The Tobin Times #67

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:40 pm

Dear Tobin,

We took a two-goal walk this morning.  The first goal was to go to HyVee and get some carrot seeds (the Co-op was out of the Seed Savers kind we wanted) and gardening gloves.  The second goal was to pick up litter along our path, because it’s Earth Day today, and you’re taking it very seriously.  You keep turning off lights in rooms where people are using them.  I’ve tried to explain to you that we have moved almost exclusively to LED bulbs in our house, so they use very little energy, but you’re still being kind of obsessive about it.  Still, the path looks nicer now that you tidied it up, and the ducks in the creek will surely appreciate not getting caught up in the big plastic bag you found.

Photo by Denny

As we walked, we enjoyed the vibrant fuchsia colors on the trees.  That seems to be a shade of pink you can see, unlike the pink of the hyacinths I told you to sniff.  “There aren’t any pink ones,” you told me.  Under the fuchsia blossoms, you told me that there are sunny people and moony people.  The sunny people, according to you, are colorful, while the moony people are black and white.  I’m not sure if you made that up or if you heard it somewhere, but I can agree with your assessment that you are both sunny and colorful.

Sometimes we wish you’d tone it down a bit.  If there’s someone running around the house with a kazoo in his mouth and a ukulele under his arm, shouting all the way, it’s probably you.  Your personality is as vivacious as your hair.  The only thing that can flatten it is when you flip upside down onto a chair and watch videos while balanced on your head.  I used to do that as a kid too.  Your dad doesn’t believe that it’s comfortable, but I get it.

We’re heading into your final month of preschool, and you absolutely ready to move forward.  We went to kindergarten roundup last week, and you’re so comfortable and self-assured that I didn’t worry about you at all.  It’s nice not to be one of the parents of the tearful, nervous kids.  I remember being almost as stressed-out as Miles was when he first got rounded up.  Now, we’re well-familiar with the school, the staff, and all the procedures.  You probably wouldn’t have even turned around to wave goodbye to me as you headed off to the kids’ portion of the event if the teacher hadn’t told you to.

You can be a lot to manage sometimes.  You decided to sing with Family Folk Machine this session, and while I’m very happy that you wanted to, you have a hard time staying focused during rehearsals.  It doesn’t help that you have friends there who are also prone to getting riled up, and a lot of mutual riling goes on.  You still have a hard time sitting through a whole movie.  But, like everyone, with these challenges come strengths, and I love how easily you make friends and adapt to new situations.  You truly are a sunny little fellow, and you brighten every room you enter.

We’re going to have some good fun this summer, including a trip to St. Louis to meet up with your cousins.  We had such a good time when we went before, you’re excited to show cousins Aleks and Vera the sights.  This time you have set the Botanical Gardens as high priority (I’m not sure why, but you really want to visit).  You’ve got a couple of summer classes lined up, and you’re looking forward to our usual summer destinations, like the library, the downtown fountain, the Flavor Ice stand, the Natural History Museum, and the swimming pool.

My little spring lamb, you are so fluffy and exciting.  You can be a stinker.  In fact, you’re being a stinker right this moment by using an air pump to squirt Callum with air when he clearly doesn’t like it, and I’ve asked you not to several times.  Nobody knows better than you exactly what to say to irritate Miles.  And yet, we always forgive you.  We’re all going to miss you when you start all-day school next fall.  Let’s try to be patient with each other, and I’ll try to smile as much as you do.




The Tobin Times #66

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.




The Tobin Times #65

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.





The Tobin Times #64

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.



The Tobin Times #63

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:11 pm

My dear Tobin,

I’m writing this late, on Christmas day, because we’ve been so busy getting prepared for the holidays (and being sick) that I hadn’t gotten your letter written till now.  We began our family celebration on the morning of the 23rd.  We organized it with Santa to come to our house early, since we’d be traveling on the traditional days.  You orchestrated a very nice letter to him, and together we made Lemonasaurus Rex cookies to set out.  We figured Santa might get a little tired of the expected chocolate chip and gingerbread.  As we made the cookies, you suggested a secret ingredient.  You always love to add secret ingredients when we cook, and it’s usually just a little extra vanilla or almond extract.  This time you suggested a squeeze of Meyer lemon juice.  You had picked out a Meyer lemon at the grocery store recently, and we still had half of one left after juicing part of it for a round of cocktails.  The juice added the perfect delicate, floral touch to the cookies.

These days have been busy and tiring but also lots of fun.  We’ve watched a lot of Christmas movies, including your new favorite, Home Alone.  I knew you’d love that one, especially the parts where Kevin plays all kinds of violent tricks on the burglars.  You can be surprisingly tender sometimes, though, and you had to run and hide on the stairs a couple of times.

You got a ukulele for Christmas, which was your top wishlist item (actually tied for first place with one of those paddles with a ball attached).  You’ve been strumming it around the house, and it we brought it with us to Ames.  Aunt Suzy taught you the G and G7 chords, and you have been serenading us with great enthusiasm.  We had a fun time with Nana and Papa and the rest of the Beary gang last night, and you got to spend some time with the cousins on that side of the family.  Of course you got presents there too, and most excitingly, you won prizes in bingo and a raffle.  You’re having fun with a jump rope, some cool Pokémon-themed cards and toys, and some science toys.  You also got a hand-held math game, and you’ve been ripping through the addition and subtraction.

What you want more than anything is to go to kindergarten, and you were pretty bummed when I had to tell you that you were incorrect in your assumption that a new calendar year meant it was time to go to kindergarten.  I know you’re ready in a lot of ways, and you’re going to love being a kindergartner once fall comes, but I’m still glad to have you around in the afternoons for now.

We had a fun trip to West High to watch their production of The Wizard of Oz.  You really enjoyed it, and not just the treats at intermission.  You liked how the dog was named Toto (Callum’s name for you), and how they had a real dog to play him.  You liked the music and the dancing and the special effects.  We’re going to have to go to more high school productions, because they really did a good job, and it was a fun way to spend the afternoon with you and Miles.  We have a bigger-deal theatrical date coming up in March, a trip to the newly reopened Hancher to see Circus Oz.  I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I think it’s a Cirque de Soleil-style acrobatics-centric circus.  You’re having a hard time understanding that Oz in this case refers to Australia, not The Wizard of Oz, but we have a few more months to help you sort that out.

Photo by Denny

You are still an active and outdoorsy kid.  Your dad signed you up for a basketball team, and that’s going to start in a couple of weeks.  Until then, you get your wiggles out by doing chores at Kinderfarm and playing outside whenever we let you.  We’ve had great fluctuations in weather over the last month, from a day when it hit -11F to today, with a projected high of 53F.  You’re always grumpy when you have to stay in to play at school.  You and Miles made a cool snowman on a recent snowy Saturday, of course followed by hot chocolate.  Lately you’ve even been drinking the hot chocolate, not just slurping up the whipped cream and telling me you’re done.

Photo by Gary Clarke

Even though brothers can be frustrating, you frequently impress me with how kind and generous you are to Callum.  You always want to go in to play with him as soon as he wakes up from his nap, and he can always count on you to share a treat you’re eating.  We were at Dairy Queen the other day after Miles’s piano lesson, and Callum finished his vanilla cone and still wanted more.  You offered him some of your cookie dough Blizzard, which he had never tried before.  He got a big spoonful, expecting plain vanilla ice cream like he always gets.  He chomped down on a bite of cookie dough, pointed at his mouth in shock and delight, and said, “Treat!”  You cracked up and were so proud of yourself for helping Callum have such a fun surprise.

You were also very proud when Miles opened and loved the Christmas present you picked out for him:  some kind of superhero robot toy with a spinning hand.  You guys play a tournament game where toys battle each other, and it was the perfect addition to that.  He got you some pretty cool Pokémon cards.  It was really fun watching you two be excited to gift gifts to the other.

Your current favorites:  pepperoni pizza (still; this has the makings of a lifelong favorite), Jake and the Neverland Pirates, glasses of milk, playing outside, Pokémon, and anything physical and active.  You’re your dad’s little sports buddy, and you guys have a lot of fun watching Hawkeye basketball together, playing catch, and being on teams.  Signs are pointing to your dad being your basketball coach.  So it goes.

Photo by Denny

I love you so much, my spritely little guy.  Thank you for all the laughs




The Tobin Times #62

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:44 pm

Hello, sunshine-face.

It’s fall for real now, which means less outside playtime and more running around in circles in the basement.  I’ve been doing that because we’re waiting for my treadmill to be repaired, and you’re doing it because you think it’s fun.  We’ve smacked into each other more than once as we dodge the rocking horse and Exersaucer.  I think you’re figuring out how to time your movements so as not to interfere with mine as I come around a corner.  It will all be safer once the treadmill gets repaired.  I wonder if you’ll keep running around while I run in place.  That would be pretty good entertainment for me.

Your typically cheerful disposition has remained so, despite a general feeling of bummed-out from the adults in the house.  We’ve been going through a rough time in terms of national politics.  We try to strike a balance between honesty about our concerns and not freaking you out.  I know I’ve been stressed out and short-tempered more than usual, and I’m sorry for that.  You’re so kind and empathetic, you know just when I need a little extra love.  I know it’s not your job to take care of me, so I don’t depend on you for my happiness, but I do like it when you come say some sweet words to me and give me extra cuddles.  You’re my joy as well as a primary source of my exhaustion.

We had your parent-teacher conference at preschool last week.  I was a little nervous going in, because we weren’t completely happy with how things had been going. I think part of the problem is that you truly would have been academically ready for kindergarten.  I hope it wasn’t a mistake holding you back.  I think it’s sometimes frustrating for you to be in a class with littler kids who aren’t ready to do the things you’re doing.  Combined with your naturally competitive nature (which isn’t helped by how hard you work to keep up with Miles), you can sometimes clash with others in your preschool environment.  You often want to talk about Pokémon Go or go collect chicken feathers while your teacher wants you to be doing some other task.  She isn’t happy about you doing your own thing, which isn’t my favorite approach to teaching—I’d rather she sought out resources to help you explore your interests instead of getting frustrated with you for not caring about the same activities as the younger kids. But you have gotten more and more settled into your current school, including making some good friends, so I think we’ll keep you there.  We’ll work on challenging you at home and working on your social skills as well.  This won’t be the last time in your life when you’ll not be interested in what’s happening in school, and it’s important to learn how to handle those feelings respectfully.

You’ve gotten super excited about math lately.  You found a set of addition worksheets that your dad printed out for Miles when he was in first grade, and with just a little help to get you going, you completed them all and demanded more.  You call it your homework and spend all kinds of time counting and figuring.  You haven’t been pursuing reading as strongly as you did last month, but you definitely know all your letters and sounds.  You have gotten to that stage where you want to write all by yourself, but you need almost every word spelled out for you.  That can be pretty time-consuming, but it’s good letter practice, and I love seeing you commit your ideas to paper.

I got frustrated with you this morning, because I had gone downstairs for just a couple of minutes to put laundry in the washer in preparation for our Thanksgiving travels.  You ran to the basement door and yelled, “MOM!  Callum’s playing in the toilet water and he’s getting it everywhere!”  I yelled back, “Well, stop him!”  I quietly hoped that at least it was a flushed toilet (sometimes you and Miles forget to do that), finished up the laundry as quickly as I could, and dashed upstairs.  I found Callum splashing around in the toilet (yes, flushed, thank goodness) with you standing there saying, “Stop!  Stop!”

Apparently I needed to be more specific.

I got mad at Miles, too, because he had just been sitting in his bed reading, oblivious to the whole debacle.  Sometimes I forget that you guys are just little kids, but other times I think:  shouldn’t you, little though you may be, have a bit more sense?

We’re all works in progress, I guess.  You work on having more sense and I’ll work on keeping myself under control when things get outrageous.

Your current favorites:  Pokémon Go and Yo-Kai (both of which are Japanese shows/toys/concepts about little creatures with various powers, though you assure me they’re very different), pepperoni pizza, rearranging furniture into tenuous “houses” for yourself and Callum, putting a blanket over the entrance to your bed to make a fort and reading bedtime stories in there by flashlight, setting goals (usually attainable, e.g., “My goal is to wear my pajamas all day”), and trying to one-up Miles.

You wear me out, Tobin, but you build me up too.  I hope I can do the same for you.  I’ll work on giving you what you need and trying to form you into a reasonable person.  You keep telling me you love me a million trillion quadrillion and I think we’ll be okay, because that’s how much I love you too.





The Tobin Times #62

Filed under: — Aprille @ 12:12 pm

My dear Tobin,

It’s fall for sure now, and you are a leaf enthusiast.  You and your dad are out raking leaves right now in preparation for the suck truck, and yesterday you spent some time gathering leaves into a pile for jumping.  I’m not sure if you actually jumped in them, because I was gone when you did it, and they were still in a pile last I checked.  You love to collect pretty leaves as we walk to get Miles from school, and you were so happy when your favorite tree in our yard turned yellow again that you went up and hugged it.

While your general personality is still cheerful and high-energy, you’ve had a few bouts of difficult-to-understand moodiness lately.  Sometimes we’ll all laugh at something funny you said, not at your expense but just because you’re cute, and you’ll get really angry.  You say you don’t like it when people laugh at you.  I’m very sorry we hurt your feelings.  We need to help you understand the difference between appreciative laughter and malicious laughter.  You’re a smart, witty, fun kid who deserves to thrive, and we want to support you in that.

You’ve taken an interest in reading, and you can now get through Hop on Pop pretty well all by yourself.  You’re extremely proud of this new development, and Callum knows that Hop on Pop is your special book.  He brought it to me today, and I thought he wanted me to read it to him.  No, he just said Toto!” and went on his way.

You’re growing a lot, and even though playground and soccer season is coming to an end, you and Miles have broken out the Charles Atlas book and have been doing calisthenics in your room.  Your squats are really more like arm swings at this point, but it’s pretty cute to watch you guys jump around in your underpants.  You’re starting another round of swim lessons this week, so that will be good for your long-term development and short-term energy burning.

Our recent mini-vacation to St. Louis was a big hit.  You went crazy for the City Museum, which was pretty much invented with you in mind.  You scrambled through tunnels, climbed ladders, and made a new friend in the ball pit.  You also loved the fact that your bedroom in our rental townhouse had its own wall-mounted TV.  That’s something we don’t do at home (not that you’re suffering from a scarcity of screen time), so it seemed pretty exotic to watch cartoons while lying in bed.

At the St. Louis Zoo, you especially loved the lions.  We got to touch the skin from a real lion’s head.  The lion had died of natural causes at an old age evidenced by the grey in its mane.  You stood for a long time and watched the skinny male lion and the robust female lion.  We learned from the zoo employee that their size difference is due to the fact that the male is so devoted to the female that he gives her almost all the food.  That reminded me a little of you—I can always count on you to share with Callum, often without me even having to ask.  You’re lion-like in a lot of ways.  I’m no astrology proponent, but I believe you’re a Leo, and you certainly have a glorious golden mane.  You can roar pretty loudly, too.

You have a tender little heart.  Recently we went out to eat at a long-time family favorite restaurant, Mekong.  As soon as we got there, we could tell something was different–they had changed the decor significantly, and the menu was one photocopied page instead of the usual folding book of Vietnamese, Thai, and other southeast Asian choices.  We learned that it had changed ownership, and while you and Miles still got to order your favorite beef and snow peas (which you said was good), my old favorite Vietnamese chicken with sweet basil was no longer available.  You got sad and grumpy during dinner, and I couldn’t figure out why, until finally I coaxed it out of you:  you were worried about me because I couldn’t have my special dish anymore.  Poor little guy.  I assured you that I’d try to learn to make it at home.  It will be a fun project for us to try to figure it out together.

Your current favorites:  Pokémon Go, the Hulk, Lara Bars, pumpkin bars, everything Halloween, trips to Costco, helping your dad rake leaves (and jumping in the piles), and squishing yourself into the little-kid seat on the double stroller.

Keep smiling, my little cub.  I love you like a lion loves a T-bone steak.





The Tobin Times #61

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:39 pm

Dear Tobin,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




The Tobin Times #60

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:20 pm

My sweet, stubborn, lovable, maddening little Tobin,

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

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

Photo by Denny

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Denny

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Gary Clarke




The Tobin Times #59

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:15 pm

Dear Tobin,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Denny

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

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

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

Photo by Gary Clarke

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

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

Photo by Gary Clarke

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




The Tobin Times #58

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:40 am

Tobin, Tobin, Tobin,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




The Tobin Times #57

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:56 pm

My little sunshine boy Tobin,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Gary Clarke

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







The Tobin Times #56

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:48 pm

Dear Tobin,

Sometimes it’s hard being the middle brother.  You’ve been struggling lately with not being quite to the same level as Miles—he gets to do some things you can’t do yet, and it’s tough.  When you’re feeling grumpy that Miles gets to do special, creative homework projects, you can’t seem to remember all the activities you and I do when we’re home together.  Miles is jealous that you’ll get to go to Tot Time this summer while he’s at his summer class, but you just wish you were taking computer programming too.

You’re not the baby, either, and your dad and I expect a certain level of behavior and self-control from you.  That can be tough too.  When we ask you to pick up the socks that you always, always leave in the middle of the living room, you sigh deeply and say “Why do I have to do everything around here?”

You got a beginners’ chemistry set recently, and you were not very interested in the suggested experiments.  You preferred to mix the ingredients together willy-nilly.  This kind of chafed my first-born brain.  I was worried the mixtures you made wouldn’t do anything exciting, and you’d lose your interest in science and the whole thing would have been a waste.  Everybody knows that vinegar and baking soda do cool stuff when you mix them together; couldn’t we stick to something with known results?  No, you insisted on dumping in half a bottle of vegetable oil.

Honestly, the vinegar + baking soda + vegetable oil turned out a lot cooler than the prescribed experiment I managed to talk you into doing (growing squishy crystals).  The oil kept the baking soda and vinegar physically separated for a while, so you got to watch the baking soda slowly make its way through the oil layer.  When it hit the vinegar below, it bubbled up through the oil again and looked pretty awesome indeed.

You are a seriously spunky kid.  Sometimes your energy can be hard to harness, but other times you get some impressive things done.  Your dad picked up a used bike for you, and largely due to your experience on the Strider bike, you can now officially ride a two-wheeler, no training wheels at all.  You still need some help stopping and starting, but it’s pretty cool watching such a little guy tool down the path like it’s no big deal.  I worry for your physical safety, but I admire your emotional resilience.  Your have your moments of tearful frustration, but you’re not a moper.  You pick yourself up and move along.  I hope you learn to use the brakes someday, both literal (on your bike) and figurative (on your energy levels as you run laps around the house at bedtime), but I’m also glad you live a life of excitement.

When I manage to get a hold of you, you still love snuggles and hugs.  One good thing about the coming summer humidity is that your curls will be back in their full glory.  Feeling your fluffy little head against my cheek as I cuddle you to sleep at night is one of my favorite things.  You’ve even taken an interest in showers lately, not coincidentally because Miles shifted from baths to showers.  Your bedtime curls are often damp, whether from shower water or sweat.

You’re very imaginative, which manifests itself in great drawings and stories, but also in some questionable tales you present as fact.  I always send you to the bathroom one last time before lights-out, because your dad and I decided that we’re not going to buy Pull-ups anymore.  Ninety percent of the time you do great, but the other night, I’m pretty sure you didn’t tell the truth about that final bathroom trip.  The whole event seemed suspiciously quiet to me, but when I asked you if you really went, you swore that you did and that you just hadn’t flushed.  That night you had an accident.  The next morning your dad and I debriefed the incident, and he said he saw you walk past the bathroom but not go in.  Suspicious.  I’m not sure why you would lie about that.  Maybe it’s just about asserting independence and control over your own body.  I hope you figured out that there are better options.

Your current favorites:  playing computer and video games of all sorts with Miles (Minecraft, Mario, King’s Quest), riding your bike to Heyn’s for ice cream, swinging on the monkey bars, our botany walks home from school (you know all about the various flowering plants of the neighborhood and the difference between deciduous trees and conifers), and playing with friends.  You make friends where ever you go, and I’m not worried one bit about you feeling lonely in this world.  We went to Dubuque last weekend to see cousins Max and Foster in The Music Man, and before the show, we had some hangout time with extended family.  You jumped right into the the Capture the Flag game like you’d been playing for years.  Sometimes I think you’re more socially adept than I am.

Stay brave and smiling and sweet, my little Tobin.  Some of the best things happen when you ditch the instructions and get a little willy-nilly.




The Tobin Times #55

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:38 pm

My special Tobin,

We’ve had quite a month.  The biggest event was, of course, our spring break trip to the Florida Keys.  We went back to our favorite spot:  Key Colony Beach on Marathon Key.  It was truly a wonderful trip.  We didn’t actually do very much—we got together with a couple of different sets of cousins, so that was fun, but mostly we just rotated between the ocean, the pool, and the condo.

Because it wouldn’t be a month with a vowel in it without you giving me a near heart attack, you did try to go into the pool with no water wings once.  You’ve been improving in your swimming lessons, but you’re still not quite ready to be in over your head with no flotation device.  I was standing on the edge of the pool, Callum in my arms, and you and Miles got in.  You just walked right in past the shallow zone.  Luckily Miles was able to haul you back, so I didn’t have to either set Callum down to go in for you or drag him in too.

After that, I was a lot more careful to make sure you had your water wings on at all water-adjacent times.  You jumped off the edge of the pool over and over, shouting “One, two, two and a half, three!” each time.  Some fellow condo dwellers got a real kick out of you and said, “Hey, there’s Two-and-a-Half” when they saw you around the complex.

You did a good job on our travels, despite a brief spell of motion sickness on our way back to the airport on the very last day.  Otherwise, it was all smooth.  An iPad with Minecraft can keep you entertained for a long time.  You and your dad and Miles did a lot of iPad checkers, too, during our middle-of-the-day resting hours.

Despite our attempts to keep you out of the peak sun hours, you did get a slight sunburn on your cheeks on our first day.  The cloud cover tricked us, and you ended up a little pink.  It seems to have healed up, though, and your freckles are showing through.

We decided on Kinderfarm as your destination for next year.  You’ll start mid-summer with a two-mornings-per-week schedule, and a friend from your class this year will also be attending during that session.  She’ll be heading off to kindergarten in the fall, but I’m hoping that having a friend there will help you get started, and you’ll make an easy transition into the fall schedule even after she leaves.  I’m not too concerned, really.  You loved Kinderfarm when we visited, describing it as “awesome.”  You make friends easily and do a good job transitioning to new situations, so I’m sure it will be great.

You still get frustrated sometimes, and you’ve been pulling the “That’s not fair” argument.  Your dad and I have been trying to emphasize the “life isn’t fair” perspective (it’s amazing how easily one slips into the parent tropes), and I’ve reminded you that in the grand scheme, being a middle class white male American is very much not fair and very much to your advantage.  That’s hard for you to see sometimes, especially when Miles gets to do something you don’t.  Maybe that will get easier once Callum starts wanting to do things you’re allowed to do but he isn’t.  Then we’ll have his wrath to deal with.  Please help.

Mostly, though, you maintain your sunny attitude.  Your bad moods never last long.  You’re not a moper, thank goodness.  You can be in tears one moment and trotting down the hallway singing the next.  You still like to snuggle and have assured me that you’ll do all your education locally so you can always be my cuddly little guy.  I won’t hold you to that, but I admit I won’t be disappointed if it’s the case.

You’re smart and spunky and hilarious.  You’ve been saying zinger after zinger lately, and it’s all I can do to get them written down before you say another one.  You’re open-hearted and kind, and I’m lucky to have a little guy like you.




The Tobin Times #54

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:43 pm

My little Tobes,

You’re four-and-a-half, little guy!  We celebrated with brownies for everyone at home and a special lunch date for you, Callum and me after school yesterday.  Our lunch dates are one of the biggest reasons I’m glad we’re holding off for another year before you start kindergarten.  We’ll still have lunch together during weekends and breaks, but I’m not quite ready for you to be a lunch-box kid yet.  Yesterday we went to Panda Express, where you got your favorite broccoli beef.  You used to be a big broccoli eater, but lately you’ve been ever-so-kindly sharing most of your broccoli with me and focusing on the beef and rice.  It’s okay.  You still like lots of other healthy and interesting things.

You’re funny and witty and curious.  The other day, your dad and I were urging you to get ready for school.  We’d gotten you over to the area where your coat and shoes were, but instead of putting them on, you whined, “But I want to do more math.”  It reminded me of a fond memory from long before your birth, at the wedding reception in Norway of our friends Kaspar and Sabine.  Reminiscing about Kaspar’s youth, his gruff, sea-faring Norwegian father said, “Ah we raising a nehrd?” Nerds rule, though, and Kaspar turned out fine.  If you’re going to be a nerd, you’ll be one of the very best kind:  the sparkly-eyed, quick-to-smile type.  Think Neil deGrasse Tyson, not Urkel.

You were “Star of the Week” at your school, and that was pretty cool for you.  You got to decorate a poster just like Miles did when he was Star of the Week for his class.  You said your favorite foods are pasta and bagels (though you seem to see bagels as more of a cream cheese vehicle than an actual foodstuff) and your hobbies are Minecraft, cooking, computers, and snuggling Callum.  You also did a lot of hard work making hand-made Valentines for each of your classmates and teachers.  Of your three teachers, there are two whom you like a lot, and one you’re not so crazy about.  We doled out the work of making Valentines over several days so as not to overwhelm you, and on the last day, you’d finished all the cards except one.  “Okay,” I said.  “You just have to make Ms. [redacted]’s card now and you’ll be all done.”

“I need to take a break,” you said.

I convinced you to press on, and you got the cards done.  You did a good job writing everyone’s names (with help, but you did it) and signing your own.  You haven’t quite embraced the left-to-right requirements of English.  Sometimes if you can’t fit a whole word on a line, you just write the remaining letters where ever there’s room.  It makes perfect sense to you, but it can be a little hard to follow.  You’re working on it.

You’re high-energy and irrepressible.  You can be a little on the wild side sometimes, especially at night.  I don’t know why you get a surge every evening before bed, but for some reason, that’s the moment you pick to run laps up and down the hallway.  You also like to curl your toes around the boards under the top bunk and dangle, or turn around so your head is at the foot of the bed and you can kick Miles while I attempt to read Harry Potter out loud.  I think Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a little boring to you, but Miles would never let us quit now.  I’m hoping you don’t pay too close of attention so the deaths in the upcoming books aren’t too traumatic.

Your parent-teacher conference is tomorrow, and I’ve promised you boys that we can have dinner at Noodles & Company if your teachers have good things to say about your progress.  You warned me that you’re “kind of good, kind of bad” at school.  That’s the same thing you said last time, and when I asked you what you do that’s bad, you said you sometimes get out more than one toy.  Fortunately your teacher didn’t seem to think this was the first sign of a descent into delinquency.  If so, and she looked around our house, she’d be sure you were doomed.

Your current favorites:  vanilla ice cream cones, Wild Kratts, Minecraft, Berenstain Bears books at bedtime, coming in to see Callum the moment he wakes up in the morning or from a nap, writing words, and pepperoni pizza.  You also seem to enjoy haircuts, though I’m glad to report that you never let the hairstylist take all your curls.

I’m so happy you’re mine, sweet Tobin.  We’re counting down the days until our Florida Keys trip, and I hope you’ll take more early morning walks on the beach with me.  I can’t wait to see the sunshine bouncing of your hair and the water reflecting in your eyes.

Photo by Denny




The Tobin Times #53

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:07 pm

Dear Tobin,

What a drab, dull winter we’ve been having.  We haven’t had much of the right kind of snow for building snowpeople or snowballs.  It’s been too cold to play outside but not quite cold enough to cancel school.  We’re all counting down the days till spring break and our Florida Keys trip.  You’ve managed to keep a cheerful face through most of it, though.  You are a spirited and energetic guy, which means you sometimes suffer when you don’t get chances to run around outside, but it also keeps you buoyant through bleak days.

We keep our chins up with lunch dates, time at the Sycamore Mall indoor play area, and family movie nights.  Last night was The Goonies, which you were kind of grumpy about at first, since you wanted to watch The Incredibles again.  But after I showed you the trailer, you thought it looked pretty good, and both you and Miles ended up loving it.

Your biggest area of expertise right now is animals.  You like to watch Wild Kratts while Callum naps in the afternoons, and it’s educational mission has certainly been successful with you.  You can name all sorts of varieties of animals I’ve never heard of, and you know all about which ones are predators and which ones are prey, and which habitats they all live in.  Your dad was leafing through National Geographic yesterday, and you looked over his shoulder.  “Is that a spotted [something]?”  I forget what the animal was, and I can’t go check right now because Callum is napping next to me and I don’t want to wake him up.  But it most certainly was the spotted whatever.

You got a wild animals calendar for Christmas, and of course you want to be just like Miles and cross off days as you complete them.  Unfortunately, you haven’t grasped the left-to-right, top-to-bottom way we visually depict time in the western world.  It’s a hard concept to explain, and you are not one to accept “That’s just the way it is” as an answer.  In your mind, right-to-left and back-to-front makes just as much sense.  Anyone relying on your calendar would think February was already over.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  February’s the worst.

We just measured you yesterday, and you’ve grown several inches in the last year.  You’re still one of the smaller kids in your class, though, and I don’t think you’ll end up a bruiser.  That’s okay.  Little guys don’t play football.  You’re a little bullet of energy and sometimes recklessness, so anything that holds you back is a good thing.

You’re a great shopping buddy.  Your HyVee girlfriend is back from an extended post-surgical leave, so you were happy (but strangely shy) to see her again.  We went to Costco the other day, and you talked me into buying cookies despite my plan not to, since I’m avoiding sugar.  You decided to hide the cookie package from me to help me not eat them.  You hid under your bed, about two inches in.  I found them pretty fast, but I’m not going to tell you that, because you were so proud of how supportive you were being of my healthy lifestyle goals.

Of course, at dinner last night, you said, “You should have sugar, mom.  It’s really good.”

Your current favorites:  peanut butter toast, cereal (Raisin Nut Bran with the raisins and almonds picked out or Honey Nut Cheerios) and milk, icy orange juice, pepperoni pizza, running around your room like a wildman while I try to read Harry Potter to you and Miles, Minecraft, taking off your socks, and singing crazy songs to make Callum laugh.

Photo by Gary Clarke

You still fit perfectly into my lap, and I’m always happy to have you there.  Sometimes it gets a little crowded when two or more kids are trying to scramble onto me, but you and your brothers are pretty good squishers if I must get squished.  You are hilarious and sunshiny and indomitable.  You are my Tobin and I love you.

You might be slightly insane, but I still love you.




The Tobin Times #52

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:37 pm

My sweet Tobin,

This morning, the first Monday of winter break, I woke up and went in to check on you and Miles.  I had a brief moment of panic when I looked in your bed and couldn’t find you.  Had you gotten up without making any noise?  Were you lonely or scared?  Then I looked a bit higher, and there you were, cuddled up with Miles in the top bunk (twin sized, by the way).  You just don’t like to sleep alone.  I suggested that once Callum is bigger, maybe he could sleep in the bottom bunk with you.  You liked that idea.

You and Miles and I have been reading the Harry Potter series together before bed at night, and I’m afraid you’re missing half of it because you often fall asleep before we finish the chapter.  You’re an all-or-nothing guy at bedtime.  You get so hyper and wild and drive your dad and me crazy when we’re trying to get you to put on pajamas and brush your teeth, but as soon as you’re cozy in bed, you’re out cold.  I guess it takes a lot of energy to be a nut-ball.

You are so, so excited for Christmas.  I haven’t put any presents under the tree, because I’m afraid Callum would destroy them, but you’re still pretty tortured.  You helped me pick out the tree, and you’ve helped me wrap some gifts.  You’ve been begging every day for a week for me to tell you what your presents are, but I haven’t budged.  We’re having our family Christmas morning tomorrow before we head out to Paul and Jackie’s for the day and Mubby and Skitter’s later that night.  I went rather light on the toys when shopping for you, knowing between all the grandparents and other generous relatives, you’d probably get plenty.  I hope you remember that and don’t get grumpy when you unwrap books and clothes.

Though we haven’t decided 100%, we’re (by which I mean “I’m”) leaning strongly toward holding off on kindergarten.  I know you’d be academically ready, but you’re still a little guy, one of the smaller ones in your preschool class.  Because it seems like you’ve attended every other preschool in town, I think we might send you to Kinderfarm.  It’s one of those that people often mention when we chat with other parents, and I think you’d get a kick out of the animal care and gardening in combination with traditional preschool activities.  We’ll have to go visit it and maybe sign you up for a summer program.  It’s still a ways off, but time has a way of passing without my permission.

The truth is that I really like having lunch dates with you and spending time together in the afternoons.  I like going to grocery shopping with you and playing in your room with you and Callum.  All day at kindergarten seems like such a big load for a little kid.  Also, I try to take the long view on things like this.  I remember one time in the relatively recent past I was invited but not required to go to some event at my grandparents’ house.  My dad (you know him as Skitter) emphasized that I didn’t have to go if I didn’t want to.  I told him, “I doubt I’m going to look back on my life and think, ‘I’m sure glad I didn’t go see Grammy and Pop-Pop that time.'”  That’s how I’m thinking of this decision for you.  I doubt I’m going to look back on my life and think, “I’m sure glad I pushed Tobin off to kindergarten when I wasn’t sure he was ready and missed all those afternoons of sharing bagels and making forts and playing puppies in bed.”

Honestly, you’d be fine either way.  One thing your dad has pointed out is that if you go to kindergarten next year, you’ll overlap with Miles for a year in high school.  True, that might be kind of cool, but if you wait a year, you’ll overlap with Callum.  All these things seem so important right now, but I suppose they’ll work out one way or another.  I remember being pregnant with each of you boys and everything being so mysterious.  We didn’t know your names yet or what you’d look like or what your personalities would be.  I thought, “How funny that a year from now, we’ll be calling this baby by his name and it will seem totally normal.”  That’s how all fraught decisions are, I guess.  You stew and fret (or rather, I stew and fret)—hey, are the words fret and fraught related?—and then it ends up working out no matter which way you go.

You’re spunky and funny and good at making friends.  You told me that one of your teachers, Ms. Maria, said you’re a smart cookie.  You certainly are.  Our annual holiday letter was mostly funny things you said over the year.  The best one was about a black mamba in a lunch bag.

Keep up the high spirits, Tobes.  You just might find a toy or two under the tree tomorrow morning.




The Tobin Times #51

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:53 pm

My sweet Tobin,

What an imaginative little guy you are.  Every day it seems like you want to pretend to be something new.  Sometimes you’re a wolf puppy, ready to snuggle with your wolf mommy in your den (aka your bed in fort mode, with a blanket draped over the edge of the top bunk).  Sometimes you’re a mommy to your baby doll, Aleks.  Sometimes you’re a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, sometimes you’re Harry Potter, sometimes you’re a Black Bot Boy.

Speaking of Harry Potter, we just finished reading the first book in the series together with Miles.  You’re probably a bit young, but you’re pretty brave, and there’s no way you’d let Miles access to something without demanding it for yourself.  Now that the weather is colder, we’ve been driving to school more often.  I miss walking on Pretty Valley with you, but the drive gives us a few minutes to talk about Harry Potter.  You tell me about your favorite parts and ask me questions.  For a while there you were pronouncing Voldemort as “Wal-Mart,” which was pretty hilarious.  Several times I’ve gotten so involved in our conversation that I’ve missed the turn to get to school.

School seems to be going great.  We had your first parent-teacher conference a couple of weeks ago, and your teacher says you’re doing very well in both the academic and social arenas.  She said you’ve gotten to be good friends with two other boys, Gavin and Landon.  She also said you’re already doing kindergarten level work, which doesn’t help our conundrum about whether to send you to real kindergarten in the fall. I think your dad wants to send you, but I’m more inclined to wait another year.  We think of you as an aggressive kid, but your soccer experience this fall showed us that you’re actually more intimidated by bigger kids than we thought you’d be.  You’re on the physically small side anyway, and you could potentially be in class with kids who are a whole year older than you.  Also, down the road, I don’t know that I want you to be one of the last of your friends to get a drivers license.  I worry about you getting driven around by yahoos.  I can’t guarantee that you won’t be a yahoo when you’re 16, but at least I know you’ll be a smart yahoo.

On the other hand, I don’t want you getting turned off by school because it’s too easy, which I’ve heard can happen if a kid is old for his class.  We try to do a lot of brain-stimulating stuff at home, so I hope that could potentially offset any classroom boredom.  It’s a pickle.  I just don’t know.

Selfishly, I wouldn’t mind keeping you in half-day preschool for another year, just so I get more time with you.  You’re not going to be a little guy forever, and I don’t want to throw away that time together.  You’re a good shopping buddy.  We have our haunts:  Hy-Vee, Panera, Costco.  You’re a friend to everyone you meet.

One of the biggest points of pride for me has been your new membership in Family Folk Machine.  We had our fall concerts over the last couple of weeks, and I couldn’t have been happier as I watched and listened to you sing your solos and join in with the choir on the group songs.  You know all the words to all the songs, though sometimes you do your own variations.  You were brave and sang loud and clear.  You were the littlest FFM member this fall, and I know you’re just going to get better.  Your only issue right now is that you want a different colored shirt.  You’ve been wearing Miles’s old red one that he outgrew, and I don’t know if it’s the color that bothers you or you just want to strike out on your own.  Either way, I think it’s fine to get you a new one.  Too bad you didn’t mention it until after this season’s order had gone out.

Photo by Gary Clarke

We’ve had our challenges this month, especially with you listening when your dad and I ask you to do things you don’t want to do (e.g., get ready for school, get ready for bed).  Our system is that you get two “nice asks”—that is, the initial request and one polite reminder.  After that, we find ourselves yelling.  We don’t like to yell at you.  I hate being angry and I just want our days to run smoothly.  But for some reason the two nice asks often don’t sink in.  It’s always the worst at the end of the day, when everyone else is tired and you seem to find new reserves of energy for running in circles with no pants on.

And yet, once you finally snuggle into bed and we’ve read our stories and turned off the light, you’re old cold in just a few minutes.  I can pull my arm out from under your head and gracelessly plop you into a zone of the bed where you’re unlikely to fall out, all without disturbing your sleep.  You’re an all-or-nothing kind of guy, little Tobes.  You wear me out, but you’re still my special little guy.

Photo by Gary Clarke






The Tobin Times #50

Filed under: — Aprille @ 6:23 pm

My dear Tobin,

Fifty months, huh?  That sounds momentous.  You’ve been momentous lately, too.  Earlier today, you were being so helpful.  You kept an eye on Callum and played with him while I worked on dinner.  You made a special spot for him on the bed (“with a blanket feature,” you added, as if to entice him) and snuggled him and made him laugh.  Then, not two hours later, you were being an absolute jerk to Miles and fairly unpleasant to me too.  Such is life with a four-year-old.

It’s nice that it’s no longer my first time parenting a four-year-old, because I remember when your brother went through the same stage.  I was afraid he was going to be a terrible person forever, that he’d never have any friends, that he’d never find love, that he’d have to work in finance or something.  But he’s turned things around and is actually pretty cool most of the time now.  I have faith that the same will become of you.

Photo by Denny

Look at that little face.  How could you be anything but perfect?

You completed your first season of soccer headed in mostly the right direction.  You had fun and may have learned a little bit about soccer.  You were very proud to have a team shirt and get a medal at the end.  A friend of mine recently wrote a very convincing diatribe in favor of participation trophies, and I have to agree.  One thing I dislike about sports culture is the focus on winning above all else; even teamwork is only valued insofar as it facilitates triumph.  The “participation trophy” as a symbol recognizes the inherent importance of being a member of a team, of making friends, of working toward a common goal (occasionally kicking it into one’s own team’s goal).  I like your medal and I’m glad you’re proud to have it.

Photo by Gary Clarke

We’ve been doing some fun fall adventuring around town and beyond.  The annual Oktoberfest has a kids’ version called Sodafest, and they really did a stellar job this year of organizing fun, free activities.  You decorated a pumpkin, rode about a thousand laps on the obstacle course, went down the big slide many, many times, and didn’t actually consume any soda.  You’re not into carbonation.

You’ve gotten the hang of being a member of Family Folk Machine, too.  I’ll be honest—when you agreed to do a solo in our concert, I wasn’t sure how it was going to go.  In fact, for most of the rehearsals, you were pretty timid.  Our director even had to assign you a solo buddy to support you vocally.  But now I doubt you really need the buddy.  You’ve gotten the rhythm and the words down perfectly, and while you do a bit more shouting than singing, you really rock the mic.

Miles is deeply invested in the Black Bot Boys, a band he has formed and recruited you to join.  It’s mostly a Halloween thing for him, though he did record the song and we hope to put a video together.  You’re a backing vocalist, and he wants you to dress up as a fellow rock star for trick-or-treating.  You’re not sure you want to indulge him.  You have a pretty awesome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costume we’ve been working on, and as of right now you plan to use that for all your Halloween events.  I hope you change your mind and agree to be a Black Bot Boy for trick-or-treating, because you guys would be pretty cute together.

The fall days are waning, and the end of our walks is surely near.  That’s a bummer.  We’ve had some really sweet walks to school together through Pretty Valley, and I’ll also miss our afternoon adventures to the park or other parts of the neighborhood.  This must happen every year, and every winter we figure out a way to survive.  One thing we have to look forward to is our spring break trip to the Florida Keys.  Tonight at dinner you suggested a pie and cake party (with cocktails) while we’re there.  I like that idea.  In fact, I like it so much we might just have to make a winter day of it.

I love you, sweet Tobes.  Have a good fiftieth month, and we’ll see if the Black Bot Boys become a YouTube sensation.




The Tobin Times #49

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:45 pm

My little Tobin,

I am the worst mom in the world.

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

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

Photo by Denny

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

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

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

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

Photo by Beth Clarke

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

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

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

Photo by Denny





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