12/10/2017

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.

Mommy

 

11/21/2017

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.

Love,

Mommy

 

11/9/2017

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.

Love,

Mommy

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11/8/2017

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.

Love,

Mom

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9/22/2017

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.

Love,

Mommy

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9/8/2017

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.

Love,

Mom

 

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8/25/2017

The Tobin Times #72

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:36 am

My sweet Tobin,

Happy birthday, my big boy!  What a birthday this has been—not only did you complete another year, you got to experience a near-total solar eclipse, and you started kindergarten.  I’m not sure which will be more memorable when you look back on your life, but they were both pretty impressive for me.  It was cloudy on your birthday/eclipse day, so the pinhole method I had planned on using to view the eclipse didn’t work.  Luckily, we were able to borrow some eclipse glasses and saw a pretty spectacular cosmic event.

The peak of the eclipse only lasted a couple of minutes, but you are up and running nearly every minute of every day.  The first day of school, you were up and ready to go plenty early.  You got a little quiet as the moment of entering the school building approached, but you shed no tears and followed the teacher right in.  I asked you later whether you liked Kinderfarm (preschool) or kindergarten better, and you said, “Definitely kindergarten.”  I asked you why, and you said, “At Kinderfarm, we only learned babyish stuff.  Actually, in kindergarten, we sort of learn babyish stuff too.”  I imagine you’ll find new challenges as you get further into the school year, but in any case, I’m glad you like it.  You’ve gotten to be good friends with Kit, a kid from our neighborhood, and you’ve been spending recesses collecting cicada shells with him.  You decided you wanted to buy milk from the cafeteria instead of having a juice box in your lunch, so I put money in your lunch account.  You handled it just fine.  Today you decided to go back to a juice box.  It’s a testament to your flexibility and bravery that you were willing to try a new task on the second day of school.  Way to go, Tobes.

We didn’t get every single item on our summer activity list completed, but we’re darn close.  The biggest problem was that the summer ended on a cool streak, so we didn’t get a chance to do Twilight Swim at the City Park pool.  You did get to go  swimming, though, at nicer pools than the one at City Park.  You went twice in Ames and once in Albia, and we did a good amount of running around in fountains and sprinklers.  We still need to make granola cups, but they’re half ready and we can finish those up after school today.

Photo by Gary Clarke

You love Callum’s hugs.  It’s become a bit of a power struggle—sometimes you try too hard and he denies you, and that really bums you out.  But this morning, as you were about to leave for school, he gave you the sweetest, most spontaneous goodbye hug.  Your huge smile told the story.  Yesterday, out of nowhere, you decided you wanted to buy some Paw Patrol toys for Callum.  Those are little figures that I think have a show associated with them, though Callum has never seen it because it’s on some channel we don’t get.  Callum likes them, though, because he sees them on YouTube toy videos.  You wanted to go out to a store to buy them, but we compromised on an Amazon purchase.  You very proudly handed me money from your wallet, because you wanted to make absolutely sure it was a gift really from you to Callum.  After you made your purchase, you leaned into me and said, “I can’t wait to see his face when he opens it.”

You and Miles usually get along well too, especially now that you each have Minecraft accounts and can play those games together.  When I pry you away from screen time and make you use your brains in other ways, you do a good job of coming up with creative activities.  You certainly squabble sometimes, but you’re also best friends and playmates.  It was hard to think of birthday presents for you this year, because you’re just not into toys anymore.  Your favorite gift (besides the Minecraft account) was your Batman bathrobe, aka a “dressing gown.”  You’ve greatly increased the number of showers you take because you get a chance to wear it.

I’ve known since the day you were born that you would be a source of sunshine in my life.  You’ve always been such a cheerful and go-with-the-flow kind of guy.  I didn’t worry a bit as you started kindergarten, though I admit to feeling a tug as you lined up outside the doors like a big kid.  I miss having lunch with you every day, since that has been a part of our life together since your lunch was nothing but breastmilk.  You graduated to mashed foods—I have a great video of your enthusiastic response to blueberries.  In recent years it’s been pizza and pasta and peanut butter toast, and now it’s a lunch in an insulated bag.  You were so excited to tell me that you saw Miles in the school lunch room.  Fortuitously, kindergartners and fourth graders have lunch at the same time.  I bet it was pretty cool for both of you.

I am not a big believer in astrology, but if anybody is well-suited to his sign, it’s you.  You are a little lion, from your fantastic mane to your loyalty to your pack.  You can also roar when the occasion presents itself.You’re brave, sunny, and always ready to scramble to the next adventure.  It would take a serious cosmic event to eclipse you.

Photo by Gary Clarke

You are a joy to behold, my beautiful little cub.  Congratulations on six trips around the sun.

Love,

Mommy

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8/11/2017

The Callum Chronicle #31

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:42 pm

Dear Cal-Pal,

You have a lot to say.  Your dad and I have been remarking lately on how your language skills have exploded in recent weeks.  The other day, you were looking for some Play-Doh you’d gotten out.

“Maybe I take—maybe I took it downstairs.”

Aw, baby’s first irregular preterite.  Another development that may or may not be related is an increasing understanding of the difference between real and pretend.  You like to set up false structures so you can contrast them with true ones.  For example, if you’re eating a strawberry, you might say, “It green?  Noooooooo.   It lellow?  Nooooooo.  It red!”  I think that’s something we’ve all done to quiz you, and you’ve picked it up and now use it on us.  You even did it when I remarked on the color of your diaper contents.  “It red?  Noooooo.  It green!”

You still had a hard time with it, though, when we were playing a game in the car tonight.  Miles suggested a round of “A, My Name Is…” and we took turns.  Tobin had G, and he said, “G, my name is George.”  You said to him, “You not George.  You Tobin.”

Your big brothers spend a week at Mubby and Skitter’s house, and for probably the first time in your life, we spent a whole week doing things that were just for you.  We went to toddler story time at the library, to the splash pad, to a kids’ music class, and restaurants your brothers don’t like.  You’re very versatile.  It was really fun to see you enjoying life with other kids your size instead of watching you be frustrated because you can’t keep up with your brothers.  You missed them a lot, and I understand that they missed you too.  You asked many times, “Where Miles and Tobin?”  You asked it so much that soon you were able to answer your own question.  “Maybe they’re in Ames.”  We Skyped with them every day, and you reached out to give hugs through the computer screen.  Things are certainly louder with them back, since they tend to rile each other and you up, but you’re happy to have them.

Though no one specifically taught you, you’ve learned a lot of letters and numbers from the ABC blocks and an alphabet puzzle we have.  You still enjoy your old favorite, S-5 (which we always have to visit when we go to Solon), but you know a lot of others, too.  We got a new book from the library Summer Reading Program called Hug.  You looked at it, pointed to the first letter, and said, “What is that, H?”  You don’t know every single letter yet, but you know a lot more than I expected you to.  Third kids probably don’t get as much focused academic instruction from their parents as kids earlier in the order, but you’re certainly sharp and able to gather information from your surroundings.  Your dad has been working with Tobin a lot on putting letters together to form words, and I bet you’re soaking it in while it looks like you’re just making plastic salads in your toy kitchen.

You’re smart, yes, but because I try to be honest in these letters, I have to describe what happened at Costco the other day.  I think you had your first truly ridiculous tantrum.  You’ve been upset plenty of times, sometimes just because you have to be more than three feet away from me so I can make dinner.  This was the first time, though, that you seemed angry just for the sake of being angry with no understandable reason.  You see, we were eating lunch in the Costco food court.  Their pizza slices are huge, so our usual strategy is to order two slices, have each of them cut in half, and share them among the pizza eaters in our group (you, me, and Tobin).  I got us our food, Miles and Tobin went to get their drinks (an Okiishi, of course—a delicious mix of Sprite and lemonade named after our illustrious friend Chris).  We sat down to enjoy some pre-shopping lunch, and you absolutely lost it.  You see, I committed a terrible crime:  I separated the two halves of the pizza on the plate.  Worse yet, I started to eat my half.  “I want them together!” you screamed.

I tried to reason with you, to soothe you, to hug you, to offer you bites and drinks of both water and Okiishi.  We were getting a lot of stares.  I decided I just needed to let the tantrum run its course, so I held you safely on my lap and ate my pizza.  I finished my half, and you still hadn’t eaten any of yours.  You started yelling that you wanted a hot dog.  Tobin suggested that I get you a hot dog.  I told him I didn’t want to stand in line again, which was true, but the whole truth was that I didn’t want to reward your tantrum.  You love pizza, and there was no reason you shouldn’t just eat your pizza.  You expressed very clearly that you did NOT want the pizza, so I figured I’d find you something to eat when we got home.  The lady at the next table, who was not being judgey, just trying to help, offered to stand in line for me.  I declined.   You were finally calming down, and I thought we were moving forward, so I took a bite of your pizza.  Big mistake.  That set off a whole new round of freak-out.  However, it did get you interested enough in the pizza that you were willing to eat it.  In fact you refused to let go of the last bites, the toughest part of the crust, which you gnawed on as we did our shopping.

In the old days, when I heard little kids crying in public, I thought, “Oh, that poor kid.”  Now I think, “Oh, those poor parents.”

I’m happy to say that so far you’ve just had the one tantrum.  I’m sure there are more coming, but they don’t define your personality for the time being.  You’re still brave and fun, and I’ve really enjoyed watching you engage your imagination.  You made a cool Lego camera the other day and had fun pretending to take pictures of your brothers.  They were good sports about saying cheese.

Your current favorites:  Walter the Farting Dog, peanut butter Lara Bars, your new Magnadoodle, Arthur (the kids’ show, not the Dudley Moore movie), making pretend Okiishis in the bathtub, and playing with/tormenting your brothers.

Despite the ramping-up of allergy season, you’ve been sleeping pretty well.  I think we’ve got a good regimen figured out of internal and external treatments, so your skin and nose and eyes are all doing okay.  You did have itchy eyes a couple of nights ago, and you very pathetically asked me, “You have any eye lotion?”  I didn’t, so I had to do my best to treat you by kissing your eye.  You wanted me to kiss your actual eyeball, which I don’t think I did, but it was dark so I can’t swear to that.

I love your little brain, growing so fast like the rest of you.  Sleep tight, my funny baby.

Update:  Minutes after I posted this, tired but basically satisfied with how you’re turning out, I heard a strange noise.  You see, I’d been writing this from the big chair, which is directly across the hall from the bathroom.  While I can’t see directly into the tub from the big chair, I can hear, so I felt confident that you were doing fine in your bath because you were chattering away to your rubber ducks.  The noise I heard:  a large splash not followed by the tell-tale smack of water hitting water.  I looked in and saw that you were cheerfully dumping big cupfuls of water onto the bathroom rug.  Judging by the level of saturation, you must have done it more than ten times.

Come on, dude.  That topic is specifically covered in No No, Yes Yes by Leslie Patricelli.   Also, did I mention that we’re having a party tomorrow and are frantically cleaning the house?

You are something.  Yes you are.

Love,

Mommy

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8/9/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #115

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:50 pm

Dear Miles,

Summer’s almost done.  By the next time I write you a memo, you’ll be a full-fledged fourth-grader.  That’s hard to imagine.  I very clearly remember my fourth-grade year.  I had a strict, old-fashioned teacher who was inconsistent in her punishments and tended toward teacher’s petism.  That worked okay for me, as I was a teacher’s pet kind of kid, but I remember feeling righteous outrage when she treated some kids unfairly.  I doubt Miss Thunderbuns is reading this, as she seemed ancient back in the ’80s when she was my teacher, but if she is, I hope she has mellowed and is not currently yelling at squirrels in front of her nursing home.

We don’t know yet who your teacher will be, but you will probably do fine.  You had a really great third grade experience, with a teacher you adored and a lot of academic and social development.  I hope fourth grade can be good as well.  I’m sure you’ll be making some very clear memories, just as I did at your age.

We’ve been scrambling to finish up our summer activity list.  We’ve done well so far—I think we only have one box left to check off, and we have enough time to get it done.  We’ve gone to movies, played in the sprinkler, made homemade popsicles, gone to the Natural History Museum, done the library’s Summer Reading Program, and a whole lot more.  You probably would have been happy spending the entire summer playing Minecraft (or watching YouTube videos of other people playing Minecraft, which doesn’t make much sense to me, but I watch a lot of YouTube videos about eyebrow grooming, so I guess I shouldn’t judge).

Photo by Gary Clarke

You and Tobin spent a whole week at Mubby and Skitter’s house, which you loved and Mubby and Skitter survived.  They insist they loved it too, but I can imagine it was pretty exhausting for people who aren’t used to having little kids around.  You did some really fun things, including camping in the back yard, fishing, mini-golfing, and going to an arcade.  You started with a full week as your goal, but I secretly expected that we might need to come get you around Thursday.  That was not the case.  We Skyped every day, and every day you both assured me that you were doing great and were in no hurry to come home.  I missed you, but I was glad you were having so much fun.

I think you’re ready for a little more structure in your life, though.  Ever since you came back, you’ve been a little surly.  We had a very rough time a couple of days ago.  It wasn’t just you; it was a variety of factors, including a bad night’s sleep for me, which always brings out my worst qualities.  We all did some yelling and crying, but we got it together.  I apologized to you, and I hope you accepted it.  I’m an adult, and it’s my job to keep my emotions under control, even when I’m feeling overwhelmed and stressed out.  On the other hand, I hope you got the message that you can’t keep pushing people and expect them to absorb it with no repercussions.  It wasn’t a shining day for any of us, but we’re all doing a lot better now.  It’s hard to be a mom sometimes, and I know it’s hard to be a kid too.

Photo by Gary Clarke

There will be more moments like that as you grow.  Surliness has always been a part of you, and as the double-digit age approaches, I fear we’ll see it more and more.  I’m sure I displayed it at your age, and I remember getting reprimanded for it (though I always kept it in line when Miss Thunderbuns was looking).  It’s hard to know when to just roll my eyes and ignore your attitudes and when to tell you to check it.  A lot of it has to with what else is going on with me, and that’s not fair, but that’s how it goes.  You take things very personally when you manage to pay attention at all.

Your current favorites:  Minecraft, blowing bubbles with gum, pasta, resisting hair grooming (unless it’s bedtime, when you manage to extend the bedtime routine by giving yourself elaborate hairstyles in the bathroom mirror), Peanuts and Big Nate books, and Pokémon Go.  You and Tobin have mostly gotten along really well this summer.  It’s nice that I’ve been able to trust you to play together while I need to do Callum-centric things.  You read an entire chapter book out loud to Tobin, and you are his greatest hero.  He’s going to love being in the same school as you next year, so I hope you handle that honorably.

Happy month birthday, my dear.  Best of luck as you start your fourth grade adventure.   I’ll be the one outside the school on the first day jumping up and down in anticipation of getting you back.

Love,

Mom

 

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7/24/2017

The Tobin Times #71

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:19 pm

Hey there, summertime sunshine boy.

The days before kindergarten are dwindling, and we’ve been keeping occupied filling them up with fun togetherness.  After a very busy June, we’ve scaled back on the scheduled activities this month and have been doing more sleeping in, having mini-adventures, and eschewing pants.

You’ve got a birthday coming up, but I’ll save most of your birthday-related updates for next month.  For now I’ll focus on what makes you five.  You’re teetering on the cusp between little boy and big boy.  You still love bedtime cuddles (and you’re so proud of the fact that Callum is now back to hugging you at bedtime, because you figured out a reverse psychology trick to entice him:  “I bet you can’t sneak up behind me and give me a big hug!”).  Your dad reads to you from a chapter book every night, and you’ve  gotten good at sounding out short words with our ABC blocks.

I’m having a hard time figuring out what to get you for your birthday, because your play isn’t really toy-based anymore.  You and Miles like to play imagination games together, but we’ve got plenty of props for those lying around the house already.  You can’t read well enough yet to get excited about books.  You like doing cooking projects with me, so maybe I’ll get you something related to that.  In fact, there are two cooking projects on our summer activity list that we still need to do.

We’ve made a lot of progress on that list, including trips to the downtown fountain, doing the library’s Summer Reading Program, and eating a lot of frozen treats.  We still have a few left to complete.  I think the two you’re most excited about are the Natural History Museum and Molly’s Cupcakes, which are conveniently located near each other for a combined trip.  I can always count on you for an enthusiastic “YEAH!” when I suggest an adventure.  Whoever invented the phrase joie de vivre must have known a kid like you.

We haven’t traveled much this summer, though we did take a long weekend in St. Louis to see the sights and spend time with Mubby, Skitter, Tyler, Oxana, Aleks, and Vera.  You and Aleks immediately reignited your friendship, and it was fun watching you guys hang out together.  As firstborns tend to be, Aleks is a little cautious, and I think you helped him find his inner adventurer.

Next week you’re going to spend some time at Mubby and Skitter’s house, which is always fun for you, because Mubby comes up with an intense docket of activities and treats.  Sometimes I forget that my needs are not the same as your needs, and just because I crumble up inside if I don’t have a decent amount of quiet time doesn’t mean that’s what works for you.  I’m the mom, so when I’m in charge, you have to live on my schedule.  But Mubby (also a second-born, come to think of it) shares your preference for the action-packed, so you should have a great time.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Your current favorites:  The Famous Five book series, playing outside (even when it’s too hot for most people), Minecraft, competing with Miles over every little thing, and filling any available silence with chatter.  It sometimes drives your dad and me nuts—by dinnertime, he and I are both tired from the day and ready for some peace and quiet.  You do not value those qualities in a dinnertime.  You want to talk-talk-talk, sing if there’s nothing to talk about, and shriek if there’s nothing to sing about.

You are untameable, indefatigable, and mostly unsinkable.  I keep thinking about things we should do together and having to catch myself, because my time with you is going to go down considerably soon.  Since you only ever went to preschool part time, we’ve always had a lot of time together, and it’s going to be a shock to have to wait until three in the afternoon to get my Tobin fix.

Your freckles, your smile, your curls, your laugh:  you are sensory overload in an almost six-year-old body, and you’re one of the very best adventures I’ve ever taken.

Love,

Mommy

 

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6/9/2017

The Callum Chronicle #29

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:07 pm

Dear Callum,

You are napping right now, which is the only reason I’m allowed to do this.  If you were awake, you wouldn’t like it that I’m using the keyboard.  Your anthem these days is “I do it!”  There’s not a task in the world that you don’t think you do better than anyone else.  You want to brush your teeth by yourself, turn on and off the bath water by yourself, buckle into your car seat by yourself, turn book pages by yourself.  Everything takes twice as long and can be very frustrating.  I’ve learned from experience, though, that taking the extra time to let you buckle your car seat is a lot less maddening than yanking the clips out of your hand and doing it for you.  Two minutes of letting you struggle and eventually get it done can seem like forever when we’re running late to take Tobin to his summer class, but the ten-minute drive seems even more like forever if you’re screaming the whole time, broken-hearted about not having buckled your own seat belt.

We do our best to plan ahead and build some extra time into our tasks.  It’s the only way anyone gets anything done without crying around here.

Photo by Denny

You’re definitely, absolutely two.  I know by now that this stage doesn’t last as long as it seems (and that three brings its challenges, too, so I shouldn’t get too excited about the passage of time).  Your growth and development has brought good things, too.  You are talking more and more all the time.  Your sentences are getting more complex, and I get such a kick out of listening to you form them, slowly and deliberately.  The other day you said to me, “I want…a drink…of water…from Tobin’s…water cup.”  Each little section of the sentence was so important to you, and I could almost see the little gears turning in your head as you sorted out how to communicate your message.

You’ve been in a real Mommy-centric stage lately, though I can say with optimism that you’ve been a little more receptive to your dad in recent days.  Some of it has to do with tiredness.  On days that you don’t nap, you get a case of the five o’clock beasties, and you refuse to let your dad hold you or play with you.  That’s right when I need some freedom to cook dinner and regroup my brain a little bit, but you will not have it.  On days that you do nap, things usually go a little better.

You’ve been enjoying summertime and all the treats and outdoor play opportunities it brings.  Your brothers’ schedules have been so busy for the last couple of months (and will be for a few more weeks) that we haven’t done as many family adventures as I like to do in the summer, but we have July and August for that.  In the meantime, you’ve been mostly a good sport about being carted around to their activities.  We’ve worked in a few Flavor Ice and park outings, and we’ll certainly have more of that soon.  You haven’t been in the downtown fountain yet, and that’s a summer rite of passage you definitely need to complete.

We’ve spent some good time with both sets of grandparents lately, and you loved all the outside time you had at the farm.  We’re going to a family reunion at another farm this weekend, and if it’s not outrageously hot, I hope you can do a lot of running around.

You have a sweet smile and a good sense of routine.  You’ve mostly been sleeping well (even though you’re a bed hog) and are crazy about cinnamon toast.  It’s a good thing Costco sells the bread you like in two-loaf packs, because we’ve been going through a lot of it.  You used to eat the crusts, too, until you saw that Tobin doesn’t.

We had lunch with my cousin Debi and her family last weekend, and she asked what your personality is like.  You look so much like Miles that it’s easy to assume you are the same kind of guy, but you really have your own style.  You have some of Miles’s serious nature, but not the timidity he expressed as a toddler.  With Miles, we never worried about him jumping into the creek or climbing too high at the playground.  You’re very brave, probably because you see your brothers doing adventurous things and want to be part of the fun.  You’re one who would jump right into a lake if you thought there was a fish in there you could squeeze.  You love petting dogs and taking off your shoes at the grocery store.  Any button you see is a button you want to push.  You see a big world before you and you want to do everything it has to offer.  You even want to do the things it’s not specifically offering.

Photo by Gary Clarke

You probably shouldn’t do it while you’re wearing Skitter’s reading glasses, though.  Toddlers fall down often enough when they can see where they’re going.

Love,

Mommy

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6/8/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #113

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:15 pm

My dear Miles,

Here we go, off on another summer of fun and adventure.  You’ve finished third grade, and I’m quite sure that it’s been your favorite school year so far.  You were absolutely crazy about your teacher, Miss Lampe, and justifiably so—now and then a person gets a teacher who truly cares and works particularly hard to challenge and engage his or her students and Miss Lampe was one of them.

I was waiting with excitement to welcome you home on your last day of school, ready to celebrate and enjoy the beginnings of summer.  As I saw you approaching down the block, I could see you were wiping away tears.  My mama bear hackles raised (do bears have hackles?  This may be a mixed metaphor) and I immediately started down my mental list of possible issues:  did you get hurt?  Was someone mean to you?  Did you lose something important?

You didn’t want to talk about it, but we sat together for a while on the front stoop, and eventually you told me that you wanted to stay in third grade.  While I was relieved that you weren’t dealing with bullying or any other serious issue, I felt so sad for your tender little heart.  I know you loved third grade so much, and it will be hard for any school year to top this one.  You recovered, though, and you’ve been enjoying several other great things you have going on.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Baseball continues to be a big factor in your life.  Mubby and Skittergramps came to your game last night, and Skitter is sure that your baseball skills have improved a lot since he last played with you.  Your coach and teammates have done a great job supporting you and helping you grow as a player.  I’m really glad you’re having fun, and I’m very proud that you were willing to try something totally new to you.  Last night you stole two bases and brought a runner home, so I can tell your confidence is growing.

Photo by Denny

We’ve had good times with Nana and Papa recently, including a trip out to the farm.  It was kind of a crummy weather day when we were there, but that didn’t stop you from climbing around on the hay bales and taking a tractor ride with Papa.  It’s a good thing I got you some rubber boots to wear in the creek, because they came in handy on a muddy farm, too.

 

Family Folk Machine performed at Arts Fest last weekend, and you got to perform your original song.  The picture here shows you with your songwriting partner, Lynn, who also became a good friend to you during this session.  I don’t know if you grasp how cool it is that you had the opportunity to perform your composition on the Main Stage at Arts Fest—it’s a chance not many people have.  We’re so fortunate to live in a community that gives us these many and varied possibilities.   When I was looking into summer camps and classes for you, I could have easily filled your entire summer with different activities you would have loved.  There are computer programming classes, film classes, outdoor camps, sports workshops, creative writing classes, cooking classes, and just about anything else you could imagine.  As it happens, the ones you wanted to take the most happen to all fall in June.  Along with baseball, our June calendar is pretty full.  You decided on Minecraft Designers, Film, and Animation.

On our few precious unscheduled nights, we’ve been watching movies together, eating popcorn from last fall’s garden harvest, and enjoying the minimal peace and quiet a person can squeeze out in a home that also contains a Tobin and a Callum.  We have a lot more on our summer activity list, but we have to get through our crazy June before we can get started on things like trips to the Splash Pad and signing up for the library’s summer reading program.

We got some really excellent news in the mail on the same day as Arts Fest.  We were pessimistic about you getting into ELP for the coming school year because you missed a section on the first of the two qualifying tests, which brought your final score down significantly.  However, you did so well on the second of the tests that it made up the difference, and you qualified.  You were so, so excited, and I’m so happy for you.  I know that it’s going to be hard for you to leave third grade behind, but this will be a great boost to your fourth grade year.

Enjoy your summer, my sweet boy.  I’m so proud of all you’ve done and all you continue to do.

Love,

Mom

 

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5/22/2017

The Tobin Times #69

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:54 pm

My dear Tobin,

I was going through some documents yesterday, and I found your nearly-expired passport.  We got it when you were just 17 months old in preparation for the cruise we went on.  After a few disastrous attempts by the staff at CVS, we decided to take your passport photo at home.  We read up on the guidelines, got the framing and lighting set up, and noted that you were not supposed to smile.  I guess that must make it easier to do computerized facial recognition, because it seems like other official documents have that requirement as well.

Try as we might, we couldn’t get a picture of you not smiling.  We ended up just going with a smiling picture and hoping the folks at passport control would let it slide.  Now that it’s time to get an updated passport, you’re probably old enough to keep your face neutral.  Still, your default expression is smiling.  Whether the smile is big or small, you almost always have an upward turn to your lips, and that reflects your general life attitude as well.

You’re almost done with preschool, and you’re pretty excited to celebrate your preschool graduation later this week.  I am generally of the opinion that graduation ceremonies for minor academic transitions are stupid, but you’ve been through a lot in your preschool career, and I’m okay with marking that moment.  Though we were concerned at first with how your experience at Kinderfarm would be, you’ve ended up very happy (though this is not surprising given your generally positive attitude).  You’ve made some good friends, and we’ve promised to continue with playdates through the summer.  You love the baby animals that turned up in the spring, and you often say you wish you could stay longer when I pick you up at lunch time.  You’re definitely ready for the next level, including tougher academics and a longer school day.  You’re smart and energetic and sweet, and kindergarten is going to be lucky to have you.

You’ve been having fun with baseball this season, both as a player on your own team and as a spectator for Miles.  Though I usually stay home with Callum, I attended the other night, and it was fun watching you make friends with another little brother.  I am often amazed at how well you mesh with other kids.  Maybe part of that is your middle-kid status—you have plenty of experience in dealing with other kids, and though you sometimes get frustrated with your brothers’ idiosyncrasies, you never stay down for long.  There’s nothing that makes you happier than being included in Miles’s activities.  He had a playdate last weekend to play Minecraft with a friend, and they did a good job letting you take part sometimes.  You also did a good job not being too annoying.  You confessed to me that you sometimes annoy Miles on purpose, which you do well because you’re so good at reading people and knowing how to elicit specific reactions.  It’s a great power and a great responsibility, kid.

Though we’re currently in a cool and rainy spell, we had some beautiful days earlier in the month.  You’ve helped me get the garden in, as you always do.  You’re very excited for the Amish Deer Tongue lettuce (because doesn’t that sound appetizing?), as well as the peas, tomatoes, and popcorn you’ve helped me put in so far.  Because you have a summer birthday and therefore wouldn’t be able to celebrate with your preschool class, I asked your teacher whether you could bring in treats during this last month of school.  She agreed, and you were very proud to bring in popcorn from last fall’s harvest that you had helped plant.  You’re always up for outdoor fun, including our first sprinkler adventure of the season.  We need to get to work on our Summer Activity List, because I know it will include time in the downtown fountain and swimming at City Park.

You and Miles have proven yourselves responsible enough to play down in the (tiny dribble of a) creek together, so you’ve had fun splashing around.  You would probably do it for hours, though your time is usually limited by Miles’s patience.

You told me recently that even after Donald Trump is done being president, you still want to listen to classic rock radio.  I switched from NPR as my default listening after the election, because it was just too depressing a way to start my day.  We took up the classic rock station, and you’ve really gotten into some of the music.  You like Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” quite a bit, and the last couple of nights before bed, you have been running around like a crazy man singing “867-5309” at the top of your lungs.  I’m not sure that really counts as classic rock, but I can’t deny that it’s a catchy song.

I’m looking forward to squeezing out lots of fun time with you this summer.  We kept your summer classes and camps pretty lightly scheduled (at least after June, which is going to be a bit crazy).  I knew when we decided to wait one more year on kindergarten that I needed to appreciate having more time with you for one extra year, and your sweet face has been a joy to me.

I personally don’t care if you smile in every passport photo you take for the rest of your life.  I have the feeling that if the people at passport control meet you for thirty seconds, they’ll understand too.

Love,

Mommy

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5/9/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #112

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:48 am

Dear Miles,

We’re wrapping up your third grade year, and I think you’d agree that it’s been a good one.  You love your teacher, Miss Lampe.  You’ve shown great social growth through some nice new friendships.  You continue to do very good academic work.  You’ve kept busy with your extracurriculars and really branched out by trying baseball.  You’ve done some fun creative stuff, like your writing class, and all the original comics I find littering the house.  You briefly freaked out in the shower the other night because you thought blue stuff was coming out of the shower wall, but it was marker that had smudged onto your hand from your comic creations.

Perhaps your biggest achievement of the month was the concert debut of your first fully-realized original song.  Family Folk Machine performed your co-composition, “How Can It Be Both?”, in our spring concert.  I was so proud of you, and there’s something really special about seeing your name in the program not just as a participant, but as a songwriter.  You performed that as well as our other songs with great aplomb, and of course you had a very supportive cheering section in the audience.

Photo by Gary Clarke

The annual Lucas Elementary Team Spelling Bee happened earlier this month, and your weeks of studying paid off in a repeat win.  Your friend Gabe’s teams won the spelling bee two years in a row as well, so your new life goal is to break his record with a third consecutive win.  I hope you don’t hog up too much triumph from your schoolmates—it wouldn’t be the worst thing if you shared the glory.  On the other hand, you’ve had your share of defeats (see baseball, below), so it’s nice that spelling can be an area of success for you.  You’re not just coasting on talent, either.  You’re a naturally good speller, but you also worked really hard to learn those tricky words.  It’s a good way to establish effective study skills.  Cramming doesn’t work when you have a list of hundreds of words to learn.  You worked on it slowly, with plenty of repetition, and those words really bored their way into your brain.  The look on your face when the emcee announced the winner was a wonderful thing to witness.

Baseball is not something that comes as easily to you as spelling, and unlike academics, I’m not much help in supporting success in that arena.  Your dad has been patient and helpful, and your coach and teammates seem like nice people.  It’s tough, though, since you’re joining in with kids who have been playing baseball or tee-ball for years, and this is your very first time on a team.  But even if you lose every game and strike out at every at-bat, I’ll still be very proud of you for trying something new and challenging.  You chose to go to the PTO meeting last night instead of your baseball game, which indicates to me that maybe it’s not something you’ll care to do in the long term.  In any case, I’m glad you tried.  There’s a new running club starting at school next fall, and that might be a good athletic endeavor for you.

As usual in life, the month has not been without challenges.  Though it seems impossibly early, I’m beginning to see some surly pre-teen behavior in you.  You’ve always tended a bit toward the gloomy, but you’ve been doing these super-irritating grunts and “ehs” in response to questions lately.  It’s become a bad habit, and your dad and I have both talked to you about the importance of answering questions with an approach that indicates something other than “talking to you is the most boring thing in the world.”  I’m sure I did crap like that when I was young, and I’m not proud of it.  I don’t know if it’s something I can change in you, but at least now you apologize when you catch yourself doing it.

You still have plenty of sweet little boy in you, though.  You and your brothers have some wonderful moments together, and I love watching you and Callum hug each other when he comes in for his final goodnight at bedtime.  I went to a party last week that extended past bedtime, and your dad reported back that there was some serious giggling going on from the bunkbed room while he was putting Callum to bed.  He also mentioned frequently overhearing the word “tushie.”

I know you’re looking forward to summer break, and I’m looking forward to having you around more.  We’ve been so busy lately that I’ve barely seen you.  We’ll have to get to work on our summer activity list.  I know you’re not too mature for frozen yogurt, trips to the library, and running through the sprinkler.

Love,

Mom

4/7/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #111

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:28 pm

Dear Miles,

We have a ritual each morning:  we check TimeHop, which, for those who don’t know or Future Us who have forgotten about popular apps from the two-thousand-teens, is a tool that shows social media posts from a given day for years in the past.  That is, today we looked at posts I made on April 7, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.  You really enjoy doing this with me each morning at breakfast, because there’s almost always a cute picture of you and/or your brothers or funny things someone said.  Every now and then I even have a good quip.  This morning, you got a kick out of what I wrote eight years ago:  “Miles just handed me The Collected Works of Eudora Welty as if I ought to read it to him.”

Seven years ago today, I wrote, “Getting ready to do an Elluminate session, then off to Willowwind for a pre-preschool visit.”  Elluminate is a video conference technology that I haven’t thought about in approximately seven years.  Visiting Willowwind to see if it was a good choice for you, however, seems so recent.  It was a disastrous visit, as I recall.  For some reason, you were in a brief but painful stage of being absolutely freaked out by anyone who wasn’t close family.  I think you brought your beloved nanny Beanie to tears because you suddenly turned on her.  When we visited Willowwind, you cried the whole time and refused to let go of my leg.

Photo by Denny

Fortunately, that stage passed quickly.  You and Beanie became great friends again (in fact, even these days you text regularly), and once you were in a better frame of mind, you liked Willowwind a lot.  This particular TimeHop memory stood out to me because you’ve been doing so many new things lately, and you’ve grown so much in the last seven years.  You’re still shy and nervous sometimes, but more and more I’m seeing you be brave and take risks.

One of these new adventures was the songwriting workshop we did in Family Folk Machine.  During one of the first workshops, we were to divide into groups.  You were sitting next to me, so it was natural that we’d be in a group together.  In that group activity, we brainstormed ideas borne of the story circles we’d done at a previous meeting.  We wrote down our ideas, and the facilitators grouped them into like categories.  From those categories, we were to pick the topic that most resonated with us, and that would be the group we’d be in to write our songs.  You chose the Nature group, and I was more interested in Peace and Protest.  I made sure it was okay with you that we be in separate groups, and you said it was.  You ended up being the only kid in your group, and you wrote the lyrics to your very own song.  You were so, so proud when we rehearsed it at choir practice, and I agree that there’s something magical about seeing your by-line on the printed score.  It’s going to be a great moment when we sing it in concert later this month.

You also surprised me by sticking to your plan of going out for baseball.  You developed a sudden interest in it last spring, but by the time you told me you wanted to play, the sign-up deadline had passed.  I thought there was a good chance you’d lose interest or lose your bravery by the time this season came, especially since it would be your first time playing a team sport, when most of your teammates had surely played for years.

But no—sign-up time came around for this season, and you still wanted to play, so I registered you.  You’ve only had two practices so far due to the rainy couple of weeks we’ve had, but your dad tells me you’re doing just fine.  I’m so proud of you for striking out on your own (no pun intended) and trying something challenging.  I’m excited to see you play in a game.  I have been to many professional baseball games in my life (due to having been switched at birth with the sports-loving child my parents were supposed to bring home), and I have never once looked forward to the prospect.  It’s amazing what having a kid can do to one’s perspective.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Yet another boundary-stretching activity for you was this year’s school carnival.  I had already volunteered to work one of the games, so you asked if you could just go around with your friends instead of sticking with your dad or me.  I gave you ten dollars’ worth of tickets and set you loose.  We met up again toward the end of the night, when you and Tobin were both freaking out with delight about the fact that you won cakes in the cake walk.  You won yours when you were with your friends, and Tobin won his with your dad.  If I’d been there, I might have declined one of the cakes like I did last year when our family won two.  You haven’t let me forget that, so you were mighty pleased that this year you guys were able to right past wrongs.

The carnival happened to fall on April Fool’s Day, so you and Tobin used some of your sugared-up post-carnival energy to play some pranks around the house.  I don’t know if the fake dude at the computer is supposed to be you or if I was supposed to think an intruder had come in, put on your coat, and started checking his email.

We had a great trip to Nashville last month, and you and your brothers mostly kept it together.  The bed situation in our rental house was a lot like ours here—bunk bed with a single on top and double below.  At home, you always want the top bunk to yourself, but Tobin scrambles up to join you nine nights out of ten.  In Nashville, the top mattress wasn’t very comfortable, so you slept on the larger bottom bunk with Tobin.  Ever since we’ve been home, you’ve been doing your before-bed reading in the top bunk and then at lights-out time, you’ve been coming down and sleeping in the bottom bunk (except for the night Tobin was sick and you were afraid he’d barf on you).

I don’t know what changed, but you guys are pretty cute together.  Sleeping children are so forgivable.

We’re not entirely without challenges.  Sometimes you get huffy when your dad and I ask you to do even the easiest tasks around the house.  Sometimes you’re too harsh with Tobin.  You still won’t eat any vegetables.

You do a good job brushing your teeth, though.  The dentist agrees.

Love,

Mom

3/22/2017

The Tobin Times #67

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:48 pm

My dear Tobin,

A miracle has occurred:  you and your brothers spent 18 hours in a car together with almost no fighting.

We just got back from our spring break trip to Nashville.  I thought it was an eight-hour drive, but door-to-door (we stayed south of the city to be closer to Tyler and Oxana’s house), it was about nine each way.  We broke it into two-day drives, spending the night in the St. Louis area each time, but it was still a whole lot of car time.  You guys did such a good job.  I think you sometimes have it the hardest—you’re old enough to be frustrated that you can’t do everything Miles does, but you’re still young enough that it’s hard to let all of Callum’s pestiness slide.  Still, I was very proud of your behavior.  We listened to Justin Roberts’ Lemonade album over and over, as well as an audiobook (Bruce Coville’s My Teacher Is an Alien).  You got scared a couple of times and needed to turn off the audiobook, so we switched back to music, but mostly you enjoyed it a lot.  You mentioned a suspicion that your teacher might be an alien too.

Photo by Denny

Once we arrived in the Nashville area, you and your cousin Aleks became immediate best friends.  You hugged every time you saw each other, you held hands when we walked outside, and you couldn’t wait for him to come over to our rental house each day.  I’m sure he’s missing you as much as you’re missing him right now.

We did a lot of fun stuff, including almost daily cocktail hour.  Aleks really enjoyed the cherry lemonade cocktails, as did the rest of the kids (except Vera, who’s too little).  We did a lot of cheers-ing, including the Russian version, “За здоровье!”

Photo by Gary Clarke

Another of your favorite activities was a visit to the Monkey’s Treehouse, a fun little play center with a big climbing structure and various areas to encourage imaginative play.  Your favorite was the play kitchen and restaurant, and you served up some delicious dishes while wearing a jaunty chef’s hat.  You didn’t get lice, either (bonus).  The weather ended up being unseasonably cool, so we didn’t do some of the outdoorsy things we’d hoped to.  The last time we visited in July, we took a trip downtown that included seeing some of the famous honky tonk sites as well as enjoying the great splash pad in Cumberland Park.  I was hoping to do some of that again, and I also dreamed of taking a day trip to Mammoth Caves National Park.  Unfortunately, on the forty-degree days we had there, spending a lot of time outdoors wasn’t the best way to keep our family members happy.

Still, we managed to do a lot.  Uncle Tyler even took us on a private tour of the Vanderbilt University football facilities.  Running around on that big field was a pretty great experience for you.  The very best part was spending time with our extended family and letting you and your cousins get to know each other.  We’re hoping to find a time to meet them in St. Louis for more adventures.

Now that we’re back to reality, we’ve found ourselves in that race to the end of the school year that always happens after spring break.  You’re  excited to play baseball, which will start next week.  It’s going to keep our family very busy for the next couple of months, as  you and Miles are playing on the same nights but at different times.  We’re going to be spending three nights a week camped out at the baseball diamonds at City Park.  I don’t even know how I’m going to manage dinner.  I was told that I would be less stressed as my kids get older, but I’m not sure that’s true.  Your dad and I might have to do some tag-teaming.

Photo by Denny

You’re ready for kindergarten and feel quite fancy about the fact that you’ll be taking kindergarten-level summer classes.  By this time next month you will have completed Kindergarten Round-Up at your future elementary school, though with all the times you’ve been there for Miles’s events, it will hardly seem like a transition at all.

Along with that, your personality is such that I’m not the slightest bit worried about how you will handle kindergarten.  You collect friends like Callum collects crumbs in his sleeves.  Your bright smile and cheerful demeanor are magnetic, and I’m really going to miss you when you start spending more time and school and less time with me.  I was vaguely aware that my children would probably grow up (and I’m glad that you’re healthy and strong), but that doesn’t mean I have to like the daily reality of having less of you.  You’re not a peach one hundred percent of the time—you have your crabby moods and tantrums now and then, especially when you’re tired—but you’re still one of my all-time tops.

Your current favorites:  Wild Kratts, pepperoni pizza (this seems like it’s going to be a life-long affection), Geronimo Stilton books at bedtime, playing outside, and a new Lego project you’ve been working on very hard.  Having attempted to help you and Miles put together Lego creations, I can attest that it takes a lot of precision and concentration.

Summer is coming soon, my little heart.  We need to get to work on our summer activity list, because you can bet your cardboard hat that we’re going to have fun.

Love,

Mommy

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3/10/2017

The Callum Chronicle #26

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:21 pm

Hello, adventure boy.

Your dad and I were talking about how nice it is that your big brothers are old enough that we can send them out to the back yard or the park right behind our house to play on their own.  We firmly agreed that you’re not ready for that yet.

You have been a crazy, energetic guy lately.  In a way it seems like you’ve taken a step backward in trustworthiness, in part because your growing physical and mental skills have made you brave enough to try many stupid, dangerous things.  I used to be able to leave you in a room for a few minutes while I did something nearby, but that didn’t work out so well yesterday.  I was downstairs helping Miles practice piano, and when I came back up to check on you, you were nowhere to be found (and Tobin was no help).  The door leading to the garage was open, so I went into the garage and started shouting your name.  You didn’t respond, and I didn’t hear any tell-tale scrapes or footsteps.  I was about ready to freak out when I saw that the porch door was open.  You had grabbed a baseball bat and were heading outside.  I’m so glad I caught you before you escaped.  I am going to work really hard to remember to lock the door to the garage from now on.

This morning, you wanted to “play coffee,” which regular readers will remember is when you sit up on the counter and pour water from my coffee carafe into the coffee maker and pretty much everywhere else.  It’s not too destructive a game, so I let you play it pretty often.  You wanted to do it this morning, and I had a few emails to respond to, so I got you safely positioned with a chair right up to the counter so you wouldn’t fall.  I double-checked that the door was locked, got some water for you to pour, and left the room for five minutes.  When I came back, you were pouring my (previously unused) coffee grounds directly into the water reservoir of the coffee maker.  You got probably a quarter pound out of the bag and all over everything.

I got angry.  You got sad.  It wasn’t a great moment for either of us.  I hope we both learned something.

I’ve noticed lately that when your dad or I scolds you for something, you make a face in which you close your eyes tightly.  Last week, I was running on the treadmill while you played downstairs.  You started heading toward the back of the TV where you are most definitely not allowed to mess around.  There are all kinds of cords and video game components and stuff you shouldn’t touch back there.  Before I even said anything, you stopped, looked at me, and made your eyes-closed “punishment face.”  I’m glad to know you’re starting to think through the consequences of your actions.

You give us plenty of non-frustrating moments, too.  Your language skills are really growing, and you make us laugh all the time.  You love to pick up objects and use them as a microphone to sing “Single Ladies.”  You like to play your ukulele along with all kind of different music.  You made Miles’s day yesterday when you requested his favorite pop song, “Stitches.”  You even knew a lot of the words.  You’ve also really gotten into the music and videos of Justin Roberts.  He’s been a family favorite since before we had kids, and I hope he makes a tour stop around here some time soon so you can see him in person.  His videos have been a welcome respite from Elmo (or worse, Barney).

We’re heading out tomorrow for a family trip to Nashville.  It will be fun to see you interact with your cousins, and it will be interesting to see you in the context of not being the smallest person in the room.  I hope the long drive won’t be too hard on you.  Last time we made the trip, I think you cried for a pretty solid two-hour chunk.  Hopefully this time you’ll be a little more easily entertained.  We can listen to music and read books, and we’ll be sure to make time for pit stops so you can run around.  At least we’re not in the middle of potty training.  That could be a disaster.  We’ll start that one of these months, but for the time being, you’re a lot more interested in toilets in theory than in practice.

Well, in typical practice, anyway.  You were very interested in the practice of putting an entire roll of toilet paper into the toilet.

Your current favorites:  reading stories (especially If You Give a Dog a Donut, Jamberry, How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight, and Goodnight Moon), jumping and dancing, playing outside, taking baths, eating a wide variety of foods (including your babysitter Olivia’s lunch), and giving really sweet hugs.  You like to eat, but it hasn’t really shown up in your body too much.  At your last doctor’s appointment, you were in the twentieth percentile for weight and fortieth for height.  You’re kind of a little guy, but you’re a pretty wonderful little guy.

You’re a lot of person jammed into one small body.  It’s not easy to keep up with you, but you’re a great incentive to keep healthy enough that I can love you for a long, long time.  You make me scream and you make me smile, but I’m always glad you’re mine.

Love,

Mommy

3/9/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #110

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:21 pm

Dear Miles,

As I was thinking about what I should write for this month, the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” came into my mind.  Then I thought I should search this site, because I feel like I’ve written that phrase in relation to you more than once.

The results:  two hits, neither of which was about you.  Sorry to malign you with my shoddy memory.  In any case, we’ve been seeing a wide variety of behaviors and attitudes in you lately.  When you were very small, your dad and I read about “periods of disequilibrium,” which are fairly predictable stages kids go through when they’re harder on the adults in their lives.  It probably has to do with growth and learning to manage the new things your brain and body are doing, and I’m sure it’s not easy for you either.  We were trying to remember how it worked, and we recalled that usually the first half of a kid’s year is easier and the second half is harder.  That made us puzzled, because you’re just a couple of months into your ninth year, so we should be in the smooth sailing section.

I looked it up again, and apparently after a certain amount of time, it stops being a twice-a-year cycle.  The graph showed the entire ninth year in a trough.  Oh boy.

I’m not saying you’re a terrible kid, not at all.  In fact, I often catch you being really sweet.  But you’ve settled into some negative attitudes and unwillingness to compromise, and it can be challenging to handle.  I’m an emotional sponge myself, so I can be having a perfectly good day, and then you come in all crabby and rude, and I find myself sinking into a bad mood with you.  That’s no fun, and there’s enough negativity in our world right now anyway.  I want the times with my family to be the bright spots in my day, not the force that drags us down.  When your dad asks what you did in school, you respond with a noncommittal shrug and the word “stuff.”  Fortunately your teacher is really good about using her class website to update us on what’s going on.  If I can ask you specific questions based on what she posted, I sometimes get better answers.

We had your school conference, and your teacher seems to think you’re about the best kid ever.  Either you save your best behavior for her or she’s much less emotionally spongy than I am.  She even used the phrase “happy go lucky” to describe you.  That was a moment when I wondered if we’d shown up for the wrong kid’s appointment.  But I’m glad you’re happy at school, and you’re certainly excelling academically.  You have also shown a lot of social growth this year.  You’ve developed some really nice friendships.  We went to a school event a few weeks ago, and even though we saw some kids from your class sitting at a table, you seemed reluctant to go join them.  One of them beckoned you over, and once you got that welcome, you were happy to go hang out.

I understand how that feels.  I feel shy and awkward a lot of the time too.  It’s good to be friends with people who are more outgoing, because they’ll help pull you out of your head and invite you to have a seat with them.  Your dad just had a big birthday, and we made a special card for him that listed forty things we love about him.  One of the items I chose is that he’s always friendly and welcoming to everyone.  It’s a quality I admire in him and wish I could do better, so I want to help you find it in yourself and develop it.

Photo by Gary Clarke

We signed you up for baseball for the summer, your very first time doing a team sport ever.  When you were little, we asked you if you wanted to play soccer and tee-ball like so many kids do, but you always said no.  Once Tobin got involved, you became more interested, and having a big sports fan for a teacher last year also got you excited about baseball.  I hope it goes okay.  You’ll be in a league where kids pitch, which might be a bit intense, and I bet most of them will have significant playing experience.  We’ll see how it goes.  I’m proud of you for trying in any case.

We’re gearing up for our trip to Nashville, and I hope you and your brothers can handle the long drive without maiming one another.  You’re really excited to see your little cousin Aleks and meet Vera for the first time.  He wants to play baseball with you, so maybe you and  your dad and Skittergramps can sneak in some spring training before the official Little League season begins.  Unfortunately the Nashville area seems poised for a cool snap, so it won’t be much of a fun-in-the-sun trip.  Still, I’m sure we’ll manage to have a good time.  I even bought a box of junky fruit snacks, which are contraband around here.  Don’t let me forget your toothbrush.

I know it can be hard to be a kid, and it can be hard to be the oldest sibling.  We’re figuring out how to be parents to a nine-year-old, and we’re doing our best.  Let’s see if you can bring some of that happy-go-lucky guy your teacher sees home sometimes.

Love,

Mom

2/24/2017

The Tobin Times #66

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:39 pm

My sweet Tobin,

You’re officially five-and-a-half now, and you’re brimming with all the spunk and adventure that’s been stewing in you all along.  We’ve had some unseasonably warm days, and you’ve been using them to great advantage.  I can hardly keep you inside.  All you want to do is play in the creek, run around in the yard, pump on the swings, and shoot hoops.

You are a fun and friendly guy, and I admire your ability to make friends where ever you go.  We were at an event at Miles’s school a couple of weeks ago, and you dived right in and played with all the kids.  At the end, I came up to tell you it was time to go, and you were in the middle of scheduling a play date with a new friend you’d made.  Today when I picked you up from school, I didn’t see your good buddy Chase.  I asked if he wasn’t at school today, and you said he wasn’t, nor was your other good friend Scarlett.  You just shrugged and rattled off the names of a few other friends you played with.  As a mother who has trouble in social situations sometimes, it is such a relief to me that you do so well with other kids.  Miles had a play date yesterday, and at one point she wanted to play outside, but he thought it was too cold.  You pulled on your coat and headed out with her.  Of all the things I have to worry about in this world (they abound), you having friends is not among them.

Your basketball season has been a lot of fun, and you were especially happy to have Mubby and Skittergramps attend a game this week.  You played so well—you hustled in your typically high-energy way, you defended, you assisted, and you even made a basket.  Your team has gotten a lot better, and I know your dad is really proud to be your coach.  I wish I’d been able to watch more, but keeping Callum from running onto the court is a lot of work.  I saw more than I got to the other time I attended your game, because Mubby took Callum part of the time.  I definitely saw your sweaty curls and red cheeks flushed with exhaustion and happiness.

The recent warm weather has given us all a boost, though it’s tinged with the despairing fact that it may well be a product of climate change.  Every day it seems like there’s more disheartening news both from our state and national capitals.  As a pretty privileged family, it’s easy to feel insulated from the blows that many of our neighbors and fellow Americans are feeling, but one of these days it will be us.  I don’t know if it will be due to cuts to the public education system, threats to our natural resources, or just the deepening gloom that comes from reading scary news day after day.  It’s taken a toll on me, I know.  I’m sure I’ve been crabbier than usual, and part of that is the usual gloom that comes with winter.  We’re heading to Nashville in a couple of weeks, and a trip is always a good pick-Mom-up.  You’re excited to listen to audiobooks in the car and play baseball and basketball with your cousin.  I’m excited to shop at Publix.  I love Publix.

I also love you, more than Publix, even.  I was thinking recently about crying out of joy, which is kind of a funny thing to do, but I do it at pretty much every wedding I attend.  That’s usually just a watery eye and sniffle kind of thing, but I absolutely remember a time about six years ago when I sobbed for joy.  I was pregnant with you, and without getting too graphic here, I had reason to fear that I might be having a miscarriage.  We went to the hospital, and the medical staff hooked me up to the ultrasound machine.  I had steeled myself for bad news, trying to be stoic and accepting.  The blurry picture came onto the monitor.  I have a great respect for ultrasound technicians, because I have no idea how they can make any sense out of those blobs.  But even I could tell that the fluttering little pulse on that screen was a heartbeat, and it meant that you were okay.  That moment was the purest sob-for-joy I’ve ever felt.

Medical situations are often vulnerable ones for the patient, and I’m a person who works hard to keep calm and preserve her dignity.  At that moment, I didn’t worry about my dignity at all.  It’s a good thing they stock those rooms with Kleenexes.  I would have gotten tears and snot all over your dad’s shirt, otherwise.

You are my heartbeat, my little Tobin:  a burst of sunshine and warmth unrelated to fossil fuel abuse.  Let’s jump into spring together.

Love,

Mommy

 

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1/23/2017

The Tobin Times #65

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:39 pm

Dear Tobey-tobes,

Winter is tough for a wiggly young person such as yourself.  You’re an energetic guy, and we do our best to help you get your energy out with dance parties (recent hits:  “Billie Jean,” “Uptown Funk,” “All About that Bass”), and you just started basketball.  Your dad is your coach, and have been so excited to get started.  You’ve only had one practice so far, but you really enjoy wearing special shoes and athletic shorts.  You’re looking forward to working on skills beyond dribbling.  Your dad told me that after practice last week, you said to him, “I liked playing basketball, but I also liked having time with you.”  Things like that make it worth being on my own with the other guys on basketball practice nights.

You are such a kind little boy.  I can always count on you to share a treat with Callum, or to give me a hug or a kind word.  You’re quick to defend your special people:  I was telling you that one of Donald Trump’s worst qualities is that he throws a tantrum every time he gets a little bit upset.  Callum was overtired one day and throwing a fit over something small, and I said, “Callum, stop being a Trump.”  You got so offended.  You hugged him and said, “Callum’s not like Trump.  He’s a good boy.”  That’s especially impressive considering that Callum loves to grab big handfuls of your hair.  Your curls are pretty irresistible.

You’re doing fine at KinderFarm, though I think you’ll be happy when it’s time for kindergarten.  We have kindergarten registration coming up in the beginning of March, and you’re excited to go to the same school as Miles.  You really want to walk home from school with him, just the two of you.  I know you guys could handle it—you have a good sense of direction, and Miles has been doing it for months now.  Still, I like walking up the hill to get you, especially on nice days.

You’ll definitely be ready academically.  You’ve been doing some good early reading, and you’re really motivated to continue learning math.  This is largely because you have your own account on Prodigy, an online math game Miles introduced you to.  You’ve been practicing a lot of skills and really, really want a pro account.  We’ll see if you’re still interested when your birthday rolls around.

Photo by Gary Clarke

We’re going to Ames for a quick weekend visit, mostly because your dad is going out of town and I am not equipped to handle three squirmy little boys on my own.  You and Miles really aren’t too taxing anymore, though your dad and I were just talking about how it will be nice when you can read for pleasure.  Now, when we want Miles to do something constructive that doesn’t involve screen time, we can send him off to read one of his many books.  Your skills are growing, but you’re not quite at the stage yet where you can just pick up a book and stay happy for an extended time.  It will happen, I know, but for the time being, you’re still happiest with a video game or one of those weird YouTube videos of other people playing videos games.  What on earth is the appeal of those?

Another of your current obsessions is these two young women who are conjoined twins.  We don’t know them or anything, but we’ve been watching a documentary about them, and you can’t get enough.  In their particular physical situation, they have what looks mostly like a single body with two necks and heads.  Each girl controls an arm and a leg, which can make things like swinging a bat and driving complicated.  They have to work hard to coordinate their actions.  But as we watched a couple of nights ago, we noticed that they seemed to work in perfect synch in unconscious ways.  For example, when one girl gasped, both her hands went simultaneously and instantly to her face.  How did her sister know that she wanted to put her hands on her face?  We talked a little bit about how their bodies must have some kind of communication that goes beyond the voluntary tasks their brains command.  It’s all very interesting, and it gives us opportunities to talk about how they’re two separate people, actual individuals and we should think of them as such, even if they seem very different from the people we know.

This may be an obscure approach, but I try every day to remind you that people (especially women, but all people) are more than things that should be easily dismissed or objectified.  It’s something I have to remind myself too.  It’s easy to slip into an “us versus them” mentality, and I admit there are times I don’t think I can possibly find common ground with certain factions of the population.  But having kids forces a person to be better, because I want you to know that I’m trying and I expect the same of you.  I need to model being better, and you help push me there.

You’ve been enjoying games lately, including Uno, Go Fish, and Harry Potter Trivia.  You’d think a trivia game would be hard for someone with only rudimentary reading skills, but you have such a great imagination it doesn’t even matter.  When it’s your turn to ask me a question, you dutifully take a card out of the box and “read” me a multiple choice question.  For some reason my answer is always wrong.  I guess that’s what happens when your brain is in charge.

Last weekend I was in a staged reading of Shakespeare’s Richard III, which a group of concerned citizens put on as a fundraiser for the ACLU and an alternative activity for inauguration day.  It was a really fun adventure for me, since I love being involved with theater but just don’t have the time to commit to time-intensive projects right now.  I was afraid that you kids would be totally bored, but it turned out that two of your friends were also there, so you played with my phone while I shrieked and hollered as Lady Anne.  We talked about the play beforehand, and you had a hard time understanding why my character would agree to marry someone who killed her husband and father-in-law.  To be honest, I still don’t completely get it.  I understand that women’s power was very tenuous in those days, and the opportunity to be a queen might be impossible to decline.  Still, I went from cursing Richard to hell to accepting his proposal within one scene.  We both agreed that it was a pretty weird thing to do.

Because he kills just about anyone who is inconvenient to him, Richard later kills Anne.  We talked about that ahead of time too.  The afternoon of the reading, you said to me, “I think I know the answer to this, but…they’re not really going to kill you, are they?”  Sweet, sweet boy.  I assure you that I would never purposely volunteer for a project that resulted in anyone’s death.

Thank you for being a bright spot in my days, my beautiful Tobin.  Winter is hard, and the winter of 2017 is particularly hard, but you are a shining beam of love-light that goes straight into my brain-heart.  Even though I know it’s my brain that manages most of what happens in my body, I feel like there has to be something in all my cells and yours that makes you mine.  When you fall asleep at night with your curly little head on my arm, our cells mash into each other inextricably.

In case you didn’t know, I love you.

Mommy

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