The Tobin Times #49

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:45 pm

My little Tobin,

I am the worst mom in the world.

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

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

Photo by Denny

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

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

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

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

Photo by Beth Clarke

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

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

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

Photo by Denny






The Callum Chronicle #8

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:01 pm

My little Cal-Pal,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:52 pm

T:  What did the lemon say to the triceratops?

A:  What?

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

Monthly Miles Memo #92

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:00 pm

Dear Miles,

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

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

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

Photo by Gary Clarke

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

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

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

Photo by Denny

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

Photo by Denny

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

Photo by Denny

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





We all saw it coming

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:09 pm

Tobin had been playing downstairs.  He came up.

T:  Mommy, I have to go poop.

A:  Then go poop.

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


It fell flat

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:23 am

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

A&D:  What?

M:  An education table.

A&D:  [blank stare]

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

A&D:  [laughing in confusion and absurdity]

M:  Why does no one get my jokes?


Unrelated (?)

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:16 pm

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

What’s cooler than being cool?

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:15 pm

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

Iron it

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:15 pm

After we finished a walk this humid afternoon…

T: Your hair looks…wrinkled.

The Tobin Times #48

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:10 pm

My sweet, sparkling Tobin,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Gary Clarke

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

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

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

Photo by Denny

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

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

Photo by Denny

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




Obvious answers

Filed under: — Aprille @ 10:20 am

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


The Callum Chronicle #7

Filed under: — Aprille @ 10:25 am

Hey there, sunshine-face.

Happy seven months to you.  Your dad has mentioned several times how much fun the second half of the first year of a baby’s life is, and you’re enmeshed in that now.  It’s so much fun to watch you as your level of interaction grows.  We’ve seen evidence of you understanding quite a few words—notably, “Come see Mommy,” which always elicits smiles and leg wiggles in anticipation of me picking you up.  You also gave a big smile this morning when I mentioned “Mubby and Skitter,” and you almost definitely know your brothers’ names.  I had to take you to a PTO meeting last night due to a scheduling snafu, and when you got crabby, I took you out to the hallway.  The school display case has a pamphlet with Miles’s picture on it, and when I grabbed one and showed it to you, you immediately smiled in recognition.  Then you ate the pamphlet.

We just got back from a weekend family reunion with the Beary side of the family, and we’re heading off later today to spend several days in Ames with Mubby and Skittergramps.  You are already suffering from your own version of Attention Deficit Disorder—that’s what I call it when a kid gets accustomed to the constant cuddles and indulgences of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins and gets grumpy when his mom can’t provide that level of input on her own back at home.  I hold you a lot—we use the wrap, we co-sleep, and you spend lots of time just chilling out on my hip.  But I can’t do it all the time and still accomplish the various tasks that need to get done, so sometimes you have to deal with it.  Sorry.

Your dad sent me an interesting article not long ago that talked about the phenomenon of children becoming intensely attached to a stuffed animal or other security item.  According to the researchers in the article, that behavior is not a normal part of child development, as I’d assumed, but rather a coping mechanism kids use to deal with the trauma of having to sleep alone.  I had noticed that neither of your brothers ever got particularly attached to a specific toy—they like their stuffed animals, but there was never one that they absolutely needed.  Maybe that’s because we’ve always slept with our kids when they’re little, so they’ve felt secure without needing special sleep toys.  In any case, I really like having you next to me.  You’re a pretty good sleeper most of the time, and even when you’re sick or teething (which we’ve been dealing with lately), it’s certainly easier to attend to your needs when you’re right next to me rather than going to a different room.  Plus you’re just so sweet and cuddly.  I love seeing your big blue eyes shining up at me as we drowsily adjust to the morning.

You’re doing all the things babies your age do–rolling over, trying to scootch around (without much distance covered yet), grabbing at everything, and doing a lot of babbling.  One thing you’re not very advanced at yet is eating solid foods.  We gave you rice cereal mixed with breastmilk on your six-month birthday, and that seemed to go fine.  Then I gave you some applesauce, which was also fine.  When I gave you bananas mixed with rice cereal and water, you liked it, but two hours later you started violently vomiting.  It was horrible, much more intense than typical spit-up.  I decided that bananas weren’t a good choice for you.  Then, a bit later, I gave you pureed peas with rice cereal and water, and the same thing happened.  Maybe it’s the rice cereal that’s the problem, though that’s surprising since it seemed okay the first time.  I really don’t know.  For the time being, we’re giving your digestive system a rest and sticking to breastmilk and occasional applesauce.  I’m going to try to find some of the squash your brothers liked when they were your age.  You’d better believe I’m going to give it to you straight-up:  no rice cereal.  I’m also going to give it to you at lunch, not at dinner, because two hours after dinner is not a very convenient time to deal with a miserable, heaving baby.

You’ve been having fun lately in the baby backpack, which your dad uses to take you on trips to the park.  Sometimes you fall asleep, but usually you  enjoy your perch.  There’s nothing more fun than hanging out with the big kids.  Your brothers adore you, and sometimes they fight over who gets to play with you.  I’m going to miss having them around once school starts, because I’ve gotten some very productive exercise sessions in due to their help in entertaining you.  On the other hand, we’ll get to start taking morning walks together again, as long as the fall weather stays nice.  I’ve missed doing that.  Your brothers do not have the patience to take a long walk unless there are doughnuts at the end, which is counterproductive to my fitness goals.  We’ll be good walking buddies again soon.

Though we recognize that there may be parental delusion involved, your dad and I are both sure that you’re an exceptionally cute baby.  Everyone wants to take credit for you:  Papa is sure there’s a Crall ancestor out there who looked just like you, and I heard “Isn’t he such a Beary?” last weekend.  I personally see resemblance to your Clarke cousins.  In any case, the genes seem to have meshed together well to make you.  Not only are you cute, we really appreciate your personality.  You’re still so calm and good-natured, happy to be held by anyone who wants to hold you (for now, anyway).  The only time you fuss is when you’re hungry or tired, and those issues are pretty easy to address.  You don’t have any teeth through the gums yet, but every day I check, because I can see them under the surface.  You’ve been doing a lot of chewing lately, too.  I know that by this time next month, you’ll have a couple of teeth, and my time with my last gummy baby will be over.  That does make me feel tender, but I’m also so happy to be getting to know you.  You have completed our family, my sweet love, and I am so grateful for you.




Monthly Miles Memo #91

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:24 pm

Dear Miles,

Summer break is almost over, and I was just thinking about what a big summer it’s been for you.  You’ve made huge progress in two of the biggest challenges in a kid’s life:  swimming and bike-riding.  We went to the public pool the other night, and at first you didn’t want to leave the baby pool.  That got a little awkward, since you were clearly the biggest kid in there, and you had to sink down to your belly to get any kind of water coverage.  Finally we convinced you to hit the big pool, and once you got used to it, you took off like an eel.  You were swimming with your head underwater, making real distance as you kicked and moved your arms.  I’d always found it annoying that our municipal pools don’t allow water wings, but this time it worked out well.  You swam so much with the help of the water wings while we were in Nashville that you got absolutely comfortable in the water, and then when you found yourself unencumbered, you took off.  You’d done similar things before at your swimming lessons, but this was the first time I’d seen you do 100% legit swimming.  Nice work, kid.

Your biking is going just as well.  You can zoom long distances down the path, doing full 180-degree turns, managing the sidewalk as well as the grass.  I’m so proud that you faced your fears, took some risks, and saw rewards this summer.  You’ve done the same thing with piano.  You tried your most challenging musical piece to date:  the Super Mario Brothers theme song.  You’ve been at it for the whole summer, doing small chunks at a time, sometimes frustrated to tears but always willing to get back to it (after a break).  You’re going to have the whole song in your repertoire before the summer is out, I know it.

You’ve had some fun adventures this summer, the biggest of which was our trip to Nashville.  You were a trooper in the car, definitely the least stressful person in the back seat.  It helps so much that not only can you read, you love to read.  We checked out a big stack of library books, borrowed a bunch of Calvin and Hobbes collections from Uncle Mark, and got some audiobooks on CD.  You handled it just great.  Calvin and Hobbes is a big interest for you right now.  I’m happy you’re excited about it, and I love hearing you laugh as you read quietly in your room.  However, it gets a little exhausting feigning fascination when you want to recount yet another Calvin and Hobbes plotline to me.  You yell “Mom!” like your hair is on fire, and when I rush to find out what you need, you invariably say, “In Calvin and Hobbes…”  I sigh and stand there as long as I can handle, smiling and nodding.  I reiterate:  I’m thrilled that you love to read.  I’m thrilled that Calvin and Hobbes has captured your attention, because that’s good stuff.  So I will smile and nod some more.

In Nashville, you had a blast in the pool (of course) and playing with cousin Aleks.  You also enjoyed the science museum, the zoo (even when the tortoises got a little aggressive for your taste), the splash pad, and Antique Archaeology.

Antique Archaeology is a store run by the people on the show American Pickers, the partner store to their shop in Iowa.  You and your dad like to watch the show together, so it was pretty fun and special for to go to the Nashville location.  You even got a t-shirt that displayed the Iowa/Nashville connection.  You didn’t buy any antiques.

You’ve had fun with friends this summer, at birthday parties and playdates.  You’ve spent a lot of time playing with your brothers, most of the time really nicely. We just spent the weekend with your dad’s side of the family, and you handled interactions with a variety of people mostly well.  That’s an area where you need to grow—flexibility, adaptability to different people, and adjusting to situations outside your comfort zone.  I think you’re making progress.

It will be good for you to get back to school, though.  You are ready for new challenges, even if it means getting up early.  We’ve got your back-to-school night coming up, when you’ll find out who your teacher is and visit your new classroom.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m going to be able to go to that, since Tobin’s is a the same time in a different place, and your dad and I are going to have to divide and conquer to manage that night’s commitments.  But I’m not worried about you.  You’re an old pro at Lucas Elementary now, and your second grade year is going to be great.  I’ve heard good things about all the teachers, so no matter whom you get, I know you’ll have an excellent year.  If it’s anything like this summer, you have a lot of learning and growth ahead of you.  I’m looking forward to seeing what the year brings.




The Tobin Times #47

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:43 pm

My sweet, adventurous Tobin,

We made it!  After some long days of driving, a great time in Nashville, and more long driving days to get home, our vacation has come and gone.  You’ve been asking to go back and making plans for the next time we visit.

Photo by Gary Clarke

You and Miles spent as much time as possible in hotel pools, hitting the water on both transition nights near St. Louis and every day in Brentwood.  You were your typical brave self, helping Miles push his boundaries and doing some really good run-and-jumps off the edge of the pool.  Of course you also had a lot of fun doing other things, like our trips to the zoo, the science museum, and spending time with family.  You always have a blast with Mubby and Skitter, and this time you got to add cousin Aleks to the mix.  You got a kick out of helping him walk, though he doesn’t want a lot of help these days.

We’ve recently discovered a splash pad here in Iowa City, which isn’t quite as fancy as the one in Nashville, but we’re hoping to spend some time there on an upcoming hot day.

You came down with a mysterious (and fortunately short-lived) fever the other day.  We were meeting some friends at the library, and you were fine as we got organized and loaded up the car.  Then, as we stepped up to the children’s room desk to get your prize for completing the summer reading program, you started looking woozy.  The librarian even noted that you weren’t looking so good.  I grabbed a lined wastebasket and kept it near you.  You fell asleep in my arms and stayed there for a while, and you remained off your game for the rest of the night.  No puke ever emerged, so that’s good, and a dose of ibuprofen did the trick of helping you cool off.  You’ve seemed fine ever since.

Photo by Gary Clarke

You were proud and excited when I told you this is your last month of being three.  That’s hard to believe, but in other ways you seem very big.  We’ve gotten a start on planning your birthday party, which will also be a half-birthday party for Miles, who got out-scheduled by Callum’s birth.  It will be your first time inviting school friends to a party, so that’s pretty exciting for you.  You made some good friends at Willowwind last year, and I hope we can stay in touch with them as you move on to Hoover next month.  It’s funny to think that we’ll be seeing some of those same kids at junior high band concerts and other activities in ten or so years.

Photo by Denny

You’re just as funny and precocious as ever.  You are expressive and silly and very, very adept with words.  Last night I told Miles to be careful, because he’s been accidentally shutting your dad and me in the car door lately.  As I strapped you into your car seat, you said, gravely, “I love you.  I would never hurt you.”  I laughed, leaned down and kissed you, and you said, “I’m keeping that forehead kiss.”

One of your favorite things right now is to play Alphabet Go Fish, a game your old friend Beanie gave you.  It’s really helped you learn your letters—I think you know all of them now, and your dad has gotten you started sounding out some words.  You’re full of joy and enthusiasm for the things that go right.  Today, the electricity went out for about an hour and a half.  It stressed you and Miles out, because lunch without access to the fridge, microwave, or toaster is a dire meal indeed.  When the power came back, you squealed with happiness and shouted, “We did it!”  I don’t know if you guys were sending electricity-request vibes to the universe or what, but you were quite sure that your efforts solved the problem somehow.

You run hot on other emotions, too.  Sometimes you just stand and scream with rage.  Not usually, though.  Usually you’re a pretty jolly guy.  Your poor little body is all scratched up right now, because mosquitoes find you delicious, even through bug spray.  You can’t resist scratching, and it shows all over your arms, legs, back, and neck.  This is not keeping you inside, though.  We happened to spend all day inside today, and I can tell it’s not your natural habitat.  You love to be out running, jumping, splashing, and creating havoc.


Even though I do my best to cherish you and your brothers at every age, I admit I’m looking forward to you being four.  Four is easier than three, I think.  You’ll be at a new school, making new friends and adapting to a new environment.  I’m excited to see how you grow and develop over the next year, especially as you mature and stop screaming so much.

You actually don’t scream all that much.  It’s just that when you do, it’s really loud.  Everything about you is full-volume, little Tobin.  You’re a lot of kid, from your stinky feet your crazy, fluffy hair.  I love you and I’m so glad you spent your third year with me.




The Callum Chronicle #6

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:30 pm

My sweet Callum,

Holy crap, it’s your half-birthday!  I am having a hard time fathoming that my last baby is a full six months old.  The major milestone of the half year is the okay to eat solid-ish food.  I was planning to wait until after we get back from vacation for that, just to reduce the variables in our lives, but your brothers were so excited about helping to feed you rice cereal that we decided to give it a go last night.  I was expected the same kind of bizarre faces and gagging noises your brothers made when we first fed it to them, but you just took it all in with your usual aplomb.  You smiled and enjoyed it.  For the rest of the evening and all the next day, you made big, new, smacking noises and motions with your mouth.  I think rice cereal was a hit.

Besides the food, other major hits with you include spending time outside, the song “I Love You a Bushel and a Peck,” anything your brothers do, and playing in your Exersaucer.  You like cuddle time, too, but unless you’re really hungry or tired, the Exersaucer is a place you’re happy to play for a good chunk of time.  You’ve started to get interested in toys.  That’s nice because your dexterity has improved to the point where you can actually play with them some, and now and then that will keep you happy for a while.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Your personality is just as it has been:  sweet, calm, and relaxed most of the time.  Honestly, most days you’re my least stressful child.  That can’t last, I know, and I understand that turning into a frustrating person is a natural part of the human development continuum.  I’m enjoying your chill, sweet baby stage while it lasts.

You love all kinds of people, and you’re not shy about smiling at all the friendly faces you see.  We had some recent fun with Nana and Papa as well as other family members, and you got to show off your charming personality to them.  I was afraid that you’d given a lot of people on that side of the family a false impression, because at the previous gathering, you were in a truly awful mood.  But this time was much more reflective of your usual attitude, and lots of people got to enjoy you.

You handled the Fourth of July fireworks better than I expected.  I was sure you’d either sleep through the whole thing or be terrified by all the loud noises, but you just sat quietly in my lap and watched the lights.  We were out way past bedtime, but you never would have known it by your behavior.  Once the show was over and we loaded you into your stroller for the walk back to the car, you conked out immediately.  We should do that every night.

You can roll over front-to-back and almost back-to-front, give hugs (which always end with you grabbing handfuls of hair), laugh big laughs and smile big smiles.  You know your family by sight and by voice, and you’re getting pretty consistent with responding to your name, too.  It doesn’t hurt that Miles says “Hi, Callum!” in a loud sing-songy voice about fifteen times a day.  There’s nothing like a big brother in your face to get a point across.

You’re so much fun these days, sweet Callum.  Please, please, please sleep a lot of the way to Nashville.  If we can make it nine hours in a car, we can do most anything.



Monthly Miles Memo #90

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:52 pm

My dearest Miles,

You’re seven and a half now.  This seems like a time when you’re straddling the little boy/big boy divide.  You still like a lot of little boy things, like the rides at City Park, cuddling at bedtime, and a diet made almost exclusively of carbohydrates (with a few hotdogs and orange chicken thrown in there).  You’re moving onto a lot of big boy things too, though:  Calvin and Hobbes comics, Encyclopedia Brown books, and riding a two-wheeler.

The bike thing is pretty major.  You’ve been tooling around on your training wheels for a while, but your dad decided it was time for you to learn to ride without them.  I wasn’t sure how you’d do, since you tend to be apprehensive and risk-averse.  I was afraid you’d take one spill and refuse to try again.  You proved me wrong.  With your dad and Tobin cheering you on, I saw you coast confidently down the path.  You can even start and stop with no help now too.  That’s pretty awesome, Miles, and it makes me look forward to the day when we can rent bikes together on vacation and zip around some exotic locale.

Photo by Denny

You still do things that baffle me, though.  Yesterday you cried at Target because the Nintendo Wii-U demo setup didn’t have the game you wanted (which, by the way, we have at home).  You had a weird mini-freakout when there was no more corn when we had dinner at some friends’ house last weekend, and you refused to share your dad’s ear.  You do great in your swimming lessons, dunking your head underwater no problem and doing some good swim strokes, but you freak out at the idea of taking a shower.  Everything in your seems heightened.  I’m not sure the best way to help you with that, because your life is doing to be a series of difficult moments if you don’t get your responses under control.  Maybe that will sort itself out as you get older.

You’re always coming up with good ideas or trying out projects you hear about elsewhere.  You’ve done backward writing (a la Leonardo da Vinci), fiber arts (you took a class and made a tote bag and a tie-dyed shirt), and you’re getting really good at playing the Super Mario Brothers theme on the piano.  You’ve played it so much even Callum recognizes it.  After your piano lesson today, you were lingering at the piano while your teacher came out to talk to me about your progress.  You played the tell-tale first bars of the theme—da da da duh da DUM, DUM!—and Tara looked down at Callum and said, “I swear he just perked up when he heard that.”

You are still pretty much the best big brother in the world (at least to Callum).  You can make him laugh whenever you want with your silly faces and noises, and you’re always right there to help when I ask you to.  I admit I haven’t been at my best lately.  All this week, nobody has had any summer activities, so I’ve been home full-time with all three of you.  Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, and sometimes I’m not as patient as I should be.  But I can always count on you to keep Callum safe and happy if I need to, say, go to the bathroom.

Photo by Gary Clarke

We’re gearing up for the big summer vacation:  a road trip to Nashville.  I’m dreading the road part of the trip, but once we get there, we’re going to have a great time.  You can’t wait to see your little cousin Aleks, and I know you’re going to be just as great a big cousin to him as you are a big brother.  You’re so excited to help him walk.  I hope you can keep up with him.  From what I’ve seen, he’s a high-energy little fellow.  We’ll get to see Mubby and Skittergramps, too, which is always fun.  I hope you get to do a lot of swimming in the pool, jumping on the bed, and reading in a quiet corner.

I’ll still cuddle you if you need it, sweetheart.  I’ll try to remember that even when your tears make no sense to me, they’re serious to you.  And if you want to ride your bike, I’ll cheer you on louder than anyone and make sure your helmet is on tight.




Summer project #3: Pineapple popsicles

Filed under: — Aprille @ 12:58 pm

I read a recipe online for pineapple popsicles, and the kids were interested in trying to make them.  The recipe I found included coconut milk, which I’m sure would be delicious if you’re a coconut fan.  I am only lukewarm on coconut—I like it in curries but not a whole lot else. I guess there’s that multi-syllabic Canadian dessert bar.  What’s that called again?

Anyway, I saw pineapples on sale two for a dollar at my grocery store.  Two for a dollar, for real.  We eat a lot of fresh pineapple, but I usually spring for the pre-skinned and pre-cored kind.  This time I decided to provide the kids a little culinary education and bought the whole deals.

This is what a pineapple looks like, in case you didn’t know.  We ended up using 3/4 of a pineapple for one batch of 5 popsicles.  I think we could have gotten 6 popsicles out of the 3/4 pineapple, but I couldn’t find one of our popsicle molds, so we made 5.  I ate the unfrozen pineapple sludge with a spoon and I’m not even sorry.

Tobin helped me whiz the chunks around in the food processor.

We had about half a cup of French vanilla ice cream hogging up space in the freezer, so I nuked that for ten seconds and threw it in the food processor.  We whizzed that some more, then poured it into our popsicle molds.

And into the freezer they went.

This is how they turned out.  They were good.  The kids ate them for breakfast this morning.





Literary forms

Filed under: — Aprille @ 11:51 am

Miles and Tobin and I were reading Jack and the Beanstalk.

A:  Look at that.  The goose is as big as Jack, and he’s carrying it.  How is he managing that?

M:  Hey, dude, ever heard of fiction?


The Tobin Times #46

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:22 pm

Dear Tobin,

“He always has a lot of energy, doesn’t he?” said the West Music employee today as you speed-walked through the store (you’re pretty good about not running if I remind you, but you’ll push walking to the very edge of its definition).  You do indeed have a lot of energy, and it’s been challenging this summer to keep coming up with ways to channel it.  The poorly-lit picture below is from a date we had at the Java House (aka Jabba the House) while Miles had a playdate with a friend.

Because a sugary beverage always helps, right?  You’ve been in a hot chocolate phase lately for some reason, despite the hot and muggy weather, so hot chocolate with fancy whipped cream and sprinkles was a good distraction for you.  You desperately want to do everything Miles does, but this was a big-kids-only playdate, and I didn’t want you to feel like you got totally left out.  It was fun having some special time with you anyway.  You’re a good conversationalist.

Our days lately have consisted of running errands, doing projects, taking showers, watching Scooby Doo , and reading books from the Tacky the Penguin series.  You love everything water—I only get to shower by myself on weekends nowadays when your dad can distract you.  Often you want to take a shower with me followed immediately by a bath after I get out, which is fine because it keeps you busy while I get ready.  You also love swimming, and you’re doing well in your swimming lessons.  We had a brief and unexpected trip out of town earlier this week for a funeral, and you about lost your mind when we only got to go swimming at the hotel pool once.  The injustice!

The funeral was for your dad’s surrogate grandmother, Ellen Carl.  She was his uncle Paul’s mother, so not a blood relative, but she was a frequent figure in his youth.  I didn’t know her as well as your dad did, of course, but in the twelve years or so that I’ve been attending family gatherings, I’d grown quite fond of her too.  What I admired most about her was that she just did what she needed to do—no fuss, no big deal, but she always got things done.  She biked and walked where she needed to go and did it on her own schedule.  She was a nurse, and then when she reached an age when most people think about reducing hours or retiring, she continued her education to become a Physician’s Assistant.  She was also a divorced person in a time when a lot of women didn’t feel they had the right to leave a bad marriage.  I’m no great fan of divorce in general, but knowing Ellen, I’m sure she carefully weighed the situation and did what she needed to do.  She didn’t let societal expectations keep her down.

That’s something I see in you, Tobin, and I hope you can take inspiration from Ellen’s story.  You’re a lot more dramatic than she was, but that may mellow as you age.  I took you to the nursery in the church because you were having a hard time being quiet during the service.  At one point you were playing with a baby doll, and I asked you what your baby’s name was.  “New Ellen,” you told me.  That’s you all over, Tobes.  In your best moments, you’re observant and thoughtful and heart-swellingly sweet.  Not every moment is your best (c.f. bedtime as documented below), but you’re still pretty cool to have around.

You love outside time, including a recent playground playdate with your friend Ben.  You and Miles and often Callum go to our neighborhood park pretty much every night with pleasant weather, and that’s always the highlight of your day.  You’ve been having fun riding your Strider bike and supporting Miles in his efforts toward biking without training wheels.  You always come in with super-compressed, sweaty curls mashed into your skull by your helmet.

As happens to all of us, but to some of us more than others, you get pretty emotional and difficult when you’re tired.  The topic of last night’s meltdown was the fact that we only stayed in the hotel one night.  Never mind that we’ll be spending two nights in that very hotel later this summer for a family reunion.  Never mind that in just a couple of weeks we’re going on vacation, which will mean a whole week in hotels.  Logic doesn’t work on you when you’re worn out and grumpy.  Then you’re obnoxious to Miles (who, in a “can’t live with him, can’t live without him” conundrum, insists on lying in bed with you until you fall asleep).  Fortunately, a good night’s sleep always resets your brain, and by morning you’re ready to be a nice person again:  a “New Tobin,” perhaps.

Enjoy the rest of your sprinkly summer, my little Tobin.  You make me good-tired.





Alternate methods

Filed under: — Aprille @ 12:59 pm

The kids do the library’s summer reading program, which involves coloring in stars on a sheet that represent time spent reading.  Also of note:  Ms. Kathy is one of their favorite librarians.

T:  Last year in the summer reading program, you had to pee on the star and then color it in.

A:  Oh yeah?

T:  Ms. Kathy told me that.

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