And then we were six

28 07 2020

In Milne, the “we” I guess is royal, or at least I’ve always read it that way, but as Tabitha has come up on and, today, climbed merrily over the milestone, I’ve been thinking a lot about how it really is a “we.” We have been a family of 5 for 6 years now. Matt and I have been outnumbered by 3 kids for 6 years. I told Evanny, as I tucked her in last night: “it’s kind of your birthday too—you’ll have been a big sister for SIX YEARS tomorrow,” and her sleepy little face softened with pride.

Around here, birthdays always start with a squeeze. Or a series of squeezes.

I suppose it’s the lot of the last for all families: the smallest one completes you, and then her every birthday is also your collective birthday. THIS family was born when she was—we were different when we were just two adults, a full-time toddler, and a shared small boy. (As her brother’s youngest sibling in either household, her birth completed his collection too.) For her grandparents, just like for us, Evvy may have already been our darling for 22 tumultuous months, but “the girls” were born when Tabitha flew in from faerie land to join us, and we’ve all been different people ever since.

Checking out early morning gifts to start the day

Presents in bed is a Smith family tradition, I’m told, but since the Daddy-Smith is the latest sleeper, it’s always our bed—after the girls and I fed the cats, made coffee, and handled First Breakfast (for Mummy, this IS coffee, but for the girls, Tabitha’s birthday treat = egg-yolk and ranch rolls (Ev added shredded cheese to hers). 9 hours later, they are STILL playing in our bed with the expanded set of 18-inch Marvel figures, where they’ve been on and off all day.

This happy face caused by Sissy reading aloud a love-you card from Mummy

Other treasures include puzzles (one Marvel heroes, one sea creatures), a cookbook and apron collection with fabric markers from Papa, an activity book and a reading book from Caleb, a cute t-shirt from Grandma, crayons, colored pencils, a ball to color and kick around, a sand-stuffed dolphin, a fairy door to set up on a forest tree, and a heap of brand-new doll clothes from Lola for Isla and Jenny. There were also video-chats with Lola, Auntie Cathy, and Grandma Jenny, one deck-visit with Papa and Sue and another with Uncle Brek and Auntie Christalle, and lots of hugs and thank-yous!

Amazon, savior of pandemic birthdays!

A key element of the fun planned for the day was the decorating of the birthday cake—which Tab has been hinting it was time to get started working on for about 3 weeks already! My most enthusiastic of our kitchen helpers (although her brother isn’t far behind), she was ecstatic to get to finally mix flour and sugar and food coloring yesterday, and then even more fun—icing this morning!

Tabitha—in her brand new maxi-dress—beats butter and sugar into a fluffy buttercream

This dress, by the way, was a big deal. When Evanny unpacked her summer hand-me-down box and found three or four maxi-dresses and Tab had not a one, there were tears. These, suddenly, were THE thing for princesses and nothing in the dress-up box would do! (Eventually, they did make do, but then Evanny hardly wore hers, because the combination of actual sympathy and harassment about injustice was usually too much to bear. She’s absolutely walking on this dress, her to hold it up with both hands to approximate her usual scamper, and fell off a stool tripping over it. But she did these all like a damn warrior, proud of the inconvenience because of how fiercely she wanted it.


It was a little touch-and-go in the lead-in: yesterday either the anticipation or the weight of the world had her weeping and yelling and fighting all instruction and railing against time—“I don’t WANT to be six. I want to stay SMALL. Make me stay small!” But today she was almost all smiles, and was definitely happy to be the sun in our little solar system.

and piping!

The party-in-a-pandemic limitations didn’t really come to bear at all for us; Tabitha decided 9 months ago that she didn’t want a party this year anyway. What she wanted, we weren’t able to give her—a family trip to the “real” beach, which we had planned to coincide with Grandma Jenny’s now-canceled summer visit—but we made alternative plans early enough that she knew what was coming, and next week, there should be a lake to swim in to balance it out.

Final, as-bespoke dolphin cake (with a sprinkles sun and glitter on the water). I did most of the actual drawing; she did design and filling. The sun was IMPERATIVE. The wave-glitter was my own idea though!

Tabitha has had a lovely birthday. She and her favorite playmate have been playing ALL DAY with new toys and old, pausing only for virtual or real (outdoor, mask-and-fresh-air) family visits and refueling stops—peach yogurt smoothies were 2nd breakfast and their leftovers frozen for a late-afternoon froyo snack; in between were last night’s leftover dinner and CAKE. They have had one fight—at 4 in the afternoon!—and it ended with 2 apologies and a hug, neither of which I instigated or influenced in any way.

Sisters for SIX YEARS today

In between, they have set up elaborate worlds for the Marvel characters (conscripting a few nondescript dollar-store Barbies to be Pepper Potts and “Cap’s girlfriend”), changed their dolls’ clothes 3-4 times, asked for a collection of hairstyles, played ball, and done a little sticker art: just the way you’d spend a day if you were too wound up to sit and read and were “stuck” at home in your lovely house with your best-friend-sister and were six.

Happy baby exploring her afternoon round of gifts—shared in the lovely sunshine. (My favorite gift in this picture is having Papa here ❤️)

It’s hard to do the “Tabitha is” list of character traits that often accompanies a post like this, because so many of the things I would say in the present tense are cloudy now and hard to see. Tabitha at school, Tabitha with friends, Tabitha’s intellectual and creative strengths and foibles were already going to be guesswork this summer—Montessori would have been behind us and a new school ahead either way, with friendships archived and new ones yet undiscovered, with subjects once-loved about to be despaired of when they’re taught differently, while new fascinations wait time be discovered.

Daddy brings fire, Lola joins us on FaceTime for the birthday sing, and Tabitha (barely) manages to blow out her single candle while making the weirdest faces possible.

But the pandemic confuses all of that infinitely further. Tabitha gave up on even most of Montessori’s lessons in virtual education. Once quick with numbers, house-famous for being more confident at multiplication as a kindergartener than Evanny was in 2nd grade, today’s Tabitha says she hates math. Tabitha loves visiting her Lola, but she doesn’t get to do that anymore. Tabitha loves maps and flags and the names of places—or at least she used to. Tabitha was developing beautiful cursive and doing a great job of learning to read, but now she only prints (who even taught her that?) and says she can’t read the small words in books (which is not about her vision—Tabitha will happily write her name (the only thing we still get in cursive) in a space smaller than a macaroni noodle. She also wanted to learn the violin, but now nobody practices that anymore.

All those cake videos are rubbing off: this was our first attempt at an ombré cake. Not dramatic, but noticeable!

Some things are still definite: Tabitha draws on everything, loves to sculpt with clay, loves to paint with any media we put into her hands, and will fidget anything she can reach into an art project. Tab certainly still loves to watch dragon shows, Polly Pocket, and Marvel movies, and the most important reason for watching these (and all other screen amusements) is to inspire hours and hours of imagination play. Tabitha loves her siblings so hard that her first question every day, if the answer isn’t immediately obvious, is “where’s Evanny,” and when she gets downstairs to the kitchen calendar, “when is Caleb coming back?”

Uncle Brek and Auntie Christalle brought a favorite treat—blueberries!

Tabitha likes to sing, especially together with her sister, but not in front of anyone but family. Substituting the word “dance” for “sing” would make that truth the same. She also likes to move, climbing and swinging and bouncing and tumbling being preferred (O how they love the neighbors’ trampoline!) but rolling, just rolling, back and forth and back again on the floor or in bed, feet on the couch, feet up the wall, feet kicking me or her sister or the nearest cat…that will do in a pinch (and it’s always a pinch). Nobody’s going back to indoor gymnastics during a pandemic—not in this household. So it’s wiggle where you are, around here.

And Cousin Sadie wore her party dress!

Tabitha tolerates most people, likes some people, and loves her people with the force of a sand storm. Her sarcasm can pierce with a thousand shards of glass, but then she crawls into my arms and puts her baby-hands on my face and says “Mamamamama.” The sandstorm part also means that she’s likely to swirl out of the room in a black cloud at the slightest hint of attention she didn’t ask for or anticipate. Waterworks take seconds. The HOWL can start at any moment. But, then, a witty quip and a dizzy giggle might happen too. Say “beach ball,” and off they go.

Miraculous, sun-gold pollen-freckles, in forehead constellations.

This face makes a lot of faces—so, so many faces wry and sly and clever and ornery and gleeful and impish and dour and woeful and merry and eye-rollingly bores, bored, bored, but this one is one of my favorites.

Delighted face as Tab investigates the homemade watercolor card her Auntie made her.

Tabitha is skeptical about all the forms of school this fall might bring: she doesn’t want strangers and masks, she doesn’t want virtual school, and she doesn’t want to do homework with me. What Tabitha does want is to play with her sister. And to eat cake, although the making might have been more fun. And to have stories read to her, stories told to her, stories invented with her at dinner-table tell arounds. And eat berries if I pick them, but she doesn’t really want to pick them herself, because spiders.

A fabulous dress makes even an ordinary activity look a little mythical.

Tabitha wants to be Scarlet Witch and hug her friend Coco and drag the cats around by the armpits. She also wants them to sleep on her, but only when they seem likely to want to sleep on Evanny instead. Contrary much? If you have to ask, you don’t know Tabitha, who would absolutely take a knife to her own nose, but even while she was engaged in drawing blood, she’d be begging you with your eyes to find her a way out of it. She doesn’t mean to be contrary, except when she does. She negotiates very reasonably with her sister except when she doesn’t. She listens to her father far more often than to me—except when she doesn’t do that either. Sometimes the poor child just traps herself and comes looking for a punishment just so she can get the cry through and be done with it.

Snuggling Jenny in “my Greeny” (last year’s Very Popular birthday gift from Erika, which has miraculously survived a twelvemonth!)

Tabitha still loves animals, although she says she’s over the sting ray thing and her new favorite animal is dogs, but that’s probably just because Coco is obsessed with dogs. She’s not in it for the cute factor and the empty sentimentalism that a lot of little kids seem to devote to their animal loving, though—while she’s all about asking me to free or rescue the bugs and spiders that trouble her, if we find a dead squirrel or bird in the woods she’s always right at my elbow wanting to see closer, to touch it if I let her. She wants to look at the broken things closer, to see what’s under layers and how the pieces fit together.

Trying out the new fabric markers on aprons (with dolls to assist), Tabitha and Evanny have been singing every word of their exchanges for the past 15 minutes.

As a thinker, she’s sharply logical, busily gathering and storing all kinds of information for later use—maybe way later. We have seen factoids and minutia surface months later, for a clear, closely plotted and singular reason. What’s far scarier, of course, is all the bits that go in and are never heard from again. We might get those back when she’s sixteen. Or sixty.

Given a choice of any birthday dinner: this muppet chooses sushi—with a special request for seaweed salad.

Tabitha likes to experience everything—she has grown pickier lately about food and declares herself not hungry often (only to be found with an apple in an hour), but she wants to taste everything I have or make (including wine!), and if whatever we encounter is not food (as well as when it is) she wants to poke or stroke it to still get to experience whatever is possible. We call her our little sensualist—which isn’t to say that our other children aren’t often curious to add to their accumulation of experiences as well, but they all follow her lead every time.

And for the blurry finale: Spider-Man: Far From Home. Because there’s no event in our lives these days that doesn’t need a Marvel movie.

In part, the movie-floor-rolling happens because our little 6 really ought to be in bed an hour before her bedtime instead of after. She does it to keep herself awake, of course, a lingering baby-move that she’s in no rush to shake off. That, like starting her morning in my bed, curled up in my arms with her little snore in my head and her hands trailing across my face, will fade when it fades, and no Mama I’ve ever met would try very hard, last baby and all, to push it through the door. She drives me crazy with the baby shit, but sleepy in the wee hours, I just open up the blanket to receive her wriggling warmth—and them am surprised each time by how far down my own legs hers reach!

After-party: Isla and Jenny are worn OUT from all this entertainment.

This birthday was almost entirely achieved, managed, and made magical by Evanny, who stuck by her sister all day long, made everything so much fun it never occurred to her to feel lonely, acceded to all parameters and requests in deference to Birthday Girl status, and who did not ONCE complain of jealousy (or act like it was secretly plaguing her). This little 7-y-o is an AMAZING helper, sister, and best friend to our smallest, and we are proud and grateful of this every single day.

Six. Years.

Also, as an aside, I must mention that the schedule didn’t allow her brother to be with us today, but that didn’t keep us from including him in some birthday games, like, for example, playing in the new birthday pirate ship (thanks Erika!) before he had to go back north.


It looked different (K grad 2020), but the day came just the same

15 06 2020

When her sister wore this dress two years ago, her portrait was at the top of a climbing frame at a playground picnic celebration involving hugs from teachers, students singing together, parents and grandparents gazing on proudly—no playgrounds this year: pandemic. No hugs: pandemic. No celebrations: pandemic. No singing together: pandemic. No grandparents: pandemic. (Also, the fact that graduation comes in June meant, 2 years ago, that this sleeveless dress was worn sleevelessly with shorts underneath, not over three-quarter pants and a leotard!)

Tabitha, masked, spins on her own front walk, as close to a graduation event at a school 2.5 miles away as she’s going to get.

We bent one rule: her Papa was here, in the driveway at his distance, with a mask on (such gratitude, on so many layers: that he was well enough in health to come on over, that he’s close enough by that it’s easy, that his and his mother’s generosity was able to give the girls this gift in the first place, that his father’s prioritizing of education was passed on so strongly). Proud parents were also in attendance, one of us swamped with nervous-energy (and jealous sibling) cuddles and the other taking pictures. We didn’t insist that Caleb come back down for a few minutes’ ceremony in the yard, although he would have been expected had the full fanfare been feasible, so perhaps we failed in that regard (her teachers left with a “family photo” that’s just a group of 4 instead of 5), but her teachers were there, in masks, for air-hugs and what scraps of pomp and circumstance they could muster alone, gently laying her gifts on the ground instead of handing them to her lovingly.

Ms. Wen, who has been nurturing this little girl since she was barely 3, explains what’s in the gift packet that she’s leaving on the sidewalk: a disk copy of the slideshow of classroom photos, cards, a few easy-reader books, and a plant carefully nurtured itself, with 8 leaves to represent the 8 graduates of Birch Cottage this year.

Tabitha, being herself, was shy and proud all at the same time, to have her teachers here in her space (albeit not really able to come close enough to feel like her space), to be the center of their attention and ours, at the same time, without the buffer or the sharing of the other kindergartners who would have peopled the ceremony as it’s meant to be conducted. She was also torn, wobbling physically as we are all wobbling, the globe over, between wanting to keep our distance for safety and propriety’s sake and wanting to rush together to confirm affection and connection (especially at times like this, at boundary-recognition points, where the touch that’s missing is meant, designed, as both “I love you” and “goodbye”–without it, neither message feels quite genuine, and afterwards, you find yourself still wondering: did it happen? Am I graduated? Won’t I see you again? Do you love me? Do I still know what it is to love people outside the tiny world of my own household–do I still love you?).

Reading the “little seed” poem, a Montessori graduation tradition that even a pandemic can’t cancel. (“They read this for you, too,” I whispered—“do you remember?” & Evvy whispered back: “yes!”)

The gestures were perfectly gauged for the age and wildness of the participant, and her sort-of-jealous, sort-of-sorry sister (who was also preoccupied with being embarrassed to be seen in a cast, as if somehow a pink, lovingly decorated bandage were an indictment of her powers). Ms. Stephanie giggled about the challenges posed, and both were happy to take their paper flowers with them, sad to leave (at least a bit), pleased to share a little teacher-talk with us (Matt and I were both effusive in our praise for how they balanced activity-suggestions with space and patience), and said goodbye 100 times. The participant herself was happy to go inside, take off her fancy clothes, find a safe place for her plant to live, tear through exploration of the books, do all of her remaining pick-up-day crafts, play with the giant unicorn balloon her dad brought her home from his late morning shopping foray, and then settle with her sister for a movie. I, however, missed the sweet little songs they would have sung, and the slanting light through the huge windows of their “Great Room,” where she’ll probably never set another foot. And it’s really hard to say “you’re a first-grader now!” in the early stages of a global pandemic, when no one can imagine what “1st grade” might really look like (what kind of classroom can be built for six-year-olds to learn and grow in without shared manipulatives, movement, song, or touch?), or if it’ll just be cancelled altogether or postponed a year.

Honestly, Tabitha’s Montessori ceremonies always ended up with her in my lap on the floor. I’m disappointed that she missed the opportunity to be expected and peer-pressured to play a more mature role, but at the same time aware that she might have refused!

So who is this kindergarten graduate? This Tabitha-at-not-quite-6? She’s a girly-girl who insisted on a dress that twirls and a fashion-limit-resister who wanted black socks with her favorite fancy shoes and didn’t care that they had electric green cuffs at the ankles. She’s the wiggly, embarrassed little person huddled in my lap, hardly listening to the poem read (even though she loves words, loves poems, and loves the teacher doing the reading–or perhaps not ‘even though,’ but exactly because of those loves), she’s the proud crafter of drawings and sentences on the cards she wrote, and she’s the impish planner who hid both teachers’ presents like graduation was an egg-hunt so they would have to peer into our bushes to find the gifts she chose and wrapped for each. (Hanging paper flowers in the windows to decorate was my school-mailing-inspired idea; giving one to each of the teachers was her own.)

Tabitha is fiercely independent in terms of making up her mind about things: she doesn’t like to choose too soon about anything, and will stew in hunger for a while deciding what breakfast really calls to her despite being the crankiest person in the house if at all hungry. She doesn’t like to be pushed into action, either, and certainly not at the behest of anyone else’s sense of timing. She is a firm and vibrant creator of ideas that it’s then hard to move her from–the child who insisted on a coyote bathing suit when she turned 4 is the same child who knew Ms. Stephanie needed a cat figurine to remember her by, because they both like cats, and Ms. Wen needed one of a fairy reading a book, an encapsulation of whimsy that’s both very un-Montessori and very, very Tabitha. She decided to study desert cacti one week during Distance Learning, despite this having no relation to the curriculum, because something in an Auntie-Christalle art-moment caught her fancy, and she held that fancy in her hands for several days, determined to examine it from every angle. In all things, Tabitha’s likes are like her favorite animal: not content with puppies, kittens, unicorns, Tabitha has insisted on a sequence of sophisticated favorites: the sloth, the sting ray, the coyote, and the snow leopard.

As a friend, Tabitha is a secret heart shared with only those she truly loves, one who just doesn’t have time for others. At school, her quest in every activity, for every snack (the station is always set for two) or lunch table was to be with her best friend Coco, and every day that didn’t happen was “a bad day today.” When asked about her other classmates, she would saw “I know her,” or “he’s in my class,” but if pressed, “she’s not my friend, just my classmate.” Since distance learning pulled them apart, she’s had a range of feelings about this friendship and connection–that she misses her no one questions, but what she does with that sensation varies widely. Some days, she couldn’t wait to get her friend on screen to share an assignment with or chat with (running my phone around the house to share her life on video or hiding under the covers with it, curling up in a bunker of darkness with her most beloved voice), but others she just couldn’t bear it; if either of them was already in a mood, shamed by some misfortune at home, for example, there was no getting them to speak. And she still hasn’t quite been able to handle the fact that Coco is 6–they have shared one live chat, but didn’t talk about the elephant–a simple matter of calendar days that caused her to skip two class meetings altogether just to avoid the apparent shame of being, in those beloved eyes, the bearer of a smaller number rather than the equal she sees herself as. I haven’t managed to coax her into writing a card of well-wishes or congratulations, but she has two letters from Coco pinned up over her bed where she can see them daily. And hidden in the fronds of one of the plants Matt brought home from his classroom, someone with a pen and a penchant for decorating our house has written “Coco” lovingly, blank ink on white paint for permanence.

In the family, Tabitha is ambivalent about being “the baby” (it has definite plusses and minuses!) but is consistent in how she sees her role as being “the artist,” and she embraces this in positive ways, such as offering to draw/illustrate her sister’s work during Distance Learning this Spring (both after the broken arm happened, when Evanny couldn’t do much of it herself, and before, when sometimes she just didn’t feel like it), as well as irritatingly negative ones, like drawing on every piece of furniture she can get her pen on (and painting parts of the deck with finger and brush when no pen was close at hand); she’s as likely to reject an art project idea as embrace it, however, when the idea isn’t hers first, because ranked, independence is still above artistry. The art, though, is deeply intrinsic. It’s not just the tendency to doodle that outs her, but the call to experimenting with any/all media. She’s the first of our kids to play with my make-up, because it’s paint in a bottle and how could she resist? She’s obviously the most frequent perpetrator of ball-point ink on windowsills, cabinet doors, cushions, tables–but she was also the one who, when given tracing paper to try out, and told to use a pencil so it didn’t smudge, after doing so, immediately found a ball-point to use as a coloring tool, specifically to explore the way it would smudge (an important technique when shading an all-black cartoon dragon).

Writing cards the day before to accompany her gifts to her teachers—on the wall, because for whatever reason, that was today’s best writing surface.

She’s a dandelion-haired wildling, often going for days without coming near a brush (a combination of her fault and mine, as I’m the adult, and “making” her do things she doesn’t want to is my job, but there’s only so much will I’m willing to pit against her when we don’t have anywhere to be), and that wild mop of silk-fine, honey-gold threads is always ten times as tangled as her sister’s thicker, redder thatch. She doesn’t feel temperature most days, as far as I can tell, preferring tank tops to sleep in even in the depths of winter, but occasionally getting something overly warm in mind on a sunny day and wearing it all day long to appease her aesthetic, despite everyone else opting for cooler choices. She has the strongest likelihood of anyone in the house (except maybe her brother) to pick overly fancy clothes to lie about in, or play in the muddy yard, but is also the most likely to be muddy, grubby, ink-lined, so although hundreds arrive in very solid shape to join our collection, no hand-me-downs leave that aren’t worn through on both knees and streaked with paint and berry-juice (excepting those she hates the look of, and won’t tolerate even to try on, even if every other stitch in the house is dirty).

Proud in pajamas (but also making silly faces)

She’s a nurturer of small things, wild things, found things, lost things; even a smaller-than-usual pea on her plate can elicit a swoon. But she’s also a fierce believer in the prey-and-predator realities of the natural world, seeking nature shows with “more killing” and accepting without complaint that some of our butterfly-kit denizens arrived baked through even while carrying on with twists and coos about how cute the others were. She’s a creative writer who pretends it’s too much trouble to write, who secretly taught herself to print after promising me she would only insist on cursive; likewise, she has a good head for math and pretends she doesn’t, and her reading is more fluent than she lets on–because even more clearly than she can read a simple page, Tabitha can read a situation, and she has no trouble counting up the benefits to being the smallest and least capable at home, even while she wants absolutely no such distinctions in her schooling. (Another year at home would be disastrous, were we to attempt to follow any sort of curriculum–she would simply loll about and dally for me, say “I can’t” a lot, refuse every task that wasn’t her invention, and derail her sister’s efforts to learn by the book as well. Better just to turn her loose in the forest to design her own plans for a year, except, again, at what cost to her sister!)

Finishing up, with sissy’s attentive oversight, which is how most (but definitely not all) Tabitha things are done around here.

And oh, the sister. For a good 7/8ths, I’d say, of Tabitha’s heart and soul lives in her sister’s chest (a condition mirrored closely–for E it might be more like 3/4ths, a smaller piece but almost as significant). The remainder is woven in close and loving ties to her father and I, to her dear-beloved bookend-ally brother, to her Papa and her Lola, to Grandma and her cousins, to our multitude of cats, but that sister-love, how it caps her days, dominates her voices, fills her ears and eyes and imagination to the brim. Tabitha spends her days (when not pressed into schooling, arguing every second for a reward of “then can we play?”) following the threads and tales of Evanny’s invention, mimicking lines, speaking characters, picking up whichever toys for whichever fandoms Evvy has selected, taking up whichever roles are handed to her without complaint the majority of the time (but oh how piercing the complaint when it comes!). They rarely spend time out of one another’s radius now that school is an occupation of the past–they go to bed together, wake each other up, eat every snack and meal together, sing together, squabble together, bathe together, swing together, run together, take out elaborate collections of toys together, build their own worlds in the backyard tent together, watch shows or movies together, listen to books and stories together, paint together, draw together, build together, water the plants together, beg for treats together, get into mischief together, earn a chewing-out together, play in the sprinkler together, create dollhouse lands at Dad’s together, pester their brother together, pine for their brother together, vie for parental affection together…even, once in a while, read, alternating words or lines, to themselves, together. And when Evanny is away from her (for example, for the 4 doctor’s appointments the broken arm entailed), Tabitha mostly pines: while she enjoys the solo attention in small bursts, choosing a story to have read to her or a show to watch without having to bow to her sister’s aggressive need to dominate their every joint selection, mostly what I hear, the entire time, is “when is Evanny coming back? I need someone to play with. I don’t know how to play by myself. When is Evanny coming back?” Her words are not the truth: Tabitha might be the best of the three at sustaining her own company for vast lengths of time. But it’s a genuine expression of how she feels about it, that her own company may be good enough, but her sister’s is always better.

Nature-baby with all-natural fairy hair (nobody put those flowers there–they just appeared as she came up from the forest), coloring her sister’s end-of-the-year book since she’s the only one with two hands to do it.

Tabitha has lost the most in this pandemic: she was the one most intrinsically calibrated to love Auntie Christalle and her backyard art-school and thus most frequently invited into it and saddest to see it yanked away by the smart life choices of my brother and SIL (who lived in the chaos of Dad’s side-yard for as long as any reasonable human could); in contrast to her relationship with Coco, Evanny’s school friends were a bother as much as a boon, and Caleb’s are all content to connect online; she had been offered a chance to participate in the MPH art show by Mrs. Henderson before it was cancelled; the three-years-awaited field trip to the Land Lab vanished in a haze of disappeared events; both of her siblings had more continuity and more commitment to actual education; hers was the strongest bond with Papa (and the strongest habits–he drove her to school several days a week, fed her, chatted with her up and down the streets all over town, read to her, sang to her, listened to her woes and stories, and of course indulged her TV choices) that was yanked away by the changes in first his and then everybody’s circumstances without even time for a goodbye; she had the most continuity of connection to her sports and is losing her gymnastics fitness as well as pining for chlorine; she of the three loved best library trips, store-outings, and planning for visits to Lola; and all that on top of losing a 12th of her promised Montessori cottage life and her promised time with one teacher who has loved her with such tenderness through her tenderest years. (The other was new this year, a consequence of restructuring–she had already lost Ms. Julia, who had been with her since basically toddlerhood, at the end of last year.) But she said “it was a very nice graduation,” and she was happy to pose for pictures with her perky little plant, so it must have been all right.

Five-and-a-heavy-handful-of-change: pouty lip, perfect freckles, grubby face, fashionable yarn choker, unkempt hair, AND ALL.

Day 54: SIKE! (Yeah, I know it was meant to be “psych,” but we didn’t know how to spell in 5th grade when we said it all the time)

5 06 2020

Amazingly, after insisting repeatedly that she was done and was not going to her last Zoom meeting, and after I wrote yesterday all about how the whole year was totally done, Tabitha decided 2 minutes after today’s scheduled meet started that she WOULD attend the last day of kindergarten after all.

See what I did there?

So, the last day of kindergarten started in the forest, where all the best days begin.
The magic fuel of fairy-forest mornings: the blender that makes the smoothies! Today was blueberry-banana (and more mint).
Luring her in was a slow process. She agreed to get dressed, picked a hairstyle, and then hid behind the chair. But only for a couple of minutes.
“Simon says touch your eyebrows”—first it’s time for games. The whole class is terrific at Zoom-Pictionary, and nobody can fool her with non-Simon commands.
These are the faces of a kid enjoying her own 3-year-summary memorial slideshow. (All her favorite pictures show her and Coco together.)
Highlights reel.
Then it’s sharing time—Tabitha shows off the painted lady caterpillars and explains their names and where they came from.
Then a sad moment: Coco shares that she has turned 6, and Tabitha, ashamed of being the youngest kindergartener, turns off Zoom and sits under the table to share her feelings with a judgement-free friend.
Meanwhile, upstairs, tomfoolery. Today also happens to be Jenn’s birthday, so this is the last we’ll see of Caleb for a while. He’s heading up in about half an hour and staying for at least a couple of weeks. When the end comes, it comes fast!
After they all leave—Evanny’s off to have her cast checked, too—Tabitha finds ANOTHER letter from her teachers—three in three days!
This one is a thank you card from Ms. Wen, who has also sent a special Chinese paper-cut bookmark!
Working on the spoils of yesterday’s letter: a dino craft! (aka scissor-practice, as there was no real interest in continuing to make anything out of the pieces once they were cut.)
Other fine motor skills practiced in kindergarten: practical life lesson in making one’s own ham-and-ranch wrap
Then these wild feet had a need for GOING. This coincided well with Papa’s news that Betty wasn’t feeling well, so we set off across the neighborhood to check in on the dog.
These random flowers also needed a hug.
On a long walk, sometimes you see chipmunks, and sometimes you see fairy-castles, and sometimes you see lacy mushrooms, and sometimes you just have to sit in the shade for a spell and fidget with the clover.
When Sissy comes home, more games. They tried to play Guess Who…
But they both picked the same character 5 TIMES IN A ROW! The HILARITY!
Then we tried a game of Wildcraft….
But it quickly devolved into a game of “slap your sister” instead. Still, obviously a source of extensive entertainment.
This sister.
Final activity: a low-to-moderate risk quick, masked mingling to let the neighbor girls sign Evvy’s cast.

NOW it’s really done. I think. Except for faculty meetings all day Monday, but that will probably necessitate a metric ton of kid-TV, exactly the opposite of anything-schooling! 54 days of school-in-session; over 1/4th of the school year.

That math needs a moment of silence all its own.

Day 53: And that’s a wrap.

5 06 2020

A few upper school commitments remain for a teacher in our household, and the cleanup is a long project ahead—so many math worksheets scattered about the house!—but the MPH students in our family are finished with school, and our Montessori scholar is technically still doing dinosaur works this week, but she’s really not, and she’s 9/10ths decided not to go to tomorrow’s last Zoom meeting anyway, being So Completely Over It, so it looks like 53 is our total days crisis-school was in session, at least for the Spring of 2020. I’m not ready, at all, to believe that Fall isn’t going to pick up right here at the dining room table! So what does the last day of 2nd grade look like?

Squinting into your morning Zoom in the morning sunshine to wave to the Lower School Head, who has showed up to say goodbye—and there’s your music teacher too, and your literacy teacher…
Shifting to the shade makes this work much better! Everyone had a final chance for show and tell (Evanny told a detailed run-down of how the rest of her broken-arm visits would go) and was asked their favorite 2nd grade memory. She chose their literature unit on character using the Kevin Henke books.
Meanwhile, minty-minty mush-mouth over here has a whole lot of nothing to say.

Matt’s-and-my student Nick came by to take a picture of us in the backyard for a gratitude project he’s working on, so that was nice—visiting with actual humans for a few minutes (after coaxing Tab out of the dame’s rocket)!

Then the girls were off to the playset, where it turns out that even with a broken arm, one can totally do that chain-clanking thing where you twist the swing.
And soaring isn’t off-limits either.
Game-time with Caleb! We tried Kodama, which has some particulars about precise placement and a few too many rules (it prefers a quiet space and a table), but that led to frowning.
Evanny, determined, quietly builds a tree.
Tabitha squirrels, adds drama, and otherwise makes quiet precision impossible.
Trivia worked MUCH better, especially once we decided not to bother keeping score.
Up-to-SOMETHING-always, this face.
Who adores this brother? Evanny!
Tabitha takes a turn reading questions, with a little help.
This artfully crafted but hard to read sign says “sunny days and rainy days are beautiful.”
Strawberry/blueberry homemade ice cream. Thanks AGAIN for the berries, Dad!
Three-kid ice cream party
And a delight came in the mail—a rubber sleeve so she can cool off in the bath (with her sister!) despite the cast!
Caleb takes advantage of the break from sisters to work on his game development for a new campaign he’s leading this weekend
Evanny tries to wrap up 2nd grade by also watching the red and white day videos the PE dept sent around, but they mostly won’t load, so it’s a patient game of squinting at stills and pretending.
Caleb and the middle school gathers for their year-end send-off, a singing-of-praises for each 8th grader and a remember-when for every grade
Everyone crowds in for the slideshows
Caleb grins to see himself and a good friend in pictures
His advisor, Ms. Thomann, giving speeches is enough to make the boy a bit verklempt
But also proud.
Girls work on butterfly word find together—beside the butterflies!
Evanny adds to her “can’t stop this” repertoire: broken arms also don’t cancel dancing.
Caleb captures and snuggles one giant galoot of a cat.
Family effort at Memrawr (we got about 1/3 of the way through the game before people started to quit—this group seems to really like STARTING games!)
When the mania sets in by toothbrush time, you know it’s going to be a long evening.
The big boys with their GIGANTIC FEET have, meanwhile, been snacking on sausages, watching a movie, folding laundry, and being kissed by the cats!

Day 52: Summer break begins for 7th grade

3 06 2020

(Caleb’s last class was yesterday, and his final math assignment due today, but by all reports it’s done!)

The day starts with art in the kitchen: everybody is too crabby for fractions and measuring, but arranging colored muffin-tin papers is a manageable stretch.
Evanny pours in frozen wild blueberries from Papa—a delicious gift to share with the whole family.
This goofy pretzel of a child clowning with her classmates at the start of her penultimate day of 2nd grade.
The messy shared office desk and the ever-present proximate sister
Tabitha, given assignments, works on the butterfly life cycle book that came with the painted ladies
Daddy tries to get a game of Kahoot to work, but to no avail, so they all agree to try again tomorrow.
Math. I get sad-face for even making her look at it—even though I have to do all of the writing!
Glueing in life-cycle pictures
Careful lettering to complete the lines
Of COURSE we saved blueberry muffins for Sleepy Dwarf.
Upstairs, Tabitha works on a dino-skeleton using sticker bones from her teachers in the weekly mailing, which she treasures every time. Also, she led the charge today to do some Amazon shopping for teacher gifts.
Evanny explores a new set of fractions manipulatives that have come in the mail
Watching dinosaur videos in bed on Mom’s phone is totally curricular education today
Most ridiculous lunch-eating pose ever. (Also plain pasta is a very lame lunch, mom. Even if you also give each kid a carrot.)
Tabitha, with no concerns about the lameness of lunch, shares her pasta with the cat.
Caleb meets with Mrs. LaPointe for the LAST academic meeting of 7th grade to go over some math problems one more time (is he honestly worried about his skills, or just finding clever ways to maximize conversation and minimize write-it-out?)
Evanny shares her FAVOURITE book list from 2nd grade out of the memory book Tab and I are doing for her.
Uncounted hours today were spent celebrating freedom from all those mandatory screen meetings by playing some collaborative game with his family in a drawn-out meeting on screens.
The best piano teacher has no problem hooking up my one-winged dove with a left-hand-only song.
Then, o beautiful day, the girls spent the afternoon playing dollhouse outside near their Papa, and squirreling on the playset while he sat 6 feet away, chatting, watching, and listening to them chatter.
Horsing around on swings (who says you can’t swing in a cast)
And making ridiculous faces while sucking a lemon—what could be springier? (Papa, who was a apparently an unrepentant lemon-water as a child, was delighted to see himself in this kid’s crazy determination to continue to lick this thing!) was
Tabitha tries to get only halfway onboard, by crossing her eyes at her apple core.

Day 51 (and the feed goes black)

3 06 2020
Morning meeting at mom’s desk because the iPad had to go back to school yesterday.
Three caterpillars still alive!
Giant stretch! Just one more class to go!
The girls run off to Dad’s house to play with their much-missed dollhouse—socially distant, wearing masks, staying outdoors, but also spending time with Papa, making him smile, reveling in a simple pleasure returned.
Post-snack blueberry lips.
Stalling on tasks with a little love from Delores
Evanny reads aloud to herself about dinosaurs.
Tabitha considers math workbook pages.
Trying to help Tab visualize a problem with some counting.
Evanny adds in her head and Tab waits patiently to be told what answer to record.
Floor-eye view of the best scribe.
Clowns storytelling in a round, a game which always turns into gang-up-on-Daddy
Tabitha counts a point as Evanny tells a line or three
Caleb can’t believe you just said that.
When tweens play video games together over the phone after dinner, it sounds like “Holy crow! He had a panda farm and everything!”
When little girls have tried very hard all day to clean the playroom, sometimes they get to watch an episode of She-Ra with the cats before bed.

Day 50: Or, if we were counting consecutive challenge days and not just those when school was in session, 77?

1 06 2020
Evanny “arrives” at her morning meeting cuddled up in her homemade shawl because hot has given way to really chilly again. That lump beside her is a well-snuggled-in Tabitha.
A blanket makes the air a little easier to bear. Evanny listens to the day’s plan and smiles at Maxine O’s fluffy little dog onscreen.
Good morning, second grade!
Then there’s a scavenger hunt! Their first task: find something that smells nice. Evanny picks a mint leaf to thoroughly enjoy. (And demonstrate that she can breathe in and stick it to her face)
Then she’s told to find something she’s proud of, so she “shows” her sister. ❤️
Too cold! Once the meeting is over, the girls huddle on the grate to warm back up again.
Tiptoe stretch—good morning, our boy!
Tabitha is supposed to be studying dinosaurs this week, and it’s the start of Pride month, so coloring rainbow dinosaurs with her sister seems like just the thing.
They have tucked themselves in to this bed together in quite an elaborate set-up!
Healthy snack time: hummus and veggie chips for all.
A little more tablet-play out on the porch.
Math problems? No problem.
Lunch on the porch—crispy peppers are our favorite part.
I don’t know what the horror-face was for, but you can see the cute heart in the peanut-butter and jelly tortilla sandwich
Back for the noon meeting, girls gather materials so Tab can do some of the illustrating, I can write, and Evanny can have her ideas expressed even without an arm.
Little miss Fae with her hair full of flowers.
Apparently, the details are hilarious.
There are strange hunched creatures under the porch!
It’s an awkward way to walk, really.
Skills—these can both eat popsicles in tree pose!
Collaborative consideration of the “how to draw everything” book—for future reference when we ALL have arms!
The many faces of revising a draft for English class.
Golden boy.
Dancing in the streets (okay, the driveway) is an important part of…
Bubble shenanigans!
Evvy is trying to steer this soap-friend to a particularly imagined freedom I didn’t really understand.
Then, FINALLY, we watched the 5th grade play! Great job, 5th graders.

The last of the corona-school weekends

1 06 2020
Tabitha finds a tiny flower pot left over from a project 2 or 3 years ago and plants seeds from the Green Avengers packet. Science! Botany, even. Homeschool has no bells.
Evvy does the best job she can with one set of little fingers.
When the girls get stuck in their iPad game, it’s big brother to the rescue.
The school tools have to be returned on Monday, so they had basically unlimited game time for the weekend, but they still only used it for bits here and there.
This tween wants an expensive gaming computer, so he’s begun wisely to ask for work. Tearing out mustardweed by the hour is one way.
Rain can’t keep these wildlings in—plastic bags and raincoats take care of a cast, and we love our umbrellas anyway.
Those are, by the way, still nightgowns. Because we’re on weekend time, and we wear weekend clothes.
Also in weekend wear, Caleb celebrates bacon
Another stuck-level save? Or just an excuse to get involved with the game?
Tabitha dances in the driveway waiting for a turn at corn Hoke
Daddy throws a bag
Evvy makes a throw
Caleb takes his aim
Tabitha… inspects the flowers on the linden tree
Taking turns
And making fabulous faces
Bookends making a display of sister-and-brotherly affectionadoration
Seven. Missing tooth, loose tooth, broken arm, and all.
Also, we had a little barn-painting this weekend, for Pride (and for the barn is positively flaming, so why not)
This guy gets to be big, wielding the canister, and also beautiful, symbolizing.
Bossed into reading quietly and not breaking anything else, the girls just settle down and do exactly that.
Apples to Apples—Daddy’s turn to make a choice
Punky McFace
Bookends carefully considering options for play.
Whose card was that?

Day 49: Frayed threads in the great unravel

30 05 2020

Evanny made it to only 1/3 of her meetings today, and I’m not even sure why—we did the math and she was prepared to follow along. She just didn’t want to, and nobody had the wherewithal to make her. Tabitha went to 0 of her scheduled weekly 1, and I feel rotten about this, considering how I was the one asking for small group meetings for the last month and a half, but it’s not about me. She’s 5, and no matter how great her teachers and their ideas and intentions are, kindergarten Zoom is still stupid, and is always less rewarding and probably also less educational than any game of make-believe she could be playing with her sister. I missed half of my one scheduled office hour, but at least managed an email exchange, some advisory text messaging, and 2 pages of editing (only 15 to go on that project about about 120 on the other one).

Also, we are jerks who completely forgot about the 5th grade play (happening right at dinner time, and lost entirely in the shuffle of making, distributing, and consuming said dinner).

Up early and without a clean space left in our own driveway, Evanny and I (and my coffee mug) started our day by decorating Papa’s driveway.
This is as far as we got before the clock reminded us that Evvy and had a meeting so we had to go back home.
On the way back, we discover that flowers are even growing in the Wendy-house.
8:30 Zoom and second breakfast
First for little bit, who slept in this morning. This one shows those nice round Gott-baby morning jowls and makes her look like her uncle as a baby.
Morning math, under some duress, even though she mostly only had to think and talk and I did all the writing.
Tabitha demonstrates her mastery at both capturing and carrying this giant galoot of an escape-minded cat.
Matt oversees and Caleb listens in as MPH premiers its new “Tough Conversations” peer project in an unplanned digital format
Not sure what we’re pretending to be learning here, but if you look very closely, you’ll see all the Avengers tucked neatly into bed.
Evanny explains the intricate intentions of this page of left handed squiggles to her brother.
Books take 2 hands… but only one arm that bends.
More shading as Caleb continues to work on his art final. He’s really proud of this piece—and really impressed with himself about how he’s never been proud of his own art before! As an added bonus, he’s listened to my tips without complaint!
After lunch, we congregate in the lounge to watch the 10th graders’ multicultural presentation—which they do a really good job with! Up there all tiny, that’s Nick talking about Zambia.
Lower and middle schoolers learn about the world and share popcorn!
Tabitha finishes her grandmother report now that the week is drawing to a close
All long legs and science slides on Google classroom.
“Pedinher cat Bitcoin,” “Hune mad biy hr on bes,” “she lics to red to you she lics visidnus,” “wun yer wi spet crismes atherhos.”
Finished tree—by a kid who will do anything to avoid drawing by hand ❤️
Game retreat! (With Wolfie. Still.)
Speaking of trees, Caleb has the best window-tree in the house (this isn’t the one he drew, though)
Girls, realizing they have to give the iPad back on Monday, play a puzzle game together.
Then—ANOTHER gift in the mail! Caleb takes the job of carefully opening the box so as not to maim the…
LIVE CATERPILLARS INSIDE! Tabitha is so excited she jumps up and down for a while.
We’re not entirely sure how many of them are actually alive, since they’re all different sizes, the past 3 days’ weather was hotter than they’re supposed to be exposed to, and we’re supposed to avoid condensation inside the jar, which they arrived with, but the instructions also say don’t open the lid and give them 48 hours to recover from their motion sickness, so we’ll see how many are moving by day-after-tomorrow!
“Don’t open the jar” is The Worst Thing Tabitha can imagine. She no longer wants these caterpillars. These are the worst caterpillars. Why can’t we have the monarchs already? What is the point of caterpillars if she cannot poke them?! Caterpillars she can’t play with are stupid. Monarchs are the only good caterpillars.
Tabitha helps spread guacamole to make dinner quesadillas.
Porch-dinner hilarity, a good end to a long week.

Day 48: Tabitha says “this Spring is BORING,” but I’m not sure where she finds the time.

28 05 2020
A cooler morning made the perfect setting for an early play time.
Inside. Outside. Playtime for everyone!
When you’ve just gotten good at shoe-tying and then you break your arm… voila, it’s back to “Daddy…”
Down at the Wendy house, everything is coming up flowers.
Coffee and morning meetings (there’s just a splash in there)…
Like son, like father. (Cohen wants some too, although he’s now clear on whether “some” is coffee or meetings. He just wants to be involved.)
The not-exactly CHEESE fairy brought me a cheesy grin and a box of fake cheese!
Tabitha has mail! Her teachers are still sending a weekly activity and short letter—and a space of each puzzle or challenge for her sister, too.
Examining the inclusions.
Caleb streeeeeetches after moving his work to a new station.
Evanny follows along with a math worksheet she can’t really write on
Tabitha counts sea creatures.
Evanny reads aloud to Ms. Berry for a skill check.
Ms. Hogan reads aloud to the 7th graders about Arthur and Gwenivere
Evanny helps tab keep track of which jellyfish she has already counted.
Never underestimate the amount of time during the longest academic quarter known to modern man that I have spent making snacks and lunches.
At least some days I get a clever conversationalist while I’m at it
Teacher lunch and faerie play
Look, friends have come for a socially distant visit bc it’s Andrew’s birthday! Everybody dance now.
The big kids go off for a walk in the woods
While the smaller ones make art, together yet apart
Nathan’s timely illustration of his feelings about the situation. His sister screamed “I hate the coronavirus!!!” and jumped up and down on this drawing for a while to express her own.
This sister. Meanwhile, Evanny is quietly coming into her own as a creator of abstract chalk art, arm-sling notwithstanding.
Tabitha plays quietly with sand in the corner after everyone leaves.
Meanwhile manic Evvy takes the robot for a walk.
Math break—the girls return to division (but with smaller, more manageable piles of beans for this windy outdoor round!)
Then today’s reading assignment = starting the gift-book we got yesterday. “Mom, we read the first chapter together—and Tabitha read 2 pages by herself!”
Caleb listens to a lecture from Mr. Curtis in the leafy surrounds of the front porch.
Then, perhaps inspired by this beginning (and a long talk about ideas and options we had earlier), he joins me after my meetings in the office to start work on his art final: he’s chosen graphite and something beautiful from nature to draw.
It’s definitely everybody’s office. When he goes off to his next class (while I’m still trying to suggest edits to my students’ papers at the side-desk), Tabitha comes in to roll around in the chair and explain quite loudly how ALL of her schoolwork is STUPID, she has NO ONE to play with all summer, and EVERYTHING IS BORING.
And as I wait to be joined in my last meeting of the day… I’m joined in real life by Evanny, who is tired and droopy and needs a hug.
Then it was time to be OUT. Art? PE? Or just too dang hot in the house! Evanny the barker calls Tabitha and I to her chalk “ride” at the fun fair.
Tabitha pays with her ticket, and Evanny tucks it into her sling for safekeeping
Tabitha hops while Evanny coaches (she’s not supposed to hop)
After a drawing challenge, they walk a challenge course I made them.
When someone misses a turn on a loop, they end up head-to-head!
Tabitha draws in the sand while she waits for her sister to finish setting up the next chalk challenge.
Another feature at the fair is checking out the art gallery
Making Daddy hopscotch too!
Evanny explains the rules again of this course—it’s walked backwards!
Meanwhile, Caleb, who wanted to play online with some friends, had a little music-making to finish up.
Then, it’s time to get experimental: this child is GROSS after 4 days in the 90s and no washing. Time for backyard hair salon!
Tabitha warily joins the party, but doesn’t make it past the first rinse.
The hose is too cold!!!
This kid, on the other hand, who has been wilting all day in her cotton-bound restraints, can take it!

And don’t worry-after a good ice-cold wetting, they were allowed back in for warm water, a shower for Tab and a shallow bath-and-assist for Ev, and then a little Puffin Rock with the hair-combing, and then a little revisiting of Little House in the Big Woods because just yesterday we finished Narnia 1.