I was buckling Tobin into his car seat.
T: Don’t you just love Callum’s hugs?
A: I do. You know who else’s hugs I love? Yours.
Then I leaned down and gave him a big hug.
T: You know what I don’t like?
T: Eating hair.
I was buckling Tobin into his car seat.
T: Don’t you just love Callum’s hugs?
A: I do. You know who else’s hugs I love? Yours.
Then I leaned down and gave him a big hug.
T: You know what I don’t like?
T: Eating hair.
A: I like your hairstyle, Tobin.
T: I made it kind of flat.
A: What did you use, water?
A: What did you use?
What a drab, dull winter we’ve been having. We haven’t had much of the right kind of snow for building snowpeople or snowballs. It’s been too cold to play outside but not quite cold enough to cancel school. We’re all counting down the days till spring break and our Florida Keys trip. You’ve managed to keep a cheerful face through most of it, though. You are a spirited and energetic guy, which means you sometimes suffer when you don’t get chances to run around outside, but it also keeps you buoyant through bleak days.
We keep our chins up with lunch dates, time at the Sycamore Mall indoor play area, and family movie nights. Last night was The Goonies, which you were kind of grumpy about at first, since you wanted to watch The Incredibles again. But after I showed you the trailer, you thought it looked pretty good, and both you and Miles ended up loving it.
Your biggest area of expertise right now is animals. You like to watch Wild Kratts while Callum naps in the afternoons, and it’s educational mission has certainly been successful with you. You can name all sorts of varieties of animals I’ve never heard of, and you know all about which ones are predators and which ones are prey, and which habitats they all live in. Your dad was leafing through National Geographic yesterday, and you looked over his shoulder. “Is that a spotted [something]?” I forget what the animal was, and I can’t go check right now because Callum is napping next to me and I don’t want to wake him up. But it most certainly was the spotted whatever.
You got a wild animals calendar for Christmas, and of course you want to be just like Miles and cross off days as you complete them. Unfortunately, you haven’t grasped the left-to-right, top-to-bottom way we visually depict time in the western world. It’s a hard concept to explain, and you are not one to accept “That’s just the way it is” as an answer. In your mind, right-to-left and back-to-front makes just as much sense. Anyone relying on your calendar would think February was already over. Wouldn’t that be nice? February’s the worst.
We just measured you yesterday, and you’ve grown several inches in the last year. You’re still one of the smaller kids in your class, though, and I don’t think you’ll end up a bruiser. That’s okay. Little guys don’t play football. You’re a little bullet of energy and sometimes recklessness, so anything that holds you back is a good thing.
You’re a great shopping buddy. Your HyVee girlfriend is back from an extended post-surgical leave, so you were happy (but strangely shy) to see her again. We went to Costco the other day, and you talked me into buying cookies despite my plan not to, since I’m avoiding sugar. You decided to hide the cookie package from me to help me not eat them. You hid under your bed, about two inches in. I found them pretty fast, but I’m not going to tell you that, because you were so proud of how supportive you were being of my healthy lifestyle goals.
Of course, at dinner last night, you said, “You should have sugar, mom. It’s really good.”
Your current favorites: peanut butter toast, cereal (Raisin Nut Bran with the raisins and almonds picked out or Honey Nut Cheerios) and milk, icy orange juice, pepperoni pizza, running around your room like a wildman while I try to read Harry Potter to you and Miles, Minecraft, taking off your socks, and singing crazy songs to make Callum laugh.
Photo by Gary Clarke
You still fit perfectly into my lap, and I’m always happy to have you there. Sometimes it gets a little crowded when two or more kids are trying to scramble onto me, but you and your brothers are pretty good squishers if I must get squished. You are hilarious and sunshiny and indomitable. You are my Tobin and I love you.
You might be slightly insane, but I still love you.
Happy birthday, special Callum!
As expected, your twelfth month has led to some exciting new opportunities. You’ve now had a “cocktail” (the Mubby special: shaved ice and orange juice), ice cream, cake, a variety of bread products, and even a bite of Tobin’s cookie at Hy-Vee today. You still like healthy food, too. You ate lots of vegetables at dinner last night, and all the great citrus available this time of year has been really popular with you too.
Photo by Gary Clarke
Some people believe a kid’s personality at one year is a good indicator of the general temperament that will continue through his or her entire life. I’d have to look back at any notes I made about your brothers’ personalities to know if that’s held true for them. As for you, I’d describe your current personality as sweet, calm, curious, and easy-going. At least you’re easy-going when there’s someone around to entertain you. You’ve been clingy to me during our mornings at home together for the last couple of months. I haven’t been able to run on the treadmill because you just stand against the safety fence and scream. All my exercise lately has been walking on the treadmill with you strapped to my chest. It’s a good workout, sure, but you always fall asleep, and sometimes I want you to skip morning nap to better serve the day’s schedule. Then, when I’m done exercising, you stand with your head in the shower, crying continuously until I get out. You’re always soaking wet by then, and on these cold days, that’s not a very happy situation either.
At recent holiday gatherings, though, you’ve shown no such grumpiness. I don’t know that I’m the one you specifically want; you just can’t stand not to have someone adoring you. I guess that’s what life with two doting big brothers does to a person. All through the various family parties, you were happy to have anyone hold you and play with you.
You might (might) have taken a step on your own this weekend, but it would be an exaggeration to call it walking. You have, however, taken an interest in walking while holding someone’s hands. You’re still not very steady on your feet, though you’re pretty good at standing unassisted in one place. Miles loves to walk with you, and it’s nice for him to do it since you two are closer to the same height. He doesn’t have to bed over as much as your dad and I do. I don’t know if it’s the age difference or the birthday proximity or just the way you guys are, but you and Miles have a really special relationship. You love big brother Tobin too, but Miles has taken such delight in having you around. You’re really lucky to have each other.
It seems like we’ve been dealing with one illness after another since about Halloween. Luckily most of them haven’t been serious, just runny noses and coughs. I pulled an enormous, rock-hard booger out of your nose this morning, so hopefully having that out of your skull will help your respiration. It’s been hard to get a good night’s sleep, because you get pretty thrashy when you’re not feeling your best. You can also be a bit of a bed hog.
I don’t mind, though. Your warm little body next to mine is just what I need on these cold nights, even if you sometimes smack me in the face with your flailing fists.
You’re getting better and better at “big boy” things, like playing on the equipment in the middle of Sycamore Mall (or whatever it’s called now). You and Tobin and I have lunch dates at Panera once a week or so, and we usually take some time afterward to go play. You think everything is a climbing toy, and you would scramble up onto the play picnic table and twirl around the center pole if I’d let you. You think it’s pretty neat to be able to do the same things Tobin does. Unfortunately, that play area has plastic fruit just like the library, and you sure find those things attractive. Not wanting a repeat of the Vomiting Horrors of ’15, I try really hard to keep them out of your mouth.
I saw the birth story I wrote about my experience giving birth to you, and I couldn’t bring myself to read it. It’s a less painful memory as time goes on, but it’s still a little too fresh to relive. I have to remind myself what a wonderful outcome I got—I’m so grateful for modern medicine, because who knows whether either of us would have survived the ordeal without the expertise of the skilled surgeons who took care of us. I’m also very glad that it happened with my last baby and not my first, because I have zero desire to ever do that again.
But I am so, so happy to have you. Your smile and laugh are why I do everything I do. You invented a new game just yesterday. After one of our treadmill walks, I partially unstrap you and lay you down on your back on the bed. Yesterday, as I leaned over you to finish unstrapping myself, you grabbed the shoulder straps and gave a tug. That pulled my face down to yours. I kissed your fat little cheeks and neck, and you laughed and laughed. I leaned back up, and you pulled me back down: more kisses, more laughter. We repeated this again and again. I needed it. I was sad about David Bowie dying and a dreamed I’d just had about a deceased friend. There’s nothing that perks a mommy up like her sweet little son inventing a game that gets him more kisses.
It’s been a blur of a year with you, my little love, and I’m so glad to have had it. I’ll kiss you until you won’t let me anymore, and then I’ll blow you kisses until you yank me back. If you don’t yank me back, then watch out, because I’ll be the one yanking. This is all predicated on you using a Baby Bjorn forever. We might have to look into the next size up.
Photo by Gary Clarke
Love forever and ever,
Happy, happy birthday, my dear Miles.
We’ve just finished up the last of your birthday celebrations. It’s been quite a year, and I’m so proud of you. Skittergramps mentioned recently that you really seem to be growing up. You’re in better control of your emotions and behavior (not that Tobin doesn’t still sometimes frustrate you—he does—but you seem to be handling it better). Adding a family member was a definite test, and you have surpassed all my hopes of your performance as a double big brother.
You take every opportunity you can to care for Callum. You celebrate his accomplishments, have conversations with him in which you pretend to understand him and answer him, and play with him so well. You sewed him a Christmas stocking, and you were so proud to hang it on the mantle with yours and Tobin’s. You really, really want his first word to be Miles, and while I’m still holding out for mama, your name wouldn’t be a bad choice.
Y0ur second semester of second grade has started, and everything seems to be going well. You have a flair for the academic. Most school subjects seem pretty easy for you, and I hope you’re being challenged enough. You’re always coming up with activities at home that extend your school work, especially ones that have to do with writing. Notes you’ve written litter our house. There’s an information sheet for Miles’s Magic Club on the basement door, pointing the reader to the sign-up sheet in the bunk-bed room. You got a diary for your birthday, which was your number-one request. You’ve been writing in it every day, and you closely guard the key location. Tobin is determined to find it. He can’t read, but he loves to torture you by threatening to read it. I hope you realize the emptiness of his threats and don’t let them bother you too much.
Sometimes your dad and I shake our heads and wonder how a kid who’s so smart can be so oblivious. Subtleties often don’t register with you. You have a rather literal mind. I asked you to find something (shoes, maybe) and told you they were by the front door. You went and looked for them and came back empty-handed. Having known you for eight years, rather than believe they weren’t there, I went to check. They were about four feet away from the front door, next to the credenza. I don’t think you were being a turd. I think it truly didn’t occur to you to look anywhere except immediately next to the front door.
We’ll talk more about metaphor and flexibility of thought as we continue to read together.
Harry Potter has been the biggest new character to enter our lives this year. You sometimes read aloud to me from the books, which are a challenge but still within reach for you. Most of the time, though, we cuddle together in bed and I read to you. We’re starting to get into the darker, longer, more mature books now. Some people have suggested that the later books are better suited to older kids and that we might do well to take a several-year break. That might be the case, but there’s no way you are going to stop. It’s going to raise some difficult questions, especially involving the death of some beloved characters. I hope it’s all worth it.
You seem to be blossoming in terms of personality. Shyness and fearfulness were big parts of your makeup for a long time, and I don’t think that will ever change completely, I can see that you’re getting braver. Our Family Folk Machine experiences have been a big help in that arena. You can sing a solo with more aplomb than a lot of the grownups in the choir. You also really brought it to a recent New Year’s Eve party talent show. We did a Harry Potter-themed dance to the song “Uptown Funk.” I couldn’t really see what you were doing, since I was dancing too, but your dad tells me you let loose in a way you hadn’t in our home rehearsals. When you need to get it done, you get it done, my dear.
We’re in kind of a sweet spot right now in terms of bed time. After we read our Harry Potter chapter, you still like me to lie in your bed with you, ideally until you fall asleep, but it’s no longer a source of tears if I need to leave sooner. You give me a hug, tell me you love me too, and go to sleep on your own.
You’re not going to want me to cuddle you to sleep forever. Sometimes I really want to go sleep in my own bed or read or watch a tv show or something, but mostly I appreciate the chance to feel your bony little butt against my legs. Despite having the long arms and legs of colt, you can still fit into size 4T underpants. I bought you some size 6 pairs for your birthday. I think they suit you pretty well.
I love you so much, Miles. Thank you for the privilege of being your mom. I wouldn’t be the same without you, and I never want to be. Even though in my heart you’ll always be that 6-and-a-half pound baby I brought home from the hospital, you’re growing into a pretty great kid.
Next thing we know, you’ll be shaving.
My sweet Tobin,
This morning, the first Monday of winter break, I woke up and went in to check on you and Miles. I had a brief moment of panic when I looked in your bed and couldn’t find you. Had you gotten up without making any noise? Were you lonely or scared? Then I looked a bit higher, and there you were, cuddled up with Miles in the top bunk (twin sized, by the way). You just don’t like to sleep alone. I suggested that once Callum is bigger, maybe he could sleep in the bottom bunk with you. You liked that idea.
You and Miles and I have been reading the Harry Potter series together before bed at night, and I’m afraid you’re missing half of it because you often fall asleep before we finish the chapter. You’re an all-or-nothing guy at bedtime. You get so hyper and wild and drive your dad and me crazy when we’re trying to get you to put on pajamas and brush your teeth, but as soon as you’re cozy in bed, you’re out cold. I guess it takes a lot of energy to be a nut-ball.
You are so, so excited for Christmas. I haven’t put any presents under the tree, because I’m afraid Callum would destroy them, but you’re still pretty tortured. You helped me pick out the tree, and you’ve helped me wrap some gifts. You’ve been begging every day for a week for me to tell you what your presents are, but I haven’t budged. We’re having our family Christmas morning tomorrow before we head out to Paul and Jackie’s for the day and Mubby and Skitter’s later that night. I went rather light on the toys when shopping for you, knowing between all the grandparents and other generous relatives, you’d probably get plenty. I hope you remember that and don’t get grumpy when you unwrap books and clothes.
Though we haven’t decided 100%, we’re (by which I mean “I’m”) leaning strongly toward holding off on kindergarten. I know you’d be academically ready, but you’re still a little guy, one of the smaller ones in your preschool class. Because it seems like you’ve attended every other preschool in town, I think we might send you to Kinderfarm. It’s one of those that people often mention when we chat with other parents, and I think you’d get a kick out of the animal care and gardening in combination with traditional preschool activities. We’ll have to go visit it and maybe sign you up for a summer program. It’s still a ways off, but time has a way of passing without my permission.
The truth is that I really like having lunch dates with you and spending time together in the afternoons. I like going to grocery shopping with you and playing in your room with you and Callum. All day at kindergarten seems like such a big load for a little kid. Also, I try to take the long view on things like this. I remember one time in the relatively recent past I was invited but not required to go to some event at my grandparents’ house. My dad (you know him as Skitter) emphasized that I didn’t have to go if I didn’t want to. I told him, “I doubt I’m going to look back on my life and think, ‘I’m sure glad I didn’t go see Grammy and Pop-Pop that time.'” That’s how I’m thinking of this decision for you. I doubt I’m going to look back on my life and think, “I’m sure glad I pushed Tobin off to kindergarten when I wasn’t sure he was ready and missed all those afternoons of sharing bagels and making forts and playing puppies in bed.”
Honestly, you’d be fine either way. One thing your dad has pointed out is that if you go to kindergarten next year, you’ll overlap with Miles for a year in high school. True, that might be kind of cool, but if you wait a year, you’ll overlap with Callum. All these things seem so important right now, but I suppose they’ll work out one way or another. I remember being pregnant with each of you boys and everything being so mysterious. We didn’t know your names yet or what you’d look like or what your personalities would be. I thought, “How funny that a year from now, we’ll be calling this baby by his name and it will seem totally normal.” That’s how all fraught decisions are, I guess. You stew and fret (or rather, I stew and fret)—hey, are the words fret and fraught related?—and then it ends up working out no matter which way you go.
You’re spunky and funny and good at making friends. You told me that one of your teachers, Ms. Maria, said you’re a smart cookie. You certainly are. Our annual holiday letter was mostly funny things you said over the year. The best one was about a black mamba in a lunch bag.
Keep up the high spirits, Tobes. You just might find a toy or two under the tree tomorrow morning.
Miles is his class’s “Star of the Week” this week, and all weekend he was so excited to go to school on Monday. Unfortunately, late Sunday night, I heard the sounds of vomiting coming from the boys’ shared room. Later, I recounted my thoughts on the topic to the boys.
A: When I heard it, I thought, “I hope it’s Tobin.” Not that I want you to be sick, of course. I never want any of you to be sick. I just knew how much Miles wanted to go to school.
T: I hoped it was Miles.
My sweet Callum,
As much as I want you to stay my baby, my last baby, for whom every first is a last first for me, I’m pretty excited about your birthday next month. With two big brothers, you see a lot of things happening that you aren’t allowed to do. While I still don’t plan to let you take a bath by yourself or climb onto the highest reaches of the playground equipment, I’m finally going to be able to say yes when you really, really want a bite of ice cream. That’s going to be pretty big. We always get Dairy Queen during the half-hour we have to kill between picking Miles up from school and his Thursday-afternoon piano lesson, and as of yet, none has passed through your lips. You actually haven’t been too upset about that. What’s harder for you is watching Tobin eat one of the free cookies at HyVee right next to you in the shopping cart. I don’t know if you will be able to deal with a whole cookie right away, but next month, you’ll be allowed to try a little nibble.
Speaking of little nibbles, you still have just four teeth. I was reading your brothers’ eleven-month updates, and Tobin had six at this stage. Maybe it’s a summer versus winter baby thing, but you still chug along with your two on top and two on bottom. You do fine, though. You like to eat all kinds of different things, including rotisserie chicken, vegetable beef soup, oranges, apples, rice, plain Cheerios, and SnaPeas. SnaPeas (these crunchy, salty snacks that may contain some actual pea) are your favorites. After you eat a few, you always want a drink of water. I’ve tried both sippy cups and traditional open cups with you, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference in terms of mess. You don’t usually spill them straight from the cup; rather, you get a mouth full of water, and rather than swallow it, you just let it dribble out of your mouth onto your shirt.
We’ll keep practicing.
Photo by Gary Clarke
You’ve become an honorary member of Family Folk Machine. You’ve been to lots of rehearsals, because it’s easier for your dad to sit there and let you play with all the kids who think you’re so cute than to handle you at home. You’ve especially made friends with Liam, the son of Miles’s piano teacher. He loves little kids and gets along really well with you. He likes to dictate your thoughts.
You were well-behaved through three concerts: our two regular ones and the Festival of Carols at the Englert. You even made your debut on the Englert stage during sound check. You dad hadn’t come from work yet, so as Miles and Tobin and I sang, you scrabbled around the stage. I don’t think you’re quite ready to be a FFM member yet, since you can’t stand up unassisted. Of course, some of the older members of the choir can’t stand for long either, and we let them stay.
Our family is just now recovering from a nasty (but fortunately short-lived) bout of a stomach bug. I blame a recent trip to the library during which you wouldn’t keep the nasty plastic fruit out of your mouth in the play kitchen area. I kept telling you to stop, and you wouldn’t stop. No more trips to the library for us during the sick season. This illness reminded me of the last time I vomited, which was when I was in my third trimester of pregnancy with you. My morning sickness had long since faded by then, but it was an entirely new and terrible sensation to be wracked with nausea while someone is kicking you in the actual physical stomach from the inside. This time was not quite so bad, though the timing was tricky. You had it first, then you gave it to your dad and me, and the two big boys got it right after that.
One tip I give any new parent who asks for it: seal every mattress in your house with a waterproof (and pee-proof and breastmilk-proof and vomit-proof) mattress cover. Middle-of-the-night laundry is no fun, but it’s even less fun to have to buy a new mattress because yours got soaked in last night’s spaghetti.
You can crawl like a fast little crawling maniac. You don’t show much interest in solo walking, or even walking while holding someone’s hands. You do like to cruise around furniture, and you’ll pull up on anything that seems even remotely stable enough to support you. Sometimes, like in the case of empty laundry baskets, it’s not. You enjoy reorganizing the shoe cabinet, pulling open drawers in the kitchen, and chewing on your brothers’ toys. You thoroughly liquified a little board book at the concert the other night. Your dad and I decided it was worth the sacrifice.
You’ve been in a clingy stage lately, upset whenever I’m not holding you or nursing you or both. This makes it pretty difficult to do things like exercise and shower. You had to wear mismatched shoes the other day, because you opened the shower curtain on me and soaked yourself, including the shoes I’d put on you to wear for the day. They’re your only pair, so I had to scramble around your brothers’ old baby shoes. I found two. You wore two. One had a dinosaur and one had a turtle.
You haven’t said any for-sure words yet, but you’ve been making mama and dada noises. I’ve probably mentioned it here before, but I would really be happy if your first real word was mama. I truly don’t mind the scar I’ll carry for the rest of my life due to your difficult birth (I think scars are kind of cool), but the memory of the day(s) remains a traumatic one. I say this in no way to diminish the horrible pain of those whose babies don’t make it through difficult births or who suffer long-term issues. I am so, so grateful to have had three pregnancies that resulted in three healthy kids. It’s sadly, scarily common not to be able to say something like that. Nonetheless, I’m very glad to never do it again. And if you could just say mama and reach your fat little arms to me, that would be pretty great.
Enjoy your last month of infancy, my sweet puppy. I love you so much.
We dropped Miles off at school, then I did my usual sanity check to make sure things were as they should be.
A: Okay, do I have two kids in the car?
T: Yep, and they’re both yours.
My little Miles,
It’s your last month of being seven. As usual, the holidays are going by in a blur, and as usual, your birthday is sneaking up on me. Can you really be almost eight? Every year goes faster than the one before it, and you are growing so fast. A lot of your pants are high-waters now. At Thanksgiving, Aunt Dorothy remarked upon how, the last time she saw you, you and Tobin were a lot closer in height. Your feet are huge, and I’m sure we could share socks if I weren’t opposed to you hogging up my socks.
Your favorite thing to do is draw elaborate pictures and write captions for them. You’ve strewn the train table downstairs with your cartoons, and some of them are pretty creative. You like inventing bands of superheroes and assigning them roles and powers. You even include Tobin a lot of the time.
We had some recent drama involving a school library book. Every Tuesday, you and your classmates get to check out items from library, and they’re due the following Tuesday. A few weeks ago, I realized you had left your books at home, which would mean you wouldn’t be allowed to check out new ones. Since I knew that would devastate you, I stopped by school and dropped off your two books at the office.
If I’d known then what I know now, I would have just left them at home and had you bring them back a week late. But a snafu spiraled, involving the books going to the wrong class and the wrong Miles, and you weren’t able to check anything out. You were pretty upset at pickup that day, and I was pretty frustrated, since that’s exactly what I was trying to avoid by dropping off the books. I emailed the secretary and the librarian and explained the situation, and they said not to worry, the books would turn up. The next Tuesday came, and you had media again. From what I understand, you go to the library, pick out your items, and then a teacher or librarian reads a list of kids who can’t check books out because they have overdue items. You were so, so sad when your name was on that list and you couldn’t check out your stuff. The next week: same thing. I think that’s a pretty crummy way to do things. Maybe the point is to give kids incentive to return their items, but I don’t like the public humiliation and disappointment elements.
Maybe most kids don’t care too much about that sort of thing, but you do. I completely understand, because I would have absolutely hated that as a kid too. It was all the worse because the missing items weren’t missing due to any fault of yours. The next Monday night, I emailed the librarian again asking her to make an exception to the no check-out rule. I never heard back from her, but when I picked you up on Tuesday, you had a huge smile on your face. The first thing you did was show me the library book you’d checked out. I didn’t hear back from her until Tuesday evening. It turns out she didn’t make an exception for you; they found the book. I guess it all ended up okay, but the whole situation was annoying.
It’s not like you don’t have anything to read. We make regular trips to the public library (though that might have led to a very disgusting weekend of Vomitpalooza for our family), and we’ve been reading the Harry Potter series together, sometimes you reading aloud and sometimes I. In fact, you’ve become a huge Harry Potter head. Your Christmas wishlist is largely Harry Potter stuff, and you love to talk about it with other people who’ve read the books and seen the movies. We’ll be finishing Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in the next couple of days, which will mean it’s time for another popcorn and movie event.
We had several Family Folk Machine concerts: one at our regular Senior Center space, one at the Old Capitol Senate Chambers, and the Englert’s annual Festival of Carols. As always, I was so proud to see and hear you singing with bravery and enthusiasm. Family Folk Machine is just the best. We’ve met so many nice people and had so much fun. It’s become a whole-family affair, since Tobin is singing now and your dad and Callum often come to hang out during rehearsals. Still, though, I’ll always have fond memories of when it was just my little Miles and I singing “Country Roads.”
Photo by Gary Clarke
This will be your first birthday with Callum around, so we’re going to have to figure out how to manage the consecutive birthday schedule. I don’t think our family could handle two full-sized cakes in two days, so I might have to make half a cake for each of you. You’ll want chocolate, your forever favorite, and maybe I’ll go with something fruity for Cal. Maybe you can help me divide the recipes in half. You did a good job helping me with the math of doubling the pancake recipe last week (you can really put away the pancakes these days), so I bet you’ll figure it right out.
I love you, my little seven-year-old. You’re my Golden Snitch.
M: Tobin touched an ornament.
A: Tobin, don’t touch the ornaments.
M: Tobin touched an ornament again.
A: Tobin, don’t touch the ornaments. Miles, don’t be a tattletale. Nobody likes a tattletale.
T: Nobody likes a black mamba in their lunch bag.
A: What did you have for snack today?
T: Animal crackers. Other kids had apples.
A: Why didn’t you have apples? You like apples.
T: I don’t like Hoover apples.
A: Not as good as Honeycrisps, huh?
A: What do Hoover apples taste like?
T: Like two monsters stuffed on spikes.
A: Oh my.
T: What’s the difference between Tuesday and Thursday?
M: They’re different days of the week.
T: So they both don’t know karate?
M: Tobin, exactly what planet are you from?
My sweet Tobin,
What an imaginative little guy you are. Every day it seems like you want to pretend to be something new. Sometimes you’re a wolf puppy, ready to snuggle with your wolf mommy in your den (aka your bed in fort mode, with a blanket draped over the edge of the top bunk). Sometimes you’re a mommy to your baby doll, Aleks. Sometimes you’re a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, sometimes you’re Harry Potter, sometimes you’re a Black Bot Boy.
Speaking of Harry Potter, we just finished reading the first book in the series together with Miles. You’re probably a bit young, but you’re pretty brave, and there’s no way you’d let Miles access to something without demanding it for yourself. Now that the weather is colder, we’ve been driving to school more often. I miss walking on Pretty Valley with you, but the drive gives us a few minutes to talk about Harry Potter. You tell me about your favorite parts and ask me questions. For a while there you were pronouncing Voldemort as “Wal-Mart,” which was pretty hilarious. Several times I’ve gotten so involved in our conversation that I’ve missed the turn to get to school.
School seems to be going great. We had your first parent-teacher conference a couple of weeks ago, and your teacher says you’re doing very well in both the academic and social arenas. She said you’ve gotten to be good friends with two other boys, Gavin and Landon. She also said you’re already doing kindergarten level work, which doesn’t help our conundrum about whether to send you to real kindergarten in the fall. I think your dad wants to send you, but I’m more inclined to wait another year. We think of you as an aggressive kid, but your soccer experience this fall showed us that you’re actually more intimidated by bigger kids than we thought you’d be. You’re on the physically small side anyway, and you could potentially be in class with kids who are a whole year older than you. Also, down the road, I don’t know that I want you to be one of the last of your friends to get a drivers license. I worry about you getting driven around by yahoos. I can’t guarantee that you won’t be a yahoo when you’re 16, but at least I know you’ll be a smart yahoo.
On the other hand, I don’t want you getting turned off by school because it’s too easy, which I’ve heard can happen if a kid is old for his class. We try to do a lot of brain-stimulating stuff at home, so I hope that could potentially offset any classroom boredom. It’s a pickle. I just don’t know.
Selfishly, I wouldn’t mind keeping you in half-day preschool for another year, just so I get more time with you. You’re not going to be a little guy forever, and I don’t want to throw away that time together. You’re a good shopping buddy. We have our haunts: Hy-Vee, Panera, Costco. You’re a friend to everyone you meet.
One of the biggest points of pride for me has been your new membership in Family Folk Machine. We had our fall concerts over the last couple of weeks, and I couldn’t have been happier as I watched and listened to you sing your solos and join in with the choir on the group songs. You know all the words to all the songs, though sometimes you do your own variations. You were brave and sang loud and clear. You were the littlest FFM member this fall, and I know you’re just going to get better. Your only issue right now is that you want a different colored shirt. You’ve been wearing Miles’s old red one that he outgrew, and I don’t know if it’s the color that bothers you or you just want to strike out on your own. Either way, I think it’s fine to get you a new one. Too bad you didn’t mention it until after this season’s order had gone out.
Photo by Gary Clarke
We’ve had our challenges this month, especially with you listening when your dad and I ask you to do things you don’t want to do (e.g., get ready for school, get ready for bed). Our system is that you get two “nice asks”—that is, the initial request and one polite reminder. After that, we find ourselves yelling. We don’t like to yell at you. I hate being angry and I just want our days to run smoothly. But for some reason the two nice asks often don’t sink in. It’s always the worst at the end of the day, when everyone else is tired and you seem to find new reserves of energy for running in circles with no pants on.
And yet, once you finally snuggle into bed and we’ve read our stories and turned off the light, you’re old cold in just a few minutes. I can pull my arm out from under your head and gracelessly plop you into a zone of the bed where you’re unlikely to fall out, all without disturbing your sleep. You’re an all-or-nothing kind of guy, little Tobes. You wear me out, but you’re still my special little guy.
Photo by Gary Clarke
My sweet Callum,
My last little crustacean has worn the lobster costume. You tolerated it pretty well, much as you do everything. I hauled you and Tobin along to Miles’s school so I could take yearbook photos and help out with his class Halloween party. All the big kids fawned over you, of course, and you were very well behaved as I assembled plates of snacks. You were crawling around on a rug at one point, and I looked down and saw a thin stream of red coming out of your mouth. I felt a swell of panic, sure that you’d swallowed a staple or something and perforated your mouth (or worse). Luckily, the sniff test revealed that what you’d really swallowed was an M&M. I’d been planning on holding you off of refined sugar and chocolate until you were at least a year old, but being the little guy who gets dragged around to big brothers’ events has its privileges. You’ve also taken advantage of your big brothers’ carelessness in putting their Halloween treat bucket out of your reach. I’m not encouraging such behavior, mind you, but I sort of admire your resourcefulness.
You’ve been eating all kinds of new foods lately, not just contraband. You love all the meats I’ve given you so far—little bites of chicken and shredded beef and pork. You also like little veggie bites, small chunks of fruit, and SnaPeas. You would rather eat Miles’s Honey Nut Cheerios off the floor than the special low-sugar, honey-free cinnamon O’s cereal I got you. Babies definitely aren’t supposed to have honey. I hope the fine folks at General Mills use pasteurized honey. I also hope Miles learns to eat without dropping 20% of them onto the floor.
You’re big enough now to sit in the big-kid section of the car cart at Hy-Vee, which is pretty special. You’ll be really, really happy when I let you have one of the free cookies from the bakery. It’s kind of torturous for you now to be so close to Tobin while he’s eating one.
We’ve all been sick to varying degrees over the last couple of weeks. You had it first, I think, which manifested itself in some pretty crummy nights. I’m glad your dad is always such a good sport about helping with nighttime duty, because I’m worthless if I don’t get a reasonable amount of sleep. That’s even more the case when I’m sick, which I’ve been for a while now. I’m almost better, and you seem a lot better too. We’ve both had good nights again lately, which is a huge life-improver for everyone.
You’re super accomplished at pulling up against furniture now. You’ll stand any time you have the chance, and you often let go with one hand and just use the other for balance. You’ve also gotten interested in exploring the kitchen cabinets. That’s a pretty good hobby, since it keeps you busy for a while as I prepare dinner. So far I haven’t tripped over you while carrying anything hot. I’ll do my very best to continue that streak.
You and your dad have been coming to Family Folk Machine rehearsals lately. It’s nice because the kids there like to play with you, which makes it a little less stressful for him, and if you start getting truly inconsolable, I can hold you while I sing. A terrible thing happened last weekend, though. Your dad motioned for me to come help him, because you’d pooped and he needed help finding the spare diaper in my purse. It didn’t seem like too big a deal, but I followed him into the men’s room just to see if he needed some backup.
Oh boy. It’s a good thing Tobin was dressed in layers, because after a few highly challenging minutes in the Senior Center men’s room that involved a bath in the sink and an unsalvageable onesie in the garbage can, you were wearing his shirt. I hope the fellows who used the room between that night and the next janitorial service were old enough that their noses didn’t work anymore.
Photo by Gary Clarke
You still haven’t said any really obvious words, though you do blurt out quite a few “mamas.” I don’t think they’re specifically directed to me, but I’m glad you are physically capable of saying it. I’m continuing my training efforts, since I’m holding out hope that you’ll be my one baby who says “mama” for his first word. You definitely understand some words. I took you and Tobin to the playground yesterday, and I asked you, “Do you want to go on the swings?” You laughed and wiggled and very clearly indicated that you knew a good time was ahead. You and Tobin had a lot of fun swinging together.
Nobody loves you more than your brothers, Callum. Miles rewrote the lyrics to the song “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal” so that rather than being about a mule named Sal, it’s about a baby named Cal. They love helping you try new foods, playing with you in blanket forts, and making you laugh.
Photo by Denny
Okay, fine, if anybody loves you more than they do, it’s I. I wouldn’t want to wrestle them for the title, though.
Well, hello, my little rock star. Your dad was bemoaning your Halloween costume choice—not because it wasn’t cool, just because it seems like your first “big kid” costume. You were the lead singer of the band the Black Bot Boys, which is mostly you with some help from Tobin. We recorded your song and shot a video for it, which is steadily accumulating views on YouTube. It has almost 200 now. Mubby and Skitter tell us that about fifty of those views are from them playing it for cousin Aleks. They were caring for him for a couple of days last week, and apparently it was the only cure for the diaper change blues.
We’ve had a lovely fall, with lots of gorgeous days for playing outside. Now that we’ve changed back to Central Standard Time, it’s too dark to play outside after dinner, and with you not getting out of school until 3:45, there’s barely any time after school. Still, you’ve taken good advantage of weekends. We went out to Nana and Papa’s farm a couple of weeks ago, and you had pretty much the best day ever. You jumped across hay bales, rode with Papa on the 4-wheeler, and played around with Nash. Uncle Michael very generously gave you several Lego sets, so you and Tobin and your dad have spent recent dark evenings downstairs working on those. Callum hasn’t choked on any yet, so you guys must be doing a good job of keeping them out of his reach.
You’ve got parent-teacher conferences coming up in a few days, and I’m looking forward to hearing your teacher’s perspective on how things are going. You don’t seem to have any particularly close friends in school this year, though from what I can tell you get along with everyone. You mention various friends you play with at recess, but they change all the time. I hope you have the social support you need.
I guess that’s one benefit of having two brothers. You’ll have lifelong friends who will be around whether you want them to be or not. I wish Uncle Tyler’s schedule were more flexible, because it would be so much fun to do things like go on vacation together with his family. I hope you and your brothers remain close as adults. That’s something that hadn’t really occurred to me when I was first thinking about having children. Not only do I have you guys for now, I have given you each other for the future. Don’t squander it. Family is important.
You’re actually a great brother. Tobin can get on your nerves, but mostly you’re very kind to him. You’re pretty much Callum’s favorite person in the world. There are times when I can’t even calm him down, but a few silly noises and faces from you get him laughing.
One fairly big step you’ve taken lately is wearing lace-up shoes. We figured you couldn’t wear Velcro forever, so we took the plunge. Most of the time when I pick you up from school, your shoes are untied. You can tie them, and we encourage you to double-tie them, but the laces are kind of a slippery synthetic material, and they seem to come undone pretty easily. You also are still getting the hang of tying them, so your bows and knots aren’t quite as tight as one might hope. But I guess that’s how it goes, and you’ll never get better if you don’t work on it. You’re working on it.
As I mentioned above, your school schedule changed this year to a 3:45 dismissal. It’s 4:00 by the time we get home, and I usually have to dive into making dinner or other evening preparations. It makes me feel like I don’t have hardly any time with you. In an effort to address that, we went on a Mommy-and-Miles date to the Java House last Saturday. You seemed into it when I mentioned the idea, and as we were getting ready to go, you asked, “Wait, Callum’s not coming?” I understand that having a baby in the family means he’s pretty much always attached to me, but he’s big enough now that he can hang out with your dad for a while. When I told you that it was just the two of us, you got a huge smile. We got some snacks and beverages and played a couple of board games (Monopoly Jr. and Guess Who), and it was really nice to have some special time with you.
Our choir concert is coming up, and you’re going to nail it. You’ve got a couple of really nice solos, and you’ve been having a lot of fun. One thing was kind of funny—our director, Jean, asked you to say a few words to introduce a song. You got a panic-stricken look on your face and refused. I was surprised, because you can belt a solo into a mic in front of an audience (or an unsuspecting person who asked you for a trick to go with your treat) with no problem, but two sentences of extemporaneous speaking freaked you out.
Photo by Denny
So it goes. You’ll keep learning and growing, just like you’ve done so much already. Most of your pants are too short, and you’ve read so many books the school librarian can barely keep up with you. I’m really happy with how you’re turning out. The challenges will fade, and I suppose new ones will emerge, but we’ll deal with them. You’ve taught me again and again that you’re a smart and interesting person, and I love getting to know you.
Tobin has been into bathroom humor lately, which we’re trying to discourage by minimizing our response to it.
T: Close your eyes, or I’ll poop on your head!
D: That’s not funny. Please don’t say that.
M: Do you even have to go poop?
…at which point we totally blew our attempt not to laugh.
Tobin was giving me instructions on caring for his doll, Aleks, while he went out to do some things with his dad.
T: He can have applesauce, blueberries, yogurt, and…wait, are you a mommy or a daddy?
A: Most of the time, a mommy.
T: Okay, good. You can nurse him, then.
My dear Tobin,
Fifty months, huh? That sounds momentous. You’ve been momentous lately, too. Earlier today, you were being so helpful. You kept an eye on Callum and played with him while I worked on dinner. You made a special spot for him on the bed (“with a blanket feature,” you added, as if to entice him) and snuggled him and made him laugh. Then, not two hours later, you were being an absolute jerk to Miles and fairly unpleasant to me too. Such is life with a four-year-old.
It’s nice that it’s no longer my first time parenting a four-year-old, because I remember when your brother went through the same stage. I was afraid he was going to be a terrible person forever, that he’d never have any friends, that he’d never find love, that he’d have to work in finance or something. But he’s turned things around and is actually pretty cool most of the time now. I have faith that the same will become of you.
Photo by Denny
Look at that little face. How could you be anything but perfect?
You completed your first season of soccer headed in mostly the right direction. You had fun and may have learned a little bit about soccer. You were very proud to have a team shirt and get a medal at the end. A friend of mine recently wrote a very convincing diatribe in favor of participation trophies, and I have to agree. One thing I dislike about sports culture is the focus on winning above all else; even teamwork is only valued insofar as it facilitates triumph. The “participation trophy” as a symbol recognizes the inherent importance of being a member of a team, of making friends, of working toward a common goal (occasionally kicking it into one’s own team’s goal). I like your medal and I’m glad you’re proud to have it.
Photo by Gary Clarke
We’ve been doing some fun fall adventuring around town and beyond. The annual Oktoberfest has a kids’ version called Sodafest, and they really did a stellar job this year of organizing fun, free activities. You decorated a pumpkin, rode about a thousand laps on the obstacle course, went down the big slide many, many times, and didn’t actually consume any soda. You’re not into carbonation.
You’ve gotten the hang of being a member of Family Folk Machine, too. I’ll be honest—when you agreed to do a solo in our concert, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. In fact, for most of the rehearsals, you were pretty timid. Our director even had to assign you a solo buddy to support you vocally. But now I doubt you really need the buddy. You’ve gotten the rhythm and the words down perfectly, and while you do a bit more shouting than singing, you really rock the mic.
Miles is deeply invested in the Black Bot Boys, a band he has formed and recruited you to join. It’s mostly a Halloween thing for him, though he did record the song and we hope to put a video together. You’re a backing vocalist, and he wants you to dress up as a fellow rock star for trick-or-treating. You’re not sure you want to indulge him. You have a pretty awesome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costume we’ve been working on, and as of right now you plan to use that for all your Halloween events. I hope you change your mind and agree to be a Black Bot Boy for trick-or-treating, because you guys would be pretty cute together.
The fall days are waning, and the end of our walks is surely near. That’s a bummer. We’ve had some really sweet walks to school together through Pretty Valley, and I’ll also miss our afternoon adventures to the park or other parts of the neighborhood. This must happen every year, and every winter we figure out a way to survive. One thing we have to look forward to is our spring break trip to the Florida Keys. Tonight at dinner you suggested a pie and cake party (with cocktails) while we’re there. I like that idea. In fact, I like it so much we might just have to make a winter day of it.
I love you, sweet Tobes. Have a good fiftieth month, and we’ll see if the Black Bot Boys become a YouTube sensation.
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