The Tobin Times #47

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:43 pm

My sweet, adventurous Tobin,

We made it!  After some long days of driving, a great time in Nashville, and more long driving days to get home, our vacation has come and gone.  You’ve been asking to go back and making plans for the next time we visit.

Photo by Gary Clarke

You and Miles spent as much time as possible in hotel pools, hitting the water on both transition nights near St. Louis and every day in Brentwood.  You were your typical brave self, helping Miles push his boundaries and doing some really good run-and-jumps off the edge of the pool.  Of course you also had a lot of fun doing other things, like our trips to the zoo, the science museum, and spending time with family.  You always have a blast with Mubby and Skitter, and this time you got to add cousin Aleks to the mix.  You got a kick out of helping him walk, though he doesn’t want a lot of help these days.

We’ve recently discovered a splash pad here in Iowa City, which isn’t quite as fancy as the one in Nashville, but we’re hoping to spend some time there on an upcoming hot day.

You came down with a mysterious (and fortunately short-lived) fever the other day.  We were meeting some friends at the library, and you were fine as we got organized and loaded up the car.  Then, as we stepped up to the children’s room desk to get your prize for completing the summer reading program, you started looking woozy.  The librarian even noted that you weren’t looking so good.  I grabbed a lined wastebasket and kept it near you.  You fell asleep in my arms and stayed there for a while, and you remained off your game for the rest of the night.  No puke ever emerged, so that’s good, and a dose of ibuprofen did the trick of helping you cool off.  You’ve seemed fine ever since.

Photo by Gary Clarke

You were proud and excited when I told you this is your last month of being three.  That’s hard to believe, but in other ways you seem very big.  We’ve gotten a start on planning your birthday party, which will also be a half-birthday party for Miles, who got out-scheduled by Callum’s birth.  It will be your first time inviting school friends to a party, so that’s pretty exciting for you.  You made some good friends at Willowwind last year, and I hope we can stay in touch with them as you move on to Hoover next month.  It’s funny to think that we’ll be seeing some of those same kids at junior high band concerts and other activities in ten or so years.

Photo by Denny

You’re just as funny and precocious as ever.  You are expressive and silly and very, very adept with words.  Last night I told Miles to be careful, because he’s been accidentally shutting your dad and me in the car door lately.  As I strapped you into your car seat, you said, gravely, “I love you.  I would never hurt you.”  I laughed, leaned down and kissed you, and you said, “I’m keeping that forehead kiss.”

One of your favorite things right now is to play Alphabet Go Fish, a game your old friend Beanie gave you.  It’s really helped you learn your letters—I think you know all of them now, and your dad has gotten you started sounding out some words.  You’re full of joy and enthusiasm for the things that go right.  Today, the electricity went out for about an hour and a half.  It stressed you and Miles out, because lunch without access to the fridge, microwave, or toaster is a dire meal indeed.  When the power came back, you squealed with happiness and shouted, “We did it!”  I don’t know if you guys were sending electricity-request vibes to the universe or what, but you were quite sure that your efforts solved the problem somehow.

You run hot on other emotions, too.  Sometimes you just stand and scream with rage.  Not usually, though.  Usually you’re a pretty jolly guy.  Your poor little body is all scratched up right now, because mosquitoes find you delicious, even through bug spray.  You can’t resist scratching, and it shows all over your arms, legs, back, and neck.  This is not keeping you inside, though.  We happened to spend all day inside today, and I can tell it’s not your natural habitat.  You love to be out running, jumping, splashing, and creating havoc.


Even though I do my best to cherish you and your brothers at every age, I admit I’m looking forward to you being four.  Four is easier than three, I think.  You’ll be at a new school, making new friends and adapting to a new environment.  I’m excited to see how you grow and develop over the next year, especially as you mature and stop screaming so much.

You actually don’t scream all that much.  It’s just that when you do, it’s really loud.  Everything about you is full-volume, little Tobin.  You’re a lot of kid, from your stinky feet your crazy, fluffy hair.  I love you and I’m so glad you spent your third year with me.




The Callum Chronicle #6

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:30 pm

My sweet Callum,

Holy crap, it’s your half-birthday!  I am having a hard time fathoming that my last baby is a full six months old.  The major milestone of the half year is the okay to eat solid-ish food.  I was planning to wait until after we get back from vacation for that, just to reduce the variables in our lives, but your brothers were so excited about helping to feed you rice cereal that we decided to give it a go last night.  I was expected the same kind of bizarre faces and gagging noises your brothers made when we first fed it to them, but you just took it all in with your usual aplomb.  You smiled and enjoyed it.  For the rest of the evening and all the next day, you made big, new, smacking noises and motions with your mouth.  I think rice cereal was a hit.

Besides the food, other major hits with you include spending time outside, the song “I Love You a Bushel and a Peck,” anything your brothers do, and playing in your Exersaucer.  You like cuddle time, too, but unless you’re really hungry or tired, the Exersaucer is a place you’re happy to play for a good chunk of time.  You’ve started to get interested in toys.  That’s nice because your dexterity has improved to the point where you can actually play with them some, and now and then that will keep you happy for a while.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Your personality is just as it has been:  sweet, calm, and relaxed most of the time.  Honestly, most days you’re my least stressful child.  That can’t last, I know, and I understand that turning into a frustrating person is a natural part of the human development continuum.  I’m enjoying your chill, sweet baby stage while it lasts.

You love all kinds of people, and you’re not shy about smiling at all the friendly faces you see.  We had some recent fun with Nana and Papa as well as other family members, and you got to show off your charming personality to them.  I was afraid that you’d given a lot of people on that side of the family a false impression, because at the previous gathering, you were in a truly awful mood.  But this time was much more reflective of your usual attitude, and lots of people got to enjoy you.

You handled the Fourth of July fireworks better than I expected.  I was sure you’d either sleep through the whole thing or be terrified by all the loud noises, but you just sat quietly in my lap and watched the lights.  We were out way past bedtime, but you never would have known it by your behavior.  Once the show was over and we loaded you into your stroller for the walk back to the car, you conked out immediately.  We should do that every night.

You can roll over front-to-back and almost back-to-front, give hugs (which always end with you grabbing handfuls of hair), laugh big laughs and smile big smiles.  You know your family by sight and by voice, and you’re getting pretty consistent with responding to your name, too.  It doesn’t hurt that Miles says “Hi, Callum!” in a loud sing-songy voice about fifteen times a day.  There’s nothing like a big brother in your face to get a point across.

You’re so much fun these days, sweet Callum.  Please, please, please sleep a lot of the way to Nashville.  If we can make it nine hours in a car, we can do most anything.



Monthly Miles Memo #90

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:52 pm

My dearest Miles,

You’re seven and a half now.  This seems like a time when you’re straddling the little boy/big boy divide.  You still like a lot of little boy things, like the rides at City Park, cuddling at bedtime, and a diet made almost exclusively of carbohydrates (with a few hotdogs and orange chicken thrown in there).  You’re moving onto a lot of big boy things too, though:  Calvin and Hobbes comics, Encyclopedia Brown books, and riding a two-wheeler.

The bike thing is pretty major.  You’ve been tooling around on your training wheels for a while, but your dad decided it was time for you to learn to ride without them.  I wasn’t sure how you’d do, since you tend to be apprehensive and risk-averse.  I was afraid you’d take one spill and refuse to try again.  You proved me wrong.  With your dad and Tobin cheering you on, I saw you coast confidently down the path.  You can even start and stop with no help now too.  That’s pretty awesome, Miles, and it makes me look forward to the day when we can rent bikes together on vacation and zip around some exotic locale.

Photo by Denny

You still do things that baffle me, though.  Yesterday you cried at Target because the Nintendo Wii-U demo setup didn’t have the game you wanted (which, by the way, we have at home).  You had a weird mini-freakout when there was no more corn when we had dinner at some friends’ house last weekend, and you refused to share your dad’s ear.  You do great in your swimming lessons, dunking your head underwater no problem and doing some good swim strokes, but you freak out at the idea of taking a shower.  Everything in your seems heightened.  I’m not sure the best way to help you with that, because your life is doing to be a series of difficult moments if you don’t get your responses under control.  Maybe that will sort itself out as you get older.

You’re always coming up with good ideas or trying out projects you hear about elsewhere.  You’ve done backward writing (a la Leonardo da Vinci), fiber arts (you took a class and made a tote bag and a tie-dyed shirt), and you’re getting really good at playing the Super Mario Brothers theme on the piano.  You’ve played it so much even Callum recognizes it.  After your piano lesson today, you were lingering at the piano while your teacher came out to talk to me about your progress.  You played the tell-tale first bars of the theme—da da da duh da DUM, DUM!—and Tara looked down at Callum and said, “I swear he just perked up when he heard that.”

You are still pretty much the best big brother in the world (at least to Callum).  You can make him laugh whenever you want with your silly faces and noises, and you’re always right there to help when I ask you to.  I admit I haven’t been at my best lately.  All this week, nobody has had any summer activities, so I’ve been home full-time with all three of you.  Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, and sometimes I’m not as patient as I should be.  But I can always count on you to keep Callum safe and happy if I need to, say, go to the bathroom.

Photo by Gary Clarke

We’re gearing up for the big summer vacation:  a road trip to Nashville.  I’m dreading the road part of the trip, but once we get there, we’re going to have a great time.  You can’t wait to see your little cousin Aleks, and I know you’re going to be just as great a big cousin to him as you are a big brother.  You’re so excited to help him walk.  I hope you can keep up with him.  From what I’ve seen, he’s a high-energy little fellow.  We’ll get to see Mubby and Skittergramps, too, which is always fun.  I hope you get to do a lot of swimming in the pool, jumping on the bed, and reading in a quiet corner.

I’ll still cuddle you if you need it, sweetheart.  I’ll try to remember that even when your tears make no sense to me, they’re serious to you.  And if you want to ride your bike, I’ll cheer you on louder than anyone and make sure your helmet is on tight.




Summer project #3: Pineapple popsicles

Filed under: — Aprille @ 12:58 pm

I read a recipe online for pineapple popsicles, and the kids were interested in trying to make them.  The recipe I found included coconut milk, which I’m sure would be delicious if you’re a coconut fan.  I am only lukewarm on coconut—I like it in curries but not a whole lot else. I guess there’s that multi-syllabic Canadian dessert bar.  What’s that called again?

Anyway, I saw pineapples on sale two for a dollar at my grocery store.  Two for a dollar, for real.  We eat a lot of fresh pineapple, but I usually spring for the pre-skinned and pre-cored kind.  This time I decided to provide the kids a little culinary education and bought the whole deals.

This is what a pineapple looks like, in case you didn’t know.  We ended up using 3/4 of a pineapple for one batch of 5 popsicles.  I think we could have gotten 6 popsicles out of the 3/4 pineapple, but I couldn’t find one of our popsicle molds, so we made 5.  I ate the unfrozen pineapple sludge with a spoon and I’m not even sorry.

Tobin helped me whiz the chunks around in the food processor.

We had about half a cup of French vanilla ice cream hogging up space in the freezer, so I nuked that for ten seconds and threw it in the food processor.  We whizzed that some more, then poured it into our popsicle molds.

And into the freezer they went.

This is how they turned out.  They were good.  The kids ate them for breakfast this morning.





Literary forms

Filed under: — Aprille @ 11:51 am

Miles and Tobin and I were reading Jack and the Beanstalk.

A:  Look at that.  The goose is as big as Jack, and he’s carrying it.  How is he managing that?

M:  Hey, dude, ever heard of fiction?


The Tobin Times #46

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:22 pm

Dear Tobin,

“He always has a lot of energy, doesn’t he?” said the West Music employee today as you speed-walked through the store (you’re pretty good about not running if I remind you, but you’ll push walking to the very edge of its definition).  You do indeed have a lot of energy, and it’s been challenging this summer to keep coming up with ways to channel it.  The poorly-lit picture below is from a date we had at the Java House (aka Jabba the House) while Miles had a playdate with a friend.

Because a sugary beverage always helps, right?  You’ve been in a hot chocolate phase lately for some reason, despite the hot and muggy weather, so hot chocolate with fancy whipped cream and sprinkles was a good distraction for you.  You desperately want to do everything Miles does, but this was a big-kids-only playdate, and I didn’t want you to feel like you got totally left out.  It was fun having some special time with you anyway.  You’re a good conversationalist.

Our days lately have consisted of running errands, doing projects, taking showers, watching Scooby Doo , and reading books from the Tacky the Penguin series.  You love everything water—I only get to shower by myself on weekends nowadays when your dad can distract you.  Often you want to take a shower with me followed immediately by a bath after I get out, which is fine because it keeps you busy while I get ready.  You also love swimming, and you’re doing well in your swimming lessons.  We had a brief and unexpected trip out of town earlier this week for a funeral, and you about lost your mind when we only got to go swimming at the hotel pool once.  The injustice!

The funeral was for your dad’s surrogate grandmother, Ellen Carl.  She was his uncle Paul’s mother, so not a blood relative, but she was a frequent figure in his youth.  I didn’t know her as well as your dad did, of course, but in the twelve years or so that I’ve been attending family gatherings, I’d grown quite fond of her too.  What I admired most about her was that she just did what she needed to do—no fuss, no big deal, but she always got things done.  She biked and walked where she needed to go and did it on her own schedule.  She was a nurse, and then when she reached an age when most people think about reducing hours or retiring, she continued her education to become a Physician’s Assistant.  She was also a divorced person in a time when a lot of women didn’t feel they had the right to leave a bad marriage.  I’m no great fan of divorce in general, but knowing Ellen, I’m sure she carefully weighed the situation and did what she needed to do.  She didn’t let societal expectations keep her down.

That’s something I see in you, Tobin, and I hope you can take inspiration from Ellen’s story.  You’re a lot more dramatic than she was, but that may mellow as you age.  I took you to the nursery in the church because you were having a hard time being quiet during the service.  At one point you were playing with a baby doll, and I asked you what your baby’s name was.  “New Ellen,” you told me.  That’s you all over, Tobes.  In your best moments, you’re observant and thoughtful and heart-swellingly sweet.  Not every moment is your best (c.f. bedtime as documented below), but you’re still pretty cool to have around.

You love outside time, including a recent playground playdate with your friend Ben.  You and Miles and often Callum go to our neighborhood park pretty much every night with pleasant weather, and that’s always the highlight of your day.  You’ve been having fun riding your Strider bike and supporting Miles in his efforts toward biking without training wheels.  You always come in with super-compressed, sweaty curls mashed into your skull by your helmet.

As happens to all of us, but to some of us more than others, you get pretty emotional and difficult when you’re tired.  The topic of last night’s meltdown was the fact that we only stayed in the hotel one night.  Never mind that we’ll be spending two nights in that very hotel later this summer for a family reunion.  Never mind that in just a couple of weeks we’re going on vacation, which will mean a whole week in hotels.  Logic doesn’t work on you when you’re worn out and grumpy.  Then you’re obnoxious to Miles (who, in a “can’t live with him, can’t live without him” conundrum, insists on lying in bed with you until you fall asleep).  Fortunately, a good night’s sleep always resets your brain, and by morning you’re ready to be a nice person again:  a “New Tobin,” perhaps.

Enjoy the rest of your sprinkly summer, my little Tobin.  You make me good-tired.





Alternate methods

Filed under: — Aprille @ 12:59 pm

The kids do the library’s summer reading program, which involves coloring in stars on a sheet that represent time spent reading.  Also of note:  Ms. Kathy is one of their favorite librarians.

T:  Last year in the summer reading program, you had to pee on the star and then color it in.

A:  Oh yeah?

T:  Ms. Kathy told me that.


Summer project #3: Fake tie-dye

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:09 pm

As the third child, Callum has a lot of hand-me-down clothes that are getting pretty raggedy.  That includes a lot of perfectly serviceable 100% cotton onesies that are stained with the various horrors that come out of children.

The solution?  A kid-friendly fake tie-dye project.

You just take some Sharpies…

section off an area of the fabric with a rubber band over a cup and draw a design.

Then you dribble rubbing alcohol onto it.  The alcohol breaks down the dyes in the marker and makes the colors run together interestingly.

The result:  new life for stained onesies and an hour spent reasonably educationally with the kids.

When you’re done, it’s a good idea to iron the fabric and/or put it in a hot dryer for a while to set the color.


Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:36 pm

Callum and I went into Tobin’s room as he was waking up this morning.  We were cuddling on the bed and Callum was being smiley and sweet to me.

T:  Why is he so…into you?


The Callum Chronicle #5

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:12 pm

My snuggly Callum,

You are a dream baby.  You are all smiles and laughs and cute tricks, like rolling over (tummy to back only, so far) and making kiss noises.  I haven’t gotten you to actually kiss me when I press my cheek onto your mouth, but you make the noise pretty consistently.  You often get crabby in the evening, but since that’s the time when your dad takes you and your brothers to give me a break, it’s like it’s not even happening.  Magic.

Your big brother Miles wrote you a song:  “Callum-a-zoo, I love you. / Sometimes you toot / and you’re cute like a newt. / Callum-a-zoo, I love you. / You’re…so…cute.”  We found some music notation software and wrote it out, and he was so proud to show and play it for his piano teacher.  You love it, too.  You usually smile and sometimes laugh when he sings it to you, even if you were crying before.

Your brothers have been wonderful to have around so far this summer break.  I’ve been able to run on the treadmill with few interruptions because they keep you so well entertained.  Sometimes nothing will work but a Mommy snuggle, but that’s okay.  I’m still working on getting back in shape anyway, so getting a little break isn’t the worst.

We’ve had a rough couple of nights because you’ve had a cough and stuffy nose.  Nobody else in the family seems to have it (yet), so I’m confused about how you picked it up.  Maybe it was those stacking toys at the library.  I tried to keep you from putting them in your mouth, but there’s no way to prevent you from touching things and then putting your hands in your mouth.  I guess it’s all contributing to a robust immune system down the road, but it’s pretty hard to deal with this cold at the moment.  You’ve been such a good sleeper lately, I hope this doesn’t derail you.  Coughing oneself awake is the worst, and your little cough is so sad.  I hope you get over that soon.

Right now your dad is fake-sneezing for your entertainment.  The things we do.


Knowing you’re my last baby, combined with the fact that you’re usually so sweet and easy-going, has made me really enjoy you.  I remember being in a hurry for your brothers to hit various milestones:  I couldn’t wait for them to roll over and start solids and crawl and walk.  But it’s different with you.  Maybe it’s because I know the toddler years are what’s coming next, but I am just cherishing your squishy little funny baby time.

We’re starting our little rituals.  Every time I change your diaper, I lean down and smile at you and say, “Who loves you, Callum?”  Then I pause and wait for you to answer, which you don’tI continue:  “MAMA loves you.”  Miles’s first word was dada, and Tobin’s was bubby (brother), so I figure I’m due.  You haven’t answered yet, but one of these times you’ll surprise me, and I will gloat and gloat.

But it’s okay if you don’t talk for a while.  I like your grunts and coos and kiss noises.


You’re learning to recognize your name, and it’s cute to see you look up abruptly when you hear it.  I hope you like it, because I think you’re going to be correcting people on it all your life.  I didn’t think it was a particularly weird name when your dad and I chose it—maybe not the most common name ever, but certainly one I’d heard.  A lot of people seem confused by it, though.  There’s a nurse at your doctor’s office who thinks it rhymes with Gollum, and other people think it’s Caleb.

But don’t you worry.  I know who you are, my little Cal-pal, my Callum-a-zoo.  I love getting to know you and watch you grow.

Check this space in one month to see all the crazy things that come with being six months old…but for now I’ll keep loving on my little sub-half-year boy.




He’s got the blues

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:15 pm

Tobin admires his brother’s piano-playing song-writing skills, and he likes to try his hand at it as well.

T:  (mournfully) I have one song, and it’s not very good.

A:  Oh, honey, I’m sure it’s good.  Just keep practicing and you’ll get good at it.

T:  It’s not good because it’s all bad words.

A:  …Oh yeah?

T:  (mashing piano keys) He said, ‘Buuutttthead.’  He said, ‘Poopypants.’  He said ‘Baby poopy faaaaaaaaace.’  (pause)  See?  Not very good.

Monthly Miles Memo #89

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:19 pm

My dear Miles,

You’re officially done with first grade.  I never doubted that you could do it, but I’m proud anyway.  Below you’ll see pictures of your first and last days of school.  You’ve grown a bit, I think.  You have different teeth missing and new ones in some places.  I don’t know if you remembered your first day pose and purposely emulated it on your last day, or that still just happens to be your favorite way to stand.

First grade was a good year for you.  Your reading really took off this year, and you’re literate by anyone’s definition.  You like playing outside, especially when there are friends at the playground, but you’re just as happy inside with a book (or a game on pbskids.org or Wii).  We’ve gotten all signed up for the summer reading program, and you had completed the first stage not even a week after we started.  Since it’s supposed to stretch over eight weeks, and there are only three prize levels, we may need to pace you a little.

You’ll be starting some summer classes at Willowwind next week, which will reduce your unstructured time somewhat.  That will be a nice change of pace.  Although you and Tobin get along well most of the time, a little separation might help you reduce your squabbles.  The one this morning was over paper.  You wanted to write your own comic book (which turned out pretty cool in the end), and Tobin was freaking out because you wanted to do it on his notepad and he didn’t want to share it.

Rather than, say, looking in the desk drawer to find an identical notepad, or going downstairs and getting some paper out of the printer, you and Tobin both refused to cede any ground.  I had to stop mid-treadmill workout to go play referee.  We talked about finding alternative solutions to problems rather than being stubborn and freaking out.  I have no idea if it worked or not.  We’ll check in on that concept some time soon, I’m sure.

We’re into the summer activity season, including our usual favorites like the Farmers’ Market and Arts Fest.  We’ve also gotten a good start on the list of things you wanted to do this summer.  We’ve been to the library’s Monday Matinee, to the Natural History Museum (for about ten minutes, because you were so disappointed that the interactive displays weren’t working), to Molly’s Cupcakes, and we just did our first Watery Wednesday.  This is an idea I came up with because Wednesday is one of the few days of the week we don’t have anything scheduled, so it seemed like a good time for splashing around outside.  You also had your first swimming lesson yesterday, which went pretty well.  Your problem is the same as it was last year:  you can’t seem to relax while you float on your back.   It drives your dad crazy as we sit in the watching area.  You can’t hear him, but he’s always saying, “Relax, Miles!  Pull your stomach up!”

Much like your attitude toward piano lessons, you’ve kept a positive outlook on swimming, too.  I’m glad about that.  One of the worst things that could happen to you is a fear of failure so crippling that you won’t try new things.  You have a touch of that in you (and I have more than a touch in me, so I sympathize), but I’m really happy that it hasn’t stopped you in the piano and swimming endeavors.

At Arts Fest last weekend, the weirdest thing happened.  There was a caricature artist, and you got really interested in it.  The line was too long when you first saw it, but you watched for a while, and you really wanted to have your caricature drawn.  Your dad and I talked about it, and even though it was really more expensive than what it was worth, we decided to support a local artist and let you go ahead and do it.  We hung around for a while, had some lemonade, and eventually the line was shorter.  We told you you could do it.

At that moment you had some kind of panic, a meltdown.  You suddenly said you were too scared to do it.  Too scared?  Too scared to sit on a stool with us right next to you?  I have no idea what was going on, and you couldn’t explain it.  We waited  a while longer, and I thought you might come around, but you never did.  That single event wasn’t a big deal—like I said, it was foolishly expensive anyway, and I didn’t mind not buying the picture.  But your response worries me.  I don’t want you to live your life freaked out about small things, and equally importantly, I don’t understand what was going on in your head.  I want to help you learn to be brave, but I don’t know how to address this.

In talking about it, I told you that you didn’t have to do the caricature, but I wanted you to set a goal for the summer of doing something reasonable but scary.  You haven’t committed to anything yet.  I think riding your bike without training wheels might be a good one, though you’re resistant to that idea too.  We’ll see what you end up doing and how far you get with it.

Maybe you’ll be able to relax and let your stomach float up.





Summer project #2: Splort balls

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:07 pm

We’ve made these before, but our last batch was looking pretty sad, so we made some new ones.  They’re a super easy alternative to water balloons that take about 10% of the time to make and with no annoying latex crumbs all over your yard when they’re done.  Plus they’re reusable.  I think I got the idea for these on some Pinteresty website before Pinterest was invented.

You take some inexpensive kitchen sponges…

(please ignore surrounding evidence of life in my house)

cut them into strips and stack them up however you please…

put rubber bands around their middles and fluff them out a bit…

and you’re all set.  Just dunk them in a bucket or bowl of water and throw them at whoever doesn’t mind getting wet.

And that, friends, is what we call Splort Balls.




Summer project: Gummy Legos

Filed under: — Aprille @ 12:49 pm

It’s summer.  We need something to keep us busy.  The kids like junk food and playing with Legos, so when I saw this video with instructions for making gummy Legos, I figured it would be a good activity.

You take half a cup cold water, mix in 1/4 cup corn syrup until well dissolved, then put it into a pot on the stove.  Add 2 packets of unflavored gelatin and one whole pack of your favorite flavor.  Stir with no heat until pretty darn much completely dissolved.  Turn on the heat to medium-low until fully liquified, then pour into molds.  We bought Lego molds on Amazon.

The only serious improvement I made on the instructions in the video was to throw them in the freezer for 10-20 minutes, then in the fridge for another 10-15.  That got them firmed up just fine and was a lot better for impatient kids than the 5 hours at room temperature the video recommends.  To be fair, his did turn out more clear and perfect than ours, but the kids didn’t mind.

We made red ones first.

Then we added some blue.

We made both bricks and people.

Despite the weird face, the kids liked eating them.  I think they enjoyed playing with them more, though.  They were just sticky enough to be stackable and mostly hold their position, but they weren’t hugely messy.  I’d call this project a win.


The sweatsuit

Filed under: — Aprille @ 10:55 am

I was picking things up in the living room today, and my hand landed on a little hooded sweatshirt.  I grabbed it and stepped toward the Goodwill bag, since it’s getting too small for Callum, but at the last moment, I couldn’t toss it in.

That sweatshirt came from a little sweatsuit set my friend Ruby sent shortly after Miles’s birth in 2008.  Those were difficult days.  I went into the beginnings of Miles overconfident, I think.  I loved babies and was excited to be having one.  I’d done plenty of babysitting, and having a little brother six years younger than I, I’d been pretty involved in the daily care of a baby too.  The pregnancy was easy—no morning sickness, minimal discomfort.  Then my water suddenly and dramatically broke at 35 weeks’ gestation.  I remember standing in the bathroom saying, “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do.”  I could hear the words coming out of my mouth, and I didn’t even know how to stop saying them and move onto whatever the next step was.

Fortunately, the birth went relatively well (I thought it was hard until I had Callum, but that’s another story), and Miles came out of it with only a few short-term complications.  I remained knocked off-kilter for some time, though.  We didn’t have a name, we didn’t have any baby clothes, we only had about half the supplies we needed.  Those early days involved a lot of scrambling.  Denny did most of the physical running around and accumulation of items while I sat around and held Miles and thought, “I don’t know what to do.”  My milk was slow to come in, and since he was small and struggling with bilirubins, the hospital staff was putting a lot of pressure on me to feed him.  I felt like the one thing I knew I was supposed to do, I couldn’t.  We were lucky to be at one of the few hospitals in the U.S. that’s part of the Mother’s Milk Bank system, and Miles got donor milk while I got my breastfeeding situation sorted out.

Up until that time in my life, I’d pretty much always known what to do.  I’d gone to school, gone to college (because it’s what you do), continued on to graduate school (because I liked college and didn’t have any better ideas), transitioned easily into a full-time job that came as an extension of work I’d done in graduate school.  I met Denny, bought a house, got married, got pregnant easily.  There had never been much question about what to do.

We stayed in the hospital for a while, and after they released us, we had to keep going in for doctor’s appointments to check his bilirubin levels.  He ended up being readmitted to the hospital and placed under lights, which did the trick.  I know intellectually (as I did then) that his problems were really very small, and being on the floor of the Children’s Hospital and hearing the little kids with cystic fibrosis getting their lungs thumped did help me put things into perspective.  Still, it was by far the hardest thing I’d ever done.  Everything was a question.  I was never, ever the smartest or most knowledgeable person in the room.  All these medical things people were doing went completely against my instincts:  why does the baby have to be in that box for so long?  Why can I only hold him ten minutes an hour?  Why do people keep stabbing him with needles?  Things that made perfect sense to his medical team made sense only to my rational brain, which was suppressed anyway due to stress and lack of sleep.  My reptile brain just wanted to rip him out of there and run (I didn’t, of course).

When we got home from the hospital, we had to move into full-on primary care mode.  Miles had a doctor’s appointment to do a final check on his bilirubin levels and weight gain, and I was getting myself and him ready to go out.  Denny was out on an errand, and the task of brushing my teeth and managing Miles at the same time seemed overwhelming.  “I don’t know what to do,” I thought.  I put him on his changing table and opened his clothing drawers, which were still pretty empty since we hadn’t accumulated many baby clothes yet.

I found the sweatsuit from Ruby.  “I can put this sweatsuit on him,” I thought.  I did.  It was a discrete, concrete task. It  helped us toward our goal.  It let me move on to the next concrete task, which was probably figuring out how to get him into his car seat.

I can’t say every day has been easier since those first days of my motherhood, but the trend is definitely toward a general easing.  With my next two babies, I don’t think I’ve felt nearly as many moments of paralysis.  I’m not very sentimental about objects, usually, and the Goodwill bags are always overflowing.  But there are a handful of things I can’t manage to give away, and that little sweatsuit is one of them.   All three of my babies have worn it, but it probably won’t still be stylish by the time I have grandchildren.  I still can’t manage to get rid of that one, though.  I guess I know what to do.




The Tobin Times #45

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:27 pm

Dear Tobin,

Summer is almost here.  You are such a fun and active little guy, you’re just loving all the opportunities to be outside.  Sometimes you have more energy for outdoorsiness than I do, but your dad picks up the slack.  You guys go out to the playground just about every pleasant evening, and you’ve made all kinds of neighborhood friends.  You’ve been helping me garden a lot too.  You’re even up for helping with outdoor chores now and then.

Photo by Beth Clarke

You’re almost done with your first year (slightly over half-year, actually) of preschool.  We’re going to miss Willowwind for sure, but not enough to send you there all day, since they’re cutting their half-day program.  It just doesn’t make sense for our family, since we don’t need the child-care hours.  Our purpose for sending you to preschool was to help you learn about the structure of school, following rules, responding appropriately to authority figures, and to make new friends.  You’ve done all of those very well, and I’m sure you’ll do great at the Hoover half-day preschool too.

Photo by Denny

You have so much energy and interest in a wide variety of activities.  Last weekend, we stayed home, but we did a lot of different things with different combinations of family members.  I was thinking over all the things we did, and I realized that you took part in every single outing and adventure.

1.  You and Callum and I went to Daylight Donuts to pick up some breakfast for the gang while Miles and your dad slept in.

2.  You and Miles and I went to the Farmers Market while your dad and Callum stayed home.

3.  You and I gardened while the other guys stayed inside.

4.  You and Miles and your dad went to the playground while Callum and I stayed in.

I think there was more, but I can’t remember it all right now.  Regardless, my point is that you love to be on the go, in the middle of the action.  I think you’re big enough to really enjoy the fun things summer will bring, so we’ll have a good time.  You having swimming lessons coming up, and trips to the Flavor Ice stand and the frozen yogurt shop, and library and museum visits, and probably a lot of other things.

A couple of days ago, as we were walking home from school, you suggested that we have a picnic because you’d never been on one.  That can’t be right, though I can’t think of a specific picnic you’ve been on, so you may well be correct.  We gathered up some food and a blanket and headed out to the park.

You’re good for me, Tobin.  I can get very comfortable in routines, and if I didn’t have someone around to keep me primed for new experiences, I could probably do the same things every day.  I admit my initial response to your picnic idea was to think, “Ugh, that sounds like a lot of work just to eat the same things sitting on the ground that we’d eat at our nice table.”  But I like to say yes when the request is reasonable, so we did it.  You ate more fruit than usual, and we saw some nice birds.

This is not to say there’s not value in routines.  We have some favorites, like going to Panera for lunch once a week or so.  You’re one of the best lunch buddies I could have.  Usually when people ask me if I miss working, my response is that I miss going out to lunch with coworkers.  That’s true—sometimes I wish I could eat Indian food with grownups.  But you often have funny things to say, and I like sharing my lunches with you.  I don’t get a lot of lamb vindaloo these days, but bagels are pretty good too.  I do wish you’d realize you need the bathroom at a time other than right when I set the food on our table, but mostly we have a pretty good thing going.

Your current favorites:  Scooby Doo on Netflix, Legos, cinnamon crunch bagels with hazelnut cream cheese (aka the dessertiest lunch ever), playdates with friends (especially Ben, Hazel, and Jensen), helping in the garden, and putting on your own shoes.  You are up to probably 65% in getting them on the right feet, even.

Have a great month, my little adventure boy.  I promise I’ll push myself to say yes to your crazy ideas as much as I safely can.




Airtight logic

Filed under: — Aprille @ 10:40 am

Note:  Alice May is a ghostly character from an episode of Scooby Doo that Tobin likes.

T:  Alice May is  girl ghost.

M:  There’s no such thing as girl ghosts.

T:  Yes there is.

M:  There’s such a thing as ghosts, but not girl ghosts.

T:  All girl ghosts are Alice May.

M:  There’s no such thing as girl ghosts!

T:  There’s such a thing as woodpeckers.

M:  …uh, yes.

T:  Then there’s such a thing as girl ghost woodpeckers!


The Callum Chronicle #4

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:14 pm

My squishy  Callum,

You are an on-the-go baby.  This isn’t really by your choice.  With two big brothers who always need to be taken somewhere or picked up from somewhere, you get dragged along.  You have no regular nap time (and may never), because it seems like there’s never an hour when I can put you down without interruption.  You take catnaps on my lap or in the car, and that’s all fine with me because you’ve been doing a very good job sleeping at night.  You’re always a good sport about being dragged to all the places your brothers need to go.  You are a popular guy at West Music, where we hang out while Miles takes piano lessons.  You and Tobin went to Miles’s school yesterday to help his class do some gardening, and you didn’t squawk a bit.  All the kids wanted to hold you, but I made them stick to talking to you.

I think you’re probably ready for a size-up in diapers, because you’ve leaked a few times lately.  I buy the super-jumbo-sized laundry detergent because I do so much laundry, and this morning I used the last dregs of our old super-jumbo-sized container on the poo-stained sheets.  When I went down today to check on the sheets in the dryer, I saw that the brand new detergent container had fallen onto the floor.  The lid came off and half of the detergent went down the drain, which is fortunately located right near where it fell.

What I’m saying is no more leaking diapers, okay?  I need to make the remaining half of the detergent last a while.

You’re just big enough to stay in the exersaucer for a few minutes at a time, which is useful for when I want to make dinner or shriek in horror at the laundry detergent situation.  You’re not quite strong enough to balance in it by yourself yet, so you get grumpy if you have to lean against the sides for too long.  You do enjoy the little farm animals and noise-making dealies on the rim, though.

You’re starting to become interested in a variety of toys, which is nice, because sometimes handing you a toy will keep your attention for a few minutes.  You’ve also done my very favorite thing that babies around your age do:  discovering your feet.  The weather has fluctuated lately, so you’ve had a chance to explore them both nude and covered.  Baby feet are pretty wonderful things, so I’m glad you have the chance to enjoy them.

You’ve also started sucking on your fingers pretty fervently.  I hope that’s just because they’re right there and have a nice flavor, because a thumb-sucking habit is not something I want to have to break.  You don’t do it as you doze off to sleep, so I guess that’s a good sign.

I was gone for a while the other night getting my hair cut, and you had one of your frequent evening melt-downs.  I feel so bad for your dad when that happens, because usually you two get along great.  In fact, tonight when he got home from work, you immediately snapped out of the slightly crabby mood you’d been in and started smiling and laughing at him.  But the witching hour witches you pretty seriously some nights, and you were angry and frustrated by the time I got home.  Usually I can calm you down immediately, but that night you maintained your freak-out for quite a while.  I don’t know if that’s because I looked different with a new cut and color or because I smelled different, all coated in salon products I don’t usually use.  Maybe you were just plain tired and mad.  You did eventually chill, so I guess you’ve accepted that superficial changes don’t alter my ability to care for you.

I wish it had been that simple a few weeks ago when we went to Des Moines for a special surprise birthday party for Nana.  Normally you’re such a sweet and calm-natured kid, but that night you wigged out and simply could not be re-wigged.  I feel bad because it was your first time seeing a lot of those family members, and they got a very out-of-character impression of you.  We just spent time with Aunt Oxana, Uncle Tyler, and cousin Aleks, and Tyler kept commenting on how calm and pleasant you are.  Of course, he’s the dad of an extremely curious and energetic almost-toddler, so anyone who mostly sits still probably creates quite a contrast.

You may yet explode out and become a wildman.  It’s hard to tell just yet.  I got my picture of you in the same little hooded baby outfit your brothers wore at this age, and looking at the three of you, it’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t know their personalities.  We’re getting to know you, sweet Callum, but you still have a lot to do in your growth and development.  For now we’re enjoying your smiles, giggles, and tolerant nature.  You made one of your first attempts to communicate with me today (besides crying and smiling).  We were at West Music waiting for your brother to finish his piano lesson, and I was holding you on my lap.  You’re normally fine in that position, but today you kept shifting yourself over so you were cradled in my arms.  That’s not something you ordinarily go for during regular hang-out times, because you like to look around.  It took a few times of you doing it, but then I realized—duh—you wanted milk and you were assuming the position.  I thought it was pretty cool that instead of crying, you found a way to tell me what you wanted while maintaining your mood.

Happy four months, my little guy.  We’ve got a fun summer coming up, and with your brothers around, I bet there will be even fewer traditional naps.  But life is for experiencing, and I love experiencing it with you.



Photo by Beth Clarke




Monthly Miles Memo #88

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:54 pm

My dear Miles,

You have had quite a couple of weeks.  I think you’ve missed more school in the last two weeks than you’d missed the entire rest of the school year.  You had a bit of health trouble (all under control now), which was stressful for you.  I am really proud of how well you handled it, though.  You’ve maintained a good attitude about your medications and were always cooperative at doctor visits.  The only thing you were really worried about was missing an important chapter in the book your teacher is reading to you at school.

We had a fun experience last weekend recording the song “Brown Gold” with Family Folk Machine.  It was pretty cool to try new sound equipment, and we just got to hear the audio today.  You had a solo, and your little voice sounded so clear and sweet.  I’m proud of the bravery you’ve developed for singing, both in front of an audience and for a recording.  I’m also very proud of how well you handled yourself during the recording process.  It was a long process for a kid, but when things got tiring and frustrating, you moved past your own feelings and kept working hard for the good of the project.  It’s going to be turned into a video, so we’re both  excited to see the result.

Your new favorite thing in the entire world is the ice cream truck.  It had never shown up in our neighborhood too much before this season, but now we’ve seen it twice.  I remember the thrill I felt when I was a kid and an ice cream truck would go down my street.  Even though it’s the same kind of treats we have in our freezer (though I think the ice cream truck leans more toward the artificial colors and flavors than I generally select), there’s something really special about waving down the ice cream man for a treat on the front porch.  It must play to our predatory ancestry or something.  I hope our ancestors had tooth fairy money to spend on the treats they happened upon.

Speaking of the tooth fairy, you’ve lost another tooth after a long hiatus from tooth loss.  It happened while we were in the car on our way to Ames, and unlike just about everything else you kids have in the back seat, you didn’t drop it onto the floor or between the seat cushions.  You held it tightly until we got there, and sure enough, the Ames tooth fairy came through for you.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Our true purpose in going to Ames was to see Cousin Aleks and his parents, who are up from Nashville for a brief visit.  You had so much fun with the little guy, although he doesn’t like to sit still for too much cuddling these days.  You love all babies, I think.  Of course you’re still wonderful with Callum, and your dad told me you were having a ton of fun with a little one-year-old at the playground the other night.  This afternoon I told you an anecdote:  Tobin, Callum and I went to your school today to do some volunteering in your school garden, and when I told Callum “We’re going to school to see Miles,” he broke into a big smile and even laughed.  When I told you that, you were so psyched that he knew your name.  It might have been a coincidence, but he definitely responds to you.  I think you’re the family member who can make him laugh the most.

We’re going to Nashville in July for a week, and it looks like we’re going to drive.  I hope you can work your comedy stylings on him during that long haul.  I’m dreading it already, but not because of you.  You’ve done a great job on car trips lately, and though you probably won’t love sitting in the car for nine hours, I know I can trust you to handle it.

A major accomplishment this month was your participation in the Lucas Spelling Bee.  You were on a team with two second-graders, and you held your own.  First graders are the youngest allowed to participate, and I think you had a good time.  Your team didn’t win, which disappointed you, but you made a very respectable showing.  You’re looking forward to being in the spelling bee every year you’re a Lucas student.  Your dad was a judge, which was pretty cool.  He didn’t cheat for you, and you didn’t need him to.

School is going great, though you’re looking forward to upcoming summer break.  You’re taking a few fun summer school classes, but fewer than ever before.  We’re going to have a lot of time together, you and your brothers and I.  I’m going to have to make a big list of activities and adventures and art projects so we don’t go crazy.  I have a few in mind already, and I bet the Internet has more to offer.

For Mother’s Day, you and your dad and brothers took me out for some good food, got me a nice present, and did a reasonably good job of going a whole day without fighting.  You also made me a very special project in school in which you listed your top ten reasons for loving me.  You’re right about the laundry thing.  Oof.


I am so happy to have you for a son, Miles.  You’re a fantastic kid, and I will always find time to sing with you, give you cuddles, and read Batman books.











Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:12 am

I trimmed Tobin’s fingernails, which was overdue as they were getting pretty long.  Later, he went to scratch an itch.

T:  Why aren’t my fingernails working?

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