The Callum Chronicle #21

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:12 pm

Dear Callum,

The will has emerged.  You’re still a nice little guy overall, but you’ve discovered the strength of your body and are learning to use it to enact your brain’s desires.  We switched you to a forward-facing car seat earlier this week, because you’ve been falling asleep on our drives to Kinderfarm, which ruins your afternoon nap.  I figured you’d be less likely to fall asleep sitting up and facing forward, and so far it’s been working pretty well.  At least if I see you starting to doze off in the rearview mirror, I can grab your ankle and wiggle it around to wake you up.  You get excited when I tell you it’s time to get into your big-boy car seat.  You call it khaki and you love it.

The downside is that if you happen not to be in the mood to get into it, it’s a lot harder to force you in than it used to be.  Today you really wanted to stay and play at Kinderfarm.  As I tried to put you in the car, you grabbed onto the door and wouldn’t let go.  Then when I finally managed to get you in, you arched your back and tried to climb out of your seat.  You probably could have done that with your rear-facing seat too, but for some reason, this new configuration has brought out the physical side of your protests.

Photo by Gary Clarke

We hadn’t switched you to that seat yet during our recent trip to St. Louis, which is good because you had a good nap in the car on the 4.5-hour drive.  You had a fever our first night there, but that didn’t stop you from having fun.  You especially loved the ramps at the City Museum and the fish at the zoo.  You also had a great time bopping along to live music we stumbled upon at a Mexican restaurant near our rental property.  You love to laugh at your big brothers, and they love to entertain you (most of the time).

We’re almost done with Tobin’s soccer season, which will bum you out because you love the playground at the park adjacent to his practice field.  It’s hard for me, because I really want to watch Tobin play during his games, but you mostly just want to go on the slides.  You recognize the word soccer and immediately reply with “‘lide!” when you hear it.  I try to divide my time between watching Tobin while he plays and taking you to the slide when he’s sitting out.  It won’t be long before you’re out there kicking the ball around, though hopefully you’ll have a little more focus than you do now.

I got out the Max from Where the Wild Things Are that Miles wore when he was your age, and I hope you have fun wearing it this year.  So far you haven’t wanted to keep the hat on, but maybe when you get the whole suit with the fluffy tail, you’ll see the value of the entire ensemble.  You’re probably going to want to go out trick-or-treating with your big brothers, though for the time being I strictly limit your candy consumption, as much for choking-prevention as anything.  You do a good job with the occasional Dum-dum lolly (which you ask for by name), but I don’t want you to know about the existence of Snickers yet.  When Miles was your age, Halloween was the first time he had any candy.  We had to convince him to try Smarties by telling him they tasted like children’s Claritin.  You require no such persuasion, since you’ve been pilfering your brothers’ parade spoils for months now.

It’s definitely candy season, so we’ve been working on brushing your teeth more consistently too.  Your brothers’ dentist said it was okay to put regular fluoridated toothpaste on your toothbrush, even if you can’t effectively spit and rinse, as long as it was only a tiny dab.  You love that, since it means using the same toothpaste as Miles and Tobin.  The tough part is getting you to let go of the toothbrush when we’re done.  Most of the time I’m too distracted with other bedtime tasks to get it away from you before you dash off to your next activity, and the brush ends up in the bottom of the Lego bucket or something.  So hygienic, I’m sure.

Your current favorites:  pepperoni pizza, chicken, rice, grapes, your board books (especially The Very Hungry Caterpillar, due to the presence of ice cream, This Little Chick, and Cat the Cat, What’s Your Sound?), saying bye and/or night-night to everyone in the family before bed, baths, saying thank you to the bakery employees at Hy-Vee after your free cookie, trying out new words, and dumping out all the toys your dad and I try to put away.  I think this drives your dad especially nuts, since he likes to tidy things up in a very organized fashion, and you have very little respect for that position.

The house is in chaos most of the time.  That’s the way it goes.

The cooler days are coming, my little guy.  Your big brothers have been requesting hot chocolate, and while I can still satisfy you with marshmallows for now, I know it won’t be long before you notice that they have something you don’t and you’re dumping cocoa all over your tray.

Photo by Denny

Let’s keep sliding together.







Monthly Miles Memo #105

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:57 pm

Dear Miles,

As we press on through fall, you’ve stayed busy and mostly happy.  You love your teacher (Miss Lampe), you seem to have some good friends (notably Esmé and Andrew), and you’re excited for Halloween coming up.  I’ve been working hard on your costume, Odd Todd from the show Odd Squad.  Only a small subset of the population is going to understand it, but you don’t seem to care a bit.  It is a great gift to not care what others think, and I hope you can maintain that attitude.

You’re home sick from school today, suffering from one of the brief but intense fevers that have been ailing the short guys at our house over the last month.  All three of you guys had it a couple of weeks ago, and then Callum got it again during our first day and night on our mini-vacation.  We were confused by that—did he not actually have the same thing as you and Tobin during the first go-round?  It seems there’s another, similar bug, and it’s your turn for that one.  I know you don’t like missing school, and you especially don’t like missing your after-school 3D printing class, but you were definitely not feeling well today.

We desperately needed some supplies, including more children’s ibuprofen for your fever and aches, so you stayed home by yourself for the first time while the little guys and I ran to Hy-Vee.  You were all set up to text me if you had any problems, but everything was fine.  You said after we got back that you had forgotten we were gone.  I worried about you the whole time, of course, and checked my phone every three minutes.  It’s my job.

Though the weather may warm up again this weekend, we’ve had a dip into fall temperatures the last couple of days.  It’s time for the hooded sweatshirts and sleeping in something more substantial than a t-shirt and underpants.  You and Tobin had hot chocolate (with marshmallows AND whipped cream, because why not?) after our chilly walk home from school yesterday.  I’ll be sad when it gets too cold to walk, because we’ve enjoyed our walks home.  Often you stay at the school playground and get some play time in with your friend Hazel.  I’m happy with your new school schedule this year.  Last year, it was hard to have time to do any playing after school, but now that you’re done at 2:55, we can have some hangout time and still get home in time for you to practice piano and for me to get dinner going.

Despite Cal’s brief illness, we had a really good time on our trip to St. Louis.  We went to the City Museum, and it was one of the most interesting and unusual places I’ve ever been.  Every section was something completely different:  we started in simulated caves with rocks and ladders and tanks of fish.  Then we went to a more spacious area with ramps and half-pipes and swinging ropes, on which you and Tobin worked up quite a sweat.  Then you went down some slides (though you decided to skip the 10-story one, and I can’t say I blame you).  Then we went to the outside area, which had ball pits and real gutted airplanes to explore and miles of walkways.  I don’t think we saw everything, but we used up everyone’s energy, and I’m sure we’ll be back some day.

We did some other very fun things too, including the Science Museum and the zoo.  The first thing you wanted to see was the penguins, but they weren’t conveniently placed to see right away.  We went through and saw many different animals, including two rhinos who almost got into a fight, though they kept it verbal.  Finally, as we wound our way back to the exit, we came to the penguin cove.  You were so excited, and you loved seeing the many variety of penguins swimming and hopping around in their well-chilled habitat.  As you stood up against the glass watching them, one did a jump out of the water and landed with a big splash all over you.  You thought it was hilarious and a perfect way to end the day.

Our other favorite destination was Clementine’s Ice Cream, a cute little artisanal shop a short walk from our rented townhouse.  We went there twice, once on our own and once after having dinner with some friends.  You tried something new that I wasn’t sure you’d go for—coconut chocolate fudge vegan ice “cream.”  You liked it so much you got it both times. You also liked the fact that Lafayette Park, also very near our townhouse, had a lot of PokeStops.  I don’t know exactly what those are, but Pokémon Go occupies about 40% of your brain right now, and I guess PokeStops are good.

You’ve finally agreed to get a haircut, not because you believed your dad and me when we said your hair was getting ridiculous, but because it’s grown longer than Odd Todd’s and you want verisimilitude.  That’s my Miles.  You don’t care about anyone’s opinion, but you care about the truth.

By this time next month, we’ll have a president-elect.  I can only dearly hope that the nation continues its current trajectory of seeing Donald Trump for the bigoted, lying, cheating, sexual predator he is.  We talked a little bit about Trump’s recently surfaced comments bragging about sexually assaulting women.  I try to frequently reiterate in an age-appropriate way that you must never, ever touch someone who doesn’t want to be touched.  I don’t think Donald Trump’s parents ever told him that.  I don’t know if you care about my opinion, but since you care so much about the truth, I think you’ll believe me.

I love you, my dear Miles.  Keep your compass pointed truthward,




The Tobin Times #61

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:39 pm

Dear Tobin,

I don’t want to speak too soon and jinx us, but it seems like maybe you’re easing out of the second-half-of-the-year period of disequilibrium.  You still have your evening energy surges sometimes, but keeping busy during the day and having soccer two nights a week seems to be helping you get balanced out.  I’ve found myself looking forward to our Tuesdays and Thursdays when you’re home, because you’re mostly a fun guy.

The drives to and from Kinderfarm are starting to wear on me, and we haven’t even dealt with any bad weather yet.  It will be nice next year when you and Miles are in the same school.  You’re already making plans about how you’ll walk home from school together.  It may take me a while to get used to that idea, and besides, I like picking you guys up from school.  It’s the best part of my day when I see one of you kids round a corner and break into a big smile, cheerful from a good school day but happy to see me.

I asked you the other day who your best school friends are, and you mentioned Liam, Jackson, and Chase.  I asked if you were friends with any of the girls in the class, and you said, “Pretty much the only girl I like is you.”  That’s not going to last, but I like being your main lady for the time being.  I’ve always emphasized that you kids can marry whomever makes you happy, male or female, and you’ve decided on Miles.  I guess I should have been more specific.  On the other hand, today you were happy when I told you it’s the day Miles has his after-school class.  When I asked you why, you said, “So I’ll have more time without Miles bugging me.”  You two are best frenemies for sure.

We’ve had some good adventures lately, including our annual apple-picking outing and a trip to Nana and Papa’s farm.  Though the weather has been hot and humid this week, we lucked into a gorgeous Saturday for our farm trip.  You had a great time jumping on hay bales, running up and down the the squishy silage pile, and riding on Papa’s 4-wheeler.  You bragged to me about he let you push buttons and steer.  I remember my Pop-Pop used to let my cousins and me drive his tractor, though I mainly stuck to steering.  My cousin Debi bragged about Pop-Pop letting her use the clutch, and it reminded me so much of your pride in button-pushing.  I don’t know what buttons do on a 4-wheeler, but you were psyched to be in charge of them.

You are, most of the time, a really kind and sweet guy.  You know just when to come and give me a hug and tell me you love me, and Callum thinks you’re about the greatest person ever.  He calls you “Toto” (also his word for tomato, but that’s neither here nor there).  He dreams about you, and more than once I’ve heard him say “Toto” in his sleep.  We stayed in a hotel the night before we spent the day at Nana and Papa’s, and when he looked over and found you sleeping in the same room as him, he squealed with happiness.  You are mostly kind and patient with him, though you could still learn a bit more about prioritizing.  This morning he grabbed one of the two blankets you had, and rather than letting him have one and using the other, you got into a tug-of-war with him.  You’re right—he shouldn’t grab things away from you.  But on the other hand, you need to learn that sometimes it’s a lot easier for everybody if you learn to drop the small things.

We’re taking a mini-vacation to St. Louis in a couple of weeks, and I hope it’s a fun family getaway.  We’re taking you to the City Museum, which I hear is intense and awe-inspiring and perfect for scrabbly little people like you.  I also hope to hit the zoo and the Botanical Gardens, and it looks like there are a lot of good places to see and eat in the neighborhood where we’re staying.  It will be a somewhat long ride in the car, but hopefully some audio books will keep you happy.  It will be nice when you can read well enough to entertain yourself with books, but in the meantime, your dad and I have enjoyed listening to some Roald Dahl and Judy Blume.

You seem to be enjoying school at Kinderfarm so far.  You’re currently working on a nursery rhyme unit, and it was fun for you to play the cow in a reenactment of “Hey, Diddle Diddle.”  You’ve been reciting that rhyme frequently around the house the last few days.

Your current favorites:  Odd Squad, Wild Kratts, waffles, lemonade, the Percy Jackson book your dad is reading to you at bedtime, playing memory games, and jumping on furniture.  We try to keep that last one to a minimum, so it was pretty exciting when you got to jump on the hotel bed.

You’re a fun, energetic, and enthusiastic little guy.  I truly hope the behavior challenges we’ve dealt with the last half-year are waning, and we can get back to enjoying the cheerful, fun person I know you are.  Everybody has a better time when nobody’s yelling.  I think we can do it.




The Callum Chronicle #20

Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:01 am

My sweet Callum,

You have had an explosion of language lately.  It’s so cute to hear you say all your words—not all of them are traditional, but you say so many consistent things in perfect context that we know just what you mean.  One of the best phrases is “thank you,” which you say now every time someone gives you something.  It’s not just an immediate Pavlovian response either.  A few minutes ago I gave you a cracker, and after eating it, you realized you hadn’t thanked me.  You got my attention and said, “Tankyoo.”

You have new words for your brothers, too:  Mamou and Toto.  You’ve known and loved them as people for a long time, and now you can talk about them all the better.  I’ve even gotten you to say Cal a couple of times (no mooing).  The other day we were sitting at the table and I was leafing through a Food & Wine magazine.  I turned to a page with a photo of penne pasta, and you looked at it and said, “Mamou!”  I thought that was pretty smart:  you recognized the food and wanted to let me know that you’d spied Miles’s favorite.

You like penne too, but I think your favorite food is pizza.  We went out for dinner last night and ordered with the plan to have lots of leftovers, because tonight is going to be busy, and I wanted a quick and easy dinner.  Little did we know that ordering a small thin-crust pepperoni, a small thick-crust multi-topping, and a bowl of pasta (for Mamou) would leave only two measly slices left over.  This was thanks largely to you, since you got through more of the pepperoni than we expected.  We’re having sandwiches tonight.

You’re adventurous and friendly, quick to shout “hi” to passersby, human or otherwise.  We went to Wilson’s Orchard earlier this week, and there was a friendly cat whom you loved petting.  You also really like Stella, the big St. Bernard at Kinderfarm.  Now you take umbrage when neighborhood cats won’t come let you pet them when we’re out for walks in the stroller.

You’ve been enjoying the outdoors on these nice fall days.  We hung around at Miles’s school playground today after pickup for an impromptu playdate, and even though you didn’t have any shoes on because I wasn’t expecting to take you out of the stroller, you loved it.  You cried when I stuck you back in, because apparently walking barefoot on wood chips is a-okay with you.  You love music and dancing, even the silly little songs I sing to pass the minutes and hours of our days.  Most of the time you request “more, more!” even if it’s nothing more than “wiping off your little buns” to the tune of “London Bridge.”  You do a good job making me feel like an accomplished song parodyist.

The whole family has been suffering from allergies this year, particularly in the last week or so.  The weather has cooled off enough that we’ve had the windows open, which is great for breezes but not so great for allergens.  I give you children’s Zyrtec every night before bed, which helps a lot, but we’re been going through lots of Kleenex regardless.  You finally cut the canine teeth that had been hovering under the surface of your gums for what felt like months, so that’s helped.  You’ve been sleeping well, all cuddled up to me.  I love having you next to me, even though you can be a bit of a bed hog.

You love doing dangerous things like climbing up to the top bunk of your brothers’ bed and trying to slide out with no help.  You want to climb step stools and jump on the futon and mess around with video game controllers.  Just now, I told Miles to come downstairs and practice piano.  You were perfectly happy playing with Play-Doh, but as soon as you heard me say the word piano, you ran over and took up a spot on the piano bench so Miles couldn’t practice.  You are a stinker, but you’re awfully cute.

You have developed a strong bond with Skittergramps lately.  You love talking with him and Mubby via Skype, and whenever we pass the computer (“pupu”), you ask for Giga (Skitter).  I usually tell you that I’ll check to see if he’s online.  You get so disappointed if he’s not.  You actually shook your little fists with rage when he wasn’t there to talk to you the other day.

As usual, you go wherever the gang goes.  Tonight you’re coming to a PTO meeting with me, which may or may not be a disaster.  They’re serving pizza since it’s the first meeting of the school year, so maybe that will keep you busy for a while.  Tobin’s soccer season is starting this week too, so I’m sure I’ll find myself running around the park trying to keep you managed.  We went to Tot Time last week and plan to go again, because now you’re old enough to really enjoy it.  Life is getting more and more fun now that you’re becoming an active participant.  Tankyoo very much for being my little guy.

Photo by Denny




Monthly Miles Memo #104

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:35 pm

Dear Miles,

Third grade has begun, and suddenly you’re a big kid (a “tween,” some might say).   This is the designation at your school:  you have certain new privileges, like checking out five library books at a time and being allowed to walk to and from school on your own (we haven’t let you do precisely that yet; more on that later).  I’ve noticed changes in your demeanor, too.  The most obvious is your wild hair.  You have avoided haircuts all summer, and your dad and I decided you should get a cut before school started.  We got busy and it didn’t happen, so we adjusted the deadline to before school pictures.  A couple of days before school pictures, we mentioned it to you, and you were so firm in your disinclination to get it cut that we decided to let you keep it crazy.

A high school teacher of mine once said that for her kids, she let them do whatever they wanted with their hair.  Hair choices are always temporary, and they allow a person a sense of self-determination without any long-term consequences.  I thought that was a pretty smart attitude, so I decided to adopt it with you too.  Honestly, in my opinion, your hair would look a lot better if you got the sides trimmed up.  I tried combing it into a reasonable style after you shower the other night, and it looked even worse.  You’re just going to rock the untamed mop, I guess.

You’ve also taken on some big-kid affectations, like saying “Whazzup?”  I don’t know where you heard that, but it might have been from an older friend you made during your summer classes.  Andrew is a sixth grader at a different elementary school, and you’ve been psyched about texting with him.  He also enjoys Harry Potter and Pokemon Go, so you have plenty to discuss.

At dropoff outside your classroom on the first day of school, I got the sense for the first time that you’d rather I didn’t hug and kiss you goodbye.  We did a high five and I hugged and kissed you extra when you got home from school that afternoon.

We were at the library a couple of weeks ago, and you saw a poster advertising an upcoming program.  It was an interactive screening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, complete with prop bags and prompts to chant along with spells, boo Malfoy, and cheer during Quiddich.  You got really, really excited, and my first instinct was that I was going to have to disappoint you, because it was part of the “Totally Tweens” series.  Then I read the details and learned that “tweens” refers to third- through sixth-graders.  Lo and behold, you qualified.  It’s hard for me to fathom that you’re a tween (for one thing, it’s a fake word, but I guess it’s useful), but I’m glad you got to go.  You met your friend Esmé there, and Andrew showed up as well.  It was pretty much the highlight of your life.

We’ve done some good outdoor adventuring over the last month, including trips to Maquoketa Caves and Wilson’s Orchard.  I was really excited to take you to Maquoketa Caves, because I went there as a kid during my Cousins’ Week time in eastern Iowa, and I remember thinking it was about the coolest place on earth.  It was pretty crowded when we went, so we had to do a lot of yielding to oncoming fellow cave explorers as we wound our way through the caves.  It was still fun, though.  You and Tobin and I ventured past the main, easily-accessible cave and tried out some of the slightly more remote ones.  We didn’t do any full-on spelunking, but it was exciting nonetheless.  Next time we’ll bring our head lamps.

September 2016

September 2009

Wilson’s was a good time as usual.  I was looking through my old photos, and we’ve been taking you there since you were just a little guy, just Callum’s age.  You don’t need a boost to pick the apples anymore, and you’re much more discerning about which ones you pick.  I had to convince you that an apple doesn’t have to be 100% pristine to be a good choice.  It was a beautiful day out in the orchard, and we enjoyed some local cider and wildlife too.

August 2009

It’s harder and harder for me to see glimpses of the baby I fell in love with, though I love the big guy you’re becoming just as much.  Sometimes I see that baby in the way you still hold your pinky up when you eat and drink.  It’s easy to see your baby face in Callum, who looks so much like you.  But you’d rather read comic books in bed than have me read you bedtime stories, and you think I’m hopelessly out of the loop for not installing Pokemon Go on my phone.  You’re taking a 3D printing class in the afternoon once a week about a block away from your school.  You loved your first class last week, and you’re really motivated to continue.  Fortunately, two of your 3D printing classmates are also students at your regular school, so we’ve arranged it so you’ll walk together.  That will save me the hassle of waking Callum up early from his nap, walking to pick you up, taking you there, walking home, and doing it all again an hour and a half later.  I think you can handle it.  I admit it’s a little scary for me to let you do it, but you’re a smart kid, as are your walking partners.

You’re turning out pretty well, Miles.  I don’t know if I’m emotionally ready to be the mom of a tween, but since I don’t have a choice, I’m glad that tween is you.

Photo by Denny







Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:38 am

Callum accidentally stepped on Tobin’s hand.

A:  Was that red mark already there, or did it happen when Callum stepped on your hand?

T:  I think it just came with my body.


The Tobin Times #60

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:20 pm

My sweet, stubborn, lovable, maddening little Tobin,

You’re five years old now.  You’re straddling that line between big kid and little kid, and that can be a hard position to occupy.  You have such social and emotional awareness sometimes—you know just when to chime in with a flattering word or an expression of love.  I don’t mean to imply that you’re being manipulative (though you probably sometimes are).  You just seem to understand that people need to hear things sometimes, and you know that words have power.

That has its downside as well.  You’ve developed some attitude problems.  When your dad and I ask you to do something you don’t want to do (say, eat neatly with a fork), you let out a very put-upon “Seriously?”  You’ve been using words to express yourself since before your curls grew in, and you have no qualms about employing them to whatever effect you decide is necessary.

Photo by Denny

Your summer session at Kinderfarm went well, and I think you’re excited about going back in September after a couple of weeks of break.  We had Miles’s back-to-school event last night, and some of your neighborhood contemporaries are starting kindergarten.  I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about that.  You are definitely academically ready for school.  You’ve really taken an interest in math recently, solving problems in your head and telling us how you figured them out.  At times like that, I regret declining to enroll you in kindergarten.  Then other times you scream at us in rage, yank toys out of Callum’s hands, and insist on performing an act one more time after I tell you not to do it.  At times like that, I think another year of maturing would be good for you.

In any case, you like Kinderfarm, and you’re getting a lot of opportunities there for learning that you won’t have in kindergarten.  You’ll get to physical things that suit your temperament, like caring for animals, boating, horseback riding, and wintertime sledding and skating.  Kindergarten is good, but it’s a lot of hard work sitting in chairs.  You’ll do well to use your body and have fun for another year before the serious challenges begin.  Also, I’ll get to put off helping two kids with homework in the evenings for one more year.

We had a fun and low-key birthday celebration for you at Mubby and Skitter’s house.  You got some good toys and a cool Incredible Hulk ice cream cake.  This morning you opened your presents from us first thing (little Legos, a new wallet with a promise of your own library card to put in it, a personalized Odd Squad t-shirt, and a two-wheel scooter).  We’re having dinner at Mekong (your choice) and will sing and blow out candles on your almond cake (also your choice) this evening.

This morning I had an appointment with the nurse-midwife who delivered you (just a check-up—no more siblings for you, I promise).  She could hardly believe that you joined us five whole years ago, and it was fun to remember what was in retrospect my easiest birth.  Birth is never easy, but you were my least complicated delivery.  You came on out, looked around, and settled right in.

Despite your occasional behavior challenges, you still have those qualities.  Miles loves to tell the story of when you were playing tee-ball and had made it to second base.  You were waiting for your teammate to hit the ball so you could run to third, but that sometimes takes a while in preschool-league tee-ball.  While you were hanging out on second, you made friends with the kid from the other team who was fielding.  I admire your easy conversational style and ability to get along with other kids (so long as they’re not your brothers).

Photo by Denny

Actually you get along with your brothers pretty well most of the time.  Sometimes it’s hard.  Sometimes it’s sweet.

Your current favorites:  Odd Squad and Cyberchase, pepperoni pizza, having your own wallet and filling it with your cash and cards, jumping around on furniture like a crazy man, looking at the fish in the seafood section at the Co-op, and running running running dancing dancing dancing never stopping.

Your dad was out of town for a few days late last week and early this week.  We spent most of that time at Mubby and Skittergramps’s house, but we spent Thursday night here at home.  It was the first time I’d put three kids to bed as the only grownup in the house.  You and Miles did a great job.  He read stories to you and cuddled you while I put Callum to bed.  When I went in to check on you guys after I got Callum down, you were both on the bottom bunk.  When I checked on you the next morning, you were both in the top bunk.  I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I’m very glad you have each other.

I don’t think there’s a cage out there that could hold you, my Tobin.  You’re so sweet and so salty.  You’re exhausting and frustrating and cuddly and indomitable.  Even your hair is fantastically unmanageable.  You’re a rascal, and rascals usually come out on top.

Happy birthday, my rascally love.  I’m so glad you’re mine.

Photo by Gary Clarke




The Callum Chronicle #19

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:18 pm

My dear Callum,

We’re rounding out the second half of your second year now.  Your dad and I were talking about how our numbering/birthday system is a little confusing.  You’ll be two on your next birthday, but that actually celebrates the completion of your second year.  In any case, I’m enjoying this time with you.  Whoever said the twos are terrible has clearly never met a three- or four-year-old.  I know the challenging preschool years will be upon us soon, so for the time being, I’m soaking up your sweet little toddler self.

You’re a little copycat these days.  You naturally want to do everything your brothers do.  Lately I’ve seen you making tapping motions with your finger and saying “aye tee tee aye tee tee.”  I realized you’re mimicking your brothers typing the password into our family computer.  I won’t publish our password on the open Internet, but you’ve definitely got the right idea.  When you get a hold of my makeup sponge, you bounce it over your face just like one of the YouTube pros.  You will only eat now if you have a plate and fork on your high chair tray.  You’re becoming a big boy.

Due to some logistical weirdness, there will be a time next week when we only have my little car.  We can’t fit three car seats in there if one of them is your big, rear-facing infant seat.  The other day, you, Tobin and I tried out a configuration that involved you in the front-facing toddler seat and Miles and Tobin in boosters.  The recommendation is that you remain rear-facing till two, which is longer than either of your brothers stayed rear-facing.  The recommendation, which had previously been that a child remain in a rear-facing seat until age one,  changed after we had already switched Miles to front-facing.  Iowa law isn’t specific on the topic as long as you’re in a car seat of some kind, so I think we’ll give this configuration a try, at least for that brief period when your dad is out of town and we haven’t gone to Mubby and Skitter’s yet.  You’re going to love it.  Your brothers are going to love it for sure, since you’ve been kicking them mercilessly from your rear-facer for the last month or two.

Maybe you’ll keep your shoes on for longer than five minutes in the car if they’re not right up in your face, too.  Let’s hope.  It’s pretty frustrating to arrive at our destination, crawl into the back seat to get you out, and realize you’ve flung your shoes somewhere into the murky depths of sports equipment, coloring pages, and receipts that is our car.

You’re still curious and excited about the world, though for some reason you are strongly opposed to me taking a shower.  I don’t know why—you’ll play with your brothers happily throughout my whole exercise session, but as soon as my run is over and I want to take a shower, you will not have it.  One issue is that I’ve banned you from the bathroom while I shower, because you won’t keep the shower curtain closed, and I don’t want to destroy our floors from water exposure.

You also get suddenly clingy when I’m in the bathroom trying to get ready for the day.  I’ve gotten pretty good at doing basic hygiene tasks with a twenty-five pound kid on my hip, but if my eyeliner looks wonky, I blame you.

Your brothers and I worked hard on a video that features all your crazy adventures.  You’ve watched “The Exploring Baby” about forty times in the last three days.  You can even fill in the blanks when I sing phrases and leave out words.  It was fun to do, and I’m already imagining playing it on a loop at your high school graduation party/wedding/other major occasion.  I don’t think there’s anything too embarrassing in it, except maybe brief shot of you in just a diaper.

YouTube Preview Image

Your big brothers will be going back to school soon, and it’ll be just you and me for several mornings each week.  I’m looking forward to long walks around the neighborhood as the fall mornings grow more palatable.  I’m also hoping you and Tobin and I can do some Tuesday morning Tot Time sessions, now that you’re big enough to really take part.

Your current favorites:  blueberries, ice cream, stir-fry, peaches, baths, faking me out (e.g., holding something out to me, snatching it back, and laughing), waving and saying “bye bye,” attempting the “I love you” ASL sign and saying “I you,” looking at pictures of your cousins, and petting the big St. Bernard at Kinderfarm named Stella.  You’ve also gotten really into books lately, and you’ll often hand a book to your dad or me and ask us to read it.  You really like Who Says That, Cat the Cat? right now.

Have a good month, my little chub-chub.  I’m so glad I have you around.






Monthly Miles Memo #103

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:32 pm

Dear Miles,

Like every summer before it, this summer has gone fast.  It’s hard to believe that we’re almost at the end of it.  We have a few more fun things planned before school starts, but you’re now in your last two weeks of summer break.  I think we’ve gotten just about everything on our summer activity list done, including some good sprinkler, fountain, and pool time.  We’ve eaten a lot of frozen treats, though that’s getting harder now that Callum is actively demanding his share.

You helped me make one of your favorite ice cream flavors, mint chip, with mint leaves from our garden.  When you were a little kid you used to help me cook a lot, but your interest in that has waned lately.  It made me happy that you were excited to do a cooking project.  It was fairly involved:  we had to pick the mint leaves, muddle them (you enjoyed that part), steep them in hot cream, add egg yolks and other ingredients, chill it, freeze the mixture, and drizzle in the chocolate.  It was a lot of steps with a lot of waiting in between, but you kept your commitment and turned out a really good treat.  The whole family enjoyed it, especially Callum.

Your summer classes have been over for a while, so you’ve mostly been hanging around the house.  We try to get out for some kind of adventure every day.  Yesterday we went downtown and had fun in the fountain.  You’re not usually one to get soaking wet, especially if you’re not wearing a swimsuit.  Initially just Tobin and Callum went in the fountain with the promise that they’d just stick their toes in and get a little bit sprinkled.  You were playing on the nearby playground.  After a while, though, you came over, and somewhat uncharacteristically, you jumped in and started splashing like crazy.  All three of you got so wet that we couldn’t managed to sit in an air-conditioned restaurant for lunch. We got take-out and had a picnic on the Ped Mall, then you guys hit the fountain again.  I didn’t have any towels or extra clothes for you, since the whole fountain thing was a spur-of-the-moment decision.  Your car seats were all soaking wet by the time we got home, but nobody complained.

Your dad gave in and installed Pokemon Go on his phone, so the last couple of nights, you guys have been running around capturing little cartoon creatures.  I don’t pretend to understand the whole thing, but everyone in the universe seems to like it, so it must be pretty great.  I know you’ve caught a few here in our neighborhood.  I hope it doesn’t make you range too far.

You’ve been a reading maniac lately.  You got the new Harry Potter book (actually the script for the play The Cursed Child).  You read it in just a couple of days and really enjoyed it.  You have an older friend you made during one of your Willowwind classes, and he’s also a big Harry Potter fan.  You two have been instant messaging about it almost every day.  You’re also still into board games, especially Monopoly Jr. and Clue.  The last time we were at Mubby and Skittergramps’s house, you and Aunt Suzy played about forty games of Clue.  You were pretty well-matched, too.  She didn’t let you win, and you didn’t lose every time.  You have this other game called Scrabble Twist in which you try to make words from random sets of letters.  We’ve done two-player challenges a few times, and I can still beat you most of the time, but not always.  You’re creeping up on me, little guy.

I’m looking forward to visiting your school in a couple of weeks for the back-to-school night.  They’ve been doing a lot of construction work, which will continue through the next school year.  You’re going to be in a temporary building, which sounds like a bummer, but rumor has it that it’s actually nicer than the main building.  It will have air conditioning, for one thing.  I remember how hard it was to concentrate in a boiling-hot school as a kid, and I’m glad those days are over for you.  It also has lockers, which is pretty exciting for a kid who’s been stuck with cubbies his whole life so far.

Thanks for having such a fun summer with me, Miles.  You’ve been a lot of help—you’ve maintained a mostly good attitude in the face of some challenges presented by your brothers, and they both adore you so much.  It won’t be long before you’re a trustworthy babysitter.  In the meantime, though, we’ll just get you to the third grade.






Rhymes with…

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:01 pm
Tobin was goofing around near a wine display at Walgreen’s and picked up a bottle.
A: Put that down. If you drop it, it will break and that will be a big problem.
T: (muttering) Bam.
A: What?
T: Bam.
A: Oh, okay.
T: Why?
A: I thought you said a rude word.
T: What rude word?
A: I don’t want to say it here.
T: I know what the rude word is. Let me whisper it to you.
(I bent down and put my ear to his mouth)
T: Crap.


The full spectrum

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:27 pm

T: Are you wearing eyeshadow?

A: Yes, I have a little bit of pink on my eyes.

T: Puke?!

A: No, pink. (Jokingly) When people see my eyes, I want them to think, “vomit.”

T: Well, vomit could be any color, depending on what you ate.


The Tobin Times #59

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:15 pm

Dear Tobin,

It’s your last month as a four-year-old, and you’ve been doing some cool stuff.  You started at KinderFarm last week, which you seem to be enjoying so far.  You’re just going two mornings a week this summer, and the plan is to increase you to three mornings per week in the fall.  I don’t think you’ve done a lot of actual farming yet, but you enjoyed playing musical chairs and having snack.  That’s about all I’ve gotten out of you in terms of details.  Two of your Hoover friends are also there this summer, though they’ll both be going to kindergarten in the fall.  I hope you get to know other kids to make the transition a little easier once Gavin and Olive leave.

You were hoping for a picnic with takeout from Panera to celebrate your first day, but there was rain headed our way and Panera was out of your favorite kind of bagel, so you opted for Jimmy Jack’s instead.  It was fun having a lunch date with you, and I’m glad I have a whole year of lunches with you to look forward to.

It’s a little strange having you at a school outside our neighborhood.  The other day, your dad and I were both a little dazed from having been up most of the night with a sick kid (it was Miles that time, though all three of you have had the vomits and beyond).  He was getting ready to take you out to KinderFarm, and he asked if it was okay if he just went straight to work from there, rather than coming back home to get on the bus.  I thought about it:  we didn’t need groceries, Miles was going to skip his piano lesson due to illness, so I told him to go ahead.

11:15 rolled around, and I was getting Callum’s shoes on and telling Miles to finish up what he was doing so we could go get you.  I opened the door to the garage—and there was no car.  Your dad and I both completely blanked on the fact that I would need the Subaru to go get you.  Unless the weather was bad or I needed to combine it with another errand, I always walked to pick you up from Hoover and Willowwind, and the fact that KinderFarm is five miles out of town just didn’t make it into my sleep-deprived brain.

It’s not ideal to use the other car, because 1) it needs a new battery and doesn’t start reliably, and 2) there are only two car seats in it.  I made a little plan in my mind:  Callum could sit in your seat (he’s pretty much big enough anyway), Miles could sit in the middle with just a seatbelt, which is probably illegal but I was going to drive really carefully, and you could sit in Miles’s seat.  I also considered letting Miles stay home alone, which I don’t think is illegal, but we haven’t gotten a track phone yet for him to have in case of emergency.  It was moot in any case, because the car didn’t start.  I was cycling between texting your dad, calling his cell phone, and calling his office phone, but he wasn’t picking up.  I was freaking out a little, worried that the KinderFarm people would think I was a screw-up, that you’d be scared or angry, that I was losing my mind and was an unfit mother.

Finally your dad picked up (it was actually like two minutes after I started trying to reach him, but it felt like forever).  He was able to drop what he was doing and go get you, and he was just about on time.  I don’t think you were worried at all.  Still, I felt like a real ding-dong.

Photo by Denny

You’ve had a variety of special events and situations lately, the first of which was a special date night with Callum and me.  Miles’s Fathers Day gift to your dad was a just-the-two-of-them trip to a Cedar Rapids Kernels game, so we made a special night of it back home.  We went to Arby’s (your choice), out for frozen yogurt, and then we watched a movie at home.  It was way more fun than a baseball game, if you ask me.

You and Miles spent most of a week at Mubby and Skittergramps’s house a couple of weeks ago, and that trip involved a baseball game as well.  I thought you might be bored, because you were pretty bored when we went to the initial Kernels game that got Miles so excited about the Fathers Day gift.  Mubby tells me you had a good time, though.  Apparently the fireworks display at the end was pretty spectacular.

You guys did all kinds of exciting things, like camping all night in the back yard.  I still can’t believe Mubby did that.  She must really love you guys.  You also went fishing (you caught a bluegill), went to Perfect Games, went swimming, went to the movies, ate at HuHot, and probably a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember.  I missed you a lot, though you didn’t seem to care a bit.  The house was relatively quiet without you.  I also understand that you and Miles got along well almost the whole time, which is pretty amazing.  You made it back in time for your tee-ball game.  Nana and Papa came to a tee-ball game too, but unfortunately that one wasn’t much fun because you threw up in the first inning.  You snuggled on Papa’s lap for a while, then you rallied and managed to bat twice before the end of the game.

Photo by Gary Clarke

It hasn’t all been perfect.  You and your dad and yelling at each other downstairs right now.  I think you had too much screen time today and it’s making you unreasonable.  That’s partly my fault—I should have worked harder to find non-screen things for you to do.  It’s so hot out right now, our options are limited, and with everyone having been sick I’m reluctant to stray too far from home.  Next week is supposed to be cooler, and hopefully the bugs will have worked themselves out of everyone and we can do more enriching activities.

Next month brings your birthday, the big oh-five.  You have a big birthday wish list started, most of which is plastic junk I hope you’ve forgotten about.  You probably haven’t.  You have a big imagination, and you often spin tales that you swear are true but couldn’t possibly be.  You still say all kinds of funny things.  Last night you were trying to talk me into letting you sleep in your dad’s and my bed, and you said, “You know, my bed just isn’t working for me.”

Photo by Gary Clarke

Sometimes a lot of things don’t seem like they’re working:  having the right vehicular situation for taking you to school, keeping you healthy, keeping you pleasant.  A lot of things are working just fine, though.  You’re smart and mostly cheerful and adaptable, and I miss you so much when you’re not around.  You keep things exciting, little Tobes, and I love you even when you drive me crazy.




The Callum Chronicle #18

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:38 pm

Dear Callum,

You’re one and a half, little fellow!  You’ve been so busy lately, running around all over the place, climbing anything you can, and saying all kinds of new words.  You even invented your own ASL-esque sign:  you grab your wrist and spread your other hand.  It means hot.  You mostly use it to describe food, but you also do it when we go out in hot weather.  For a while you were describing any extreme temperature as hot.  You grabbed a fistful of ice cream and yelled “‘ot!”  I think you’ve got it mostly sorted out now, though.

As usual, your month has largely consisted of tagging along to your brothers’ activities.  You handle it well, though, and a lot of times you score a treat (ice cream, play time at the playground near Tobin’s tee-ball field).  You love Justin Roberts now, like your brothers before you, and you like to point to the computer or stereo speakers and ask for “popeye” (“Pop Fly,” one of his best songs and videos). I hope he plays a concert somewhere near us soon, because I know you’d love it.

We had the unusual opportunity of having you as our only kid in the house for most of last week.  Your big brothers spent time at Mubby and Skittergramps’s house, and that meant it was like the old days on Friendship Street.  I can hardly remember, but it seemed so quiet.  It was way easier to stay on top of messes and generally keep things organized.  One time I even got bored.  It was the weirdest thing.  I ended up taking you to HyVee even though we didn’t need anything, and we just strolled around with the grocery cart while you ate one of the free bakery cookies.  I didn’t feel too bad about that, since every other time I’ve gone to HyVee I’ve bought something I didn’t need.  You definitely know where the cookies are, and even if we start our shopping trip with you clean, you’re a little crumb-covered urchin by the end.

I think you missed your brothers a lot, because you got very excited when we Skyped with them.  I know they missed you too, because the first thing Miles did upon his return was rush to you and snuggle you up.  When we decided to have you, my thoughts were mostly about how having a third child would affect my life—how old your dad and I would be when you graduated from high school, how we’d have to find money for a third college education (not to mention preschool), whether we’d be too old and decrepit to keep up with you.  I didn’t really think about how having a baby around would affect your brothers, but I think it’s been really good for them.  Miles especially just dotes on you.  You try to say his name, even though it comes out more as “aisle.”  I know the three of you are going to be life-long friends.  That’s an important gift I can give you, so even long after I’m gone, you’ll have each other.

I don’t plan to be gone for a long time, though, and part of that strategy involves daily exercise.  This summer, Miles and Tobin have been around to help keep you occupied during my basement treadmill runs, but Tobin has been complaining about the responsibility.  Today I decided to give them the day off, and I took you downstairs and let them keep playing upstairs.  You were not so excited about this plan.  You did okay playing for some of the time, but for a good chunk of the session you stood by the protective fence and yelled at me.  You got your leg stuck in there at one point.  I hope you get over that attitude by the time they go to school in the fall.

Your initial personality seems to be holding thus far:  you’re still mostly pleasant, easygoing, and sweet.  You’re generous with the hugs and kisses these days, not only with your family members, but with your doll and stuffed animals.  You make a cradling motion when we talk about taking care of babies.  Your brothers can make you laugh more easily than anyone.  Miles has this toothbrushing dance he does for you that has made for some messes in the hallway, but you love it so much I can’t bear to tell him to stop.  Maybe he could do the moves while not actually brushing his teeth.

We went blueberry picking at a farm outside of town last week, and you ate so many blueberries (ripe and unripe) that I thought you were going to pull a Violet Beauregard.  They had been your favorite food for weeks, but now you don’t seem quite as enthusiastic about them.  Maybe you got overloaded.  I made you a blueberry cake for your half-birthday and you liked that pretty well, but the cream cheese frosting probably helped.

Your current favorites:  ice cream, barbecue chips (“bips”), anything your brothers are doing, climbing the furniture, reading books (especially Jamberry, Dr. Seuss’s ABCs, and the picture book with photos of Tobin in it), Justin Roberts music, splash-splash baths, faking that you’re ready to get out of the bathtub and then laughing and saying “naw-naw” when I reach for you.

You’re silly and fun, and I’ve really enjoyed watching you develop and grow this summer.  It was very special having almost a week with just you.  You’re a wonderful little guy, and I know you’ve got a lot more to share with us.

Sometimes I have to share your ice cream so it doesn’t fall on the floor.  That’s okay.






Monthly Miles Memo #102

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:13 pm

Dear Miles,

Happy eight-and-a-half!  The summer is progressing well, and so are you.  You’ve been doing all kinds of fun things:  you just started your final week of Willowwind classes, which this time is Crime Scene Investigators.  You brought home a grid with lots of fingerprints on it today, and you told me all about the different fingerprint patterns.  You had fun with both Computer Programming and Chess for Beginners as well.  In Chess, you made a new friend named Andrew.  He’s older than you (going into sixth grade), and you think he’s pretty much the coolest guy ever.  You’ve exchanged instant messages with him a few times, and you want to check the computer every fifteen minutes to see if he’s replied.

You and Tobin have been getting along well lately.  You still have your moments of conflict, but you spend a lot of time doing high-quality playing together.  This morning you were playing daycare, whatever that means.  I do know that it involved you reading Tobin a story in your play tent, so I’m all for it.  You and Tobin spent most of last week at Mubby and Skittergramps’s house, and from what they reported, you guys got along really well almost the whole time.  Tobin idolizes you to the extreme, and even though I know he can get pesty sometimes, you are usually very kind to him.  Nearly every morning, I go in to check on you guys in your bunk beds, and he’s found his way up to the top bunk during the night.  I’m sure you’d rather have your own space, but you never complain.  Sometimes I don’t think you notice, because he goes up there after you’re asleep and leaves before you wake up.  You’re a heavy sleeper. As usual, you’re loving and really helpful with Callum.  I can trust you to keep him safe while we watching Tobin’s tee-ball games.  If he gets into a borderline situation, you just grab him under his little armpits and haul him to safety.  You’re nuts about him, and you’re always talking about how cute he is.  You like all babies a lot.  We watched an internet video last night with a cute laughing baby in it, and I think you cracked up harder than anyone.  You’re going to be a great dad some day.

When we went to Ames to drop you off at Mubby and Skitter’s, we made a side trip to Des Moines for a friend’s party.  James and Jessica did an incredible job—there were games and activities galore, including a fortune teller and a dunk tank.  After we’d been there for a while and you’d had some snacks and checked out some activities, you came up to me and said, “This is the BEST PARTY.  They have the best food and the best games.  This is awesome.”  It made me think about how much you’ve grown from the little guy who never would have let go of my leg at an event like that.  I’m so proud of how you’ve developed and gotten braver and able to let go of your anxiety and just enjoy the party.  It didn’t hurt that the party was, in fact, pretty awesome.

Your time at Mubby and Skitter’s was pretty great too.  When I was a kid, I used to spend part of a week at Grammy and Pop-Pop’s ever summer with my cousins, and I’m so glad you’re getting the chance to do something similar.  I can’t believe all the fun things you guys did:  an Iowa Cubs game, swimming, camping out in the back yard, trapping raccoons, Perfect Games, fishing, and probably more that I can’t remember.  I know Mubby kept you busy.  I bet she’s tired.

I’m glad Mubby and Skitter took you fishing, and I’m even more glad that you caught two fish.  You expressed an interest in fishing when we were in the Florida Keys, but we couldn’t find any rental fishing equipment.  I admit I was relieved when we couldn’t find any, because I was sure it would be a total waste of time, money, and effort.  I didn’t think you and Tobin would have the patience to do all the sitting around involved in fishing.  I guess you proved me wrong.  You’ve given me a detailed description on the right way to cast a line and reel in a fish.  It’s a good skill to have, and I’m so grateful you got to have that experience with your grandparents.

We’re nearly halfway through the summer now, which is hard to believe.  Our summer activity list is getting lots of checkmarks as we progress through all the things we hoped to accomplish.  We took a trip to the movies, because our neighborhood theater was showing one of my all-time favorites:  the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  I was slightly worried that you guys wouldn’t like it.  Sometimes a person places too much attachment on one’s own favorites, and I would have been really bummed if you weren’t into it.  Luckily, you got into it.  The Nestlé Crunch bars that we ate at the exact moment that Charlie opened his winning Wonka Bar helped.

I’m looking forward to crossing of the final items on our summer list, Miles.  This is one of the months I want to keep as a mental bookmark for the inevitable days and stages when things are harder.  Let’s remember:  the summer of ’16 was a whole lot of fun.




The Tobin Times #58

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:40 am

Tobin, Tobin, Tobin,

I bet if I used the search tool on this website to look for the term “Jekyll/Hyde” I’d have more than one hit.  You’re not the first four-year-old to cause stress in this family, and you’re not the last.  It seems like every night, your dad and I end up struggling to control our tempers (or even sometimes losing them—sorry, kid; we’re not perfect).  I know it’s hard when it seems like everything we do is for Miles:  going to summer classes, taking him to playdates, piano lessons, watching Harry Potter movies.  We try to do things that are special for you, too, like tee-ball and pizza dinners.  I’m sure from your perspective, though, it seems like the things we do are never Tobin-focused.

You still don’t have to shout so much, though.  You shout a lot.  You can be uncooperative and disinclined to listen to polite requests, which inevitably leads to your dad and me yelling at you.  I hate that, he hates that, you hate that.  And yet, it keeps happening.  I don’t want to yell at you, Tobin, but I also want you to stop jumping on the couch.

Other times you’re so kind and sweet.  I always think of Miles as being more sensitive and you being more happy-go-lucky, but you have a real tender side as well.  We had a hang-out evening with some friends last night, and it involved a change of venue because the little girl in the family had been to the ER that morning.  She’s fine, but her mom understandably didn’t want to take her out to City Park on a hot, humid night and let her get jerked around by mid-century carnival rides.  I was explaining to you why we weren’t going to be able to do the rides that night, and you said, “Stop talking about that.  It makes me sad.”  I thought you meant missing out on the rides (which we’ll do another time soon, I promise), but it soon became clear that it upset you to think about your friend being unresponsive.  I’m proud that you care more about people than carnival rides.

Your tee-ball season has started off well.  You’re in a league of very-beginners, coached by your dad again because, again, no other parent volunteered to do it.  I was hoping your dad wouldn’t be a coach this time, because your practices are on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Thursdays are especially tiring and busy days for me.  I was looking forward to him taking all you boys to your practices so I could have some decompression time.  But when no one else volunteered, I gave him the go-ahead to coach.  Even though I’m pretty tired (and often crabby) by the end of the night on Thursday, it’s better than not having a coach for you and your little tee-ball pals.  You had your first game last week, and you did a great job.  You had two excellent hits and did some good fielding too.  You’re pretty proud to be one of the Mercer White Sox.

You’ll start a couple of days a week at Kinderfarm next month, but as of now, we’ve been doing around the house and around town activities.  Your favorite thing to do is watch YouTube videos of people playing with toys or playing video games.  I have no idea why those are so interesting to you, but you would do it all day if I let you.  I do not let you.  We try to get out every day and do something, whether it’s a walk to the Flavor Ice stand or a trip downtown to the library or Natural History Museum.  We haven’t made it into the downtown fountain yet, but I know you will show Callum a great time once we get that done.  You two are water enthusiasts.

You had a playdate last week with a preschool friend.  That was pretty exciting for you, because Miles has done more playdates lately than you have.  You were so proud to have Grant come over.  You guys did a great job playing Legos and superheroes together.  I remarked to your dad that I think you and Miles have reached the stage where playdates make my life easier, not harder.  Before, when you required constant supervision, it was just additional childcare.  Now, you can play creatively and with only occasional check-ins and fudge pop distribution.

Even though night is still prime meltdown time for you, you love your bedtime stories.  Our usual pattern is that I get Callum to sleep while your dad reads you one or two stories, then he takes Cal and I read you another before lights out.  Last night, your dad and I were doing the hand-off when you came crawling—you were literally crawling on the floor; I don’t know why—in and begged your dad to keep reading to you.  I agreed to keep the baby for a while longer on the condition that it would be lights-out time when I got to you.  Your dad seemed skeptical that you would be able to handle this adjustment to routine, and it’s true that you fought me on it, but I held firm.

I think it’s important to follow through on commitments.  I want you to know that when I say something, I mean it, and that threats are not empty.  I’m certainly guilty of the occasional empty threat, but I figure as long as you have a solid understanding that I’m willing to make good on them, you’ll get the point.  The flip side of that is that I will keep my promises to you.  Miles and your dad are going to a Cedar Rapids Kernels game together later this week.   The last time you went, it was pretty boring for you, so they decided to go just the two of them.  I promised you we could eat at Arby’s for a special date.  I am not a huge Arby’s fan, but you are, so that’s what we’re doing.   In the spirit of a story from your newly rediscovered Robert Munsch collection, a promise is a promise.

I promise you’ll still get bedtime stories whether you’re Jekyll or Hyde.  Now will you please stop jumping on the couch?




Cooking up a plan

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:48 pm

T: I wish Mubby and Skitter lived in Iowa City, right next door to us. Then I could just go over there and say hi.
A: Yeah, that would be fun.
T: Only they would have a different house, and it might not have a balcony. (pause) Or cookie cutters.


The Callum Chronicle #17

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:09 pm

My little Callum-puppy,

It’s been a month of learning and growing for you.  I just remarked to your dad that I’m impressed with how well you communicate.  You use a good mix of nonverbal (nodding, shaking your head, and ASL signs) and verbal methods.  Your vocabulary has increased a lot lately.  You now say a lot of your favorite foods (blueberry, strawberry, noodle), and you just started saying thank you.  It’s not quite in context yet—you usually say it as you hand something to me, probably because that’s when you’re accustomed to hearing me say it.  It’s very cute in any case.

You give really good hugs and kisses, and you like to punctuate your hugs with little pats on the back and shoulders of whoever is receiving the hug.  You can climb up big staircases, including the one that leads to the top bunk of your brothers’ bed.  You still don’t have much for self control.  Four times this week I’ve let you get out of my sight, only to find you in my bathroom drinking from a discarded Dixie cup that you filled with water you got by loosening the toilet pipes.  That is a huge problem on so many levels.  Just ask for water, Callum.  I know you’re proud of getting it yourself, but you can sign for it, and you make a great slurping nose with pursed lips that also communicates thirst clearly.  I would be happy to get you water by one of the many normal means we have available.

Every time you’ve done it, I’ve scolded you harshly, which makes you cry, but thus far it hasn’t made you stop trying to do it.  Now I’m just trying to remember to close the bathroom door.  That makes you stand outside the door and cry.  Sorry, dude.  It’s not worth rotting out the floor.

We’re finally over your disgusting bout of hand-foot-mouth disease.  I have to say, that is one of the most challenging illnesses a kid in our family has had.  I am so grateful, of course, that we haven’t had to deal with anything more serious, but dang that was nasty.  You were up multiple times per night for at least two weeks straight scratching your poor little arms and legs.  We went through a lot of Benadryl cream.  You developed a taste for Children’s Zyrtec, which the doctor recommended as a better itch reducer than Claritin.  Now you want to carry the bottle around all the time.

We went to a wedding on your dad’s side of the family last weekend, and I so appreciated your easy-going nature.  You were happy to let anyone play with you and carry you around, even people you don’t see very often.  You certainly have your moments of demanding mama, but you do great with sociability a lot of the time too.  You had a great time dancing at the wedding and playing out in the country at a gathering the next day.  You liked the dogs and cats and rope swing.

It’s gotten hot out now, and my plan was to take you and your brothers to the splash pad, but now I’m thinking it might be too hot for that.  Maybe we’ll get out to Twilight Swim at the City Park pool soon.  You’re big enough now to have a lot of fun in the baby pool,  I bet.  In the meantime, you’ve been enjoying your share of ice cream and other cooling treats.  Yesterday, during our weekly trip to Dairy Queen before Miles’s piano lesson, I thought you would lose your mind if I didn’t let you hold my ice cream cone.  Before, you’d always been happy to get spoonfuls from my cone, but I think the time has come when I’m going to have to get you one of your own.

On the last day of school for Miles and Tobin, we celebrated with a trip to Heyn’s.  Everyone on the east side of Iowa City stole our idea, because the line was huge.  I left the stroller outside and held you while we waited in line, and it about killed you to be so close to the ice cream without getting any.  “I-kee, I-kee” you said over and over, pointing at the glass case where you just knew the ice cream is stored.  We did get to the front of the line eventually, and you got plenty of bites.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Your current favorites:  playing with grownup things (my phone, chopsticks, other people’s shoes, keys) and ignoring all your toys, pizza and peanut butter toast crusts, going outside, climbing up and down stairs, pour water into your high chair tray, twisting around to find the owls on your changing pad cover right when I’m trying to change your diaper, dancing, eating garden strawberries, and giving sweet kisses.  Last night you accidentally bonked Tobin on the head with your Zyrtec bottle, and you kissed him right on his owie.

You’re a great little guy, Callum.  Thanks for your patience this summer as we run around to all your brothers’ activities.  I’ll make sure you get some good ice cream out of the deal.




Monthly Miles Memo #101

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:25 pm

My dear Miles,

So quickly, your second grade year is over.  You ended the year happy and confident, with some new interests (baseball, the board game Clue) and plenty of goals for the summer.  We worked on a list, and you’ve already accomplished a lot of them.  We still need to do some trips to the Splash Pad and the pool, but the summer is young, and there’s hot weather in the forecast.

You’re taking a few classes, the first of which you started this week.  You’ll have two weeks of computer programming, then a week of chess, then a few weeks of break before you begin Crime Scene Investigators.  It’s fun to take you to Willowwind again.  That place always feels like an old friend.  Tobin is looking forward to joining you there next summer when he’s eligible for camps and classes.

You decided to continue piano lessons through the summer, which is nice because it lends some structure to our less-occupied weeks.  You truly enjoy it, too.  Your current project is a song from the game King’s Quest IV:  The Perils of Rosella.  That’s a computer game I played as a kid, and we found a version online that you can now play.  You love it as much as I did, and upon your request, I captured the audio of the song that Rosella plays on the organ in the haunted house after she gets the sheet music from one of the ghosts.  Your awesome teacher, Tara, transcribed the music, and we’re working on helping you learn it.  You’ve nailed the first half, and now you just need to get confident with the second half of the song.  I’m sure it won’t take you long, since I often hear the strains of the spooky song coming up from the basement, even outside your normal practice time.  I credit Tara with keeping piano fun for you, because you don’t seem to dread practicing the way I did as a kid.  She does a great job finding a balance between challenging you and not overwhelming you.

You really loved your second grade teacher, Mr. Turnquist.  He had a cool approach to homework.  You had math worksheets a few times a week, but you also had weekly creative projects.  They were technically optional, but since you’re Miles, you did every single one.  The last one might have been the best.  You had to think of an invention, draw and describe it on a poster, and then make a model of it.  You said that most of your classmates did things like time-traveling cars and other fantastical inventions, but you took a different approach.  I suggested that you think of a problem, then base your invention on a way of solving that problem.  The problem you came up with is the fact that you’re always dropping Cheerios on the floor, and your dad and I get irritated when we step on them.

To solve the problem, you invented Cheerio Duck.  It’s a robotic duck that scans the floor with cameras in its eyes and munches any Cheerios it sees.  You even planned for a trap door in the duck’s belly for Cheerio removal.  I thought that was a practical and original idea.  Now, every morning when you drop Cheerios, you call out “Cheerio Duck!”  Sadly, your prototype isn’t a working model.  Tobin has even taken to yelling “Laundry Duck!” in the hopes that a robot duck will come pick up the socks he always leaves on the floor.  Maybe that can be your next invention.

We’ve been busy over the last several weekends, with our Family Folk Machine concert, a trip to Ames, and a family wedding in Albia.  You did a great job at the concert.  For the first time, you not only sang a solo but also did a spoken introduction to a song.  You worked every night for a week leading up to the concert so you’d have your blurb memorized.  On the day of the show, I offered you a cheat sheet with the text, but you declined.  And, of course, you nailed it.

Harry Potter remains your favorite topic of just about everything:  reading, movies, discussion.  The final book is broken into two movies, and you’ve reached the point in the book that the first movie covers.  We’re doing to have to rent that soon.  You had a play date with another Harry Potter-loving friend yesterday, and the two of you were throwing spells and hexes at each other all over the Ped Mall.

Photo by Gary Clarke

I’m just now getting used to your face with those big adult teeth in it, and next week, we have an appointment with an orthodontist.  I don’t know what she’ll recommend, exactly—it might not be braces just yet.  You seem to want them, though I’m not sure why.  I’ve tried to explain to you that while they’re good in the long-term, braces are sort of a hassle, but you still like the idea.  That may change the first time you have them tightened.  I remember that painful process well.  We’ll see what she says.  You may try to use it as a negotiation point for getting more ice cream.

One of the goals I’ve set for you for the summer is to eat a piece of pizza.  It seems like a low-threshold food for you to explore, and it would make things a lot easier at birthday parties and other pizza-centric events.  There’s also a cool arcade/pizza joint in town that would be a great family dinner destination, but we have never been there because there’s nothing you will agree to eat.  Pizza, Miles.  Pizza is your friend.

You have a lot of summer left in front of you, my sweet boy.  Let’s do all kinds of fun things and invent a duck to clean up all our messes.




A firm opinion

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:19 pm

T:  Can I have more goldfish?
A:  Okay, but you have to let me clean out your ears afterward.
T:  That’s a sturdy trick!  (pause)  What does sturdy mean?


The Tobin Times #57

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:56 pm

My little sunshine boy Tobin,

We’re almost done with the school year.  Tomorrow is the last day, and while I think you’re looking forward to summer break, you’re going to miss your friends and teachers at Hoover.  You had a great year.  You made some good friends, learned a lot (you’re doing some reading, partly thanks to Miles’s tutelage), and proved once again that you’re flexible and resilient.  Though I’m sure you would have done great in kindergarten, one more year of preschool will be good for you too.  Kinderfarm will give you a whole new skillset in the outdoorsy realm, and I’m sure you’ll keep up the academics as well.  Lucas Elementary will have to brace itself for you once you start kindergarten the following school year.

You’ve told me that you want to take a semester off from Family Folk Machine, though now I’m not so sure you’ll stick to that plan.  You did such a good job at our concert last weekend.  It was a very long day, starting in the morning with sound check and continuing on until past four o’clock.  Last time you fell asleep right there on the stage during the last song, and I thought you were in danger of doing the same thing this time around.  You did great, though.  I saw you working hard on maintaining your focus.  I couldn’t see you because you were standing in front of me, but our director Jean tells me that you really rocked out on the song “People Have the Power.”  Nana and Papa were there in the audience to cheer you on, and they too were impressed with your great behavior and participation.

Another reason I suspect you’ll want to re-up in the fall is all your good choir friends.  You may or may not have a crush on a couple of them, too.  I’ll support you whichever way you want to go.  Sometimes rehearsals can be a little long and tedious for you, but I also think it’s good to expose you to people who are working together on an artistic endeavor.  For the most part you rise to the occasion and do great.

A couple of weeks ago we attended Wild Kratts Live, the tickets to which you and Miles got as Christmas presents.  Wild Kratts is one of your favorite TV shows, a PBS joint about two brother wildlife experts who go on semi-fantastical adventures in the interest of conservation and education.  For the live show, the actual Kratt brothers were there.  They put on a pretty fun event.  At one point you leaned over Miles to say to me, “I’m really enjoying this!”  You made me promise that if Wild Kratts Live has another tour that stops near us, we have to go.

Whenever we attend a theatrical event, I think to myself that we need to do it more often.  It can be pretty expensive, which is why I sometimes balk at getting tickets for things I’m not sure you’re going to love, but I should really just buck up and do it more often.  Maybe we could skip some of the toys and do more tickets for Christmas and birthdays.  When I was a kid, Mubby used to take me to performances pretty often.  Sometimes I found the actual show pretty boring, but there’s something magical about being part of the whole process.  We attended your cousin Max’s school performance of The Music Man, and I’ll be honest with you, the pit orchestra was not the strongest part of the show.  To be fair, they were middle schoolers, and I admire that their teachers had the ambition to put on such a challenging play.  Max and Foster were both excellent.  The orchestra probably needed a little more rehearsal.  Nonetheless, when the lights went down and the overture started playing, I got chills.  I hope you grow to love those moments too.

I’m excited to have more time with you this summer, Tobin.  You’re a lot of fun to have around.  I’m sure we’ll do all kinds of exciting things.  We haven’t sat down to make our summer activity list yet, but you’re already signed up for tee-ball in the first half of the summer and two mornings a week of Kinderfarm in the second half.  Other than that, I’m sure we’ll be hitting the splash pad, the movies, the library, the downtown fountain, the frozen yogurt shop, and the Natural History Museum.  You’re definitely old enough to enjoy the summer reading program, so we’ll have to see what the prizes are this time around.

I’ll probably go crazy if we sit around the house too much, so I thank you in advance for going on adventures with me.  We don’t have any specific vacation plans, though I’d like to make a Saint Louis trip if we can get it done over a long weekend.

Your current favorites:  pepperoni pizza, waffles, Spider-Man books and videos, taking walks, playing at the playground in the evening with your neighborhood friends, helping with dinner preparation and setting the table, dancing, and doing whatever Miles does.  You’re not a copy-cat, though.  Even though Miles gives you a lot of good ideas, you put your own spin on things.  I know it can be frustrating to be a little guy and just not able to do everything your big brother does, and we’ve certainly dealt with some tears and grumpiness.  You get mad that you can’t write in cursive, that you can’t play Clue without significant help, that you can’t learn computer programming on the Khan Academy website.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Still, you find your own way to get things done.  I can always count on you for a smile, a hug, and a dance party.  Keep on gettin’ down, my Tobin, even if you’re the only one facing that direction.






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