“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.

BOY

Monday, February 27th. Yesterday.

It is lunchtime. Boy and I sit across the table from one another; Girl is at school. On my plate, a sandwich; on his, a quesadilla. I look forward to mine, toasted with mayonnaise, with blueberry jam, spinach, and ham, at the intersection of sweet and savory.

“Let’s toast!” I say. To his left sits his water glass, which I left on the table from breakfast in the hopes he’d return and drink it; to his right sits his glass of milk. He reaches for his milk and, in slow motion, I see his water glass tipping, and I reach to stop the inevitable. As I do, I nudge my own glass,  and the more-viscous nut milk spills thickly, more milkshake than milk, pooling with his water, here clear, here opaque. We look at the spill. We look at each other.

“Guess we’d better clean it up!” I say cheerfully, trying to put into practice my remain-calm life goal.

With much blotting, dabbing, wiping, and removing sodden placemats and napkins, we return to lunch, one glass each left on the table – mine far emptier than when we’d first begun. I put our plates in front of us again.

“Let’s try this again – cheers!” I say, successfully lifting my glass. He reaches for his glass and fumbles, his fingers not quite fully encompassing the jelly-jar-turned-drinking glass, and the cup goes down, the slow spread of his nut milk making a mockery of our still-slower reaction time.

What is there to do but clean it up?

So I do. We drink what remains of our milk, we eat our lunch, and we go on to do letter work and play camping and argue about playing Super Grover games on sesamestreet.org. It’s just a regular day, after all.

GIRL

Tuesday, February 28. Today. Fat Tuesday.

For Read Across America Day/Week, Girl’s first grade teacher has parents coming in to read. Boy and I go in, reading the Dr. Seuss book of Girl’s choice. We end up staying, and Boy gets to go to recess with the big kids. He races around, an elementary student in miniature. First grade girls talk to me, and I hear about one girl’s mother’s pregnancy, her sister’s vision, the age of her father, her own blurriness when reading sometimes.

School ends, and we leave together, heading down the mountain. “I don’t like to go down the mountain!” Boy protests. We go anyhow.

We arrive at the eye clinic, and without fanfare, without whistles or bells or snacks in celebration – or even instructions to the first grader – she receives her first pair of glasses. The frames look red, now purple, now pink, and the shape seems oh-so-much more pleasing and adorable than the glasses I first got at the age of four. Her future self may judge her past self more harshly, but these are some adorable glasses! “I love them!” she says.

She wears them as we stop in the grocery store. She takes them off for the ride home; Boy does not complain about the trip up the mountain. We are listening to The Wizard of Oz on CD, and Dorothy is being left behind as the Wizard of Oz’s balloon takes off without her; they are rapt. (At home later, Boy will be heard repeating lines of the story to himself: “I am Oz, the great and terrible. Why do you seek me?”)

She does not wear her glasses at home, even as she reads The Boxcar Children and The Bobbsey Twins. Astigmatism. Farsightedness. Reading is the targeted activity for the new spectacles, but they sit next to her, across the room, in a different room. “I’ll wear them tomorrow,” she says. “They hurt my ears.”

Another day ends, and they sleep.

It’s short and sweet and goes like this:

Once there was a girl named Mitzi, and she had a little brother named Jacob. They slept in the same room and in the same big bed, each sprawled on her or his own side. Mitzi usually hugged the edge of the bed, teetering on the edge, and usually teetered on the edge of sleep, too, holding out as long as she could. She wanted to snuggle her mama as she went to sleep, lying on her right side with her left arm wrapped around her mama’s left arm. Jacob wanted to put his head on his mama’s right shoulder and snuggle his mama to sleep, too. They’d often drift off grudgingly, as if unwilling to give the day up without a fight. That day would never come again, and who’s to say those few last minutes weren’t the most important?

Tonight – this night – was different.

Tonight Mitzi and Jacob snuggled their mama, snuggled their daddy, and giggled and talked together, making the final moments important in a new way — and then went to sleep all by themselves.

“Good night, Mitzi,” whispered her mama and daddy in wonder. “Good night, Jacob,” whispered his mama and daddy.

And then they stayed up to do exciting things like put cardboard in the recycling bin and fold laundry, and then they all slept happily ever after. (At least I hope that’s how this one will end!)

“Tell me a Mitzi,” said Martha.
     “Later I will,” said her mother. “Now I’ve got a headache.”
     In a little while Martha asked her mother, “Mommy, now is it later?”
     “No,” said her mother. “It’s still now.”
     In a little while Martha asked her mother if she had a headache.
     “No,” said her mother, “Why?”
     “Tell me a Mitzi,” said Martha.

tell

So begins the second of three stories in Lore Segal’s* Tell Me a Mitzi, a picture book with a frame story (in italics) about a family with a daughter named Martha (as seen in the story intro above) plus three stories (in regular font) about the heroine, Mitzi, and her little brother, Jacob.

Mitzi is an independent girl with independent ideas, so while she depends on her mama to help her when she’s sick (like in the second story, “Mitzi Sneezes”), she also dresses herself and her little brother in the first story, “Mitzi Takes a Taxi,” in order to set off into a New York morning to head to her grandparents’ home. Not much taller than the stroller herself, she’s bold and gutsy and not afraid. In her world, adults help children, and children try and do things that they might not ordinarily do, like say hello to the President.

Martha, the frame-story girl, wants attention and focus from her parents, and she gets it in the form of three stories: “Mitzi Takes a Taxi,” “Mitzi Sneezes,” and “Mitzi and the President.” The first and last highlight the independent Mitzi, perhaps to nudge Martha towards independence herself; the middle one shows the Mitzi who needs love and attention and comfort to get through a cold, just as any child like Martha does. Families provide for their children’s needs in these stories, whether it’s in the form of a story, orange juice and soup when sick, or gum and a parade. Who doesn’t love a parade?

No matter which Mitzi you get, your children will be delighted. Mine were. Girl and Boy both relish the stories, and they especially enjoy “Mitzi Sneezes,” with its twist on what happens when the caretakers need care themselves. The stories are accompanied by Harriet Pincus’s charmingly weird illustrations, which are reminiscent of Maurice Sendak’s: the children are like small adults with grown-up faces who populate a brightly-colored world filled with kindness. You receive the help you need, even if it’s not always the help you want. You get a story when you need it.

When it’s done, you may find that you want to be told another Mitzi, too.

**********
Segal, Lore. Tell Me a Mitzi. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 1970.

* For more on Lore Segal and her interesting history (plus more on the history of the book and the illustrator), check out this article by Marjorie Ingall.

Let me say this first: I should be packing. Tomorrow is the big day – finally! – and we’ll be moving. That overstates it, really: we’ll make the first big step in moving and we’ll sleep in the house tomorrow night. The big stuff goes; lots of small stuff is already in our storage/shipping container, and lots more small stuff will trickle in over the next week. We’ll figure out what to do with the big things that don’t fit (seeing as how we’re moving into a partially renovated work-in-progress house that’s just across town), right?

As much as it’s been taxing for us, the grown ups, with the craziness of two houses – our rental, which we’ve lived in for over four years, and our own house, which we’ve owned for nearly nine months but have yet to sleep in (although Matthew’s put in more-than-full-time hours there most weeks, often working double shifts and never getting time and a half), it has to be more stressful for Boy and Girl. Our rental is the only house Boy has ever known, and while it’s the third house Girl has lived in, we moved in when she was just two, so it’s really the only house she remembers. We’ve all had a long time to get used to the idea of moving and have spent plenty of time there, but it’s been like a playhouse, a place to visit but not a place to stay. On top of that, we’ve also had lots of false alarms; we’ve switched move-in dates half-a-dozen times. After all that, I think it’s going to rock their world to actually be moving.

So at dinner tonight, likely our last meal in our Brick House, I asked, “How do you feel about moving?” Girl said, “I feel a little excited and a little down.”  She said she’d miss the blackberries, the big backyard (even though she acknowledged that the other yard is bigger), and “the circle of trees.” Our Brick House is ringed by trees, with sky and clouds just over the house, a little window into the heavens. This makes the backyard shady much of the day in the summer, which is good for kids who like to play outside in the summer. (Of course, this also means more ticks, I imagine, too.)

Boy didn’t say anything about moving, but then, he doesn’t have to: he’s been needier and clingier than usual. Our attempts at having him go to two days a week of preschool (which I felt uncertain of, too) haven’t gone that well; he said, “I wasn’t that excited about preschool today” and returned home with Daddy one day last week, and yesterday was a no-go, too. If he’d been a cartoon character, he would have been made of rubber and, as he clung to sofas and doorframes, his arms would have stretched like a piece of chewing gum. He played happily at home while I packed. Today, he went into near-hysterics when we took Girl to gymnastics; I went into the bathroom with her to help her change, and he walked into the room and took some pretzels (without telling us where he was going; I thought he was playing at the end of the hall). He didn’t know where I was, and even though he knew the teacher and at least one parent in the hallway (and the Community Center is someplace we go almost weekly), he sobbed. This was no mere sniffling but body-wracking. Sometimes words will do the job, but sometimes, you just have to be really, really sad. Moving is chaos and upheaval and major, major change (even on this scale).But it’s not all bad (and, coming from a person who has loathed moving her entire life, that’s saying a lot) – the house already has many charms and will have more the further we get into renovations, and it is our own!

As for Girl, when we talked about how the extra open space at the Bluestone House would both let us see the stars better and allow us to have a garden, she got excited. She loves to plant things. But she also made it clear that she’d feel better with her swingset there. We hope that having that there will convince Boy, too, that life will be OK.

And this is where we are. We’ve been caught between two worlds for too long, it seems, and I hope it will make all of us feel whole to be in one house all the time. Now, to figure out how to get that swingset moved…and get back to packing.

The school year’s begun – we’re nearly three weeks in, and starting first grade has been a little trickier than kindergarten. There were some early stomachaches and reluctance to walk into the classroom; even before school started, Girl said she was nervous (not that you can tell from her smile).

unnamed

When we asked if she had butterflies in her stomach, she said she had butterflies, birds, and worms. No wonder her stomach bothered her – she had an ecosystem inside her!

Things have mostly settled, as most things do. The only sign of homework was a reading log, which made me happy. In spite of my many years of teaching, I have some strong feelings against homework now: with only two fifteen-minute recesses (if it’s not raining and if no one has majorly misbehaved), there isn’t much free or outdoor time. I like to see her in the afternoon (or let her be involved in activities) without the extra pressure of homework. Besides that, Girl LOVES to read, and filling the log would be no hardship.

I asked her, then, if there would be other homework.

“There will be homework soon,” she said.

Tactlessly, I followed up with, “That stinks!” Not, perhaps, my best parenting moment.

“No!” replied my daughter. “That means learning and figuring it out.”

Ah. Yes it does. I think parents hope that they set the stage for a better life for their children, that their children will surpass them in all sorts of ways. I just didn’t know that it would start so soon.