growing boys

I love to watch the boys when they are most themselves, to see the knowing inside them. 
They are not small people as much as big potential - motion and energy, poetry come alive. 
Watching them as they move through the world, joy radiating in nearly visible lines like the bad smells in cartoons, but good boys doing good things in real life.



Our days feel mostly woven together by tiny acts of making: music, mischief, models, memories, meals...


March is my favorite

We somehow stretched birthday events from brunch one weekend to the Cincinnati Symphony the next, with ice cream and cookies and cupcakes in between, with so many presents (surprise Portugese soda!) and so much special time with first grade friends (and with cats!). 



Dear Hank,

I love the daylights out of you! I love the way your words and your imaginary worlds and your questions are growing with you. I love your hair, the color of fresh pressed olives, and your joyous nature, like a whole gallon in a half pint package. I love to watch a grin spread across your face, the runniest egg cracked wide open. I love to watch you feel the feeling of teaching me things, in the instructor position, the honor of you know more. 

I love your very own transcendent idea of fancy attire, a treasure chest worth of beaded bracelets dangling from your wrists. You are almost always the perfectly right amount of a bit much, your personality enshrined in so much hope. I love when you remind me that it's not what I see when I say you look handsome, but how you feel in your clothes, in your skin, that matters more. 
Still, sometimes I notice your shirt stretched anxious at the neck. Sometimes it's hard to be six, or seven. Spoiler alert, sometimes it's hard to be forty five, too.

Your current favorite color is minty blue and you're enjoying the Harry Potter book series. This year you asked for flower shaped cupcakes, and to visit the kitty cafe and a favorite downtown playground with a few close friends. Your arms, when you wrap them around me, feel higher, so you must be getting taller. And your smile is so big, if we could put it on a scale it'd be at least three quarters of your body weight. Quarters are currently one of your favorite ways to measure things. 
At night, when your head collapses on my shoulder, a thousand thoughts seem to empty with the tilt, each word a rung on the ladder toward sleep.

Do you think I'll be alive in the world of tomorrow? 

I read that some penguins poop so much you can see their poop from space, can you even believe that?

Our family played the board game Bug Bingo recently and after you drew the card for a splendid metallic mantis you said I wish my first name was Splendid.

You were invited to a birthday party at a gymnastics center recently and on the way I explained that Tucker once had a party there, and Celia too. Incredulous, you wondered if Celia could play, and I said no, describing how she could just lay in the ball pit and on a bean bag, but that she was doted on and clearly enjoyed the warmth of everyone's attention. Immobile and adored are basically the only sister stories you've ever known, and you deadpanned: classic Celia. 

Building an obviously precarious situation with wooden blocks, you announced I'm taking a lot of risks with this project.
Honestly, that's kind of how I feel sometimes, mothering you and your brothers.

After a shower you mentioned being a scientist who formulates soap, playing with colors and scents, making the whole world clean and smelling delicious
You basically already do that, Hank, lather the world with love. You could create potions or teach zebras to dance or eat chairs for breakfast, you could do anything.

You are a boy with happy hop-skip feet and the busiest brain.
And I feel like the luckiest mom, to be yours.
You are splendid, Charles Hanley, absolutely splendid.



Happy Birthday Jenni

Jenni writes birthday letters here to her boys. She is too humble to write about herself in this space where she curates memories that future generations will treasure. In deference to her art, I will make an attempt to celebrate the one and only Jenni. 

Disclaimer: neither words nor photos can capture her essence - at least mine can’t.

Jenni harvests words like crops. She plants them in drafts or scribbles them on scrap paper.  She watches them germinate from seed. Thinning out the weak ones, she then replants and fertilizes the strong ones. These days the written word is being replaced by AI while Jenni does the work like a master that has trained 40 years in her craft. She sorts through the thousands of photos we share in iCloud to find the shots that best capture the story she wants to tell.  She has a document on her laptop that holds her blog ideas - I just looked,  it has 59,210 words. That is nearing Old Testament length. 

Many of those words have been posted here but most of them will never be published. It is a safe place to put her words - like a seed bank for the apocalypse of parenthood. The published stuff here is often what blooms the prettiest or bears the most fruit. Some of the words she saves for herself. Someday if you want the whole story find the blog ideas document in Jenni’s files and you will see the work behind the genius and creativity. Pack a lunch and a box of tissues though, it’s a deep cut… some of it Old Testament level.

Surfaces all over our house are covered in lists. Open a drawer and you'll probably find a list. If a person could major in lists in college… Jenni would be a tenured professor. She has a drawer in the kitchen that hides the madness but sometimes it spills onto the kitchen counter and dining room table. She makes lists of lists. You should’ve seen the lists that were made for our Portugal trip! That’s what it takes to keep us all organized, a herculean feat as we approach teenager schedules. I recently got to scratch something off a long term list that has been on my pile for almost 5 years! I was rewarded with a refreshed long term list. 

Lists are her love language. And books too… she cracked the code for getting boys to love to read (me included). When we pick up holds at the library the books are often handed over with a kind message from the librarian: “you are almost at the items out limit (which is 100 items lol).” They are reassured to hear that I put 20+ items in the return bin. Jenni commented on Tuck's stack of books but hers is just as impressive.

Jenni’s daily walks are her only true self indulgence (okay occasionally nachos too). She chews through the soles of shoes like the emotions of the day transfer directly into the pavement. She often immediately comes inside straight to her list pile to sprinkle some ideas on paper.  Amazingly she always returns from these walks restored just enough to get through the rest of the day to give a little more of herself to the rest of the world. It’s amazing what she puts up with from all of us - our stalks all bending to the light she radiates.

Jenni effortlessly cultivates her 4 boys. Some of what she absorbed growing up on the farm in West Virginia must’ve stuck. Those of us that know, understand how hard she works to make all of this happen and she does it with grace and patience.



Pointing us toward the sun

New pots when the boys are root bound in their old shoes or clothes.

Occasionally gently tugging at weeds before they take root.

I thought we were a good match in 1994 when she sat on my lap on the 4th of July. The older we get the more I marvel at who I always knew she was but more amazingly who she has become. I am a much better person because of her. 

Happy birthday Jenni, forever my alto and partner on the stage of life!

💖 Andy 

In Portugal upon seeing this door Jenni loudly pronounced "look at those knockers!"



Dear Tucker,

You wake up every morning, grown. I mean you walk out of your bedroom but seem to keep rising, as if you could tear a hole in the ceiling, in earth's atmosphere, as if you might not cease until you scrape the stars. Taller than both of us now, you look as if you've been placed here expressly to pin so much beauty to the planet.

You fill spiral notebooks with endless scribble and 2D daydreams. There are at least sixteen half-read books beside your bed - Flatland and Gathering Moss, King and the Dragonflies and How Do Meerkats Order Pizza? And always, the giant Oxford dictionary. 
You are a lean forward learner. Sometimes it's so far toward a screen you almost disappear into the device completely. Often it's bent down examining nature, sweeping floodlights over earth's surface with your eyes. Or arched over a new recipe, and devouring whatever's on your plate.

When you have a bumpy day, or make a poor decision, we try to remember that your database isn't nearly full yet, and are grateful you have so many good people helping populate it. We do our best to set decent expectations, to give you the kind of restrictions that provide both support and something to push against. We want you to advocate for yourself, and expect you to practice on us. And we want you to know us as askable parents. Questions especially welcome before, like, 10pm.

At night you tend to pour a tall glass of analysis, a valiant effort to build a bridge past bedtime. Always with an opening conversational gambit, revealing the innermost depths of your soul right before lights out. Once the sky is dark, debates around the kitchen counter feel like passing a bill through congress - the most overused metaphor, the notion of democracy, black beans or refried.

You decided, after weeks and weeks of confirmation classes, to join the church.
You know that very smart people have been asking questions about religion for many years and have come up with different answers, and you seem comfortable with the idea that it may all be a wonderful mystery. You believe in the magic of things that exist beyond what you can see and touch and even explain. You seem to find joy in the wonder, to trust that you don’t need all the information to appreciate the production. 

We were asked to write about how you make us proud, for the church bulletin:
We could pour an ocean onto the page in an effort to describe the ways Tucker makes us proud. He is kind and sensitive, humble and creative. He walks friends home after school and looks for ways to help in the kitchen. He works hard to master high level math concepts and can turn small black dots into beautiful piano music. He has the sort of heart that sticks to things, the kind of humor that draws everyone in, and he always, always says thank you. Tucker adds so much joy to family life at our house! He brings energy to the room and thoughtfulness to the conversation. He is forever curious and deeply observant and makes the rest of us wonder right along with him. He makes little cousins feel big and special, and supports his brothers in their own endeavors. He makes us all pretty happy just by hanging around.

If there is anything you're ever totally secure about, Tucker, please let it be our love.