My kids give me wrinkles and gray hair, but they also improve my vision. 
I see a box, they see a boat.  They turn a picnic table into a pirate ship, and a few chairs lined up become a bus, a plate the steering wheel.
In the age of Pinterest, it’s easy to feel like a first-class creative failure, but the boys don't need me to design elaborate play.
Baking brownies from a box can be fun.  The alley is full of ghosts for them to hunt.  They are happy building castles or statues or garages out of wooden blocks.
And there is almost always a circus act occurring in the kitchen.


Disappearing Act

A lot of people may be looking into the heavens tonight, to see the supermoon.
The thing is, I cannot stare up at the sky, day or night, without thinking about Celia.
She disappeared too.

I was reminded recently of the way we sanitized her story.  We still do.  Omission as a form of creation, maybe.  To avoid making people uncomfortable we leave out details, anecdote the narrative with lightness and healing, try to make it more acceptable.

In actuality, it is a story so filled with horror that I wish it were not ours to tell.  I wish no one had to tell a story like hers, one where, in the end, a child dies.  Although it wasn’t really the end, as much as it may have felt like it.

She went mostly gently, no tubes, no oxygen masks, no screeching ambulance.  And that's the way her story goes too, though maybe a little more beautiful in the retelling than in the reality.
Almost four years later and I find myself resenting the idea of filling a car with a third safety seat, making it so that, were she still here, she would not fit in the vehicle with the idea of our new family.

I cry at seemingly random things, strollers and strawberries, the night sky and the number eight.  Deep down I am always thinking about her.
I catch myself whispering her name, spelling out the letters in my mind.  What am I doing, I wonder?  I did not give myself permission to think about her right this minute.

I miss that girl like she’s a place on the planet, a place I visited once and want to go back.

What matters most, I suspect, is that we loved her in the first place.  Learning to feel the presence of that love without the presence of the person slowly helps our grief feel less big.  It's what turns the big grief into grief, and the grief into missing, and the missing into mostly pleasant memories.

She was sunshine, and even when the recollections of her get buried behind the grocery list or the soccer practice schedule, under a mound of dirty clothes or the weight of raising her brothers, there's no way to block her light for long.

The boys and I were reading a little about the eclipse tonight before we went outside to look.  According to Dr. David Wolf, a former NASA astronaut and "extraordinary scientist in residence" for The Children's Museum, "Because a lot of light scatters off the Earth's atmosphere, the moon will not look completely dark but have a coppery red color — hence the blood moon moniker."

A coppery red color.  Because when we look for her, we almost always find her.


not as many phone photos lately

1.  bedtime books: the parenting intersection of joy and exhaustion
2.  he passed the separation anxiety mile marker about eighteen exits back
3.  big dreams
4.  more big dreams
5.  all three boys
6.  angels have a way of looking like colleagues and friends

7.  goodnight Mulford Road
8.  Honeycrisp helper
9.  a detour on our walk to work
10.  still summering

11.  #betzboys at #gobucks tailgate
12.  turns out he can nap with one hundred and four thousand cheering fans
13.  back on "bus duty"
14.  if I had to choose a favorite, this would be it
15.  spirit week in Ankeny, and "team Celia" trumped the Hawkeyes
16.  a new nightcap


growing brothers

Somebody said I had children because I wanted children, not adults.
But that's what happens when we’re lucky, they grow up.

Growth and loss are woven together with pride and joy from the moment of physical separation at birth through every milestone passed.

I tell myself again and again, when they're pouring milk or adding numbers or auditioning for the same role as most irritable sibling: This is the way it’s supposed to go, remind myself that gratitude is the appropriate response.

And instead of worrying about them growing up, I find myself wishing lately, more than anything, that they just don't grow apart, find myself petitioning the universe for my boys to always be friends.

I'm doing my best to spin a web of love so sticky that it covers both of them with a million trails to each other.  And a million trails back home, duh.


And then I wonder why I even bother to buy him clothes.

I look at him and see so many things, the baby he was and the man he may be.  I see my mother, myself, his father, his future and his past and all the glory of the present in a single glance.



Collected over the course of a few weeks, these images are a reminder to myself to try to let go of any worry that they will only ever be entertained by screens.
It might be really obvious from the pictures, but none of these "creations" are built following package directions or with pieces from a specific kit.  All of the boys' Lego bricks are stored together in one big tub, because their preference is really for free-building.  If our house had a soundtrack it might be the noise of a hand running through a trunk of Lego blocks in search of just the right piece.


The boys save me from boredom, that’s for sure.

In the street, without helmets, not the safest activity ever, I know.  But they were so proud of the way they rigged the wagon to the trike, and they just wanted to take it for a test drive.

And this image sums up each of them so well.
I don’t want them to ever wonder how it feels to really like yourself, what it's like to be entirely satisfied.  I try to show them what it looks like when life is done well, but they're usually the ones teaching me.


Autumn wins

Autumn wins all the color awards.
We've collected bright leaves, planted decorative mums and been to football games, campus crayoned entirely with the Crayola set “tailgate triumvirate” -- scarlet, gray and beer.
Autumn wins first place for food, a big crown for cool weather and all the trophies for longer nights.
We've been apple picking, had cider and warm donuts, plan to make chili and pumpkin muffins.
We've been encouraged to pull out quilts and sweaters and candles for cozy nights.
We've watched the sun start its job of disappearing earlier in the day, trying desperately to keep its head up until bedtime, failing.  (Dear sun, We can relate.)
Autumn wins.  Until winter.



He started preschool today, with all the confidence in the world.  
It was like a wave of charisma swept into the classroom before him, I could almost see it, the way heat radiates off asphalt on a hot summer day.
I hope his teachers will see it, too. 


to answer a few questions

No, we are not looking for another "T" name.  That was an accident with the boys.
We've only ever used family names -- Celia Eleanor, Thomas Everett, James Tolliver -- and we hope to land on another one that celebrates heritage.
Recognizing that we still have six months to decide, here are some we are currently considering:

Ambrose, Alwyn, Blazer, Charles, Cecil, Hanley, Herbert, Holton, Gabriel, Neil, Wetherholt

Also, Tucker wrote "Morgen" on the running list, and Tols asked us to write "not Poop."

Yes, we wished fleetingly for a girl.  We would have called her Nelle.  But we are just so glad the baby is healthy. And we realize it might be hard for another daughter to grow up in the shadow of a dead sister.

I feel good.  Maybe not as good as I did nine years ago, when I was much younger and had no summer obligations other than taking Colby for an occasional walk.  Certainly, though, nothing has been worth complaining about.  (Aside from waiting for tests results - that was rough.)
I would like to reserve the right to intermittently sound off about how tired or sore or fat I am feeling, but it should be a given that no matter what I say, more than anything I am feeling fortunate and excited and very, very grateful.


oldest and older, lately