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

1/11/2017

The Callum Chronicle #24

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:06 pm

Happy birthday, my little Cal-Pal!

I knew it would happen, but I’m afraid the day has come:  I’ve run out of babies.  In fact, one of the reasons we decided to have a third child was to put off the inevitable babylessness.  And now, here we are.  A two-year-old really isn’t a baby anymore.  You’re talking more and more, you’re pretty steady in your running and climbing, and you are becoming very interested in expressing your opinions.

Photo by Gary Clarke

You’re developing a good sense of humor, too.  You’ll burst out laughing if someone in the family says something that tickles you.  You love music, and you can fill in the blanks of so many songs that I sing to you.  One of our favorites is “Bushel and a Peck,” and you especially like the verse with the chickens.  It’s pretty cute to hear you say, “Chickens!  Dickens!”  You’ve also picked up the Oompa Loompa songs, and you toddle around the house singing “Loompa, loompa!”  Another recent favorite is “Walk the Dinosaur” by Was (Not Was).  You point at my phone and say “acka lacka boom” to request it.

You haven’t napped well the last couple of days, which is why this birthday letter is several days late.  In a fit of desperation and exhaustion, I turned on Elmo’s World.  Naturally, since Elmo’s last name is ToddlerCrack, you love it.  Your favorite part is when he talks to babies.

Photo by Denny

Since you’re young yet, I wasn’t sure if you would grasp the concept of birthdays.  We celebrated Miles’s the day before yours, as we’ll do for many years to come.  I thought for sure that when we sang the birthday song to you, you’d say “Miles” in the name portion.  You didn’t, though.  When I look back at the video I made of your family birthday celebration, you’re clearly saying “Callum” and pointing to yourself as we sing.  That represents a pretty big mental leap, yet more evidence that you’re becoming a regular person.

After a long hiatus, I finally got my treadmill fixed.  I was afraid you wouldn’t respond well to having me lock myself behind the gate and watching me run, but you’ve been doing great.  You play with your toys, mostly the food and the play kitchen, and just hang out nicely.  That’s wonderful, because I really need exercise for my mental health, and it kind of negates the feel-good endorphins if there’s a crying baby rattling the bars of the cage.

It’s not all sunshine, of course.  You’ve really embraced the word no, and you even like to make it more emphatic by yelling “NO WAY!”  That was your opinion on the topic of whether we should put on your shoes and coat to go pick up Tobin this morning.  I imagine it’s hard not be in charge of very much, so I can see why you’d want to express your opinions.  You don’t often have much say in our family’s activities.  I’m going to have to start letting you make more choices about things like clothes.  I bet you might like an Elmo shirt.

You are a makeup enthusiast, and you’re getting strong enough to get the lids even off the things I think I’ve closed tightly.  You’ll smear lipstick on your face and say, “Cute!”  You still love to read, and your current favorite books are Curious George and the Pizza, Curious George Visits the Library, and No No, Yes YesNo No, Yes Yes was a first-birthday gift to Miles from Grammy and Pop-Pop, so even though you never got to meet them, it makes me happy that their gift has become special to you.  You’re on board with not pulling on cats’ tails, but you’re not so sure about the no-smearing-lipstick suggestion.

Your other current favorites:  the fried eggs and toast your dad makes, swiping unfinished juice out of your brothers’ cups, climbing on tables, pilfering dangerous objects off counters (e.g., scissors, knives), singing, dancing, and lotion.  You’re so much fun, even though you’re exhausting.  I love having a lap full of little Callum in the morning, even though it’s sometimes hard to pack Miles’s lunch and get Tobin ready for school when you refuse to be anywhere but in my arms.  I like the game we play at the table, where you lead us in different rhythms, tempos, and volumes of table-tapping, and we all try to copy you.  You love to be in charge.  Littlest brothers never think they’re in charge, but they pretty much always are.

Photo by Gary Clarke

You don’t like to wear pants very much.  Maybe some Elmo pants would be a better idea.

Enjoy your toddler life, my little Callum.  I’m so glad we’re together.

Love,

Mommy

 

1/10/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #108

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:24 pm

Happy birthday, Miles!

You turned nine last weekend, and while we kept our celebration pretty low-key (immediate family only), I think you had a good time.  Friday night I cooked your favorite dinner, linguine with homemade tomato sauce.  Tobin was so excited to help you celebrate that he took part in decorating the dining room, so when you woke up Saturday morning, you saw your presents, balloons, and your sparkly number nine.

As your birthday comes so closely after Christmas, it was hard to find good birthday presents for you.  We kept it simple, and you may see an unbirthday present or two once Tobin’s birthday comes in August.  You seemed to enjoy your gifts, though, especially the Pokécoins your dad got you.  I’m looking forward to helping you cash in your certificate for a Mom/Miles Java House date with snacks and games.

It seems like all you want to do anymore is play Prodigy, a web-based math game that you learned about in school and have continued to use at home.  I think your favorite Christmas present was a paid membership, which apparently grants you some sort of further opportunities in the game.  Pretty much every day, you and your friend Chloé chat via text and/or Facetime while you play Prodigy simultaneously.

Your friendship with Chloé is a fairly recent development, though you’ve known her for a while in school.  In the last month or so, you two have really started hanging out a lot, mostly virtually, but you also trekked all the way to her house after school the other day for an impromptu playdate.  We really need to get you a phone of some sort—friends recommend the Gizmo, which apparently allows you to do some rudimentary phone and text functions but without full functionality.  It would have been a whole lot easier if you could have just called me to ask me if it was okay to go over to Chloé’s rather than have the both of you walk here, then walk all the way back to her house.  She lives on the opposite side of the school, so it was a bit of a haul on a very cold day.  Neither of you seemed to mind, though.  Curious.

We did some fun stuff over break, including spending lots of time with lots of different family members and friends.  You slept in almost every morning.  You’re the latest sleeper in the family, and you really took advantage of the flexible schedule of vacation.  You also have the strange habit of sleeping fully clothed.  You own pajamas, including two new pairs you got for Christmas, but you still prefer to sleep in your jeans most nights.  It doesn’t seem very comfortable to me, but you insist it’s the way to go.

One fun thing we did in Ames was go ice skating.  Fortunately the ice rink had those little scootcher walker thingies, because you would have wiped out even more if you hadn’t had one.  You maintained a good attitude, though, and you brushed yourself off every time and got back up.  I was proud of your tenacity, even if your little newborn colt legs looked awfully spindly on those skates.

Photo by Beth Clarke

You’ve had a huge appetite lately, and we’re going to have to measure you soon, because I bet you’ve grown a lot in the last year.  Your diet isn’t much more diverse than it ever has been, but I’m happy that you’ve become such a fan of homemade tomato sauce.  Unfortunately last summer’s tomato harvest was pretty meager, so our freezer stash isn’t very big.  I’m afraid we’ll be through it by March if you keep eating at your current rate.

This has been a big year for you, my dear Miles.  You are continuing to grow academically and socially, and it makes me so happy to know you’re developing good friendships.  Two of your school friends, your fellow members of Authors’ Club, jumped at my suggestion that they join you in an after-school creative writing class.  That will begin in a couple of weeks, and I hope it’s fun and educational.  We’re lucky to live in a community that has something to offer kids with all kinds of different interests.  Even though you’ve never shown much enthusiasm about joining a sports team (with the possible exception of baseball, which we’ll try to get done this spring), you’ve been able to join after-school and weekend activities that help you explore your areas of interest.  You have shown a recent spark for running on my treadmill, so maybe there’s track or cross-country in your future.

Photo by Denny

I hope this year is a great one for you, my blue-eyed son.  Congratulations on all the new things you’ve tried this year, all the ways you’ve grown.  I love your witty commentary and wild hair.  As much as I want you to be my baby forever, I’m pretty excited to get to know the person you’re becoming.

Love,

Mom

12/25/2016

The Tobin Times #63

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:11 pm

My dear Tobin,

I’m writing this late, on Christmas day, because we’ve been so busy getting prepared for the holidays (and being sick) that I hadn’t gotten your letter written till now.  We began our family celebration on the morning of the 23rd.  We organized it with Santa to come to our house early, since we’d be traveling on the traditional days.  You orchestrated a very nice letter to him, and together we made Lemonasaurus Rex cookies to set out.  We figured Santa might get a little tired of the expected chocolate chip and gingerbread.  As we made the cookies, you suggested a secret ingredient.  You always love to add secret ingredients when we cook, and it’s usually just a little extra vanilla or almond extract.  This time you suggested a squeeze of Meyer lemon juice.  You had picked out a Meyer lemon at the grocery store recently, and we still had half of one left after juicing part of it for a round of cocktails.  The juice added the perfect delicate, floral touch to the cookies.

These days have been busy and tiring but also lots of fun.  We’ve watched a lot of Christmas movies, including your new favorite, Home Alone.  I knew you’d love that one, especially the parts where Kevin plays all kinds of violent tricks on the burglars.  You can be surprisingly tender sometimes, though, and you had to run and hide on the stairs a couple of times.

You got a ukulele for Christmas, which was your top wishlist item (actually tied for first place with one of those paddles with a ball attached).  You’ve been strumming it around the house, and it we brought it with us to Ames.  Aunt Suzy taught you the G and G7 chords, and you have been serenading us with great enthusiasm.  We had a fun time with Nana and Papa and the rest of the Beary gang last night, and you got to spend some time with the cousins on that side of the family.  Of course you got presents there too, and most excitingly, you won prizes in bingo and a raffle.  You’re having fun with a jump rope, some cool Pokémon-themed cards and toys, and some science toys.  You also got a hand-held math game, and you’ve been ripping through the addition and subtraction.

What you want more than anything is to go to kindergarten, and you were pretty bummed when I had to tell you that you were incorrect in your assumption that a new calendar year meant it was time to go to kindergarten.  I know you’re ready in a lot of ways, and you’re going to love being a kindergartner once fall comes, but I’m still glad to have you around in the afternoons for now.

We had a fun trip to West High to watch their production of The Wizard of Oz.  You really enjoyed it, and not just the treats at intermission.  You liked how the dog was named Toto (Callum’s name for you), and how they had a real dog to play him.  You liked the music and the dancing and the special effects.  We’re going to have to go to more high school productions, because they really did a good job, and it was a fun way to spend the afternoon with you and Miles.  We have a bigger-deal theatrical date coming up in March, a trip to the newly reopened Hancher to see Circus Oz.  I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I think it’s a Cirque de Soleil-style acrobatics-centric circus.  You’re having a hard time understanding that Oz in this case refers to Australia, not The Wizard of Oz, but we have a few more months to help you sort that out.

Photo by Denny

You are still an active and outdoorsy kid.  Your dad signed you up for a basketball team, and that’s going to start in a couple of weeks.  Until then, you get your wiggles out by doing chores at Kinderfarm and playing outside whenever we let you.  We’ve had great fluctuations in weather over the last month, from a day when it hit -11F to today, with a projected high of 53F.  You’re always grumpy when you have to stay in to play at school.  You and Miles made a cool snowman on a recent snowy Saturday, of course followed by hot chocolate.  Lately you’ve even been drinking the hot chocolate, not just slurping up the whipped cream and telling me you’re done.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Even though brothers can be frustrating, you frequently impress me with how kind and generous you are to Callum.  You always want to go in to play with him as soon as he wakes up from his nap, and he can always count on you to share a treat you’re eating.  We were at Dairy Queen the other day after Miles’s piano lesson, and Callum finished his vanilla cone and still wanted more.  You offered him some of your cookie dough Blizzard, which he had never tried before.  He got a big spoonful, expecting plain vanilla ice cream like he always gets.  He chomped down on a bite of cookie dough, pointed at his mouth in shock and delight, and said, “Treat!”  You cracked up and were so proud of yourself for helping Callum have such a fun surprise.

You were also very proud when Miles opened and loved the Christmas present you picked out for him:  some kind of superhero robot toy with a spinning hand.  You guys play a tournament game where toys battle each other, and it was the perfect addition to that.  He got you some pretty cool Pokémon cards.  It was really fun watching you two be excited to gift gifts to the other.

Your current favorites:  pepperoni pizza (still; this has the makings of a lifelong favorite), Jake and the Neverland Pirates, glasses of milk, playing outside, Pokémon, and anything physical and active.  You’re your dad’s little sports buddy, and you guys have a lot of fun watching Hawkeye basketball together, playing catch, and being on teams.  Signs are pointing to your dad being your basketball coach.  So it goes.

Photo by Denny

I love you so much, my spritely little guy.  Thank you for all the laughs

Love,

Mommy

12/15/2016

Recent Tobinismos

Filed under: — Aprille @ 12:34 pm

Scene: cocktail hour, the Clarke/Crall home. Denny and I are drinking a Spanish Tempranillo and the kids are drinking their usual lemonade/Sprite/maraschino cherry concoctions.

A: Probably the next trip I take to Europe will be to Spain. I’ll bring you guys.

T: Of course you will. What movie do think we’re playing in, Home Alone?


T: This pancake is warm, warmer than lava.
A: What?! I’m surprised it didn’t melt your plate.
T: I’m surprised it didn’t kill me.


T, genuinely perplexed: Who would touch BUNS?

 

 

12/11/2016

The Callum Chronicle #23

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:08 pm

Hello, little Callum,

You have one more month of being one, and it’s a chilly month indeed.  After a warm and gentle fall, winter has arrived.  We bundled up a couple of times to walk to school in 20-degree weather, but you’re not very good at keeping mittens on, so I’m afraid we’re back to driving.  You’re a pretty good sport about all the hauling around of you that we do, but I don’t want to torture you.

We got a Christmas tree last weekend, and we decided you’re old enough now to handle having it in a more accessible location.  Last year we put it back in a corner, all closed in by the hearth and the couch, but this year it’s out in full glory.  There aren’t a lot of ornaments left below the two feet level, but that’s okay.  When I have the time and inclination, I put them back, and ten minutes later they’re off again.

Your personality is really beginning to emerge.  Most of the time you’re easy-going and sweet, though I’ve seen a few glimpses of the Terrible Twos on the horizon.  For example, you love to play on the outdoor toys at Kinderfarm, but now that it’s colder, I don’t want to linger outside.  You’re very adept at “snake,” the passive resistance tool you use to make yourself difficult to hold.  I thought Miles invented it, because he did it too as a toddler, but I guess it’s part of little kid DNA.  You also do it when I want to change your diaper, which is getting more challenging all the time.  I don’t know if you’re quite ready for potty training, but we’ll get there eventually.  In the meantime, I’m getting pretty strong and nimble as I wrangle you.

Photo by Denny

Your favorite hobby these days is listening to books.  You’ve amassed quite a library on the table by the big chair, and you love it when your dad or I reads to you.  You can fill in the blanks of so many books now.  You really like How Do Dinosaurs Make Cookies, Jamberry, a couple of Dr. Seuss books we have, and Goodnight Moon (which is not my favorite but is like crack to kids for some reason).

You’ve been putting different words together really well lately.  You say “yellow coat,” though it sounds more like “lellow coat.”  Last night we watched the movie Home Alone for a family movie night, and I had forgotten about the plot point regarding John Candy’s polka band.  When you saw that big group of guys in their yellow satin jackets, you said “lellow coat” about fourteen times.

You love family movie night mostly for the popcorn.  The mere mention of the word will send you to the cabinet to drag out the popcorn popper.  When we were at Mubby and Skitter’s house for Thanksgiving, you spied Skitter’s popper on a high shelf and immediately knew what it was for.  You can bet you got some popcorn after that display of genius.

Photo by Denny

Another recent interest of yours is identifying the ownership of various objects.  That made me think about how early the concept of ownership comes into our consciousness in this society.  You know exactly what belongs to whom—your dad always uses a certain type of water glass, and when you see one, you say, “Daddy awa.”  You got irritated when your dad corrected you when you said, “Toto shirt,” because it was in fact Miles’s.  To your credit, Tobin does have a very similar one.  Though your own name is still the one you say the least, I have gotten a few “Cals” out of you.  Sometimes you call yourself Cacco.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Your current favorites:  French fries, Kit-Kat bars, lollipops (which you can say really well), reading books, playing with your brothers, the Imaginext Joker’s Laugh Factory (which you call “Haha,” because that’s the sound it makes), and chatting with Mubby and Skitter online (“Online?” you ask whenever you see an open pupu, aka computer).

We’ll be cozy together now that winter is here.  I hope you’ll still cuddle me when you’re two, but just in case, I’ll squeeze you a little extra this month.

Love,

Mommy

 

12/8/2016

Monthly Miles Memo #107

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:57 pm

Dear Miles,

Well, would you look at who’s almost done being eight?

This morning I found a container of frozen pork and onions that I put away when I was pregnant with you.  The inside was a freezer-burned mess, and I’m pretty sure from the struggles I’ve had finding lids to fit containers, that particular line of plastic food holder has been discontinued.  The date was clearly written in Sharpie, though:  12/17/07, almost exactly nine years ago, almost exactly nine years and one month since you joined us and changed everything.  I’ll wait till next month to get nostalgic about your lifetime with your dad and me, the evolutions and revolutions that have formed our family.  For now, let’s think about what you’ve been doing this month.

Photo by Gary Clarke

We had our Family Folk Machine fall concerts, and you did your usual bang-up job.  I was thinking about how when we first started, you wouldn’t stand with the other kids and would only participate if you were pressed directly against my body.  You’re a confident member now, singing solos and hanging out with your friends during kids’ break time.  Your class had a presidential race, and it was optional to run.  Running meant giving two speeches to your class.  You said you were definitely going to run.  I told you that no matter what the outcome, I was very proud that you were willing to take a risk and be brave.  You said that giving a speech was no big deal.  I credit Family Folk Machine with helping you gain that confidence before a crowd.

Last week, you ran to me at pickup time and announced, thrilled, that you were class vice president.  Fourteen of your classmates ran for president, and you got second-to-the-most number of votes (I guess they don’t use the electoral college at Lucas Elementary, or you would have been president).  You agreed that your classmate Oumou will make a good president, and you’re looking forward to helping her and taking over her job should she be absent.  Your campaign slogan was “Crall:  He’s no baby.”  You explained that it’s a pun, like you don’t have to crawl like a baby.  I’m not sure your classmates all got it, since one of them came up to me after school and told me your slogan was “Carl:  He’s no baby.”  In any case, enough of them appreciated you to get you a job.  Way to go, little Joe Biden.

We had a nice Thanksgiving break filled with the usual travel, family, and food.  You ate a lot of corn.  It’s a good thing you’re an Iowan, because there’s always corn available around here.  Food remains a challenging issue for you.  You are very reluctant to try anything new, even if there’s ample evidence that it’s good.  Pizza, for example.  Everybody likes pizza, right?  You agreed to try a piece of Tobin’s favorite kind if we took off the pepperoni, and you were a pretty good sport about it.  You said you liked the cheese and sauce but not the crust.  It’s true that you don’t like bread or bread products (not counting pasta, which will save us on some future trip to Italy).  You manage to get enough calories to survive, though sometimes I wonder how.  Honey Nut Cheerios make up a good percentage of your diet.  I manage to shove fruit into you every day, always apple slices with lunch and almost always some other fruit at dinner.

In other areas, you’re very open to exploration.  You took a 3D printing class after school this fall, and you made a really cool Pokeball.  You know what that is, though I don’t.  Pokémon Go is another obsession, and you and you dad and Tobin spend a lot of time and energy (including all the physical walking you have to do to reach certain goals) on that game.  You also stretched your boundaries in your most recent round of swim lessons.  Last night you passed the test required to dive into the deep end:  swimming the whole length of the pool using the forward crawl (Crall).  You even did a dive off the side.  You said you belly flopped your first couple of tries, but then you got it done.  I’m pretty happy about that.  Confidence in the water is a huge factor in experiencing so many joys in life.  We’re going to be snorkel buddies for sure.

You now have just a week and a half left of school before winter break.  I haven’t figured out what all we’re going to do to fill our days, but it will be easier than last year since Callum’s a little bigger.  We’ll probably rent some movies and make some popcorn—our garden harvest is surely ready to pop.  I’ll try to find time to wrap Christmas presents without you seeing.  We’ll probably go to Costco and buy giant vats of laundry detergent and olive oil and paper towels and eat lunch in their little food court.  Maybe we’ll go to the library and meet your dad downtown after work to take advantage of the students’ absence.  I want to try the new Zombie Burger.  They have fries.  You’ll like it.

Your hair is getting a little outrageous again, but the low humidity of winter air is making it slightly less enormous than it was before your last haircut.  You’re wearing a hat in our family holiday card picture, so the world will never know (unless you have to do any class executive branch publicity photos).

Your current favorites:  Prodigy math games, which you play online against your school friends and help Tobin to play; Goosebumps books; Panda Express’s orange chicken; piano lessons; and Pokémon Go.

Eight’s been good to us, mostly.  You’re a cool kid, and you’re learning and growing all the time.  One of these years, you’ll eat my delicious Thai pork with mushrooms, peppers, and noodles.

Love,

Mommy

11/23/2016

The Tobin Times #62

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:44 pm

Hello, sunshine-face.

It’s fall for real now, which means less outside playtime and more running around in circles in the basement.  I’ve been doing that because we’re waiting for my treadmill to be repaired, and you’re doing it because you think it’s fun.  We’ve smacked into each other more than once as we dodge the rocking horse and Exersaucer.  I think you’re figuring out how to time your movements so as not to interfere with mine as I come around a corner.  It will all be safer once the treadmill gets repaired.  I wonder if you’ll keep running around while I run in place.  That would be pretty good entertainment for me.

Your typically cheerful disposition has remained so, despite a general feeling of bummed-out from the adults in the house.  We’ve been going through a rough time in terms of national politics.  We try to strike a balance between honesty about our concerns and not freaking you out.  I know I’ve been stressed out and short-tempered more than usual, and I’m sorry for that.  You’re so kind and empathetic, you know just when I need a little extra love.  I know it’s not your job to take care of me, so I don’t depend on you for my happiness, but I do like it when you come say some sweet words to me and give me extra cuddles.  You’re my joy as well as a primary source of my exhaustion.

We had your parent-teacher conference at preschool last week.  I was a little nervous going in, because we weren’t completely happy with how things had been going. I think part of the problem is that you truly would have been academically ready for kindergarten.  I hope it wasn’t a mistake holding you back.  I think it’s sometimes frustrating for you to be in a class with littler kids who aren’t ready to do the things you’re doing.  Combined with your naturally competitive nature (which isn’t helped by how hard you work to keep up with Miles), you can sometimes clash with others in your preschool environment.  You often want to talk about Pokémon Go or go collect chicken feathers while your teacher wants you to be doing some other task.  She isn’t happy about you doing your own thing, which isn’t my favorite approach to teaching—I’d rather she sought out resources to help you explore your interests instead of getting frustrated with you for not caring about the same activities as the younger kids. But you have gotten more and more settled into your current school, including making some good friends, so I think we’ll keep you there.  We’ll work on challenging you at home and working on your social skills as well.  This won’t be the last time in your life when you’ll not be interested in what’s happening in school, and it’s important to learn how to handle those feelings respectfully.

You’ve gotten super excited about math lately.  You found a set of addition worksheets that your dad printed out for Miles when he was in first grade, and with just a little help to get you going, you completed them all and demanded more.  You call it your homework and spend all kinds of time counting and figuring.  You haven’t been pursuing reading as strongly as you did last month, but you definitely know all your letters and sounds.  You have gotten to that stage where you want to write all by yourself, but you need almost every word spelled out for you.  That can be pretty time-consuming, but it’s good letter practice, and I love seeing you commit your ideas to paper.

I got frustrated with you this morning, because I had gone downstairs for just a couple of minutes to put laundry in the washer in preparation for our Thanksgiving travels.  You ran to the basement door and yelled, “MOM!  Callum’s playing in the toilet water and he’s getting it everywhere!”  I yelled back, “Well, stop him!”  I quietly hoped that at least it was a flushed toilet (sometimes you and Miles forget to do that), finished up the laundry as quickly as I could, and dashed upstairs.  I found Callum splashing around in the toilet (yes, flushed, thank goodness) with you standing there saying, “Stop!  Stop!”

Apparently I needed to be more specific.

I got mad at Miles, too, because he had just been sitting in his bed reading, oblivious to the whole debacle.  Sometimes I forget that you guys are just little kids, but other times I think:  shouldn’t you, little though you may be, have a bit more sense?

We’re all works in progress, I guess.  You work on having more sense and I’ll work on keeping myself under control when things get outrageous.

Your current favorites:  Pokémon Go and Yo-Kai (both of which are Japanese shows/toys/concepts about little creatures with various powers, though you assure me they’re very different), pepperoni pizza, rearranging furniture into tenuous “houses” for yourself and Callum, putting a blanket over the entrance to your bed to make a fort and reading bedtime stories in there by flashlight, setting goals (usually attainable, e.g., “My goal is to wear my pajamas all day”), and trying to one-up Miles.

You wear me out, Tobin, but you build me up too.  I hope I can do the same for you.  I’ll work on giving you what you need and trying to form you into a reasonable person.  You keep telling me you love me a million trillion quadrillion and I think we’ll be okay, because that’s how much I love you too.

Love,

Mommy

 

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