, are they?”  Sweet, sweet boy.  I assure you that I would never purposely volunteer for a project that resulted in anyone’s death.

Thank you for being a bright spot in my days, my beautiful Tobin.  Winter is hard, and the winter of 2017 is particularly hard, but you are a shining beam of love-light that goes straight into my brain-heart.  Even though I know it’s my brain that manages most of what happens in my body, I feel like there has to be something in all my cells and yours that makes you mine.  When you fall asleep at night with your curly little head on my arm, our cells mash into each other inextricably.

In case you didn’t know, I love you.

Mommy

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