from our ginger-haired gentleman

I think when I grow up I’d like to go to the Police Academy.  But do you think you guys could walk me to school there so I don’t feel scared? 

Can you tell me about this big shiny piece of jewelry what’s on the counter here, Mom?
Oh honey, that’s an eyelash curler.

Both of them with tongues sticking out, faces coming together: Guys! What are you doing?!
Giving a tongue high five.

Favorite lego creation, a dune buggy, that he calls a duney bug.

Talking about Tuck’s loose tooth: You know, RoRo actually growed gold teeth. 

Do you see that enormous spider on its website?!

Hey Mom, that egg (pointing at my oval necklace) looks similar to the one Celia hatched out of, right? Oh no, wait, actually I don’t think that is right. She was the first baby to grow in your tummy, huh. 

Mom, I mean watch with your real eyes, okay. Now watch. 

On Monday, I asked if I could trim his nails.  Maybe tomorrow.
On Tuesday I said “It’s time to cut your fingernails.”  You know it’s not tomorrow yet?

Hey Mom, you know, you’re no fun to talk with.

I think I’m gonna dream about having a farm. I hope my dream comes true. But I need a wishing star. Being a farmer is hard work.

Somebody needs to buy me some sort of grown up watch. Because I keep borrowing Tucker’s.
Okay, we can put that on a wish list.
You mean a watch list? Because they both start with the same sound.

On our way to RoRo's birthday: So she is like old and a half now, huh? 


all that matters

After school we huddle in the hammock, lie back and look at the clouds, talk about a hundred things. Like which girls chased him at recess and whether he liked the new pretzels we packed in his lunch.  Like what meteors are, and how old they are, and how weird that is, and also what kinds of noises people can make with their armpits.

I take my eyes off the sky and re-notice the way he holds so many question in his eyes.  He asks another out loud, and I do my best not to discount his inquisitiveness.
I also do my best to listen to his Minecraft adventures, even though I harbor a misgiving or two around the edges.  They are all stories I don’t really understand, or stories I feel like I've heard a million times, so maybe I don’t even really hear them anymore.

"Mom," he says, "I need to tell you something.  Sometimes I feel like you're not really listening to me."
I guess I'm wondering if someday, if he's still telling me stories when he's thirteen or thirty two, whether I'll hear echoes of one story inside another, echoes of these old questions inside the newest one.

"Tell me again what you were saying buddy?  You're right, I can listen better.  I'm sorry."

“Nevermind, it doesn’t matter.”
Well.  That usually means it matters a lot.  And even if it doesn’t matter a lot, if it matters, then it matters.
Later, I find him in his bedroom.  He’s brought a snack -dry cereal- upstairs, something we don’t do here, but I don’t really mind.  I had spontaneously decided to try to read everything he reads this summer, one way I thought I could be better at communicating, but I can’t keep up.  He brought two books home from the school library on Tuesday and finished both before five o’clock.  We do have several shared books going currently, my favorite being What is the Statue of Liberty? mostly because it’s been a fun way to learn myself.  Now he's reading Ordinary Boy, and I remind him that he's not, and that he matters.  And I listen really well to what's just happened in this chapter, before he begins to ask what's for dinner and where we're going tomorrow and whether you can make cheese with giraffe milk.


I want to remember

the way Tolliver asks Andy to "Tell me about your patients today" every single time his dad walks in the door from work.


boys just wanna have sun

It rained for weeks this summer, but that seems easy to overlook now.  Despite the initial wet weather, and the way my children grimaced at repeated sunscreen applications when the sun was out, despite soggy corn chips and heinous mosquitos, it was such a good season.
I mean, all the backyard barbecues and outdoor concerts.  All the scooter rides and splash parks and zoo trips.  All the outside play.  The pleasant perfume of basil and bug spray.  The strawberry chins and watermelon chests, the skinned knees and dirty fingernails, the shaggy hair and sweaty brows.  All the lightning bugs and front porch books, the peach cobbler and apple pie, the green grass and grub habitats.  The bare feet and the naked bottoms, hammock swings and sidewalk chalk, campfire smoke and patio cocktails, time with cousins and ice ream cones.
I'm afraid it feels so normal, all the good stuff so taken for granted, and I just want to note every blessing.


from the phone

bike rodeo at bible school #maplegrove
SxSW CD release party #titosandtacos
a little light bedtime reading

 snakes on the farm
all five in the creek
"I've never been on the ceiling of a building before!"
best bench ever, Ankeny
#adoptionrunsinourfamily (Chelsey's Dream)
clouds like Xanax
four wheelin' via @iowa2323
three wheelin'

 ice cream sammies a la Aunt Kate
Ohio State Fair butterfly garden
Olentangy Caverns
best damn boys in the land
 #burgersandeyes DK Diner via @julietmingione
on the boat with Grandpa
winning at the backyard
basement campout

siblings, with their father's WW1 service medals via @keg256
sign up soon
after the library
hooray for little Molly via @mkstahlohio
following their lead
first day, first grade



It's like he's our oldest, the first to go to first grade, even though he shouldn't be.  I try not to think about every single thing this way, try not to let whatever he does fall against the backdrop of what his sister did not get to do.
He heads out the back door, skin tanned to the color of a baseball mitt.  I imagine his mind full, crowded with summer experiences and Lego blueprints and questions about the universe.  I imagine his mind ready for more.  He wants to learn about division and geography, to make new friends, to play tag at recess, to be a scientist when he grows up.  I envy his ability to be an undiluted version of himself, and I hope, hard, that he has a good year.

I watch him cut across the alley holding Andy's hand, carrying the same orange camouflage backpack with the same snake lunchbox* inside.  He looks so big and so little, all at the very same time.  I do not want to slow down the fast march of childhood; I feel lucky to have a good public school and a healthy son to send.

I tell myself that today I will carry the thought that he’ll be just fine.  That he’ll make new friends and hold new hands.  I will carry all those good things in my heart right benext to where I carry memories of my own elementary school days, of him as an infant, of his sister.  Carry the thought there, and feel glad for the gift of a boy who can grow up and go.

*in his lunch box this morning:

Dear Tucker,
You are a first grader!
You are a reader.
You are a scientist.
You are a good friend.
You are a great brother.
You are important.
You are loved.
You are going to have an awesome year!


as long as we remember

We have one photograph of all five of us, a selfie taken on the living room rug.  It's printed in black and white and framed in Tolliver's bedroom.  Recently he moved the image from across the room to the table right beside his bed.

Last week, when Tucker brought up her name, Andy asked what he remembered most about her.  Tuck said that she liked applesauce with cinnamon, and that she kept her eyes closed a lot and was usually napping.  

That’s the part that bothers me, that the memory of a sister’s short life wound up colored by the dysfunction of disease.
Sometimes I write down memories for the benefit of my boys, her brothers.  Other times we talk about her together.  Andy reminded Tucker that he used to put the back of his head against hers and press their hair together, how the silent way they spoke taught us to really hear.

When the boys ask questions, we follow each random trail to the fullest conclusion we can.  We try to tell them things they don’t remember or never fully knew, to put words and images to the blurriness of their recollections.  They are fascinated by the idea that she walked around this house, that she talked about shoes and dogs and cheese, that she was alive.
She is more than a sad little ghost caught in a single picture frame.  She is more than a historical event.  She is more than hazy, half-glimpsed visions of red curls and pill bottles, ivory skin and wasted youth.

None of us had the privilege of really knowing her as she grew, but we tell them what we can.  Who knows what might sift through and lodge in the scaffolding of their brains, but they are not too young to understand the currency of memories, how they keep you company.  They learned early on about the clenching muscle of the heart, the way it wants to grasp the ungraspable, preserve the ephemeral.

Of course she is still your sister, we say.  People die, but our relationship with them does not.
She did like cherry yogurt just like you!  Yes, and donuts and pizza too.
That's right, her feet were pointed like a ballerina, we agree, saving symptoms of immobility for another time.
But there was no medicine, we have to remind to Tollie. 

Her story is so filled with horror I wish it were not ours to tell.  It is also a story of adventure, of danger and survival, of grief and loss, of starting fresh, of creating, losing, rebuilding a sense of home, of family, of old friends lost and new friends made, of sibling bonds.  Telling them things they don't remember but which belong to them is like cracking open a space in their self-identity and pouring in the backstory. 
This is where you came from.  This is what we once feared and grieved and how we moved forward.  Her story is your story too, this is who we are.


the days pass

The days pass in microscopic increments.  There are a million small, seemingly inconsequential chances to be patient and generous and kind.
Between blowing on hot food and throwing all the uneaten bites into the trash.
Between clipping fingernails and coupons and flowers for the mantel.
Between scraping lint out of the dryer vent and wiping coffee rings off countertops.
Between folding paper to make it fly and finding the right spot to tickle to trigger a laugh.
Between covering every little crevice with sunscreen and camouflaging dark under eye circles.
Between packing picnics and picking up all the small things on the floor.
Between clicking car seat buckles and grabbing blocks before they're flung.
Between games of hide and seek and trips to the grocery store.
Between boiling macaroni and stringing noodles into necklaces.
In between all of this, I know, are the very best parts, teeth are being lost and crushes are being lit, books are being devoured and dazzlingly slow progress is being made.  I don't want to lose sight of the long game, the one in which each of the tiny times matter, all of the moments do.
I work to center my attention on the very best things, focus energy on stuff that is certain to help us all grow, respond gracefully to whatever occurs, at least most of the time.  It is so cliche, but I am fascinated with the way the days seem so consuming and exhausting and long, but in retrospect, all of it moves fast.  I feel simultaneously delighted and robbed.  And in between all of it, I remind myself that the boys need me for survival, even when I may feel like I just need to be alone to survive.


Olentangy Indian Caverns

as told by Tolliver:
We went deep down inside the earth.  We were looking for bats in the cave but we didn't see any of those.  It was cold and we kept getting dripped on.  The Indians used to hide down there.  We found some of their old teeth.  We founds lots of gems too.