Ocean Wide

He twists his head, stretches open his mouth, reaches for milk the way a front crawl swimmer turns for air. The whorls of his ears are as marvelously convoluted as a conch, symmetry imperfectly precise. His hands, less like floundering sea creatures, stretch with more intent. He grasps toys, brings his toes to his mouth, cuddles blankets at his chest. Five fingers curl around one of my own, holding fast while he sleeps. He slumbers with lids screwed tight, mouth shut firm, tackling such serious business with all the concentration it deserves. When they're open, the deep water blue of his eyes is receding, but anxiety still gathers in his brow right before he cries. He is patient, except when he is really not.
He seems to have been studying a manual on how to be a human being, with particular attention to chapters like growing and grabbing earrings and finding your voice and demonstrating surprise.  He is four months old.  And we love him farther than we can see.


Because so many people ask:

Tolliver weighs 19 pounds
and Tucker weighs 39.


He makes us smile.

It was almost a year ago now, on an extraordinarily hot day, when I pulled my hair up in a knot on top of my head while I bathed both children. Tuck said, “Mama, you're a buffalo.” The following day I had an audition, and threw on a sundress before I left the house. Tuck watched me from across the room as I shifted the skirt into place. He said, “Mama, you’re a princess.”
I didn't record his words then, but I haven't forgotten them.  I'm not sure I'll remember as much as I'd like though, so have made notes on a few things recently.
While we were in Iowa, Tucker jumped on a neighbor’s trampoline for what must have been the first time, outside of the gymnastics classes he took right before he turned two. There were at least five children on the trampoline when he got on, and after a moment of everyone jumping and screaming, Tuck stopped, raised his arms out from his sides and yelled, “Everyone! Sit down. Let’s talk.”

At the sculpture park Tuck found a rectangular structure that did kind of look like it could have been a door. After he asked to go in, Andy explained that it was solid and that they couldn’t go in. Tuck said, “Maybe there’s dressing in there too?”   (salad?!)

He introduces himself to EVERYONE – the grocery clerk, the little girl across the parking lot, the bank teller, the same friends he sees every week at school.  “Hi, I’m Tucker Betz, what’s your name?”  But then when we run into someone we do know, someone we’d like him to introduce himself to, he plays shy.

As he dried off last night, Tuck looked around the bathroom. “There are bathtubs at Heaven’s house. And Celie has a pink towel there.”

I put some new socks on him this morning.  His grin grew as he inspected the sea turtles on them.  “Where did these come from?” he asked.  I answered. “We need to write her a note,” he said. (We already did.) But a thank you note. He is grateful.  If he learns nothing else, ever, I don’t care.

When I left him at school today, I explained that I was going to work while he was there. “I’ll see you on TV later,” he assumed. No, but, progress. Last time we talked about work he thought I painted toe nails.


I could stare at him all day.

Occasionally I feel a strange nostalgia for the time right after his birth, for the absolute removal of all of my responsibilities, save him. My focus was solely on feeding, on sleeping, on eating. And on sleeping some more.  There was the reassuring vapidity of daytime television and the luxury of lost in a really good book, but mostly there was time spent simply learning about and loving my baby.
I don’t generally allow myself to feel nostalgic, much less bored.  There was something incredibly decadent, illicit even, about resting, about removing to-dos. About doing nothing but studying his features, memorizing his make up, soaking him in. To say that I could lie on the couch and cuddle an infant for an eternity might be hyperbolic. And the post-delivery recovery period did feel a bit like incarceration, the dependence a bit too snug. Thinking about it, though, makes me wish for duty to fall away, for doctor’s orders to rest. For permission to let go of obligations, for relaxation to settle in, for ample time to stare at him.  For my only job in the world to be learning about and loving my boys.


Week Off

We didn't intend for the blog to go silent.
We traveled to Iowa for the week, and got busy in the best ways.
We jumped on the trampoline and collected earthworms and visited the sculpture garden and watched movies and rode the tractor and learned karate and celebrated birthdays.  We shot guns and built shelves and painted nails and shared wine and stayed up way too late.
In typical spring fashion, the weather was warm and sunny one minute and cool and rainy the next.  In typical toddler fashion, the children played nicely one minute and, well, didn't the next.  There were big hugs and big tears when we left this morning.
It felt good to get away, and even better to spend time with friends.



It's been two months.
She didn’t take the conversation, the lessons or the love, with her when she left. What we learned from her illness, what amazes us still, is how much remains after so much was taken away.

Much in the manner that we communicated with her mutism, we hear her even now. She makes us alert to the sort of encounters we might have otherwise missed, the things that speak to us simply because we know to listen.

Yesterday was nuts. The kind of crazy that made my eyes blurry and my soul feel small. But she reminded me to see. Those high moments in the midst of a low day seem to indicate that I am probably better than I think I am. I bet most of us are.
That every picture of Celia has been taken, even given all the perspective and all the enduring love, is close to unbearable. It’s only how we changed, and how so many other people changed, that makes what happened any less horrible.



such a scientist

There was a bug on the bathroom floor this afternoon, the long, slinky kind with lots of little legs.  I have to be honest: ordinarily I'd flush it.  But Tucker insisted we carry it downstairs and put it "outside with his family.  He misses his family, now we can put them back together."

Outside we trimmed dead stalks, making room for all the green that's poking through.  He created conversation around a clump of purple crocus, buds no longer hugging shut, before he pulled a significant length of ivy and trailed it around, calling it his "rope from the jungle. I can swing on it, just like George the monkey."

Tuck saved a clear plastic cylinder from the recycling bin a few days ago.  He wanted to "take it outside and find a fly then I can put him in it and look at him then I can find food for the fly and put it in for him to eat then I can watch him eat."
And he recently befriended a corn snake named Steve, whose care-taker saved and sent Steve's spring molt.  Tucker opened the envelope with enthusiastic awe. "Steve took off his coat," Tuck explained to Tollie, as he gave his little brother "a turn to touch it, don't be scared."
Working with the inertia of life with a little one, letting him get his work done instead of worrying about my own, is satisfying.  He turns hollow husks into telescopes and paper plates into hats and, um, snake skins into mustaches.  He is curious about nature, and creative with its bounty, his imagination tripping on the heels of imitation.


Open Arms

We find ourselves stirring supper and assembling puzzles and wiping counters and turning pages single handedly, while Tolliver supervises from the other side.  Although he's beginning to tolerate down time a tad more willingly, he prefers to be up in arms.  He's still in that slug stage of snuggling, favoring a nap on our chests over one in the crib.  Our hands are full, and we often feel like there aren't enough limbs to go around.  Fortunately, love is not an appendage.


Our Collection Grows

Grief washes in and shades everything blue, the spectrum of sorrow changes even the color of a tree.  Missing her may be the simple part.  Memories tinged with finality carry a heavy weight, a physical sadness, but imaginations, dreams, her future, missing those things feels worse.
There aren’t too many dark brushstrokes on our days, though.  Tuck makes sure of that.  There is nothing that makes him happier than surrounding himself with family, specifically cousins close in age to the sister who is not.  He asked to celebrate his birthday, for as long as we can remember, "with Audrey and Zessa at the nu-eez-um (museum)."  And with pancakes first.
He couldn't have been more tickled than by the chorus of his breakfast birthday song.  And he had so much fun molding clay with Grandpa and building wooden elephants with aunts, hiding in forts with cousins and making magnetic sculptures with Daddy.
Being older is an art.  He leads us through happy galleries of his own imagination, his own dreams, his brilliant future, and our collection grows.


So far

Tucker turned three yesterday, and we'll forever be grateful for the happy distraction he creates.
Are there gifts that you'd like for your birthday, buddy?   
On my birthday I will get a red present, a green present and a blue present.  There will be cake in the red box and candles in the green box and a book in the blue box.
How old are you, Tuck?  Four.
No, not yet.  Five!
How did all these balloons get here?!
The Birthday Fairy came here while I was sleeping!  She is Santa's friend!
Do you think Celia had a good birthday?   
Celia is happy!  She is with Colby and they have pink balloons and she is happy!

So far, three is terrific.  We went swimming and he got a Moon in My Room from Aunt Kate and we had cupcakes and cookies and Jeni's ice cream and he had a sleepover with Aunt Molly.  And we have lots more celebrating planned for the weekend! 


five years ago

How do you celebrate your child's birthday without your child?
Hit the pinata especially hard, I suppose.

Or, as a wise friend suggested, think mostly about the day of her birth.
It was such a joyful occasion, five years ago, the day she joined our family and made parents and grandparents and aunts out of all of us.
We may not speak her name aloud each March 7th, we may not wrap her gifts and light her candles and cut her cake.  We will not hang streamers for her and take pictures of her and sing to her.  But we will not ever forget that it's her birthday, too.



March 7th 1978, my life began.
March 7th 2007, my life began again.
March 7th 2009, my life began again, again.


Whatever you are, be a good one *

I suppose everyone feels as I do, a similar affection for the people they create. On the cusp of three years, my admiration seems particularly strong.
He is adorable in ridiculous proportions. But he is also tender in all the right places, and tough in some very important ways. He smiles with Junior Mint eyes and a big open-mouth grin, ready to gulp down all the goodness the world has to offer. His handshake -glad, inquisitive, energetic- bespeaks his behavior. He is silly and honest and kind, and there is nothing more that I want him to be.
He makes me stop to study the corn kernels in the bottom of the snack bowl, the ones that didn’t pop, to notice that grabbing the dish soap bottle sends tiny bubbles floating on air, to reimagine a pair of nursing pads as “very quiet cymbals.” Afternoon baths become explorations as he engineers fountains with cups and straws and spare irrigation tubing and I rerun the tap so his hands only become pruny and not blue. He initiates toasts with juice glasses for no reason at all and he sings the tailgating traditional “state” at the end of every song. He reminds me that I am a good colorer, a decent whistler, a fine cookie baker, and how nice a thing each is to do.

I wonder about his future, what he'll do and who he'll be. I see in him such promise, and know that whatever he is, he’ll be great.



all three at three months

I couldn't find the right onesie, and the dates don't line up quite as perfectly, but a little comparison at this stage is still fun.
He is a little bit like his sister, a little bit like his brother, and a lot like his own person.