7.28.2014

low tide, high hearts

There were nineteen of us sharing two houses along the Lake Michigan shore last week, so many people using the same showers that the bath mats never had a chance to dry and the refrigerator door may have been open more than it was shut.  So many adults parenting that possessive pronouns lost their punch, and while another father fed our boys we grabbed whatever little hand needed holding down the steps to the sand.

The days poured honey-sun down backsides and left pink kisses on cheeks, the lake winking behind.  At the beach the children seemed very much like labradors, interested in sticks and rocks and running and digging, wild energy to spare.  Enough, in fact, to manage staying up late to watch the sunset, standing with binoculars till all the light bled from the sky.  And while our preference may have been for a little more downtime, we found short-lived relaxation and adult conversation in the wee hours.  Rolling into bed, the big boys smelled like beer and bourbon and the ghost of good cigars, and at breakfast everybody’s pajamas held the aroma of last night's campfire and that morning's bacon.

Traveling with small children can feel kind of like a nightmare, but the alternative is really boring.  We take the kids places so they can see things that belong to everyone and yet to no one, where each small pebble and slice of bark, every smooth piece of sea glass and slim green leaf are treasures to be appreciated and preserved.  So they can imagine a world much bigger and infinitely more beautiful than they already know.  We take the kids on trips with friends so they can bond while they bunk together, the sky too bright with stars to even think about sleeping.  So they can spend hours filling pails with rocks to bring home, getting rid of Michigan one bucket at a time, as Uncle Cory calls it.  And so they can fill their hearts with fond memories, so they learn to see greatness not just in the grand and glorious, but in tiny grains of sand and in the grins of their favorite once-in-awhile friends.

7.27.2014

7.17.2014

please notice

The cashier at Trader Joe's asked me how my day had been, and I gave a fairly enthusiastic good before I asked him about his own.  He said ten or twelve things had gone right and he wasn't sure which to attribute his feelings toward, but that he felt so happy he almost thought he ought to apologize to anyone who wasn't having a good day.
Isn't it remarkable how such "small" encounters can leave such big impressions.
I started to think about all the good parts of my day.
Tucker woke feeling much better, after having a pretty miserable stomach bug.

I had time to drink my coffee while it was still hot.
I had fresh peaches and honeyed almonds and plenty of yogurt to share with Tollie.

I had boys asking me to read books, and minutes to flip through a magazine.  The May issue, but still.

I had the chance to resurrect Celia's memory with an acquaintance I hadn't seen for years.

I had flowers from the yard on the kitchen counter and friendly texts from neighbors on my phone.

I had a former student reintroduce himself, and I know teachers aren't supposed to pick favorites, but he was definitely one of mine, so my heart just about burst seeing his smile and hearing about his studies.

I had help getting all the laundry washed and folded and put away.

I had the ingredients and the initiative to bake a miniature blueberry pie.

I know flavors of happiness taste different to everyone, but I appreciated the reminder from the guy bagging my groceries to be mindful of all the good things on my plate.
I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 
“If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” - Kurt Vonnegut

7.16.2014

conversationalist

Someone suggested recently that Tolliver's speech pattern sounds like some combination of southern Ohio and formal English, his own brand of sophisticated drawl.

Some of his words are clipped, like he's holding his breath, like there's a law against using his whole lung capacity to move air across his vocal cords.  When he's not particularly interested in doing something right away, say sitting on the potty or chewing a vitamin or brushing his teeth, he says I want to try later, the words precise and staccato.
Other words are lengthened, they roll back and forth along his tongue before he lets them out.  For example, and sounds like aaa-und.  The “a” gets away from him and the middle stretches into three syllables.
And some words combine both the aristocratic quickness and the lazy lilt, like the way he says pay-ants, slow on the first syllable, swallowing the second.
He talks about pants more than he wears them.
I'm actually finding it hard to describe how he talks.  But it's easy to describe Tolliver as a talker.
I mean, all the time.  His voice is delightful, most of the time, and exhausting on occasion.

When he sits down on the patio or settles on a front porch chair, he says I love being outside.
I may have said it once in the spring, but he says it every time, like an invitation for dialogue.

When he wakes up in the afternoon, he invariably announces I had a great nap! and then asks What have you been doing?  And he means it, not with a what-did-I-miss worry, but with a curious sincerity.

I hadn't really noticed Tolliver's tendency to cultivate small talk until one of his aunts was retelling a story about being out to dinner with him.  After Tollie explained that he was going to order a big plate of rice and beans, he went around the table asking what everyone else was going to have, and following up with genuine interest: Oh, that sounds delicious.

His words have heralded him into a bigger universe, he uses them to play and fantasize, to please and infuriate. His conversation skills have created a way for him to be involved more with his world, to seek answers to his own unending questions.  It seems like he's noticing his thoughts as thoughts for the first time.  But what if a bay-er gets into our house? he asks, clearly concerned.  Bears can't get in our house, I tell him, not lying.
He is, though, always the one who decides whether there will be a conversation, and he seems to relish the power he must feel when he plays shy or resists a reply.  His competency with language has fueled a strong drive for separateness from us, a chance for him to tell us what he likes and DOES NOT LIKE.
There are sounds Tollie still works very hard to make.  Our favorite currently is "ng," like in orange, that ends up muffled with a ff-sh noise.  And the word "bridge" for example, takes tremendous focus and effort.  Words like that and like garage and spinach he whispers with a slight sag of the shoulders, a little stagger in his voice: I can't talk right, he frets.
And then he's way off on things like sook sacks (fruit snacks) but seems not to notice or to care.
And also "construction."  He asks to wear his yellow digger shirt EVERY DAY, and he talks a lot about dump trucks and construction sites...  He gets the middle a little messed up though and uses some of the very same sounds he used to use when he said motorcycle.

7.15.2014

Books Brothers

7.13.2014

reality filter

Social media is full of pictures of perfectly plated food and white puffy clouds.
Most of our meals are marginally photogenic at best, our fruit bowl is never full and our compost is overflowing.
Just to keep it real, we were changing bed linens at ten o'clock tonight, cleaning broken glass from the kitchen floor shortly thereafter.  I rarely remember to put on lipstick and frequently forget to pack essentials on outings.
Sometimes it rains around here.  And often our ice cream tastes too cold.

7.10.2014

She puts the "K" in cute.

Aunt Kate is so gracious about hanging out with our kids.  We're never sure how to thank her.  Paradoxically, the only thing of real value we have to show appreciation with is more time with our children, so that's all we know to offer.  Odds are good, though, that she'd agree -- when they're together, the who’s giving and who’s receiving gets completely muddled up and we all think we’re the lucky ones.