The Tobin Times #78

Filed under: — Aprille @ 10:15 am

Dear Tobin,

When you were born, I wanted to call you Toby.  It really never caught on—your usual nickname is Tobes.  Now that I’m accustomed to it, Tobes does sound pretty good on you, but I always thought Toby would be such a cute nickname for a roly-poly guy with sweet little round cheeks.  Nobody agreed, so there we aren’t.

Still, sometimes I call you Toby (or Toby-heart) as a private name just between us.  You like it.  You’re halfway through your sixth year now, which is hard to believe, since seven sounds so old, but you like to revert to little-boy things sometimes.  It’s when you’re extra tender and cuddly that I call you Toby, and it makes me remember the little bald head and constant smile you had when you were small.  Now it’s hard to imagine you without your signature curls, but your smile has stuck around.

School continues to go well for you.  You still don’t enjoy getting up in the morning—in fact, today, you flopped onto the floor, wrapped up in a blanket as usual.  I asked you if you wanted a juice in your lunch or if you wanted to buy milk at school, and I got no response.  I had to go prod you with my foot, because you were out cold on the hardwood floor.  Once you get going, though, everything seems great.  You tell me that your two best friends are Ben and Aiden.  You’ve had a couple of playdates with Ben, and we’re going to have to get Aiden’s contact information to set something up with him, too.  The teacher sends home a weekly newsletter that includes a couple of pictures of what the class is doing, and I’d say about 80% of the time, you’re in the pictures.  I don’t know if you’re a camera hog or she just thinks you’re as photogenic as I do.  I look forward to talking to your teachers about your progress at your parent/teacher conference next week.

You and your dad have been having fun at basketball, too.  I haven’t been to a game yet this session, but I plan to go next week.  I think you’ve really improved—when we went to Tot Time a while back, you joined in a game with some other kids and were sinking baskets like it was no big deal.  You asked to do baseball again this spring, so I signed you up for that.  It will be interesting to see how your sports preferences evolve.  Soccer has kind of fallen off your radar (maybe because it was the sport your dad was least interested in coaching), but you seem to like basketball a lot.  You and your dad like to watch the Hawkeyes on TV, and you even had a special date with him to attend a game last weekend.

You’ve been craving one-on-one time with each parent lately.  I’ve gotten a couple of notes from you asking for special dates.  It’s hard for me to do that, since I always have another kid or two with me, but we’re going to have to find some time to do it.  Your current plan for us is to go to the library, then the Natural History Museum, then get frozen yogurt.  We might have to pick two.

Yesterday your dad was sorting out the details of a work trip he’s planning to take next month.  It’s a ways off yet, not until after spring break, but it seems to be firmly on your mind.  You’ve been asking about it, seeming sad about the idea of him going.  It’s just for a few days, and you’re excited about extra screen time (the only way I’m going to be able to survive without a co-parent), but you seem worried too.  It will be okay.  I can’t promise you any one-on-one time during that period, but we’ll find ways to make it special.

Apparently you’ve become quite the master of the video game Legend of Zelda.  You and your dad and Miles all play it, and even though I don’t understand the details, from what I hear you’ve accomplished some goals that nobody else in the family has achieved yet.  Just think how good you’ll be after the extra screen time when your dad is gone.

You’re still funny and enthusiastic and high-energy.  You have your moments of ennui (the hot water ran out during your shower last night, and it was the end of the world for about ten minutes), but you always spring back, cheerful as ever.  You relish the joys of life, and even though you and your brothers sometimes clash, the night always ends with hugs.

Your current favorites:  Legend of Zelda, running around in minimal clothing, the cookie butter cookies from Trader Joe’s, your school friends, bedtime cuddles, and dancing around in your towel after a shower.  Sometimes it’s without a towel.

I love you, my special Toby.  I’m glad you’re learning and growing and kicking butt at video games, but you can always be little with me if you want.






The Callum Chronicle #37

Filed under: — Aprille @ 10:42 am

Dear Callum,

It’s been a snowy couple of weeks, and you’ve been so frustrated being stuck inside.  We’ve been trying to get you outside when we can, but you’re too little to play in the yard by yourself, and my threshold for standing around watching you stamp in the snow is pretty low.  Maybe when it warms up a bit the snow will be snowman worthy, and I’d be willing to get involved with that.  You love helping your dad shovel snow, which I’m sure slows things down for him.  It reminds me of how much you love to help me cook dinner.  Most of the time I try to take the long view and let you help, figuring it’s an educational experience and time well-spent together.  Other times I just need to get dinner on the table in a limited amount of time.  You don’t like that so much.

I have found that a key to a successful life with a toddler is building twice as much time into any plan than you think it will require.  I guess it’s like a construction project, a human construction project.

You’ve been soaking up your brothers’ attention like crazy lately.  Miles has been having a lot of fun with you.  He’s been giving you airplane rides (complete with turbulence), and you ask him to do it over and over until he’s exhausted.  We have a real airplane trip coming up next month, and I bet it’s going to feel like a letdown compared to Miles’s version.  I wasn’t feeling well yesterday afternoon, and Tobin did such a good job playing with you.  You’re sitting next to me right now as I write this, and when you saw the picture below, you got a huge smile and said, “That’s my guy!”

I’ve been seeing and hearing evidence of your brain growth lately.  You’ve been skipping steps (or unconsciously performing them in your head), which seems to me like signs that you’re getting more sophisticated in your thought patterns.  For example, you and Tobin were going to take a bath together the other night (which, along with taking showers with Tobin, is one of your VERY favorite things to do).  Your special gentle shampoo was in the downstairs shower from the last time you took a shower with Tobin down there, but we needed it upstairs to use in the bathtub.  Your dad and I were talking to each other about it.  It went something like, “Oh, we need the gentle shampoo.”  “Tobin’s down there…”  And without anyone connecting the dots for you or even directly addressing you, you stood at the top of the stairs and shouted, “Tobin, bring me my shampoo!”

I guess that’s probably normal development for a little guy, but every step of progress you make feels like a great innovation to me.  Maybe it’s because you’re one of my favorites.

We haven’t made much progress on the potty-training front, but after having potty-trained two kids now, I’m going with the approach that worked for Tobin:  booty camp.  When it gets warmer out, we’ll have a nude weekend (just you; no need to frighten the UPS guy) when you can have all the beverages you want, cleaning up accidents as they happen, until it clicks.  Tobin really didn’t need more than a few days, an he was virtually accident-free after that.  It was pretty low-drama.  I hope it works as well for you.  You can’t go to preschool until you’re potty-trained, and while I’m not in a big rush for that, I would really like to stop changing diapers.

Ever since Miles took over the room that previously housed the changing table, I’ve been changing your diapers in the master bedroom.  Combined with the stomach bug that’s been roaring through our family, some very nasty smells have lingered in there.  That is not my ideal sleeping situation.  Here’s to the future.

Your current favorites:  pajamas, especially the dinosaur ones and the glow-in-the-dark skeleton ones; painting; shoveling snow; Peppa Pig; cookies from Trader Joe’s; cuddling in bed; and Dum-Dums lollies (except the root beer flavor).

I love your smiles, your big hugs, and all the time I am so fortunate to be able to spend with you.  You’re my sidekick, a fixture at your big brothers’ school due to all the visits you make when we do volunteer work, my special pal.  My lap would be so empty without you.




Monthly Miles Memo #121

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:58 pm

Dear Miles,

You started out this month with a birthday party.  We haven’t typically done individual birthday parties, instead doing our big group backyard party in the summer, but I thought for a kid’s big 1-0 he ought to have a shindig.  Rather than a cake, you chose a sundae bar, and you and a couple of your best friends piled on the toppings to the extent that the ice cream seemed incidental.  You also did some drawing of comics and playing of video games, and I think you all had a good time.

Watching and listening to you interact with your friends (especially Jacob) made it clear that you influence one another.  Many of the irritating little tropes you’ve picked up (“Exaaaaaactly;” “I didn’t know that.  I learned something new today”) sounded eerily familiar coming out of Jacob’s mouth.  I bet you two drive your teacher crazy.

It doesn’t bother me too much, though.  Jacob’s a good kid, and if you have fun together, that’s what matters.  I’d be interested to see if his house is also covered in hastily-drawn comics.  You are a lot more text-driven than art-driven, and to be honest a lot of times I don’t even get the text.  You like to use abbreviations and substitutions (e.g., wut for what, 2 for to), which makes them difficult to read for someone accustomed to traditional spelling.  Also, the plots borrow heavily from video games I don’t play.  Zelda has become a fixture in our home.

A recent big adventure was a trip to the Englert Theater for a performance by Nate Staniforth.  He’s a magician and from Ames like me.  In fact, his dad was my dentist growing up.  I’ve heard nothing but great things about his shows, so when I was shopping for your annual Christmas gift of theater tickets, I was quick to reserve seats for his show.  I was mildly concerned because the theater website said the show wasn’t recommended for kids under thirteen, but after asking around, I decided it would be okay for you and Tobin.  It was definitely the right choice.  The only potentially objectionable issue was some salty language, but only in an off-the-cuff way, not an abusive way.  You looked suitably shocked, so I think you felt very mature for attending the show.  The performance itself was amazing.  I won’t get into detail here in case anyone reading this has the chance to attend one of his shows in the future, but rest assured that we give him six thumbs up.

When you found out that his memoir was for sale in the lobby and that he’d be doing a Q&A and book signing after the show, you insisted on getting involved.  I was happy to buy you the book—I believe in supporting my friends’ endeavors, and while Nate is not exactly a friend, he recognized me and remembered Uncle Tyler, who is the same age as him, when we talked after the show.  I think you and Tobin were impressed.  You guys both asked questions in the Q&A, and you maintained mostly good behavior despite being up way past your bedtime.  I love taking you to theatrical events, and I’m glad you’re still willing to be seen in public with me.

It seems like most of my pictures of you are of you while you’re eating.  For a while there you were eating in huge quantities, but now your growth spurt must be leveling off, because you’re back to normal amounts.  It’s a good thing your favorite food, pasta, is cheap, because we were going through a whole lot of it for a period.

We have your school conference coming up in a couple of weeks, and I feel confident about what your teacher will say:  “Miles is a great kid and a great student who sometimes needs to remember the right time and place for blurting out nonsense like ‘chicken nuggets.’  He is creative and funny and his desk is an utter disaster.”  Check this space next month to see if my prediction was correct.

Your current favorites:  everything chocolate, including but not limited to the chocolate croissants from Trader Joe’s; Minecraft; Legend of Zelda; the Philadelphia Phillies, because you like their mascot; giving Callum airplane rides; and McDonald’s chicken nuggets.  That last one surprised me.  As I mentioned above, you enjoy (sometimes at inappropriate times) shouting “I like chicken nuggets!”, but I thought it was all for show since you’ve always been pretty lukewarm on them.  Then we went to a school fundraiser at McDonald’s, which was a pretty miserable experience for me given my dislike of McDonald’s food and crowds.  You ate about ten McNuggets.

You’re weird, but I like you that way.





The Tobin Times #77

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:52 pm

Dear Tobin,

My sweet little guy.  You’ve had some rough moments this month, mostly centered around the fact that Miles got his own room.  It’s probably a combination of jealousy over the new stuff he got for his birthday (you believe his loft bed is about a hundred times cooler than your bunk bed) and sadness over him leaving your shared room.  Callum isn’t quite ready to move in with you, and your most recent opinion is that you don’t want him to, anyway.  You’ve had a very difficult time respecting Miles’s privacy in his new room.  He does not want you in his bed, so of course that’s where you always want to be.

It’s tough to be the bologna brother.

Overall, though, you’ve been doing well.  The Mr. Hyde we kept seeing during your early months of kindergarten seems to have mostly gone back into hiding.  While you have challenging moments, you have a lot of happiness and light, too.  You had your annual physical the other day, which should have been in August, but weird insurance requirements and a busy schedule pushed it to January.  I don’t know if it was because it was a special thing just for you, but you had really great behavior and said you loved going to your doctor’s appointment.  It helped that you didn’t need any shots of blood draws, and your doctor is an even bigger Star Wars fan than you.  You guys had plenty to talk about.  My stomach was growling and I was in a hurry to get home to get dinner going, but you guys kept prattling on about CGI Princess Leia and the relationship between Rogue 1 and the original trilogy and blah blah blah.

Anyway, the doctor agrees that you’re healthy and smart.  We knew that.  Your only disappointment was that you passed your vision test, because you want glasses.  You like Harry Potter almost as much as Star Wars.  Harry Potter has done wonders for bespectacled kids everywhere.

We made some upgrades to your room, including a new bookshelf and Star Wars wall decals.  Your dad took you to the new Star Wars movie in the theater last weekend, and you claim it was the greatest movie you’ve ever seen.  That may be true, but you also got a big kick out of watching Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure for family movie night last night.  Remembering how much the Large Marge scene scared Uncle Tyler when he was a kid, I warned you guys about it.  After it happened, you looked at me as if to ask, “Okay, now when’s the scary part?”  I guess claymation bugged-out eyes don’t have much impact on today’s jaded youth.  I’m sure it couldn’t live up to the special effects in the new Star Wars movies, but the writing, acting, and directing have held up well.  You and Miles laughed your heads off, though you were troubled by Pee-Wee riding his bike with no helmet.

Your reading and writing skills continue to grow.  It’s really exciting for you to be able to read.  You feel like you’ve cracked a major code, which I guess you have.  In your chit-chat with the doctor, you mentioned that you saw the trailer for a Star Wars movie because you read an option on the TV that said, “View Trailer.”  I’m a little nervous that I’m not the gatekeeper to all your information anymore, but I guess it’s better than you never learning to read.

It’s probably good for you to have more data sources.  Sometimes I think I’m getting my point across better than I am.  Yesterday we were driving downtown, and I waved to someone I saw on the street.  “Who’s that?” you asked.  “My friend Adam’s boyfriend,” I said.

You puzzled on that for a bit.  “Isn’t Adam a boy’s name?”

“Yeah, he’s gay.”  I thought we’d talked about that enough in a civil rights context that he’d have a reasonable understanding of the concept.

“But…how can he have a boyfriend?” you asked.  “Doesn’t being gay mean you’re married?”

I think we’re clear on the whole thing now, but it’s funny how a kid growing up at a time when marriage equality is a major discussion topic can get mired in the details and miss the big picture.  Keep reading, Tobin.  It’s only going to help.

We’re chugging along through the winter, most of which has been either way too cold or too melty and sludgy to play outside.  We’ve gotten a few play sessions done, which is good, because otherwise you’d burn your energy by running around the house in your underwear waving your light saber and screaming.  You still do that pretty often, but you’d do it even more if we never got outside.  I don’t know how you do it, but you never want to wear clothes.  Most days I find the sweater or sweatshirt I put on you before school wadded into the bottom of your backpack when the day is done.  You take off your socks as soon as you get inside, and often your pants too.  I hope you get over that eventually, because like a lot of things, that’s behavior that’s cute and funny in a kid and creepy in an adult.

You’re still pretty cute and funny for now, though.  I admire your wit and resilience.  I know it’s hard when your big brother makes changes that aren’t yet right for you, but don’t forget that there are a lot of things that are special just for and about you, too.  Nobody else in our family has quite your joie de vivre, your energy, or your ability to make friends where ever you go.  You’re a handful, but you’re a heartful, too.

I love you, my sweet guy.






Monthly Miles Memo #120

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:02 pm

My Miles,

For this, your 120th Monthly Miles Memo, the tenth-anniversary edition, I’ve been looking back over past ones.  I can’t re-post every moment I documented in text and photos, but here are some salient paragraphs from each year with in-retrospect annotations:

From Monthly Miles Memo #1:  As exhausting as it is, though, I secretly love those minutes after you’ve eaten, as you lie on my shoulder and I try to coax a burp out of you. As the sun comes up and brightens the snow, as you snuggle in all warm and soft against me, as your daddy snores quietly next to us, I think, “This is what my life was always supposed to be.” [You don’t snuggle me very much anymore.  I have to trick you into it, but sometimes you take pity on me and lean in for a hug.  You probably still need it, even if you won’t admit it, so I’m glad we’ve worked out a mutually-beneficial strategy.  I still feel like being your mom is what my life was supposed to be.  I can hardly remember a time when your and your brothers’ well-being wasn’t the highest priority in my brain.]

From Monthly Miles Memo #12:  I don’t know why a shoulder blade should feel so miraculous to me. For one thing, I don’t believe in miracles. I believe in science. Second, I see shoulder blades every day. I have a set, your dad has a set; they’re really not exotic. But something about seeing that perfect wedge of bone move under your muscles and skin made me marvel at what a fantastic working machine you are.  [You’ve gotten much more private, only changing your clothes behind a closed door, so I haven’t seen your shoulder blades for more than a brief after-shower glance in some time.  I clearly remember marveling at your perfect working body, though.]

From Monthly Miles Memo #24:  Two years ago today, I met a tiny boy, too new for the world, but strong and tenacious.  Your eyes were swollen shut, so you couldn’t see my face, but I didn’t worry about that too much since you had never seen me anyway.  We talked and sang to you a lot, the same songs we sang to you in utero, and you really seemed to recognize them.  I don’t know if those early experiences with singing and music shaped your current personality or if it’s just a coincidence, but you are absolutely crazy about music these days.  You always want to listen to the iPod or hear your dad and me sing, and you dance with great enthusiasm.  You recognize tempo and mood changes, and during a slow bridge, you close your eyes and sway like Stevie Wonder, singing “Oooooh” with the backing vocalists. [This one is definitely still true.  Music has been a recurring theme through your life, and it remains so.  Mubby and Skitter gave you an electric keyboard for your birthday, and you’ve been playing it a lot.  You sing, you compose, you play in Orff club.  I’m glad music is a joy for you.]

From Monthly Miles Memo #36:  I know you’ll continue to grow more independent, and I do want that for you.  I’m glad you aren’t as scared of things as you used to be, that you can go down twirly slides and tool around swimming pools and pack your own penguin backpack for Poto Weeko.  But know that if the slide is too hot, if the pool is too deep, or if your backpack is too heavy, I’ll be there to help you out. (Though most of the time you want to do it “all by myself.”)  [Callum is in that “all by myself” stage now, and I admit I’m looking forward to getting past it.  But the confidence/competence disconnect is part of growing up, and you’re making good progress in that area.  Sometimes we still struggle with it, like your reluctance to let your dad or me review your homework.  You want agency over it and resist input.  On the other hand, if I didn’t pack your suitcase for you, you’d probably spend vacations in the same clothes you wore onto the plane.  It’s a process.]

From Monthly Miles Memo #48:  It’s not easy for me to let go of you.  I’m not planning on doing it in any serious way for quite some time (and maybe not even then.  You know about the excellent university just across town, right?).  The night your brother was born was the first night in your whole life that I spent away from you, and I was more scared about that than I was of giving birth (and let me tell you, giving birth is no picnic).  You did fine, though.  As far as major challenges go, getting a sibling has been the one you’ve handled the best.  [Well…some days this goes better than others.  I’m not sure how to communicate the importance of empathy to you.  Sometimes it seems like you have a hard time understanding Tobin’s feelings and frustrations.  He was struggling with loneliness and jealousy when you moved out of the bunkbed into your own room with a new bed, and I couldn’t get you to see his perspective at all.  Other times you and your brothers are best friends.]

From Monthly Miles Memo #60:  The general personality you’ve developed continues.  You’re still a bit shy and reluctant to talk to people you don’t know well, and good lord can you be moody.  Too much stimulation with too little down time wears you out, as does being off your routine.  But I’ve also seen tremendous improvement in your confidence, ability to articulate your feelings, and ability to reason through tough situations.  You’re growing up, little Miles. [You’re still moody, for sure.  You still have trouble when you get off routine.  You’re still shy sometimes.  I guess these are basic personality traits that are unlikely to change, but I applaud your growth and progress.  You do great performing in front of groups, and you’ve developed some very good friendships.]

From Monthly Miles Memo #72:  That’s how you are:  you want to do things right, and you want to do them on your own schedule.  You don’t like shortcuts, and sometimes it drives your dad and me kind of crazy when we need to get out the door or put you to bed.  As you and your friends were getting bundled up to go out for recess, your teacher suggested that you emulate firefighters:  jump quickly into your snowpants and boots.  That analogy must not have resonated with you very much.  Perhaps you’re better suited to a career in art restoration or computer programming. [Yep, you’re still pokey, all right.  You almost missed the PTO meeting last night because you couldn’t manage to get off the couch and get your shoes on, and the kids’ activities at PTO are just about your favorite event of the month.  You certainly lack a sense of urgency.  That contributes to your strengths, too.  Unlike your brothers, you’ve never had trouble sitting still through a movie.  You can focus like no other kid I’ve ever met.]

From Monthly Miles Memo #84:  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.” [You still get satisfaction from creating.  Your favorite thing in the last year or so is to write comics, which usually star yourself and your friend Jacob.  You say you want to be a writer, and that would be pretty cool.  You still hold your pencil with caveman grip, but your keyboarding skills are improving.]


From Monthly Miles Memo #96:  Sometimes your dad and I shake our heads and wonder how a kid who’s so smart can be so oblivious.  Subtleties often don’t register with you.  You have a rather literal mind.  I asked you to find something (shoes, maybe) and told you they were by the front door.  You went and looked for them and came back empty-handed.  Having known you for eight years, rather than believe they weren’t there, I went to check.  They were about four feet away from the front door, next to the credenza.  I don’t think you were being a turd.  I think it truly didn’t occur to you to look anywhere except immediately next to the front door. [Yep, still an issue.]

From Monthly Miles memo #108:  This has been a big year for you, my dear Miles.  You are continuing to grow academically and socially, and it makes me so happy to know you’re developing good friendships.  Two of your school friends, your fellow members of Authors’ Club, jumped at my suggestion that they join you in an after-school creative writing class.  That will begin in a couple of weeks, and I hope it’s fun and educational.  We’re lucky to live in a community that has something to offer kids with all kinds of different interests.  Even though you’ve never shown much enthusiasm about joining a sports team (with the possible exception of baseball, which we’ll try to get done this spring), you’ve been able to join after-school and weekend activities that help you explore your areas of interest.  You have shown a recent spark for running on my treadmill, so maybe there’s track or cross-country in your future. [After a slow start, you really jumped into extracurricular activities this year.  As I previously mentioned, you joined Orff Club, as well as Let Me Run, baseball, Family Folk Machine, and piano.  You continued with swimming lessons and various enrichment clubs and classes, including Minecraft programming, filmmaking, and creative writing.  I’m happy to see you exploring your interests and building friendships with other kids who share them.]

And now, here we are:  Monthly Miles Memo #120, tenth anniversary edition.  This is already getting very long, so I’ll wrap things up with your current favorites and some final thoughts.

Your current favorites:  linguine with homemade tomato sauce, the beef and rice noodle concoctions you make at HuHot, Panda Express orange chicken, and anything chocolate.  You love reading and writing, especially comics and mystery/suspense.  We’ve been reading John Bellairs books together, a favorite author from my childhood, and it’s been lots of fun enjoying them with you.  You love the meta-Minecraft games of Murder Mystery and Bed Wars.  You’ve been playing your new electric keyboard as much as you can.  You love your new private room, with a custom sign on the door that says, “Miles’s room.  Ya gotta knock!”  You love irony and taking offense over small things.  You appreciate how a good blow-dry smooths out your glorious mane.  You are sometimes prickly, sometimes silly, so smart and so oblivious at the same time.  You’re a little boy and a “tween” (such a strange word).  You still like Harry Potter, and I hope you always do, or at least until I’ve gotten organized enough to take you on a trip to Harry Potter World.  You have not confessed any more-than-friendship interest in anyone, but you’re very private, so I probably won’t know until your wedding day.  You find racism, homophobia, and other baseless hate outrageous.

I’m aware of the danger of losing oneself in motherhood.  I hear women talk about that, how they get depressed because they give up their careers and interests and only focus on their kids.  Sometimes I get frustrated by the demands of life, but I never feel like I don’t know who I am.  You and your brothers (but first you, because you were the baby who made me a mother) haven’t taken anything away from who I am.  You’ve helped me find new parts of myself.  Sometimes I see my own traits, good and bad, in you.  I try to use those insights to help you through your struggles.  Sometimes, because what we hate in others is what we hate in ourselves, those similarities between us are what make me the most angry.  But I wouldn’t care if I didn’t love you, Miles.  I love you so much I wish there were a different word for it that’s stronger than love. 

If you didn’t know that yet, now you do.




The Callum Chronicle #36

Filed under: — Aprille @ 10:26 am

Happy third birthday, my sweet Callum.

I think it started when I would wrap you up in one of your novelty hooded towels after a bath.  I’d get you all snuggled up and hold you in front of the mirror and marvel over what a cute little racoon you were.  I started doing it when you were a baby, when you probably didn’t even recognize yourself in the mirror.  Somehow that habit translated to non-bath times, and even now, whenever I get the two of us in front of a reflection, you squeeze in for a big hug.

Last night, as you stood on the chair by the dining room table admiring your sparkly number three, you caught your reflection in the windows that face out to the back yard.  I’m glad I was standing there next to you, because you jumped into my arms and admired what a cute big boy you are.  I can’t deny it.

This has been a busy month.  Of course we had the holidays, which bustled with activity.  We had family parties and friend gatherings and, during their winter break from school, a lot more time with your brothers.  This was mostly positive—you guys had some good play time together, but also some squabbles.  I admit it’s nice to enjoy the peace and quiet with you now that they’re back at school.

You’ve been very cuddly and loving lately, at least to me.  You give great, squeezy hugs, and sometimes you mash your face so hard against mine you knock some sinus sludge loose.  You love to “help” in the kitchen, which I try to let you do.  It can be frustrating because it makes everything take about three times longer, plus we have to manage the inherent dangers of kitchen work, but you really love it.  Your dad noticed that our last water bill was noticeably high, and I think that’s because I often let you stand at the kitchen sink and mess around with the faucet while I’m cooking.  It seems like a low-threat way to keep you occupied (though you sometimes get over-enthusiastic about the sprayer), but maybe it’s not a good financial decision.

We’ve been suffering through a cold snap lately, so you haven’t gotten as much outdoor time as you would prefer.  We’ve gone outside on a couple of the less-frigid days, and you find the snow medium-interesting.  You haven’t really caught on to snow balls or snow angels or any of the more hands-on snow activities, but you like how weird the yard looks.

We’ve been making some shifts in how the bedrooms are set up, and I’ve been trying to get closets and drawers cleaned out.  You helped me sort baby clothes yesterday for Goodwill.  I’m keeping a few of my favorites, but mostly, after they’ve been worn by their third kid, the clothes are pretty stained and beaten up.  I hope the fine folks at Goodwill can find some use for them.  You were happy to let the baby clothes go, because you’re very sure you’re a big boy who needs big boy clothes.  In fact, you correct me if I call you a little boy.  This is just a language preference, though.  We had one attempt at having you sleep in the bunk bed with Tobin, and we had to abort that mission before it even started.  You’re still happiest cuddled next to me.

You’ve been having a lot of fun doing art projects lately, from painting to Play-Doh to coloring.  You were hanging out with me at your brothers’ school yesterday while I did some office volunteer work, and a staffmember kindly brought you a coloring book and crayons.  They must have been Rose-Art and not Crayola, because you were not impressed with the color depth.  You prefer the intensity of markers.  You still did some nice coloring, and you sat still for almost the whole time I was working.

I cannot say the same for our recent trip to the movies.  The big boys were getting antsy at home, so I took the lot of you to a matinee of Coco.  I only ever take you to movies that are A) obviously geared toward children, B) free or reduced price, and/or C) well past their opening date.  You never stay in your seat for long, so I don’t feel so bad when you need a lot of trips in out and of your seat if the only other people in the theater are families (who presumably understand what toddlers are like) who didn’t pay too much for the experience.  You did like the popcorn quite a bit, though.  You even ate some off the floor before I could stop you.  You haven’t shown any evidence of dysentery yet.  My fingers are crossed.

I was thinking about how I would characterize your personality, and at first I thought I’d say you are on the serious end of the spectrum.  On the other hand, I think your sense of humor has been developing lately.  Some things just tickle you, and you have a great chortle.  You saw a silly picture of Miles on my phone, and you laughed and laughed.  I even caught you laughing in your sleep the other morning.  You do seem to be on the more calm and thoughtful side, but you’re also brave.  With two big brothers as role models, you always think you can scale any height, cut with any knife, and scoop any quantity of chocolate-covered pretzels out of the bulk foods bins at the store.  You can sometimes entertain yourself for a while.  You honestly do better during my daily exercise when it’s just the two of us.  You play with toys, have a snack, or try to jump with a jump rope.  When the big boys were here, you’d get into arguments over who was playing with what.  Without competition, you do pretty well.

Your current favorites:  hard-boiled eggs (“card-boiled eggs”), eaten whole like an apple; Peppa Pig, both in storybook and video form; playing drums with Lincoln Logs as drumsticks; organizing the toothbrushes and lotion bottles on the bathroom counter; playing with water and anything else in the kitchen; climbing onto things you shouldn’t; and making enormous messes of all kinds.

Your messes often happen at the dining room table, which is our main cookie-decorating and art-making station.  The reflection in the window isn’t clear enough to show the crumbs on your face or the paint smeared all over your shirt, but we don’t need sharp definition to see your sweet little body cuddled against mine.  Sometimes you share your mess.  I’m just glad you still want to share your love.

May your next year be full of adventure, learning, and non-staining markers.

I love you so much, Callum.






The Tobin Times #76

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:13 pm

Dear Tobin,

The major themes of this month in your life have been Star Wars and reading.  Not surprisingly, in a world rife with product tie-ins, you’ve had a chance to combine those interests as well.

I think you got the Star Wars bug from a school friend with whom you had a play date.  Ever since you got home from his house that afternoon, you’ve been wanting to play with light sabers, watch the movies, and discuss details of the Star Wars universe.  I’m afraid I’m not much help in those conversations, since it’s been years (decades) since I’ve seen most of those movies.  I also admit that when we’ve been watching them lately, my attention has drifted.  I like science fiction pretty well, but Star Wars has never grabbed me by the brain like it has many others.  Still, I’m glad you’re enjoying it, and I’ll do my best to keep up.

The other major accomplishment of the month, reading, has been a big deal.  You’re making big strides in both sight words and sounding words out.  We definitely can’t spell words as a method of hiding information from you anymore.  You love being on the big people’s team, so this development has made you very happy.

Speaking of being on the big people’s team, thanks to a blabby kindergartner, we had to have a frank Santa Claus conversation.  Now, we’re not huge Santa people.  We do the cookies and milk on Christmas Eve and give the line that he brought you kids a few gifts, but on a scale of one to ten on Santafication (not sanctification), I’d put us at about a three.  We’ve never taken you guys to the mall and made you sit on a stranger’s lap, because I never liked doing that as a kid, and the mall sucks all the holiday spirit out of me.  We try to keep the gifts from Santa modest, after I read an eye-opening article about how kids compare notes, and it must feel pretty awful for some kids to think Santa was way more generous to their peers from more financially stable families.  We’ve never used Santa or that Elf on a Shelf tomfoolery to bribe/threaten you into good behavior.

So anyway, I’ve made it a practice to not to flat-out lie to you kids.  When you point-blank asked me if Santa was real, I pulled out the explanation I had been planning to use on Miles (though he never actually asked; I assume he’s figured it out, but I’m scared to delve too deeply).  There are two parts to Santa:  the little people’s side, when you think Santa brings the presents, and the big people’s side, when it’s our job to make Christmas really fun for little kids.  I tried to present it in a conspiratorial and giddy fashion, and it must have worked, because you are thoroughly invested in being part of the grownup team and making it wonderful for Callum.  You wanted to help wrap gifts in the special Santa paper, help write the recipient’s initials in the swirly Santa handwriting, and you’d love stay up late to stuff stockings with me on Christmas Eve.  When you suggested that, I reminded you that you are still getting a stocking and Santa gifts too, so you’d better maintain the surprise.  You were okay with that.

We’ve been doing lots of other things in preparation for the holidays, including making gingerbread people cookies.  You enjoyed decorating them more than eating them, but the rest of the family liked them.  You brought a retelling of the Gingerbread Man story home from the school library, and Callum loved listening to it with you.  When you had to return it, you were worried he would be sad, so we ordered one for him as a special gift just from you.  You eased the pain by bringing home a different version of the same story the next week.

All of this makes it sound like you are a one hundred percent loving, patient, and caring brother.  This would be false.  Much as I try not to lie to you kids, I don’t want to lie to posterity in this blog either.  You and Callum and Miles all have plenty of moments of impatience and hostility.  Sometimes you forget that arguing with a toddler is utterly futile, and you get so mad when he won’t accept your explanations or admit that you’re right.  Still, I think you have a profoundly kind heart, and once you get through the struggles of being a growing kid, your brotherly relationships will stabilize.  Your general behavior has improved somewhat.  Just a month or two I was about ready to sell you to a traveling circus.  Now things have been going better.  You’re still outrageously high-energy—I told your dad at dinner last night that once Callum is ready to stop using his high chair, we should strap you into it, because your high chair days were the last time you sat through an entire meal.  You just can’t keep your energy under control.

That level of energy can be exhausting for your dad and me, but with it comes the sunshine.  Your default expression is a smile, and you bounce back easily from all the little torments of life.  I wish you would listen better when we ask you to perform basic tasks, though.  Maybe those Elf on a Shelf people have a point.

Merry Christmas and happy six years and four months, my little Tobes.




The Greatest Love of All

Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:04 am

Callum is in a very “I do it all by myself” stage, including reciting our bedtime ritual.

A: I love you, my little sweetheart. Night ni—

T: I say it. Night night, sleep tight, don’t let bedbugs bite. That’s right!

A: I love you.

T: I love MYSELF.


The Callum Chronicle #35

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:16 pm

Dear Callum,

Can you believe you’ve lived at our house almost three years now?  Your birthday is coming up next month, and I’ve been pressing you to decide what kind of birthday cake you want.  Since you and Miles have birthdays on consecutive days, I usually make each of you a small cake so we’re not swimming in cake leftovers at a time of year when we should be reducing, not increasing, our junk food intake.  You’ve been changing your mind every time I ask you.  Today you said raspberry cake with chocolate frosting.  That sounds all right.  I don’t want to work too hard on finding the perfect recipe, because you may well change your mind again.

The biggest theme of the month in your life has been “I do it all by myself.”  I remember your brothers going through that stage again, and I’ve had to remind myself that it’s a normal part of development.  It can be hard when we need to get somewhere on time or accomplish a task with any degree of finesse.  You’ve been really interested in making your own cinnamon toast lately, and you don’t yet have the hand-eye coordination to spread butter or sprinkle cinnamon with any kind of evenness.  Usually you do it (your favorite part is using the toaster, of course), then I try to sneakily redistribute the toast toppings a little bit as you’re fastening yourself into your high chair.  You won’t accept any help on that either.

We’ve had very little forward motion on the potty training front.  Miles is really anxious to move into “your” room—the quotes are because you’ve never slept there once in your entire life, but it’s where we store your clothes and change your diapers.  Miles wants to wait until you’re potty trained to take over the room, because he doesn’t want us going into his room to change your diapers.  I can understand that, but his position might change if you don’t make some progress soon.

That transition will also mean having you sleep in the bunk bed room with Tobin.  Tobin hates sleeping alone, so I think you’ll have to go in there if the whole room shift is going to be a success.  You sleep through the night pretty consistently now, unless you’re sick or something, so it will probably work.  I’ll miss having you in bed with me, though.  I was recently listening to a podcast, and the speaker was talking about how during a difficult time in her life, her personal trainer asked her to come up with ten things that made her happy.  The best she could come up with was imitation crab.

That was a sad state of affairs, and I’m pleased to report that Gabrielle Union is doing much better now.  I decided to make my own list, and it was much easier for me to come up with ten happiness-inducers in my life, none of which were real or imitation seafood (though I do get a thrill out of having real crab legs for my birthday).  One of the very top things on my list was how I feel when I look at you sleeping next to me.

The last year has been hard.  For years, one of my favorite moments of each day is when I’m in my pajamas, face washed, skin moisturized, teeth brushed, and I cozy into my bed.  I often get a wiggly little thrill at the simple sensory joy of that moment.  For the last year, I haven’t had that.  I’ve gone to bed and felt sad and scared.  You may not remember what happened a little over a year ago, but I do.  I’m deeply worried about our country’s future.  I remain seriously concerned about how our least fortunate people will survive in a culture of self-centeredness and greed.  I’m also angry on a much smaller but frequently-experienced level that this turn of events has stolen my bedtime happiness wiggle.

But maybe things are looking up.  I hope we’re on the threshold of a sea change in the way we hold people accountable for their behavior, regardless of political affiliation.  I’m sorry to see progressive politicians go, but there’s no room for hypocrisy if we’re serious about demanding respectful attitudes and behaviors from our leaders.

You’re not even three yet.  You don’t know about sexual harassment or police brutality or injustice.  But I hope you become someone who fights those things, and seeing your little chest rise and fall in the spot next to me in bed is helping me find my happiness wiggle again.

You insist that you’re not a little boy anymore, that you’re a big boy.  That may be true, and you’re probably ready to go sleep in the bunk bed room.  I’ll find my happiness in the other nine items on my list, and I bet I can find a good one to add, too.

Maybe it will be the way you say “What are we going?”, which means both “What are we doing?” and “Where are we going?”  Maybe it will be the way you dance when your favorite songs come on.  Maybe it will be the joy I saw on your face when we turned on the lights on the Christmas tree.  Maybe it will be the plastic salads you make me from your toy kitchen set.  Maybe it’s the way you’re a big blob of cinnamon sugar on what sometimes feels like a barren, dry toast landscape.

The toast is actually pretty good.  We use that tasty bread from Costco.  It’s even better when you manage not to sit on the loaf in the grocery cart.

I love you, you little stinker.




Monthly Miles Memo #119

Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:39 am

Dear Miles,

The busy time of year is upon us (though it seems like it’s always a busy time of year).  It’s the time when I have to think of Christmas and birthday presents for a kid who only wants to play Minecraft and doesn’t have a lot of interest in merchandise.  I’ve been trying to get you experience-based gifts—theater tickets, coupons for Mom/Miles dates to the Java House for hot chocolate and board games, movie passes.  Your dad and I have some good ideas cooked up for your birthday, but we’ll talk about that more next month.

You’ve finally boarded the slime train, so that’s…sciencey, I guess.  I’ve known about the fad for some time, but you only recently got interested in it.  You made a batch of slime last weekend, and you were excited to take it to school.  You have sworn to me that your teacher is totally okay with it.  I’m skeptical, but she also lets her lizard Francisco roam around the classroom, so I guess she’s pretty relaxed.

I was at school doing some volunteer work the other day, and I talked to you third-grade teacher, Miss Lampe.  She relayed to me that you told your current teacher that Miss Lampe was your favorite teacher ever, and your current teacher is in third place.  Miss Lampe assured me that your current teacher was laughing as she told it, but I hope you weren’t too rude.  You’re going to need to brush up on your tact if you want to rise above the level of third-favorite student.

School seems to be going pretty well overall.  One thing that is slightly concerning to your dad and me is that you have decided you’re bad at math.  The thing is, you’re definitely not bad at math.  The only reason you don’t get perfect scores on your homework and tests is carelessness or incompleteness.  You understand all the concepts, but when an answer asks you to explain your reasoning, you write “I tried.”  I realize it’s hard to verbalize how one comes to a mathematical conclusion, but being able to explain things is a skill that goes beyond math, and I want you to exercise it.  You also seem perfectly satisfied with getting scores in the 80% range when you understand 100% of the content.  This is a tricky matter.  I don’t want you to put so much pressure on yourself for perfection that your happiness seriously suffers, but a little more internal motivation might be a good thing.

You’re in a stage where you’re developing an identity.  You tell us that you’re the class goofball (your teacher confirms this), which is a little surprising considering you’ve always been a fairly serious kid.  I’m glad you’re cultivating humor, but much like your insensitive teacher ranking, you need to work on time-and-place appropriateness.  A kid with a dry wit is a lot more pleasant to have in the classroom than a kid who yells “chicken nuggets” instead of a correct answer.

That reminds me, we need to get your teacher a generous gift card.  Teachers work hard.

We had our Family Folk Machine fall concert, and as usual, you nailed it.  One thing that made me particularly proud:  our friend Lynn organized the group gift to our director, and she didn’t want to be the one to present it.  She suggested that you do it, and you were fine with the idea.  I gave you a few ideas about what you might say but didn’t dictate anything specific.  You did a lovely job with your impromptu speech, thanking Jean and her assistant director kindly and clearly.  Side note:  isn’t it funny how different life experiences are challenging to different people?  Lynn sings beautiful solos in the choir, but saying a few words about our director is tricky for her.  You did wonderfully with the public speaking (and singing solos), but the idea of joining a group of kids on the playground can paralyze you.  I’m not criticizing—I have my own hangups that are a lot like yours.  Our brains are strange organs.

Your current favorites:  linguine with homemade tomato sauce, Minecraft, haircut evasion, sleeping in, writing and drawing comics and stories, and hanging out with your friend Jacob.

You’re a wonderfully weird little guy, Miles.  This might be the last month I can reasonably call you “little,” since it’s your last month before you enter the double digits.  I can hardly believe that I’ve been looking into your big blue eyes for almost a decade now, but I’ll comment on that more next month on your big 1-0.

I’m going to hug you with all my might while you’re still my little boy.  I’m not saying I’m going to stop once you’re ten, but it’s a good excuse for the time being.




December 2 is the funniest day

Filed under: — Aprille @ 12:25 pm

I had Tobin-quote gold on my Timehop today from multiple years.  I am aggregating them here.



T, genuinely perplexed:  Who would touch BUNS?


T:  This pancake is warm, warmer than lava.

A:  What?!  I’m surprised it didn’t melt your plate.

T:  I’m surprised it didn’t kill me.


T:  What’s the difference between Tuesday and Thursday?

M:  They’re different days of the week.

T:  So they both don’t know karate?

M:  Tobin, exactly what planet are you from?

T:  Earff.


A:  What did you have for snack today?

T:  Animal crackers.  Other kids had apples.

A:  Why didn’t you have apples?  You like apples.

T:  I don’t like Hoover apples.

A:  Not as good as Honeycrisps, huh?

T:  No.

A:  What do Hoover apples taste like?

T:  Like two monsters stuffed on spikes.



The Tobin Times #75

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:06 pm

Dear Tobin,

Last month I wrote about how you were driving us crazy, how you were presenting such frustrating behavior that we were about to lose our minds.  I’d be lying if I said that had completely disappeared, since we’ve had some challenging moments, but I do think you’re finding a better way.  Maybe it’s adjusting to kindergarten, maybe it’s the increased restrictions we’ve put on your screentime, or maybe it was just a phase, and you’re on your way out of it.  Regardless, I’m very happy to have had more frequent glimpses of the sunshine-face who joined our family over six years ago.

Your dad and I went to your first parent-teacher conferences of your elementary school career, and they truly couldn’t have gone better.  Your teachers had nothing but praise for your skills both academic and social.  I was proud to know you’ve become good friends with many of your classmates, and you are kind and friendly to everyone (except your brothers).  You brought home a paper turkey craft, with each tail feather labeled with something you’re thankful to have in your life.  Each feather showed a different friend’s name.  You and Miles are planning an elaborate group playdate that involves a snowball fight, and once we have snow on the ground, you’re going to have a hard time choosing which friends to invite.

Your teachers told me that one thing they appreciate about you is your sense of humor.  One teacher said it’s so refreshing to have someone laugh at her jokes.  It reminded me of the time I was a Spanish TA for beginner students, and one semester I happened to get a Mexican American kid in my class.  He understood Spanish well but wanted to improve his reading and writing, since his education had all been in the U.S.  I had become accustomed to my jokes (in Spanish) all disappearing into the ether, but I kept making them if only to entertain myself.  All of a sudden, when I made a joke, I heard laughter.  It was simultaneously refreshing and disconcerting to know that someone was actually listening.  I know you keep your teachers on their toes that way too.

Your teachers seem to be doing a good job finding appropriate challenges for you while keeping you part of the regular team, too.  You and your friend Kit, who is in another kindergarten class and also has strong math skills, have a special time on Wednesdays when you play math-based games together.  You have been enjoying that, and ever since you learned to play Top It (the card game we used to call War), we’ve been playing it a lot.

You’re also learning to read, much to Miles’s consternation.  He’d gotten used to being the only literate kid in the family, but our old trick of spelling out words with him doesn’t work to keep secrets from you anymore.  You certainly feel proud of yourself, though.  You might do well to not blurt things out, though, because sometimes it’s valuable to keep things secret from Callum, our last remaining non-reader.

That too reminds me of my teaching and learning experiences.  I used to get so frustrated with my students when I would spend five minutes on a circumlocution to try to get them to understand a word without telling them the English equivalent.  I got so frustrated when people would blurt out the English word, because translation at that level is represents very superficial learning.  I spent all that time on circumlocution because it was course policy, but also because I have a very clear memory of Mrs. Mickelson, my high school Spanish teacher, doing something similar.  The class had learned the meaning “to make” of the verb hacer, and she was holding up a picture of a man at an airport and saying “¿Qué hace?”  Everybody was trying to figure out what he was making—he wasn’t cooking or knitting or anything obvious like that.  Finally, after more prompting, it dawned on me that hacer also means “to do.”  I’m not sure why she never told us that, as it’s a more common usage than “to make,” but I remember everything about the experience.  That’s the most concrete example I have of the tenet that people need to figure things out for themselves.

What I’m getting at, Tobin, is that I think you may be figuring things out for yourself.  Your dad and I have tried in every way we can think of to communicate with you—from calm discussion (always the starting point) to trying to get to the bottom of the causes of your rudeness to yelling (almost always the ending point, because options A and B rarely get anywhere).  Maybe what you need is just to figure things out for yourself.  Telling you to stop dancing around like a maniac and sit down and eat your dinner is like telling you that hacer means “to do.”  It’s not a worthless thing to do, and I don’t see us not trying to correct your behavior in the short term.  But you’re going to have to figure out that tormenting your brothers makes them angry at you, which leads to slammed doors and pinched fingers and tears.  I think you’re getting there, or at least you’re headed there.

I’m very glad that school is going so well and that you feel secure enough in our love that you can let your guard down at home.  I’m glad you laugh at jokes and are thankful for your many friends.  I’m thankful for your bright smiles and the fact that you’ve been giving them to me more often.

By the way, what the man in the picture was doing was esperando un avión.  Esperar can mean both “to wait for” and “to hope.”  We’ll do both, because you’re worth it.





The Callum Chronicle #34

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:22 pm

Dear Callum,

You’re creeping steadily toward three, and I’m trying to relish these last months of babyhood.  I know that you’re on your way to being long and lean like your brothers, so last I caught on video one of my favorite parts of your baby-fatted little self.  It won’t be long before my jowls start flapping like that when I run, and I ask you kindly to not document it.  It’s much cuter on you.  Your baby days are running out—and some would argue that they’re already over.

That has good aspects and bad.  Tobin and Miles are very excited for you to stop sleeping with your dad and me, because Tobin wants you in the bunk bed with him, and Miles wants his own room.  He’s going to get “your” room, where you never sleep, but it’s where we change your diapers and keep your clothes.  You’ve shown very little interest in potty training so far, though.  For the time being, you’re still sleeping in our bed and pooping in your pants.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Much like your brothers around this age, you’re still in a big Mommy phase.  I guess it’s because we spend so much time together.  Not only is it just the two of us during the school day, I often end up hanging out with you while one or both of your brothers is doing some activity.  You have almost entirely given up naps now, so we have a couple more togetherness hours every day.  It can be pretty exhausting, but you also do a good job playing with your dad when he gets home at night.  Sometimes you try to throw him out of bed, though.

You’ve been driving Tobin crazy lately.  You’re very grabby, and he finds it outrageously unfair that you get in less trouble than he does for snatching things away.  We definitely tell you not to do it, but a lot of what you do is just regular toddler stuff, sorting out ownership and internal rules.  That can spur some serious frustration in Tobin, so we’re trying to be even-handed in rule enforcement, but it can be hard on everyone.  You’re still very much a team, though.  He’s proud to show you off to his friends at school, just like Miles was proud to show him off when he was a little guy.

This was the first Halloween when you really got it—you got the knack of saying “trick or treat” when approaching a treat-giver.  Fortunately no one asked you for a trick, because you didn’t have anything in your arsenal besides your cuteness.  Only one person found it necessary to question whether a boy could be a witch, which is better than when Tobin was a witch a few years ago, but still higher than the number of people who I think should be concerned about gender norms for fictional creatures.  We trick or treated at your dad’s office, where you got lots of candy and attention, and then for a little while around the neighborhood that evening.  You and Tobin got cold and tired pretty quickly, and you had a hard time understanding that you didn’t need to go inside every house when the door opened.  Mostly, though, it was a very fun day.

The balmy days of early fall are over, and we’re firmly entrenched in coat season now.  We enjoyed the last warm days, spending a good amount of time outside and finishing up our gardening tasks.  You helped me pick the final tomatoes and plant garlic, though you got pretty mad at me when I took out the tomato cages and wouldn’t let you be outside when I tilled up the area for the garlic.  You stood by the window and screamed while Tobin told me, “Callum is literally dying!”  Tobin and I had to have a talk about the proper use of the word “literally,” because really you were just mad that I wanted to protect your eyes from flying rocks.

You love to be outside, and I think it’s hard on you to be trapped inside on these chilly days.  We always seem to be doing something, whether running errands or waiting around during your brothers’ activities, so we’re not actually stuck in the house.  Still, you are always up for adventure.  We’re going to have to get to Tot Time soon so you can run around freely.

The holiday insanity is on its way, and I think you’re going to have so much fun this year.  You’re going to love playing with cousins and working on homemade gifts and wrapping presents (considering your love of Scotch tape).  I doubt you’ll be through your Halloween candy before all the Thanksgiving and Christmas treats start descending, but that way you might not miss the Snickers and Twix bars your dad and I have swiped.

Your current favorites:  bar code scanners in stores, Paw Patrol toy videos (that is, YouTube videos of people playing with Paw Patrol toys, not the actual show), Curious George’s Halloween Boo-Fest (and, more importantly, using the remote to turn it on and off), taking showers and baths alone or with Miles or Tobin, your play kitchen, pizza, and grapes.  You got out Miles’s old kid-friendly tool set last night, and you got very interested in the hand-cranked drill and putting balsa wood in your mouth.

A few nights ago, your dad came to bed and felt around in your usual spot.  He couldn’t find you, so he reached over and jostled me a little and said, “Where’s the baby?”  You had cuddled up so tightly against me that it was like we were one.  It was almost like those days nearly three years ago, when you did that heat-seeking newborn thing.  A while later, though, you scooted away from me and sprawled out in the bed.  I hope your dad enjoyed the extra space while he had it.

No matter which room you sleep it, little Callum, you will always have a place next to me—literally and figuratively.










Monthly Miles Memo #118

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:40 pm

My dear Miles,

I don’t know if you and your brothers orchestrate it this way on purpose, consciously or unconsciously, but the three of you have a way of coordinating your behavior so that at least one of you is usually in a reasonable stage.  Maybe it’s a form of one-upsmanship, when one of you is behaving really frustratingly, at least one other relishes playing the “good kid” who can exchange knowing glances with his stressed-out parents.  I put “good kid” in quotes because I know that all three of you boys are truly good kids, but you all go through stages when you can be pretty difficult to manage.  I don’t know if I would have said so a month ago, but lately, you’ve been a pretty rational and sweet guy to have around.  I can only think of one outrageous screaming fit you’ve had recently, over a disputed outcome in a game of Clue.  Mubby is probably still traumatized from that.  Still, that was an aberration.  Mostly you’ve been mature and funny and kind.

Your most intense hobby lately has been drawing comics.  You and your friend Jacob are co-authors on a comic strip called “Broken TV Screen,” and at those times when I make you stop playing Minecraft, you are usually happy to go write some.  I can’t say that I get all of them, especially because every single strip ends with a broken TV screen, which is usually a non-sequitur.  Still, you seem to enjoy it, and Jacob has become a good friend.

You had a piano recital recently, and you did a great job.  You seem to think that speed is the ultimate proof of mastery, so you played your song at a pace that emphasized speed over nuance.  You were uninterested in my opinions in that area.  Still, you definitely knew your song well.  I was most proud of the fact that, when you accidentally skipped a repeat, you thought on your feet (fingers?) and threw in an extra repeat of a different part to balance it out.  You didn’t get flustered or stop; you just moved smoothly through your new arrangement, and anyone who hadn’t heard you play it a hundred times would have never known.

You also lost your first tooth in about a year.  I don’t know why you went so long between tooth losses, but your dentist said you’re on the brink of losing a whole bunch of them.  You’ve gone to the orthodontist a couple of times to assess what your future might be in terms of tooth position management, but for now we’re in a holding pattern.  I think she wants you to lose and grow a few more teeth before she knows what she’ll need to do to straighten things out.

The biggest accomplishment of the month was the completion of your first 5k.  You, with the support of your dad as coach, have been training through your school’s new Let Me Run team.  When you first started, you hated it, but you saw how quickly a person can improve with a little perseverance.  Unlike your piano style, speed is not your priority while running.  Nonetheless, your 5k time was faster than I expected it to be, and you reached your goal of running the entire distance with no walk breaks.  Mubby, Tobin, Callum and I were lingering around the finish line while Skitter scouted the course for photo opportunities.  I kept an eye on the clock, and I wasn’t expecting to see you before the forty-five minute mark.  When someone (Mubby I think) said she thought she saw you and your dad coming around the bend for the finish, I glanced at the clock and thought she must be mistaken, because we were nowhere near forty-five minutes.  But when I looked, there you were, exhausted but happy and proud.  You declined your dad’s suggestion of a sprint to the finish, but you kept your steady pace and made it.

You managed to have enough energy to twirl your medal around at Family Folk Machine rehearsal later that day, so I guess you didn’t use up all your reserves.

Photo by Gary Clarke

While I don’t think anything is going to match your third grade experience, you seem to be doing well in fourth.  You had a cool Halloween costume (Herobrine, a Minecraft character), and you actually danced a little in the dancing portion of the school Halloween party.  We did some good trick-or-treating at your dad’s office and around the neighborhood, and you wanted to stay out a lot longer than Tobin and Callum.

Another cool thing your doing in school is a book drive to support the rebuilding of Stanley Switlik Elementary in Marathon, Florida.  It was badly damaged by Hurricane Irma, and you and your friends wanted to do something to help.  You’ve been gathering books and writing letters to the kids there.  Marathon Key just happens to be our usual vacation spot, and the owner of our rental condo assures us that it suffered minimal damage and will be ready for our visit this spring break.  He also wants to help us organize a trip the Stanley Switlik Elementary, where you can meet some of the kids you and your classmates are supporting.

It’s satisfying to have so much good news to write about this month, Miles.  The advantage of being honest in these monthly letters for all you kids is that I can look back on them and realize that every rough patch is temporary, and that you all go through them, and that you all have great months like this one.  I’m really glad you’re my funny, creative, smart little boy.







The Tobin Times #74

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:04 pm

Dear Tobin,

It’s been a mood-swingy month.  Your dad and I were talking about it last night, and I speculated that you are working on your adjustment to kindergarten.  This is the most challenging schedule you’ve ever had—up much earlier than you’d prefer, in school all day, activities most afternoons and/or evenings.  Maybe it’s a strain to keep it together during all those hours, and when you’re home in your safe haven, you really let your fury loose.

Your dad and I are a little confused by all this, because your personality has been so easy-going your whole life.  This is the first time we’ve seen you in such a challenging stage.  That’s not to say you’re not still fun and sweet, because you absolutely are.  But your usual demeanor has been punctuated by these screaming fits of rage that are hard for us to manage.

I chaperoned a trip with your class to the Children’s Museum a couple of weeks ago, and I could tell that you definitely know how to use good behavior in a school-type setting.  You did a great job, and you certainly weren’t one of the students who needed extra attention to be a good participant.  At home, your dad and I ask you to do what you’re supposed to do (brush your teeth) or stop doing what you’re not supposed to do (tipping back your chair at the dinner table), and it’s like we’re talking in Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice for all the response you give.  After a couple of reasonable requests, we start getting angry.  Then you lose it and freak out.

Mornings around here are tough these days.  You are the king of the morning grumps.  It wouldn’t hurt to get you to bed earlier, but I haven’t noticed a lot of difference between the mornings after high-sleep and lower-sleep nights.

In positive news:  you’ve done great with your latest sessions of swimming lessons.  We stayed in a hotel for a family wedding last weekend, and you rocked out in the pool.  I put water wings on you, but you stripped those off shortly after getting in, and you swam around and back-floated like a champ.  You’re also really enjoying Ninja Zone, a class that seems like mostly gymnastics.  It’s been fun for you to run and jump and flip around bars.  Callum and I are going to exhaust the retail options in the gym’s neighborhood, because he goes too crazy with desire to go in with you if we hang around in the waiting room.  I’ve been able to you watch you a fair amount, though, and you look like you’re having a great time.

As always, we’ve been busy-busy-busy, and I don’t see that changing before the holiday madness descends.  It would be nice to have a weekend at home with no commitments, but I have no idea when that will happen.  You’re not a kid who seems to need a lot of downtime, but I know I do, and I can be a better mom to you when I’m not stressed and overwhelmed.

The weather is right at the changing point now.  Earlier this month, you and Callum ran in the sprinkler and ate popsicles outside.  Now we’re getting into jacket weather, and we’ve had some cold and rainy days.  We had some fun on a rainy weekend recently, playing a game where we put pictures of animals into headbands and had to ask questions to figure out what they were, and we played several rounds of Exquisite Corpse.  That started as a literary game, but we do a version where we each draw the head of a monster, then fold the paper and pass it.  The next person draws the middle, then folds it and passes it, and another person draws the bottom.  We’ve come up with some pretty funny combinations, and you and Miles would play round after round if I didn’t finally make you stop.

You’re a pretty fun guy 90% of the time, my sweet Tobin.  If you have any ideas on how we can help you keep things under control during that remaining 10%, let me know.  I can’t imagine it’s fun for you to be so angry, and I want to help you get yourself sorted out.

We’re getting flu shots in an hour.  Give me strength.





The Callum Chronicle #33

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:04 pm

Hello, Cal-Pal,

Or should I say Cally?  You’ve been calling yourself that lately, though sometimes you’ll take it back and call yourself Callum-a-zoo instead.  Other times you’ll go purist and insist on just Callum.  A week or two ago, you were pretending not to know that I didn’t want you messing with Miles’s reading lamp.  I said you were being deliberately obtuse.  You said, “I’m not ‘tuse.  I’m Callum.”

You’ve been using diminutives in other situations too, like referring to the book Walter the Farting Dog as “Walty.”  It’s interesting to hear you play with language beyond base-level communication.  We chaperoned a trip with Tobin’s class to the Iowa Children’s Museum today, and another adult helper who’d been observing you told me, “He’s really smart.”  Now, I don’t think you’re a dummy, but since I don’t really hang out with any other toddlers, I don’t have much means of comparison.  In any case, I’m glad to know all those stupid videos you like haven’t shriveled your brain too much.

After a curiously cool August, we had a warm September and early October.  One day you really wanted to run through the sprinkler and eat popsicles outside.  It felt like a strange thing to do, but it was eighty-five degrees, so that’s what you did.  You crunched leaves under your feet and ran around in the cold spray until I dragged you inside for dinner.

We’ve been busy-busy-busy with your brothers’ activities, and as always, you’ve been a good sport about coming along.  I try to do special things with just you while I have the chance, though sometimes “special” just means picking out a doughnut on one of our thousand Hy-Vee runs.  Other times I get ambitious and take you to Tot Time at the gym and Toddler Story Time at the library.  You like that okay, especially the singing and dancing parts, but you’d rather use the play kitchen than sit still for a story.  Sometimes the stories are kind of boring.  You prefer more plot-driven fare, like the aforementioned Walty.

You seem to enjoy food preparation play quite a lot.  Not only do you love the play kitchen at the library, you use your own play kitchen almost every day.  That’s why our basement playroom is usually a disaster, because the play food is made up of hundreds of little plastic fruits, vegetables, cutlery, and pots and pans.  Still, you know what a kiwi is, though you’re not interested in trying a real one.

You’re becoming more independent in a lot of ways.  You can get your own sandals on and off, probably thanks to the extra practice you got via this extended sandal season.  You don’t always get them on the right feet—I set them out for you while I was getting organized to run errands, and when I checked, they were on the wrong feet.  I helped you take them off and set them out for you again, and when I checked back, you’d put them on the wrong feet again.  When I let you know that things had gone awry, you said, “But I ran out of legs!”

Despite a promising start, you have shown zero further interest in using a toilet.  Actually, that’s not true.  You love flushing toilets, whether they need it or not, but you have no interest in the earlier steps in the process.  Your flushing habit can be wasteful, but since your brothers have the bad habit of forgetting to flush, it can also be kind of helpful.  I need to use that as an incentive to get you to at least give it an honest try.

We had a fun visit to Mubby and Skitter’s house last weekend.  Unfortunately it was cool and rainy most of the time, so you didn’t get to use the sandbox nearly as much as you’d hoped.  You still got to take baths, though, which for some reason are way more fun at their house than at ours (I suspect the reason is the squirt guns Mubby lets you use).  You had fun playing with the parking ramp and other toys, and you decided to keep the piano that plays Beethoven in the closet.  You are not a big Beethoven fan.

Your current favorites:  Caillou, YouTube stars Ryan and Genevieve and their stage-parenty parents who make toys videos that exploit feature them, skipping naps, dancing, pepperoni pizza, cinnamon toast in a bowl, and climbing things.  You are awfully brave.

I can hardly believe that you’re closer to three than two now.  Two is still a baby, right?  But three is such a big boy.  A small consolation is the fact that you’re a little guy physically.  You can still fit into a lot of 24-month-sized clothes, and I noticed the shorts you were wearing the other day were actually for the average 18-monther.  Even if you’re getting older and more adventurous and verbose every day, at least it’s still easy to snuggle you up into my arms.






Monthly Miles Memo #117

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:10 pm

Dear Miles,

I am not a biblical scholar by any means, but I recall a certain legend of Cain and Abel, brothers who had trouble getting along.  I wonder if they were anything like you and Tobin, who at the moment are the best of friends.  You guys are playing Minecraft together on this no-school Monday, and while I wish you were playing some kind of imaginative game, you’re cooperating and speaking kindly to one another.  I don’t know if you’re being patient or Tobin is being less annoying than usual, but I love it when you form an alliance.

I’m shaky on the details, but if I had to guess, I’d say Cain was the little brother who knew exactly what would irritate his big brother.  And sometimes his big brother would fly off the handle for what seemed to his parents to be no reason at all, or a really small reason.  And maybe that was because Cain picked and picked at Abel, or maybe because Abel was a touch too sensitive and unwilling to try reasonable discussion.  Actually, as I spin this out, it’s sounding more like a Trump/Kim Jong Un relationship.  I hope things never get that far with you two.

I know I’ve used the Jekyll/Hyde metaphor here before, and maybe that’s the best of any of them.  You can be so smart, witty, and rational.  Other times you scream and stomp and throw fits when things don’t go your way.  You can get frustrated to the point of rage by things like a challenging piano assignment or your dad daring to question your answers on your homework.  You’ve always had brooding quality to you, and I have a feeling it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

In better news, you’ve crossed the threshold into the rewarding side of running.  After the first couple of practices of Let Me Run, I thought it was going to be a total disaster.  I abhorred running when I was a kid, mostly because I never learned to do it in a sensible, structured way.  I invented my own program when I wanted to get in better shape as an adult (which I later discovered was pretty much the same as Couch to 5k), and I think Let Me Run follows a similar program.  You’re really proud that you made your goal of running a 13 minute mile—in fact, we did it together last weekend in only 11.5 minutes.  I know you can get it down even more, which will be great when you run the 5k that culminates your Let Me Run season.

Running is great because, if you power through the early stages, you can see very tangible progress.  Nothing is a better motivator than progress, and I’m so happy that you’ve gotten to that point.  You’ve always been one to enjoy things that are easy and avoid things that are difficult, so I’m glad that we can now point to this and remind you that you’ve succeeded at things that at first seemed insurmountable.

You’ll probably find that all very annoying.

In many ways, you’re still the same little guy who came to my house on a cold day in January of 2008.  You have a lot more hair now, but you still scream more than I’d prefer (though at least it’s not every day at five p.m. anymore).  When we were eating ice cream after piano the other day, you held your pinky up.  You’ve done it whenever you eat or drink ever since you were too small to chew on anything but your parents.  I’ve started going back through old pictures and tagging “pinky” on the applicable ones.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Your dad tells me that I do it too, and so does your Skittergramps.  We can’t help it.  It’s just what feels right.

You tell me that you want to be a writer.  You’re certainly verbose—your teachers are always having to give you extra paper to finish your stories.  You also say that you prefer typing to handwriting, which I can understand.  You’ve never given up “caveman fingers,” which is what your dad calls your fist-based pencil grip.  I never worried about it too much, figuring that if you learn to type, that will get your written communication mostly covered.  It’s a funny juxtaposition, though:  your pinky extended like the Queen at high tea and your pencil sitting like a dagger in your palm.  Your hands are little Jekylls and Hydes too, I guess.

I love both sides of you, though one is more fun to hang out with than the other.  Maybe great stories come of great emotions, and you’re just building up a store of inspiration.

Just don’t kill anybody along the way, okay?  Those delicate hands were made for typing, not stabbing.








The Tobin Times #73

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:50 am

Hey, there, kindergartner.

You are into it.  You love school (even though you hate waking up early).  You love seeing Miles in the lunch room.  You love math boxes and P.E. and buying milk in the cafeteria.  You chose to buy hot lunch today—I’m not exactly sure why, because you’re not a big cheeseburger eater typically.  I think it was because some of your friends do, and you consider it a part of fully integrating into the kindergarten lifestyle.  You groaned in disappointment when you realized it was Labor Day and you didn’t have school.  You tell me all about your school friends:  Kit and Kaden are your best friends, and there are a couple of troublemakers whom I won’t name.  You’ve earned some prizes for good behavior, and you were so excited when you got to be helper.

You remain a whirlwind of energy.  I enrolled you in a Ninja Zone class that starts in a couple of weeks.  From the video on the gym’s website, it looks like it will be a cross between gymnastics and martial arts.  You’re super-excited about it.  I suggested to your friend Chase’s mom that he sign up for the same class, and she said that was fine, but for some reason he doesn’t want to.  I was afraid that might dissuade you, but it hasn’t at all.  You’re so good at fitting into situations and making friends, you can’t wait to kick and tumble and jump whether Chase is there or not.

We’ve had an unusual September heat wave lately, and you’ve even had early release from school the last couple of days.  Your school is fully air conditioned now, so it doesn’t make much difference to you, but not everywhere in the district is.  They make a district-wide decision, so you get some extra break time.  You’d probably be just as happy staying at school, but I’m happy to have you home early.

The heat has cut into your outside play time, which may be why you’ve been running laps around the house like a maniac in the evening lately.  Last night your dad and I were sitting in the basement, and you guys were upstairs.  It sounded like a herd of bison was trotting around the floor above us.  I hope Ninja Zone plus your continuing swim lessons help you burn off some of that energy.

It seems like the whole world is experiencing a lot of natural disasters lately.  Our beloved Florida Keys have gotten pummeled, as did a lot of other areas in the Caribbean.  An earthquake in the Mexico City area caused a lot of destruction and death.  We’re lucky that, for the time being, all we’re suffering from is abnormally high temperatures.  We  may find our vacation plans require adjustment, but unlike a lot of people, our home is still intact and all our family members are safe.  It’s scary, and I truly hope your generation is more forward-thinking that those who came before you in terms of our impact on the Earth’s systems.

You’ve been a really good big brother to Callum lately.  He has gotten excited about taking showers with you, and you indulge him quite nicely.  It might even conserve some water, assuming I can drag him out in a reasonable time.   I’ve overheard you telling Callum about how when he’s in kindergarten, you’ll walk him to school.  He thinks you’re pretty great.  He’s been calling you Toby lately, which is my dream come true, because I always wanted to call you that, and it never caught on.  Tobes is a good nickname too, but I thought a cuddly little Toby would be fun to have around.  At least Callum agrees with me.

Despite the summery temperatures, we’ve started in on some of our fall traditions, like apple-picking and making pumpkin bars.  We’ve started work on Halloween costumes (you’ve chosen to be Bowser from the Super Mario Brothers universe), and I know you’re going to be super-psyched to be a part of your own class Halloween party.  In the past, I’ve brought you along to school when I volunteered with Miles’s class, but now I’m going to have to find ways to check in on both of your classrooms.  I’ll have a little Batman tagging along, and I bet you’re going to be proud to show him off to your friends.

Have a great month, my little force of nature.  You’re a marvel.





The Callum Chronicle #32

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:50 am

Dear Callum,

It came to me in a moment of panic last night that I hadn’t written your Callum Chronicle yet for this month.  It’s not the latest I’ve ever been, but it’s also not the timeliest.  With three kids to manage, the schedules of whom are getting more complicated all the time, I have to be pretty mentally organized to keep on top of things.  Sorry for letting this one slip.  I promise I haven’t forgotten you.  In fact, you’re on my mind almost all the time, since we’ve been spending our days together, just the two of us.

You do miss your brothers now that they’re back in school, but you get excited for Mommy/Callum time too.  We’ve been doing some fun stuff together, and we’ve got a pretty good routine worked out.  You often like to sleep in, which sometimes I let you do and other times I don’t, depending on how busy the evening is going to be.  You’ve gotten to the point of not taking a nap every day, but you are pretty crabby come six p.m. if you decline to nap.  Therefore, if I know we have activities at night, I try to wake you up early to increase the odds of you napping and improving your evening personality.  The worst case scenario is that I wake you up early, drive around for an hour trying to get you to sleep at naptime (that’s the most reliable way to get you down these days), you still don’t fall asleep, and them we’re both crabby.  I did choose to wake you up early today, because your dad has a meeting and the big boys have swimming lessons tonight.  We’ll see how it goes.

I took you with me to vote yesterday in the school board election.  There was another important issue on the ballot, a bond proposal that will fund improvements on all our local schools.  There was a vocal opposition to the bond, but it had a lot of support, too.  I’m happy to report that the bond passed with a supermajority.  I’m really proud to live in a community that is willing to pay extra to support our teachers and students.  We’re also really happy that our neighbor Ruthina Malone, a former Lucas parent and all-around stellar person, won a spot on the school board.  You went with your dad to “help” him vote last night too, and I hope your earliest memories of your childhood are of voting, just like mine are.  It didn’t hurt that you got to play on the best playground in the area afterward both times.

You are getting more articulate and hilarious every day.  You are learning to explain yourself well in complex and interesting ways.  You are also getting very opinionated about how things ought to be, what belongs to whom, and the ways things can be categorized.  You can be very particular about having your “crapple” (cranapple) juice in your purple cup, but you also get a subversive thrill out of drinking the dregs Miles leaves out in his own cups.

We’ve had a warm and mild fall so far, unlike the weather-related problems that are causing great suffering elsewhere in the country and the world.  I’m so worried about the people who live full-time in the Florida Keys.  It’s our favorite family vacation spot, but many people who own businesses and homes there are having a terrible time.  Hurricane Irma just passed through, and I’m nervous to even look at pictures.  Apparently our usual destination, Marathon Key, was one of the hardest hit.  We’ve already paid for our condo rental for spring break; I have no idea whether we’ll be able to go or not.  I’m giving the owner some time to figure out the level of destruction.  I’d love to go back and support the rebuilding of their local economy, but I also know six months might not be long enough to let the locals get back into shape.  This is coming right on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, which triggered massive rainfall that has caused a lot of trouble in Houston, as well as wildfires in the west.  It’s a scary world, and I hope it’s not too late to make changes that will help regulate these climate-related disasters.

I may have to visit your children in their condo on Mars.  Start saving now!

Your current favorites:  Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter books, climbing outrageously high on playground structures intended for bigger kids, grapes, waffles, inserting yourself into whatever your brothers are doing, and avoiding bedtime by prolonging the goodnight snuggles you give your dad.  “We’re so cozy!” you say, as you interrupt the book he was reading to Tobin and get under the covers with them.

We’ve started to introduce the potty idea a little more aggressively.  Every night before your bath, you do a great job sitting on it, but you haven’t fill it except for the isolated incident a month or two ago.  You act like you’re trying to pee, but then you give up and head to the tub, where you pee into the water about 75% of time.  We’re working on it.  Maybe it’s time to get out some bribes.  On the other hand, you’re younger than either of your brothers when they potty trained, so maybe we should just celebrate the small successes for the time being.

I love you, my sweet Callum.  Your smile is so heart-warming, even when it’s accompanied by a naughty side-eye.  I love the way your chubby little cheeks jiggle as you run.  I love your tender arms when they wrap around me, and I love that you still believe my kisses heal all your wounds.  Sometimes you want me to kiss your eyeballs on particularly itchy allergy nights.  That never works, but I always try.

A lot of what we do only sometimes works, but we always try.







Monthly Miles Memo #116

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:47 pm

Dear Miles,

Fourth grade is underway, and you’re doing well.  You still miss your third grade teacher, Miss Lampe—we were at your school open house last night, and when you saw her in the hallway, you absolutely lit up.  She’ll be one of those whom you remember fondly your whole life.  I think your teacher this year is good too, though.  So far you have no complaints, except for the “not Miss Lampe” factor that would apply to any teacher in the school minus one.  To congratulate your class on good behavior thus far, your teacher is hosting a taco salad bar event at lunch on Monday.  I don’t think you’ve ever eaten a taco salad in your life.  Maybe a little peer pressure will get you to try something.  I volunteered to bring tortilla chips, so at least you’ll get some calories even if you won’t eat anything else.

We rounded out the summer with some good Labor Day weekend activities.  We started with a Friday night trip to a Cedar Rapids Kernels baseball game.  Callum had a hard time sitting still, so I spent most of the game wandering around the stadium and grounds with him, but you enjoyed the whole thing.  You even got a game ball, which two players autographed for you.  Their handwriting was too messy for us to discern their names, but you found the whole experience pretty thrilling anyway.  Even more special was the fact that the whole trip was due to your raffle win of Kernels ticket’s at last spring’s school carnival.  The stadium is small enough that even the cheap seats were good seats, and the fireworks afterward really capped things off.

We also did our family’s annual trip to the apple orchard.  Some apple orchards really try to make it a theme park, with tons of kids activities and plenty of opportunities to spend money.  Wilson’s is much more about the apples, which is fine with me, since I love produce but hate crowds.  We went on Honeycrisp Weekend, which is the most crowded time of all to go, but we arrived right at opening time, and it wasn’t too bad.  I would generally prefer to go on an uncrowded weeknight, but when we did that last year, they weren’t serving the fresh, hot apple cider doughnuts.  That was pretty disappointing, so this year we braved the crowds.  We got through the doughnuts pretty swiftly and did some good apple-picking.  You and Tobin scrambled around the trees and did a fairly good job discerning which apples were good choices.  I’ve only found one worm so far (better than half a worm, of course).

We had our not-exactly-annual backyard a few weeks ago, before school started.  It was a glorious night, weather-wise, and I think you had fun.  It’s our answer to the problem of having two kids with January birthdays, which is about the worst time in the world for a party.  We just have one big one in the summer and call it good.  It was nice to see that you’re not the only kid around your age with unkempt hair.  I gave you your own hairbrush as an unbirthday present, with the caveat that if you don’t want to get a haircut, you need to brush your hair every day.  So far you’ve been doing pretty well.  We haven’t gotten school pictures back yet, though.

Your mental state, overall, seems mostly good these days.  We’ve had a few incidents lately where you go directly to screaming at Tobin rather than giving him any calm indication that you don’t like what he’s doing.  We’re working on ways to help you learn to manage your emotions.  Part of the problem is that you really don’t have much privacy.  We’re planning to convert the baby room into your room soon.  I asked you if you’d rather have it now, before Callum’s potty-trained, and still have me go in there to change his diapers, or whether you’d rather wait until it can be 100% yours.  You said you’d rather wait.  I don’t know if you’ll stick to that position.

[Redacted:  a whole paragraph about DACA and privilege and how stress about getting your own room is a lot harder to sympathize with than stress about whether you’ll be deported.  Your problems are your problems, and I shouldn’t minimize them.  But still, be kind to your classmates who are living in very real fear right now.]

I know you’ll be kind.  Tobin’s personal mission is to annoy you, and you only blow up at him now and then.  A teacher in one of your summer classes told me that you’re always nice to everyone, and that made me feel prouder than anything else you might have learned.  You still have some growing to do, but so do we all.  You’ve only lost your lunch bag twice so far, so that’s progress.

Have a good month, my fluffy-haired boy.  I’m doing my best to only cuddle you in the house so your friends don’t find out your mom loves you.

I do, though.






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