It’s because I won’t stop feeding her

21 09 2016

Evanny and I were chatting about her upcoming birthday on the way home from preschool pick-up a few weeks ago (while her sister napped in her car seat): “When I’m four,” she was saying, “and I’ll be almost five–” “Slow down,” I interrupted.  “Do you know that when you’re five, your sister will already be as big as you are now!”  “And don’t you want your tiny baby to be two forever?” she asked, astute about the Mama-plight.  “Oh, you know, honey, it’s so conflicting, really: Mamas love to watch their babies grow and run and play and learn-” “that’s why you keep feeding us!” “–but it’s hard, too.  When Tabba’s three, I’ll never have a two-year-old ever again.  When you turn four, I’ll never have a three-year-old Evanny ever again.  I can’t wait to meet four-year-old you, but I’ll miss three-year-old you, too.  I’ve really liked spending this year with her!”  “But I’ll be the same girl!” she insisted, and I had to concede, although I know she’s only mostly right.

“Jacob’s ladder” staircase, Cheddar, England | Steadfast climber taking a rest in a little sunbeam on our way back down

Three-year-old Evanny felt sometimes like a change-a-minute; every day I heard phrases that sounded more mature (or more noticeably borrowed from her brother) leave her lips, every tantrum drew up a more advanced brand of sass, every foray onto playground territory had her taking braver chances, not so much trying as simply doing things she couldn’t reach to do before.  Her relationship with school (which started in March) has been complicated (in ways that are probably completely normal): she’ll cry in our bed at 6am about how much she doesn’t want to go, then come merrily out to the car at the end of the morning chattering about what works she’s done that day, and her teachers characterize her as almost unfailingly cheerful, always ready to start the classroom day off with a clear plan in mind for what activity she wants to do first.  She tells me to stop it when I point to words in the books I read her, but then picks up the next and pretends to read it on her own.  She was all about writing her “E” on everything last year, but now she rarely does (my guess is she’s waiting to next do the whole name together).

Barry Park, Syracuse, NY | Making the most of an end-of-summer day

Shove park, Camilus NY | Deep in the rock pool at the swimming-hole end of the creek

She now counts to 20 easily and understands clearly how that pattern just repeats, even though she’ll miss some tens when she tries to get to 100 (which she doesn’t have the stamina of interest for anyway).  She has started to notice that the older kids stay for the full day’s lessons, and that full day attendance includes a daily turn on the playground (oh, how this energetic, physically confident girl loves playgrounds), but she still wishes the school week shorter so she could spend more time at home.  “Mummy,” she says, “When I’m bigger, I’m going to stay at school all day too, because they have RECESS.  Maybe when I’m nine.  Or sixteen.”  Playground Evanny still loves to slide and swing–she can’t start the arc herself yet, but if you get her going, she’s got enough of a sense of how pumping works to keep herself going with a strong wiggle.  She prides herself on being able to climb anything, and she’s starting to try to take on the specific challenges of the overhead bars–she still wants help, but less of it, because her brother has conquered the skill, and she sees herself as at most a year behind him in ought-to-have abilities.

own backyard, Onondaga Valley | Elsa-dress, spider-boots, taking on the forest-yard by swinging on grapevines

I don’t know when, for certain, she mastered pole-sliding; for the longest time, since her baby-hands started grasping for the pole out past the end of their reach, I would hold her up and slowly slide her down, and then for a while I would sometimes help her get her grip before I backed off to let her crash too fast to the ground, and then suddenly it was something she was doing on her own, on the other side of the playground, while I was pushing her sister in a baby-swing, sometimes with a “Mummy, look at me!” and sometimes without any announcement at all.  Playground-specific skills and thrills are only a small percentage of the physical challenges she takes on in her wild romp through her world, however; for Evanny, the whole world is a playground.  Ice-cold creek with moss-slick rock-slides?  Playground. Turf-roofed house on an Icelandic moor?  Playground. Miniature sandbox in Papa’s back yard? Playground.  Reproduction Viking ship?  That staircase above, some seven-hundred-and-something steps straight up the side of a (low, rolling) mountain? Playground. Couch and chairs in the living room?  Playground. Mummy and Daddy’s bed, which occupies a treasured place in the kids’ upstairs hallway running circuit? Playground. Slick floors and uncomfortable seating in an airport lounge? Playground. Dangling grapevine in the back yard?  Playground.  A mud-brown marine lake trapping a piece of the Atlantic in a silt-thick cup of sand?  Playground.  The lane-dividing ropes at the post office?  Playground.

family’s backyard, Weston-Super-Mare | Taking a swing at this whole “cricket” thing

But it’s not as if play requires a ground; coming up fast on four, Evanny’s “play” has become a thicket of people to “be,” and this being is as or more important as a set of names and attributes to divvy up as it is an expectation for action of any kind.  This afternoon, strapped in her car seat, she asked me and her sister: “can we play Lion Guard?”  “Go right ahead,” I told her, and she pitched right into “okay, Tabba, you be, what’s the lion’s name, Mummy?” “Kion.” “You be Kion, and I’ll be, what’s the other ones’ names?” Evanny’s favourite people to be are, in a very particular order, Elsa (with or without Spiderman boots), Rapunzel, Ariel, Rey, Merida, Nala, Simba, Kion, Luke Skywalker, and THEN Anna. I cannot for the life of me understand what they all have against Anna, but the three-to-six-year-olds I’ve asked are all solidly in agreement that complainy, sad Elsa is the bomb, and plucky, loving, infinitely forgiving yet no-crap-taking Anna is just a “meh” role they might have to settle for to keep the peace. I mean, sure, everybody wants ice magic and a power ballad, but there’s more to life than a melodramatic coronation and stamping on the floor to make pretty patterns leap across it.

Marine Lake, Weston-Super-Mare, Avon, England | In warm sun and chilly wind, salty water on ice-cream-flavored sugar-lips, with silty toes and sticky splashes, she leapt into the sea

Evanny traveling this past summer was fundamentally herself, just in lots of different places: fearless to the core.  Take-off scared her on the first flight, and landing (& lack of sleep) unsettled her stomach, so on the second of each she insisted on sitting alone and facing what came.  She chased her brother across the Icelandic moors and led the climb to the roof of the sod house, jumped on every hostel & hotel bed we encountered, sampled every kind of food we offered (even while then tending to settle for the familiar), made fast friends with her new-met family & with Matt’s friends’ kids, tried her hand at every game in the barn in Devon and every game on Adam’s Wii that they’d give her a turn on.

family’s floor, Nailsea, Bristol, England | Little shutterbug embracing a chance to play with her grandfather’s real camera–and take about 1000 pictures!

Cricket bat?  You got it.  Brick-stacking with just-met cousin Jake?  Sure thing.  Running off for a good half hour with the expensive multi-lens camera of the grandfather she’d just met that morning?  Yep.  Ziplines, donkey rides, and hundred-meter slides?  Yep, yep, and yep.  Leaping off of sand dunes taller than her father?  Look out below. Dashing, half in street clothes, nevermind the chill wind and likelihood of being cold later, into the sea?  Find a scrap of towel somewhere, because she’s already wet.  No tower was too high to look down from (but the caves of Cheddar, she said, were too dark and scary, although by the end of the electric lights tour we went on with her brother, she was starting to find even that fear fun), no ladder (into Auntie Jackie’s attic, for example) too high and steep to creep up in exploration. Sophie’s birthday party would have daunted any other kid I know, but confronted with the expectation that she join in dance-offs and party games with a huge room full of well-dressed stranger-princesses, most of whom knew each other already, almost all of whom were two and three years older than her, Evanny stood her little ground:

Bantham Beach, Devon, Somerset, England | Cousins, rock-pails, and hand-me-downs make the best and best-outfitted tidepool-exploration team

she said her name into the microphone and showed off her splits when somebody shoved her into the center of the dance-circle. Months after our return, she still tells everyone who asks that her very favourite part of the entire trip was “Sammy and Sophie”–any and all amusements involving her suddenly, magically, bigger tribe of kids was an instant hit and a miracle.  Fearlessness isn’t just about physical bravery or social standing, either; Evanny has no fear of losing. At anything.  To anyone.  She took opportunity after opportunity over the course of our time in England to challenge Sam to footraces, and to my memory she lost every time, but those results are simply not as important to Evanny as her conviction that she’s fast; “you’re faster today,” she’d say to him, “but I might win tomorrow.”

Shove Park, Camillus, NY | Feeling out a path along the cold, sharp stones with those tender little sunny soles

One afternoon, in the middle of a flurry of the boys’ Wii-Olympics face-offs with Uncle Adam, someone gave Evanny a turn, and she “ran” her little character fast and hard almost all the way to the end before Adam sped up and beat her.  Caleb, who had already been nursing his pride about having been beaten himself, turned to complain in her defense–“that’s mean! She’s little.  It’s not fair to do that to my sister.”  “What,” Adam taunted, “beat her?  Know why I did it to her?  Because she can take it!  Wanna go again?” he asked, turning to Evanny.  “Yeah!”

None of this is to say that she’s seamlessly brave and cheerful, not by any means.  When she says no, when she’s not in the mood, she’s gosh-darn not (although she’s far easier to win over to a new mood than her sister, as long as she isn’t desperately low on sleep).  She was too hesitant to touch the manta rays in the petting-tank at the fair, but happy just to watch–I don’t know that I’d even call that fear.  Her biggest fight, her and children everywhere, is not wanting to go to sleep, but when she claims it’s fear of monsters, well, nobody believes that malarkey.

upstairs hallway, Onondaga Valley, NY  |  There are only 2 monsters in this house, and this little imp is one of them.

With me, it’s that she wants me–to sit beside the bed and pat her like I’ve done since she was a baby big enough to say the word “pat,” and it’s very hard when you’re three (we’ll see about four) to wait until your toddler sister, the attention-monopolizing expert, falls asleep on Mummy’s boob before you can have what you want.  So there’s kicking and tossing about in the bed like a fish, and moaning about every possible moan, but eventually (sometimes after I throw her out of the room once or twice), she either falls asleep before I get to her or wins the jackpot of snuggles and whispers and someone to pat her to sleep while she curls on her side or lies on her back with vampire hands gathered in the center of her chest.  She still comes to me most mornings, and not infrequently in the middle of the night as well, wanting to nestle into the space between my body and the edge of the bed, a warm little shadow, my mini-me, my stuffed tiger come-to-life, and when I’m underslept I meet the midnight arrivals with frustration sometimes (especially when she wants to be carried back to bed “like a baby,” which is physically hard and comparatively impossible–that little body I used to sneak back on to her pillow has legs that drag against my knees and arms and hair that loll all over the place, and the position of her sister’s bed means I have to basically throw her back into bed in a tumble that lands her on her face, but she never complains about that part, just whimpers if I try to leave without sitting down for another round of patting), but I not-so-secretly still love it.

Tyntesfield, North Somerset, England | Wrapping up a grounds-and-manor tour with a trying-on of crowns

“Tell me a story,” she’ll whisper into the hush of her quiet little repeat-play soundtrack, and I almost always say no when Tabitha is already asleep, but she’ll try every time anyway (Atta girl, girl.)  When her sister isn’t asleep, sometimes they both get stories, lying together in the dark, but I’m starting to have to field challenges; my rambling out whatever little ideas bloom to mind isn’t enough for her anymore.  She’ll insist, for example, that the characters be human (sometimes stories about mice and ladybugs are allowed, and sometimes they’re absolutely not).  She’ll insist on knowing the names of the stories’ characters, and she’s really only happy these days if their names are “Evanny and Tabitha.”  “NOT a ‘Rose and River’ story,” she had started to qualify, which saddened me a little, because I was liking the invention of the Rose and River world, and I was obliging, but then I realized that she simply hadn’t noticed their names.  When I explained–that her middle name is Irish for “rose,” that a brook is a little river–and said “Don’t you see, you are Rose and River?!” her face lit with delight, and she jumped right back on board.

Lulu’s house, Syracuse NY | Borrowed dress-up clothes and a momentarily moody pause while enjoying a homemade yogurt ice-pop

It isn’t all delight and rewarding recovery, of course; the far end of three, the beginning of four, they come with their own little woes, their struggles, their growing range of pensive moments as the bigness of the world starts to loom a little closer, the wants start outgrowing her reach (and sometimes her articulation), and there are days everything is an Elsa-stomp and a “no!” and a “she’s not sharing!” or “I want to play by myself” or “I just wanted to talk!” (Currently, both girls’ favourite book is a depiction of such a mood that they both identify with, called My ‘No, No, No’ Day.  But she comes around most of the time, and even when she doesn’t, I’ve never loved a sad and ornery person more.

For my little heart, family is a treasured series of joys: with Daddy, she loves such entertainments as dancing, watching sports, running races, going out for haircuts and on shopping runs, watching movies, snuggling, and studying fandoms.  With her Syracuse-local (at least part of the year) grandparents,

front porch, Syracuse, NY | Delighted (and probably nap-overdue) little girl adoring her grand and great-grand.

she’s loving and adoring (and adorable) while learning valuable lessons about playing within the limits of her playmates.  My grandmother doesn’t have much mobility anymore, but she’s plenty sturdy enough to be hugged and clamboured on, so that’s what Evanny lavished on her during her month-long visit early this summer.  My dad is much more spry, but has a bad ankle and usually a dog, so she has to plan her requests for entertainments around reasonable walking distances

MPH family picnic, DeWitt, NY | Evanny and her daddy share a little dinner on the lawn between rounds of wild cavorting in the bounce-houses.

(some days the duck pond is feasible and some days it’s not) and on whether or not the dog (who isn’t allowed at the duck pond and can’t really be walked up to the ice-cream shop by a man with a bad ankle also pushing two kids in a massive stroller), so when she’s not trying to logistically conquer these limitations, she’s rolling with the alternatives: walks into the backyard to balance on logs, splash-pool supervision, endless rounds of role-play direction, book-reading, tea-partying, painting and coloring and quarreling and on occasion, still, falling asleep in his lap on the rocking chair.  When Lola comes to visit, the whole world becomes a princess party of treats and tales, indulgences and curtsy lessons. With her siblings, of course, like siblings everywhere, it’s fight and hug, kiss and tumble, lead and follow, just like you’d expect it to be; they drive each other crazy and miss each other whenever any of the lot is not around.  And with her mother?  Ah, her mother.  They warned us about “threenagers,” and how the tempers and tantrums of three were the best predictor of the kinds of temperament and habit to expect of the teenager a preschooler would someday become, and if Evanny at three is my bellwether, I’m not in for many surprises.  We’ve had stalemates and yell-offs, whines and pouts galore, and an unexpected abundance of ready tears, but also in great supply cuddles and conversations, questions and curiosities, explorations and adventures, like this tired-feet windy walk back to Auntie Julie’s car for a ride to the cousins’ and a fish-and-chips dinner after a day on the Weston beach.  Two was supposed to be “terrible,” and three this endless emotional tumult of head-butting, but they were both, despite small challenges (such as the just-arrived decent of the dreadful “why, why, whys”), by-and-large delightful years to spend with this angel of mine, and at this point, as this Jedi-Rapunzel vine-swings into her fifth ring of the sun, I’m looking through a rain of rose-petals to squint at what the future brings.


Perigee three

15 09 2016


The girls, when I started this post (already almost a month ago), were halfway through their third set of magic months: the 1/6th of the year between their backwards birthdays wherein they’re just one year apart. It’s magic because it’s how they were born as sisters, Evanny still only one to Tabba’s zero, because it catches them at their closest, because the proximity of consecutive numbers makes their difference seem so small as to be negligible entirely (we say things like “a small group, just four or five people” because whether 4 were there or 5 wouldn’t matter: they’re practically the same), and they’ve started sharing clothes already, not because they’re the same size, but Evanny’s so long in the torso that some of her size 3’s have to be handed down already, even though the shoulders fit her fine, some of them hang off both girls’ necks (but only cover Tabba’s belly) and some of them are cut so slim that they work on either little body; which girl it is only really shows in whether they go down to hips or knees.  There are, of course, some items that only work for one body or the other, but the overlap is much more extensive than I’d have expected, especially considering how tall and lanky Ev is growing as she rapidly approaches the fine, fine age of four.  This is helped, unsurprisingly, by how many of their favorite play clothes are too big for either of them, so it doesn’t really matter who they’re draping vaguely off of or tripping at the knees.

On a family outing to see a sunflower field that turned out to have already faded for the season (a common trouble we seem to run into around here), the girls, mermaids always drawn to water, found a pond with a fountain in it and crawled out onto a tiny pier to watch it burble together.

“Play Elsa-Anna now?”

Because sometimes two doesn’t feel like enough, the pair sometimes gets to missing their brother, which might lead to a costume-change transition from running around naked to digging through his clothes and then wearing around his t-shirts as dresses.

They overlap in most things as well as or better than in clothing: they play with all of the same toys, sharing almost every object (or fighting about every object, but that’s almost never about what the object is, just about who had it first and who decided it must be hers based solely on the golden glow it took on simply by being in her sister’s hands instead of her own), sharing bath time, soap, toys, and games of imagination, wearing the same animal-or-character towels when damn and clean-scented, lining up to have Daddy brush out their ever-lengthening hair, sharing a huge collection of interchangeable socks, pretending to wear the same several-size-up hand-me-down shoes cluttering the downstairs hallway, pulling the same stunts in the splash pool (or bathtub–where they’re both still, but for not much longer, small enough to lie full-length side-by-side, elbow to elbow, to dip their curls into the water and blow bubbles): knee-skids, belly-flops, chase-and-slip games, fountain-spouts, and any and all manners of splashing, of course. Inclinations of all kinds go the same way, not just the chosen-toy variety: if one gets naked, the other one wants to be naked.  If one wants an outfit change, they both need an outfit change.  If one wants any type of food, the other one wants some too, even if she’s just eaten and is ostensibly full.  If one drops her undies for a toilet-trip, the other one peels off her diaper to go sit on the toddler-potty beside her.  There’s also an adorable sense of the necessity of trading as part of the fun of shared person-hood.  They tussle over the carseats–each has her own that’s the right size for her age/weight, but each one wants to pretend to be the other one and sit in the other seat, so sometimes when we get home from preschool we hang around in the driveway for a half-hour while they indulge that game with the car turned off.  They like to drive me batshit at bedtime by tucking themselves into each other’s beds (where neither will be content to stay, so it’s always a staying mechanism).  And they like to announce themselves as a rotating cast of family members, but in this game, the hierarchy of age (as they understand it) is inviolate “I Mama,” Tabitha will say, and point at her sister. “You Daddy.  Dis [shaking the doll in her hand for emphasis] Tabitha.  Tiny baby.”  Or “I Evanny.  You Caleb. Dis [toy animal] Betty [their Poppa’s dog].” (None of the children really believe that I’m the oldest: family drawings always have the daddy figure taller than the mommy figure, as is true at our house too, and for small folks, size and age are automatic, hand-in-hand developments.)

At the end of a busy school “day,” sometimes one is too tired to nap, and if one is too tired to nap, both are too tired to nap, which can lead to lying around on the bedroom floor together contentedly watching nursery rhyme animations on the old iPhone.

“Augh, let’s just go up to the playroom.  C’mon, Tab!”

Pony time!  Every game in my purview is a negotiation bordering on a fight, but I suspect they do this primarily for my benefit; there seem to be many fewer quarrels when I’m out of the room.

Their togetherness is a daily marvel for me; I love how they say each others’ names, how they invite each other to play, how no matter how much they spat and quarrel, a few minutes later they’ll be cooperating again.  If Evanny’s caught being a brat to her sister and is sent to her room, Tabitha will immediately follow her there, crime forgotten in her hurry to be sure her sister is okay (“Evvy cry!”).  If Evanny throws a fit demanding some object or another, nine times out of ten Tab will give it to her just to please her (but only after making a fierce showing out of absolutely totally not sharing one bit).  When Tabitha is dragged off, by my dad, to her room for a nap against her will (is there any other way), I can hear her wailing, “I want my Mommy” interspersed in equal measure with “I want my Evanny!”  When light is rolling into the sky and Evanny is faced with having to get up and get her clothes on in preparation for half-day preschool, her most common protests include “but I want to play with Tabitha!” and “I’ll miss my sister.”  When Ev is at school and Tab and I stop running from task to task for long enough for her to notice that she’s lonely, the mantra starts: “I miss my Evanny.  Evanny school?  Pick up Evanny RIGHT NOW.”  When Tabba (as a last-week afternoon) is a punk and steals her sister’s last chocolate chip, and I take away the rest of her snack-treat in punishment, and then I give Ev two new chips as compensation, she turns immediately and gives one to the punky, punished thief.  When Tabba (as this afternoon) is a punk and wipes avocado all over her sister’s arms after she whines at her repeatedly to stop it, and then chucks her pizza in protest when I install her in her high chair out of reach, which promptly gets her hauled off to the pack-n-play for a time-out, it’s less than 30 seconds before her sister, the one just moments ago moaning about her maligned avocado arms, has gone to “check on her” and crawled into the pack-n-play with the exiled punk.  I wondered how people managed to instill it, that magic sibs-trump-all belief system that I’ve heard and read about but rarely glimpsed during my own childhood, but I needn’t have; they’ve figured it out on their own, much too young to even talk about the accord.  Apparently it just grows in some yards, like forget-me-nots or dandelions.

“Go dance around in that sunbeam for a minute,” I said in an attempt to purchase two whole minutes to spend cleaning up the crumb-and-shmear blast radius of two under-4s having a celebrate-the-end-of-a-successful-first-week-of-school special cream-cheese and bagel lunch.  So they did.

“Evanny! Wait me!”

At the splash pad on the playground along our route to and from Evanny’s school, the girls fill their shirts/dresses with flying droplets and give new meaning to the term “water babies”–“There’s a baby in my belly!”  “Belly cold!”

There is nothing Evanny can do on a playground that Tabitha won’t try, except for sliding down poles, for the simple reason that Tab’s short legs don’t reach the pole at all, and one can’t slide just by wishing; otherwise, there’s no slide or ladder too high, no swing too long of chain, no splash-pad too harsh of spray, no distance-from-the-car too long to sprint, shorter legs or not.  There is no bedtime that doesn’t involve a wrestling match, except “match” isn’t really the word, or maybe it’s a better word: there isn’t so much a contest as a need for contact fueling the pile-up, steamroll, feet-knees-bellies-heads convergence.  There is no meal with just the family that doesn’t include requests to sit next to one another (the table, currently, has 6 seats for 4 people not in high chairs, and none are really designated by habit yet, the house being too new to us and the summer having been too long and full of strange and varied kitchens); there is no day that passes without at least one hug, one “Evvy push me!”, one boop on the nose, and usually some intrusive kisses from the older to the younger when she’s asleep and I’m hissingly attempting to keep her that way.  “But I just want to kiss her!” The other day, over at Katy’s, I helped the smallest into a borrowed dress so she could run and join the princess game with the big girls. When I found her next, they were all three on the play-structure out in the yard, Evanny at the top of the slide, dangling down in fake distress, yelling “help, help!” and Tab bolting across the grass as fast as her little legs in long pink ruffles could carry her: “I save you, sister! I coming!”

Tabitha demonstrates that anywhere Evanny goes, she’s right on her heels and ready to follow, no matter how high, or how slick their hands are from playing in the creek down the hill, or how far the gap-step at the top might be from the ladder (she made it, unassisted, fyi).

“I’m Elsa.  You be Anna.  Here, you can wear this dress.”

On a random Sunday evening, the sisters decide together that they have to change clothes before bedtime.  Into (each others’ hand-me-down) Batman pajamas (E’s in a too-big size 6 or 7 shirt of Caleb’s).  And then go outside and play in the hose until they were both soaking wet and needed to change clothes before bedtime again.

They will throw in together for any fandom, although Ev, as the eldest, chooses movies five times out of six and predictably insists on “being” the older, more royal, or more princessy of the available characters whenever possible in their imaginative play. Most of the time Tab is fine with this, agreeing without debate to be Anna, Pascal, some member whose name I can’t remember of the lion guard, or BB-8.  Something about the idea of mermaids is deeply important to her, though, and she digs her heels in on refusing to be Flounder; if I can’t convince them to be two mermaid sisters, I end up with two Ariels sulking in different spaces, the elder refusing to play with her sister “ever again” if she can’t have her way, the younger gamely shouting back “I done you, Ev-a-NEE!”  They couldn’t mean it less, however, and can’t maintain the divide for more than about 3 minutes before somebody cracks.

Trying to play a game on the porch-table with Lydia and Darcy, and share snacks, with only three chairs between them (and dressed, monkey-see, both in Sofia-the-first attire, even though this required that one of them spend the entire day in a nightgown), the girls wedge into one narrow seat together, Tab barely hanging on to Evvy’s only-slightly-larger “yap.”

“Go peyyoom me?  Now?  Evvy, mon.”

  “We” is probably the most-used word in Evanny’s home vocabulary right now. “We need the door closed because we’re playing house.” “We want to be ballerinas!” “We don’t want to pick up toys. You can do it” (On this score, the “we” is a lie; Tabitha loves to work together to pick up toys). “We don’t want to go to bed; we’re not tired.” “We want to watch a movie. Can we watch Ariel?” “We’re hungry!” “We want to go in the splash pool.” “We want you to tell us a story.” In part, of course, this is simply smart tactics in action: Mom and Dad are more likely to agree to a thing if they believe both children want it equally than if there’s a dispute, and in parts it’s just speed: she’s quick enough to name the wants and let the power of suggestion do the talking for her that Tab’s on board before she even thinks about wanting something different.  But it’s also genuine sharing: Evanny wants those things, and assumes Tabitha does too, because they tend to like the same things, and also Evanny wants those things more if she gets to share them with her sister than she’d want them if he were on her own.  She won the State Fair lottery this year: our friend Crista came into town and wanted to take a kid to the Fair, and Caleb was gone for the weekend, and Tab needed napping and wasn’t allowed on most of the rides anyway, so we arranged the day so that only Evanny got that coveted second trip to ride rides and eat ice cream and be showered with unadulterated adult attention; Evanny came home with a sunburn, an ice-cream-sticky face, a half-eaten Hello Kitty cookie, and another, untouched cookie still in its wrapper, because when offered the one, she’d immediately and without hesitation asked for another to take home to her sister.  Tabitha didn’t know where she was, didn’t know she was missing out; she and I did something else with our time instead and had a fine go of it, but Evanny couldn’t be without her without bringing something home for her–and then ended up sharing the remaining half of the open cookie with her sister too (in fact, the still-wrapped one still is, because between then and now, they’ve been too busy soaking up the end of Gannon’s season and sharing ice-cream to even remember the cookie on the shelf!).  When, the two days a week that Tab is at Katy’s, I pick up Evanny first from school, and we got to collect Tabitha, Evanny is almost immediately drawn away upon arrival by the promise of some big-girl play time with Katy’s daughter, her old friend Lulu, and although the older girls always come around within ten minutes or so to letting the little ones play dress up too, there’s a heart-wail first from the smallest, who’s been away from her sister ALL MORNING LONG and has only just seen her long enough for a hello-goodbye before she disappears into Lu’s room–“I miss my EVANNYYYYYY!” Because, you know.  The love.

Bigger, bigger: littlest. 

7 09 2016

Although not always happy about this fact, Tabitha is well aware that she’s the little one in our house, our family, our roving band.  She was as quick as predicted to burst into tears when told, at the State Fair a few days past, that she was too small to ride the carousel, but quick enough too, a few minutes later, still sniffling, to explain back to me the reason why: “No ride horsies Evanny.  Me too yittle.” “That’s right, baby.  This year, you’re too little.  Let’s hope you’re tall enough next time!”  We found only one ride in the whole fair that allowed her to climb on and buckle in, and by dang did our plucky ducky, little-miss-sunshine make good on it.  Holding her own is one of her most notable traits, really.  Riding a donkey by herself, just like her 8-year-old brother?  Check.


Three-way teeter-totter on a lava-pebble Icelandic playground this past summer

Hands in the air on the mini roller-coaster?  Check.  Studying up on letters and numbers just like her 3-year-old sister?  Check and check again.  The other night, trying in vain to get the girls to bed with something like speed and simplicity, I told Evanny to count the projected stars in their room while I nursed the just-a-few-minutes-ago-totally-sleepy Tabitha whose wiggles were intensifying in my lap.  “There are too many,” she complained, “like a million thousand.”  Tabba, on the other hand, pulled away from my skin, pointed her toes, pointed a hand to the ceiling, and started counting.  “One, two, five, seven, seven, seven, seven, eight, nine, ten, one, two…”  And below is a 3-minute example of Tabitha’s side of the “conversation” that is reading books with our newly minted 2-year-old (she’s just at 25 months): I read the words on the page, pausing frequently and with rising frustration (which I feel guilty about, because conversation is good, language is good, word-practice is good, all reading behaviors are good, and yet knowing all of this doesn’t make it easy to quell the drive for linearity and completion that wells up when one STARTS to read a page and isn’t allowed to finish) for a hefty flurry of interruptions, and she describes and narrates what she sees in the pictures:

“Reada book?  Now?  No that book.  Dis one.”

“Biki on her face” (Trans: “Binky in her mouth”)

“Mommy blow balloon: in the sky!”

“Dis the hill! Hold on. This a first. Bue truck. Pink one in chicken. Sheep in olla one. What donkey do?”

“Baby go sleep this night time? Baby wake, daddy wake. ”

She also has a story of her own now, her first sustained tale to tell that springs up in her memory/awareness a few times a day, and she tells it the same time at each remembering:”Bee bit me. Outside. Mama talk Papa. Bee bit this shoulder me.” (Trans: “A bee bit me, outside, when Mama was talking to Papa. It bit me on this shoulder.”)  Of course it’s terrible that a bee (wasp?) bit (stung) her sweet little neck, right by her shoulder, because she scrunched up her shoulder against her ear to block her ear from the buzzing and trapped it in the tiny web of her honey-colored curls, and it hurt, and she cried, and at the same time the whole happening is terrific, because she was brave and good while we pressed a cold tea-bag on the sting and snuggled her, and it gave her a story to tell, a real story all her own (Evanny’s was about something she saw on TV).  It’s less good that she freezes and quivers every time she sees any flying creature at all, fly, gnat, what-have-you, but she’s still fascinated by caterpillars, so I’m hopeful that this earned prejudice against wings won’t last too long.


Kersplashing into the splash pool over and over with her favourite playmate–with distractions like this around, it’s hard to remember to worry about bees.

The story isn’t entirely an isolated incident; when we first got back from Iceland, we heard about the thermal pool at uneven intervals throughout the days as evidence of the same kind of random, pop-up thinking: “Fwim! Me float!”, which I appreciate because it means her brain was already doing it without having to be prompted by something as woe-inducing as a bee-sting. Language and the drive to share is also coming with associations these days: when we see or hear a plane above, she’ll tell me excitedly: “Airplane! Me, Evvy, Caleb, Daddy, Mama, fly!”  Reading through the stories above, we stopped at the picture of the truck-driving donkey because she remembered riding donkeys on the beach in Weston with her sibs and wanted to tell me about it. It was a struggle: she kept using her sister’s name (she isn’t here) and the word “docdoc” which is usually doctor, not donkey, but this is one of the things I like most about her language acquisition. She may throw fierce toddler tantrums about other things, but when it comes to stupid parents not understanding her efforts, she’s very patient, very persistent, try-and-try again for as long as it takes to be heard and understood. “Docdoc. Evanny, docdoc.” “Evanny’s going to the doctor?” “No, docdoc this.” “Donkey?” “Yah, doc-key. Me doc-key Evanny.” “Oh! You’re telling me about riding donkeys on the beach!” “Yah! Tell Mama!” “Who else was there?” “Evanny. Caleb. Daddy–Daddy walk.” “Daddy walked instead of riding a donkey?” “Yah. Daddy walk.” “Wasn’t Papa Smith there too?” “No.” “Are you sure? He’s in the pictures.” “No Papa Smif doc-key. Walk. Daddy.”  “Papa Smith didn’t ride a donkey, he walked with Daddy?” “Yah!”


Solo donkey-riding on the long, long, tidal stretch by the Grand Pier in Weston, age 2-and-2-days

Tabitha, as our newest talker and so most attentive language-learner, came home from England with the most charming little “woo-tah” for “water” I’ve ever heard (Caleb used to do it, but only when prompted or when trying extra hard to get Matt to notice him; Tab uses it as her primary functional term for the stuff), although it doesn’t transfer: she asks for glasses of “wootah,” not “walla,” but bites/chunks/slices of “wallamella,” not “wootahmelon,” and the rest of her language seems unaffected by accent, just broadened by exposure and practice after the busy summer away, all the different voices reading stories and talking, all the new Disney movies on grandma’s TV, all the new cousins and friends to listen to and play with and chase and keep up with. (Her siblings had entirely different responses: Evanny was utterly unaffected, sounding more English while we were there, because everyone else said “Mummy” too, but reverting right back to sounding American once we were home and the surrounds switched back.  Caleb worked hard to practice and imitate what he was hearing, as he wanted to fit in with and be like the bigger kids he kept finding to play with (and then, good grief, the northern/Irish accents of Eoghan and Danny Lethbridge, with whom he was spending 24 hours a day); he spent a whole week with his American cousins at the end of the trip and dropped all that, but pulls it out again whenever he wants his sisters to take him extra-seriously or wants to impress Matt or Andrew.)


Who’s the best big brother?  The one who takes this baby creek-swimming up to his hips in ice “wootah”!

Sentences themselves are old friends for Tab now, and word-strings long enough that no one thinks to count them. A minute ago, for instance, narrating the happenings of the afternoon: “Me eat my banana me wait my oatmilk.” (Trans: “I’m eating a banana while I wait for my oatmeal.”)  And oh, “oatmilk,” the baby-words, they’re disappearing so fast.  I never even got to record most of them–I had a list running in a “note” on my iPhone that spontaneously erased itself, because iThings, and now it’s down to the scraps I can recall.  Her consonants are inconsistent, easier to reproduce in the middle of words than at the beginning: alongside “wallamella,” adorably, is “wallapop” for “lollipop,” with the central “l” as clear as the one in “Caleb”; she says “bulba” for “vulva” but has no trouble with “Evvy,” “tratch” for “scratch” and “tar” for “star” and “fwan” for “swan” but has no trouble with “dress” or “princess.”  When she’s thirsty/sleepy/gearing up for bed, it’s sentences: “Me nurse your boobs really-now?” (“Really-now” is Tabitha’s way of saying she wants what she wants very much.) When her sister is being unfair, sentences: “Evvy push me!” “Evvy me bonk head dis.”  “Evvy take blue my baby!” “EvanNYYY!”  When she’s hungry and I’m scrambling to cook her an egg, for example, sentences: “Me eat egg now?  No cook.  Me sitaoto (“sit counter”).  Me eat else?  Wait egg, else?  Banana!”  “Me go school, me bigger, cut apple,” she reminds me, every time I slice her snacks and won’t let her have the knife–when she goes to school like Evanny, she’ll learn to cut apples for herself.  Other favourites include how she differentiates situationally between “sankoo” and “sankoo so much!” for moments of ordinary vs extreme gratitude, how I get “I yuv you” when it’s an echo but “me yuv you” when it pops up in her mind unprompted, putting the idea into her own grammar, where the subject “me” is still firm and strong, and how she’s had to create her own, longer version of a standard little-kid comeback to being asked to do something to keep with her grammatical forms: where another 2-year-old might whine “I caaaaaan’t,” for Tab it’s “No me can!” (or, more phonetically, “tan”), and rather than “I don’t need a diaper,” it’s “no me need diaper” (she’s nothing if not intellectually consistent).


“Sitato” master in her usual state of dress, with a bowl of berries grasped gently in her monkey-toes

She and Evanny are also really starting to play now, with real give-and-take of ideas rather than just Tab automatically following because she’s smaller and has fewer words to offer.  It’s not just “yes” and “no”; there’s dialog to copy, variations on games to suggest, narratives to interrupt by pretending to be a cat or a dog without warning, stubborn refusals to be the character she doesn’t want to be.  Last night, they had a blast sitting in the splash-pool while I deflated it, crawling into the collapse, watching and running their fingers through the waving grasses of the flood as the water emptied out into the lawn, and then they were faced with the entertaining process of smushing the remaining air out of the inflated ring.  Tab looked up first, at a place where a long wall had a dip in the middle but was still high on both sides, and cried “Evvy, yook, see-saw!”  She ended up yielding to Ev’s plan of marching in circles instead, chanting “march, march, march” as they stamped out the ring of air, but as far as I know she hasn’t seen a see-saw since our first stay in Iceland 2 months ago; the idea and the desire to share the game were both entirely her own.


Collaborative painting, with Tab at her favourite vantage point–one at the height of a climb, any climb.

As the littlest, Tabitha is the clingiest, the whiniest (by age-comparison, anyway; Evanny, enacting deliberate regression to get more attention and inherently and intensely LOUD is told “stop whining!” approximately 4000 more times per day than her younger sister), the temper-tantrum-est, the kick-people-when-mad-est, the scream-at-the-top-of-her-lungs-when-frustrated-est, the deliberately-paint-herself-and-her-surroundings-with-food-est, the jump-on-her-mattress-and-holler-when-told-to-go-to-sleep-est of our children, and her dad is very good at brooking none of her nonsense, but I’m a terrible parent in these circumstances: I think she’s funny, with those wispy little toddler-tufts that have now grown into flyaway little toddler curls behind her ears, those fat little legs, those lengthening, lengthening limbs, those soft, hot, startlingly strong little hands holding on to the bars of the crib while she goes all berzerker-trampoline on the idea of bedtime.  I get mad, and I shout at her, and I put her down on the bed again and again and again, but then I laugh, because she’s such a cliche, and she’s adorable while infuriating, and I’m such a cliche, because she’s my last baby, and every obnoxious baby-thing she does is the last time a baby that little is going to ever do that thing, because she’ll be bigger tomorrow, a little more coordinated, in possession of a few more words, and as each thing grows, some little shade or shape of something precious fades away.


Roller-coaster-hands: check. (3rd NYSF by 2-and-one-twelvth: also check!)

As the littlest, Tabitha is also dare-and-honor bound to keep up with the other two, and nothing stops her.  She throws herself into the splash-pool water with no fear at all of going under, and then goes under, and then pushes herself back up again, wipes her face, spits a little water, and throws herself again.  At the thermal pool in Iceland, where we put on both girls their first pairs of water-wings, Evanny hung on and stayed close, and Tabitha pushed off at once, paddling her feet into the air, dipping her face in, swimming away from us: “no hold me!” She climbs the most constantly: she was our only habitual crib-climber, she’s as like her sister to be found at the top of Caleb’s loft (and is equally undaunted by the vertical, not leaning, ladders of friends’ bunk beds), she didn’t hesitate a minute before following Evanny out of the living room window, and she’s the first of the lot to regularly get herself into and out of her own high chair using any proximate step–the legs and rungs of the chair itself, nearby dining room table chairs, the actual table.  She’ll climb anything on the playground, and if I’m not careful, she’ll commit herself to pulling up onto things I can’t reach from below her, so steadying her play is out of the question; I just have to wait nearby in case she takes a dive (she never does).  She likes baby swings because they’re safe cages for all manners of twisting and goofing around, but is thoroughly confident in the big-kid kind (despite the pink scar-spotting up her back from the one she fell out of, scraping herself all up the spine) in June.


This is the “da-ta!” of a climbing baby having achieved a perch on the very narrow front porch-window ledge, with the help of my feet to balance on.

As my littlest, Tab works intently on carving out and defending her relationship with me: I get only the occasional and very rare (but wholly unprompted) “Me yuv you!”, but I often get “My mama,” that first fierce declaration followed by a deliberate contextualization: “Evvy’s mama.  My mama.  My Evvy mama.”  Once, she tried for a bilateral split, going so far as to hug one of my legs, naming it “mine,” and then patted the other one: “Evvy’s.” But most of the time sharing is grudgingly accepted, the two of them fighting with feet over the shared airspace of my body and its immediate proximity, and my favourite mornings in the world are the ones wherein I get to loll around in bed a while as the sky warms from early blue to summer yellow, with Evanny curled around my right arm, tucked along my side, knees at the edge of the bed, head pillowed on my shoulder, and Tab propped up on my other shoulder, latched on, half asleep, sweaty curls sticking to my skin, with a tiny hand thrown over her own hip to hold onto mine.  Cliche or not, I’m trying, tightroping the span between babying her more than is her due and letting her take on, climb, attack, etc. challenges much too big for her stubborn, ferocious little frame by doing too much of both, being half-seriously accused by her father one minute of planning to let her nurse until she’s seventeen, then being scolded by the children’s librarian for how she’s climbed up on the table the second I look down to see what book Ev’s asking me to read.  I feel on some level that I’m supposed to worry about this, express anxiety about getting it wrong, worry that I’m doing her one disservice or another–or maybe both, overlapping overprotectiveness with neglect in some message-mixing little stew–but I’m not worried about Tabitha.


Toddler McToddlerface, shining with confidence and sass–why would anyone worry about this child?

I worry about Caleb: his smarts foundering in the north country, his inner doom-counter always too close to going off, his invented worries, his people-pleasing tendency to throw in with whoever’s getting the most attention, his inevitable careless kid-ness, and most of all my lack of patience with all of the above. “What were you thinking?” I find myself asking him too often.  “Did you really just throw that hunk of ice at your sister after whining that the tiny crumb that hit your foot hurt?  What is wrong with you?” “Are you being your best self?”  “Was that kind?” “Where’s the blood?  If she just almost took your head off, I expect to see at least a little bleeding.” “Would you stop inventing DRAMA?!” “Did I not just ask you not to do that?  ENGAGE GIANT CRANIUM!”  I worry about Evanny getting lost in the middle, watching too much mature TV (there’s all that shooting in Clone Wars) getting caught up in princesses, whining too much, wailing over nothing, wetting the bed at almost 4 when she was never a bed-wetter at 2-to-3, being pushed into too much school too early (even if it’s less than is available and than many of her peers are undertaking), being expected to be too big and too independent at 3 by default, because if Tab’s the baby, she must be big, so we treat her like she’s as 8 as Caleb some days, and about her starting to act too much like her grandmother when she doesn’t get her way.  I don’t worry about Tabitha.  All the ways she drives us crazy by acting like a toddler are pretty much all of the ways that other people’s toddlers act, that toddlers are famous for acting, and I have no trouble at all maintaining that perspective (our other two were weird.  We got lucky.  She’s hard in some ways because toddlers are hard, because keeping up with 3 needing 3 different things is hard.  She’s fine).  She gets less of my attention despite her insistence than the other two got when they were little, but it’s balanced out by getting theirs instead.  I don’t read enough with her, in part because she’s not very patient with reading when there are “better” offers of activities involving her siblings to choose from, but with Ev back in school every day starting next week, I hope to start doing better at it; that’s an observation and a goal, not a worry.


This little cat has just captured the leaf she was batting at, and is proudly carrying her kill across the playground in her teeth.

My only Tabitha-related worry is that she attracts so many more ticks than the rest of the family, and I’m afraid I’m going to miss one and she’s going to end up with Lyme disease, but that’s not about her being Tabitha, just a wish that she really was a cat, so we could squeeze some Advantage on her back and be done with it, because she’s going to get out into the backyard on her own (just like Gustav keeps doing; he goes through the basement window, while she uses her thumbs to just open the back door), she’s going to run all the way down to the “yogs” to say hi to her papa, she’s going to wander into the front yard looking for the cat, she’s going to take her own self out to the splash pool if no one else wants to come, so scratches and ticks and bee-stings and filthy little ankles, they’re just how it’s going to be.


Up, up, up, and up some more, those ever-longer legs just go, go, go (and her funny little concentration-frown goes too!).

Spit, vinegar, and sweet-gold honey

29 03 2016

Unsurprisingly, as nothing has intervened in the usual processes, “that baby” has resolutely and gleefully become “that toddler.” She’s the first of ours to throw screaming little tantrums and refuse the thing she just asked for for no discernible reason, the first to frequently try to nurse while kicking me in the arms or slapping me, to deliberately kick me in the boobs at the changing table, and to shove her sister out of my lap whenever possible–every group snuggle is a battleground these days.  (Sometimes it feels like every everything is a battleground these days.)

Little Miss Innocent sweetly practicing her manipulation of food on forks, giving no warning about the high-volume scene this would become if one of us dared to try to put that noodle on a fork for her, or God-forbid bring it to her mouth.

And books? Forget books. Both girls love to have books read to them, but we don’t read much these days, because Tabitha picks a book, listens for 3 pages, says “no,” shuts the pages on my thumb, and runs to get another, and if Ev (who is yielding less ground than ever these days herself) takes a turn choosing, Tab will scream that “no” twice as loud and try to swat the book from my hands; if I manage to keep my grip, she’ll storm around the room screaming and dismantling things trying to force me to attend to her drama instead of the book. To make the best of this jealousy, the family entertains ourselves by playing games, like having Evanny choose a parent to snuggle after dinner, which immediately provokes Tabitha to need to be in the arms of that parent, so Ev will switch, and then Tab will have to switch… She says “no” a LOT (which, as predicted, has become a bit less cute). She also has a charming little screw-you-and-whatever-you-just-said-to-do raspberry and a til-she’s-scarlet banshee shriek that we don’t wonder where she came by.

The smug mug of a little sassafrass who has inexplicably but quite proudly stolen all of the sidewalk chalks after I refused to placidly yield to her command that I stop drawing.

She’s the least verbal of the three by age, so whereas by now her sister had proto-grammatical sentences and her brother mostly grammatical paragraphs, Tab is still on single words, and while she’ll sometimes toss out two or three of them at a time (“Daddy car bruh-bruh”), it’s entirely up to the listener to invent a connection between them to puzzle out a message. (Daddy and Caleb are in the car? Daddy needs the car to go get Caleb? Daddy has Caleb’s toy car? Caleb should give this toy car to Daddy?). We have no worries about this difference–she’s perfectly on her developmental trajectory and third kids always talk later than their predecessors–but we definitely see the corollary rise in toddler-frustration. The bigs didn’t have to resort to toddler-tantrums to show how vexing it was to be misunderstood, because they skipped ahead to speaking clearly enough not to run aground on that sandbar. Tab and her angry sandy feet just have to plow through it, and us with her, and we know now that it’s not just a TV-toddler thing: at our house, too, the struggle is real.
Fortunately for all of us, she’s still all in all a very, very sunny, happy baby, if a bit louder and greener in hue.

Despite being typically resistant to coaching, this toddler has managed to get rather good at blowing bubbles, and seems to enjoy even those opportunities to do so wherein her mean Mummy only lets her “hodo” the wand and not also the full bottle of liquid soap.


At 20 months, Tabitha loves Mumma and “Dad-DY,” “Bruh-bruh” and “Aagn,” cats and “Kah-dja” (Katy), swords and “Sha-djo” (Star Wars), Papa and “Woof,” toy cars and “baba” dolls of all shapes and sizes, putting them to bed over and over and over again, taking them for stroller walks around the living room, and asking me to put on and remove their clothes (“Nigh-nigh.” “Walk!” “Desh.” “Naynay?”). She asks several times a week to talk to “Yayo” on the phone, she loves (also not surprisingly) to copy everything her sister does, and when possible treasures the chance to stretch that habit into emulation of her brother too. Her first word when she wakes up in the morning (even when “morning” is 3am) is “Mumma” to the dark room, of course, but as soon as I bring avenue for rescue, the first thing she says to ME is “Aagn?” And every day when we’ve ascertained for certain that Daddy is at work, she asks if “bruh-bruh?” will be accompanying him home.

Plucky, happy adventure-baby, heading off down the boardwalk to explore the bog with her big sister, about 45 merry seconds before she toddled *off* the boardwalk and into said bog, a mishap which dampened her spirit for only as much of the rest of the day as it took to get warm again.

She’s starting to turn into a little girl before our eyes, squabbling over toys, weeping at miniature rejections of attention, taking an interest in pigtails even though she won’t yet commit to leaving the elastics in, coveting Evanny’s participation in gymnastics class and escaping onto the spring-floor whenever my hands are busy helping Ev with shoes or coats at the end of a lesson.
Tabitha is more of a cling-film than I remember Ev being at this age (she had her days, but for “Tabba” it seems to be all the days), making dinner-making a nightly torture exercise for all, as she refuses to be put down without prolonged screaming, and I cannot cook with my arms full of toddler.Paradoxically, though, she’s also happier than the other two were (a bit moreso than Evanny and a thousand times than Caleb) to play by herself, running around the room, singing to herself, and attending to busy little baby-projects–it’s just that she’s a cat, so she’s like this on her schedule, with utter disregard for the daily clock and the demands of dinnertime.

Watching Ev’s gymnastics-class warmups and practicing her posture so she’s ready when her turn comes.

Tabitha-at-one hasn’t quite got the hang of jumping, but she can walk, run, and climb almost anything. She can also execute a competent forward-roll, pretends to count, triumphantly identifies the key concept of “two!”, pretend-recites the alphabet, warns us that the oven is “hot” in the play-kitchen, brings us tasting-forks of all kinds of invisible morsels, “yeeds” books, vrooms cars and adds “weeooo weeooo” sirens, nurses baby dolls and stuffed animals alike, desperately wants to pet both the shy and mean cats, and loves to “go!” out anywhere requiring “shoes” and “coat” like “shops!” and “yaibee” and “zhoo.” Because we’re GoT fans, our favourite of her little words, which works in part because she says it so often, and often over and over, is “hodo,” Tab-ese for “hold,” often cried at a defiantly insistent pitch when denied immediate access to the object or implement she wants to possess or manipulate.  “Hodo.  HODO!”

The big brother, the little sister, the loving gaze.

Two requirements of sisterhood enacted simultaneously: if one sister is eating, the other must have some of what ever it is at once, even if she’s full and even if she doesn’t really like that thing.  And if there’s a space one can fit into, both should wedge in together.

Most rewardingly for the mummy trying not to pine about her status as my last (and no, not for a minute, do I want to do all this again), Tabba is more of a lover than her sister was (although Ev, in addition to the exuberant and sometimes bruising affectionate leaps-and-tumbles she’s best known for, has become a great, sweet stranglevine of petting hands and lingering hugs and death-grips on parental fingers in the past few months as well). We (especially Matt, who was spoiled by Caleb’s cuddliness and wasn’t usually at home with baby Evanny to spend his days hung off of like a sloth’s favourite tree) used to bemoan how Ev’s version of a snuggle resembled a 3-second speed-wrestle with an octopus made entirely of knees and elbows, how only if she was ill, and then also under duress, would she lie or sit still in our arms a moment longer.Tabitha, on the other hand, still endeavors to spend an hour or two a day snuggled into my boobs (and likes to pretend they’re pillows and nose-boop my nipples when she’s full as a way to drag it out), wants a lap as often as possible (especially if anyone else has one), loves piggy back rides as a way to throw her arms around her horsey’ neck, and spent almost an hour the other day sleepily sitting in Matt’s lap watching Poppy Cat while he napped on the couch. She doesn’t just nurse, she nurses while petting my belly and boobs with gentle, sweet little soothing motions, like a horse-whisperer trying to tame the wild Mummy and entice her to stay still just a little longer.  She cannot stop touching Evanny, pretty much any time except when she first wakes up and Evanny has missed and thus cannot stop touching her, and then they spar over this and Tab sulks dramatically away into a pillow and cries “no!” until she breaks down under the weight of a look or a tickle and they fall into giggling instead.

Little love-bug’s hands around my neck.  THE FEELS.

Doing everything together includes trying on Papa’s giant hats and playing his guitars.

She still tucks her head under mine in a sweet-spot monkey-cling when feeling small (or wanting to prevent separation) and won’t go off to naps or to bed at night without a whole ritual array of kisses, preferably flying kisses, delivered to her sister, her dad, her brother if he’s there, her sister again (“head!”), and the cat if she catches sight of him on our way. She loves being touched and petted like a little cat herself, and will go to great lengths to try to get her sister’s belly or to free her own from the confines of a onesie for the getting.  Tonight, when the bedtime drama was dragging on way, way too long, and Tab and I were back in Evanny’s room for the umpteenth time trying to coax her to sleep, tired-Tabitha threw a fit because my foot was in her way, but when I finally moved the foot just to stop the noise, it became clear what the issue was: she wanted to climb the bed-rail and lean her little body as far over as she could do, crushing her ribcage in the process, so that she could copy my hands and pat her sister to sleep too.

This is the punk who likes to install herself in the dolls’ stroller and demand that someone “puss” her all around the downstairs, which almost always works, because if you *could* say no to that face, the giggle-reward would still be irresistible.

The drama is mountain, or better, sky, high–she’s got a smug way of taunting with that little face when she gets her way in defiance of someone else’s wishes, and she’s definitely the first of our lot to routinely throw herself belly-down on the floor to wail if denied any impulse, at home, out at dinner, anywhere–but the love is higher, warmer, bigger, better, and however much it drives her daddy crazy (lots!), we four could not adore this hardly-still-a-baby more.

In the week since I began this post, in the way toddlers dash through their lives and learning-curves like half-mad drunken rockets, several of these statements have become untrue, replaced by next-stage advances, new achievements  unlocked.  She still can’t jump, other than on the bed, but she got so mad at Evanny the other day for holding the smaller of two toy horses (and of course, because it was the one she didn’t have, it immediately became the only on that Tabitha had ever wanted) that she strung a whole three-word utterance of fury and determination together.  Repeatedly, loudly, until we begged her sister to relent, encourage the language, and for-the-love-of-all-that’s-holy, let her “HODO.  BABY.  HORSE!”

Dancing curled in the crook of Daddy’s arm: one of this sweet baby’s most requested activities (“Oh-oh-oh? Dass!”)

(You may also notice that above, “baby” was still “baba,” but now it’s not: the word-ending “y” sound has been unlocked as well.  Any day, I’ve started telling people.  Any day, she’s going to hear it in her sister’s name, and “Aagn” is going to become “Agony” (which will especially resonate with how baby Evanny used to call our friend Andrew “Ouch”).)

She makes it a fun ride, altogether.  There are certainly many days–pretty much all of them–wherein Tabitha does exasperating things, but at least for me, having been exasperated by her sister plenty, and knowing now that the feeling may always return but the ways won’t stay makes it easier to talk over the tantrums, smile lovingly at her sassy refusals, calmly deny her the things she asks for if she persists at chucking them, and generally roll with the glory of toddlerdom as she’s decided to gift it to us.  It won’t last–it never, ever does–and growing through it together gives us plenty of bonding opportunities while we smile over her silly little dandelion head, or plug our ears to offset the screeching, or try, again, to convince her or her sister that snatching and smacking aren’t likely to lead to any where that either of them wants to go.  Since the things she wants most are the people who do this smiling and ear-plugging and snatching and smacking, I think we’re doing a fine job, really: the love is getting through.  A little person is unfurling in there, one wild shriek of joy or anger at a time, and I’m grateful every day to get to be here with her while it happens.

 Three, a first study of

24 02 2016

Three is a magic number; scholars and scientists have known this since they were inseparable from storytellers and witch-doctors (or at least since before other people felt the need to start dividing the implied-serious from whatever was loved yesterday and thus needs scoffing at). It’s the three-fold face of God or the Goddess, the three-fold rule of energy return, the three fates and their map of life, the number of legs a table needs to stand, the number of points needed to locate a source–it’s the principle number of repetitions in any good tale, divisions in any good story-arc: how many little pigs it took to outsmart the wolf, how many kittens lost their mittens, how many blind mice ran around in dark sunglasses, whacking things with sticks. It’s also (in addition to the literally thousands of other list-items I could go on with here, having made already a point that never needed making anyway, because it’s so ingrained that everyone already knows) how many installments validate a movie-franchise (all hail the holy trilogy), and how many dragon eggs were hatched by the last Targaryen.


No Targaryens here, but we have a frequent occurrence of tigers.

On TV, in the general cultural impression that I absorbed growing up, without a big family & thus without consistent (or much of any) exposure to little kids to better inform me, was that three was LITTLE. Three year olds were BABY kids. They didn’t even speak in sentences most of the time, the only music they knew was the nursery songs we steeped them in or whatever inappropriate lyrics they’d eavesdropped on from the radio, hilariously mispronounced. Caleb was shatteringly articulate, thoughtful, and curious when he was three, but everyone who ever met him remarked on his exceptionalism, so we had no real revision there to this general point of misdirection. We know better now. Forget sentences: three is paragraphs, fluidly ranging from literal to fantastical, hyperbolic to bluntly counter-factual, hypothesis-trying to just plain silly. Don’t forget nursery songs–three loves to watch these, in cartoon interpretation on our old iPhone, and she knows many more of them, lyrics, melodies, and all, than either of us–but forget their implication of a tiny fenced border for a musical arena.

Laughing comes easily when the world is arrayed for you, arms open wide.  Here: “bowling” at her brother’s 8th birthday party.

Three, also like her brother before her, enjoys her father’s Spotify collection (it was still mix-CDs in his day), singing merrily along to Smallpools, Truslow, Ed Sheeran, and Walk the Moon; unlike her brother (perhaps only because it never occurred to us to chase any of his musical attachments so concretely), she has also started her own pop music collection, and can often be found these days dancing and singing to Rhianna in the living room, playing the CD Santa brought her, which she’s already broken one bay of the multi-disk changer by starting over so often. And by “dancing and singing,” I don’t mean the baby-bop, arm-flap, knee-bend dancing her sister employs, I mean rhythm-conscious, move-copying, hip-popping, over-the-shoulder-hair-tossing, up-on-one-foot-toe-pointing dancing (more the kind her brother models), repeating, eyes closed, the word strings that haunt her (shadows chase me far from home). Sometimes she just listens, curled under a blanket on the couch, studying the pictures in the liner-notes because she can’t yet read the words.

Three’s long, wet tresses, replacing her baby-mohawk forever to trail down her back like a real girl’s hair, or a mermaid’s

We used to call her brother a “threenager” because of his eruption out of a sugar-sweet toddlerhood into a world of sass, but I see now that the term was coined to encompass much more territory-overlap than that. Three is embracing the emotion in music and tale–she gets sad about the stories she’s enjoying, wants a hug, tears up a bit about it, and then wants the sad part again. Three is starting to test out the sensation of nostalgia, using phrases like “when I was little, we used to…” and telling me she doesn’t want to give away the outgrown baby things Tabba can’t use anymore, and she wants her old car seat back, not to move up a size to the new one. Three is starting to recognize the march of time, and is digging in her tiny heels, insisting on a Moibus strip model: “when I get big and Caleb is little,” she’ll say, “then he can have the car seat and I can sit in the middle.” Three pins too-few data-points together using logic to the ends of her own pseudoscience, suggesting that we could use tape to put her sister’s fingers back together if she cut them off by slamming them in the door (an ever-realer danger around here, as three is prone to fits of rage that, unsurprisingly in this house, lead to door-slamming) the same way we use it to put torn pages back together in a book.

Love is tactile when you’re small.  Here, the ridges of a fingerprint caught on the wet-meets-dry edge of a tiny, pouty lip.

Three also loves ferociously, throwing her arms around my neck when I tell her I have to get up to go do whatever is needing doing (“No! I won’t let you. I will NEVER let you go”), melting into a puddle of woe when her brother leaves for school Sunday evenings and screaming with high-pitched joy at his Friday evening returns, bursting into tears and throwing herself at her sister when I explain that there is no tape for fixing fingers, and if slammed off, her sister’s would be gone forever (“You were just joking,” she wailed desperately when confronted with this fact. “You were just joking that they would be gone forever. Weren’t you just joking?!”).
Three is developing a sarcastic, quick sense of humour. The other day, when from our angle in the living room we saw her babysitter appear in the doorway, then disappear to shut the outside door behind her, before she could reappear to come in and play, Evanny quipped “well, that was short.” A few evenings later, teasing her about being up past her bedtime, Matt said to/asked her “…and you haven’t peed in God knows when–when did you last pee? Before breakfast?” “God knows when!” she chirped immediately, giggling.

Merry leaf-chasing on a sunny Fall day, my little fire-haired girl glories in the season of her birth

We’ve also started hearing phrases like “you guys are old,” and “Mom. I’m not ‘sweetheart,’ I’m Luke Skywalker!” Three, her burgeoning love for Star Wars chronicled elsewhere, doesn’t just admire the fandom because the family does; she has a serious crush on Luke Skywalker, one so intense that when I pick up a library book with his face on the cover, she has to walk a lap, flapping her hands a bit, around the kids’ tables before she can sit down to listen, and when I add him to her bedtime stories, I can see her smile bloom in the darkness. That isn’t to say he’s all she loves: sometimes she’s Anakin and I’m his mother, sometimes Princess Leia to my “Dark” Vader; sometimes her sister is charged to be R2-D2 and I’m Han Solo, sometimes I’m Luke or Leia, sometimes one of us is Chewie and sometimes the stuffed Chewie will do.

Trying out Rey’s hair, since Three has neither hair enough nor patience to pull off Leia, and Mummy said wait til the impulse fades when she suggested cutting it off so she could more believably be Luke

Two was more grounded, with nightmares about fights with her brother or friends, but three, whose imagination has taken flight, has bad dreams about monsters now: some kind of bug that flew into her mouth and mine and stung us both last night, and last week “the Star Wars dinosaur” (which her dad translated as the Rancor). Three still naps, going through phases of fighting the process and phases of relieved mid-day surrender; when she wakes she’s sometimes clingy and desperate for a cuddle and sometimes just a quick kiss on her way to go command a babysitter into her games of let’s pretend.

Curled up for a bedtime snuggle, there’s still a baby-softness to these eyes

Bedtime is sometimes a quick and quiet tuck-in, send off and sometimes a long, drawn out game of room-door ping-pong, both presided after most of the time by her dad, since I’m still nursing her sister to sleep at night. I miss the bedtime storytelling I got to do with two, when baby bedtime was more erratic, and I think three does too–that’s my guess for why she’s in our bed, beside/on top of me for at least the last hour or two of every night these days and sometimes a whole handful of other hours too. Sometimes I put her back to bed, and sometimes I don’t. Matt doesn’t remember Caleb having a phase of doing exactly this, but I do (it was either a long phase or later, because it overlapped with having a tiny Evanny to nurse in the morning bed), and part of what strikes me about that memory is the behavior’s absence now–at 8, not only does he not come in often anymore (I think I’ve responded to a bad dream call from him thrice in the past two years), but he usually sleeps past everyone else getting fed up with lolling in bed and going foraging for breakfast and second coffees, missing morning snuggle hour altogether, and soon enough, she won’t come either, and I may never again wake up crushed lovingly beneath the wide-flung reach of those long, cool arms, the curled seashell of a smooth hand resting on my sleeping cheek.

Three–just like two and the very tail end of one–LOVES being a big sister, but it’s starting to get fun in all sorts of concrete ways these days. They can talk to each other now, negotiate at play, lead and follow. Three delights in all of these things, coming into the kitchen yesterday with Tab’s arms pulled tight over her taller shoulders, the little feet waddling awkwardly in Evanny’s footsteps all around the circuit–“we’re doing a SAFE piggyback ride,” Three explained proudly.

Three also and especially LOVES being the monkey who leads the see-do romp of imitation through their little days

Three takes gymnastics classes once a week, tromping off merrily with a loose handful of 3-5 year-olds to run obstacle courses and bounce down a store-length trampoline in the new delight of a blue-matted wonderland. She doesn’t always listen all that well, and I hear her name more often than that of the other kids in her group, but she’s fearless at whatever test they set before her, and fearless at failing, falling over and trying again just as happily as landing where she meant to, and the marvel of watching that little body that I grew, so limp and tiny those few years ago, the one that toddled up and tumbled down the stairs in such bald-headed glee, now long and tall, leotards stretched over her rib cage as she reaches skyward, hair falling in a red-winged ripple over her shoulders, it’s almost too much to handle. So fast, it goes, so fast. And then she dramatically throws herself on the floor in a pretend fall, like she does six thousand times a day at home, and I know she’s still my self-same baby, goofy as her uncle Brek and without the slightest crumb of self-consciousness about the expectations of the people around her.

A pre-gymnastics nibble of snack, a rare ponytail, and those long, long legs that grew from nowhere

Three explores shapes, glue, and school-tasks at the Onondaga Free Library’s story hour

Three is starting to take an interest in school-things: she counts to ten unthinkingly, twenty with thought, and gets tangled in the tens-designations themselves, but gets the pattern for how they lead all the way to 100 and repeat thereafter. She recognizes and names the “E” in things, and knows the other most important letters too: C for Caleb, T for Tabitha, B for book, and D for Daddy. So far, she loves to play with colours but has zero interest in the attention-span required to learn to colour within the lines, and mostly just scribbles. She can draw little people–I’ve seen it–but rarely bothers with representational art. From what I can deduce, three’s interest in art is about the motion of spreading colour around and about making sure the colour you spread is your favourite (which is why we get so many pictures colored all and only in red).

Three is also a magic middle-number for our three: it’s got them frozen in photographs really together, Ev big enough to keep up with at least 2/3 of everything Caleb can do, but still small enough to drag a delighted Tabba with her as she does so. I give them only a couple of years before he’s too old for their little-girl abilities and interests (a good many kids would be done already by eight), but they’ll be beautiful years, burrowing into their memories and giving them the shared language of “when we were kids” that they’ll have forever, and it’s in good part thanks to Three: Caleb is amazing with the babies, an absolute gem of a creative, sweet, inclusive, tolerant role-player, but his efforts work as well as they do because Three is quick on her feet, almost as quick verbally as he was, a pop-culture sponge for their shared interests, and not a pushover–she doesn’t bore him as fast as you’d think because, his 5-year head start notwithstanding, she doesn’t always let him lead. Really, and she makes sure we all know it, Three is doing us all a favour anytime she lets anybody lead. Three runs the show. Is the show. Shines, shines, shines. Crazy daisy, crazy diamond, oh this heart of mine.


“I have a surprise for you,” Three likes to call out to me, fingers hovering at the hem of her shirt, when she’s feeling in need of a little attention (or thinks I am). “It’s YOUR FAVOURITE BELLY!” And then she lets me pet it, rolling and giggling, and grabs me, and says “you can’t ever let your belly go.” And of course I promise not to, even knowing that of course she’ll go–that belly already goes places I can’t keep up with, and has a whole life’s opportunities to do it more ahead. But even as she’s on some level totally aware of that, Three is also little, and wants the simple reassurance of being tickled and held and promised, and I’ll give it as long as she asks… Even when it’s muttered into my hair at 4 in the morning while her sister sleep-chants “mama, boob, mama, boob” from the other room. Sleep right there, my belly. I’ll always come back for you. Even though I know the day is always coming closer when you won’t want me to, too busy dancing off to your own drums and dashing toward some dream or another– the soundtrack you’ll hear when such inspiration strikes hasn’t been written yet, and it’s thus impossible to imagine. Me, though, thanks to the love of repetition inherent in three…  I’ll still be hearing the echoes of Rhianna.

“Turn your face toward the sun; let the shadows fall behind you”

Comparative Linguistics

17 02 2016

Tabitha copies a great many of the things Evanny does, as many as her tiny body can manage to keep up with, but thanks to the gap in their ages, Tab was too small to differentiate between sounds while Ev still used baby-sounds to make her thoughts known, so the little one’s words are her own.  It doesn’t surprise me, exactly; the reasons are clear enough, and we’re logical beings. Sometimes they end up sounding the same, Evanny’s baba and Tabitha’s, for “baby,” but sometimes they’re totally different, like Tabitha’s “bruh-bruh” where Ev would say “Dude”; the most noteworthy and confusing are the places where they misalign, so where Evanny used to demand “bah” at bedtime, Tabitha clearly asks for “boob,” but also says “bah”–it just means “sheep,” not “breastmilk.”  The doubled form for Ev was often just emphasis, but when Tab says “bahbah,” she’s asking for a blanket (a now necessary accompanyment for nursing, but not the same thing). Tabitha has figured out that syllables exist, but she doesn’t really hear the details yet, so she tends to go with first sounds alone. There are exceptions–“Aagn” for Evanny is different now from the “aagleph” that is elephant–but it’s a pretty clear general pattern.  “Da” is duck; “dada” is Daddy, dinosaur, and Darcy.  “Ma” is mine; “mama” is Mummy, monkey, and Miles (which looks like one syllable on paper, but I have yet to meet anyone who actually pronounces it as anything other than “Mai-yuls”).  And of course she has words for her favourite things, words most often wholly her own. Evanny was just as much a fan of bananas and “choch-choch” as any kid could be, and there’s really only one way all toddlers say “banana,” but there’s a different sparkle in the “Tyahdah!” of triumphant enthusiasm when I offer Tab a chocolate chip. And of course, she says this: 

Taking a minute (even if it’s only borrowed)

18 11 2015

A thousand things busy up my everyday, my every day; if you’re in the practice of spending sustained time with young children, you can list them just as easily as I, and if you’re not, I doubt you want to see the list, but I promise: the poetic hyperbole of “a thousand” exaggerates in the opposite direction of what you imagine.” Yesterday, still, I found a second, or one found me; I was only doing as directed by the smallest of the smalls, and I certainly wasn’t physically still: the reversal, in fact, as in “running to stand.”  With Evanny climbing ladders in the yard (not mine) behind me, I buckled Tabitha in the baby-swing (on her demand), then acceded to her pointing-finger request by sitting in the yellow plastic saddle of the swing beside her, walked my feet back through the well-packed mud, and fell into rhythm beside her.     

Here is the view over our heads as we swayed back and forth in the cold November air, chilled by the cool eddies our movement swirled around our scarf-less necks, and here is the wonder. While we were swinging, the drowsy late-morning baby and I, her sister merrily occupied in movement and narration with Miles by the truck-garden, I thought about the readings I’ve encountered lately about the importance of movement in preschoolers’ cognitive acquisitions of skills, about how the Montessori teacher we met with explained her classroom strategies for incorporating big body motions in small, fine-motor tasks, about how infants need to be moved so frequently that it feels continuous, about the continuity of that need as they grow: I thought. Do you see the most important idea in that list of things to think about? 

I thought about the value of movement and how it might never stop being important, about whether it might not have been the occasions of privilege allowing contemplation that built the great thinkers of old but the inherently grounding physicality of life before technologies were invented to replace so many of the motions of our tasks: when heating the house required the whole-body swinging of an axe, when eating a sandwich required at some point the swinging of a scythe, the back-and-forth body-crossing of threshing wheat, the bend-and-pull of plucking lettuce from the ground, the rock and squeeze of milking cows to make the cheese. 

I thought, too, about color, the seemingly limited palate of the winter view of sky-through-trees and how many colours it would take to paint it well (the indigo behind the blue, the yellow leaf, the golds beneath the greys).  I thought about how the placement of my friend’s yard on the ridiculous hill I would never have wanted to face on wheels once the ice arrived allowed her to say “I like living in the city” while having trees on three sides of her house and only one real neighbor. I thought about that one last maple leaf at the edge of the frame and about how my parents had a book, when I was a child, that narrated the fearing and falling of the last leaf on a tree, a book intended to be a parable about death, which I knew and rejected even then; people weren’t leaves, and life didn’t end by flying and then sailing down a little creek. I thought about what November looks like in the places other friends live, about how little the warm sun felt like a path that would wind its way toward Christmas, despite the chill. 

I thought: consecutive ideas, words and possibilities of implication, whole strings of what-ifs and maybes, and for that whole untimed and unmeasured minute, nobody interrupted me, whined for my attention (beyond a few baby-requests for another “poooos”), fell down and cried, asked for feeding, made a mess I needed to clean up–it was miraculous.  In the time it’s taken me to write this down, of course, I’ve angered both girls, allowed I don’t know how many messes, called a few people choice names, moaned about the whining, and decided again that I’m a selfish, terrible mother, bc all they want me to do is play Jack Frost and read a book and do a puzzle and move the couch and pour some cereal and offer a snuggle and break up a fight and go for a walk, but at least now I have a record, for later when it seems again impossible: I thought.  It really happened.