Thursday, November 29, 2012

Getting Organized

*I have not been blogging lately because I am taking a writing class and I've had too much homework!  But this is something I wrote for class this week that would fit here on the blog, so here it is.

Getting Organized

I like the idea of getting organized.  The idea of everything having a place and every place having a label and every label having letters drawn with precision and love and clean, neat, bold lines and loops that say clearly and exactly, “You’re looking for the wood glue?  Here it is.  Right here in this box, labeled with deep, dark, rich letters: 
 Wood Glue
When the baby clothes started to pile and bunch in the drawers, I bought a label maker with my 40% off Michael’s coupon.  I bought stacks of Rubbermaid bins from Target and I spent the afternoon happily folding piles and organizing them in bins by size: 
0-6 Months
9-12 Months
12-18 Months
I stood back and smiled at the closet when I was finished.  Everything had a place, everything was stacked and labeled, and when I needed to find them again for the next child, I would know just exactly where to find everything.

And when the next child came and it was another boy, Charlie, I opened up that closet and happily pulled out the clothes I would need and washed them and folded them neatly in the nursery drawers, stacks and stacks of beautiful, soft-cotton, slightly-stained onesies ready to reuse.  Clothes in the drawers.  Money in the bank.

And then Charlie grew up.  Faster and bigger and different than his brother before him.  The onesies were too short, but the pants were too long and so I started rooting through the other bins, skipping ahead for some things, furiously flipping around for what might fit, what might work.  And things began to pile and bunch again.  And when I took a minute to try and organize them once again, I couldn’t find the label maker.  I had never found a place for it, never made a label for it.  It didn’t seem to belong with anything else and so it just got put on a shelf and then on another shelf and then it got put…somewhere.

So, I pulled out some masking tape and a Sharpie and I labeled by hand, but the letters were no longer clean and neat.  There weren’t bold lines and strong loops.  Precision was gone.  It was a scrawl, hardly recognized as language by anyone but the creator of these haphazard letters.  And now it simply said: 
baby clothes
And then we moved and things got stuffed places and packed under and around and back behind other things.  Old VHS tapes with treasured movies recorded off the TV—A Few Good Men, Dirty Dancing, Sommersby—Halloween costumes, empty picture frames that would someday look good with pictures in them, Easter baskets, finger-paints, scraps of fabric that might someday look nice pieced together somewhere.

And then the babies grew some more and everything was stacked and sort of buried and the labels weren’t so sticky anymore and some of them began to curl and fall off and stick to other things.

And the 0-6 month bin was stuffed full, but there was some room in the 9-12 month bin and here were some baby socks and hats and here was a 0-3 month sweater and well, it fit in a bin that was label-less but had room so I slid it in under the lid of the wrong bin and I walked out of the closet and shut the door behind me.

And a few months later when Charlie was too old for the rattles and dangly car seat lovies and the plastic hammer and nails that sang songs when you bopped ‘em, I found a bin that was half full of baby bottles and a few burp clothes and bibs and even a 6-12 month sweatshirt and I stuffed in the outgrown toys and I scrawled:
baby stuff
I like the idea of having another baby.  One more person to snuggle up to, one more story to unfold, one more character in the story of our family, of our life.

And this character I think would be a free spirit, someone who wouldn't mind wearing a 3-6 month onesie with a baggie 9-12 month pant.  Someone who would not be opposed to wearing a pumpkin costume to Christmas Mass or collecting Halloween candy in his Easter basket.  Someone who wouldn't give a shit about being organized because all he wants to do is traipse off into the woods with a backpack he found in the old storage closet and a sandwich of leftovers he flopped together from the cheese drawer of the refrigerator where he also found a bag of old carrots and an unexpired yogurt cup.

This third child, I think, would get less and need less because he’d quickly learn that although we like the idea of everything being neatly in its place, in our house, things are frequently missing. 

But he won’t care because all he wants to do is hike deep into the woods and find an old stump to sit on while he eats his sandwich. 

And I imagine him that day as he sits on the stump, soaking in the delicate scents, sounds and sights of the woods.  He’ll sit there breathing in the crisp, tree air, he’ll marvel at the canopy of yellow around him, and he’ll close his eyes for a moment in prayer to God that all this was created for him to escape to.  And he’ll sit there in his hand-me-down pants with the patch over the knee that his mom had sewn from some old scrap of fabric she found buried somewhere and his hungry fingers will reach back into his bag to scoop out his yogurt, when he’ll stumble upon some gray, blue, hard plastic thing buried deep at the bottom.  And he’ll wonder as he retrieves it what the heck it is and why it’s covered with letters and numbers and a screen like a calculator.  And he’ll wonder what the heck it’s doing in this old backpack he found in the closet.  And when he turns it on and presses PRINT, and listens to eeking, creaking sound it makes that shatters the quiet of his woods, he’ll wonder one more time why there is a sticker that comes out the side and why that sticker says nothing but:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"Blah," said Toad

“Blah,” said Toad.

A common phrase in our house.  Used when the milk spills, when the sand dumps out of our hastily kicked off shoes onto the rug, and when one of us just needs a little giggle.

Frog and Toad have become our friends.  We love to sit down with their stories and discover the silly little anecdotes that fill up their days.  They make us ribbit.

Although each of these friends has fine qualities and one would not be complete without the other, I find that I have a special affinity for Toad.  It’s always been like this for me.  I like the underfrog. 

In Winnie the Pooh, I have a preference for the chronically depressed Eeyore, I’ve always favored Simon over Alvin, Bert over Ernie, and Grumpy over Happy, Doc, or any of the other jollier ones. And Cubby is my favorite Neverland pirate.  If you ask me, Jake is nothing but an over-gelled, handsome, goody-two-shoes and Izzy is a slut.

And so it is with Frog and Toad.  Frog just generally seems to have his act together at all times.  He’s a get-up and go kind of amphibian.  He stands taller, looks better in his bellbottoms and his green is a nice, vibrant lily-pad color.

Toad, on the other hand, is self-conscious, crabby, slow on the uptake, short and pond-turd yellow.  He is not who the ladies notice first.  I adore him.

And it’s not hard to figure out why.  Because reading about Toad is like looking in a mirror—I am always relieved to see that someone else has the same unsightly warts.

All of the Frog and Toad tales are hits with us, but the one that makes us laugh the hardest is “A List.”  Toad wakes up and makes a list of all the things he has to do for the day.  If Finny could write a list, it would resemble Toad’s:  Wake-Up, Eat Breakfast, Get Dressed, Go to Frog’s House, Take Walk with Frog, Eat lunch, Take nap, Play games with Frog, Eat Supper, Go to Sleep.

He is ecstatic when he realizes upon waking up that he can cross out Wake-Up.  I smile.  As a stay-at-home mom, I should make a list like this.  My productivity levels would sky rocket, and I would feel like a million bucks.

The climax of the whole story comes when Frog and Toad are on their walk and Toad gets out his list to cross Take Walk with Frog off his list.  His list blows away and Frog suggests they run after it.

“No,” shouted Toad, “I cannot do that!”
“Why not?” asked Frog.
“Because,” wailed Toad, “running after my list is not one of the things that I wrote on my list of things to do!”

And with that, Toad says “Blah,” sits down and loses all hope for productivity.

And this could be me on any given day.  Misplaced the bag of caramels I bought for making candy apples a couple weeks ago and fell to pieces.  Found the crock-pot off when I went to retrieve our chicken dinner from it at 6:30 p.m. and whined like a four-year-old.  Misplaced Charlie’s new water bottle and dreamt about its possible whereabouts all night long, only to find it behind the orange juice in the refrigerator.

Feeling productive with kids under five is a fruitless endeavor.  It’s an uphill climb that involves an extraordinary number of avalanches.  Tape a ripped book.  Find another page ripped within five minutes of returning it.  Pick the flung hot dog off the floor, see the flung peas land in their empty place moments later.  Put all the blocks back in the bin?  Why?  Why?  Why ever do that?  They belong all over the rug like tiny landmines just waiting for a misstep by a bare foot.

So “Blah.”  There are daily occasions for blah.  This is not a pretty job.  It’s messy and dirty and exhausting and it’s often quite literally, pond-turd yellow.

So I appreciate Toad.  How defeated he is when he loses his to-do list (“A List”), how desperate he is to just hibernate for one more month (“Spring”), and how he wants nothing to do with talk of will power when it comes to a bowl of freshly-baked cookies (“Cookies”).

I need people like Toad in my life.  And so do my boys.  Imperfect people who sometimes feel defeated, but figure out a way to laugh about it…eventually.

And we need friends like Frog who accept us, unconditionally for all of our silliness, all of our flaws, all of our blahs…and walk with us really good-looking pin-striped bell bottoms.

[NOTE:  While finishing this blog, I changed a poopy diaper, wiped a poopy preschool butt, fixed two snacks, organized a glitter glue craft, fixed a Happy Meal toy, and kissed away some tears after a fall.  None of these things were on my To-Do list.  Feeling Froggy.]

All quotes are from:  Lobel, Arnold.  Frog and Toad Together.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Trolley Trail

We put on hats, fastened under chins and pulled snug over ears.  We pulled on mittens.  We pulled off mittens, left flapping, hanging by elastic out of coat sleeves.  We left the light on, locked the door, grabbed our bags, and hit the trail.

Imagine that:  a trail just at the end of our alley.  The Trolley Trail they call it because it used to be a trolley line.  It’s through the trees, but you can still see the cars and the lake below.  It only goes three blocks—the perfect length for a one-and-a-half-year-old and four-year-old.

We crunched and collected.  Red ones, orange ones, yellow ones.  Not too crunchy.  Look for soft ones.  Here’s one!  Oh, is this a good one?  That’s a great one!  Found one!  A hunt.  For fall leaves.  For nature’s treasure.

We ran, we skipped, we jumped.  We found logs and sticks and stumps.  We didn’t go far, but it was far enough to feel like we were in another place.  The woods, but not quite.

And I watched them, bundled and red-faced from the chill in the wind.  And I enjoyed them, simply delighted by the ground and what had fallen on it.  And we moved…slowly.  In no hurry to get anywhere at all.  Just to put one foot in front of the other and crunch, crunch, crunch.

It’s getting dark.  Everything is falling.  Slowing down.  Minnesota summer was remarkable.  A big yellow vacation.  But fall is here, whispering winter’s chill and dimming the lights, and I’m ready.

Slippers are in the basket, soup is in the crock-pot, and leaves are coming indoors, in our bags, in our hair, tucked in the cuffs of our pant-legs.  It’s only October, but I’m feeling bold, Minnesota.  Bring us home, slow us down, snuggle us up.  I can handle the nip of your fall air, and I’m bracing myself for the chill in my bones when the crunch of leaves suddenly becomes the crunch of frozen earth.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Almost Four

 Dear Finny,

You’re almost four.  Four in four days.  And today after lunch you told me you wanted to be five.

“No, no, no…” I shook my head at you.

“Why not five?”

“Not yet.  That’s too fast,” I said, “For now, you’re just going to be four.  And you’re still three.”

Three, almost four.  I remember this age from when I was there.  I remember that when I was six, I told people I was four.  Still wanted to be four, because in my mind, four was the last age that the grown-ups thought you were cute.  It was the last age you could be before they would ship you off to school every day.  Four meant being home with Mommy.  Sitting on laps.  Soft, cute, little.  Something after four seemed to mean that you were no longer cute, you were no longer a baby—you were a kid and things would be expected of you.  Unconditionally loved, but no longer unconditionally adorable.

And now here I am, about to be the mom of a four-year-old and I find myself in a familiar place, but on the other side.

As I tucked you in for nap today, I asked you, as I always do if you wanted me to lay with you, and for the first time in a year and a half, you said, “No.”

“You don’t?” I asked, trying to hide my surprise, as I slid off my shoes.

“No, Mommy.  I’m going to be four soon and so I should learn to go to sleep by myself,” I heard myself echoed back to me in tiny resoluteness. 

“Okay, you’re right,” I said.  Relieved because I could sneak off and get something done without having all energy drained from me.  Sad because I love laying beside you, snuggled up with my baby as you pester me with nose kisses and plans for playing Tarzan after nap.

As I started to walk out the door, you called your own bluff.  “No, I want you to lay with me.”

And I did and you kissed my nose and planned out the Tarzan game while I gently told you to close your eyes…and your mouth.

And since you actually fell asleep today, now I get to sit down and record this for you, so that you remember who you were at three, almost four, and who I am right now as your mommy.

Finny, you talk incessantly, almost without stopping, which is why, despite what the child psychologists say, we sometimes watch shows.  It gives us a break while you refuel your imagination with more “games” to play.

And you are a Master Gamemaker.  “Mommy, I have a new game for you.  It’s called Lion Eats the Mouse.  Mommy, I have a new game for you.  It’s called Tornado Verses Volcano.  Mommy, I have a new game for you.  It’s called Baby Charlie.  I’ll be Baby Charlie and you be Baby Charlie’s Mommy.”

You name it, we’ve played it:  Rapunzel, Tarzan, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Peter Pan, Jungle Book, Finding Nemo, Aladdin, Snow White, Pinocchio, Mona and Ruby (the names of our neighbor girls), Clifford, Wordgirl, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Superheroes, Lady and the Tramp, Berenstain Bears.  Etc, etc, etc.

Any book we check out at the library, any movie or show that ever flashes across the screen, for you, Finn, immediately becomes a game we’re going to play, characters we’re going to be.

It’s a good thing I picked up that acting minor in college.  Being your mom has truly been the greatest role of my career.  I have never had so many opportunities to play dog, cat, princess and volcano all in one day.  You’ve landed me the best roles, right beside you.

Your imagination is bright and colorful and brilliant and fun, but it takes you dark places too.  To bad dreams and worries and tales of how you’re going to drop off all your friends in the dark, dark wood or drop them in the deep, deep sea or how you think we should leave Charlie outside for the wolf.

I’m discovering that three, almost four = feelings and emotions.  You get angry now in a way I never saw before, and you’re not quite sure what to do about it.  So we talk about it.  We work on it.  We try to find a language for it that doesn’t involve saying “hate” and “kill.”  You’re a sweet boy.  Sweet boys should sound sweet.  I’m fighting hard against a violent culture to keep the violent culture out.

And most of the time, you are the sweetest. 

When we were walking to the park the other day after the library, to show your appreciation for a trip to the park, you said, “Thank you, Mommy!  Mommy, I think I’m falling in love with you.”

The best.

I am delighted by how you and Charlie laugh and giggle and speak the unspoken language of brothers.  Charlie lives to entertain you.  And I love that when all the attention is on Charlie as it tends to be when a one and a half year old is around being all cute and little, you are rarely jealous.  You just join in on the laughs, encouraging him to be funny, egging him on.

I can’t capture all that you are to me right now in a letter.  Your cute, boney knees.  Your contagious laugh.  Your sweet, practical matter-of-fact way of negotiating the plan for the afternoon right down to the apple juice, the cheese and crackers and the route we will take to the park.

But I can tell you, I love this time with you.  There are of course days when the whining and the chatting and the roughhousing and the no-napping send me straight through the roof or the Pinot Noir Cabinet.  But most days, I love just being with you.  Eating breakfast, lunch and dinner beside you.  Watching you play in the sand by the lake.  Hanging from the bar above the slide.  Finding new playground equipment you are brave enough and big enough to climb.  I love watching you slide the library books under the scanner all-by-yourself.  When you grab the pen off the kitchen counter and declare that you are going to write your name as you scribble circles round and round.  When you tell me you and Charlie are playing naked, as I walk in and find your butt in the air and Charlie’s arm out of one sleeve.  When you negotiate the number of yogurt pretzels you’d like.  When you tell me you want to walk.  When you kneel beside me at night and thank God for the day and ask Him to help you listen.  When you show up in our bed at 4 a.m., even though we have a sticker chart to try to keep you out.  When you ask me to sing Baby Mine and hold you like a baby.

And I hope you know, Finn, that that’s what you are.  Always will be.  Three or four or five or thirty-five.  My baby.  Tell your wife I’m sorry.  Still my baby.

Precious.  Precocious.  Perfect.  Finny…three, almost four.

I love you, Finn.


Monday, September 10, 2012

The Sleep Won't Come

I cling to it with white knuckles.  I grip it hard and wrestle with it.  I snake charm it into submission.  I beg for it in hard, fist-clenching, head-pressed-to knuckle prayer. 

The nap.

For a tired mom of little ones, the coffee and cookie in a quiet house at nap time is life-blood.  It’s survival.

And now, after three days of no nap, I sigh, sad, grieving, fearful—Is the nap gone? 

Every time I brag to another momma about my almost four-year-old son who still naps, I look for wood to knock on.  Three hours.  I say.  Three hours!  Every day.  And I watch a sad, distant memory cross their faces as they remember a lover they have lost. 

I don’t really mean to brag, of course.  It’s more like a counting of the blessings.  But I still like to watch their faces to remember how lucky I’ve been.  Finny still naps.  Alleluia.

I’ve been called militant.  I’ve been told I run a tight ship.  But the nap, I sink my teeth into it every afternoon and let its sweet, quiet nectar run down my face.  I snuggle in deep and let its salvation fill me up.  I.  Love.  It.

I drink coffee.  I read a book.  I write.  I pay bills.  I answer emails.  I prep dinner.  I clean…occasionally.  I sleep.  But most of all, I think complete, uninterrupted thoughts for a couple hours every day, and find that by the end, I am ready to adore my children once again.

So for three days now, I’ve witnessed first-hand, the tell-tale signs of the nap fighting back.  Finny still awake in his room after an hour, an hour and a half.  And I contemplate how long I can make him stay in his room and try, try, try hard to fall asleep before it’s just not nice anymore.

“Mommy, I’m AWAKE!”

“Mommy, can I get out now?”

“Mommy, the sleep won’t come.”

On a couple of the no-nap days, he’s come downstairs and we do a puzzle together and have a snack or we read a book or he just kind of plays while I work at paying some bills or checking some email.  And he’s older now, so it’s kind of fun.  He’s almost four now, so we can start to sort-of hang-out together like human beings.  Last Wednesday, he helped me shuck corn on the back porch and we talked about all the parts.  The silks.  The husk.  The corn.  The kernels.  We talked about popcorn and syrup and…I’m no farmer so that’s about as far as we got.  And he’s no great shucker so I did most of the work.  But still, we had time for a little lesson, just he and I, no interruptions from Charlie.  And it was nice to just sit and be with him.

But it’s also been nice to lay with him all these sweet and tender baby, toddler, preschool years, to watch his chest go up and down, to just have a quiet moment to stare in wonder at him.  At his cheeks.  His eyelashes.  His little red lips.  Heaven-sent.

But alas, if the sleep won’t come, then the sleep won’t come.  And I can’t hold her here against her will when she has other places to be, other heads to fill with slumber.

And as much as I beg and plead with it, as much as I wrestle and sing and lullaby it, I have no spells strong enough to stop my little boy from growing up.

And so, I begin the work of trying to embrace it.  This change.  The altering of the entire day we’ve known for four years.  My Finny who takes long naps.  My Finny who snuggles down deep, who cozy-wozies, who succumbs easily to a hand brushed across his forehead, a good back-scratching, a soft lullaby.  My Finny who gave away his Tissa and still held onto his long, afternoon snooze.  My Finny who naps tells me now that the sleep won’t come.  And he’s awake.  And what will we do with even more hours in the day?

We’ll grow.  Together.  Him, filling his brain with more and more new and fun things to learn with extra hours in his afternoon.  And me, filling my bag of tricks with more new and fun things to teach him.

So rather than grieve over the lost nap, I’ll embrace the extra hours I’ll have with him.  In three short years, someone else will be his teacher all day long.  For now, the privilege is mine.

That being said, that being decided, that I will glass-half-full it when the nap has officially made her exit, I still do have some fight left in me.

Which is why I sit here now.  He fought and kicked and cried in his bed this afternoon, but I pressed on with the forehead rub, with the back scratch, with the lullaby.  The sleep would come today.  I knew it with every tear of protest that streamed down his face.  She would come today.  Not yesterday.  Maybe not tomorrow.  But today we’ll all have rest and I’ll drink it down with a cookie on the porch and a breeze and a quiet, quiet house, full of napping babies, big and small.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mama Berenstain

Every morning, usually before I’ve even had a sip of coffee, I’m given my role for the day and then I’m promptly notified if and when that role changes.

“Mommy,” says Finny as he carefully descends the stairs into the kitchen, blankie in one hand, teddy in the other, and hair pointing in fifteen different directions, “You be Kitty Softpaws, I be Puss, and Charlie bees Humpty, okay?”

And we’re off.  He’s a strict director too.  If I start to sound too much like Mommy and not enough like Kitty, he is quick to yell CUT!  “No, Mommy, I thought you were Kitty Softpaws?”

And we try again. 

“Mommy, you better get Humpty off the couch.  He’s jumping around and he might crack.”

When David comes home, we usually switch gears to Jungle Book because David specializes in Baloo the Bear and he calls Finny “Little Britches,” or “Little B,” which always makes him smile.

“Mommy, I be Mowgli, you be Shanti, Daddy bees Baloo and Charlie bees Ranjan.”  We don’t play Jungle Book I.  We play Jungle Book II.  We’re sophisticated like that.

Today, I have already been Puss, Shanti, and now after an episode of Clifford the Big Red Dog before lunch, I am Emily Elizabeth.  I had to wipe my face when I left his room at nap time after being licked three times.  I promised him a bone for snack.

But I have to say that lately my favorite role is that of Mama Bear from The Berenstain Bears.

I be Mama Bear, Finny bees Brother Bear, Daddy bees Papa Bear, and Charlie bees Honey Bear, and we live in a tree house in Bear Country. 

And it’s such a lovely place to be that I find myself seeking out more ways to spend time in Bear Country.  We got books from the library and the bookstore, and I’ve just reserved some of the cartoons, and every day at naptime and bedtime, I practically beg Finny to let me read him another Berenstain Bear book.

So, I started to wonder why.  Why do I look forward to reading these simple little stories about this stereotypical family of bears?

And now I think I know. 

It’s Mama.  I love her.  She’s my girl.  I wish she lived next door and I could run over and borrow a pot of honey and we could talk bear-to-bear about the trouble with chores and too much TV and the scary babysitter, Miss Grizz.  We could commiserate over how our little bears aren’t sleeping because of bad dreams and being afraid of the dark.  We could sip coffee and share common values.  She’s a sista I could count on.

She could also probably use a little time with me too.  The turquoise polka-dotted nightgown and nightcap she wears all day, everyday could use a good trip to the Salvation Army, and I could probably pull her away from flower arranging and quilting club to really let loose with a half-price bottle of wine somewhere.  But beyond those minor, little…oh, delays in her evolution…, I think she and I actually have a lot in common:  we want our children (and our husbands) to behave and help out.

Don’t get me wrong, David is not exactly Papa Bear, who all too often gets lumped in with the kids when they’re not doing what they should.  David is a great help to me and our family and he would not be caught dead in those Jordache overalls, nor would he ever use a push reel lawnmower.  But, I can relate to the idea that Papa Bear, can never completely understand what it’s like to be Mama, and I must admit that I enjoy the fact that the stories always end with the WHOLE bear family realizing that Mama is, in fact, right…about everything…no exceptions.

I guess these books are outdated, I guess they do a poor job of depicting the “modern family,” and there is no doubt they are overly stereotypical in their definition of what it is to be a Mama, a Papa, a Brother, a Sister, a Baby.

But I find comfort in their simplicity, I like what they are teaching my son, and I can relate to all the little troubles, worries, and concerns that affect their little bear world.

I might still be Emily Elizabeth at bed time, but I hope Finny lets me read The Berenstain Bears Show Some Respect.  Looks like someone in the bear family has really ruffled her nightcap in that one and I can't wait to see how she gets all her cubs in line.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


That’s what I thought when we first turned the key to the new, old house.  Eww.  Uh-oh.  What have we done?  A thick layer of dirt and dust everywhere I looked.  The floors, the blinds, the cabinets, the stairs, the porch.  Dirty.  And I guess I did not do a great job of concealing my disgust.

“This is a yucky house, Mommy.”

“No, no, Finn.  It just needs a little cleaning,” I said.  Cleaning that should have been done before I got here, I thought.  “Let’s go down to the basement.”

“This basement is poison, Mommy.”

“Posion, huh?” I said, but I did not disagree with him.  The cement walls and floor chipping away, dark rooms, old junk, rusty pipes, a toilet caked in…something…brown.  Poison was a real possibility.

But the kids found the fun.  Big, empty house with lots of doorways, lots of stairs, lots of room to run and chase and laugh after a long car ride.  So they laughed as I cringed at the dust cloud that formed when they banged on the blinds, at the many wooden stairs they would now have access to and would no doubt be tumbling down head-first, at the hive of yellow jackets between the window panes in Finny’s room.

When we went out to the front yard, the yard of weeds and a rotting old stump, I laid it on thick in my discussion of the street.

“Finny, you must never, never, never go into this street.  The cars will come very fast.  And we must always watch Charlie and if you ever see him going into the street, you call to Mommy and you bring him back.  Do you understand?”

And he did understand because he repeated this to me at least eight times over the next four days.

When we got back into the car, I bit my lip to keep from crying and told David to call the movers to move it back a day, so that I could clean, clean, clean.

And then I had to pull it together because they read me like a book, especially Finny, paying attention to every last worry that crosses my face and recording every last word I try to utter in confidence.  My fears easily became his fears.

And the newness was frightening to him too.  The first few nights, he trembled and screamed in his bed at what he imagined was a bug moving around in a spot on the wall where the window frame was pulling away from the wall.  Bugs for Finny were suddenly everywhere he looked.  Crumbs, fuzzers, spots in the hardwood.  Bugs attacking him from all angles.

But we adjusted.  We moved in.  I wiped down the floors and cabinets and dusted the radiators, David filled in the hole where the window was pulling away from the wall, and my mom dusted every blind she could in the short time she was here.  Slowly, but surely we are making it our home.  We are putting things away and hanging things up and finding our favorite spots to sip coffee and eat Cheerios and build towers out of blocks and put together puzzles.  Even the poison basement, with a carpet runner, a big Windex wipe down, and the door shut tight on the yucky old toilet, is not so poisonous after all.

The house, it turns out, is actually quite lovely.  Stained glass windows, beautiful woodwork, big front porch, a view of Lake Calhoun from Finny’s bedroom window.  Now that we’ve cleared away the dust, the charm is shining through, and our rented house on Irving Avenue is actually a pretty cool place to settle in for a while.  Even despite a few new fears and worries.

A couple days ago before my mom left town, she noticed we had an ant problem in the dining room.  After dropping her off at the airport, our big adventure for the day was to find a Home Depot and buy some bug spray.  When we successfully found the Home Depot after a few detours, Finny told me I had won ten gold doubloons and we went home to put them in our team treasure chest.

But a few minutes later, Charlie wandered into the kitchen with a new word in tow.  “Yu-Cky. 
Yu-Cky.  Yu-Cky,” he kept repeating as he backed into the kitchen away from the dining room.

“What’s yucky, Charlie?”  And he led me to a spot on the dining room floor where an innocent old brownie crumb was hanging out.  When I picked it up and put it my hand, he ran away from me in tears, “Yu-Cky!  Yu-Cky!” 

I laughed out loud.  Charlie who drinks toilet water, Charlie who eats bird poop, Charlie who sticks his tongue in any dog bowl he happens upon is now grossed out by a brownie crumb?

We are teaching these little boys a lot of things and fear is one of the trickiest lessons.  We have to get it just right.  I want them to get over their fear of bugs, but not their fear of the street.  I want them to learn to use the toilet, but not drink from it.  I want them to be afraid of the water, but I want them to learn to swim.  I don’t want them to fear the jungle gym, but I do want them fear the gaping holes at the top that they are not yet big enough to maneuver.

I want them to be full of fear…and then I want them to learn to overcome it.

And the best way to learn this is by trying something new. 
By moving to Minneapolis. 
By finding what’s yucky and scary and different…
and making it clean and fun and our own.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Napping House

In a tiny stretch of walkway from the family room to the living room, I realized just now as I flung the blanket off my lap from my nap time tradition of coffee and good book, that this is really the last day in my Cincinnati home with my three-year-old and my one-year-old fast asleep in their bedrooms.

Tomorrow, as everything we own gets packed up, we will be on our way to the next chapter.  New routines, new traditions, new city, new house, new life.

In two years, we will come back to this old place as new people.  A five-year-old, a three-year-old.  And who will be napping?  Maybe someone new?

Two years.  Not so long.  But long enough that I feel the ache of nostalgia as I wave goodbye.  Because it’s not really the house that is missed, but the life that is lived here right now, at this moment in time, when I am surrounded by the soft cheeks of my two little boys, who are growing, growing, growing, fast, fast, fast.

But it’s just a twinge.  And it will pass.  Only a moment to think while everyone is quiet.  When the noise begins again, there will be no time to be sad about the end, only full throttle concentration on what’s happening and what’s beginning.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Screams in the Night

At 1:30 a.m. last night, I heard children screaming and playing outside.  It was hard to hear above the fast whir of the ceiling fan and the attic fan in the hallway rumbling through the house, so I kept on snoozing, not really paying attention to why they were out so late in the street.  And then as I came to a bit more, I recognized that what I thought was playful screaming, sounded more like frantic cries for help coming from the street below.  There were children outside who needed help, and it finally occurred to me that I needed to help them.  I bolted out of bed and started heading down the hallway for the stairs when I realized that the child who was screaming frantically in need of help was in my house at the end of the hall.  When I threw open his door, there was Finny lying in bed, kicking at his sheets, screaming and panicked.

“There’s a snake in my bed!  THERE’S A SNAKE IN MY BEEEEEEDDD!”

When I scooped him up, he was shaking from head to toe.  I turned on the lights and I flipped back his sheets.  No snakes.  I got down on all fours and I flipped up the bedskirt.  No snakes.

“It was just a bad dream, Finn.  No snakes can get into our house.”

But as we walked down the hall hand-in-hand to our bedroom dragging his blankie and teddy, he said, “I hope that snake doesn’t get my baby.”

And despite the fact that I know rationally and reasonably that he had had a bad dream, that there had never been a snake, I still had terrifying visions of finding Charlie in the morning strangled in black coils.


Finny’s imagination is one of the greatest pleasures of my day.  It is constant and delightful and it takes us places everyday that bring us out of the confines of our brick and mortar.

I have been Kitty Softpaws (the heroine of Puss in Boots) for three days in a row now.  If I ever fail to address Finny as Puss, he gently and sometimes not so gently reminds me that he is Puss and that we are still playing the game.  On Wednesday morning, I opened the door to his room to get him up and there he was kneeling on his bed in the dark, whispering, “Kitty Softpaws, come here.  I have something in my hand.”

As I approached, he held out his clenched fist and said, “Open it.”

When I opened his little fingers, he looked deep into my eyes and with a gleam and a smile, purred, “It’s the magic beans.”  And so our day began.  I knew my role.  I had gotten my cue.  And we were off in search of the perfect spot to plant our beanstalk.

Charlie had been assigned the role of Humpty Alexander Dumpty, and after breakfast when I was yelling at Charlie to get down off the kitchen table, which he is now fond of climbing up on, Finny’s concern for Charlie was clear, “Yes, Kitty, get Humpty down, or else he might crack.”

Some days I’m Serabi from The Lion King.  Other days I’m Shanti from The Jungle Book and David is Baloo the Bear. 

Mommy, today we are playing Fire-Breathing Dragons.  Mommy, today we are playing Hippopotamuses Eat Mice.  Mommy, today we are playing Octopuses Eat Jellyfish.

Finny’s imagination is captivating and I enjoy the days he has planned for us.  Two sticks at the park become boyfriend and girlfriend.  The playground is a pirate ship.  His bread crust is a bridge for an army of grapes.  And at any moment, his fingers can become spider legs and crawl across the table.

His narrative is always writing new chapters so I should not be surprised when it follows him into his dreams and awakens there looking real and terrifying in the shape of a cobra in his bed.

All I can do is be there for him to remind him of what’s real and what’s imagined when the nightmares come. 

And then say a prayer and convince myself that I’m right.  That snakes can’t get into our house…not even through the air ducts…nope, not possible…

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Up, up, up

You paw my face through the blue tunnel while your brother throws his elephant down the slide, slides down, retrieves it, climbs back up and launches it again.

You crawl back and forth through the blue tunnel over and over again, each time delighted and surprised by my face peeking in the hole in the side looking at you.  And each time, you stick your fat, little hand out and swat at me.  You do this for at least ten minutes, the same repetitive motion.  You learn the way and feel of the tunnel.  You figure out what your little body is capable of doing, climbing in, climbing out, climbing in, climbing out.

And I take my time just taking you in.  My seventeen-month-old, Charlie.  Climbing, climbing, climbing up on chairs, up on benches, up on the fireplace hearth, the ottoman, the couch, constantly discovering new things to hoist yourself up on and the beam of pride that follows each new little surface you conquer.  And the mischievous grin when I tell you to sit down as you repeat, “Sit dow!” like it’s the name of the game we’re playing.  And the scream and thrash of frustration when I pull you down from something far too high and unsteady for you to be sitting or standing on.

And the fear that you will fall.  Like the day at the park a week ago when I saw that you had managed to climb up to the really tall tower.  I had been too busy talking to notice that you could make it up that high.  And the sight of your legs about to dangle over the edge.  And my heart leaping out of my chest.

At seventeen months old you want a taste of everything.  A taste of the highest view, a taste of the dirt in the pots, a taste of the toilet water, a taste of the deep end of the swimming pool.  And I am always there to pull you back. 

Swat at my face all you want, bite my hand that grips yours tight, kick me when I pull you down, but I won’t let go.  Not yet.  You’re dangerous, Maverick.  And you’re also pretty gross.  So, until you start refining your tastes and growing sturdier limbs, I’m clipping your wings, little one.  You’ll fly beneath mine.


“Finny, listen to me.”
“Finny, you’re not listening.”
“Finny, I’m going to start counting if you do not listen to Mommy, right now!”

Last Monday, after no sleep combined with the stress of showing the house combined with a Finny who wanted nothing to do with anything that did not involve pure mischief, I was at my wit’s end.
I was pulling stuff off the table left and right.

“If you don’t listen on the count of three, you’ll get no shows for the rest of the day!”

By the end of the day, he had lost all shows, all treats, and all bedtime stories.  And he still wasn’t listening.  The next day was better, but still included lots of running from me when I asked him to come and lots of harassing Charlie by taking his toys or just stalking him like a Puma until he burst into tears.  Finally, by the third day of no shows, no treats, and my incessant reminders of how important it was to listen to me, he started to fall in line.  In fact, he woke up that day talking about it.

“Okay, so Mommy, I’m going to listen to you today.”
“That’s great, Finn.  Then we’ll have a really good day.”
“Okay, so since I’m listening to you, can I watch Tarzan?”
“If you do a great job of listening to me all day, you can watch Tarzan tonight while I make dinner.”
“But I want to watch it now!”
“First, you have to show me that you are going to be a good listener.”

The whole day he listened, and he pointed it out.  It reminded me a little bit of someone else I know. (“Jill, did you notice I emptied the dishwasher this morning?”  Yes, yes, pat, pat, pat.)

“Mommy, I’m listening to you!  Mommy, I’m being so helpful!”  Yes, yes, pat, pat, pat.  Kiss, kiss, kiss.  “Such good listening, Finny.  That’s helping us to have a good day today.”

He watched Tarzan that night before dinner, and since that day, he has been better at listening. 

But then, last week, he was listening so intently that it caught me off guard.

On Mother’s Day, David’s mom and I had been talking in the car about what my career would look like when the kids are all in school.  I talked about how difficult it would be to go back to teaching, but how I really wanted to figure out a way to do it part time.  Finny and Charlie were on either side of me while I was squeezed in the middle.  I thought they were watching the cars go by.

And then two days later, sitting at the kitchen table waiting for his breakfast, tears gathered in Finny’s eyes and slowly rolled down his cheeks.

He scooted around in his chair to face me as I was peanut-buttering his toast, and just as I was noticing the big tears and the sad, sad look of concern, he said, “Mommy, when you’re a teacher again, will you still be my mommy?”

I put down my knife and I scooped him up and bathed him in kisses.  “Of course, of course, of course.  I will ALWAYS be your mommy.”

And when a big smile appeared on his face and he wiped his wet cheeks, I put him down to eat his breakfast.

But as I went back to the kitchen sink, I was marveling at him.  At the thoughts in his brain.  This kid takes a half an hour to pee because on his way to flushing the toilet, he gets distracted by a toy lion on the ground.  I’ll pop my head in five minutes later to see him standing on his stool, pants around his ankles, bathing his toy lion in the sink.  This kid won’t put his shoes on when I ask, never leaves the park when I call, and dips his hand in his milk cup even though I’ve begged him not to a thousand times.

And before I could finish marveling over his worry about me going back to teaching, a few days later, as I was just fastening his sandals to head out the door to Aunt Laurie’s house, he says,

“Mommy, I don’t want you to die for a long, long time.”
“Oh, Finny, I don’t want to die for a long, long time either.”
“Because I love you so, so, so much and I just don’t want you to die.  But everybody dies, right?”
“Well, yes, everybody does die someday.”
“But nobody wants to die, right?”
“No, nobody really wants to.  I guess everybody really likes to be alive.”
“Yeah, like Evy and Jane and everybody wants to be alive.”
“But we all have to die because we made Jesus die, right?”
“Finny, has someone been talking to you about dying?  Why are you thinking about this?”

I asked this as I put him down, shoes fastened, and he ran off to make his toy lion attack his toy gazelle.

And again I was left to puzzle at him.  Three years old.  Ponders life and death in one moment.  Launches plastic jungle animals off the couch the next.  Three years old.  Trying to understand Christ’s crucifixion in one moment.  Begging for Goldfish crackers the next.

He might not be obeying me.  But he is listening.  And he is processing.  And he is worrying.   About stuff I didn’t even know he could understand.  And so maybe I’m the one who needs to start listening…to the thoughts in his brain…which seem too big for a three year old to carry with him out the door to a play date.

Which is why he leaves them with me, I guess.  Lets them settle into my brain…while he goes off to chase Charlie around the room with a baby dinosaur in one hand and the letter z in the other.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Moving to Minneapolis

When I tell people we’re moving to Minneapolis, my favorite people are the ones who immediately tell me how wonderful it will be.  The best response was from my friend, Wendy, who immediately rattled off at least seven positive things that made Minneapolis suddenly shimmer bright and green and beautiful for me like the Emerald City of Oz.

“I just found out we’re moving to Minneapolis for two years and my head is spinning,” I said.

“Oh, that’s great, Jill!  Minneapolis is a great city.  Everyone raves about Minneapolis.  It’s supposedly really beautiful with all the lakes, really active, great place to live.  What a wonderful adventure for your family!  And what a perfect time to go!  Your boys won’t even be in school yet.  And it’s only two years.  I think you’re really going to love it, Jill.”

Immediately, I was filled with joy.  Yes, an adventure, I thought.  A great adventure for my family, and I clung to that word and am still clinging to it.  Because I like adventure.

After college, I was positively itching for it.  When it looked like my Peace Corps application was going to fall through the fall after I graduated, I panicked.  But I was supposed to have this great character building adventure!  I thought.  I was going to really challenge myself to live outside my comfort zone, to think outside my box, to be on my own, far away, learning to live in a different way, changing my worldview, really, really seeing the world beyond the Midwest.  I regrouped fast and got on a plane to Poland a month later.  And I did it.  I had my adventure.  I learned to teach, travel, hike, rock climb, eat mushrooms (the non-magical kind), use a map, speak Polish, ski, hitch-hike, walk in the snow in tall boots, take the train, the bus, the tramwaj.  I learned how to get along with all different kinds of people and I learned how to techno dance.  Badly.  I challenged myself.  I changed my worldview.  I was A-D-V-E-N-T-U-R-E-S-O-M-E.

And then a few years later, I embarked on a different kind of adventure.  I had a family.  Now, I live on a cul-de-sac in the suburbs with my husband, my two boys and my two-car garage.  I’m in a book club and a mom’s group and I belong to a health club.  I go to birthday parties and cookouts and frequently find mulch in my shoes from the playground.  I find myself admiring other people’s mini-vans and asking them how they like their double strollers.  I talk about weeds and crock-pot recipes way more than I ever imagined I would and I have a box of diapers delivered to my door every month.  And I’m excited about it.

And it’s a character builder.  For sure.  Oh yes, I’ve learned more about my character than I ever wanted to know.  I did not have to walk deep into the jungles of Africa to find my Heart of Darkness.  I found it right here in the comfort of my own home on any morning when I was expected to care for my young children after being up all night caring for my young children.  And I don’t have to dig deep to find it either.  Show up at my house around 7:45 p.m. when I’m trying to wrestle both boys into a bath and bed by myself and you will see the Heart of Darkness.  It’s wearing a T-shirt from the Gap that is covered in bath water and probably some pee-pee.

And now we’re moving to Minneapolis.  A new city.  A new house.  A new adventure.  And that too will be a character builder. 
Because the last time, I travelled, I travelled light.  A suitcase, a backpack, and me.  This time, I am packing up a house, a family and a life. 

The last time I traveled, I was fiercely independent and I wanted something big and far away and all my own.  This time, I want to pack my entire extended family up in a box and bring them with me.  This time, I admit, I am shamelessly dependent on my mom, my dad, my sister.  It takes a village and my village is in Cincinnati, a phone call away, a drive away from a little relief, from a little help.

When my kids were babies, there were a few mornings after sleepless nights when I called my mom at 7 a.m. and expected her to time travel to be at my door at 7:02 a.m.  It was agonizing if she had to actually wake up and take a shower before she could come over, felt like an eternity if she couldn’t show up until 10 a.m.  I JUST WANTED TO GET SOME SLEEP! 

And now, she’ll be much farther.  Her trip will cost money and take time and planning.  And so, I’ll have to figure it out.  I’ll have to figure out what to do when everyone’s sick and nobody’s sleeping and everyone’s crying and David has to go to work and I’m by myself and the good old Heart of Darkness shows up ready to hurl sippy cups across the kitchen. 

I’ll have to figure it out.  Because that’s part of the adventure.  The growth part.  The struggle part.  If your muscles don’t ache at the end of a long hike, well then, you didn’t go very far.

So, I’m building muscle this year.   Some big Minnesota guns to fit underneath my big poofy parka.  And we’re all gonna grow together, as a family.

And when we’re sick of growing together as a family, well, thank God for Aunt Celeste.  She’s only thirty minutes away in Chanhassen and she’s itching for some grandkids.  I am only too happy to scratch that itch.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

“Mama, when will all the days be over?”

“Mama, when will all the days be over?”  Finny asks me this question on an almost daily basis these days.  I know he’s trying to understand time, how the calendar works, but still the question always sits deep within me, a reminder of his innocence, like gold.

“Mama, when will all the days be over?”  He wants to know because we’ll be talking about our schedule.  We’ll be talking about what’s coming up.  “Tomorrow you’ll go to school and then after nap, Grandma and Pop-Pop are coming over.  Then the next day, we are going to the zoo, and then two days later, on Sunday, we are going to Julia’s birthday party.”

“But, Mama,” he insists, “When will all the days be over?”  And I’m not quite sure what he’s asking.  It’s such an existential question from such a tiny little voice.  The days keep coming, the calendar pages keep flipping.  There’s nap, then there’s what comes after nap.  There’s bedtime, then there’s what comes after bedtime.  He knows there is a tomorrow and a yesterday, but he has no sense of what all the days look like all lined up and packaged into weeks and months and years.  And he wants to know…what?  When we’ll rest?  When we’ll stop planning stuff to do and people to see?

“Mama, when will all the days be over?”  That’s the question, and my answer is always the same, “I don’t know, Finn.  Hopefully, not for a long, long time.”  Because, I continue on in my head, I like the days.  I like all the days.  Even the really tough ones.  And I want more and more and more time with you, time with Charlie, time with Daddy, time with everyone we love.

And today, he asked, “Mama, when will we all die?”  And at three years old, he’s trying to understand something that’s impossible to understand.  And I see what’s coming for him… the beginning of fear.  Monsters and bugs and worms and dark rooms—they’re all jumping out to get him now.  And he wants to understand something about life, death and time that I can’t explain. 

I only know there’s something about this question that I like.  It could be the way his sweet blue eyes blink at me, just waiting for me to deliver a simple answer as he chews up the last bits of his grilled cheese.  It could be the way it makes me stop in my tracks and notice him, notice the room, notice the fleeting moment we’re in, me with my dish towel, Charlie with his teething ring, and Finny gulp, gulp, gulping his cup of milk until he’s exhausted from its refreshment.  It could simply be that it’s such a dark, sad question, but coming from Finny it just seems so practical and matter of fact.

“Mama, when will all the days be over?”  I don’t know, Finn.  And I like it that way.  Keep chewing your grilled cheese.  And I hang the dish towel up and give him a kiss.  A big one.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Letter to Charlie at 15 Months Old

Dear Charlie,

I write you letters in my head all the time.  All day long it seems you are giving me reason to compose sentences about your fat, little perfection.  I take little word snapshots throughout the day that I know I should stop and capture in a notebook, but instead I choose to simply run to the sink to rinse the peanut butter off my hands.  This is the truth of my days.  I want to be a master historian for my boys, snapping, cropping, and mounting photos of lunchtime giggles, unexpected car-seat naps, and the days when that one ringlet in the center of your head has extra, extra bounce to it.  But more often than not, rather than sit down to the word processor, or the photo editor, I either collapse in a heap on the couch, or I hurry to bread the chicken nuggets before dinner.

And now you’re one.  Well, almost fifteen months old, actually, and the storm is moving in.  So, I better hurry, right?  I  better hurry up and write it all down while I feel a sense of quiet and rest because there’s a rumble beneath my feet that tells me the ground beneath them is about to give way.  Hurry up and write it all down before everything that is normal is all squished up and packed away with a coat of bubble wrap and a strip of packer’s tape.

So before I forget, before I turn around and you are eighteen months old and then twenty months old, and I realize I have never told you about what you are like when you are simply just one, let me whisper in your ear, just this one little thing, Charlie:  I love watching you eat a sliced banana.

I try to make the slices small, but sometimes they’re a little too thick and you pick them up in your fat, little bear paws and stuff the whole big slice into your mouth at once.  And I watch.  With tremendous joy.  As you puff out your cheeks and pucker your lips and chew and mash and chew that sweet, soft banana to a nice slippery state, so that you can gulp and smile and put your paw back out to do it all over again. 

I love that.  I love that like I love just about everything you do.  You should know though that I love so much of who you are right now mainly because you’re fat.  If you were skinny, I’d probably only kind of like you as one likes a casual acquaintance.  I’d give you forced smiles, but I wouldn’t razz your belly as much.  Because it wouldn’t be fat enough for me to really get in there.

[Side note:  I just realized that this point is totally without truth or merit because your brother Finny has always been a skinny little thing, and I would swallow him whole if I could.  Man, I’m getting hungry.  Must take a pretzel break, so that I don’t eat my sleeping children.  End side note.]

You are in many ways like the late, great Chris Farley, minus the cocaine and all the other tragic stuff.  The main similarities are that you are fat and funny and that you can’t help but stick your gut waaaaaay out when you waddle across the kitchen looking for a refrigerator magnet to chew on.

Right now, at the tender age of fifteen months, you have six little hilarious teeth that pop out when your big duck lips curl up.  And you have the best baby fat calves on the planet, which I am only now getting to really, fully appreciate because you wear these ridiculous baby shorts.

But here I am beating around the bush, when the point is, the real heart of the matter is:  I love you for your hair.  Any man off the street could walk up to me right now and say, “Excuse me, Ma’m, I’d like to offer you this truckload of gold bars, I’ll drop it off next to the grass here, if you’d just give me the curls off your one-year-old’s head,” and I’d slam the door in his face.

Because A:  What a weirdo.

And because B:  It is one of the great highlights of my little day to walk into your room in the morning and discover how your hair has ended up after a full night’s sleep.

[Sidenote:  If you have not had a full night’s sleep, like last night when you decided to party from 12:30-2 a.m., I am slightly less interested in your hairstyle and a little more interested in getting back that hour and a half of sleep you robbed from me.]

Much like your brother, you are a friendly little guy.  I’ve struggled all through toddlerhood to keep both of you out of strangers’ laps at the library and the park, and last week at the grocery store, after learning what it means to say, “Hi!” you greeted everyone who came within earshot with a, “Hi!  Hiya!  Hi!”  And of course, everyone who passed fell to pieces over your head of carrot-top curls and your friendly little teeth.

You say other things too, not so much words as your own adorable sounds.  These include such gems as:  “Bidoh, biday.”  “A-bee, a-bee, a-bee, a-bee.”  “Meea, meea, meea.” And our personal favorite, “NnnnnnnnnnnAAAHHH!!!”  You really rev up for that one and it’s always a sure hit.

You say, “DA-DAHHHH!!” with the fervor of one who is not greeting his daddy, but rather his old fraternity brother who used to dance with Christmas trees after keg stands.

And you say, “Ma-ma” in the sweetest, most delicious, most genuine way that I blush every time and then devour your cheeks with kisses.

You should also know that you are not just my baby.  You are not just Daddy’s baby.  You are Finny’s baby too.  He pushes you over a lot.  He takes toys from you.  He hits you.  And sometimes even if you are minding your own business, he seeks out ways to taunt and torment you.  But, he also loves you.  He looks out for you.  He hugs you.  He delights in making you laugh.  And he talks to you a lot.  Even though you can’t understand him, he is often explaining to you about how he will save you from the whale that's going to swallow you whole or making sure that you know that the purple Hot Wheel is the red Hot Wheel's wife.  He is a good big brother and he can’t wait until you’re just a little bigger and can really play with him, you know, without trying to eat the sidewalk chalk.

You are still a bit of a puzzle though, Charlie.  There is no doubt you are a mama’s boy right now. (My aching back is testimony to how often you want to be picked up and held these days.)  But, even though, you want to be held, you are a tough guy to console when you’re unhappy.  I can still charm Finny into a trance with a gentle sweeping of the hair across his forehead, but you, sir, are a different story.  When you’re unhappy, you don’t want to be held, but you don’t want to be put down.  You don’t want to sit or lay or rock or eat.  You will toss your milk cup across the room and you will thrash and kick and cry, cry, cry, and you want nothing to do with anything.  So, at a loss, we all just sort of hide under the kitchen table and pull our knees to our chest until you decide to simmer down and join the civilized again.

I guess you think you’re a tough guy.  A tough guy who looooooves his mommy.

I could write about you all day long, about everything from your toes to your great delight in throwing the yellow ball across the room, but you’re awake now and I have to go get you.

Know this, Charlie:  There are people who bring the fun and people who wait for the fun to arrive.  People are going to be waiting for you, Charlie VanHimbergen, and they’re never going to want you to leave.

I love you and I’m going to climb the stairs right now and eat you up.