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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 Yes. No 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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
My sweet Callum,
You’re the only one in the family who’s not sad and angry right now, because you don’t pay attention to current events. I don’t want to swamp your monthly letter in negativity, and I don’t feel capable of discussing the U.S. election right now in hopeful terms. Right now I’ll focus on something beautiful in our world: you.
Not surprisingly, Halloween was a big hit with you. You added a key word to your vocabulary: Kit Kat. You’ve been asking for them every day, and lucky for you, your brothers brought in a huge candy haul featuring many Kit Kat bars. Since I don’t let you have more than one a day (or two if you really earned it and/or I really need to keep you occupied in your high chair for a few minutes), that six-pound bag is going to last quite a while. I used a bunch of candy in a batch of monster cookies for Miles’s school and for our Family Folk Machine concert, but I left the Kit Kats for you.
Your dad took Miles and Tobin out trick-or-treating, and you went with them. I told him to feel free to bring you home if you weren’t tolerating the adventure well, and you could help me hand out candy to the neighborhood kids. You didn’t come back until the big boys had filled their buckets, though, because you loved it as much as they did. You wore Miles’s old Max costume (from Where the Wild Things Are), and you fit right in when we went to school to help with his class party. The big kids treated you so sweetly and you had a great time.
You’re learning lots of words lately and are starting to combine words into phrases. You asked for water (“awa”) the other day, so I filled a cup for you. You shook your head no, then walked over to the windowsill and said “awa pan.” It took some gesturing, but I figured out that you meant you wanted to water the plants. You love watering the plants. Mostly I only let you do it with an empty watering can, because otherwise they’d drown.
You’ve also been crazy for reading books lately. Many times a day, you do this cute little backward scootch into someone’s lap with a book in your hands. You can fill in the blanks in many of them, especially Dr. Seuss’s ABCs. You don’t really like the “camel on the ceiling” part, or at least you don’t think the picture looks right. When we get to that part, you always have to grab the book from me and turn it around so the camel is facing the right direction. You also really like Leslie Patricelli’s Yummy, Yucky. You can tell us that eggs are “mummy” and earwax is “ucky.” When we get to the part about cookies/coffee, you agree that the cookies are yummy, but you say the coffee is “‘ot.” I like your attitude. Coffee is not yucky at all. It’s necessary.
We’ve been taking a lot of walks lately, because my treadmill is broken and that’s the only way for me to get any exercise these days. Luckily it’s been a warm couple of weeks. You sometimes get antsy in the stroller for our long walks around the neighborhood, but mostly you seem to relax and enjoy it. You like it when we see dogs and squirrels. You also like playing with toys, especially the Imaginext Batman toys. I heard you doing a pretty good imitation of the Joker’s laugh from the big boys’ bedroom.
You love copying your brothers’ activities, but you’re not quite up to the level of responsibility required for everything they do. You want to write on paper like they do, but you can’t help yourself from chewing the erasers off all our pencils. I don’t know where the appeal lies in that, but you can’t get enough. You also do a good job coloring with markers, but if I don’t keep a close eye on you, you write on the furniture (or worse, chew the felt tip off and look like you have a mouth full of tooth rot). Fortunately, most of our markers are washable and non-toxic.
You give wonderful hugs with tender little pats and gentle cheek touches. You still love a good game of peekaboo and sharing a bath with Tobin. Your current favorite food is dried cranberries (and Kit Kats), you like going on the swings at the park (especially when Miles pushes you), and you’ve been sleeping pretty darn well.
Your sweet face is helping to hold us up in difficult times, my darling little boy. We’re going to work hard to build a better world for you.
It’s been a busy month of various festivities. We’ve had friend parties, school parties, a couple of different trick-or-treating opportunities, and your first piano recital. Life isn’t slowing down any time soon with our upcoming choir concerts, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas and your birthday soon after.
You short-term lucked out with a beautiful night for trick-or-treating. We were talking with a friend at your dad’s office (which held a fun trick-or-treating event), and he and I reminisced about all the awful nights we remembered slogging around our neighborhoods in the rain, or worse, freezing rain. It seems like every Halloween of your life has been a warm night, and it certainly seems like some kind of climate change is at work. That’s why I say your luck was short-term. It might be good for wandering the late-October streets now, but we’ll see how that works out for the next generation. I can’t remember the last time we made it to November without a freeze. My very temperature-sensitive Thai basil is still growing like it’s in the tropics of Southeast Asia. There’s a bell pepper in the garden I keep not picking because I think it’s going to fully ripen. What a world, what a world.
In less bleak news, you had a lot of fun in your Odd Todd costume. Only a handful of people knew who you were, but that made it extra special whens someone recognized you. I can tell I put a lot of hours into trimming felt strips and hot-gluing them onto your blazer and pants, because when I got out felt for you guys to do another art project, Callum saw it and said, “Odd Todd!” You looked great and really relished the role. You got to wear the costume several times for various Halloween festivities as well as costume-optional piano recital. I was so proud of you as you played. We did a dress rehearsal at home to make sure you had the flexibility required to play your piece while wearing your forty-pound jacket (an exaggeration, but there was a lot of felt and glue on there). You did fantastically, and most importantly, you were very proud of yourself. You’re Tara’s featured student for November and December, and in the text accompanying your photo, you said that you look forward to learning really tough songs that sound really cool.
That made me very happy to hear, because I’ve always been afraid that you’ll only want to do things that come easily to you. Maybe piano playing does come easily, but it’s a realm with many opportunities for challenges and growth, and I’m thrilled that you’re willing to push yourself.
You’ve been following the election pretty closely. You’ve been a Hillary fan since the start, so you’re very invested in her success. I know there are many Republicans among your loved ones, so your dad and I do our best to describe various views without demonizing people. More than anything I want you to understand that the future of our nation is not about Democrats versus Republicans—it’s not team sports. It’s about making thoughtful, informed choices about the world we want to help create. I’m so heartened by the many prominent Republicans who have denounced Donald Trump. While I try to be respectful of views different from mine, I can’t in good faith say anything kind about that guy.
The other night, Tobin was worried that Donald Trump would move to our neighborhood. I’m not sure where he got that idea, since anybody who wears a three-piece suit while campaigning at the Iowa State Fair is clearly not too invested in our state. You reassured him that since our friends and neighbors Jane and Linda live across the street, Trump wouldn’t want to live here. That kind of concrete reasoning reassured Tobin and made me smile.
We’ve been working hard at Family Folk Machine to get ready for our concerts next week and the following. As usual, you are nailing your solos in rehearsal, and I’m sure you’ll do just as well when performance time comes. You seem to have no stage fright, and I hope that quality stays with you. It’s funny—you can be so oversensitive when Tobin does anything even slightly annoying, but tasks that would intimidate many adults (singing and playing piano before an audience, choosing an esoteric Halloween costume) don’t faze you at all. You can be inflexible and upset when things don’t follow your idea of how they ought to go, but you can play a mean game of chess. You even beat your dad when you guys played on a recent Dad/Miles Java House date. Your brain doesn’t always work the way a typical person’s might, but it’s still one of the loveliest brains I know.
I’ve been enjoying this eerily warm fall with you, taking time almost every day after school to play outside. You don’t need me to push you on the swings anymore, but I still like sitting on one next to you. I like walking to pick you up from school and lingering, dawdling, and chatting on the walk home. We’ll be bundling up soon enough, so for now, let’s keep crunching leaves and taking turns pushing Callum in the baby swing. You’re a great brother and a great kid.
My dear Tobin,
It’s fall for sure now, and you are a leaf enthusiast. You and your dad are out raking leaves right now in preparation for the suck truck, and yesterday you spent some time gathering leaves into a pile for jumping. I’m not sure if you actually jumped in them, because I was gone when you did it, and they were still in a pile last I checked. You love to collect pretty leaves as we walk to get Miles from school, and you were so happy when your favorite tree in our yard turned yellow again that you went up and hugged it.
While your general personality is still cheerful and high-energy, you’ve had a few bouts of difficult-to-understand moodiness lately. Sometimes we’ll all laugh at something funny you said, not at your expense but just because you’re cute, and you’ll get really angry. You say you don’t like it when people laugh at you. I’m very sorry we hurt your feelings. We need to help you understand the difference between appreciative laughter and malicious laughter. You’re a smart, witty, fun kid who deserves to thrive, and we want to support you in that.
You’ve taken an interest in reading, and you can now get through Hop on Pop pretty well all by yourself. You’re extremely proud of this new development, and Callum knows that Hop on Pop is your special book. He brought it to me today, and I thought he wanted me to read it to him. No, he just said “Toto!” and went on his way.
You’re growing a lot, and even though playground and soccer season is coming to an end, you and Miles have broken out the Charles Atlas book and have been doing calisthenics in your room. Your squats are really more like arm swings at this point, but it’s pretty cute to watch you guys jump around in your underpants. You’re starting another round of swim lessons this week, so that will be good for your long-term development and short-term energy burning.
Our recent mini-vacation to St. Louis was a big hit. You went crazy for the City Museum, which was pretty much invented with you in mind. You scrambled through tunnels, climbed ladders, and made a new friend in the ball pit. You also loved the fact that your bedroom in our rental townhouse had its own wall-mounted TV. That’s something we don’t do at home (not that you’re suffering from a scarcity of screen time), so it seemed pretty exotic to watch cartoons while lying in bed.
At the St. Louis Zoo, you especially loved the lions. We got to touch the skin from a real lion’s head. The lion had died of natural causes at an old age evidenced by the grey in its mane. You stood for a long time and watched the skinny male lion and the robust female lion. We learned from the zoo employee that their size difference is due to the fact that the male is so devoted to the female that he gives her almost all the food. That reminded me a little of you—I can always count on you to share with Callum, often without me even having to ask. You’re lion-like in a lot of ways. I’m no astrology proponent, but I believe you’re a Leo, and you certainly have a glorious golden mane. You can roar pretty loudly, too.
You have a tender little heart. Recently we went out to eat at a long-time family favorite restaurant, Mekong. As soon as we got there, we could tell something was different–they had changed the decor significantly, and the menu was one photocopied page instead of the usual folding book of Vietnamese, Thai, and other southeast Asian choices. We learned that it had changed ownership, and while you and Miles still got to order your favorite beef and snow peas (which you said was good), my old favorite Vietnamese chicken with sweet basil was no longer available. You got sad and grumpy during dinner, and I couldn’t figure out why, until finally I coaxed it out of you: you were worried about me because I couldn’t have my special dish anymore. Poor little guy. I assured you that I’d try to learn to make it at home. It will be a fun project for us to try to figure it out together.
Your current favorites: Pokémon Go, the Hulk, Lara Bars, pumpkin bars, everything Halloween, trips to Costco, helping your dad rake leaves (and jumping in the piles), and squishing yourself into the little-kid seat on the double stroller.
Keep smiling, my little cub. I love you like a lion loves a T-bone steak.
The will has emerged. You’re still a nice little guy overall, but you’ve discovered the strength of your body and are learning to use it to enact your brain’s desires. We switched you to a forward-facing car seat earlier this week, because you’ve been falling asleep on our drives to Kinderfarm, which ruins your afternoon nap. I figured you’d be less likely to fall asleep sitting up and facing forward, and so far it’s been working pretty well. At least if I see you starting to doze off in the rearview mirror, I can grab your ankle and wiggle it around to wake you up. You get excited when I tell you it’s time to get into your big-boy car seat. You call it khaki and you love it.
The downside is that if you happen not to be in the mood to get into it, it’s a lot harder to force you in than it used to be. Today you really wanted to stay and play at Kinderfarm. As I tried to put you in the car, you grabbed onto the door and wouldn’t let go. Then when I finally managed to get you in, you arched your back and tried to climb out of your seat. You probably could have done that with your rear-facing seat too, but for some reason, this new configuration has brought out the physical side of your protests.
Photo by Gary Clarke
We hadn’t switched you to that seat yet during our recent trip to St. Louis, which is good because you had a good nap in the car on the 4.5-hour drive. You had a fever our first night there, but that didn’t stop you from having fun. You especially loved the ramps at the City Museum and the fish at the zoo. You also had a great time bopping along to live music we stumbled upon at a Mexican restaurant near our rental property. You love to laugh at your big brothers, and they love to entertain you (most of the time).
We’re almost done with Tobin’s soccer season, which will bum you out because you love the playground at the park adjacent to his practice field. It’s hard for me, because I really want to watch Tobin play during his games, but you mostly just want to go on the slides. You recognize the word soccer and immediately reply with “‘lide!” when you hear it. I try to divide my time between watching Tobin while he plays and taking you to the slide when he’s sitting out. It won’t be long before you’re out there kicking the ball around, though hopefully you’ll have a little more focus than you do now.
I got out the Max from Where the Wild Things Are that Miles wore when he was your age, and I hope you have fun wearing it this year. So far you haven’t wanted to keep the hat on, but maybe when you get the whole suit with the fluffy tail, you’ll see the value of the entire ensemble. You’re probably going to want to go out trick-or-treating with your big brothers, though for the time being I strictly limit your candy consumption, as much for choking-prevention as anything. You do a good job with the occasional Dum-dum lolly (which you ask for by name), but I don’t want you to know about the existence of Snickers yet. When Miles was your age, Halloween was the first time he had any candy. We had to convince him to try Smarties by telling him they tasted like children’s Claritin. You require no such persuasion, since you’ve been pilfering your brothers’ parade spoils for months now.
It’s definitely candy season, so we’ve been working on brushing your teeth more consistently too. Your brothers’ dentist said it was okay to put regular fluoridated toothpaste on your toothbrush, even if you can’t effectively spit and rinse, as long as it was only a tiny dab. You love that, since it means using the same toothpaste as Miles and Tobin. The tough part is getting you to let go of the toothbrush when we’re done. Most of the time I’m too distracted with other bedtime tasks to get it away from you before you dash off to your next activity, and the brush ends up in the bottom of the Lego bucket or something. So hygienic, I’m sure.
Your current favorites: pepperoni pizza, chicken, rice, grapes, your board books (especially The Very Hungry Caterpillar, due to the presence of ice cream, This Little Chick, and Cat the Cat, What’s Your Sound?), saying bye and/or night-night to everyone in the family before bed, baths, saying thank you to the bakery employees at Hy-Vee after your free cookie, trying out new words, and dumping out all the toys your dad and I try to put away. I think this drives your dad especially nuts, since he likes to tidy things up in a very organized fashion, and you have very little respect for that position.
The house is in chaos most of the time. That’s the way it goes.
The cooler days are coming, my little guy. Your big brothers have been requesting hot chocolate, and while I can still satisfy you with marshmallows for now, I know it won’t be long before you notice that they have something you don’t and you’re dumping cocoa all over your tray.
Photo by Denny
Let’s keep sliding together.
As we press on through fall, you’ve stayed busy and mostly happy. You love your teacher (Miss Lampe), you seem to have some good friends (notably Esmé and Andrew), and you’re excited for Halloween coming up. I’ve been working hard on your costume, Odd Todd from the show Odd Squad. Only a small subset of the population is going to understand it, but you don’t seem to care a bit. It is a great gift to not care what others think, and I hope you can maintain that attitude.
You’re home sick from school today, suffering from one of the brief but intense fevers that have been ailing the short guys at our house over the last month. All three of you guys had it a couple of weeks ago, and then Callum got it again during our first day and night on our mini-vacation. We were confused by that—did he not actually have the same thing as you and Tobin during the first go-round? It seems there’s another, similar bug, and it’s your turn for that one. I know you don’t like missing school, and you especially don’t like missing your after-school 3D printing class, but you were definitely not feeling well today.
We desperately needed some supplies, including more children’s ibuprofen for your fever and aches, so you stayed home by yourself for the first time while the little guys and I ran to Hy-Vee. You were all set up to text me if you had any problems, but everything was fine. You said after we got back that you had forgotten we were gone. I worried about you the whole time, of course, and checked my phone every three minutes. It’s my job.
Though the weather may warm up again this weekend, we’ve had a dip into fall temperatures the last couple of days. It’s time for the hooded sweatshirts and sleeping in something more substantial than a t-shirt and underpants. You and Tobin had hot chocolate (with marshmallows AND whipped cream, because why not?) after our chilly walk home from school yesterday. I’ll be sad when it gets too cold to walk, because we’ve enjoyed our walks home. Often you stay at the school playground and get some play time in with your friend Hazel. I’m happy with your new school schedule this year. Last year, it was hard to have time to do any playing after school, but now that you’re done at 2:55, we can have some hangout time and still get home in time for you to practice piano and for me to get dinner going.
Despite Cal’s brief illness, we had a really good time on our trip to St. Louis. We went to the City Museum, and it was one of the most interesting and unusual places I’ve ever been. Every section was something completely different: we started in simulated caves with rocks and ladders and tanks of fish. Then we went to a more spacious area with ramps and half-pipes and swinging ropes, on which you and Tobin worked up quite a sweat. Then you went down some slides (though you decided to skip the 10-story one, and I can’t say I blame you). Then we went to the outside area, which had ball pits and real gutted airplanes to explore and miles of walkways. I don’t think we saw everything, but we used up everyone’s energy, and I’m sure we’ll be back some day.
We did some other very fun things too, including the Science Museum and the zoo. The first thing you wanted to see was the penguins, but they weren’t conveniently placed to see right away. We went through and saw many different animals, including two rhinos who almost got into a fight, though they kept it verbal. Finally, as we wound our way back to the exit, we came to the penguin cove. You were so excited, and you loved seeing the many variety of penguins swimming and hopping around in their well-chilled habitat. As you stood up against the glass watching them, one did a jump out of the water and landed with a big splash all over you. You thought it was hilarious and a perfect way to end the day.
Our other favorite destination was Clementine’s Ice Cream, a cute little artisanal shop a short walk from our rented townhouse. We went there twice, once on our own and once after having dinner with some friends. You tried something new that I wasn’t sure you’d go for—coconut chocolate fudge vegan ice “cream.” You liked it so much you got it both times. You also liked the fact that Lafayette Park, also very near our townhouse, had a lot of PokeStops. I don’t know exactly what those are, but Pokémon Go occupies about 40% of your brain right now, and I guess PokeStops are good.
You’ve finally agreed to get a haircut, not because you believed your dad and me when we said your hair was getting ridiculous, but because it’s grown longer than Odd Todd’s and you want verisimilitude. That’s my Miles. You don’t care about anyone’s opinion, but you care about the truth.
By this time next month, we’ll have a president-elect. I can only dearly hope that the nation continues its current trajectory of seeing Donald Trump for the bigoted, lying, cheating, sexual predator he is. We talked a little bit about Trump’s recently surfaced comments bragging about sexually assaulting women. I try to frequently reiterate in an age-appropriate way that you must never, ever touch someone who doesn’t want to be touched. I don’t think Donald Trump’s parents ever told him that. I don’t know if you care about my opinion, but since you care so much about the truth, I think you’ll believe me.
I love you, my dear Miles. Keep your compass pointed truthward,
I don’t want to speak too soon and jinx us, but it seems like maybe you’re easing out of the second-half-of-the-year period of disequilibrium. You still have your evening energy surges sometimes, but keeping busy during the day and having soccer two nights a week seems to be helping you get balanced out. I’ve found myself looking forward to our Tuesdays and Thursdays when you’re home, because you’re mostly a fun guy.
The drives to and from Kinderfarm are starting to wear on me, and we haven’t even dealt with any bad weather yet. It will be nice next year when you and Miles are in the same school. You’re already making plans about how you’ll walk home from school together. It may take me a while to get used to that idea, and besides, I like picking you guys up from school. It’s the best part of my day when I see one of you kids round a corner and break into a big smile, cheerful from a good school day but happy to see me.
I asked you the other day who your best school friends are, and you mentioned Liam, Jackson, and Chase. I asked if you were friends with any of the girls in the class, and you said, “Pretty much the only girl I like is you.” That’s not going to last, but I like being your main lady for the time being. I’ve always emphasized that you kids can marry whomever makes you happy, male or female, and you’ve decided on Miles. I guess I should have been more specific. On the other hand, today you were happy when I told you it’s the day Miles has his after-school class. When I asked you why, you said, “So I’ll have more time without Miles bugging me.” You two are best frenemies for sure.
We’ve had some good adventures lately, including our annual apple-picking outing and a trip to Nana and Papa’s farm. Though the weather has been hot and humid this week, we lucked into a gorgeous Saturday for our farm trip. You had a great time jumping on hay bales, running up and down the the squishy silage pile, and riding on Papa’s 4-wheeler. You bragged to me about he let you push buttons and steer. I remember my Pop-Pop used to let my cousins and me drive his tractor, though I mainly stuck to steering. My cousin Debi bragged about Pop-Pop letting her use the clutch, and it reminded me so much of your pride in button-pushing. I don’t know what buttons do on a 4-wheeler, but you were psyched to be in charge of them.
You are, most of the time, a really kind and sweet guy. You know just when to come and give me a hug and tell me you love me, and Callum thinks you’re about the greatest person ever. He calls you “Toto” (also his word for tomato, but that’s neither here nor there). He dreams about you, and more than once I’ve heard him say “Toto” in his sleep. We stayed in a hotel the night before we spent the day at Nana and Papa’s, and when he looked over and found you sleeping in the same room as him, he squealed with happiness. You are mostly kind and patient with him, though you could still learn a bit more about prioritizing. This morning he grabbed one of the two blankets you had, and rather than letting him have one and using the other, you got into a tug-of-war with him. You’re right—he shouldn’t grab things away from you. But on the other hand, you need to learn that sometimes it’s a lot easier for everybody if you learn to drop the small things.
We’re taking a mini-vacation to St. Louis in a couple of weeks, and I hope it’s a fun family getaway. We’re taking you to the City Museum, which I hear is intense and awe-inspiring and perfect for scrabbly little people like you. I also hope to hit the zoo and the Botanical Gardens, and it looks like there are a lot of good places to see and eat in the neighborhood where we’re staying. It will be a somewhat long ride in the car, but hopefully some audio books will keep you happy. It will be nice when you can read well enough to entertain yourself with books, but in the meantime, your dad and I have enjoyed listening to some Roald Dahl and Judy Blume.
You seem to be enjoying school at Kinderfarm so far. You’re currently working on a nursery rhyme unit, and it was fun for you to play the cow in a reenactment of “Hey, Diddle Diddle.” You’ve been reciting that rhyme frequently around the house the last few days.
Your current favorites: Odd Squad, Wild Kratts, waffles, lemonade, the Percy Jackson book your dad is reading to you at bedtime, playing memory games, and jumping on furniture. We try to keep that last one to a minimum, so it was pretty exciting when you got to jump on the hotel bed.
You’re a fun, energetic, and enthusiastic little guy. I truly hope the behavior challenges we’ve dealt with the last half-year are waning, and we can get back to enjoying the cheerful, fun person I know you are. Everybody has a better time when nobody’s yelling. I think we can do it.
My sweet Callum,
You have had an explosion of language lately. It’s so cute to hear you say all your words—not all of them are traditional, but you say so many consistent things in perfect context that we know just what you mean. One of the best phrases is “thank you,” which you say now every time someone gives you something. It’s not just an immediate Pavlovian response either. A few minutes ago I gave you a cracker, and after eating it, you realized you hadn’t thanked me. You got my attention and said, “Tankyoo.”
You have new words for your brothers, too: Mamou and Toto. You’ve known and loved them as people for a long time, and now you can talk about them all the better. I’ve even gotten you to say Cal a couple of times (no mooing). The other day we were sitting at the table and I was leafing through a Food & Wine magazine. I turned to a page with a photo of penne pasta, and you looked at it and said, “Mamou!” I thought that was pretty smart: you recognized the food and wanted to let me know that you’d spied Miles’s favorite.
You like penne too, but I think your favorite food is pizza. We went out for dinner last night and ordered with the plan to have lots of leftovers, because tonight is going to be busy, and I wanted a quick and easy dinner. Little did we know that ordering a small thin-crust pepperoni, a small thick-crust multi-topping, and a bowl of pasta (for Mamou) would leave only two measly slices left over. This was thanks largely to you, since you got through more of the pepperoni than we expected. We’re having sandwiches tonight.
You’re adventurous and friendly, quick to shout “hi” to passersby, human or otherwise. We went to Wilson’s Orchard earlier this week, and there was a friendly cat whom you loved petting. You also really like Stella, the big St. Bernard at Kinderfarm. Now you take umbrage when neighborhood cats won’t come let you pet them when we’re out for walks in the stroller.
You’ve been enjoying the outdoors on these nice fall days. We hung around at Miles’s school playground today after pickup for an impromptu playdate, and even though you didn’t have any shoes on because I wasn’t expecting to take you out of the stroller, you loved it. You cried when I stuck you back in, because apparently walking barefoot on wood chips is a-okay with you. You love music and dancing, even the silly little songs I sing to pass the minutes and hours of our days. Most of the time you request “more, more!” even if it’s nothing more than “wiping off your little buns” to the tune of “London Bridge.” You do a good job making me feel like an accomplished song parodyist.
The whole family has been suffering from allergies this year, particularly in the last week or so. The weather has cooled off enough that we’ve had the windows open, which is great for breezes but not so great for allergens. I give you children’s Zyrtec every night before bed, which helps a lot, but we’re been going through lots of Kleenex regardless. You finally cut the canine teeth that had been hovering under the surface of your gums for what felt like months, so that’s helped. You’ve been sleeping well, all cuddled up to me. I love having you next to me, even though you can be a bit of a bed hog.
You love doing dangerous things like climbing up to the top bunk of your brothers’ bed and trying to slide out with no help. You want to climb step stools and jump on the futon and mess around with video game controllers. Just now, I told Miles to come downstairs and practice piano. You were perfectly happy playing with Play-Doh, but as soon as you heard me say the word piano, you ran over and took up a spot on the piano bench so Miles couldn’t practice. You are a stinker, but you’re awfully cute.
You have developed a strong bond with Skittergramps lately. You love talking with him and Mubby via Skype, and whenever we pass the computer (“pupu”), you ask for Giga (Skitter). I usually tell you that I’ll check to see if he’s online. You get so disappointed if he’s not. You actually shook your little fists with rage when he wasn’t there to talk to you the other day.
As usual, you go wherever the gang goes. Tonight you’re coming to a PTO meeting with me, which may or may not be a disaster. They’re serving pizza since it’s the first meeting of the school year, so maybe that will keep you busy for a while. Tobin’s soccer season is starting this week too, so I’m sure I’ll find myself running around the park trying to keep you managed. We went to Tot Time last week and plan to go again, because now you’re old enough to really enjoy it. Life is getting more and more fun now that you’re becoming an active participant. Tankyoo very much for being my little guy.
Photo by Denny
Third grade has begun, and suddenly you’re a big kid (a “tween,” some might say). This is the designation at your school: you have certain new privileges, like checking out five library books at a time and being allowed to walk to and from school on your own (we haven’t let you do precisely that yet; more on that later). I’ve noticed changes in your demeanor, too. The most obvious is your wild hair. You have avoided haircuts all summer, and your dad and I decided you should get a cut before school started. We got busy and it didn’t happen, so we adjusted the deadline to before school pictures. A couple of days before school pictures, we mentioned it to you, and you were so firm in your disinclination to get it cut that we decided to let you keep it crazy.
A high school teacher of mine once said that for her kids, she let them do whatever they wanted with their hair. Hair choices are always temporary, and they allow a person a sense of self-determination without any long-term consequences. I thought that was a pretty smart attitude, so I decided to adopt it with you too. Honestly, in my opinion, your hair would look a lot better if you got the sides trimmed up. I tried combing it into a reasonable style after you shower the other night, and it looked even worse. You’re just going to rock the untamed mop, I guess.
You’ve also taken on some big-kid affectations, like saying “Whazzup?” I don’t know where you heard that, but it might have been from an older friend you made during your summer classes. Andrew is a sixth grader at a different elementary school, and you’ve been psyched about texting with him. He also enjoys Harry Potter and Pokemon Go, so you have plenty to discuss.
At dropoff outside your classroom on the first day of school, I got the sense for the first time that you’d rather I didn’t hug and kiss you goodbye. We did a high five and I hugged and kissed you extra when you got home from school that afternoon.
We were at the library a couple of weeks ago, and you saw a poster advertising an upcoming program. It was an interactive screening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, complete with prop bags and prompts to chant along with spells, boo Malfoy, and cheer during Quiddich. You got really, really excited, and my first instinct was that I was going to have to disappoint you, because it was part of the “Totally Tweens” series. Then I read the details and learned that “tweens” refers to third- through sixth-graders. Lo and behold, you qualified. It’s hard for me to fathom that you’re a tween (for one thing, it’s a fake word, but I guess it’s useful), but I’m glad you got to go. You met your friend Esmé there, and Andrew showed up as well. It was pretty much the highlight of your life.
We’ve done some good outdoor adventuring over the last month, including trips to Maquoketa Caves and Wilson’s Orchard. I was really excited to take you to Maquoketa Caves, because I went there as a kid during my Cousins’ Week time in eastern Iowa, and I remember thinking it was about the coolest place on earth. It was pretty crowded when we went, so we had to do a lot of yielding to oncoming fellow cave explorers as we wound our way through the caves. It was still fun, though. You and Tobin and I ventured past the main, easily-accessible cave and tried out some of the slightly more remote ones. We didn’t do any full-on spelunking, but it was exciting nonetheless. Next time we’ll bring our head lamps.
Wilson’s was a good time as usual. I was looking through my old photos, and we’ve been taking you there since you were just a little guy, just Callum’s age. You don’t need a boost to pick the apples anymore, and you’re much more discerning about which ones you pick. I had to convince you that an apple doesn’t have to be 100% pristine to be a good choice. It was a beautiful day out in the orchard, and we enjoyed some local cider and wildlife too.
It’s harder and harder for me to see glimpses of the baby I fell in love with, though I love the big guy you’re becoming just as much. Sometimes I see that baby in the way you still hold your pinky up when you eat and drink. It’s easy to see your baby face in Callum, who looks so much like you. But you’d rather read comic books in bed than have me read you bedtime stories, and you think I’m hopelessly out of the loop for not installing Pokemon Go on my phone. You’re taking a 3D printing class in the afternoon once a week about a block away from your school. You loved your first class last week, and you’re really motivated to continue. Fortunately, two of your 3D printing classmates are also students at your regular school, so we’ve arranged it so you’ll walk together. That will save me the hassle of waking Callum up early from his nap, walking to pick you up, taking you there, walking home, and doing it all again an hour and a half later. I think you can handle it. I admit it’s a little scary for me to let you do it, but you’re a smart kid, as are your walking partners.
You’re turning out pretty well, Miles. I don’t know if I’m emotionally ready to be the mom of a tween, but since I don’t have a choice, I’m glad that tween is you.
Photo by Denny
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