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.




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.




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.




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.




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.




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.





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,




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






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.






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.




Monthly Miles Memo #101

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:25 pm

My dear Miles,

So quickly, your second grade year is over.  You ended the year happy and confident, with some new interests (baseball, the board game Clue) and plenty of goals for the summer.  We worked on a list, and you’ve already accomplished a lot of them.  We still need to do some trips to the Splash Pad and the pool, but the summer is young, and there’s hot weather in the forecast.

You’re taking a few classes, the first of which you started this week.  You’ll have two weeks of computer programming, then a week of chess, then a few weeks of break before you begin Crime Scene Investigators.  It’s fun to take you to Willowwind again.  That place always feels like an old friend.  Tobin is looking forward to joining you there next summer when he’s eligible for camps and classes.

You decided to continue piano lessons through the summer, which is nice because it lends some structure to our less-occupied weeks.  You truly enjoy it, too.  Your current project is a song from the game King’s Quest IV:  The Perils of Rosella.  That’s a computer game I played as a kid, and we found a version online that you can now play.  You love it as much as I did, and upon your request, I captured the audio of the song that Rosella plays on the organ in the haunted house after she gets the sheet music from one of the ghosts.  Your awesome teacher, Tara, transcribed the music, and we’re working on helping you learn it.  You’ve nailed the first half, and now you just need to get confident with the second half of the song.  I’m sure it won’t take you long, since I often hear the strains of the spooky song coming up from the basement, even outside your normal practice time.  I credit Tara with keeping piano fun for you, because you don’t seem to dread practicing the way I did as a kid.  She does a great job finding a balance between challenging you and not overwhelming you.

You really loved your second grade teacher, Mr. Turnquist.  He had a cool approach to homework.  You had math worksheets a few times a week, but you also had weekly creative projects.  They were technically optional, but since you’re Miles, you did every single one.  The last one might have been the best.  You had to think of an invention, draw and describe it on a poster, and then make a model of it.  You said that most of your classmates did things like time-traveling cars and other fantastical inventions, but you took a different approach.  I suggested that you think of a problem, then base your invention on a way of solving that problem.  The problem you came up with is the fact that you’re always dropping Cheerios on the floor, and your dad and I get irritated when we step on them.

To solve the problem, you invented Cheerio Duck.  It’s a robotic duck that scans the floor with cameras in its eyes and munches any Cheerios it sees.  You even planned for a trap door in the duck’s belly for Cheerio removal.  I thought that was a practical and original idea.  Now, every morning when you drop Cheerios, you call out “Cheerio Duck!”  Sadly, your prototype isn’t a working model.  Tobin has even taken to yelling “Laundry Duck!” in the hopes that a robot duck will come pick up the socks he always leaves on the floor.  Maybe that can be your next invention.

We’ve been busy over the last several weekends, with our Family Folk Machine concert, a trip to Ames, and a family wedding in Albia.  You did a great job at the concert.  For the first time, you not only sang a solo but also did a spoken introduction to a song.  You worked every night for a week leading up to the concert so you’d have your blurb memorized.  On the day of the show, I offered you a cheat sheet with the text, but you declined.  And, of course, you nailed it.

Harry Potter remains your favorite topic of just about everything:  reading, movies, discussion.  The final book is broken into two movies, and you’ve reached the point in the book that the first movie covers.  We’re doing to have to rent that soon.  You had a play date with another Harry Potter-loving friend yesterday, and the two of you were throwing spells and hexes at each other all over the Ped Mall.

Photo by Gary Clarke

I’m just now getting used to your face with those big adult teeth in it, and next week, we have an appointment with an orthodontist.  I don’t know what she’ll recommend, exactly—it might not be braces just yet.  You seem to want them, though I’m not sure why.  I’ve tried to explain to you that while they’re good in the long-term, braces are sort of a hassle, but you still like the idea.  That may change the first time you have them tightened.  I remember that painful process well.  We’ll see what she says.  You may try to use it as a negotiation point for getting more ice cream.

One of the goals I’ve set for you for the summer is to eat a piece of pizza.  It seems like a low-threshold food for you to explore, and it would make things a lot easier at birthday parties and other pizza-centric events.  There’s also a cool arcade/pizza joint in town that would be a great family dinner destination, but we have never been there because there’s nothing you will agree to eat.  Pizza, Miles.  Pizza is your friend.

You have a lot of summer left in front of you, my sweet boy.  Let’s do all kinds of fun things and invent a duck to clean up all our messes.




Monthly Miles Memo #100

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:05 pm

My dearest Miles,

It’s been one hundred months (and a couple of days, because this is my life) since my sweet baby boy was born.  This is the one hundredth one of these memos I’ve written.  I remember being so curious during your early weeks and months about the kind of person you’d become.  Let me tell you, I had no idea you’d be the best sleeper in the house.  Nowadays we have to pry you out of bed in the mornings, and when you sleep in on weekends, you often don’t get up until 9:30 or later.  My little premie baby was up every couple of hours for a long time.  Back then, I knew a lot less about babies than I do now, and I didn’t understand that it was perfectly normal.  People kept asking how you were sleeping, and I felt like a failure because the answer was “not so great.”  Actually the real answer should have been “exactly like a breastfed baby is supposed to sleep for optimum brain development,” but I didn’t know that then.  I just knew that letting you cry, the couple of times we did it, felt so completely awful that we abandoned the plan.

It turned out okay.  Even though you didn’t sleep through the night until you were two, you now sleep through all kinds of distractions.  You can sleep through Tobin having a night terror, Callum screaming about his allergies or his growing molars, a thunderstorm, and probably an air raid, though I hope we don’t have to test that.

You are a really great big brother, especially to Callum.  You love Tobin plenty too, but he’s old enough to get on your nerves, often on purpose.  Little siblings are really good at knowing exactly what will drive their big siblings crazy, and Tobin is adept at that.  You two have fun together, and you really are best friends, but there’s some frenemy tension going on as well.  You’re focused, a perfectionist, and a lover of predictability.  Tobin is none of those.

Callum, however, gets nothing but love from you.  He can sit on you, pull your hair, tear your homework, and puke on your shoes, and you still are so sweet to him.  The age difference between you helps, since you’re old enough to understand his mostly-innocent motivations, and he’s young enough to be very forgivable.  He loves going to pick you up from school, and on weekend mornings, when you finally wake up, he thinks that joining you in the top bunk is about the coolest thing ever.

This month held a pretty fantastic event:  the annual Lucas Elementary Team Spelling Bee.  You competed last year and did well, but your ultimate dream was to be on the winning team.  We worked hard studying the long, challenging word list.  We drilled the tough words over and over, and you got really good at the whole “state the word, spell the word, restate the word” format.  We talked about strategies for interacting with your teammates, about being a leader when you knew you were right, but being kind and helpful about it at the same time.

You and your teammates made it through the first round, then the second round, and finally it was down to two teams in the ultimate spell-off.  I smiled when I heard two of the words on which we’d worked particularly hard:  giraffe and exercise.  The spell-off was written, so we didn’t know how you and the other finalist team did until the judges evaluated your work.

The judges announced the winners:  Team H.  I don’t know if you didn’t remember that you were team H or if it just took a moment to sink in, but you sat expressionless for a bit.  Then it hit you.  I can’t remember a time when you were happier.  You shrieked, you jumped, you pumped the air.  You congratulated your teammates and shared in their joy.  You worked hard and you earned your victory.

I hope I wasn’t too obnoxious in the audience.  As a fellow spelling nerd, I was pretty thrilled for you.  You were so excited you almost forgot to have a cookie afterward.  I don’t know if your name is engraved on the school plaque yet, but you’re very proud that you’ll be immortalized on your school walls.  I hope Lucas is still around in twenty years or more and you can take your own kids to see it.

You only have a couple more weeks of school before summer break begins.  You’re signed up for a few classes and you’ll have some relaxing time too.  We’re starting to work on our list of summer wish-list activities.  So far most of yours are food related.  You want to go to Hu Hot Mongolian Grill, Flavor Ice, Panda Express, and McDonald’s.  We’re also looking forward to pool and splash pad time, some sprinkler use in the back yard, and maybe a long weekend in St. Louis.  We’re still working on sorting out the details on that one.

Do you think I’ll still be writing your memos in another 100 months, Miles?  Will you find it embarrassing when you’re sixteen and ask me to stop?  Will I listen to you or ignore your protests?  Can you really be half way to sixteen?

Let’s give it another hundred months and find out.

I love you one hundred months, one hundred lifetimes, one hundred percent.





Monthly Miles Memo #99

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:16 pm

Dear Miles,

I mentioned to you that you just turned ninety-nine months old, and you immediately started planning a celebration for your one hundred month birthday.  It involves a trip to Panda Express.  That’s all the detail I’ve gotten out of you so far, but we could probably rustle up some cake or something, too.

It’s hard to believe that next month at this time, I’ll be writing your one hundredth Monthly Miles Memo.  When I started writing them back in 2008, my goal was to document your first year.  After your first year completed, the idea of not writing them anymore made me sad, so I just kept going.  Now, here we are, eight-plus years and ninety-nine memos later.  I have less spare time than I used to, but I still don’t see any reason to stop writing them.  You’re not going to stop growing and learning and being interesting any time soon, so why should I stop reflecting on you?

We completed our Florida Keys trip a few weeks ago, and you might have had the most fun of anyone (except possibly me).  You are a confident and trustworthy swimmer, and you snorkeled around the pool until we had to drag you out.  I still made you wear water wings in the ocean, not that you really needed them.  You even did some ocean snorkeling with your cousin Clif at John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo.  The water was very calm there, which made it less intimidating, and you got so excited when you saw the ocean life.  I could even hear you squealing with excitement while my head was underwater next to you.

It’s nice that you’re big enough now that you’re not a major source of stress while traveling.  You did well on our flights and car rides by reading or playing with your dad’s iPad.  You liked the Chinese food at O’Hare, but not as much as you liked the chocolate croissants at Leigh Ann’s Coffee House, one of our favorite Key Colony Beach spots.  This gives me hope that you’ll survive in Europe with me some day.  They have Chinese food and chocolate croissants there.  I know, I’ve had them.

Photo by Denny

Now we’re home, though, and back to our usual rhythms.  The school year is wrapping up.  This is the first time I can remember, ever, that you’ll be out before Memorial Day.  Classes must have started somewhat early this year, and you didn’t have any snow days to make up.  It’ll be nice to have some relaxing days at home before the summer schedule begins.  You’re looking forward to your summer classes, though:  computer programming, chess, and Crime Scene Investigators.  I’m not going to be much help in any of those areas.  I hope you keep up with piano lessons over the summer so at least I can be of help with something.

Photo by Gary Clarke

This school year has gone really well.  You’ve hit it off with your teacher, Mr. Turnquist, and he’s gotten you excited about things I didn’t expect.  For one thing, you suddenly have an interest in baseball.  You balked at the idea of joining a team, but you’re psyched to go to a Cedar Rapids Kernels game next week.   Mr. Turnquist is very sportsy, and I was dubious at first whether that would be a good fit for you.  But he’s also very supportive of creative efforts, and every week you have an optional homework assignment that allows you to do something to expand your creative side.  You haven’t missed a single optional assignment.  Every week I think maybe that one won’t intrigue you and we can take the week off, but every week you come home excited with the new possibilities.

You are still a major Harry Potter head; in fact, this week’s optional homework assignment was to design a Navajo-style rug on a graph paper-like grid.  You wanted to write Expelliarmus (a Harry Potter spell) into the design, but it was way too long, so you settled for the word Potter.  I tried to gently persuade you to go with a more abstract design in keeping with the Navajo aesthetic, but that idea did not fly.

We finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in combination.  You read some to yourself, I read some aloud, and your dad read some aloud.  It got kind of confusing since we each read different chunks.  You’ve been reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince entirely to yourself so far.  I got it on my Kindle, which you’ve found a lot easier to manage than the huge 800-page hardback book.  So far you’re handling it well.  There’s already been a significant character death, but it didn’t seem to trouble you too much.  There are more coming, though.  The final battle with Voldemort is looming, and not everybody makes it.  I hope it’s not too tough on you.

Your current favorites:  Minecraft, Family Folk Machine (especially the song “O Mary, Don’t You Weep”), pasta with butter and parmesan, cran-apple juice, giving yourself weird hairstyles, and biking along the path behind our house.  You also seem to be gaining interest in pushing yourself physically.  You’ve been showing off various daring (for you) jumps and other playground tricks.  I suggested a long weekend in St. Louis this summer for a family mini-vacation, and the first thing you did was request a trip to the City Museum so you could scramble all through the tubes and other structures.

I’m really impressed with the amount of bravery and interest in pushing yourself that you’ve shown lately, Miles.  You’ve even started taking showers, despite your fear of getting water in your eyes.  You wore goggles the first couple of times, but now you don’t even want those.

Mostly I think you just like going to bed with wet hair because it makes it look so crazy in the morning.  I admit I kind of admire that too.  Life is short.  Have weird hair.




Monthly Miles Memo #98

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:29 pm

Hey there, Mr. Miles,

We’ve known since you were just a few months old that your personality tends toward the shy and sensitive.  New things are difficult for you, and you’re easily overwhelmed.  That’s why I was so happy and proud when you did two things recently that showed great growth in that area.

The first time we went to your school carnival, when you were in kindergarten, it was a borderline disaster.  The crowds and noises and general chaos sent you into a panic.  You broke down into tears and refused to try any of the games.  That made me annoyed in part because we’d spent the money on the tickets and also because I was afraid you would never get to enjoy a lot of fun things in life due to fear and inflexibility.  Your dad ended up taking you to play on the playground, and when the night was nearly over, I coaxed you in and you tried a couple of very low-stakes games.  Last year was a little better, but it was still about an equal ratio of fun to pain.

This year was a completely different story.  You anticipated the carnival for weeks before it arrived.  Your teacher gave you a map of where each game would be in the school (a smart move on his part:  if we’d had a chance to explain to you what to expect in detail in the past, it might have gone better).  You picked out the games you were most looking forward to playing.

The night came, and it was a huge success.  You were proud of the fancy cake we designed together for the cake auction.  You burned through your tickets so fast I had to buy another batch.  You had fun on the simple, cerebral, and rough-and-tumble games alike.  You were thrilled when you won (especially the cake walk), but you kept a good attitude when you lost.  It was exactly how a carnival night is supposed to be.

I know you had a blast, but I don’t think you know how much it meant to me to see you have a blast.  Some day you’ll have a kid who has his/her own struggles, and some day you’ll know the surge of joy a parent feels when that kid triumphs.  It might not seem like a big deal—having fun at a carnival night is pretty much the default for many kids—but it’s a big accomplishment for you.  Congratulations on your cake, but congratulations on a lot more, too.

Photo by Gary Clarke

The second achievement was at Family Folk Machine yesterday.  You’ve been doing solos in our concerts for years now, and stage fright doesn’t seem to be an issue for you.  One thing you’ve never done, though, is had the guts to volunteer for the solo yourself.  In the past, it’s always been something we’ve talked about privately, then I’d email or talk to our director on your behalf.  I don’t know why it’s harder for you to raise your hand when she asks who’d like to do a solo than it is to actually sing the solo in front of hundreds of people, but that’s your way.

Yesterday, during kids’ rehearsal time, I was sitting around chatting with another parent.  I was half paying attention when Jean asked who’d like to do a solo, and I didn’t see you volunteer.  I hadn’t had a chance to talk to you or her about it, so I  mentally shrugged and figured you just wouldn’t do a solo this time around.  But you must have volunteered without me noticing, because a few minutes later, I saw you confidently walk up to the mic and sing a verse from one of the kids’ songs.  I could tell from the huge smile you shot across the room to me that you were proud of yourself.

This is not to say that every day is full of growth and accomplishment.  Sometimes you still have trouble with your ongoing issues:  flexibility and nuance are tough areas for you.  Sometimes you get an idea of how something ought to go, and if things turn out differently, you can’t move past it.  The other night, your dad asked you to help clean up the basement before you played any Wii.  You decided to pick up the alphabet blocks.  A few of them were missing (much more likely due to Callum than you), and even though your dad tried to explain to you that it was okay, you wigged out.  He told me later that you were ready to tear up the house looking for the blocks.  You just couldn’t handle the idea of the block box not being full and not completing your task.  I wish you were that goal-oriented about getting your shoes and jacket on in the morning.

On the other hand, you did something good the other day.  You and Tobin were playing chess, which is a new hobby of yours.  You’re a much more advanced chess player than Tobin—you’re still a novice, but he’s an ultra-novice—and playing with him can be a frustrating experience.  I overheard an interaction not go well.  He wasn’t listening to your instructions, and I could tell you were on the verge of losing it.

Instead of freaking out, you got up, went to your room, and cooled off.  I’m so glad you found a coping mechanism.  I get overwhelmed too sometimes, and time alone is the only thing that will get me back into the right mental space.  After you had some time to yourself, you were able to get under control and rejoin the family.  I’m especially proud that you did this all on your own, without it descending into yelling on anyone’s part.

Well, geez.  Now that I look back on it, it’s been a big month, hasn’t it?  Eight seems to be suiting you well.

We leave for our spring break in the Florida Keys this weekend, and I’m looking forward to a relaxed, low-stress week with you and the rest of my guys.  There’s nothing better to me than the beach with my babies.  We’ll be sure to take lots of pictures, eat lots of popsicles, and read a whole chapter of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix every night, even if it’s twenty-four pages and it’s getting to be past bedtime.  We get a little wild on vacation.

Photo by Gary Clarke




Monthly Miles Memo #97

Filed under: — Aprille @ 3:09 pm

Dear Miles,

Year eight is off, sometimes with a whizz-bang and sometimes with a slog.  That’s how February is.  We’ve had some tantalizingly nice days and a lot of predictably awful ones.  You told me that the other day you hid from the wind during recess in a hollow tree stump.  That sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

Your school changed how it identifies students for ELP.  Now, instead of having to go to a room and take an oral test with a stranger, the ELP teacher came to your classroom, led some activities, and made recommendations based on her observations in conjunction with input from your classroom teacher.  Suddenly, you qualify.  I’m not surprised.  I knew that testing format was totally wrong for you—like the time you failed an eye exam not because you couldn’t see the letters on the chart, but because you panicked and clammed up in an uncomfortable situation.  Not that I wasn’t already, but it makes me even more concerned for an educational system based on testing.  I just hope you continue to enjoy school and find appropriate challenges.  I’m glad you’re now able to participate in ELP, because you love it so far.  After your first meeting, you came straight home and started working puzzles on a math website you learned about.

Piano is still going well.  You’ve really improved, and your latest piece is “Hedwig’s Theme,” aka the main theme from the Harry Potter movies.  You’ve done very well in the nuances.  We talked about how to form a story about what’s happening in the song and use dynamics to express those ideas.  Your teacher Tara said you did a really good job in your last lesson.

Tara is moving to a new house that will include a home music studio.  You’re a creature of routine, so I wasn’t 100% sure you’d like the idea of ending our weekly trips to West Music.  I told you it was your choice:  you could keep Tara as a teacher and go to her new house for lessons, or we could stick with West Music and get a different teacher.  You hesitated exactly zero seconds before telling me you want to keep Tara as a teacher.  That was even before I reassured you that her new house is close enough to Dairy Queen that we can continue our weekly ice cream dates.

I was 95% sure you’d pick Tara.  I just wanted to make sure it was your decision.

You’ve been resisting haircuts.  I’m not sure if you’re cultivating a particular style or emulating anyone, though we did watch Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire last weekend, and your hero Harry is pretty shaggy in that one.  Your dad has been trying to talk you into getting it trimmed up.  It gets pretty wild, especially when you go to bed with wet hair after a bath or swimming lessons.  It’s your head, though, and I’m not going to make a fuss about something as transient as hair.

You just started a new session of swimming lessons, and the only time slot I could find that worked for both you and Tobin was 7:30-8:00 on Thursday nights.  That’s pretty late, but so far you’ve handled it fine.  I’m glad you’ll have some review under your belt before our spring break trip.  I haven’t gone to any of your lessons this session, because it seems like a potential disaster to bring Callum into the mix.  I’m looking forward to seeing your progress.

Photo by Denny

I definitely won’t sign you up for that kind of schedule during the next school year, because after a year of 8:45-3:45, the school board has decided to change the elementary bell schedule once again.  Next year you’ll start school at 7:55, which could be a serious challenge for a fan of sleeping in like you.  You’ll finish at 2:55, though, so I’m looking forward to having more time in the afternoon together again.  Nowadays, we don’t have time to do anything but go home and get dinner started.  Hopefully we’ll be able to do some of our old favorites again, like trips to the library and the Natural History Museum.

I’m none too psyched about dragging myself out of bed to get you ready for school that early either, but I’m hoping it will be worth it.  I’ve really missed you this year.  I’ve enjoyed our special Java House dates, but it’s not the same as having some actual time together every day where we’re not scrambling.

You’ve gotten really into Minecraft again, which we feared you never would after a traumatizing (seriously) situation in which a lot of your hard work got destroyed.  I don’t claim to understand it all, but it’s very popular with a lot of kids, so it provides a good entry point to conversation with other people you meet.

Your social development is an area I watch closely.  I coordinated childcare at your school on caucus night, and you seemed to fit right in with the other wiggly kids.  We still sometimes have to remind you about listening to people’s tone of voice and making smart choices based on nonverbal input, but maybe you’re not the worst in the world at it.  At school and at Family Folk Machine, I see you getting along with other kids and working through the complicated world of human relationships.

Photo by Gary Clarke

I love you, my sweet firstborn.  Next thing you know, it will be spring, and we’re going to have some serious fun together.




Monthly Miles Memo #96

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:54 pm

Happy, happy birthday, my dear Miles.

We’ve just finished up the last of your birthday celebrations.  It’s been quite a year, and I’m so proud of you.  Skittergramps mentioned recently that you really seem to be growing up.  You’re in better control of your emotions and behavior (not that Tobin doesn’t still sometimes frustrate you—he does—but you seem to be handling it better).  Adding a family member was a definite test, and you have surpassed all my hopes of your performance as a double big brother.

You take every opportunity you can to care for Callum.  You celebrate his accomplishments, have conversations with him in which you pretend to understand him and answer him, and play with him so well.  You sewed him a Christmas stocking, and you were so proud to hang it on the mantle with yours and Tobin’s.  You really, really want his first word to be Miles, and while I’m still holding out for mama, your name wouldn’t be a bad choice.

Y0ur second semester of second grade has started, and everything seems to be going well.  You have a flair for the academic.  Most school subjects seem pretty easy for you, and I hope you’re being challenged enough.  You’re always coming up with activities at home that extend your school work, especially ones that have to do with writing.  Notes you’ve written litter our house.  There’s an information sheet for Miles’s Magic Club on the basement door, pointing the reader to the sign-up sheet in the bunk-bed room.  You got a diary for your birthday, which was your number-one request.  You’ve been writing in it every day, and you closely guard the key location.  Tobin is determined to find it.  He can’t read, but he loves to torture you by threatening to read it.  I hope you realize the emptiness of his threats and don’t let them bother you too much.

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.

We’ll talk more about metaphor and flexibility of thought as we continue to read together.

Harry Potter has been the biggest new character to enter our lives this year.  You sometimes read aloud to me from the books, which are a challenge but still within reach for you.  Most of the time, though, we cuddle together in bed and I read to you.  We’re starting to get into the darker, longer, more mature books now.  Some people have suggested that the later books are better suited to older kids and that we might do well to take a several-year break.  That might be the case, but there’s no way you are going to stop.  It’s going to raise some difficult questions, especially involving the death of some beloved characters.  I hope it’s all worth it.

You seem to be blossoming in terms of personality.  Shyness and fearfulness were big parts of your makeup for a long time, and I don’t think that will ever change completely, I can see that you’re getting braver.  Our Family Folk Machine experiences have been a big help in that arena.  You can sing a solo with more aplomb than a lot of the grownups in the choir.  You also really brought it to a recent New Year’s Eve party talent show.  We did a Harry Potter-themed dance to the song “Uptown Funk.”  I couldn’t really see what you were doing, since I was dancing too, but your dad tells me you let loose in a way you hadn’t in our home rehearsals.  When you need to get it done, you get it done, my dear.

We’re in kind of a sweet spot right now in terms of bed time.  After we read our Harry Potter chapter, you still like me to lie in your bed with you, ideally until you fall asleep, but it’s no longer a source of tears if I need to leave sooner.  You give me a hug, tell me you love me too, and go to sleep on your own.

You’re not going to want me to cuddle you to sleep forever.  Sometimes I really want to go sleep in my own bed or read or watch a tv show or something, but mostly I appreciate the chance to feel your bony little butt against my legs.  Despite having the long arms and legs of colt, you can still fit into size 4T underpants.  I bought you some size 6 pairs for your birthday.  I think they suit you pretty well.

I love you so much, Miles.  Thank you for the privilege of being your mom.  I wouldn’t be the same without you, and I never want to be.  Even though in my heart you’ll always be that 6-and-a-half pound baby I brought home from the hospital, you’re growing into a pretty great kid.

Next thing we know, you’ll be shaving.





Monthly Miles Memo #95

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:12 pm

My little Miles,

It’s your last month of being seven.  As usual, the holidays are going by in a blur, and as usual, your birthday is sneaking up on me.  Can you really be almost eight?  Every year goes faster than the one before it, and you are growing so fast.  A lot of your pants are high-waters now.  At Thanksgiving, Aunt Dorothy remarked upon how, the last time she saw you, you and Tobin were a lot closer in height.  Your feet are huge, and I’m sure we could share socks if I weren’t opposed to you hogging up my socks.

Your favorite thing to do is draw elaborate pictures and write captions for them.  You’ve strewn the train table downstairs with your cartoons, and some of them are pretty creative.  You like inventing bands of superheroes and assigning them roles and powers.  You even include Tobin a lot of the time.

We had some recent drama involving a school library book.  Every Tuesday, you and your classmates get to check out items from library, and they’re due the following Tuesday.  A few weeks ago, I realized you had left your books at home, which would mean you wouldn’t be allowed to check out new ones.  Since I knew that would devastate you, I stopped by school and dropped off your two books at the office.

If I’d known then what I know now, I would have just left them at home and had you bring them back a week late.  But a snafu spiraled, involving the books going to the wrong class and the wrong Miles, and you weren’t able to check anything out.  You were pretty upset at pickup that day, and I was pretty frustrated, since that’s exactly what I was trying to avoid by dropping off the books.  I emailed the secretary and the librarian and explained the situation, and they said not to worry, the books would turn up.  The next Tuesday came, and you had media again.  From what I understand, you go to the library, pick out your items, and then a teacher or librarian reads a list of kids who can’t check books out because they have overdue items.  You were so, so sad when your name was on that list and you couldn’t check out your stuff.  The next week:  same thing.  I think that’s a pretty crummy way to do things.  Maybe the point is to give kids incentive to return their items, but I don’t like the public humiliation and disappointment elements.

Maybe most kids don’t care too much about that sort of thing, but you do.  I completely understand, because I would have absolutely hated that as a kid too.  It was all the worse because the missing items weren’t missing due to any fault of yours.  The next Monday night, I emailed the librarian again asking her to make an exception to the no check-out rule.  I never heard back from her, but when I picked you up on Tuesday, you had a huge smile on your face.  The first thing you did was show me the library book you’d checked out.  I didn’t hear back from her until Tuesday evening.  It turns out she didn’t make an exception for you; they found the book.  I guess it all ended up okay, but the whole situation was annoying.

It’s not like you don’t have anything to read.  We make regular trips to the public library (though that might have led to a very disgusting weekend of Vomitpalooza for our family), and we’ve been reading the Harry Potter series together, sometimes you reading aloud and sometimes I.  In fact, you’ve become a huge Harry Potter head.  Your Christmas wishlist is largely Harry Potter stuff, and you love to talk about it with other people who’ve read the books and seen the movies.  We’ll be finishing Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in the next couple of days, which will mean it’s time for another popcorn and movie event.

We had several Family Folk Machine concerts:  one at our regular Senior Center space, one at the Old Capitol Senate Chambers, and the Englert’s annual Festival of Carols.  As always, I was so proud to see and hear you singing with bravery and enthusiasm.  Family Folk Machine is just the best.  We’ve met so many nice people and had so much fun.  It’s become a whole-family affair, since Tobin is singing now and your dad and Callum often come to hang out during rehearsals.  Still, though, I’ll always have fond memories of when it was just my little Miles and I singing “Country Roads.”

Photo by Gary Clarke

This will be your first birthday with Callum around, so we’re going to have to figure out how to manage the consecutive birthday schedule.  I don’t think our family could handle two full-sized cakes in two days, so I might have to make half a cake for each of you.  You’ll want chocolate, your forever favorite, and maybe I’ll go with something fruity for Cal.  Maybe you can help me divide the recipes in half.  You did a good job helping me with the math of doubling the pancake recipe last week (you can really put away the pancakes these days), so I bet you’ll figure it right out.

I love you, my little seven-year-old.  You’re my Golden Snitch.





Monthly Miles Memo #94

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:29 pm

Dearest Miles,

Well, hello, my little rock star.  Your dad was bemoaning your Halloween costume choice—not because it wasn’t cool, just because it seems like your first “big kid” costume.  You were the lead singer of the band the Black Bot Boys, which is mostly you with some help from Tobin.  We recorded your song and shot a video for it, which is steadily accumulating views on YouTube.  It has almost 200 now.  Mubby and Skitter tell us that about fifty of those views are from them playing it for cousin Aleks.  They were caring for him for a couple of days last week, and apparently it was the only cure for the diaper change blues.

We’ve had a lovely fall, with lots of gorgeous days for playing outside.  Now that we’ve changed back to Central Standard Time, it’s too dark to play outside after dinner, and with you not getting out of school until 3:45, there’s barely any time after school.  Still, you’ve taken good advantage of weekends.  We went out to Nana and Papa’s farm a couple of weeks ago, and you had pretty much the best day ever.  You jumped across hay bales, rode with Papa on the 4-wheeler, and played around with Nash.  Uncle Michael very generously gave you several Lego sets, so you and Tobin and your dad have spent recent dark evenings downstairs working on those.  Callum hasn’t choked on any yet, so you guys must be doing a good job of keeping them out of his reach.

You’ve got parent-teacher conferences coming up in a few days, and I’m looking forward to hearing your teacher’s perspective on how things are going.  You don’t seem to have any particularly close friends in school this year, though from what I can tell you get along with everyone.  You mention various friends you play with at recess, but they change all the time.  I hope you have the social support you need.

I guess that’s one benefit of having two brothers.  You’ll have lifelong friends who will be around whether you want them to be or not.  I wish Uncle Tyler’s schedule were more flexible, because it would be so much fun to do things like go on vacation together with his family.  I hope you and your brothers remain close as adults.  That’s something that hadn’t really occurred to me when I was first thinking about having children.  Not only do I have you guys for now, I have given you each other for the future.  Don’t squander it.  Family is important.

You’re actually a great brother.  Tobin can get on your nerves, but mostly you’re very kind to him.  You’re pretty much Callum’s favorite person in the world.  There are times when I can’t even calm him down, but a few silly noises and faces from you get him laughing.

One fairly big step you’ve taken lately is wearing lace-up shoes.  We figured you couldn’t wear Velcro forever, so we took the plunge.  Most of the time when I pick you up from school, your shoes are untied.  You can tie them, and we encourage you to double-tie them, but the laces are kind of a slippery synthetic material, and they seem to come undone pretty easily.  You also are still getting the hang of tying them, so your bows and knots aren’t quite as tight as one might hope.  But I guess that’s how it goes, and you’ll never get better if you don’t work on it.  You’re working on it.

As I mentioned above, your school schedule changed this year to a 3:45 dismissal.  It’s 4:00 by the time we get home, and I usually have to dive into making dinner or other evening preparations.  It makes me feel like I don’t have hardly any time with you.  In an effort to address that, we went on a Mommy-and-Miles date to the Java House last Saturday.  You seemed into it when I mentioned the idea, and as we were getting ready to go, you asked, “Wait, Callum’s not coming?”  I understand that having a baby in the family means he’s pretty much always attached to me, but he’s big enough now that he can hang out with your dad for a while.  When I told you that it was just the two of us, you got a huge smile.  We got some snacks and beverages and played a couple of board games (Monopoly Jr. and Guess Who), and it was really nice to have some special time with you.

Our choir concert is coming up, and you’re going to nail it.  You’ve got a couple of really nice solos, and you’ve been having a lot of fun.  One thing was kind of funny—our director, Jean, asked you to say a few words to introduce a song.  You got a panic-stricken look on your face and refused.  I was surprised, because you can belt a solo into a mic in front of an audience (or an unsuspecting person who asked you for a trick to go with your treat) with no problem, but two sentences of extemporaneous speaking freaked you out.

Photo by Denny

So it goes.  You’ll keep learning and growing, just like you’ve done so much already.  Most of your pants are too short, and you’ve read so many books the school librarian can barely keep up with you.  I’m really happy with how you’re turning out.  The challenges will fade, and I suppose new ones will emerge, but we’ll deal with them.  You’ve taught me again and again that you’re a smart and interesting person, and I love getting to know you.




Monthly Miles Memo #93

Filed under: — Aprille @ 7:03 pm

My dear Miles,

I don’t know if it’s the specific spacing we chose for our kids or just because that’s how human personalities naturally ebb and flow, but it seems like one of you guys is always in a stage where you’re driving me crazy.  This month I am happy to report that it’s not you.  You’re doing very well, and for the most part you’ve been pleasant to have around.  You’re still a sensitive guy—which is kind of weird, because one of your challenge areas is reading other people’s nonverbal signals.  Your dad and I sometimes find ourselves getting angry with you because we’ve asked you many times to do something (say, get dressed for school).  The first couple of times we ask you nicely, but then we start getting frustrated because you seem to feel no sense of urgency.  The next couple of times we ask in a heightened tone, and often you still don’t get the message, which is when we find ourselves angry and yelling.  Neither of us likes to do that at all.  We are not a shouty people.

I’ve gone so far as to explicitly point out to you the nonverbal signal:  “Did you hear when Daddy’s tone changed?”  I hope it sinks in eventually.

But anyway, my point at the beginning of this was that you’ve been in a good stage lately, so I’ll focus on the positive.  Second grade has been going well.  You report working and playing with a variety of friends, and your schoolwork seems to be coming easily.  You continue to love to read, and you need to bring two books to your brother’s soccer practices, because you can blow through one easily before the fifty-minute practice ends.  Of course, if your friend Sitota is there, you’ll run and play with her instead of reading.  I’m happy that you enjoy both.  You have only a tiny glimmer of interest in playing soccer that quickly fades the moment I mention signing you up for a team.  You’re more of a sidelines kind of guy.

Photo by Denny

One area where you’re happy to be a star is in Family Folk Machine.  We helped make a video about composting, Brown Gold, and you were so proud that you’re featured both visually and vocally.  You also got really excited about composting and even listed it among your favorite family activities in a school assignment.  At rehearsal last night, you have your first chance to practice a solo you’ll be doing in our concert.  Technically it’s a trio, but Tobin and I are really just backing you up.  You sang loudly and clearly in front of the whole group, and you knew the words better than I did.

Your piano playing is going well too.  I was just marveling at how good you’ve gotten in only a year of lessons.  Most importantly, you really enjoy it.  I honestly hated piano lessons as a kid.  I enjoyed music and I liked being able to play, but practicing was such a drag, and most of the time I felt like my teacher generally disapproved of my rate of progress.  I don’t know if she actually did or I was just putting too much pressure on myself, but in any case, I don’t want you to feel that way.  Luckily your teacher really seems to get you, and she supports you working at a pace that keeps things low-pressure.  And yet, here you are, one year in and so accomplished.  I think I’m going to take a video of you tonight playing the Super Mario Brothers theme song, because it’s awesome and you’re awesome.  (Update:  here it is.)

The nights have been warm enough that you’ve still been able to get some good playground playing and biking time in, but that won’t last much longer.  Halloween is coming, and you are deeply invested in your costume idea.  You, along with your dad and Tobin, are going to be a band called the Black Bot Boys.  I wanted to be in it too, but you said it was for boys only.  You’re letting me be a roadie.  You’ve written your themesong, which has several verses and a chorus and a separate backing vocals part.  Anyone who asks you for a trick when you’re out trick or treating is going to get more than he or she expected.

A crucial part of the Black Bot Boys is hair styling.  You’ve decided that rock stars comb their hair straight down over their foreheads, because apparently you formed your impression of rock stars based on Justin Beiber in 2007.  We bought you hair gel and colored hair spray to complete the look.  You also have a plan for Tobin’s hair that’s slightly different.  I don’t know what your dad has in store.  I hope he lets you do something exciting.

Well, just as I was finishing this up, you and your dad and brothers came in from the park, and your dad was pretty unhappy with your attitude.  Maybe I wrote too soon.

Parenting is hard, Miles.  Everything that’s new for you as a kid growing up is new for me as a parent, too.  As a firstborn myself, I can commiserate with you.  But that doesn’t make it okay to have a rude attitude toward Tobin or to only think about yourself.  You’re so sensitive, and yet you sometimes seem oblivious to the hurt you cause others.  What am I going to do with you?

Photo by Denny

I’ll love you.  I’ll do my best.  I’ll try to focus on your many strengths and help you improve in your weaker areas.  I’ll be a roadie if I’m not allowed to be in your band.  I’ll shout sometimes even though I hate it, and I’ll try to explain to you how I’m feeling rather than waiting for you to intuit it.  I’ll fall asleep cuddling you, because even though you’re old enough to fall asleep on your own, I can’t imagine that I’m going to look back on my life and wish I’d spent less time cuddling my little boy while he’d still let me.




Monthly Miles Memo #92

Filed under: — Aprille @ 2:00 pm

Dear Miles,

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

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

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

Photo by Gary Clarke

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

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

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

Photo by Denny

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

Photo by Denny

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

Photo by Denny

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




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