2/8/2018

Monthly Miles Memo #121

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:58 pm

Dear Miles,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Mom

 

1/9/2018

Monthly Miles Memo #120

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:02 pm

My Miles,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Monthly Miles Memo #84:  Your current favorites:  the song “Red River Valley,” which you first learned about in a Magic Tree House book.  You and your dad found a recording of it, and I thought it sounded like something you could play on the piano.  I transcribed it as well as I could, and you have had so much fun playing it.  Your piano teacher has been helping you with it, and I think she thought it was cool that you brought in your own music.  That’s also the song you love to sing to Callum the most, but you change the line “the cowboy who loves you so true” to “the brother who loves you so true.” [You still get satisfaction from creating.  Your favorite thing in the last year or so is to write comics, which usually star yourself and your friend Jacob.  You say you want to be a writer, and that would be pretty cool.  You still hold your pencil with caveman grip, but your keyboarding skills are improving.]

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Mom

 

12/8/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #119

Filed under: — Aprille @ 9:39 am

Dear Miles,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Mom

11/8/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #118

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:40 pm

My dear Miles,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Gary Clarke

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

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

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

Love,

Mom

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10/9/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #117

Filed under: — Aprille @ 4:10 pm

Dear Miles,

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll probably find that all very annoying.

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Mom

 

 

 

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9/8/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #116

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:47 pm

Dear Miles,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I do, though.

Love,

Mom

 

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8/9/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #115

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:50 pm

Dear Miles,

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

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

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

Photo by Gary Clarke

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

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

Photo by Gary Clarke

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

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

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

Love,

Mom

 

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7/8/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #114

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:53 pm

Dear Miles,

The two words that come to mind when I think about your life lately are hungry and sleepy.  That makes it sound like you’re suffering in some way, and I really don’t think you are, beyond the usual laments that come with having two little brothers.  You’re just growing so fast that all you want to do are sleep and eat.  This is not to say you’ve widened your food vocabulary—you’re still mostly into pasta, hot dogs, and stir fry.  Actually, I take that back.  I finally found organic bing cherries at the store, and along with the delicious peaches that are coming into season, at least you’re eating fruit.  In the meantime, it’s a good thing pasta is cheap, because you go through about three pounds a week.

We’re now in the less-busy segment of our summer, when baseball and your summer classes are done, and we’re living a little more free-form.  You had a good end to your baseball season.  You grew a lot your baseball skills, and you made some good friends and had a great coach.  I’m so proud that you stretched your boundaries and tried a new activity.

I took you and Tobin to a local teen performance of The Little Mermaid a couple of weeks ago, and we all had a good time.  The cast was excellent—there are some very talented kids in this area, and it’s great that they have the opportunity to be part of a production like that.  It’s exactly the sort of thing I was involved with in my youth, and I once again did the silliest thing:  when the lights in the house went down and the pit orchestra played the overture, I teared up.  That particular set of sensory experiences brings up so many memories for me:  the anticipation, the nervousness, the thrill, and the camaraderie of being in the cast of a play.

Baseball is not my thing.  I don’t like playing it, I don’t like watching it (unless someone I love is playing), and the only thing I truly enjoy about the experience is concession stand food.  But after watching you be a part of the Cardinals, I think  I get it.  Being on a baseball team is like being a castmember.  You learn to count on your team-/castmates, you share highs and lows and successes and failures, you deal with egos and anxiety.  I don’t know if you’ll ever want to try out for a play, but if you want to play more baseball, I will understand why.

I think our busy June contributed to your sleepiness, though.  Now that you have more free time, you’ve been spending a good amount of it in bed.  Sometimes I need to run errands, so I leave you notes on your door explaining where I am if you wake up and I’m gone.  It’s nice that you’re old enough to be home alone for short periods, and it’s nice that you can read a note I leave you.  Still, a lot of times you’re still asleep by the time I get home.

We had a fun long weekend in St. Louis with Mubby, Skittergramps, Tyler, Oxana, Aleks, and Vera.  We revisited two of your favorite destinations:  the St. Louis Zoo (where you got to see your splashy old friends the penguins) and the City Museum.  We also spend a lot of time at a park with a kid-friendly fountain.  Even last summer, you were reluctant to do adventurous things like play in water.  When I took you kids to the library last summer, Tobin always wanted to play in the downtown fountain afterward, and you were always happy to sit on a bench and read a book.  I don’t know if it was the hot St. Louis weather or the squirt toys Mubby brought, but this time you jumped right in and played with the locals.

It was a quick trip but an enjoyable one.  You and your brothers mostly got along in the car, even.

You’ve gotten braver in other ways, too.  In most of your summer classes, you already knew at least one other kid in your group.  The third class you took, an animation class offered by our local independent cinema, was totally new to you.  You’d never taken a class anywhere but Willowwind, and you didn’t know anyone else taking the animation class, but you did so well.  You said it was the best class you took all summer.  The first day when you got home, you immediately downloaded the stop motion software and made your own videos the rest of the afternoon.  We’re using some of the other skills you gained by making an original short film, King Tiger.  We still have some work to do on it, so I’ll wait to post a link to that until next month.

I guess you deserve a rest.  Growing, physically and mentally, takes a lot out of a kid.  Congratulations on all your growth, my special boy.

Love,

Mom

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6/8/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #113

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:15 pm

My dear Miles,

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

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

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

Photo by Gary Clarke

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

Photo by Denny

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

 

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

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

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

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

Love,

Mom

 

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5/9/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #112

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:48 am

Dear Miles,

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

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

Photo by Gary Clarke

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Mom

4/7/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #111

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:28 pm

Dear Miles,

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

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

Photo by Denny

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

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

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

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

Photo by Gary Clarke

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Mom

3/9/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #110

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:21 pm

Dear Miles,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Gary Clarke

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

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

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

Love,

Mom

2/7/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #109

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:29 pm

Dear Miles,

I’ve been feeling a lot of tension lately between two opposing desires:  for the next four years to go quickly and for you and your brothers to not grow up too fast.  It’s true that every year of your life seems to have gone faster than the one before it, and that makes me ache, but I also want to get through this difficult time for our nation.  Just this morning, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education.  She is a multi-million dollar donor to the Trump campaign with no degree in education, no experience as a teacher, and no time spent as a student or parent of a student in public schools.  She has spent her career working toward the goal of stripping public schools of resources and funneling them toward private schools.

You went to preschool at a local private secular school that also offers k-6 education.  It’s a wonderful school, and your dad and I struggled with the decision of whether to send you to our neighborhood public school or to cough up the funds to keep you in the private one.  Our neighborhood school faces challenges:  many of the kids enrolled are socioeconomically disadvantaged, and I was worried that such an environment might have a negative effect on you.  Would the teachers spend all their time and resources supporting the kids who need extra help and not be able to give you attention?  I could hardly blame them—it’s a big job to provide not only academic support but also all the other kinds of support teachers give their students, especially those who have higher needs.  You tend toward the tender and sensitive side.  Would bigger, tougher kids pick on you?

We decided to go the public school route, partly for financial reasons and partly because we both believe in the public school system.  I’m sure you would have had a great experience at the private school, and I’m glad it’s there for kids for whom it’s the right fit.  But our neighborhood school has been a mostly great environment for you.  My nervousness about “tough kids” was pretty dumb.  Almost to an individual, the kids I’ve met when I hang out at your school have been very sweet.  Nearly all your teachers have done a great job balancing their resources and helping you and your classmates in a way that’s sensitive and appropriate.

I wish I could promise that it will always be that way.  The future is uncertain for the public school system.  In separate-but-related issues, arts programs are being defunded at the state and possibly national level.  Artists-in-the-schools events are some of the only times a lot of these kids get to see cultural events.  And even people who find the arts superfluous (I don’t understand these people, but I recognize that they exist) should be deeply concerned about the impact of Ms. DeVos and those with whom her ideals align.  You’ll still have piano lessons and after-school enrichment classes and a choir to sing in, but my heart breaks for the kids who are going to get the shaft.  They’re our nation’s future too.

Sometimes the pessimism overwhelms me.  I’ll be honest, I’ve been having a hard time.  We have no beach vacation on the horizon (though I’ve wrestled your dad into a commitment to the Keys in 2018), which is the greatest therapy I have, and some days it just seems like we have to will the days to go by until we can make some electoral change.

Sorry, this is seeming more like a journal entry than a letter to you.  Here’s how you fit in.  We sang along at a rally last weekend opposing the Muslim ban.  You learned some good chants, like “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here.”  I felt a little conflicted bringing you, because I personally find it distasteful to impose one’s political views on children.  I want you to learn and grow and make your own informed decisions, rather than just accepting what I foist on you.  I make a concerted effort not to badmouth Republicans, because there are good-hearted Republicans in your life, and I don’t want you to think in generalizations.  I know for a fact that some of them are also horrified by the direction this administration is going, and I applaud them for thinking outside the prescribed platforms.  Still, this is more than a political party issue.  This is a moral issue.  I want you to look back on my life, decades down the line, and remember that I took a stand and invited you to stand with me.

You’re a great kid.  We have your parent-teacher conferences next month, and I genuinely look forward to them, because your teachers always have such great things to say about you.  What parent doesn’t want to hear that her kid is kind, creative, and smart?  I also am prepared to hear that your desk is a  mess and that you can be disorganized.  I was the exact same way.  I don’t have a desk anymore, but the Arm’s Reach that Callum hasn’t slept in since he was a month old is piled high with clothes and personal electronics.  I’m not perfect; you’re not perfect.  Tidy people are a mystery to me anyway.

You seem to have made some good friends this year and deepened existing friendships.  You can be wonderful with your brothers, but you also need to watch your tone sometimes when you talk to them.  I know little brothers can be pesty, but Callum and Tobin love and idolize you so much, and it hurts me when you get rude and sarcastic with them (mostly Tobin, who is a smart cookie and knows exactly how to irritate you).

You never want to get a haircut.  You still sleep in jeans almost every night.  You will actually dry off from an evening shower and put a fresh pair of jeans on for sleeping, despite having access to plenty of pairs of sweatpants and pajamas.  You’ve made some good advancements in your ice skating, and I think we’re going to go again this weekend.

Your current favorites:  rotini with tomato sauce; the Prodigy computer game, the song “Stitches;” the book The Greenglass House, which your dad is reading to you and Tobin at bedtime; coming up with ideas for future Halloween costumes; and the Harry Potter Wii game you got for your birthday.

Keep up the solid work, my beautiful first-born boy.  You’re what make the days and years bearable.  You’ll brighten the future for us all.

Love,

Mom

1/10/2017

Monthly Miles Memo #108

Filed under: — Aprille @ 8:24 pm

Happy birthday, Miles!

You turned nine last weekend, and while we kept our celebration pretty low-key (immediate family only), I think you had a good time.  Friday night I cooked your favorite dinner, linguine with homemade tomato sauce.  Tobin was so excited to help you celebrate that he took part in decorating the dining room, so when you woke up Saturday morning, you saw your presents, balloons, and your sparkly number nine.

As your birthday comes so closely after Christmas, it was hard to find good birthday presents for you.  We kept it simple, and you may see an unbirthday present or two once Tobin’s birthday comes in August.  You seemed to enjoy your gifts, though, especially the Pokécoins your dad got you.  I’m looking forward to helping you cash in your certificate for a Mom/Miles Java House date with snacks and games.

It seems like all you want to do anymore is play Prodigy, a web-based math game that you learned about in school and have continued to use at home.  I think your favorite Christmas present was a paid membership, which apparently grants you some sort of further opportunities in the game.  Pretty much every day, you and your friend Chloé chat via text and/or Facetime while you play Prodigy simultaneously.

Your friendship with Chloé is a fairly recent development, though you’ve known her for a while in school.  In the last month or so, you two have really started hanging out a lot, mostly virtually, but you also trekked all the way to her house after school the other day for an impromptu playdate.  We really need to get you a phone of some sort—friends recommend the Gizmo, which apparently allows you to do some rudimentary phone and text functions but without full functionality.  It would have been a whole lot easier if you could have just called me to ask me if it was okay to go over to Chloé’s rather than have the both of you walk here, then walk all the way back to her house.  She lives on the opposite side of the school, so it was a bit of a haul on a very cold day.  Neither of you seemed to mind, though.  Curious.

We did some fun stuff over break, including spending lots of time with lots of different family members and friends.  You slept in almost every morning.  You’re the latest sleeper in the family, and you really took advantage of the flexible schedule of vacation.  You also have the strange habit of sleeping fully clothed.  You own pajamas, including two new pairs you got for Christmas, but you still prefer to sleep in your jeans most nights.  It doesn’t seem very comfortable to me, but you insist it’s the way to go.

One fun thing we did in Ames was go ice skating.  Fortunately the ice rink had those little scootcher walker thingies, because you would have wiped out even more if you hadn’t had one.  You maintained a good attitude, though, and you brushed yourself off every time and got back up.  I was proud of your tenacity, even if your little newborn colt legs looked awfully spindly on those skates.

Photo by Beth Clarke

You’ve had a huge appetite lately, and we’re going to have to measure you soon, because I bet you’ve grown a lot in the last year.  Your diet isn’t much more diverse than it ever has been, but I’m happy that you’ve become such a fan of homemade tomato sauce.  Unfortunately last summer’s tomato harvest was pretty meager, so our freezer stash isn’t very big.  I’m afraid we’ll be through it by March if you keep eating at your current rate.

This has been a big year for you, my dear Miles.  You are continuing to grow academically and socially, and it makes me so happy to know you’re developing good friendships.  Two of your school friends, your fellow members of Authors’ Club, jumped at my suggestion that they join you in an after-school creative writing class.  That will begin in a couple of weeks, and I hope it’s fun and educational.  We’re lucky to live in a community that has something to offer kids with all kinds of different interests.  Even though you’ve never shown much enthusiasm about joining a sports team (with the possible exception of baseball, which we’ll try to get done this spring), you’ve been able to join after-school and weekend activities that help you explore your areas of interest.  You have shown a recent spark for running on my treadmill, so maybe there’s track or cross-country in your future.

Photo by Denny

I hope this year is a great one for you, my blue-eyed son.  Congratulations on all the new things you’ve tried this year, all the ways you’ve grown.  I love your witty commentary and wild hair.  As much as I want you to be my baby forever, I’m pretty excited to get to know the person you’re becoming.

Love,

Mom

12/8/2016

Monthly Miles Memo #107

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:57 pm

Dear Miles,

Well, would you look at who’s almost done being eight?

This morning I found a container of frozen pork and onions that I put away when I was pregnant with you.  The inside was a freezer-burned mess, and I’m pretty sure from the struggles I’ve had finding lids to fit containers, that particular line of plastic food holder has been discontinued.  The date was clearly written in Sharpie, though:  12/17/07, almost exactly nine years ago, almost exactly nine years and one month since you joined us and changed everything.  I’ll wait till next month to get nostalgic about your lifetime with your dad and me, the evolutions and revolutions that have formed our family.  For now, let’s think about what you’ve been doing this month.

Photo by Gary Clarke

We had our Family Folk Machine fall concerts, and you did your usual bang-up job.  I was thinking about how when we first started, you wouldn’t stand with the other kids and would only participate if you were pressed directly against my body.  You’re a confident member now, singing solos and hanging out with your friends during kids’ break time.  Your class had a presidential race, and it was optional to run.  Running meant giving two speeches to your class.  You said you were definitely going to run.  I told you that no matter what the outcome, I was very proud that you were willing to take a risk and be brave.  You said that giving a speech was no big deal.  I credit Family Folk Machine with helping you gain that confidence before a crowd.

Last week, you ran to me at pickup time and announced, thrilled, that you were class vice president.  Fourteen of your classmates ran for president, and you got second-to-the-most number of votes (I guess they don’t use the electoral college at Lucas Elementary, or you would have been president).  You agreed that your classmate Oumou will make a good president, and you’re looking forward to helping her and taking over her job should she be absent.  Your campaign slogan was “Crall:  He’s no baby.”  You explained that it’s a pun, like you don’t have to crawl like a baby.  I’m not sure your classmates all got it, since one of them came up to me after school and told me your slogan was “Carl:  He’s no baby.”  In any case, enough of them appreciated you to get you a job.  Way to go, little Joe Biden.

We had a nice Thanksgiving break filled with the usual travel, family, and food.  You ate a lot of corn.  It’s a good thing you’re an Iowan, because there’s always corn available around here.  Food remains a challenging issue for you.  You are very reluctant to try anything new, even if there’s ample evidence that it’s good.  Pizza, for example.  Everybody likes pizza, right?  You agreed to try a piece of Tobin’s favorite kind if we took off the pepperoni, and you were a pretty good sport about it.  You said you liked the cheese and sauce but not the crust.  It’s true that you don’t like bread or bread products (not counting pasta, which will save us on some future trip to Italy).  You manage to get enough calories to survive, though sometimes I wonder how.  Honey Nut Cheerios make up a good percentage of your diet.  I manage to shove fruit into you every day, always apple slices with lunch and almost always some other fruit at dinner.

In other areas, you’re very open to exploration.  You took a 3D printing class after school this fall, and you made a really cool Pokeball.  You know what that is, though I don’t.  Pokémon Go is another obsession, and you and you dad and Tobin spend a lot of time and energy (including all the physical walking you have to do to reach certain goals) on that game.  You also stretched your boundaries in your most recent round of swim lessons.  Last night you passed the test required to dive into the deep end:  swimming the whole length of the pool using the forward crawl (Crall).  You even did a dive off the side.  You said you belly flopped your first couple of tries, but then you got it done.  I’m pretty happy about that.  Confidence in the water is a huge factor in experiencing so many joys in life.  We’re going to be snorkel buddies for sure.

You now have just a week and a half left of school before winter break.  I haven’t figured out what all we’re going to do to fill our days, but it will be easier than last year since Callum’s a little bigger.  We’ll probably rent some movies and make some popcorn—our garden harvest is surely ready to pop.  I’ll try to find time to wrap Christmas presents without you seeing.  We’ll probably go to Costco and buy giant vats of laundry detergent and olive oil and paper towels and eat lunch in their little food court.  Maybe we’ll go to the library and meet your dad downtown after work to take advantage of the students’ absence.  I want to try the new Zombie Burger.  They have fries.  You’ll like it.

Your hair is getting a little outrageous again, but the low humidity of winter air is making it slightly less enormous than it was before your last haircut.  You’re wearing a hat in our family holiday card picture, so the world will never know (unless you have to do any class executive branch publicity photos).

Your current favorites:  Prodigy math games, which you play online against your school friends and help Tobin to play; Goosebumps books; Panda Express’s orange chicken; piano lessons; and Pokémon Go.

Eight’s been good to us, mostly.  You’re a cool kid, and you’re learning and growing all the time.  One of these years, you’ll eat my delicious Thai pork with mushrooms, peppers, and noodles.

Love,

Mommy

11/6/2016

Monthly Miles Memo #106

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:50 pm

Dear Miles,

It’s been a busy month of various festivities.  We’ve had friend parties, school parties, a couple of different trick-or-treating opportunities, and your first piano recital.  Life isn’t slowing down any time soon with our upcoming choir concerts, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas and your birthday soon after.

You short-term lucked out with a beautiful night for trick-or-treating.  We were talking with a friend at your dad’s office (which held a fun trick-or-treating event), and he and I reminisced about all the awful nights we remembered slogging around our neighborhoods in the rain, or worse, freezing rain.  It seems like every Halloween of your life has been a warm night, and it certainly seems like some kind of climate change is at work.  That’s why I say your luck was short-term.  It might be good for wandering the late-October streets now, but we’ll see how that works out for the next generation.  I can’t remember the last time we made it to November without a freeze.  My very temperature-sensitive Thai basil is still growing like it’s in the tropics of Southeast Asia.  There’s a bell pepper in the garden I keep not picking because I think it’s going to fully ripen.  What a world, what a world.

In less bleak news, you had a lot of fun in your Odd Todd costume.  Only a handful of people knew who you were, but that made it extra special whens someone recognized you.  I can tell I put a lot of hours into trimming felt strips and hot-gluing them onto your blazer and pants, because when I got out felt for you guys to do another art project, Callum saw it and said, “Odd Todd!”  You looked great and really relished the role.  You got to wear the costume several times for various Halloween festivities as well as costume-optional piano recital.  I was so proud of you as you played.  We did a dress rehearsal at home to make sure you had the flexibility required to play your piece while wearing your forty-pound jacket (an exaggeration, but there was a lot of felt and glue on there).  You did fantastically, and most importantly, you were very proud of yourself.  You’re Tara’s featured student for November and December, and in the text accompanying your photo, you said that you look forward to learning really tough songs that sound really cool.

That made me very happy to hear, because I’ve always been afraid that you’ll only want to do things that come easily to you.  Maybe piano playing does come easily, but it’s a realm with many opportunities for challenges and growth, and I’m thrilled that you’re willing to push yourself.

You’ve been following the election pretty closely.  You’ve been a Hillary fan since the start, so you’re very invested in her success.  I know there are many Republicans among your loved ones, so your dad and I do our best to describe various views without demonizing people.  More than anything I want you to understand that the future of our nation is not about Democrats versus Republicans—it’s not team sports.  It’s about making thoughtful, informed choices about the world we want to help create.  I’m so heartened by the many prominent Republicans who have denounced Donald Trump.  While I try to be respectful of views different from mine, I can’t in good faith say anything kind about that guy.

The other night, Tobin was worried that Donald Trump would move to our neighborhood.  I’m not sure where he got that idea, since anybody who wears a three-piece suit while campaigning at the Iowa State Fair is clearly not too invested in our state.  You reassured him that since our friends and neighbors Jane and Linda live across the street, Trump wouldn’t want to live here.  That kind of concrete reasoning reassured Tobin and made me smile.

We’ve been working hard at Family Folk Machine to get ready for our concerts next week and the following.  As usual, you are nailing your solos in rehearsal, and I’m sure you’ll do just as well when performance time comes.  You seem to have no stage fright, and I hope that quality stays with you.  It’s funny—you can be so oversensitive when Tobin does anything even slightly annoying, but tasks that would intimidate many adults (singing and playing piano before an audience, choosing an esoteric Halloween costume) don’t faze you at all.  You can be inflexible and upset when things don’t follow your idea of how they ought to go, but you can play a mean game of chess.  You even beat your dad when you guys played on a recent Dad/Miles Java House date.  Your brain doesn’t always work the way a typical person’s might, but it’s still one of the loveliest brains I know.

I’ve been enjoying this eerily warm fall with you, taking time almost every day after school to play outside.  You don’t need me to push you on the swings anymore, but I still like sitting on one next to you.  I like walking to pick you up from school and lingering, dawdling, and chatting on the walk home.  We’ll be bundling up soon enough, so for now, let’s keep crunching leaves and taking turns pushing Callum in the baby swing.  You’re a great brother and a great kid.

Love,

Mommy

 

10/13/2016

Monthly Miles Memo #105

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:57 pm

Dear Miles,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Mommy

9/12/2016

Monthly Miles Memo #104

Filed under: — Aprille @ 1:35 pm

Dear Miles,

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 2016

September 2009

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

August 2009

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

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

Photo by Denny

Love,

Mommy

 

 

8/9/2016

Monthly Miles Memo #103

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:32 pm

Dear Miles,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Mommy

 

 

7/11/2016

Monthly Miles Memo #102

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:13 pm

Dear Miles,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Mommy

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