on your mark

Hank is into symmetry lately, which is just a bit unexpected because he’s usually the kid whipping up mostly innocent chaos and inciting brothers to join in:
Emptying all the plastic bowls in the kitchen and stacking them haphazardly right in front of the sink.
Upturning laundry baskets full of clean, folded clothes and jumping, repeatedly, on the pile.
Throwing ALL THE TOYS over the banister into the basement.
But this new task, a near daily occurrence, seems to be activating the more methodical, orderly genes in his little twisted helix. I know this is not the first outpost on some drab and unswerving path to an organized adulthood, but I have to admit, this intersection of independence and engagement baffles me a bit and pleases me more.


such good boys

Feeling proud and worried must be most parents' primary dueling emotions?
When I am not spinning fretful fantasies or dress-rehearsing tragedy, worried whether the boys will grow up to contribute to society, worried whether they'll grow up at all, I am just astounded at how remarkably kind and smart they are.

I wonder whether they're getting plenty of vegetables or too much television, enough sleep and ample individual attention? I wonder whether they will get along or get a job, whether they'll be happy for the successes of other people, whether they'll be happy at all.

When I stop awfulizing the future and look around at right now, I am struck by how bright and intuitive and empathetic the boys are. I notice them writing computer code and reading chapter books, being acknowledged as the nice kid at school and participating in things that challenge them and cheerfully completing chores at home. And also: trying not to touch power cords or Tide pods.

I've watched the way grandparents approach our kids, even just this weekend, not quite exempt from the agonies of parental worry but able to devote themselves almost entirely to amusement and appreciation. I want to do that more now, so I don't regret not doing it later.

I am determined to be delighted, a matter of my own perspective. Instead of brooding, instead of checking the baby monitor forty three times or sanitizing the hand sanitizer (true story) I want to watch the boys play with each other, witness their bravery and brilliance and be paying attention when they're polite without prompting. I want to let pride and amusement and appreciation win.
The boys deserve that, and more.


more light

Admittedly, the lens of faith can distort as much as it reveals.  Hard facts can (and should) be used to scrape that lens clean, or even carve and refine its shape so that it may transmit and refract more light.
- Kate Braestrup


"Deer" boy

Hank retells this very long, very consistent story based on an observation in the Clintonville back yard several months ago. After dinner outside one evening we watched two deer walk through a clearing into some brush. Since then, with wildly animated hand motions, he has recounted the scene at least a hundred times: Mama deer went away. Daddy deer went away. Bear went away. Cow went away. 
So, the scene, plus some embellishment.
He is still obsessed with shapes and Elmo, and newly interested in rainbows and reindeer and colors and counting and candles. He calls them "happy" and he talks about "happy deke" all the time, meaning birthday cake. He might lose his mind in March, when he gets his own...
He loves to sing the ABCs, and spells his last name B-T-Z!
His favorite books are Now I Eat my ABCs and Moo Baa La La La. Also Little Pea and Pouch. And Good Night Moon. He talks about the great green room and the red balloon all day.
He takes such good care of his babies. He pushes them in the stroller and gives them milk and shares his snacks and brushes their scalps with wooden spoons.
Hank is part Andy and part crazy, but so smart and fun, just the dearest, darlingest little boy. Truly. When he makes a mistake and we bend down to discuss it with him - it is NOT SAFE to unplug cords from the wall or play with dishwasher pods under the sink - he says the sincerest Hanky sorry.
He also says a million silly things a day, things I couldn't make up if I tried. It's like interpreting a Mad Lib. A really cute one.
He was a little feverish here ^ last week, which I think might be evident from his poor sweet face. Even sick, such a dear.


how to know it's January

One minute we're all raring to start fresh with resolutions, the next, wishing we could hunker down and take a nap... it's kind of a paradoxical month, isn't it?
We all talk about the weather. What else is there to talk about? Day planners? Diets? Please not politics.

Mittens hang in the mudroom and yesterday's boots bang around the dryer.
Hands are dry and cracked and a tube of lotion stands next to every sink.
On the counter a new calendar, in the fridge a fresh batch of chili.
Stray pine needles still populate corners and exfoliants crowd the shower shelf.
The dresser is full of fleece pajamas and the couch holds more blankets than boys.
Rachmaninoff and the Revivalists are streaming.
Serenity and On Guard are diffusing.
In the stroller, the baby's cheeks are the only visible part of him, greased to shining with salve (or red and ruddy in need of it).
On the nightstand a new novel, and a resolve to finish it before February.
There is salt on the street.
And in the van. And on the door mat.
And everywhere there is hope.


We're on it.

We had a really big list of things to do today:: hang curtains, mount the television, move furniture, fix a leak. Also fix breakfast and second breakfast and so on...
Meanwhile, although we did get shelves up and toys unpacked in the play room, Hank had his own agenda. And on it was not playing with aforementioned toys.
We’re still in that mildly mind-wrecking period of time when the smallest human in the house is making daily work of investigating every nook and cranny and identifying yet another potentially hazardous area in what we had previously considered a fairly safe space.


you can contain

One of my favorite quotes about grief is from Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, where he wrote
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.


the sister above

Dear Celia,

The trick of you is that most of the time you let us forget. Not you, our girl, but the sadness that comes with constant missing.
The fact of you - your life, your soul, your death - is always with me. My body remembers you head down in my pelvis, curled up in the crook of my arm, piggy-ing upon my back. And the pain in my right hip persists, years after the heft of you has gone.

You are the sister above. You are, to your brothers, larger than life. The oldest demonstrates a signature commitment to live with an awareness of you in the world. Your middle brother loves to look at photographs, and always remembers, especially when we miscount. Even the littlest, the one you may have met in the haze for just a minute, knows your name. He talks about you when we slip a hand-me-down shirt over his head and rub lavender lotion on his skin.

We make believe, imagining you here. What color might you have wanted to paint your room? The absence of you seems to have moved in with us.
And instead of remembering, when I think backward now, I'm afraid it feels more like imagining too. I am able to part the mist of memory enough to glimpse the time before you were gone, but some of what should be the most vivid moments, the ones in which you're crawling around eating Cheerios from the floor, are so far back in some foggy temporal region, I wonder if they're real? Time and memory do the fox trot through my mind, fast fast slow, quick quick. You would be almost eleven years old now.

I wonder if God allows a dead girl glances from heaven. Did you see me at church last Sunday, sitting in the same front pew I did the day we said goodbye? I thought of you there, remembering the way I was hugged so many times six years ago I left Broad Street smelling like the perfume counter at Nordstrom. You were loved, and are missed, by so many. I'm still not sure how I feel about church, but sometimes I do pray, mostly because it feels like a better bet than not praying, however long the odds may be. You know about odds, baby. I'm sorry you do.

I wish I could catch a glimpse of you today, nearly a young woman. I wish I could know all the tiny things that would make you who you were meant to be, your quirks and your favorites.
I miss you warm in my arms. I miss smelling your hair like a hound dog. I miss the way you tilted your head. I miss having a daughter. I miss what might've been. I cannot afford to spend all my emotional capital being sad. I miss you, and I move on.

Except most of the time your name is so close to the tip of my tongue. You changed my life. The effects carry me through the years even as the daily maelstrom of current events roil friends around me. I may have been depressed, spending time with you as you faded. But I also became more patient, less anxious, more capable of loving, less afraid. And I think I might still be merely scratching the surface of understanding what your death means for me.

Love you to the moon.

*Batten Disease is not just going to fall gently off our planet. (Unfortunately neither is the president.)
Laura Edwards knows that care is not a spectator sport. Activated by a strong sense of personal responsibility and the deep bond of sibling love, Laura has battled Batten Disease since the day her little sister was diagnosed in 2006. Laura writes and runs and speaks in an effort to raise awareness and funds for research. She will run in Sedona on February 3 with a picture of Celia in her pocket. Learn more about her "all 50 states" effort and donate to help cover the creation of the first Standard of Care for infantile Batten Disease. Our family might have benefitted significantly from such a roadmap, which should take some of the guesswork out of disease management and allow healthcare providers to offer improved quality of life for patients and their families.

Learn more, and donate directly here:


a watchful eye

Sometimes my agenda is in conflict with what is actually happening.
I try to spend more of my time paying attention, just keeping a watchful eye.
I do not feel compelled to tell all of the stories, the accidents and arguments, the misunderstandings and mistakes, but I have mentioned more than once that there are some struggles alongside all the joys. I don’t know, this is the first time I've raised three boys and this is the first time I’ve parented an eight year old and we just have some shit to figure out.
I know I can't push the boys to be something they're not, but I do want to encourage them to be more of certain things. Honest. Grateful. Confident.
I want them to grow up believing they can handle things. Not necessarily confident that they will know how to do everything, but that they can always figure it out. I want to believe that I can figure it out, too.


He does love to help in the kitchen.

Tolliver is intense.
Which is to say, if you were thinking this blog was like a book where characters evolve rapidly and plots move forward with surprising twists, sorry to break the news.
Spending time with Tols is a bit like playing a slot machine. He is someone who is given something good and receives it as either perfect or horribly insulting. Either he is having the best day ever or the worst day ever. Everything is epic, everything is off, everything is boring, he’s already done everything, why do we do everything without him?
His region of delight is the size of the head of a pin.
Thrown into this disorienting arena with him, I try to understand that his world can feel incredibly small or incredibly large, and nothing is really stable, logical, or obvious.
Tollie is actually, sometimes, the most competent person in the house. Other times he is a puddle.
He is enraged by his brothers, red capes dangling in front of bull. He is also enraged by socks that won't quite go on right and by all sixteen meal options offered and by a request to brush his teeth.
Daily life with him can be turbulent. But he is not often mean-spirited or mindless, even when he's stormy. He just has big feelings and strong opinions.
And he is actually, often, full of so much joy. I mean, he is the kind of kid whose relentless joie de vivre requires a lot of energy from one mere mother. Maybe I could loan him out?


outside voices

We have had some real winter weather in Columbus. The kind of cold that contributes to everything feeling kind of hard. Plus the kind of wind that has teeth.
We have also had a lot of together time. Winter break did not feel like my finest parenting hour.
We were all glad to sneak out in the snow for just a bit, and the boys loved being first at the sledding hill. They also loved the opportunity to use their outside voices.


new year

If I could put in a 2018 request, it'd be for more books and less screens, fewer house-related decisions and more time outside, more naps and not so much cleaning, less consuming and more creating, bigger hugs and a smaller footprint, fewer things and more places, less hesitating and more leaping.


over the course of a week

As Christmas stretched out over the course of a week, I felt both grateful for all the family we get to celebrate with, and wealthy in the way so many of our normal weeks are full of family and friends and magic and wonder, too.
I mean, there's an extra dose of all that this time of year, board games and cookie parties and long wish lists, cozy holiday jammies and midday coffee dates and stockings hung with care. Albeit along with a few extra stresses :: shopping and wrapping and baking and lessons in fire safety at the candlelight service. Plus at least one extraordinarily early wake up call. And also, this year, MOVING.
We've lived in the new house for one week now. There are cardinals out every window, bright against muted winter colors. There is snow glittering under streetlights and the lingering scent of fresh paint. The cabinets are full of food, and lots of friends have come to visit, stepping around moving boxes and sitting on the empty dining room floor. The boys are happy and adjusting remarkably well. There is still furniture stacked all over the place and nothing on the walls, but there is ordinary magic too, and it is starting to feel like home.