three years alive

Dear Tolliver,

Today you turn three.  You like elephants, ice cream, steak, basketball, blue, building blocks, riding bikes, reading books, cuddling, dump trucks, potty words and impressing your brother.

I may have written that your favorite color was dirt, but I think your new favorite color is no pants.

You have the, what I assume to be universal, small child trait of finding me when I am least able to give you my full attention, attempting to nestle yourself into my arms when I'm folding laundry or perform your newest salsa beat when I'm trying to piece together a coherent thought.  When I’m on the phone with the insurance company, or when the timer is beeping because dinner is done, you need me most. When I’d really just like a moment of privacy in the bathroom or when I want to finish the last three pages of a good book, your desires are urgent.

If I listen hard at night I can almost hear you growing.

I'm not sure anyone could pack more spunk into thirty six pounds.  Sometimes you have so much to say you do not have time to inhale, like the ocean or the wind, you roar unendingly, telling stories with the signature earnestness of a raconteur.
You call windmills fanwheels, the ones we saw out the window on the way to Iowa and the ones we saw at the model train exhibit at COSI last week.
You tell people you have hinges right here in my skeleton while you touch your knees.  They help me move my legs, you explain.
You smile and say “cheese” better than anyone has ever said it before.
You talk about conductors and insulators like you're ready to run a course on electrical engineering.
You yell out from your bedroom when it is way too early for you to say anything at all.
But you leaned over and hugged me this morning and said I love you Mommy, thank you for my new loader truck.  It is big and yellow and I can load it up and dump it out and load it up and dump it out.

You talk up a big storm, but you seem to know, already, that just because someone else is being heard doesn't mean your voice can't be heard too, even if you're saying different things.
You grasp my sleeve at sudden unfairness, at commonplace loveliness.  Nothing is a lost cause for you.
Although most of the time it's like you've taken a page straight from the book of Veruca Salt, you can be amazingly patient.  And you are so wise.

You are wise and you are wild and free, curious and tireless.  We tell you about Celia because your sister died while you were still in newborn diapers, yet she changed every day of our life together.  We want you to be cautious.  We are so glad you are in the world with us.  While you blew out candles, we breathed in air and bargained with God and the universe.  We want to keep you in the world with us.

Today you turn three, but when you woke up this morning I stared into your eyes as if it were the first time I'd seen you, studied you like art, your collarbone and coloring, your teeth and your toes.  When I think about your future, I wonder who will look at you like I do.  Who will pin your prize papers to their refrigerator, who will pull the blankets to your chin.  Who will show you love when your path takes you away from me, from home?

I love you, little Tollie.  I hope I never forget how good it feels to love someone so much.


Isn't it funny

Tuck has dozens of original knock-knock jokes.  Most of them end with the word poop or diaper, and they all need a bit of work, but he delivers them with confidence, and often with fits of giggles before he can even finish.  We laugh politely, and remind him which words are not appropriate outside our own house.
Tollie's begun trying his own hand at telling riddles, but he's usually the only one grabbing his gut at the punchline.  When Tucker admonishes Tollie for using potty words, Tollie argues But I learned them from you, Tucker.  
The boys laugh at each other's toots.  And burps.  They laugh at Looney Toons and at the trick can of party nuts.  Everything is silly.  They're both, usually, moving at a hundred smiles an hour, like they don't even know how to have a bad time.  Sounds of delight spill from the places they play, and the cheerful racket the two of them make together creates the surest joy in me, noise I can almost breathe like air.

Sometimes they belly laugh, the side-splitting doubled over cracking up kind, so hard there's no sound at all.  I like that too.


life is a highway


lucky to know him

Nine weeks of Spanish and he’s fluent now, his own version.
Just this morning he counted to infinity. Twice.

We began a fifth chapter book tonight at bedtime, Who was Albert Einstein, because he saw it and couldn’t wait to start. There are also bookmarks in Skinnybones, The Boxcar Children, Captain Underpants and Who was Thomas Alva Edison.

After school last week he was explaining needs and wants and gave examples of food and candy, clothes and video games.  Asked about books he immediately classified them as needs because they’re food for your brain.  Duh.

He leaves his calling card, half-built lego structures with wheels and propellors, all over the house.  This evening's creation was a piece of Earth that shows what it looks like when you're in space -- sections of lava and ocean and sand and grass and clouds.

A few weeks ago he figured out the remote control for his motorized gears could set off the fire alarm at RoRo’s house, if he stood on the right step and aimed the antennae at the alarm.

He's using a box of parts, broken radios and old computers, wires and transistors and bottle caps, to disguise his Thanksgiving turkey as a robot, to help it survive through the holiday.

He changes his mind six times before he decides on cereal for breakfast.  He picks his own pajamas, most often the top from one set and the bottom from another.

When I need a miracle, I look at him and remember I already have one.  Two.

I am entirely guilty of excessive sentimentality, but I always see in him the tiniest matryoshka.  How can he be old enough to explain economics, independent enough to glove his own fingers, big enough to decode words and to straddle worlds between make-believe and reality?
Part way through the first page, Tuck paused and said Wait, Albert was a real person, right?  Andy and I assured him that he was.  So this book is non-fiction then, it's all true?  We explained the word biography, and said that maybe someday people could read a book about him.  Andy pretended to begin writing it: On the 7th of March in the year 2009, a baby named Thomas Betz was born in Columbus, Ohio...
Tuck leaned back in bed and covered his face with his blanket.

I am getting better at seeing him as an independent being, not just my son, but his own self.  And I think about all the people who might see him the way I do -- kind, creative, generous, funny.  They'll be lucky to know him.


two hundred years later

Several days ago Tolliver pushed a small wooden chair from one side of the living room to the other, positioning it next to the mantel. He wanted to reach the cradle we keep there. Andy caught him in the process and lifted it down to show him, explaining that we cannot play with it, despite the fact that it's the right size for my T Rex to take a nap. Or that it looks fun to hit with drum sticks! Andy began reading aloud the letter that stays with the cradle, but Tollie lost interest about half way through. It's an interesting story though, and it occurred to me that we might appreciate preserving the words in digital form, here, especially if the cradle continues to be an attractive toy for a certain soon-to-be three year old.  Although, the little cradle must be pretty tough because it sure sounds like it’s been well loved.
The envelope is soft and torn at the creases.  It says:
For Rosemary
The Story About This Little Cradle

The letter inside reads:
Rosemary Darling:
A long, long time ago, about the year 1810, there was a man named Captain Ward (who was your great, great, great Grandfather).  He was an English man, and made many voyages across the Atlantic ocean, and finally he decided to make his home on Nantucket Island, it was there that your great, great grandfather was born and lived.
Even after he lived on Nantucket Island, Captain Ward made voyages, carrying merchandise in his boat, and in those days it took many weeks to make an ocean voyage, it was on one of those long voyages that he made, with his small pocket knife, this beautiful little cradle and brought it home for his daughter, MARY, and she was so happy with it and played with it till she was quite a grown up girl, then she carefully put it away, as the years passed, Mary did not have any little girls, so she gave it to her brother Asher, who had married a very pretty girl named Nancy, and they had six little girls, their names were Mary, Laura, Susan, Sarah, Rosetta and Ellen, they all played with the cradle and loved it so much, and all of them wanted it for their very own, but Nancy and Asher kept it until all six of the girls were married and lived in their own homes, then one day when Rosetta went to visit her parents they gave her the little cradle, and she was, oh, so happy about that, Rosetta was very beautiful and always so kind and good, I think that is why they gave it to her, and she was your great Grandmother, so when her little daughter was old enough she had many happy times playing with the little cradle, I am sure about that, because you see, Rosemary, I was her little girl and loved to put my dolly to bed in the little cradle.  Then after quite several years passed, there was your Mother, my little daughter, and she played with the cradle and was so careful to keep it nice, I am sure that she knew someday she would have a sweet little daughter, who would love to have this little cradle, so here it is for you at last, Rosemary, and little Ginnette is just waiting for you to put her little nighty on and put her to sleep in the dear little old fashioned cradle.
Loads of kisses and hugs, and a merry Christmas,
Grandmother and Grandfather

*Captain Ward would be Tucker and Tolliver's great, great, great, great, great grandfather.


around here

Lego candy dispenser, perfect post-Halloween project
feeding blood worms to the fly trap
a robot autopsy, and another drum set
puzzles with Aunt Cherie
stories don't just write themselves
he has homework, too
playing "store"
playing "baby"
Harry the Dirty Dog, and a self composed piece ironically titled "Quiet"
he is pretty much all ta-da


He makes it look easy to keep an open heart.

When I watch him play with new friends I think about how we all seem to be born with the notion that people are decent.
At this age, and on most days, Tollie occupies such an inviting space.  He is so fully aligned with himself that he has plenty of room for others.

I mean, he'll swing a golf club at a child who steals his ball.  But he doesn't hold grudges, doesn't pass judgment. He has an unclouded ability to connect and an indomitable expectation for good from every interaction.



There are, occasionally, moments I'd like to cut into tiny pieces, morsels I might ration to myself at times when their affection toward one another wanes.


sons, for whom we want everything

What happens to our children happens, in a mysteriously refracted way, to us.
When the boys experience rejection we feel it with them.  When one is criticized we sense the blade of sharp words pierce our own skin.  A part of us detects, like the vibrations of a distant bell, when either of them gets hurt.  We wake to some sort of molecular disturbance when one of them spikes a middle of the night fever.  The insecurity that grows in them accrues to us as well.

When Tucker is having a rough day, when small things loom large, and large things cast big shadows,  my day feels dark and bumpy too.  I know that it is not his worst day, his hardest thing, I know that he has already been through worse.  I also know, exactly, the way certain things can feel Mt. Everest in the moment.  I always try to look at Tuck with eyes that say You are good enough, even when my words are asking him to be better.

I have been tempted on so many occasions to make myself a bridge, to throw my body at his feet to help him through the awkward and around the uncomfortable, over the ugly and across the unknown, to make something easier for him, a friendship, a problem, a learning curve.  When I feel the swell of mama bear, I can't always tell whether it's an anxious meddlesomeness or a protective kinship.  But as his mother there is always, always this desperate, clumsy desire to make it better, even when I know perfectly well that nothing can.

What I can do, though, is remind him that he is wonderful.  Remind him that tomorrow is another day, that new and better things await.  Remind him that he is good enough until he believes it.

I speak the words to my son, but I might as well use them to remind myself, too.


oh snap

1.  easier said than done (from elisejoy.com)
2.  red velvet pancakes #superchef #cheatday
3.  science day, cardboard city
4.  fall is one of my favorite colors #whereswaldo
5.  rich in cousins
6.  hockey sticking

7.  walking stick
8.  high bridge
9.  boone scenic railway ride
10.  new at Wyman Woods #worththewait
11.  witch fingers for halloween
12.  who ya gonna call
13.  go bucks!
14.  we voted


time and change

When I go to bed without posting, turning a critical eye toward myself in the bathroom mirror, I feel like I haven't done everything I should do.  When I wake up in the morning and look back, it's easy for me to see that there are demands in other parts of my life, incredibly rich and robust, that result in less writing.  Plus, I'm trying to afford myself permission to be finished with the day before all my work is finished.

With the changing weather has come some changes in routine.  Most notably: we're all spending more time inside.  We're crowded in the kitchen baking, muffins to pack in school lunches and cookies for after school snacks.  The area bustles at breakfast -- empty and refill the lunchbox, flip the pancakes, drain the bacon, distribute the vitamins.  And at dinnertime -- review papers and permission slips and reading books, warm up leftovers, wipe down countertops.  The dining room table houses half-complete puzzles and partially strung leaf projects.  On the couch the boys snuggle, heads tipped toward each other sharing a screen, bodies covered by soft blankets, up again in a blink, building block towers as tall as possible only because they want something to knock down and the rule is not each other.  The laundry area is as busy as ever.

Sometimes the chaos gives me the sense of being inside a crowded thumping heart.  I've experienced enough cycles to feel a little calmer about how temporary each thing is though, and can manage the way I process the disorder.  I know that herds of tulips will pop up like periscopes, craning this way and that, sent by an inquisitive spring.  I know that summer will come too, that the boys will be screeching and splashing like some future spring break-in-Mexico versions of themselves outside again someday.

Right now the sun sets too soon, the end of the day unravels and exhaustion drapes like lead.  The boys will be up earlier than ever tomorrow, loud and ravenous, playing and eating and doing everything with their whole beings.  Caffeine helps me keep up with them, but at bedtime, when writing doesn't help and wine doesn't help, when I can still hear their heartbeats swishing in my ears, I know I just need to close my eyes and let it be a lullaby.