The Tobin Times #51

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:53 pm

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






The Callum Chronicle #10

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:22 pm

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.




Monthly Miles Memo #94

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:29 pm

Dearest Miles,

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.





Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:55 pm

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.


Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:53 pm

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.


The Tobin Times #50

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:23 pm

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.




Always the editor

Filed under: — Aprille @ 12:26 pm

Tobin was eating one of his favorite dishes, beef and broccoli from the Hy-Vee Chinese station, which he gets once a week or so.

A: How’s your food today?
T: You didn’t have to say “today.”



The Callum Chronicle #9

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:39 pm

My little Cal-Pal,

You had your inside-out day yesterday:  the day that marked the point when you’d been in the outside world longer than you were inside me.  Things have certain changed, and mostly in a good way.  Unfortunately, your dad and I are too tired to appreciate many of them, because you’re in the midst of what the Internet tells me is the dreaded nine-month sleep regression.  I don’t know what your deal is, because you had been a good sleeper until just recently.  Now you wake up seven or more times per night, and I consider it a “good” night when I can quickly get you back to sleep after each wake-up.  Sometimes, like last night, I can’t, and I have to pull in your dad for backup.

The only reason I’m not a totally useless member of society is that I go to sleep at 9:30 p.m.  That way I have at least a sporting chance of getting a decent number of total hours.

Photo by Denny

Apparently it’s because you’re in the middle of big mental and physical developments.  You certainly have a lot of new skills:  you can very adeptly scootch around army-man style, and you’re working on getting up onto all fours.  You can pull yourself into a sitting position and stay there very reliably.  You are eating all kinds of new foods—your favorites right now are strawberries, yogurt, and applesauce. You’ve also tried mashed carrots, squash, peas, and poofs.  I also let you sample little soft bits from your brothers’ popcorn snack, and you loved those.

You’re starting to get the hang of the ASL signs for “more” and “all done,” and you’ve shown evidence of understanding a good number of spoken words and phrases.  You were in the bathtub at Mubby and Skittergramps’s house after a particularly horrible diaper explosion, and I’d gotten you clean and given you some time to play.  I thought it was time to be getting you out, so I asked (and signed) if you were all done.  You looked at me and signed “more.”  I feel like it was our first real conversation.  You still haven’t said an obviously-directed “mama” or “dada,” but you’ve made the sounds.   Hopefully in the next few months I’ll be able to proudly report that you’ve said your first word, and I’m even more hopeful that it will be “mama.”  Miles’s first word was “dada,” and Tobin’s was “bubby” (brother), so it’s my turn.  Can you come through for me?

As usual, you are a good sport when we drag you all over town for your brothers’ activities.  You come along on lunch dates with Tobin and me and to Tobin’s soccer games.  You ride along to Coralville for Miles’s piano lessons and watch us eat our weekly Dairy Queen treat without getting a single bite.  Just three more months until you can have a taste of Blizzard too.  I know your brothers are going to fight about who gets to shove spoonfuls into your mouth.  I’ll have to watch that or you’ll jump a standard deviation on the weight charts for sure.

Photo by Denny

You’re still happiest outside, and I know it’s going to be hard on you when the weather turns and we can’t spend so much time in the yard, park, and neighborhood.  Our current pattern is to walk your brother to school at Hoover, then take a long walk through the area.  It’s a nice way to get some exercise, spend time with you, and enjoy the fall.  Lately we’ve seen deer wandering around the residential yards.  You don’t really notice, but I get a kick out of them as long as they stay away from motor vehicles.

You’re bright-eyed, alert, and cheerful from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.  In the evening, you often get crabby when I’m busy helping your brothers with their evening tasks.  It’s hard to listen to you cry when I know that all it would take is a cuddle in my arms to calm you down.  I guess this is why third-born kids end up resilient:  sometimes you just have to wait.  But you never have to wait for long.  I’ve balanced you on my lap while I listen to Miles practice piano more than once, because hearing you cry is like rubbing sandpaper on my brainstem.  It makes it hard to play duets (or at least it makes them hard to play as written; you sometimes pound out your own accompaniments).  Your brothers are very patient with you, and for the time being, Miles thinks it’s funny when you interrupt his piano practice.

I’m looking forward to seeing your upcoming developments, sweetie pie.  I’ve loved having this fall with you, and we’ll be spending a lot of time this winter inside.  You’ll be exploring on your hands and knees all over the house, and I’ll do my best to keep the little toys and other floor crud out of your throat.

Keep enjoying the adventures we have together, my little chub-chub.  I look forward to seeing some wear on those little shoes.




Monthly Miles Memo #93

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:03 pm

My dear Miles,

I don’t know if it’s the specific spacing we chose for our kids or just because that’s how human personalities naturally ebb and flow, but it seems like one of you guys is always in a stage where you’re driving me crazy.  This month I am happy to report that it’s not you.  You’re doing very well, and for the most part you’ve been pleasant to have around.  You’re still a sensitive guy—which is kind of weird, because one of your challenge areas is reading other people’s nonverbal signals.  Your dad and I sometimes find ourselves getting angry with you because we’ve asked you many times to do something (say, get dressed for school).  The first couple of times we ask you nicely, but then we start getting frustrated because you seem to feel no sense of urgency.  The next couple of times we ask in a heightened tone, and often you still don’t get the message, which is when we find ourselves angry and yelling.  Neither of us likes to do that at all.  We are not a shouty people.

I’ve gone so far as to explicitly point out to you the nonverbal signal:  “Did you hear when Daddy’s tone changed?”  I hope it sinks in eventually.

But anyway, my point at the beginning of this was that you’ve been in a good stage lately, so I’ll focus on the positive.  Second grade has been going well.  You report working and playing with a variety of friends, and your schoolwork seems to be coming easily.  You continue to love to read, and you need to bring two books to your brother’s soccer practices, because you can blow through one easily before the fifty-minute practice ends.  Of course, if your friend Sitota is there, you’ll run and play with her instead of reading.  I’m happy that you enjoy both.  You have only a tiny glimmer of interest in playing soccer that quickly fades the moment I mention signing you up for a team.  You’re more of a sidelines kind of guy.

Photo by Denny

One area where you’re happy to be a star is in Family Folk Machine.  We helped make a video about composting, Brown Gold, and you were so proud that you’re featured both visually and vocally.  You also got really excited about composting and even listed it among your favorite family activities in a school assignment.  At rehearsal last night, you have your first chance to practice a solo you’ll be doing in our concert.  Technically it’s a trio, but Tobin and I are really just backing you up.  You sang loudly and clearly in front of the whole group, and you knew the words better than I did.

Your piano playing is going well too.  I was just marveling at how good you’ve gotten in only a year of lessons.  Most importantly, you really enjoy it.  I honestly hated piano lessons as a kid.  I enjoyed music and I liked being able to play, but practicing was such a drag, and most of the time I felt like my teacher generally disapproved of my rate of progress.  I don’t know if she actually did or I was just putting too much pressure on myself, but in any case, I don’t want you to feel that way.  Luckily your teacher really seems to get you, and she supports you working at a pace that keeps things low-pressure.  And yet, here you are, one year in and so accomplished.  I think I’m going to take a video of you tonight playing the Super Mario Brothers theme song, because it’s awesome and you’re awesome.  (Update:  here it is.)

The nights have been warm enough that you’ve still been able to get some good playground playing and biking time in, but that won’t last much longer.  Halloween is coming, and you are deeply invested in your costume idea.  You, along with your dad and Tobin, are going to be a band called the Black Bot Boys.  I wanted to be in it too, but you said it was for boys only.  You’re letting me be a roadie.  You’ve written your themesong, which has several verses and a chorus and a separate backing vocals part.  Anyone who asks you for a trick when you’re out trick or treating is going to get more than he or she expected.

A crucial part of the Black Bot Boys is hair styling.  You’ve decided that rock stars comb their hair straight down over their foreheads, because apparently you formed your impression of rock stars based on Justin Beiber in 2007.  We bought you hair gel and colored hair spray to complete the look.  You also have a plan for Tobin’s hair that’s slightly different.  I don’t know what your dad has in store.  I hope he lets you do something exciting.

Well, just as I was finishing this up, you and your dad and brothers came in from the park, and your dad was pretty unhappy with your attitude.  Maybe I wrote too soon.

Parenting is hard, Miles.  Everything that’s new for you as a kid growing up is new for me as a parent, too.  As a firstborn myself, I can commiserate with you.  But that doesn’t make it okay to have a rude attitude toward Tobin or to only think about yourself.  You’re so sensitive, and yet you sometimes seem oblivious to the hurt you cause others.  What am I going to do with you?

Photo by Denny

I’ll love you.  I’ll do my best.  I’ll try to focus on your many strengths and help you improve in your weaker areas.  I’ll be a roadie if I’m not allowed to be in your band.  I’ll shout sometimes even though I hate it, and I’ll try to explain to you how I’m feeling rather than waiting for you to intuit it.  I’ll fall asleep cuddling you, because even though you’re old enough to fall asleep on your own, I can’t imagine that I’m going to look back on my life and wish I’d spent less time cuddling my little boy while he’d still let me.




The Tobin Times #49

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:45 pm

My little Tobin,

I am the worst mom in the world.

Who ever heard of a four-year-old with a cavity that goes all the way into the nerve in the root of his tooth?  Well, one of them lives at my house.  I was shocked when your dentist mentioned it.  We brush your teeth, and you’re not a huge consumer of sweets.  I’d be lying if I said you never had treats, but you usually choose water or milk over juice, and you only have candy on special occasions.  You don’t even put M&Ms on your frozen yogurt.  Just as we were leaving, he mentioned gummy vitamins, and it dawned on me so abruptly that if I were a cartoon, a lightbulb would have pinged to life above my head.  You always take gummy vitamins right before bed.  We must not have done a good enough job getting the goop out of your molars more than once.

I have no idea why it didn’t occur to me that gummy vites before bed is dumb-dumb-dumb.  I feel just terrible that you had to have a fairly big-deal dental procedure at your age.  We’ve switched both vitamin type and administration time, and we’re going to be extra careful from now on to get your teeth thoroughly brushed.  You were very brave at your appointment, and you thought it was cool to miss school.  You watched The Lion King on the couch and ate a lot of fudge pops.  Don’t worry, we brushed your teeth afterward.

Photo by Denny

It seems like we’ve been busy all the time lately.  We took our annual family trip to the apple orchard and had a good time harvesting fruit and enjoying a beautiful day.  It was a popular morning to go out, and we saw your friend Jack from school.  Jack is one you mention playing with a lot, which makes sense because he was your classmate last year at Willowwind.  So far your transition to Hoover has been good.  You seem to like your teachers and classmates, and we’ve got a good morning routine going.  I’ve been walking with you and Callum to Hoover, and in order to avoid the noise and traffic of First Avenue, we’ve been taking Upland, a parallel street.  It’s a nice, quiet street with lots of interesting yards, and the very first day we took it, you decided to call it Pretty Valley.

We have a few checkpoints along Pretty Valley, like the house with the decorative windmill, the one with the lawn dinosaur, and the one with all the flowers.  When we make it to school, you line up with your friends and head into your classroom with zero trouble.  When I come to pick you up, you’re usually doing big soccer kicks and running around with your friends.  I’m so glad it’s been a good fit for you.  You’ll only be there this year, since it’s just for three- and four-year-olds.  We have to decide this year whether you’ll start kindergarten in the fall or whether we should find somewhere for one more year of preschool.  It’s all a lot to consider, and you’ll read more about it in future Tobin Times letters, I’m sure.

You joined your first soccer team, the Hammers.  Your first game is tonight, and we’re all so excited to watch you.  Due to a coach shortage, your dad made a last-minute volunteer effort and is one of your team’s coaches.  He doesn’t know a lot about soccer, but neither do the players, so it’s okay.  Mostly it’s just fun for you to do something that’s special just for you.  So far, all your activities have been tag-alongs with Miles, and while you’ve enjoyed many of them (see below), it’s cool that soccer is just for you.

One of the very positive tag-along activities is Family Folk Machine.  You’re so proud to be a part of it now that you’re old enough to join.  We’ve been singing a lot of the songs as we progress through our day.  A few neighbors got serenaded with “City of New Orleans” as we headed toward Pretty Valley this morning.  You and Miles both wrote verses to “I’m a Little Airplane,” which hopefully will turn into solos for you at the concert.  We’ve been practicing, as the timing is a bit tricky.

Photo by Beth Clarke

You continue to be a good helper, especially in the cooking and gardening arenas.  When we were in Ames recently, you helped Skittergramps with popcorn harvesting and some light opossum trapping.  You are always ready to help with dinner, and I try to let you as often as is reasonable.  Your other current favorites:  beef and broccoli (minus the beef), hot chocolate with whipped cream, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys and videos, riding your Strider bike, playing with friends, and generally being a wild man.

We’ve been having a rough time at bedtime lately.  You’ve been having a hard time settling down and completing your bedtime tasks.  We’ve done everything we can think of–no sugary snacks after dinner, a calming routine, stories and cuddles.  And yet, you’d rather run around with a metal hanger in your hand.  Maybe we need to sign you up for a few more soccer teams to help you burn off your energy.

I think once you learn to harness your massive enthusiasm for life, you’re going to be unstoppable.  In the meantime, I’m going to improve my parenting to the degree that you still have teeth when you’re ten.  Let’s both work on it, okay?

Photo by Denny






The Callum Chronicle #8

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:01 pm

My little Cal-Pal,

Well, look who’s eight months.  Actually you’ve been eight months old for over a week, but the thing about having three children who are in an increasing number of evening activities means I have less and less time to sit down and write these things.  That’s yet another reason we’re done having kids.  If we had a fourth, the poor baby would barely get any documentation.  Also, you guys would have to draw straws to figure out who could go to college.

I’m doing my best to keep up with you.  The increasing quality of cell phone cameras helps.  I remember those leisurely days of Miles’s first year, which actually weren’t leisurely at all in terms of stress level.  I spent a lot of time looking at websites about what developmental milestone my baby should be reaching by whatever month and being worried about whether Miles was right on schedule (spoiler alert:  he was, mostly).  I also had more time to stage photo shoots with the DSLR when the light was coming into the bedroom just right.  Nowadays I’m much more likely to snap a quick shot of you with my phone.  The other side of that is that when you accomplish a milestone, I may or may not have a chance to look on the chart on the website, and when I do, I think, “Oh, okay, yeah, that’s about right.”  I’m certainly more busy, but I’m also way less freaked out.

That’s pretty much you.  You’re busy—we sometimes struggle to keep up with all the tasks we have to complete, but we usually get things done.  You’re also not very freaked out.  You do your thing with aplomb.

The biggest news of the month is that you have teeth.  You’ve gotten the two bottom center and two top center incisors, and you’re doing pretty well with them.  You haven’t bitten me much, and you’re fully enjoying the world of chewing.  You like to chew on magazines, other people’s fingers, toys, shoes, Dixie cups, the spoons I use to give you your food, and towels.  The one thing you won’t chew is poofs, those little snack things most babies like so much.  I keep trying to give them to you, but you just pick them up and play with them.  If one happens to end up in your mouth, you gag and hate it so much that I end up fishing it out.  I noticed that the main ingredient is rice, which is our lead suspect in what may have caused those puking incidents a couple of months ago.  I was hoping you’d outgrow that, but maybe rice just doesn’t sit well with you.

You still spit up more than I would expect a baby your age to.  Since I stopped giving you rice cereal, you haven’t had any of those big, heaving vomit sessions (thank goodness; those were nasty).  Still, you don’t hold your stomach contents very well.  I hope you get over that soon, because I’m tired of always smelling vaguely of rotten milk.

You’ve made big progress in the locomotion arena.  While you don’t yet meet the textbook definition of crawling, you’re an accomplished roller and scootcher.  For a while there you were doing this funny thing where you’d lie on your back and push off from your heels.  It looked really cute, but you got a rug burn on the back of your neck.  Now you usually prefer to do a more traditional tummy-down scootch, pulling yourself on your forearms and pushing off with your toes.  We’re going to have to get you some shoes soon, because it won’t be long before you’re ready to do some walking.

Speaking of walking, now that Tobin is back in preschool in the mornings, we’ve been able to resume our long morning walks.  Technically I’m the only one walking, since you ride in the stroller, but it’s a much more pleasurable form of exercise than running on the treadmill.  You usually either look at the scenery contentedly or sleep, both of which are a nice way to spend an hour or so together in the morning.

You are pretty accustomed to being hauled around.  You still have a very sweet, calm personality, which is very useful, because getting done all the things we need to get done would be a whole lot harder if you were being a jerk.  You still get crabby in the evenings, which is hard because that’s exactly when I need to be helping your brothers with homework and piano practice and bedtime prep.  Normally you’re fine with anyone holding you, but you consistently reject your dad at those times.  I know you love him.  You always get a huge, excited grin on your face when you see him through the window walking toward our house from the bus stop.  You definitely know your brothers, too.  They can both make you smile and laugh more than anyone.  Sometimes Tobin gets a little too rough with you, by my estimation, and I tell him to cool it.  “But he likes it!” Tobin says, and I have to admit, you’re never as upset about Tobin’s squeezes and man-handles as I am.

I recently had the opportunity to take a part-time job.  The place looking to hire me was willing to be very flexible, including letting me bring you to the office because we don’t have any child care lined up.  It was tempting—I do plan to have some kind of employment again one day, and the extra income would have been nice.  I hemmed and hawed about it for a while, but in the end, I decided it just wasn’t worth the stress it would bring to our family.  I really like being able to dedicate my mornings to you, and I don’t feel like I have the kind of free time during the afternoons to do the remote work I would have needed to.  In the end I declined, and I feel good about that for the time being.  Money will come, a job will come, but you’re not going to be my little guy for very long.

Thanks for all you do for me, sweet Callum.  May you have a respite from teething, a respite from snotty noses, and an anti-respite from being your friendly, funny, laid-back self.





Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:52 pm

T:  What did the lemon say to the triceratops?

A:  What?

T:  Want to go to the food court?  … Get it?  Because a lemon is a FOOD?

Monthly Miles Memo #92

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:00 pm

Dear Miles,

You’re a second-grader now, which is still technically a “little kid” in school organization terms, but your dad and I agree that it was at about your current age when we started forming a lot of concrete memories.  We remember our teachers, our school friends, losing teeth, all the things you’re dealing with now.

You got the second grade teacher you really hoped you’d get—Mr. Turnquist, aka “Mr. T.”  He has a reputation for being great with kids like you, kids who benefit from a little mental stretching and opportunities to try new approaches.  I hope he challenges you and lets you run a little wild (figuratively).  You like school and like to succeed, and I want you to get more comfortable moving beyond what you already do well. You’ve gotten excited about Khan Academy, a website that offers video tutorials and interactive tasks to teach a variety of skills.  You’re kind of stuck on the easiest levels, though, which you can always ace.

This is a theme throughout several aspects of your life.  You still only eat about six different foods (pasta, with or without tomato sauce; waffles/pancakes; cornbread; assorted fruits; Wheat Thins; Honey Nut Cheerios).  I guess you eat a few other things, but it almost seems like a phobia.  I don’t think it’s logical.  You know that the worst possible outcome of trying a new food is having an unpleasant sensation in your mouth for two seconds, which is really not a very big risk.  Yet for some reason, you just can’t make yourself do it.  I don’t fight you on it very much, because I want you to remember family mealtimes as a pleasant experience, not a battleground.  It still bums me out, though, because culinary culture is such an important part of life.

Photo by Gary Clarke

You get so upset about things so easily.  The other day, I was reading Tobin a book, and you wanted to listen too.  You crowded up against Tobin, which got him upset.  I wanted you guys to work it out on your own, so I suggested that one of you could come sit on the other side of me where there was more room.  I told you I’d count to ten, and if you guys hadn’t sorted it out by the time I got to ten, I wasn’t going to read the story.  You got up and moved to the other side, and just as I was praising you for finding a peaceful solution, you got up in a huff and stormed away, saying you didn’t want to hear the story anyway.  What are you going to be like when you’re a moody teenager, praytell?

There are plenty of good moments, too.  You’re still a wonderful big brother to Callum, and most of the time to Tobin as well.  You love to tell stories about the funny things Callum does, like when he scootched his way under your bed when we had our backs turned.  You’re a reading whiz, and now that you’ve read just about every Calvin & Hobbes collection the library has to offer, you’ve gotten excited about Fox Trot too.  Probably twenty-five percent of the conversations you have start with “In Encyclopedia Brown…,” “In Calvin & Hobbes…,” or “In Fox Trot….”  I’m glad you enjoy reading so much, but honestly, I’d rather hear about what you did in school.  I suggested that for every anecdote you tell from a book, you should follow up with telling us something about your own life.  You didn’t like that idea.

You’ve gotten very accomplished at bike riding.  You still prefer to stay within certain boundaries on the path behind our house, but you can accelerate, brake, and turn with no problem.  I’m sure you’d be perfectly competent at going longer distances over less familiar area, but you don’t seem to want to try that.  The good news is that I never worry about you doing anything reckless and endangering yourself.  Self-preservation is a good trait in reasonable doses.

Photo by Denny

You were part of a parade for the first time not too long ago, for the Albia Restoration Days.  You rode on a float commandeered by one of the myriad Beary aunts or uncles, and you had fun throwing candy to observers and wearing sparkly accouterments.  It’s fun to have so many family members on your dad’s side.  There are always cousins running around, and it helps you learn to have fun and get along with people who don’t always share your perspective.

Photo by Denny

Two big things in your world right now are Super Mario Brothers-related.  First, you finally completed a long and challenging piano piece, the Super Mario Brothers themesong.  You’ve been slogging away at that for months, a chunk at a time, and now you’ve learned the whole thing.  I’m so proud of how you persevered despite it not being easy right away.  Second, you got a Wii-U game that you’ve been waiting on for over a year:  Super Mario Maker.  It’s a game I would have loved as a kid:  you get to design custom levels in various Super Mario styles and then play them.  You and your dad and Tobin have been doing a lot of that this weekend.  You had been counting down the days on the calendar you made in school last year, and I bet it’s going to be pretty hard to wait until the weekends (or Wii-kends, as we call them) to play.  I haven’t tried it yet, because I never have two hands free, but I want to some time.  I’d also really like to play some of the levels you invented.  You have an interesting brain, and I bet it’s coming up with some great stuff.

Photo by Denny

Have fun as your second grade year progresses, Mr. Miles.  I hope you have good memories of these days.





We all saw it coming

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:09 pm

Tobin had been playing downstairs.  He came up.

T:  Mommy, I have to go poop.

A:  Then go poop.

T:  Okay.  (He pulled down his pants and walked down the hall with his pants and underpants around his ankles.)  I came upstairs because it’s a little more predictable.


It fell flat

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:23 am

M:  What do you call a table with no legs?

A&D:  What?

M:  An education table.

A&D:  [blank stare]

M:  Get it?  Zero legs?  Zero is a number?  And education…like math?

A&D:  [laughing in confusion and absurdity]

M:  Why does no one get my jokes?


Unrelated (?)

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:16 pm

Tobin was looking over my shoulder as I scrolled through Facebook. A video of President Obama came up. “Is that [children’s author] Mary Pope Osborne? Does ‘porcupine’ mean ‘fabulous’?”

What’s cooler than being cool?

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:15 pm

At HyVee, Tobin was looking at the case of bagged ice.
T: I-C-E.
A: What do you think that spells?

Iron it

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:15 pm

After we finished a walk this humid afternoon…

T: Your hair looks…wrinkled.

The Tobin Times #48

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:10 pm

My sweet, sparkling Tobin,

You’re four, you’re truly four!  After what felt like an excruciatingly long wait, your birthday finally came around.  We celebrated first with Nana and Papa at the family reunion, then at Mubby and Skitter’s house, then with an immediate family party on your real birthday, and then with a friends party in the back yard.  Your dad and I are still recovering.

You’ll start preschool at Hoover next week.  Every time we drive by (which is often as it’s near the intersection of a couple of main thoroughfares in our area), you yell, “Hi, Hoover!”  We went to visit your classroom and meet your teacher; we accomplished one of those goals.  The room is bright and cheerful and should be a fun place to play and learn.  The teacher is MIA.  Well, not exactly—with all the shuffling around in the district, she made a last-minute switch to a kindergarten teaching position.  They’re hoping to hire someone soon.  Luckily, you’re the kind of kid who can handle a little unpredictability.  You don’t seem nervous at all.

You’ve been a little grumpy the last few days having your brother back at school, but you’ve also been enjoyed being the Boss Brother.  You take very good care of Callum when I need you to entertain him for a couple of minutes.   You take joy in helping him discover new foods.  I had to drag both of you with me to a doctor’s appointment this morning, and you very kindly let him play (and even chew on) one of the Batman toys you brought.

We’ve had a tiring but fun summer together.  We spent a lot of time at the library, had our share of Flavor Ice and frozen yogurt, played with digger toys in the dirt, and all kinds of other things.  It’s been a mild summer, mostly, so we’ve gotten to be outside a lot.

You asked me the other day, “Can I jump out of an airplane with a parachute?”  I shouldn’t have been surprised that you asked.  You enjoy a good adventure, and your dad is engaged in a never-ending battle with you over jumping from the couch to the futon and back.  My answer to you:  “Not today.”  I hope never, because that sounds truly awful to me, but trying to force people from doing what they want hardly ever works.

You’ve grown so much this year, both physically and intellectually.  In the family portraits we took last fall, your shorts looked comically like those capri pants European men wear.  Why those guys wear their swim trunks so tiny and their shorts so long is a mystery to me.  In any case, those shorts hit you right in the above-the-knee sweet spot now.  You can write your name, know all the letters of the alphabet (thanks largely to many, many games of Alphabet Go Fish this summer), and have a great imagination.  You can play for a long time with your Imaginext characters and playsets, coming up with adventures for Batman, the Joker, the space characters, and the knights.

Photo by Gary Clarke

I am most proud, though, of your kindness.  Last night, I was getting tired and grumpy as I often do as I scramble to get dinner ready.  Something happened and a shoe fell off the trunk and landed on my foot, which hurt.  I yelped about it briefly, then got over it and continued making dinner.  Later, after dinner, as your dad was getting you ready to go outside and play, you asked me, “Is your foot feeling better?”  I had completely forgotten about it, but you didn’t, and you wanted to check in with me.  That’s the kind of kid you are.  You often ask me how I slept the previous night or how I’m feeling.

Your friend Ben’s dad mentioned the same thing the other night—how you have the unusual characteristic of often checking on how Ben is doing.  It’s not something a lot of kids do, and let me tell you, there is nothing that makes a mommy’s heart warmer than hearing that her little guy is caring toward others.  There’s a lot of self-centeredness among our fellow human beings, and that’s not necessarily bad.  Kids especially are naturally oblivious to the issues of others, and it takes some effort for most of us to snap out of our own perspectives and feel empathy and sympathy.  You seem to have a head start in that arena.

This isn’t to say your E.Q. is 100% yet.  You still do a lot of the typical little kid things, like goofing around when your dad and I have asked you multiple times to put on your shoes.  You can torture your brother like no one else.  I guess that’s the flip side of being aware of others’ feelings:  you can use that knowledge to your own advantage when it comes to pushing his buttons.  Sometimes you are, as I like to say, a little guano.

Photo by Denny

You’re still my number one source of laughter and funny quotes.  Your brain comes up with observations that seem perfectly logical to you (like how the best way to stop smoking is to take off one’s mouth).  You love the stories your dad tells you about “Tobin Crall, the Friendship Street detective, with a keen mind and a sharp eye.”  You laugh and laugh when he tells them to you, including a few that have risen to the top as favorites and you request to hear over and over.

Your other favorites:  Scooby Doo, pepperoni pizza, SnaPeas, Batman, Pokemon, checking on the garden’s developments with me, helping grownups with all kinds of tasks (dinner preparation, sidewalk sweeping, fish-feeding…pretty much everything except cleaning up your toys).

Photo by Denny

Here’s to a wonderful year of being four, my sweet Tobin.  My life is so much better because you’re in it.




Obvious answers

Filed under: — Aprille @ 10:20 am

T: Why do some people smoke?
A: They probably started when they were young, and by the time they realized it was a bad idea, it was really hard for them to stop. The best way not to smoke is to never start in the first place.
T: No, the best way not to smoke is to take off your mouth.
A: …

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