race car brains with bicycle brakes

Tolliver turned six and a half this summer. We made a little deal out of the day. Mostly because it seems that we can’t do much else right, and he feels compelled to complain about lots of things: The specific t-shirt he wants to wear isn’t clean. The music in the car is too loud, the television is not loud enough. I didn’t bring the right snack for him. Or the right towel! His water bottle is not cold enough. He doesn’t want to go out for dinner — he’d rather stay home and ride bikes. The tape isn't sticking right, the Legos aren't clicking right, the watermelon is cut the wrong way.

Most people who know Tolliver well also know the story, from several years ago, of the front porch flowers versus the umbrella.
We had a similar situation last week, on a day when temperatures neared ninety degrees. Tollie sat in the shade for over an hour, watching his brothers play with other children in the fountains. He could not participate because I had not packed the right swimming trunks for him, and he did not want get his clothes wet.

I wonder if he came with red hair as some sort of warning label? Of course he’s a super charming, charismatic, polite boy most of the time. And it’s really just us, his parents, who are on the receiving end of his negativity. His mood at home is still mostly analogous to a slot machine - we don't always know when we’ll be lucky enough to win cherries and cheerfulness. We are eager to learn how best to respond to his moods so that we don’t add fuel to the fire, and so we can navigate this phase with humor and understanding.

Sometimes I'm able to detect a faint shift in his face and know religiousness has overtaken him, so I try not to give him anything to push back against. He will invent arguments if he is feeling belligerent enough. Like yesterday, seriously, he DID NOT wake up Tucker at too early o'clock, he WAS JUST ASKING TUCKER A QUESTION. NOT WAKING HIM UP!

Harsh words have the predictable effect of heightening Tollie's boldness, almost in defiance of them. His voice becomes louder, laden with panic and frustration, his anger a larger revolt against the loss of control or the humiliation of being wrong or the increased pressure of responsibility. He has an underdeveloped brain, and at six years old, an overdeveloped desire to be in charge, to court danger.

Recently one grandmother explained that Tollie's brain is developing at such a quick rate, the ‘wiring’ and functionality may be temporarily defunct, the neurological workings unsettled as they adjust to the growth. She asked me to try to see my six and  half year old in the same light that I see my toddler. When my toddler is cranky, I don’t get mad at him, I try to figure out why he’s cranky. Maybe he’s tired, maybe he’s hungry, maybe he’s been in the car too long and he is restless. Maybe my school-age child is too.
There are lots of developing brains around here. Including my own.

Tolliver put together a putting green challenge in the basement the other day, and built a golf club out of Lego bricks. I helped, supplying materials and testing the course, watching him create and encouraging his ideas. I think attention might be the purest form of generosity. He thinks pizza and a consta-clean favorite shirt are. I stocked up on extra pepperoni and laundry detergent and am doing my best to keep his love tank full.


so much to say

At some point since his 6am wakeup, Hank discovered a winter hat, and squeezed into it before breakfast. Climbing up to sit at the counter, he requests double* eggies, something that may be typically relegated to a holiday menu, but has, at our house, become almost an every day thing. I mean, it's hard to resist such a reasonable request.

Recently he called me to his room in the middle of the night, telling me there had been a very large racket outside his window. He reminds himself often that Mommy and Daddy keep safe Hanky. Especially from purple snakes.

He wonders regularly whether we're hearing that sound? A lawnmower, a helicopter, the garage door, a song, a very large racket outside... You hearing that sound too?

His favorite color is cyan. We had to look up that word, when he identified the color between green and blue in the wooden rainbow he builds with. We're not really sure where he learned the term, but he notices it all over the place. He was particularly excited to discover - on the cover of a bathtub book - the letter H in the word "BATH" in his favorite shade: Look! A cyan H, a cyan H!

At bedtime, after we've read books and done big hug, little hug, he looks up from my lap, big brown eyes tired yet hopeful, and says Please sing me a song.
And again, I can't resist.


a flamboyance of flamingos

and a LOT of really happy outdoor time at the new Franklin Park Conservatory Chidren's Garden.


I remember

A gaze of raccoons, a rhumba of rattlesnakes, a float of crocodiles.
A dazzle of zebras, a rafter of turkeys, a business of ferrets, an exaltation of skylarks.

Hank arranges the small plastic people on the bench - the mother, the father with binoculars, the brother with blond hair, saying "Make room for your sister sit here too. She wants watch the animals eat."

When Tucker played with this zoo set, he imagined less and recited more.  Donkeys aren't the same as horses. He liked to group the creatures in separately fenced pastures, to keep prey safe from predators.

Tolliver, whose love language was for the longest time cars and trucks and things that go, preferred to drive the tractor around, vrooming and beeping right past the living things.
A stud of horses, a school of fish, a pride of lions, a tower of giraffes.
A murder of crows, a congregation of gators, a memory of elephants. A memory of elephants. Nothing thunderous in that phrase, nothing like what might be suggested by the word herd or parade. But still, something enormous and consuming and ethereal.

I remember, and we play.


we already know what happens to those caterpillars

Most of the time Tucker is reading a book. Or twelve books. Tonight it was the enormous encyclopedia of caterpillars from the coffee table. Tuck is full of facts, so confident, so certain about everything, so convinced there is a right and wrong, so positive he knows one from another. He is also, admirably, open to everything he doesn’t know, lingering comfortably in all the gray space.

At his spring recital it was clear that Tucker is becoming a well-trained pianist. More than one (mostly unbiased) audience member pointed out that Tuck not only knows which notes to hit, but he is also beginning to make the music his own.
His teacher seems to be an expert at knowing how to differentiate between challenging a child and asking too much of him. I feel like I could benefit from a lesson on that.

Tucker learned to ride a bicycle this summer. It's just something he's never been inclined to try. I pushed a little, and he grudgingly gave in. We headed out midday, while Hank napped, me hunched over and sweating, him pedaling furiously and finding balance. It didn't take long for him to catch on, and he had the best time keeping up with the big kids at the recent block party.
Tuck has a new piano piece assigned for practice over the summer, ambitious with alternating hands. He began with just the first few measures, and then moved on to the whole first page. He can get all the way through the song now, not without some minor glitches, but he performed it twice for company this past week.
He is still, mostly, too carefree to spend much time analyzing mistakes. That doesn't mean he isn't learning, isn't trying to improve his skills, just that he doesn't perseverate.  I could use a lesson there, too: It's okay to share things with people before they're perfect; things might never be perfect.

He made a poor choice at the pool last week, and came to me with guilt written all over his face. I'm so sorry, he whispered, clearly remorseful. I mess up too, bud, I responded, wishing hard I could absorb it all on behalf of him, and trying best to communicate both my appreciation for his honesty and my complete faith in his ability to handle any thing.

Tucker has handled so many things. I'm not sure which of these forced me to consider the essence of some recent transformations, but I do want to honor the moments when Tuck takes a further, substantive step toward becoming a bigger, better version of himself.
Turns out gradually letting go of the back of the bike is a good place to watch wings spread. I hope he sees himself the way I see him.


there's always something*

*There are usually many things.


on the river

We spent the weekend with friends, along the Ohio River. Hank carried around an old yellow Care Bear - Sunshine Bear, if I remember correctly - and it was merely one of MANY things that felt reminiscent of my own growing up. I remembered how to drive a wave runner, the way the muck felt beneath my feet, how easy it is to become absorbed scooping and pouring, to lose track of time.
I was thrilled to see all three boys take to the river right away. 
Two baths later they still have dirt in their ears and under their nails, and I completely understand why my argument "but I went swimming today" never held up to my parents' bedtime directive to hop in the shower.


a magic

There is a magic among these brothers that is all their own.


red white and boys!


a hymn for the haze

On a scale of one to psychopath, we may have been super crazy to take the boys downtown.
The new playground was almost too hot to touch. And the fountain park was really crowded, a rainbow of humanity gathered to cool off, packed like berries in a jar of jam.

We managed to find a shady spot for our picnic, and while one of us watched Hank like a hawk, the other doled out food. The boys each ate all of the things we packed for them, cold cut sandwiches on bagels, nectarines and fig newtons and snap peas and strawberries. And then they pretty much ate all of the salad intended for us, picking out cheddar cheese cubes and almond slivers and pear slices, leaving only a few lonely leaves of kale.

A lady observed us trying to coordinate our own little slice of chaos: shoes off, sunscreen on, food in mouths, boundary reminders. At one point she came over to say something along the lines of Oh, you have three boys! They're so handsome! Are you going to try for a girl?! It's such a risk...
Once, at the fountains a few years ago, I lost sight of Tucker for a moment. I mean, it felt like an eternity, time enough for a future without him to flash forward. The fountains had a mist feature, and when the program switched all of the streams to vapor, I couldn't find Tucker in the fog. I located him nearly a lifetime later, running through a row of rose bushes nearby. I hadn't even been looking in the right place.
The next day I wrote a letter to the city parks department explaining the risk, and requesting they reconsider the mist.

I did not address the stranger's curiosity on Sunday. We had already determined not to let the sun violate our outing, so neither would her wondering. We did have a daughter, but we lost her, I thought, nodding vaguelyAbout that time Hank began to run, which felt like the best news the earth could deliver -- sidetracking me with gratitude for who is right here, a child demanding just enough attention to let the question, and happy memories of her, hang in the air.

watching the grass grow