School has started. In fact, school started so long ago that it doesn’t even seem new any longer: on 8/1, Girl returned to school, and Boy began kindergarten! He’s at the Big School, as he likes to say.

He’s been dabbling in reading for a long time. While Girl read her first book at four and a half and, as far as I can tell, never looked back** (or, more to the point, never looked back up), Boy has taken to it like a duck near the water, which is to say that he’s close enough to dip in a webbed foot but maybe he’ll just stay on the shore and eat some tasty bugs, thank you very much.

About two weeks ago, he read Leslie Patricelli’s No No Yes Yes by himself, sounds included – except for the two-page spread at the back, which he could figure out by pictures alone. Tonight, he read the first fifteen or so pages of Mo Willems I’m a Frog. He sounds out words and often plays around with the sounds until they morph into the words they are (like “know,” which is tricky, or other longer words) or the words he thinks they should be – he has a good sense of language, so he often “reads” the text as it might have been written by a different author. He could read words before school started, and school has only increased his interest in words. (He’s long been interested in writing, maybe because it’s a more physical activity?)

In between, he’s done well with Mercer Mayer’s Going to the Sea Park (he read “petting tank”) and Just Pick Us, Please! (in which he read many descriptive words). We read those the same night this week, and when he sounded out or effortlessly read chunks of the book, I turned to him, amazed.

“Do you know what you are?”
“A reader!”
“And how does that make you feel?”
Lying on the bed next to me, Boy punched his two fists in the air. “Like shaking pompoms!” he exclaimed.

Goooooooooo, Boy! we feel like shouting, too. He is, indeed, becoming a reader!

* While I think it’s supposed to be pompons – it comes from the French, so I’ve read – this is how it came out, so that’s what I’m sticking with.
**That’s how you get to be one of the top 100 readers in the state!

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We’ve had a full time of it! A birthday party last weekend, a weekend of special activities, a neighbor-friend in town last week, friends visiting from out of the country – both kids looked like they could use a nap today (not that they’re prone to taking them, and not that they did).

Just like that, it seems, Girl is eight. She was a newborn just yesterday, and here she is, over four feet tall, playing softball and piano, choosing to read and go fishing, doing crafts and running around with her brother, loving animals and avoiding picking up her dirty clothes. (Boy, did she grow fast!)

Brother and Sister Fishing

Fishing, April 2018

She reads to her brother, too; he LOVES the Binky books (by Ashley Spires – you know, the ones in which the cat eats bugs and gets space gas? No? You don’t know those books? You’re missing out!).

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She has strong feelings – that’s not new – and now writes me notes if she’s feeling upset as a calmer way to express herself. Often, how she’s feeling is “engaged in this book – please don’t disturb me!” As you see below, this is Girl, in her natural habitat (reading another Warriors book by the group known as Erin Hunter).

Reading: Her Natural Habitat

She’s a joke teller, but she’s serious, too.

Birthday Girl 2018

And after all, she is just eight – old compared to her brother, breathtakingly young compared to her parents. And plenty silly, too.

Birthday Princess 2018

Hmmm. There should be some universal truth, some truly touching yet insightful commentary on life here. I’m just going to go with this: it’s good to celebrate those you love, and it’s good to eat cake while doing that. (We went with her choice, s’mores ice cream cake.) Wishing you, sweet Girl (and you, dear readers!), many more happy years to come.

Boy. Five years old. Even his preschool teacher teared up a little bit about it today. There’s no going back, no returning to four or three or the time in the womb when baby couldn’t live without Mama. Even if you’re wanted, you’re never needed in the same way.

Brand new Boy

Boy, on his birth day, 2010.

Like Girl, he’ll get to go in the attic now that he’s five – but he’ll have to wait until tomorrow. That’s the thing about turning five when you have an older sister: the day isn’t as wholly yours as it might have been. Tonight he had to compete – no, not compete, but share – with his sister: she had her first softball game tonight, just as he had his first t-ball game last night. It’s not a bad thing: having an older sister means more people to love him, a steady playmate, a friend. At first, we weren’t going to take him to her game, as it didn’t start until 7:00 (!). Girl got upset, saying, “I want to play for him on his birthday!” So we took him. She hit the ball each time she was at bat, and she hit it for him. Even just with the two of them, they’re a team.

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Boy and Girl in the daffodil field, March 2018

In lieu of cake, we celebrated his birthday with homemade ice cream sandwiches, and we ate them in shifts, with grandparents, Mama, and Boy eating them before the game (and after Daddy and Girl had left) and Daddy and Girl eating them upon their return.

And another birthday, half a decade, has passed. He will only be more than five after today.

He’s not my birthday girl, but I still have been hearing Loudon Wainwright III’s “Five Years Old” in my head today – just like on Girl’s fifth birthday. We dropped Boy off at preschool, and there was the music in my head, and it showed up all of its own accord, like I was my own antenna.

The pet store was all out of ponies
Maybe next birthday.

I won’t forget the day that you were born
Five years ago
We were happy and excited
and we loved you so
You’re growing up so quickly
Now, I feel a little sad –
That’s to be expected;
after all, I am your daddy [mommy].

Benjamin with birthday cake 2018

Five years old. Happy birthday, sweet Boy. May happy days be sandwiched between happy nights, and may your best (and safest!) wishes come true.

 

Tonight during prayers, Boy asked that his grandfather not die, ever. “That’s so nice,” I sighed, before going on, in the heartless way that parenting sometimes seems to require,  to say that everyone dies, and that if we didn’t, there wouldn’t be enough room for everyone. Boy acknowledged that we’d have to build more houses, if that were the case. True.

“When we die, does God fix us?” Boy went on to ask. I waited.

“Does God put us back together?” Theological questions seem to be a specialty of preschool-aged children.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Does He put us back together so He can send us back here?” he gestured with his hands, encompassing the bed, the room, our family, our town, life as he knows it.

I talked to him about dust and living soul and how the living soul part is what remains, the part that makes Boy Boy. I added that if I’d had another life here, I didn’t know it (I asked if he had lived another life, and he said no, too), and I talked about how our souls will, as Boy puts it, “go to God” after we die.

These are the kinds of moments that catch me off guard. Much like childbirth classes can do little to prepare you for the reality of having a baby at home all day, every day, reading books about child development (expect them to grow so many inches! they should sleep so many hours! they should be able to pick up small objects with their toes while their hands are tied behind their backs!) do little to prepare you for the reality of your developing child. To be fair, how could we anticipate the questions, explicit or implicit, that children have about their world, both the now and the hereafter? (“But I can’t see God!” Boy said earlier, looking around in the darkness. “If we have living soul in all of us, God is in all of us,” I told him.) How should we answer these questions? What did I leave out? Was there something deeper than I should have asked but didn’t?

Seemingly satisfied, Boy settled down and went to sleep. If the questions weighed heavily on him, his slow breathing didn’t show it. I could return to worrying about daily matters, like laundry and dishes and scattered toys – but suddenly, that all seemed much less important.

 

 

 

 

 

“Do I look like a businesswoman?” Girl queried, when she added a cardigan to her ensemble yesterday. What does she know of businesswomen? What does she imagine?

One who doesn’t easily get cold, though, Girl opted to leave the sweater in the car when we arrived at a friend’s birthday party yesterday.* About two minutes after arriving, she wanted her sweater. The businesswoman was back.

But of course, she wasn’t. She headed straight for the alpacas, and while she threw herself into the craft (dreamcatchers) and the cake-eating and the hiking in the woods (during which she took off her sweater), including a team effort to build a dam, the animals were the star of her show.

They always are: the dogs at her grandparents’ house, the “unicorn” at another friend’s party (a horse with a party hat!), rabbits and chicks at the previous party, the snake and turtles and frog but mostly the opossums at the town’s festival, the grasshopper at the cleanup day at the playground, the alpacas at the birthday party. She loves animals, and her love of them is an inextricable part of her nature.

In spite of the wardrobe-influenced job suggestion, Girl has said she’d like to be a veterinarian. Yesterday, on the way home from the party, I tried to gently warn her of the full range of work that veterinarians do, and she looked suspicious, then alarmed. To her, being a veterinarian means getting to cuddle all the bunnies, kittens, and puppies that she wants, the equivalent of a blanket of love, for life. I wish that being a veterinarian were that way (I’ll bet my sister does, too!).

As we were finishing our short hike yesterday, Girl walked beside the farm owner, engaging her in a conversation of her own direction; on the way to the car, she ran back twice, once to ask for the owner’s phone number (she loved it there), and once to say that the “Beware of Dog” sign should say “Beware of Alpaca.” She is someone who can talk to others and make conversations, someone with interests and thoughts and hopes and aspirations – and jokes – of her own.

Tonight at dinner, she said of herself and her brother, “We wouldn’t be us if you hadn’t had us.” In the literal sense, that’s true, of course: without our parents, we wouldn’t exist. They’d be other children, or they just wouldn’t be. (Unthinkable!) But with the “We wouldn’t be us,” it’s good to remember that they are themselves: not me, the mama would would rather be scratched by a cat than hold a grasshopper; not their daddy, who is often shy around new people. Themselves. They have their own fashion sense, their own ways of interacting with the world, their own ways of understanding the world. They are who they are, both because of and in spite of us, their parents.

As we were leaving the party, she wanted her sweater back – and I unwrapped the sleeves from my belt loops and handed it to her. It might not be an alpaca blanket of love, but sometimes a cardigan will do, whether you’re a businesswoman or not.

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*not unlike the time my husband and I went to Yellowstone in June, and I told him to bring a sweatshirt just in case; he told me that if he needed it, he’d eat it, and all these years later, I’m still waiting for him to begin that meal!

“On first thought, I said, ‘I’m doing it! I’m doing it! [sad voice] I’m not doing it.’ On second thought, I said, “I’m doing it. I’m doing it! I’M DOING IT!” And so Boy relayed, two days ago (Friday the 14th), his short story of learning to ride a two-wheeler to his grandparents. He didn’t want me to let go, but then he realized he was doing it, and there was no stopping him after that.

Just a week ago today, on the 9th, Girl had a similarly anticlimactic learning-to-ride-a-bike experience. She mounted her two-wheeler, a classic pink Schwinn that was my own first bicycle, and, after trying on too short a runway (the sidewalk from our driveway to our front door), she set off down our road, my hands holding her steady from behind. They were needed for all of two seconds because then she was pedaling, balancing, steering – riding a bike, all on her own!

After riding scooters, a Big Wheel, tricycles, bikes with training wheels, and wobble bikes (known to most as balance bikes), the transition came so much more easily than I anticipated. Why did we wait so long to try? And so we have a house full of people who can ride bicycles, balancing all that life requires on those two wheels, looking down the double yellow lines to the future.

“I have to tell you something,” whispered Boy as we lay in bed. “No one else can hear.” Girl, lying on my other side, immediately rolled nearer to hear what the whispering was about. Such is the nature of whispering.

“One: I don’t want us to die,” he said. “Step two,” and then he mumbled a second thing which I didn’t catch. Then he said, “Step three, I want our house to stay where it is.”

Not wanting to miss his musings, I asked him what the second thing was. He repeated his answers.

“One, I don’t want us to die, but I know that we will. Step two, I want to get old. Step three, I want our house to stay where it is, and I want us to stay in it.”

“I want you to get old, too,” I said. Satisfied, he rolled over and put his head on the pillow parallel to the side of the bed, the one that provides a buffer zone, perched at the bed’s edge above the floor.

Responsible as I am for his very presence here on Earth, here in this town, here in this house, here on this bed, here in this family, there is so much beyond my control, so much that will happen to him whether I want it to or not. The pillow keeps him from the edge, and it comforts him. Its presence comforts me. He sleeps, and I give the still-awake Girl one more kiss good-night before I leave.

We were at our local sandwich shop last night, meeting with friends for an impromptu dinner. As a treat, Girl wanted a delectable-looking chocolate cake ball, complete with colorful sprinkles. Girl’s friend got ice cream (with sprinkles), and suddenly Girl wanted ice cream, too.

Similarly, Boy had wanted a cake ball, but when Girl changed her mind, Boy did, too. They were in this together.

Do they change their minds because they want to be like their friends or the ones they admire, loath to give in to their own desires for fear of not fitting in? Or is it that, confronted with a huge scoop of ice cream and a much smaller cake ball, who wouldn’t want the bigger portion?

Either way, ice cream was the new choice. With eight options laid out like a farmers’ market gone neon, the brightest choice of all, looking like a a swirl of the primary colors of Play-doh, was the superman ice cream. The eye couldn’t help but be drawn to it: the too-pink strawberry and the too-green mint chocolate chip paled in comparison. In spite of that, Boy chose vanilla. Girl, however, chose superman with sprinkles – and, adjusting yet again, so did Boy. No more vanilla for him.

Hoping to help them rethink their choice (the color of that ice cream did not come from beet juice, blueberry juice, or turmeric!), I said that they could either get superman ice cream with no sprinkles since it already had lots of color or another ice cream with sprinkles. Sprinkles are a big draw, a signature style, a way to get candy and ice cream at the same time. They would surely choose another ice cream with sprinkles.

Naturally (or, unnaturally, given the ice cream), they chose superman. I split the giant scoop between two cups, and they dug in, never once missing the sprinkles or the cake balls.

As it turns out, their choice had more staying power than they could have known.

This morning, we received an extra gift, made by Boy himself: Boy had kelly-green poop. It was like St. Patrick’s Day in our toilet.

After a discussion of why that happened, we said that the days of superman ice cream are behind us. They accepted this, unperturbed. They are flexible decision makers, after all.

Next time, we’ll skip this super power.

Yesterday was a two-birthday-party day, a day with both a brightly colored confetti-esque cake and chocolate cupcakes laid out in the shape of a horse on green grass. Yesterday’s parties involved a stint at a paint-your-own-pottery place and at Amy’s farm, with lots of kids (both human and goat) and pony rides and – best of all for Boy and, perhaps, all of the boys there and a girl or two as well – a big, big dirt pile to dig in.

Yesterday was Girl’s seventh birthday.

Neither of these celebrations was for her.

Instead, we celebrated her at home tonight. To be fair, her celebration began early with both sets of grandparents, and yesterday, we gave her some presents, too – including All-of-a-Kind Family, which she’s well into and loves (“I love it!”) and Cool Circuits Jr., a puzzle sort of game to create closed circuits (challenging but, we hope, not too challenging). We also began to watch Disney’s Mary Poppins, a favorite from my own childhood; on the way home from the pony party, we had finished listening to P.L. Travers’s book, and I thought they might enjoy the film after the book. I was right; they were rapt.

Tonight, though, we celebrated more fully with her other presents, including Break Your Own Geodes (she opened it, read through all the directions, and read aloud that “Geodes were once gas bubbles trapped in lava!”), plus a meal of her choice and the dessert from the Smithsonian Maker Lab book which she’s been wanting to try for a long time now: Baked Alaska.

Slightly adapted for our taste, there were homemade brownies on the bottom, cookies-and-cream ice cream on top of that, and meringue all around – and a sprinkle of pink decorating sugar on top for good measure. The warm-cool-warmness of it was delicious, an unexpected combination.

And that’s how it is. What’s the surprise hidden beneath the surface? Tonight, it wasn’t pie – or even just vanilla ice cream. What will be inside the geodes? Will they just be hollow rocks, or will they have crystals? As Girl read through the directions, she told me than an amethyst is “very rare.” Will there be a hidden gem?

Now that Girl’s seven and Boy’s four, what will we discover about them? What will time reveal? A bit of magic, like Mary Poppins? Secret powers, like the rodents in Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls (our current bedtime reading and a sequel to Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, which we greatly enjoyed)? Maybe their revelations don’t need to be as exciting as that – and their gem status isn’t hidden. To me, they already sparkle and shine and are multi-layered, exquisite in their own right.

“[Girl] is shaking my hand vigorously,” Boy said in the car the other day.

Vigorously? It’s true. She was.

According to my friend Lucie, when he turned two, he said, “I got to be two today!” Because English is her second language, she didn’t realize until she repeated it to her husband that it wasn’t quite right in English – but still, she said, she was impressed, and she repeated it to me today, these two years later.

My mother brought guacamole to celebrate his birthday this year, in remembrance of that same birthday, lo these two years past, when I served guacamole with a little kick. Boy loves guacamole and avocados, but not THAT guacamole. “This guacamole too spicy!” he said, and my mother enjoys reliving that moment, too – the things that kids say, the things that little kids say, the things that this boy in particular articulates.

Today he’s four. You grow older, you grow taller, you grow your vocabulary – and you grow stories, their roots snaking back to birth, pregnancy, conception, beyond. Last night, I told him, as a bedtime story, the story of the day he was born, and I found comfort in sharing his own story – our shared story – with him.

Today, I give Boy my birthday wish: that we – our little family, our larger family, our friends now and our friends to come – will tell tales, share stories, and make happy new ones for many, many years to come.

Because this is what we do. We tie ourselves together with stories, linking our pasts as certainly and inextricably as we can, hoping that nothing will fray at the seams, hoping that the fabric of our lives will only grow stronger, grow more vigorously, together.