when they're not fighting

Using language to convey the magic of brotherly love might be like trying to use a wooden classroom ruler to measure the speed of light.


love, made tangible

When I was little, my mom used to say things like "We're having grilled cheese for lunch," as she served it with a side of tomato soup.
(of note: I once missed gymnastics, a beloved activity, because I sat at the table for hours, refusing to take even one bite of tomato soup. And yet I wonder where Tolliver gets his stubborn streak...)

These days Mom says things like, "Oh, you'd rather have peanut butter and jelly! Would you like that sandwich cut into stars or hearts?"
What I'm getting at here is that she tends to spoil the boys.
Case in point: her third quilt, this one for Charles Hanley.
Hank wraps up in it almost as snugly as he's wound himself around RoRo's finger.


one more

In addition to the normal chaos of five humans in the house, a chipmunk lived here over the weekend.

We've been in the habit of pulling open the large sliding door at breakfast, letting in cool air and listening to the birds out back. Sometimes we leave it open and go on about our day, until the humidity creeps up or until a cicada sneaks in.
The boys know that when our family says we, we always mean one more. There's always plenty of food to fill another dinner plate, always room in the car to give a friend a ride. We've had a few good conversations about it while gazing out that back door, the idea that being a friend is a force for good. We try not to exclude anyone from our resources of time and company, acknowledging that however exhausting it may be to spend time with a miserable person, it’s a lot more difficult to be that person.

Seemingly unrelated but ultimately connected and kind of hard to argue with: We have Cheerios! We can take care of him! I will make him a bed!!
I can handle an occasional catch and release katydid, but I'm not keen on cleaning up chipmunk poop.
The back door came with a screen, and it suddenly feels important to unearth it from the basement.


spending the day

Are you hearing that sound? he asks, excitement filling his voice. That's mine brothers home! 
Except it's only nine in the morning.
He follows a loose daily routine, one both time-consuming and challenging, but full of wonder and joy. His schedule includes certain basic tasks - drinking milk, testing the bedsprings, flailing madly on the floor and tinkling gently on the piano, climbing in and out of the stroller for practice, begging to watch Peppa Pig, dumping laundry baskets upside down. He scales the counter stools at least eight times a day, asking for something to eat - double eggs, peeny and jelly, cheese and grapes. He spends long stretches of time poring over a seemingly endless array of stickers, books, paper that he tears apart piece by piece. Together we paint with water colors, bat around a balloon with spoons, stack elephant blocks, race matchbox cars. And together we wait for for the school bell to ring, for the boys to come home.



The boys survived their first day of school.
To pass the time, aside from shooting nerf darts and reading books with Hank, I cleaned out the refrigerator and freezer, taking stock of what we need to use up and making notes about what we ought replenish. I live in a house full of boys who demand more food even as their mouths bulge with the most recent bite.

And then after school - to celebrate a good beginning - our family went out for dinner, something we don't do very often. But first, we helped at the local fresh produce pantry. The big boys bagged crisp green pears from an enormous cardboard box, while Hank hung over the side of the crate grabbing whatever he could reach, taking bites of fruit and tossing them aside like some kind of entitled raccoon.

Occasionally leaving a bag only half-filled, the boys became distracted by an empty potato sack, by the children at the playground next door, by an insect. But they made pleasant conversation with shoppers, and some important neural pathways might have been reinforced. The boys are wired to want to help. They understand that it is hard to concentrate when you're hungry - at school, at work, even when you're helping at the produce pantry.
The next day, the boys went back for day two and I found myself vacuming baseboards and dusting pictures, still killing time while Hank napped and the house was quiet. I wiped the glass in an aqua carved frame, admiring the photo of Celia by the back door. The print is black and white, but I remember the dress she had on, a yellow calico print. Her head is tilted sideways, as it often was.
I thought about what she might've been like as a sixth grader. The dust always comes back, but my daughter won't. So much unspent love gathered up in the corners of my eyes, a lump in my throat, that hollow part of my chest. Grief may be love with no place to go, but I'm working on giving it to her brothers, and showing them ways to give theirs to the world.




new year's eve

I look at the boys and see curious minds, sparkling eyes, capable hands, enormous hearts.
Hearts open to new things, minds eager to learn more -- that may be the best definition of smart?
Regardless, they are ready to go back to school.

Sometimes I will need to remind Tucker to focus on what's left to learn, rather than proving what he already knows. Sometimes I will need to help Tolliver smother any small embers that glow with doubt or fear. Sometimes I will need help with these things myself.
The boys spent the summer turning over heavy stones, looking for creatures and discovering treasures, developing hunting instincts that will help them search for answers too. I hope they will also find things they love to do, problems they want to overcome, people they want to spend time with.

Amid the paper pushing and the content coverage, may they have rich, hands-on learning experiences and rigorous academic challenges, may they have teachers who savor good words and respect sensitivities, who demonstrate a spirit of experimentation and allow for the possibility of being wrong.

As the boys head to first and fourth grade, I want them to know they are always right for trying.
And that, more than anything, they are loved.


keep caring

Grief may be the cost of commitment, the downside to love.
Tahlequah is a mother whose grief has been felt around the world, reminding everyone of their own bone-deep sadness related to loss.
Tucker and I have been following her tour of grief for days, sharing tears, and staring in awe at the mama's strength.

What I could not get past, at first, was the way the other whales actively helped, pushing the carcass to the surface, nudging the mama up there too, escorting her through the sea, literally and figuratively.
I know that life with death can feel lonely, that every aching heart deserves another open heart nearby, that grief shared is grief divided.

May we all be better escorts.

The saddest part of the story, though, may not be that Tahlequah carried her dead calf for 17 days, grief stricken, but that none of the females in her pod have had a successful pregnancy for 3 years, a problem most scientists link to starvation. The critically endangered population and unreliable salmon source is not new news, but this whale has drawn the kind of attention to the plight of orcas that no scientific paper, no task force, can garner.

Mothers are the leaders.

Weeks from now, when this event fades from the spotlight, I want to remember the feelings I have right now. Especially the ones I can't articulate tonight.


staying power

Tolliver is going to have an impact on the world. He already has.
I try to tell him that every single day.

Earlier this week, he spent the entire first half of the day watching out the front window. He watered the neighbor's plants for two weeks, and spent the money he earned on Amazon. He tracked the delivery, and although it promised 8pm, he began to watch around 6:45am. He skipped breakfast, and lunch. He literally sat on the ledge until noon. I wish I had a picture of his face when the mail truck arrived.

When he conquers his temper and gains some experience, his strong-will and perseverance will make him an amazingly inspirational leader.

Tonight I erased the smooth skin slate of his back with the pads of my fingers, and reminded him of his influence in the world. Later I will check on him, and I imagine he'll be snoring on a heap of stuffed animals, plus things like sharpies and screws, three kinds of tape, and an ungodly assortment of treasures he’s been sneakily harvesting from the recycling bin with elaborate sketches for his next leprechaun trap or put-put hole.

This little boy is magic, willing to miss a meal in order greet the mailman, sleeping soundest on a pile of trash. I hope he’ll play and scavenge with me forever, and maybe share some of his fortitude along the way.


waning summer

It is the last full week of summer and I find myself culling from a shallow reservoir of resolve.
You think that vine will hold you as you swing over the rock pile? Try it.
You want to light matches at the sink? Thanks for letting me know.
You'd like to have cheese sticks and cheddar crackers for dinner? Sounds perfect.

If I were to write a parenting book at this point, an ode to the end of summer, I might call it: Fine. Whatever. Go Ahead.

I love all of it, all of the chaos, the joy, the irritation, the boredom, the hardships, the fun. The wet towels and the dirty toes. The BOYS!  I love them.
But my patience index is, regrettably, waning. The needle seems suddenly stuck somewhere between OMG and WTF.
All I have for the boys are sighs. Where do they get the energy for all of the activity? For all of the arguing?!

Summer is Andy's busy season at work, and apparently it is our loud season at home. 
But that's just it, a season, so I know it's not forever. I know I will miss it all someday.
I will miss matchbox cars on the table and stickers on everything but paper, carting five thousand library books to return and refolding the entirety of the linen closet, post-fort.

Still I need a volume control. Plus some kind of armor that forces their complaints to bounce off me and land in a pile at my feet.

Instead I'm just over here like a real life shruggie emoji, trying to ignore the noise and the mess, and acknowledge the luck of it all.