Boy and Girl each deserve to be celebrated separately. At six and nine now, they are very much themselves. Individuals – not like those paired snack cakes. More Star Crunch than Swiss Rolls.

But here they are, together. One separate photo each, one family photo, all from this month. That’s how it works: when you’re part of a family, you are influenced by your family. You’re an individual, and you’re not.

So this year, they don’t get their own posts. They get one, together, as they grow up together. Maybe more Zebra Cakes, then?

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2019. The new year. A chance to reinvent yourself, a chance to worry about reinventing yourself – and if you’re an elementary school-aged kid, a chance to pay no attention at all to the adult pressures of self-improvement. Now there’s a resolution to add to the list next year!

While we did make resolutions (these were their own offerings: Girl said she would practice violin once a week without being asked – figuring we’ll encourage her the other times – and Boy suggested he could eat more – meal time is often spent pestering him to put food into his mouth), the new year also presents the opportunity to return to some of the challenges of the start of school.

As a kindergartener, Boy gets a weekly behavior report, given in a series of five faces, either smiling, straight-lipped, or frowning (one of the categories is “Keep your Friends and Your Teacher Happy”). He hasn’t gotten a frowning face yet, but for the past two weeks (and for the first two times ever), he’s gotten all straight-lipped faces. For him, it seems, the pressure of returning to school, of being on someone else’s time, doing work, and following someone else’s direction nearly all the time, is too much. He missed part of recess today, and earlier this week, he would not, apparently, do his work (“I couldn’t get him to pick up a pencil,” his teacher said). His teacher wrote “a very difficult day” on his calendar, which made me think of Kevin Henkes’s Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, in which Mr. Slinger, Lily’s teacher, tells her, “Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.” There’s always that hope, but sometimes, it’s hard to know what your child’s sense of that is, whether tomorrow will be better or the same.

And yet. Tonight, in his prayers, the thing he said he was grateful for was school. He talked joyously of the things they’d done today, and he’s excited about next week, especially Tuesday, the hundredth day of school.

I flashed him my own smiley face, and he snuggled up and went to sleep. Tomorrow will be better – and if not the next tomorrow, then the tomorrow after that.

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August 1st, 2018. First day of kindergarten for Boy, first day of 3rd grade for Girl. Bonus surprised grown-up in the background. Why didn’t I use a different photo? Three guesses. The camera didn’t work? No. A stray Great Dane photo-bombed the photos? No. Boy? Yes. In the previous three shots, Boy had his tongue stuck out. Oh, well.

Now we’re into the second six weeks, and so far, school is a win for both kids: Girl said that she pays attention in class this year because she is learning new things (in opposition to last year, when she was largely not learning new things), and Boy is nearly always the first to get in the truck to go to school and is always excited to go. He’s learning things like the green song, the pink song, the orange song, the blue song, the yellow song (do you sense a trend? There are more, but you get the picture!), and how to sky write (which is writing numbers and letters in the air with your pointer finger).

Today I ate lunch with him at school, and when he looked up and saw me (he didn’t know I was coming), he radiated happiness. It spilled over and seeped into me, and there was so much happiness that the whole school should have been singing.

I still feel the joy.

And even this far into the school year, so do they. They’re in this school thing together, and I’m glad.

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!

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!)

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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.

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

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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.

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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.