Dear Tolliver,

Happy birthday!
Your arrival - late November, right as the holidays ramped up - was the best gift to our family.
Red hair like a warning label, eyes chocolate box beautiful, we felt so lucky to meet you.
I swear I'm trying not to recycle phrases from every past birthday, but we love you so much buddy, and I don't know how else to say it.

I am eternally grateful for the little infinities I spent with you as an infant, the sky drained of color, the rest of the world asleep, you curled in the crook of my arm.

Somehow hours turned to liquid and melted into days and here we are, eight years in.
I still wake up every morning wanting to be your best mom.

You are so big now! You are super fast on your feet. A neighbor, who is also a track coach, has already tried to recruit you. I stand behind, feeling the wind, watching. Pretending my heart's not beating away, somewhere else, inside your far ahead chest. I feel like this out-of-body sensation is only just the begining.

Sometimes you are still small. Sensitive and insecure. Vulnerability is not necessarily a weakness. It's okay to be big and small.

You have a dazzling, scarlet smile. And you know SO MUCH about Buckeye football. Also about pangolins. I'd never even heard of them, but apparently their tongues begin at their pelvis?

You are constantly teaching me things.
And your life is often providing me amusement. You are infinitely creative, impossibly energetic, endlessly curious, perpetually annoyed. Sometimes I think if I don't laugh I might cry.

There are times when we trade words like Pokemon cards - animated and passionate, rushed and thoughtless.
There are times when what you say pierces my composure. I'm sorry.

Other adults comment about your conversation skills -- you are really good at the game our church friend plays, "Tell me something I don't know." And you ask provocative questions, whether to the person cutting your hair or the visiting great aunt. People notice this, the way you make eye contact and lean in to listen with your whole body.

You are stubborn, with stamina to spare. The story of your age three 'umbrella versus front porch flowers' is family lore. To this day I don’t quite understand how your dad held firm. I do know he happened to be carrying a solo cup of bourbon as he stepped out the door to discover the carnage.
Perseverance is important.

Whatever your shortcomings, I hope you know there's nothing you can't do .
Whatever my shortcomings, I hope you know how much I cherish you.

I love you from the top and the middle and the bottom of my heart. Forever.


pre birthday parties

We celebrated Tolliver turning eight a little early, because his birthday actually falls on Thanksgiving this year. He always picks the best places to celebrate. 
First at Cabelas, with a candle in the fudge, and some fishing aisle shopping. 
Then at Aunt Sally's for tailgate leftovers and a Buckeye football game replay.
Tollie's looking forward to stretching out the festivities through the rest of the week!


we're okay

Mom, imagine if there were 100 Hanks!
Remember when the coffee was underflowing?

Did that toot sound like so much mustard going on your hot dog?!
Age three does not have much respect for modesty.

Brushing his hair: I look so cool. Mom, nobody knows my style.
Handsome, boy does he know it.

But I'm okay! the Blink cameras caught him saying after he fell down the front steps.
He says it often, when he bumps his head or trips on a tree root.
I hear him say it and think I'm okay too.


portrait of real life


tiny paragraphs

Hank spends lots of time pretending to read and write simple words, which is fantastic, but nearly every moment of his waking hours he is asking me what words are -- if a word is real / how to spell a word/ what a word says.
Please hold, I say, as I haul a giant load of laundry though the narrow hall, and then I can arrange magnetic letters with you. 
Wait a second I motion with one finger as I finish brushing my teeth.
I'll be with you as soon as finish this conversation, I whisper.
Can you go ask your brothers, please?

It's no wonder Hank is interested in books.
Sometimes I think I need to pinch myself. I have kids who like to read *and* write. Three growing boys who draw pictures and tell jokes and do the monkey bars, plus borrow books from the library and stay up past bedtime devouring them.
I know how I feel about their literacy is just a tiny paragraph in the giant book they are each writing of their own lives. And the constant barrage of How do you spells is kind of crazy-making. Still, I hope this chapter is long one.


Iowa in Ohio

Our house has been full of friends all week, and the boys have been spoiled by the attention of extra adults. Sometimes it feels like calendar Tetris to get everyone together, and always I am fairly tired after so many late nights in a row. But there is something about spending enough time together to hear each others small stories -the ones that don't warrant a phone call or Facebook status update, something about sharing run-of-the-mill familiarities of our days -the ones where our kids won't eat what we cook one minute and make us super proud the next- that reminds me how lucky we are to find time to spend together.


to enjoy them

Candy tucked in upper cabinets, soup on the stove, football in the air and as many autumn leaves in the yard as there are adventures to enjoy them.


paying attention

A ticker tape hurtles across my brain, listing all of the things I must remember: snack, bathing suit, membership card, booster shot, sheet music, ballet slippers, sign-up, pick up. 
These lists are a form of paying attention, I think, which is a form of love.


Every walk is a sort of crusade*

Celia's story is the reason for a number of stretchmarks on my heart.
Living with her we learned - with visceral intimacy - the value of hope, not as an intellectual pretension or a spiritual delusion but as a lifeline of sanity and survival.
Still, after Celia's death, we continue to feel a sobering responsibility - and a shining opportunity - to keep looking for ways to promote a cure.
We spent Sunday morning listening to people reconstruct our daughter from memory, telling stories about the way she begged for bites of Jeni's pear riesling, bundled up and wondering with us about what she would have been like as a preteen.

Celia's story is also the reason for a number of good things.
For tremendous gratitude, so much for the family we do have right here, three perfect boys. And the friends who've been with us through it all, especially the ones who continue to show up, in every small way, pleading with us for a different future for the next family.