“Huhmp,” he says, holding his arms up and asking for help scaling the ladder-like side of the couch or chair or the bathroom cabinet. “Huhmp,” he says with an accompanying nod, a statement of what you will freely offer, not a question about what you are willing to give. We hold his hands and he leads us where he wants to go, walking vertically or horizontally as his whim dictates, his tucked head and body toboggan-like as he races up a ladder of wicker.

Perhaps we, his trainers, are too slow. He leaves our assistance behind to complete the circuit himself.

Hold the arm of the chair; step up; lean forward; mash your head into the seat of the chair, catapult-like, to launch the rest of your body forward. Rise from the chair and climb across the other arm and onto the table. Stand. Perhaps climb to the top of the record player atop the table and stand, back pressed against the bookcase, and smile in triumph, surveying your world from a great height. Descend to the table top. Stand at the edge, looking like someone about to plunge into a swimming hole on a hot day. Listen to the admonishment to sit and, for a moment, obey something beyond your ambition and personal drive. Sit or squat at the table’s edge. Scoot or slide to the floor, face-forward or on your belly. Save the plunge for later.

Smile in triumph again.

Do not rest on your laurels.

Back to the beginning, and begin again.

It’s like flying.

Without going very far.

The earth disappears below you, and you rise skyward, your vision filled with cerulean and white and scalloped edges so bold and bright in front of you that it’s difficult to tell whether the blue frames the white or the white frames the blue.

Into that blue, birds fly head first, but our feet lead, no longer the leaden earth-bound weights they usually are.

We swing up, up – then back in the prescribed arc so that we can fly forward again. We are both free and bound.

“Push me!” plea the small children, with eyes or words.

“Push me!” pled my daughter last week, as I stepped away from her to push her brother’s swing.

I stopped and looked at her. Her brother slowed but she swung as high as before, then higher still. Her legs propelled her forward then back.

We realized at the same time.

“I’m pumping!”

“I don’t need to push you!”

I cheered her and she flew, as happily as if she had wings, as if the chains themselves were made of cloud.


A cheery fire in the fireplace on a day heavy with snow.

Blackberry cobbler, straight out of the oven.

Mushrooms, meaty and juicy, coming off of a hot grill.

Water from the kettle when you’re brewing tea (or French press coffee!).

Texas in the summertime.

The plastic slide on a swingset on a late May day.





An order of forty pizzas would involve a lot of pepperoni and could feed a soccer team or two. A bouquet of forty flowers would rival a small garden in beauty and splendor, with dahlias and tulips and lilies all vying for attention. Forty pairs of shoes would take up a healthy chunk of closet real estate (but nothing like Imelda Marcos’ 1200 – or was it nearly 3000? – pairs!). Forty kids would be more than even the Duggars have. Forty cats would totally make you the crazy cat lady. For the record, I am not one of those. Yet.

Forty years…would land me here, in this town, with this family, with this life. I can’t believe the number’s getting so big, but I can’t believe how lucky I feel to be living this life, either, or how I suddenly feel the need to ration my time, to be more cautious and yet more free, to use it as I see fit and not just in a way that makes the days pass.

Forty may be getting on, but, to paraphrase a song from the musical which was my musical debut (and swan song) in high school: there’s still a lot of living to do.

Besides, forty pennies wouldn’t get you far, so forty can’t really be that many, can it?

40+1 day

40+1 day



You never quite know what will stick, what comments made in passing will be repeated (coming back either to elate or to haunt you), what thoughts or lessons shared will root themselves deeply. You throw lots of darts at the board, but if you’re like my sister and me when we were kids, the wall and the floor each suffered unduly.

This makes it all the more surprising when you hit the bullseye.

We’ve been signing – inconsistently – with Boy. I’d used the sign for “sad” with him maybe twice, choosing the version in which you trace a tear down your cheek with one finger. Once he was ready for bed tonight he wanted to be picked up;  I lifted him up, and he rewarded me by slapping me in the face. “Hurt,” I signed. “That makes me sad,” I said. He looked at me, then traced a finger down his cheek.

Not quite so sad as I had been before. That one had hit its mark!

Bedtime, however, was long, and I did feel a little sad. As Girl was finally winding down after worrying about hearing thunder (“That was just the sound of the wheels of Daddy’s truck on the gravel,” I assured her), her mind roamed as it so often does.

“What did Daddy have before his truck?” she asked.

He’s had his truck since 2007, I think, so any “before” is also pre-Girl. What makes her wonder such things?

“He had a green car, and he had a red car before that, and another car…but I don’t know what color that was.”


“We can ask him.”

She was silent for a little while, and then she made her final comment of the night before rolling over on her side to go to sleep: “I hope we all die together.”

For someone who has never thrown darts, her aim is impeccable – and darts are piercing. I gave her a kiss, but really, if I’d learned anything from my own lessons, it was time to trace my finger down my own cheek.


“Is there going to be a tornado tonight?”

This question as part of our bedtime routine for nearly two weeks.  Two weeks ago today, there were serious storms here. A tornado touched down in the valley below us. The Weather Channel said a tornado was headed our way. The four of us spent time in our windowless hallway, but then we headed to campus and went to the basement of a stone building. This, of course, was around bedtime, and there’s really no way to wholly cover your fears when faced with the possibility of a tornado. (Why are we hurrying out the door into the green-skyed night and carrying a bagful of things with us to campus when we should be putting you calmly and quietly to bed? Well, hmmm….) When we entered the basement hallway of a building on campus, we found that we were not the only ones with that idea. After tracking the weather online for a while, we deemed it safe to go home – and headed out into a major downpour. Well, it was better than a tornado.

The next day looked dicey, too, but nothing came close, and if there was rain, there wasn’t even too terribly much of that.

But every night until the 9th, last Friday, our girl would ask, as we were putting her to bed, “Is there going to be a tornado tonight?” She asked this in the same way that she asks, “What do I have tomorrow?” or “Can I watch Diego?”, like it was an everyday question, like it was something that might be on the horizon at any moment. When would we be rushing out the door next, trying to avoid the whims of the weather, its violent vicissitudes? How prepared did she need to be? How prepared DO we need to be? It’s a different matter, looking out for yourselves, just adults, during a storm. It’s another thing entirely to know that your decisions could – and do, and will – affect these small people who are under our care, who make our world seem fuller and brighter and sharper. Scarier, too, sometimes, when we look through their eyes.

Since then, we’ve watched a little about tornadoes and talked about how they don’t happen all the time. We talked about their color. “Tornadoes are red,” she said definitively, “in Chewandswallow.” She pulled out Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and sure enough, she was right! (It might have had to do with tomato sauce. I don’t think most tornadoes involve kitchen staples, however.) Tornadoes are not red in real life, I had to tell her. She talked about a tornado picking up Farmer Ben in her big book with the Berenstein Bears, and she’s right on that count, too – The Berenstein Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature DOES include tornadoes in its section on wind. And it picks up Farmer Ben! “That’s when the big wind lifts poor Farmer Ben. It lifts him, cow and all, and then…It whirls him round and round again” (35). How does she remember these details from books, books we may not have read in months?

The bedtime question has dropped away. Now I’ve been wondering, though, what other storms we should watch for, what tempests of nature’s or our own making? I hope that we will always have a basement at the ready, the comfort of cement block walls surrounding us, of stone rising above.

Berenstein, Stan and Jan. The Berenstein Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature. New York: Random House, 1997.

2:30. Two thirty. Tooth-hurty.

That’s Matthew’s joke (that came from somewhere else), anyhow.

Yesterday, it was at 11:00. Not that I wanted to go. Not that I wanted to have a reason to go.

But I did. Rather, he did. Small Boy.

We’d gone outside and literally one minute after being out, he tried to step over a rock, didn’t make it, stumbled, and hit his tooth on a rock. Oh, I thought, I hope he didn’t cut his lip. He didn’t, or at least not much.

But what were these little white bits on his lip? What could he have fallen on? Tiny rocks, weird lint out here, what?

Bits of his teeth. *heart sinks, panic rises* BITS OF HIS TEETH! HIS TINY, PERFECT BABY TEETH!

Just the day before, on Girl’s birthday, I’d seen his seventh tooth, another bottom tooth, the one on his left of the two middle bottom ones. Just as I was celebrating his new tooth, he lost a chunk of an old one – and I use “old” in disbelief. He rarely even shows his teeth – no toothy smiles for this one – and now, his perfectly-imagined toothy grin is gone. There was much crying on his part, and I imagined all sorts of terrible things, the way parents do. (Why is it that parenting often leads to a worst-case-scenario imagination?)

In brief, the dentist said that the damage was limited and the tooth itself is OK (although trauma to teeth may, sooner or even years later, result in the blood supply being shut off to the tooth, resulting in a grey tooth). He said I didn’t need to worry; it’s not loose. The adult tooth wasn’t harmed. To me, it looks like a third of his tooth is gone. *shiver*

Today, he was eating a carrot. It seems to be OK. For now.

This parenting thing is not for the timid, as Matthew’s said before. Or the squeamish.


That’s what she said just weeks ago when asked how old she would be on her birthday.

Yesterday, when it really was her birthday, and she wore her very favorite twirly dress (because only twirly dresses will do now), she put her teeth to her lips and, very carefully and slowly, said that she turned “fffour.” (Diego also swings from a “vine” now and not a “dine.” It’s both exciting and sad, at least to this mama. Probably easier for Diego, though.)

When her daddy told her that she’d be four at 10:31, she told him no.



She wouldn’t be four, she said, until she blew out the candles.

She did, and now she’s four. FFFOUR! Happy birthday, sweet girl. We love you.

Swinging into her 4th birthday

Swinging into her 4th birthday

Here’s what I want to know: Can I put off my next birthday if I just let the candles burn down? No, probably not. The resulting fire would bring a neighborhood bucket brigade, and I’m pretty sure that would ruin the cake.

One year and one and a half days ago, we looked like this:

April 10, 2013 - late morning

April 10, 2013 – late morning

Not quite five hours later, we looked like this:

Being in the world requires a nap

Being in the world requires a nap

About seven and a half hours later (Baby Boy’s maybe three hours old here), he and his big sister met:

Baby and big sister meet

Baby and big sister meet

And he was small and beautiful and perfect:

Two days old

Two days old

Now he’s one year old

Carrot cake for the boy who loves carrots

Carrot cake for the boy who loves carrots

and we’re so excited to know him, to have spent this year together, to have learned more about this sweet-tempered, inquisitive boy.

We couldn’t love you more, Baby Boy, and we look forward to all that the next year – and the year after that, and the year after that, and…well, you get the picture, right? – will bring.

Baby Boy's first birthday

Baby Boy’s first birthday







There’s nothing more like music to a mother’s ears than being called “stick,” is there. Or is there? Wait, I guess “Mama” would be pretty nice, now that I think about it.

For Baby Boy, though, the world is new, full of sights and smells and objects just waiting to be named, whereas he’s been around me every day of his life, all 11 1/2 months of it. We name those things for him, and some, like “red” or “hat,” pass unnoticed, unremarked, much as we might ignore a word like “pulchritude.” (How is it possible that such an ugly-sounding word means “beauty,” and how could you use it without insulting the source of that beauty?) Others prove to be of some fleeting interest, like “Mamama” or “Da,” which we hear every now and again, just often enough to keep the embers of parental-name pride glowing. Yet others bring joy and rapture and repetition – and Saturday, two days ago, that word was “stick” (which, really, was still only in a tie with and did not supplant “kwuh,” his word for “squirrel,” which seems to represent for him all that is good and fascinating about the outside world. He points, he watches, he looks rapturously outside as he says “kwuh!”, but would he know a squirrel if one ran up to him and dropped an acorn on his head? I’m not sure. But he does love to say “squirrel”!)

It was naptime, and, as is more common than I’d like, Baby Boy was not napping. He was, however, fussing. We were outside, our family of four, with my sisters and their significant others (one husband, one fiance), at Mountain Lake Lodge in Virginia. As we stood at the playground, a happy home away from home for children near and far, regarding the lake-turned-giant-puddle from the film Dirty Dancing and watching Preschool Girl play, Baby Boy’s fussing continued. To distract him, we held up a stick. (Given the options at our feet, it seemed better than the sand.) “Stick!” we pronounced, as if it were a gold medal, something to be prized and cradled. “Stick!”

“‘tick!” he repeated excitedly.

And then WE seemed like the ones learning the word, because we delighted in the game, each saying “stick!” over and over again.

The trouble with the game, though, is that when you are eleven and a half months old, it is not enough to say the word “stick.” It is not enough to see a stick and know it as a stick, in all its this-used-to-be-part-of-a-tree glory. No, you say “stick!” because you want to hold the stick. You want to hold the stick aloft. You want to brandish the stick in ways that endanger your vision and that of the person holding you. As a responsible parent, then, one must take away the stick. You, the eleven and a half month old, will be bereft. You will cry for your stick. You will call for your stick (since you now have a word for it). You will mourn for the stick you have loved lo these past three minutes. Whoever said it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all has never taken a stick away from a baby. It is a moment of crisis.

And then, thank goodness for the aunts. “Squirrel?” they say.


The crisis is over, for now, with the reminder of another word, another part of the outside world to focus on. Maybe, one of these days, “Mama” or “Dada” will make it back into the regular rotation. We’re outside with him too, right? I guess we just need to grow bushy tails.

Daddy, Baby Boy, and Uncles on the AT

Daddy, Baby Boy, and Uncles on the AT


Aunties, Preschool Girl, and Mama on the AT

Aunties, Preschool Girl, and Mama on the AT


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