The Tobin Times #43

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:43 pm

My sweet(ish) Tobin,

Not that these letters are ever on time anymore, but at least I have a good excuse this month.  Hoo boy, have we had a week.  You had your personal worst sickness of your whole life, one that your dad and I think is the worst one any kid in our family has ever had.  It was an all-out spew fest, both upper and lower.  You couldn’t keep anything down for the first day or so, not even water.  Fortunately it abated somewhat and I stopped being worried about dehydration, but it continued for about four and a half days altogether.  You were crabby and lethargic and generally miserable.  I’m so glad you’re doing better now, able to get back to school and your normal creative fun.

You’re really into imaginative play these days, especially with your Imaginext toys.  I think I’ve written before about how you like to watch videos of people playing with the toys, which is kind of weird, especially since it’s usually adults.  But you’ve used some of the plotlines from the videos as springboards for your own play, so I guess it’s not totally worthless.  You like to play with the Joker’s Funhouse, the space station, the Eagle Talon Castle, and all the dinosaurs.  Unlike your brother, who gets uptight about the Joker and Spiderman interacting because one of them is D.C. and one is Marvel (don’t ask me which, but he knows), you have no problem with crossover.  Your knights go into space, which sounds like just the kind of adventure a knight would enjoy, if he had the technological resources.  Mubby and Skitter are coming to see us this weekend, and Mubby has promised a couple of new Imaginext toys.  You are absolutely quivering with excitement.

The Imaginext toys are in your bedroom right now, because we had to clear out the basement due to a destruction/reconstruction project.  It’s handy for you to have them there, so maybe we’ll leave them.  You can just duck away and go have some playtime.  Sometimes Miles plays with you, but other times you’re happy to just sit there and make up stories for your action figures and dinosaurs.  Callum isn’t much of a playmate yet, but he does love to look at you.  You’re still a great brother to him, sweet and mostly gentle.  You love to hold him and talk to him in a sing-song voice.  I’m sure your name or some version of it will be among his first words.

One of your favorite things to do after I pick you up from school is suggest that we go on a lunch date to Panera.  I try to say yes to that once a week or so.  It’s not too far out of the way and it’s not too busy at 11:30, and you’re always happy to have a tub of cream cheese and a few bites of bagel. Other days we go to Hy-Vee and pick up a slice of pizza or beef and broccoli for you.  Other days we come home and eat leftovers or your usual favorites, pasta or waffles.  Breaking bread with you is a fun thing to do.

We’ll have to find out what time Panera starts serving their lunch menu, because your schedule is going to change a bit in the fall.  We’ve known for a while that Willowwind would likely be ending its half-day program, so we applied to the preschool program at Hoover Elementary.  We found out last week that you got into it, which is great news because it’s reasonably close to our house and has the best hours of any of the possibilities we considered.  Rather than 11:30, it ends at 11:00 every day.  That’s slightly less convenient, but it’s better than the programs that go through the lunch hour.  I like having lunch with you, and you’re only three.  It seems early to ship you off every day with a sack lunch when we could be eating together.  It’s also free, which is going to be a significant boon to our budget.  We haven’t visited it yet, but we’ve heard good things.  There’s a parents’-only visiting day next month, and unless we see something that’s truly alarming, that’s where you’ll be starting in August.

Unfortunately, Ho0ver is slated to close in the next few years, so once Callum is old enough for preschool, we’re going to have to figure out something else once again.  So it goes.

I’m not going to tell you that every minute we’ve spent together lately has been perfect.  You’re truly, madly, deeply three.  That has led to some departure from your previously sweet and relaxed nature.  I think you’ve had more temper tantrums in the last couple of months than in the whole rest of your life up to that point.  Sometimes you just roar with rage.  The fact that you haven’t been feeling well probably doesn’t help matters, but it can be pretty hard to deal with you when you get absolutely irrational like that.  Sometimes you freak out so hard you pee your pants.  I think it’s just because you get so overwhelmed with emotion that you lose control of yourself, but it does feel suspiciously like an act of hostility.  It will pass, I think.  Miles went through it too (though not the peeing part—that’s new and fun).  We’ll get beyond it just in time to start round three with Cal.  So it goes.

We had a fun family get-together at the Honey Creek resort at Lake Rathbun a couple of weekends ago.  Our main purpose was to celebrate Aunt Dorothy’s 95th birthday.  She’s an aunt by marriage on your dad’s side, but I feel a special connection to her because she was friends with my grandmother, whom we refer to as Maw.  You never met Maw, but Dorothy is still lively and bright.  I hope she’s with us long enough that she can tell you stories about Maw.  You also had fun with Nana and Papa, Aunt Shannon and Uncle Mark, and lots of other family members.  The hotel was very nice, though unfortunately we had a couple of snafus that left me sleeping in a not-huge bed with you and Callum, and an alarm went off twice in our room during the night.  It was not the most restful sleep I’ve ever had.  We still had fun, though.  You and Miles had a blast at the indoor water park, and we had a fun walk by the lake with Papa.  You also enjoyed the fancy cookies Dorothy’s granddaughter made for the occasion.


I think if we can survive this half-year, Tobes, our family will be under control.  Of course, Callum can’t walk yet.  That will create a whole new set of challenges.  But I’ll save speculation about that for his letter.  This one’s for you, my little firecracker.  May your frustrations ease away; may your health be good; may you never stop thinking it’s funny to stuff something in the back of your pants and pretend it’s a tail.

Even when you drive me crazy, I love you more than I knew I could.




Tight lips unsink chips

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:26 pm

A:  I’m so happy you didn’t have to throw up last night, Tobin.

T:  That’s ’cause I keeped my mouth closed.


The Callum Chronicle #2

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:37 pm

Dear Callum,

You’ve now completed your second month with us, and already you’re becoming less like an amorphous blob and more like an actual person.  You’ve become a smile master, especially for your brothers.  Just this morning, Miles was talking to you before school, and he got so excited because of the big smiles you gave him.

You have your grumpy moments, but mostly you’re a pretty chill guy.  You, like most babies, are a morning person so far.  You will usually sit quietly and happily in your seat while your dad and I scramble around to get your big brothers ready for school in the morning.  You don’t like to nap anywhere but your car seat, which is okay for the time being, but you’ll need to learn to nap elsewhere before you outgrow it.

We faced your two biggest struggles so far:  your first cold and your first immunizations.  They were both kind of awful, though the cold was worse.  We’re still dealing with the dregs of it, in fact.  If you had told me twenty years ago that I would be up at 5 a.m. sucking snot out of a baby’s head with a crazy tube contraption, I don’t know if I would have believed it.  Overall you’ve been a good sleeper, though this cold has not been great for your sleep patterns.  The shots weren’t so bad during the actual injections—you cried for a moment and then calmed down.  But I could tell you felt crummy, because the whole rest of the day you spent either sleeping or crying.  Fortunately you seem to have recovered from that, and I’m glad you’re on your way to being a well-vaccinated individual.

We went to visit Mubby and Skittergramps, which was your first road trip.  I don’t know if you had fun or not, but I did.  It was good to see them and spend some time with Joe and Suzy as well.  This weekend we have a trip coming up, and we’ll see Nana and Papa and other family members.  It will mean your first hotel stay, which is an important milestone in any baby’s life, at least any baby who lives with me.

I suppose it happens with all babies who are later in birth order, but we’ve been dragging you around to all kinds of things.  This morning you went to Tobin’s school to watch his music program.  Later you went to pick up Miles and then to his piano lesson, after which we went out for ice cream.  I’m sorry you didn’t get any.  Maybe you can have a taste before the summer is over.  Through all of it, you were very calm, sleeping peacefully or just watching the action.  As long as you have a full tummy and are well-burped, you seem happy to be along for the ride.  I hope that pattern continues, because you have a lot of rides ahead of you.

Photo by Gary Clarke

I was chatting with another mom of three at Tobin’s school, and we were talking about the sweetness that comes with knowing a particular baby is your last baby.  I admitted to her that I haven’t been able to bring myself to throw away my positive pregnancy test, since I know it’s the last one I’ll ever have (unless something truly unexpected happens).  She said she felt the same way and kept her last one, too.  That made me feel slightly less crazy.

It’s just that babies don’t last, you know?  I’ll never have my own sweet little two-month-old again.  I’m probably going to say this every month of your life.  I’m often tired and sometimes frustrated, not necessarily with you but with the strain that comes with being a stay-at-home parent to three kids.  This summer may be a challenge.  But you’re growing so fast, and you’ve already changed from the little squirt we brought home from the hospital.  You can focus your eyes and chew your fingers with your little gummy jaws.  You recognize familiar faces and have really loud toots.  I don’t even really mind waking up in the night to feed you, because that’s a special thing that only I can do.  When you cozy your little head up to me, it makes me so happy you joined us.

Photo by Denny




Monthly Miles Memo #86

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:18 pm

My dear Miles,

The other night, we were in a predicament:  Tobin had taken a nap, which meant that you were likely to fall asleep first at bedtime.  To anyone not familiar with our bedtime routine, it goes like this:  you, Tobin, and I crowd into the bottom bunk together, and we stay there until Tobin falls asleep.  Then you and I extract ourselves and go up to the top bunk, where I cuddle with you.  After that, I go into the master bedroom, where I sleep for a couple of blissful hours by myself until your dad is ready for bed, at which time he brings Callum to me.  For the time being, while Callum is still nursing frequently at night, your dad has been sleeping in the bottom bunk with Tobin.  It’s a double bed, so it’s not quite as ridiculous as it sounds.

Anyway, as you can gather, it’s all a delicate dance.  If you fall asleep before Tobin, I have to try to wake you up to get you to the top bunk.  A lot of times that doesn’t work.  Either I simply can’t wake you up without doing something drastic that would wake Tobin up too, or I half-wake you up, which sends you into a state of frightened panic.  I don’t want to do that to you, so I usually just leave you in the bottom bunk with Tobin.  Then, when your dad comes to bed, he has to go up to the top bunk.  However, partway through the night, either you or Tobin usually wakes up and is dissatisfied with the situation.  You want to go up, which means your dad has to come down, or else Tobin wants to come in with me.  I don’t like that because I’m worried about him squashing or otherwise disturbing the baby.

This will all get a lot less complicated when your dad gets back to bed with me.  That does assume, of course, that Tobin will be okay with sleeping alone.  Surely before his high school graduation he’ll sort it out.  Anyway, in the meantime, it’s bad news when Tobin takes a nap, because it sends the previous paragraph’s chain of events into motion.  So when he took that unexpected nap the other day, I suggested that you go up to your bunk by yourself while I waited for Tobin to fall asleep.  That way I figured you might fall asleep on your own in the ideal bunk. or I could come cuddle you a little later than usual.

You are generally not okay with that idea, so I sweetened it by suggesting that you could read a book with a flashlight under your blanket.  You went for that.  You took a brand-new book up and started reading.  When I got Tobin to sleep, I climbed up to check on you.  You were still awake.

“Did you get a lot of reading done?” I asked.

“I finished my book.  A long time ago.”

This is all to set up the fact that you are a crazy fast reader.  You easily blow through a chapter book a day, and you could probably do more if we weren’t worried about you exhausting your supply.  You are either finished or almost finished with the Magic Treehouse series, so we’re trying to find some new chapter books to challenge you.  At your school conference, your teacher was showing us some of your test scores.  Apparently at this stage in a first grader’s development, he or she ought to be able to read 33 words per minute.  You scored 137.  Yes.

But, as usual, I wasn’t worried about your academic progress.  You’ll be doing ELP testing, which I hope goes better than it did last year.  You didn’t do so well on the verbal section last time, though you clearly are not deficient in that area.  What I suspect happened is that the testing environment threw you.  Rather than sitting down for a written test, a teacher you didn’t know gave it to you verbally.  You have a habit of clamming up when you’re nervous, and I’m guessing that’s what happened.  I don’t know whether the test will be the same this time around or not.  Frankly, it’s not a big deal to me whether you qualify for ELP or not.  I think it would be good for you—I don’t think your teacher has the resources to offer much more than the basics to the students in your class.  On the other hand, you’re kind of easily overwhelmed, so maybe you’re not ready for that kind of thing yet.  We’ll just have to see how it all works out.

Your school’s Fun Night was last week, and it was a totally different experience for you than last year.  Last year, you got overwhelmed by the crowd and noise and threw a crying fit.  This year, you zeroed in on the games you wanted to play, ignored the stuff that didn’t interest you, and had a great time.  You even won a book in the Book Walk.  You’re done with it already, of course.  You and Tobin had fun decorating cakes to donate to the cake walks.

You are still a sweet brother to Callum and mostly a sweet brother to Tobin.  You might have a different opinion, but it doesn’t seem like Callum has had too big an impact on your daily life.  You may have to wait a little longer to get what you need from your dad and me, but overall, you still do what you need to do.  You do your homework, play your games, practice piano, and read your books.

You still love to play piano.  I am often tired by the time piano-practicing time comes in the evening, and sometimes I’m not as patient as I should be.  I’ve been trying to catch myself when I get impatient—I know you know what a quarter note is, and I know you’re taking liberties with the rhythms because you’ve already mastered the traditional way and are just entertaining yourself.  Mostly, I want piano to continue to be a joy for you, and me being crabby at practice time isn’t going to help that.  You’re learning to play a simplified version of Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy.”  It’s the hardest song you’ve ever attempted, and you’re still getting started, but I know you’re going to work hard and master it.

Your current favorites:  pasta (of course), Harvest Cheddar Sun Chips, apples, popcorn, the Magic Tree House books, playing Imaginext toys with Tobin (especially the Joker’s Funhouse, a special gift from Mubby), cooing at Callum, and adding things to your Christmas and birthday lists.  You like drawing and writing and playing Wii with your friend James.  You made a really nice card for your dad’s birthday last weekend, and you helped Tobin make one too.

Have a good month, sweet Miles.  I’m glad you’re getting braver about the crowds at school, trying hard piano songs, and being alone in your bunk.  I look forward to seeing what the next month brings.


















Toupée touché

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:25 pm

T:  That is the worst wig I’ve ever seen.

D:  What wig?

T:  (pointing at Denny’s head) The one on your hair!


High standards for Jeeves

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:55 pm

T:  What’s a butler?

A:  It’s a person whose job it is to help you with your life’s small problems.

T:  Like…someone who could help you get out of a secret prison?


The Tobin Times #42

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:48 pm

My sweet Tobin,

Happy 42 months!  I guess that makes you three and a half.  We have your first school conference tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to hearing what your teachers have to say about you.  I feel like things are going well, from the brief conversations I’ve had with your teachers at pick-up.  You have been having fun with your friends, and you have learned all kinds of good songs.

Unfortunately, we’re probably going to have to switch you to a new school in the fall.  Willowwind is probably cutting their half-day preschool program, and I don’t want to send you all day.  You’re still so little in my eyes.  I know a lot of kids your age go all day, but since I’m not working now, it seems silly to pay twice what we’re paying now just so we can spend more time apart.  You wear me out, but I truly enjoy your company.  It won’t be long before I have to send you to kindergarten.  No need to rush it.

I had a strange conversation with the director of one preschool we’re considering.  We were setting up a time for a visit (which hasn’t occurred yet), and I asked about the option of sending you 5 days a week.  Despite not saying anything about it on her website, on the phone she told me she only allows girls to do that.  Three days a week are intended for 4- and 5-year-olds, so kids who attend 5 days also spend time with 2- and 3-year-olds twice a week.  Apparently the director thinks girls are inherently gentler or something, because she said she worries about boys knocking over the 2-year-olds in their rough play.

I thought that was a weird policy to have, and she was not receptive to the idea of meeting you and making a decision based on you specifically.  You can be a bit rambunctious at times, but you are truly a kind boy.  The only issues you’ve had so far at Willowwind have involved girls being aggressive toward you.  The way you treat baby Callum is proof to me that you understand the level of gentleness little ones need.  That conversation was a turn-off, but we’ve only heard good things about that preschool otherwise.  Several people we know have kids who’ve gone there and they’ve loved it, so who knows.  We’ll see what kind of impression we get when we visit.  There are other options around town, too.

You are super into Imaginext toys right now.  You love to make the dinosaurs and ogre and little characters battle.  When you’re not playing with the toys, you’re either watching or begging to watch videos of people playing with the toys.  It’s an industry I never knew existed until you got interested it it—adults playing with toys and narrating little stories about it.  You can only see their hands.  There are hours and hours and hours of them on YouTube.  We try to discourage you from watching them too much, but you seriously love them.

You had your first school Valentine’s day party a couple of weeks ago.  Because Miles hand-made his Valentines, of course you had to too.  You did a good job gluing sparkly hearts and ribbons onto the cards for your friends, and you got lots of nice ones in return.  Your teacher had very nice things to say about you in her card.  I was  proud to read that you’re a good friend to your classmates.  I wasn’t really surprised—you and Miles have your squalls, but you’ve also learned a lot about how to play with others in your relationship with him.


It can be frustrating to be a little guy sometimes, and you get pretty grumpy now and then.  It seems like you’ve had a nonstop cold all winter, and that hasn’t helped.  You do a good job staying cheerful most of the time, but things can get a little ugly when you’re tired.  You also have a hard time listening.  Today you picked something up off the coffee table and threw it on the floor.  I asked you not to throw things.  You then blithely picked up a marker and tossed it onto the floor too.  That’s the kind of thing that drives me crazy.  I understand doing foolish things sometimes, but to specifically and rudely ignore directives like that is maddening.  It’s probably just part of being three.  I remember your brother behaving like that too.  I’m working hard to be consistent with rules and not back down when you test them.  All the books say kids appreciate boundaries and structure, so I’m going with that, though you sure don’t act like you appreciate it.

Most of the time, you’re silly and affectionate and fun.  You like trying out new vocabulary words, even when they don’t make sense.  This morning you used the word retail totally out of context.  You like to dance and sing and pretend to read Miles’s chapter books.  You like to help me cook and set the table, and your favorite thing is to bring the stepstool over to whatever I’m doing in the kitchen and climb up.  You give frequent and sincere compliments, especially when I cook your favorite dinners.  Today you told me you liked my shirt.  Yesterday you told me my ponytail looked goofy.

Sometimes you like to wear sneakers over your footie pajamas.  Who looks goofy now?

Aw, I’m just kidding.  You’re the cutest and you know it.

I love you, my sweetheart.



Called on a technicality

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:15 pm

Tobin has had an on-and-off runny nose for months, and he’s acquired a taste for it.

D: Tobin, don’t lick your snot.
A: Snot is not food!
T: No, it’s a drink.


A syllable is a terrible thing to waste or use superfluously

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:01 pm

The boys were arguing about the pronunciation of the word “education.”

M:  Edu-ma-cation.

T:  Edu-nal-cational.

M:  Edu-ma-cation.

T:  Edu-nal-cational.

M:  …I feel like we’re both wrong.


The Callum Chronicle #1

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:37 pm

“Nothing worthwhile is easy, Ellen.  You know that.”  –Clark W. Griswold, while putting dirty dishes into the cabinet.

My wide-eyed, hungry, snuggly, brand-new Callum,

Here we are, the first of the last.  This is the last one-month letter I will write to my baby.  Even if your dad and I hadn’t already decided that three would be our stopping point, your entrance into the world would have solidified the deal.  I’ve documented your birth story elsewhere, so I won’t go into gruesome detail here, but I will mention that it was the most difficult ordeal of my life to date.

But that wasn’t your fault.  At least you didn’t do it on purpose.  We’ll see if refusing to put your head in the correct position remains an issue in your life.  I can imagine it messing up school pictures and possibly dental care, but otherwise, there doesn’t seem to be much for lasting consequences.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Now we’re home together.  I’m still restricted from doing a lot, but I’ve managed to heal up pretty well.  I’m not going to lie:  the early weeks were rough.  I was a mess physically and emotionally.  I hadn’t realized how much of my self-concept was tied up in being “good” at giving birth.  I know, I know, ending up with a caesarian isn’t a comment on my value as a human being, but it still shook my perceived identity as a mother and a person.  I hated feeling so physically weak and out of control of my body.  I couldn’t take care of you as well as I wanted, nor of your brothers.  I didn’t recognize my scarred-up abdomen that wouldn’t even let me sit up in bed if I was late on my narcotic pain relievers.

Luckily, we have great friends and family who helped us.  Most notable among them is your dad, who never once balked at doing more than 50% of the work to support our whole family.  We’re working on finding a balance now that things have calmed down, and I think we’re getting close.  It’s hard in the ways I knew it would be:    the low-sleep nights and readjusting to breastfeeding and trying to find the energy reserves to give your brothers what they need.  It’s also hard in new ways.  As your dad knows well from having been married to me for nearly 10 years, I have a hard time with sudden changes of plan.  I don’t mean to be histrionic here, but I went into your birth confident, and I came out deeply shaken.

Photo by Denny

You, on the other hand, came out just fine.  Despite some scary moments that led us into the operating room, you rocked your APGARs and cried that gorgeous cry.  From behind the “you don’t really want to see your own intestines outside your body” curtain, I needed so much to hear that cry.  Thank you for doing it so robustly.  I couldn’t see you at that moment, but your dad tells me you peed twice for extra punctuation.

Amid all the difficulties surrounding your arrival, I’ve never doubted the miraculousness of you.  I can honestly say that all my struggles have been with myself.  You are a treasure.  We spend a lot of time gazing at each other.  I study your tiny, curved eyebrows and intricate little ears.  You look up at my eyes and hold the stare for a long time.  Your cheeks are getting chubby and your lips make sucking motions in your sleep.  You have a birthmark on your left leg.  If I got out a magnifying glass, I could see the tiny fingerprints on your tiny fingers.  I had to trim one of your fingernails last night, and while of course I didn’t want you to scratch yourself, I felt a twinge of regret at having to throw a part of you away.  Note:  I did not feel that way about your umbilical stump, which I was happy to toss in the trash.

Your brothers love you insanely.  They always want to hold you and talk to you and marvel about how you like to look at them.  I’m sure they’re very entertaining.  You’ve got two guys who are going to look out for you for the rest of your days.  They’ll each teach you different things, based on their own areas of expertise and personalities.  You’ll teach us things only you know, too.  It’s hard to gauge your personality so far.  You are happiest in someone’s arms, though you sometimes need a break from stimulation and like to just hang out in your swing.  You like art, especially the Wee Gallery canvases on your walls and our Chris Vance series.  You are tolerant of noise, which isn’t surprising, since you’ve been hearing your brothers hollering since the day your inner ear bones clicked into place.

We are past the hardest part now, my love.  I feel better every day—I even forgot to take my ibuprofen the other night, and it was no big deal.  You’re getting used to this world.  You eat well, sleep pretty well, and are even starting to smile.  I love the fact that I’m the one you smile at the most.  You’re not going to need me forever, but I’m pretty sure I’m always going to need you.

Let’s soak up these quiet mornings we have together as you melt into my shoulder.  I don’t want to forget the shudders and sighs you make in your sleep or the smell of your fuzzy little head.  You are my last baby, my special Callum, my greatest reward.

Photo by Gary Clarke




Monthly Miles Memo #85

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:35 pm

Dear Miles,

This month, you have blossomed into a full-on bookworm.  It’s the Magic Tree House series that gets you the most excited.  You started out on that series by having your dad or me read to you, then you graduated into reading some of the chapters on your own, and now you can read the books entirely by yourself.  You could have done that a long time ago, actually, but this is the month when you gained the confidence to do it and thrill of reading for its own sake.

You read six (6) Magic Tree House books in one week, and you probably would have read more if you hadn’t run out of the stack you got from the school library and the public library.  Your dad and I are glad you can read them to yourself now, partly because it’s a great activity for you, and partly because they’re awfully formulaic (no offense, bestselling author Mary Pope Osborne.  To tell the truth I’m mostly just jealous).  I shouldn’t criticize—I read a lot of stupid series in my youth too (I’m looking at you, Baby-Sitters Club).  You’re going to finish the series one of these weeks, and from there we’ll see what catches your interest.  I hear the Encyclopedia Brown books are good.  Maybe one of my librarian friends can suggest something that will keep you hooked for a while.

You like to read up in your bunk, sometimes wearing weird costumes.  In fact you like to wear weird costumes a lot of the time.  You didn’t tell me what the poofy paper hat represents, and I forgot to ask.  Maybe between the hat and the cape, you’re some kind of superhero chef.

Photo by Gary Clarke

You wore the Batman costume to welcome your baby brother home last month.  Yesterday you wore your bear hat to play with your friend Niamh, who was wearing a wolf hat.  I had to hide the Leonardo da Vinci wig and beard because they were shedding everywhere.  Otherwise you’d probably still be wearing those, too.

I’m very proud of the hard work you’ve been doing at piano.  You still do a great job practicing and stretching your abilities.  I’m nervous about taking over transportation duties this week, especially on Thursdays, which is piano lesson day.  Your dad has been taking advantage of his flexible work schedule to handle all the school drop-offs, pick-ups, and extracurricular management, but those days are ending tomorrow.  It wouldn’t be too big an issue, except I’m not supposed to lift over 15 pounds for another couple of weeks.  That’s going to make it impossible to lift Callum plus his car seat in and out of the car.  We’re going to have to sort out some kind of method in which I lift him in and out while leaving the car seat installed, settle him into a carrier, and get you and Tobin ushered into your destinations without anybody getting hit by a car.  These next weeks are going to be a challenge.  I am really ready for spring, when we’ll be able to walk to school at least.  Piano lessons will still require hauling you guys in and out of the car, plus I expect the after-piano trip to McDonald’s for ice cream is non-negotiable.  In any case, removing icy parking lots and sidewalks from the equation will make things easier.

I’m happy to say you still love baby Callum a lot, and you do a great job talking to him and otherwise entertaining him when your dad and I need to put him down for a minute.  He’s starting to smile, and we got some good smiles out of him this morning while he watched you and listened to you talk to him.  I’m sure Miles or some other word that represents you will be part of his very early vocabulary.

Sometimes on school mornings, we have a hard time getting you out the door on time because you just want to sit and chat with Callum.  That’s one of our biggest frustrations with you right now.  It can be very hard to keep you on task in order to get done all the things you need to get done in the morning.  We’ll tell you to go get your gear on, and we’ll come back five minutes later to find you sitting dreamily next to your coat and mittens, one shoe halfway on and the other shoe on the floor beside you.  It’s funny, because you’re focused to the point of obliviousness when you’re busy with a task, but when the tasks are time-sensitive and not high-priority for you, you lose all motivation.


Photo by Gary Clarke

We have your spring parent/teacher conference in a couple of weeks, and we’re looking forward to hearing what your teacher has to say about your work in school.  You seem to be doing well based on the work you bring home, but as usual, your academics are not my primary concern.  I hope you’re interacting well with your classmates, taking chances, and pushing yourself and your abilities.  I hope the confidence you’ve gained in your reading is bleeding into other areas of your school life.  I hope you’re as patient and kind with your school friends as you (usually) are with your brothers.  I hope you get your snowpants and coat on in time to have at least a little recess.

Have a good month, sweetheart.  Maybe by this time next month we’ll have some pictures of you frolicking among the daffodils.




The Tobin Times #41

Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:17 pm

My dear Tobin,

You are ready for spring, big time.  Just about every night, you end up running back and forth through the living room and hallway, because you have so much energy to burn.  You have outside time at school every day, but I can tell you’re really missing the evenings you and Miles and your dad spend at the park during nicer weather.  The indoor lap-running works okay, because you generally crash pretty well at night, but it would be better if you could do it out in the fresh air.

This month has been kind of a blur, due to the arrival of your new brother Callum.  We’re getting closer to spring, and hopefully by the time the first balmy days of March arrive, your dad and I will have adjusted and will be able to be more active along with you.  You’ve been a great big brother so far.  You love to hold Callum and kiss him on the head. Today you said, “He’s so sweet and classy.”  I don’t think you know what that means, but it was nice of you to say anyway.  You haven’t expressed any negativity toward him.  Really our biggest challenge is that you have a hard time being quiet.  He’s still little enough that he can sleep through noisy situations, but I’m tired all the time, and sometimes your shouting wears me out further.

You’re still as enthusiastic about life as ever.  You got invited to your first school-friend birthday party, and you talked about it for days and days before the big event.  You had a very good time.  School is continuing to go well.  You are always cheerful when the school day ends, and you seem to enjoy all the works and other activities you do there.  I’m very proud of what a good transition you’ve made.  You want to do everything all by yourself, which is often not very time-effective, but I guess it’s a good idea in the long run.

Of course, you always want to do everything Miles does.  You make homework activities for yourself that are an extension of playing school, and you tell me proudly that you do your homework just like Miles does.  You sing and play the piano like Miles, and your dad and I have noticed that you’ve picked up a lot of his phrasings and vocal intonations.

You are sweetly, spontaneously kind and grateful.  You often genuinely thank me for the meals I make you, even when it’s something extremely low-effort.  You say things like, “Nothing better than a hot bowl of vegetable soup!” and “Thank you for making me three good meals, Mommy.”  It’s easy to catch you smiling.

You got to see all four of your grandparents as well as Uncle Michael in the last couple of weeks, and you had lots of fun with them.  Mubby tells me you were very good while they took care of you during my longer-than-expected hospital stay.  Skittergramps said you were very frustrating sometimes.  I believe both of them.  You’re three.  I’ve been seeing the term “threenager” floating around the Internet lately, which describes the volatile nature of kids your age.  It describes you well.

Your current favorites:  piling up huge numbers of stuffed animals and blankets and sleeping surrounded by them, granola bars, playing Candyland, waffles, dressing yourself, cuddling up for stories on the couch or the big chair.  I am medically forbidden from lifting anything over 15 pounds right now, and I was worried that you would not respond well to me not being able to pick you up.  But you’ve done well.  You just scramble up next to me, get cozy, and we’re set.

Photo by Denny

The hardest part (well, one of the hardest parts) of my hospital stay was being away from you.  One of the days that you came to see us, you asked if I was coming home that day, and I had to say no.  Your sweet little face just crumpled in sadness.  Keep in mind that I am still riddled with post-partum hormones, as well as dealing with the emotional and physical ramifications of a birth that was nowhere near what I hoped for—besides the obviously wonderful result of a healthy baby.  I am a real Milhouse van Houten these days (“You cry when you scrape your knee, you cry when we’re out of chocolate milk, you cry when you’re doing long division and you have a remainder leftover”).  A couple of days ago, I was standing in the shower, and I remembered that broken-hearted look on my sweet little boy’s face, and I cried and cried.

I am aware that it’s dumb to cry in the shower about something that resolved itself nearly two weeks ago.  You probably don’t even remember it.  But when you hurt, I hurt.

And when you laugh, I laugh.  When you get into the bathtub in your underpants and laugh, I laugh.  When you stare at yourself in the mirror and grin, so proud of your haircut, I grin.  When you’re psyched because you kept your Pull-Up dry overnight, I’m psyched (we’re still running about 50/50 on feeling psyched in the morning).

I’m really glad you’re our family’s baloney brother, Tobes.  There’s nobody I’d rather squeeze into a figurative sandwich than you.

Photo by Gary Clarke













Monthly Miles Memo #84

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:11 pm

Dear Miles,

Happy birthday, my sweet seven-year-old.  You can read, write, do math, play piano, and take care of babies.  You are responsible, kind, (mostly) patient, and you still love a good cuddle.  You can handle car line by yourself—that’s where you get dropped off and picked up from the parking lot rather than walked up to school.  You sometimes have a hard time finding things even when we tell you exactly where they are.  You love a good joke and learning about historical figures.  You never once balked at the idea of sharing a birthday, even though your dad and I were hoping it wouldn’t happen, so you could keep your special day.

Photo by Gary Clarke

As you may have noticed, you have a new little brother.  You have been excited about his arrival for months, and you even confessed that you planned to use your birthday candle wish to wish that he’d be born.  Well, you got lucky.  I went into labor at 11:30 p.m. on your birthday, and he was born the next day.

You are seriously the greatest big brother I could imagine.  You love to hold him and talk to him and sing to him.  He loves to watch you, and he often calms down when he hears your voice.  He must think it’s pretty cool to have a seven-year-old brother.  You’re not even mad that we didn’t name him Fred.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Seven years old seems to suit you well, too.  The gaps in your mouth are filling in with big new teeth, though you still have plenty of tooth fairy visits in your future.  You’re a dedicated student at school and of the piano.  We offered you the opportunity to miss piano lessons and a day of school so you could come hang out at the hospital more, but you chose to stick with your routine.  Mubby said she could tell it was a tough decision for you, because of course you wanted to come see the baby, but you also found value in keeping things as predictable as possible.

I’m not able to go up and down stairs yet, so our piano practicing has been a little weird.  Our strategy right now is for us to look at the piece you’re working on together, then you go downstairs and play it.  I can hear your playing pretty well from upstairs, so I can give you feedback when you come back up.  Then we move on to the next song and repeat until we’re through your tasks.  You have been getting good piano-related exercise.  I am also doing well in my recovery, so I’ll be able to get back to my normal piano guidance style soon.

Photo by Denny

Your Christmas was a good time, naturally.  We decided to stay home, but we were lucky in that family came to visit us.  We had a great time playing with new toys and enjoying good food with Mubby, Skittergramps, Nana, Papa, and Uncle Michael.  A very special gift you received was a refurbished school desk.  It’s nice for you to have a place to store your stuff, and you look so cute sitting at it.  We’ve still mostly been doing homework at the dining room table, because it’s easier for a grownup to sit down with you there, but you like the desk for playing.

You got a special treat on your birthday:  no school.  We didn’t have much for snow last week, but the temperatures were very low.  As it turned out, you had that one full cancellation and several other late starts on the surrounding days.  Mubby and Skittergramps said that was nice, because you were able to have fun, relaxing mornings together without having to rush around.

Another thing that made me proud while I was away at the hospital:  I had asked if you would be willing to sleep in the bottom bunk with Tobin, because he sleeps so much better when someone’s with him.  Even though you really prefer the top bunk, you were happy to make a sacrifice to help our family.  Mubby said she offered to sleep with Tobin, but you insisted that it was your responsibility.  You take these things very seriously.  I love knowing that I can count on you.

Your current favorites:  the song “Red River Valley,” which you first learned about in a Magic Tree House book.  You and your dad found a recording of it, and I thought it sounded like something you could play on the piano.  I transcribed it as well as I could, and you have had so much fun playing it.  Your piano teacher has been helping you with it, and I think she thought it was cool that you brought in your own music.  That’s also the song you love to sing to Callum the most, but you change the line “the cowboy who loves you so true” to “the brother who loves you so true.”

It’s pretty much the greatest.

Other favorites include Big Hero 6—you saw the movie twice, and you got a book for your birthday and a toy for a big brother present.  Your favorite foods haven’t shifted much.  You’re still in your rut of pasta, Cheerios, hot dogs, and fruit.  Oh, you like waffles, too.

This was your golden birthday:  you turned seven on January seventh.  We tried to make it special for you, with a sparkly golden number seven to hang from the chandelier, yellow balloons, and a cake with a golden seven on it.  We ate dinner at your favorite restaurant (Noodles & Company), opened presents, and tried to remind you how very, very important you are to us.

I think little Callum looks like you, Miles.  It’s hard to know for sure, since his face hasn’t really settled into its final position yet.  Maybe it’s also because he’s a winter baby like you, and he’s wearing the same clothes you wore when you were brand new.  But when I see his little face, it takes me straight back to the winter of 2008.  I was freaked out and exhausted and utterly in love with the tiny guy who looked up at me from his swaddling blankets.  I never would have had two more kids if you hadn’t been so wonderful, Miles.  Even the not-so-good times, the frustrating bouts of stubbornness and illogical behavior and tantrums, all of that taught me that you are worth it.  Babies are the only thing worth anything.

You may be seven years old, but you’ll always be my sweet first baby.









A solid fellow

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:55 pm

Bedtime stories.

A:  Fidgety Fish, by Ruth Galloway.

T:  Illustrated by Erlin Muscular.

I have no idea who Erlin Muscular is, but Tobin thinks he illustrated 80% of our storybook collection.  He’s been mentioning him every night for days.


The dark side

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:57 pm

T:  Why can girls who are pregnant swim instead of walk?

A:  Well, pregnant people can swim or walk.  But I like to swim because it makes me feel lighter.

T:  Yeah, walking makes you feel darker.


Positive associations

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:42 pm

Miles was quizzing Tobin about his preferences for some game he was playing.

M:  What’s your favorite sport?

T:  Uncle Tyler.

A:  Maybe he means football.

T:  I love Uncle Tyler so much.


Upside down and backward

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:37 pm

At dinner. Tobin was describing what happens when he eats.

T:  It goes down through my birth canal into my uterus.


The Tobin Times #40

Filed under: — Aprille @ 12:04 pm

My sweet Tobin,

I had forgotten what it’s like to suddenly stop being the (near) sole influence on a child’s brain input (along with your dad and brother, of course).  It’s a little jarring to hear you start singing songs I’ve never heard and rattling off facts we didn’t teach you.  A day or two ago, you walked up to the globe in the living room and  recited a perfect rhyme about the continents.  You didn’t have a one hundred percent accuracy rate with where you were pointing, but I was still pretty impressed.  It did make me wonder–does Central America count as a continent, or is that just a political demarcation?  It didn’t make the list in your song.  I’m going to have to look that up.

This new knowledge set is coming from school, naturally.  I’ve been so happy about the easy transition you’ve made.  You still like weekends and free-form time at home with me in the afternoon, but your days at school have been going great.  It’s been nice for me to have some relaxing time in the morning now that my energy levels are at an all-time low.  It’s also been nice to have some gift-wrapping time with no curious helpers poking around.  Still, my favorite part of every day is seeing you come out of your classroom, excited and proud of the work you’ve done that morning, ready to rush into my arms with huge smiles on both of our faces.  I love picking your brother up, too, but the world-weariness of a first grader doesn’t have quite the sock-you-in-the-gut charm of preschool joy.

I was helping you get off the potty recently, and you started counting in Spanish.  I consider that a sign of true potty success, that you’ve mastered the skill well enough that you can focus on a little foreign language practice mid-process.

There has been a lot of yelling in our house lately.  You want to be closely involved with everything your brother does, and you are sometimes too aggressive with him.  Combine this with Miles’s naturally tender disposition, and the result is shouting and tears at least once or twice a day.  He gets upset, you get frustrated, you guys freak out at each other, and ten minutes later everything is back to normal (usually).  I hope this helps Little Potato get well used to the noise and emotional fluctuations of our world and that he’ll be chill and resilient once he comes out.

Photo by Denny

You love reading the big brother book we got at the hospital sibling class.  You like to hear the details over and over, both the physical (you are pretty clear on what a uterus is by this point) and philosophical (“What does it mean to be a big brother?”).  I’m sure it will be a shock to your lifestyle, especially when you have to give up some amount of cuddling from me.  I’ve been emphasizing that Little Potato is your baby too—he’s our whole family’s baby—and I think your strong independent streak will help you take a leadership role.

The Montessori learning environment has helped foster that independence too.  You want to do everything by yourself lately, which sometimes results in shoes on the wrong feet and some weird clothing organization.  We’re trying to keep a big picture attitude about it.  Sometimes it’s hard to watch you jam toys and games into containers with little regard for strategy or well-being of the contents (especially for your dad), but mostly I’m happy that you want to do it yourself.

Photo by Denny

Your current favorites:  oranges, both Clementine and Cara Cara; Jake and the Neverland Pirates; this Indian mythology cartoon whose protagonist you swear is named Kreeshner (hint:  Krishna); reading while cuddling in Mommy and Daddy’s bed; Bristle Blocks; your animal and letter magnets.  You invented your own Montessori-style work by matching up the pairs of animals.  We ended up with two sets, though a few are missing and for some reason we have three pandas.  You are great at playing pretend, and you also love to squish into the chair with Miles when he’s playing his PBSkids.org games.  He usually tolerates that pretty well.

The holiday season has been fun and not too chaotic so far.  We decided to stay home, just in case Little Potato decides to emerge early, and all the grandparents are coming to visit us.  You and Miles have been counting down the days, and you especially have loved having the Christmas tree up.  You mess around with the ornaments all the time, and we’ve been making more to fill the hours at home.  We don’t have very many breakable ornaments, but you immediately homed in on the ones that are fragile.  Nothing has broken so far, which is reason enough to be thankful.

I remember being proud as a little kid to give my parents homemade gifts, but at some point I realized that the drippily-glued mosaics and picture frames were actually sort of crappy.  But now, honestly, I cannot wait to open the package that contains the  ornament you made at school.  I hope it has sparkles.

Happy holidays to you, my precious little Tobes.  The best part of the holidays is spending it with excited little kids, and you’re one of my very, very favorites.

Photo by Denny




Of course he does

Filed under: — Aprille @ 5:51 pm

T:  I love our ornaments.

A:  They look pretty on the tree, don’t they?

T:  We have the beautifullest Christmas tree in the whole world.

A:  Yes, it is beautiful.

T:  (conspiratorially) I like the breakable ornaments the best.


Monthly Miles Memo #83

Filed under: — Aprille @ 10:18 am

My sweet Miles,

This is your very last month of being six.  I remember turning seven myself, how much older seven seemed than six.  Maybe because it’s the first multi-syllabic age?  I can’t say for sure, but it definitely felt like the transition to big kid life.  You’ve continued to be a fun and helpful guy to have around, doing your homework and piano practice without complaint and usually playing nicely with your brother.  You still have a low threshold for wigging out when Tobin annoys you, but you guys have had more and more long stretches of imaginative play together.  Right now you like to do  play-acting versions of Cyberchase and Magic Tree House.

Magic Tree House is a series of books that you’ve gotten excited about.  You especially enjoy biographies, and sometimes the Magic Tree House characters go back in time and meet famous people, like Louis Armstrong (whom I like to imagine is a relative of ours) or your all-time favorite, Leonardo da Vinci.  Your preference is still for your dad or me to read the books to you, but lately you’ve been reading a chapter to yourself at bedtime to get your reading minutes in.  That represents a real paradigm shift for you.  I think it’s the first time you’ve ever felt confident enough to read something a little bit challenging that no one has read to you before.  You’ve had the skills for a long time—you breeze through your school-assigned books effortlessly.  I’m really proud that you’re feeling ready to take on new content and read for the pleasure of experiencing a story.

We did something pretty exciting last weekend.  The kids from Family Folk Machine were invited to record a song that’s going to be part of a CD celebrating local kids’ music.  You sang “Deep Blue Sea,” including your special solo.  I was very impressed by how focused and disciplined you were throughout the recording process.  You’re one of the younger kids in the group, and a lot of the kids had a very hard time being respectful of the recording equipment and keeping their attention on the tasks at hand.  Not you, though.  You kept up your concentration through multiple takes, and I think you could have kept going.  Our leader, Jean, wanted to do one more take, but when she asked the kids if they could handle it, a chorus of “NO!” arose.  You told me later you were going to say “yes,” but nobody else did.  I think you got a good recording in any case, and the look on your face when you heard it played back the first time was one of pure delight.

We’re probably going to be taking a break from Family Folk Machine next semester, not because we don’t enjoy it, but because Little Potato will likely be taking up most of my energy during those early months.  I think you could handle it without me there, but you prefer not to.  I like that it’s a special thing for us to do together, anyway.  We’ll be back next fall, possibly with your brother along with us.  We have our final concert tonight, the annual holiday concert at the Englert.  That’s always tiring, since it’s on a weeknight, and I’m tired all the time these days regardless.  It will be nice to have a break, though I know we’ll miss singing and our old friends.

We had a mostly fun time at both sides of our family Thanksgiving celebrations.  At Jackie and Paul’s, you had fun with cousins Austin, Julianne, and Danielle.  Of course you got some good quality time with Nana and Papa, seducing everyone into the Where’s Waldo universe.  More from that series of books are on your Christmas list.

Photo by Denny

At Mubby and Skittergramps’s house, illness put a bit of a damper on the festivities.  Tyler, Oxana, and Aleks couldn’t visit due to illness at their house, but that didn’t stop you from cheering the Nebraska Cornhuskers to victory.  Unfortunately, that victory wasn’t enough to keep head coach Pelini in a job, so Tyler’s future remains unknown at this time.  We hope he either stays in Lincoln or ends up somewhere reasonably close, because nobody wants that cute little chub Aleks to get away from us.  You especially get so excited when we get new pictures of him, and you were very disappointed when they weren’t able to come for Thanksgiving.

You really love babies a lot.  I’ve been trying to paint a realistic picture of human infancy for you and Tobin,  so you’re not let down when Little Potato arrives and isn’t all that much fun right away.  I’ve been telling you how babies, at first, just sleep and eat and poop and cry, and sometimes it can be very tiring and frustrating.  Without fail, you remind me, “But they’re worth it because they’re so cute.”  I can’t deny that one.  My clearest memory of your birth, Miles (even clearer than vomiting on your dad’s shoes while in labor), is my absolute certainty that your bruised, swollen, cone-headed little self was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

Photo by Denny

I still feel that way.  Your baby teeth are falling out and impossibly big adult teeth are growing in their places.  You’re stretching out into a string bean, and I see your ribs every night when you make silly poses in front of the mirror.  You’re still little enough to cuddle up in the big chair with me and read a chapter of the Magic Tree House, though.  I know you’re almost seven and everything, but I’m glad you still fit right into the crook of my arm.



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