Oh my gosh, my golly

that's my brother Tollie!*
With the big boys back in school, we've arranged lots of play dates and park adventures and pool trips, even put him to actual work on a commercial set, but Hank basically lives for the moment we head down the hill to pick up his middle brother.

* Hank made up the cheer last spring during baseball season, but still recites it



Tucker walked with me last week while Tolliver took his piano lesson. He talked mostly about a book he was reading, The Infinity Year of Avalon James, in which a pair of ten year olds believe magical powers may present themselves at that age.
And then later in the week, Tuck found me in the kitchen, hoping to discuss a plot twist.
The boys have all learned that I will stop what I'm doing to read a book. Often I am busy, and say as much.
My hands are busy, I will play Candyland in a few minutes. My hands are busy, I can help build a marble run in a moment. My hands are busy, can you find something to work on by yourself for a bit?
But I will invariably drop whatever I'm doing for at least one book. Of course I can take a break and read a book with you. And usually, once we're cuddled on the couch, we end up reading half a dozen.

Recently, another more experienced mom asked Why:: You don't have to stop for them, they can wait...
I don't know why, I just decided a long time ago that I could never be too busy to read a book. And that has evolved into not being too busy to discuss a plot twist. It may not be a failsafe strategy, but I do treat books like they're magical, and the kids seem to be growing up believing that too.
Tucker and Tolliver both love to read. Parents sometimes ask me how we did it, how we helped the boys connect with books. And I am quick to say A) I'm not entirely sure and B) I don't want credit.
I know lots of adults who are avid readers but whose children just haven't clicked with literature. One mom told me recently that her husband established "family reading time," so both parents sit down together with their son, play classical music, and read. I loved hearing this idea. I'm not sure we'll do it, but it did make me think about whether the boys see me reading. Not often, as I usually pick up my own book after they're in bed.
But their grandparents take them to book stores and pay for magazine subscriptions and save newspaper articles to share, and the boys understand that our family values reading. And the boys' teachers, thankfully, have not put them under the kind of pressure to read that can overshadow the joy of doing it.

I'd estimate that we have, on average, about 75 library books checked out at a time. Many of them never get read. We keep some in an outdoor tub for after school reading in the treehouse. I've learned that although most of our library books get plopped into a basket in the kitchen, laying a few out in plain sight - on the dining table, for example - has a way of sucking the boys into a story, when otherwise they might've been bored.
The boys read a lot in the back seat of the car. And they fall asleep reading in bed most nights. They take books to the pool to read during rest periods, but usually find friends to play with instead.
Some of my parenting fantasies - children who are impeccably mannered or perfectly behaved, children who actually eat whatever I make for lunch - haven't quite come true yet, but we do feel lucky that the boys devour books.


Oh! come let's sing

It's Buckeye season, and the boys (all four) are pretty excited about the first game this week.
Hank has been poised to complete every "O-H" for a couple seasons now, but this year he has memorized the entire first verse of Carmen Ohio, thanks in large part to Andy's nightly lullaby.
Lately Hank invites everyone to sing with him, like he's already figured out music is a unifying force.


busy boys

Obstacle courses and block parties, books and backyard play, babysitting and breakfast lineups...


swinging back

There are so many naked ladies in our kitchen!

The flowers, guys. That's what they're called. And I cut them for vases like a crazy person, because they're gorgeous and they smell good. And because more than half our people are gone, all back to various schools, and I need some extra doses of happy around the house.

Neither of us are lonely. Hank and I are both perfectly content in each other's company. We find plenty to do, paint and play hot wheels, dress up in costumes and wash dishes.
Plus, it's like we can finally hear each other again. He has so much to say.

We walked to the library before heading down the hill for school pick up today. It was hot, so Hank looked for sprinklers where we could sneak relief, and pointed out naked ladies in neighbors' yards. The chocolate protein bar he chose to bring melted all over his hands and face, and if it hadn't been so sticky it may have been nearly imperceptible because his summer skin is already the color of dirt.
He asked me to pick a leaf from a tree, and clutched it all the way to the playground, where we found ourselves with a few minutes before the bell. Pushing him on the swing, my hand the size of his back, I relished the certainty that - these days - pushing away still means he’ll swing back every time.


it all really is

As this summer draws to a close, it's not exactly sad, but there's some kind of reckoning with another undeniable marker of the passage of time - time spent, time remaining, how precious it all really is.


begin again

The dress I wore to teach Sunday school is in the washing machine with a Spiderman costume that's covered in macaroni and cheese, because who has time for the gentle cycle?

We did not get the boys haircuts or new shoes.

Tucker walked to school by himself, last year's backpack slung over his shoulder and a skip in his step, the rest of us hollering whole-hearted goodbyes from the driveway.
Tolliver found friends on the lawn at the elementary and took off toward the front door before the bell rang, a big smile stretched across his freckled face.

Back to school reminds me, every year, that there's one missing. Like an annual test of my stoicism. As if a return to daily shared custody of her brothers isn't hard enough.
Sometimes it's too much. And by sometimes I mean often, but it's especially too much right now.

I remind myself that tomorrow is the next first day, the begin again.

Tucker has been gathering materials to decorate his locker, and staying up past bedtime to consider gravity and serious meta-physics with Andy, pondering the pages of a book they've been studying.
Tolliver is mourning the freedom of lazy summer days and pickup baseball games, but he's also making new friends and big plans for the playground, plus offering to help with dinner most evenings.
Hank misses his brothers, so we've baked and built a fort and designed marble tracks and played with small plastic sea creatures and read books.

It's not the new lunch boxes or the pressed shirts.
Maybe it is more about being gentle, making time.


on the eve of fifth and second

Dear boys,

As you head off to school in the morning
and as you grow into the people you were meant to be
please remember that we adored you before you knew what assessments were
that we celebrated the sound of your heartbeat before we held you in our arms
that we continue to consider every small good thing you do a magnificent victory

please remember that we are always proud of your best effort
that it is perfectly acceptable to try and fail
and try again
that you do not need to have all the answers right now
that we do not love you because you are perfect

please continue, above all else, to be kind
to be brave
to be curious
to behave, unless the rules are breaking you
to be yourself

Here's to new beginnings
to bouquets of fresh yellow pencils ready to start writing new stories
to magic and music and erasers and early bedtimes
to both of you, dear boys
and to another chapter.

You are loved beyond measure.



so many "aminals"

We visited the zoo and the Wilds this week, allowing the boys plenty of opportunities to remind us that they know way more about animals than we do.

For example:
extirpation is when an animal becomes extinct only in a certain area
a group of giraffes is called a tower
ostriches have three stomachs, and they swallow rocks

*I did not fact check these things, but docents and safari guides seemed pretty impressed slash in agreement