20 09 2017

This smile, we find ourselves believing a little more strongly every day, can (and probably someday will) carry this child through anything.

It’s been a busy, busy couple of tough transition-weeks for this little person who just turned three a few short weeks ago. First, last week, her sister started back to school–Kindergarten this time, which for her wasn’t really anything at all (Primary school in the Montessori model is a 3-year cycle, and since she’d already started a few-days-a-week full-day practice-run last Spring, it was all just going back to doing what she’s been doing for years already: the weeks a little longer, the tasks a little more challenging, the playground opportunities more frequent and reliable, but the place and tools and tasks and people to share them with are all familiar), but for Tab meant, suddenly, every day being sisterless for long, long hours: the span of 8:15 – 2:45 is a long, long time when you’re still small, and it’s even longer when you have to count those hours, minute-by-minute, for seven school days before your own turn comes to start attending!


Out for a walk together around Barry Park, my little observer finds a mushroom city, some bright-colored leaves, a mushroom blooming like a feathery flower, and the feathered seed-parachutes of a real one.

There were definitely moments for both of us when those minutes drug, but I tried to keep our spirits up, to overlook how far behind I was slipping with my work commitments and stay present with her, without dwelling on but of course while intensely aware of how her busy anticipatory transition week was my last week at home full day with a small child: already having moved past babies and toddlers, I found myself here all of a sudden, filling the last long days with this preschooler whose name was already on somebody’s roster, printed on folders and cubbies, waiting for her to make herself at home in her own little tree-named “cottage” classroom (Tabitha’s is Oak, where the pale blue paint on the classroom’s walls will soon be bringing her one clear wish to life: when asked which class she hoped to join, with no data of any kind to work with, her heart-felt, identity-defining answer was the same each time. “The blue one!”).  We went outside a lot–the weather being miraculous, a summer revival all week long after a cold snap at the end of August that turned out to have been a total lie.  We read a lot.  We explored a new library.  And I followed a lot of little whims, even though that might not have been the best preparation for her to take on the social responsibility of having to join a classroom community and live in ways that work for everyone, not just herself, just because I could: because, mercifully, I noticed in time that this time was a gift.


Sunflower morning: reading picture-books on the front step in the sunshine with the company of our favourite cat, while the nodding row of heavy blooms bent toward the ground in anticipation of the coming winter, and the last to bloom argued for the beauty of the liminal, half bud and half already sunburst.

The youngest occupies a weird place with regard to the family’s allotment of time: for years already, and for years to come, because she’s the baby, she gets the biggest portion of Mum-attention, at everyone else’s expense, but that expense adds up.  The Mum-attention the baby gets is almost always tinged with frustration, because whatever Mum is doing for her, it’s detracting from something someone else wants, forestalling somebody else’s wants that Mum would also love to fill: the baby wins the contest, time and time again, so it’s easy to see how and why (and to be frustrated by how) the baby is always spoiled, but at the same time, the baby has never known what the firstborn (and this family has two of them) knew: a time when there was no contest, when Mum-attention was a singular recipient and a singular source, when there was no fight to win it because there was no one to win it from.  Tab has been lucky enough to have gulps and swallows of this kind of time all along, with her siblings being old enough to be ahead in the track of playschool or “real” school to bless her with those private, baby-at-home spaces, but it’s almost over now:


Sassy miss is determined to become a ladybug, with no regard for my logical explanation that this sort of wing requires the velcro dress; they won’t stick to her naked skin, and she’s not wearing dresses, so it’s try and struggle, hide and fluff her skirt, insist and try again, and then finally throw up hands and decide to be something else instead. Life lessons, kid. Sometimes Mummy does know.

afternoons are busy, and school breaks are school breaks for everyone.  So for this week, I did a lot of following and wallowing, not the weepy kind: the happy-pig wallow in the juicy, wonderful mud, the rolling-around in my littlest’s time and attention and the letting her roll around in mine, while we had the precious chance to do it.

Tabitha at three is my threshold: she’s the last one at the door, the last stop for the blowing straw of time and opportunity for my own work and interests, but the last warm softening of the hearth floor, too.  My littlest, my last one, embarking, changes my landscape in ways I know I can’t yet really even predict.  When I imagine what happens next, I think of it as things changing “back,” but of course they won’t: I’m somebody totally different than I was before I became their mother, all three of these little people, and part-time parenting the lot of them, now that they’re taking on daily away-schedules and obligations of their own, won’t, either, be like going “back” to part-time parenting just the first one, so my threshold challenge is really just to keep my eyes and heart open to how these changes bloom and what they offer.  For her, though: it’s just one path, leading in one direction (forth and ever onward!), but she’s got no comparisons to hold it to.  Walking forward could be like anything.  Siblings to follow offer glimpses but not promises.  So there’s a lot to face, a lot to wonder, a lot to process (screams and tantrums and all), and a big, big world to make room for inside that quick-snap Venus flytrap of a mind.


Exploring the new DeWitt library, Tabitha enjoys a day of reveling in my total attention while doing all of the toddler things that Montessori school is *not* about: playing with trains, listening to a story about talking animals, building with Duplo blocks, making pretend food in the play-kitchen, being (and giving) a puppet-show, and pouting sleepily in Mummy’s arms.

So who’s this little wild thing going to be? It’s anybody’s guess, and most of all Tabitha’s. She is, to date: an adoring sister, loving daughter, fangirl full of squee for Daddy, loving granddaughter, and curious, just-beginning-to-bloom friend. She’s our first kid to really embrace the tricycle and go riding on her own because she wants to, and this says a lot about her: “on her own because she wants to” may be standard in many ways for three, but it’s a Tabitha description in ways in never was for the other two: Caleb lived and still mostly lives to please, and Evanny balances extrinsic and intrinsic “whys” better than the balance beam, which she rarely falls off of already. Tabitha’s soundtrack is entirely her own, and if whatever thrills her takes her wholly, whatever thwarts her inflames her entire world, so a chunk of that soundtrack is very, very loud. She gets this from me, of course, so while I don’t admire it, per se, it’s hard to genuinely complain, even when my ears are ringing. I don’t encourage it, of course, but I empathize, and I’m on my own daily balance beam, trying to keep empathy from coming off as complicity. It’s a tricky age, three.


Outside the library, stretching those butterfly wings balancing on a rock wall, finding rainbows in the ornamental grass, then jumping the barricades and heading into the meadow, only to bring back handfuls of flowers for me.

Parts soar-so-high and parts cry on the floor, three is big enough to start thinking, and understanding other people’s thinking, in ways that really let them seem real to adults for the first time: three-year-olds aren’t just cute little creatures, they’re cute-but-challenging humans, and in their humanness we see our own challenges, and cringe at what they say about us in their turn. It happened with all of these siblings, but with Tab I think it’s going to be the deepest, richest sting: while her brother and her sister both share parts of me that I love and some I’m not always proud of, and both walk some rocky paths I know too well, Tabitha’s whole self is a lot, lot, lot like me. It’s going to be an uphill challenge to help her try to make more of her lot than I did for far too much of my youth, preferring to despair and gripe about it instead; if (or, surely, when) I get it wrong, it’s going to spear me through the heart to watch her scrape that sweet little face along the floor. But if we can get it right, o little heart of mine, how high I just might see you fly.


Sometimes the downy birds stir

11 09 2017

Rapid-fire grading of students’ discussion fora (I give them full credit if they do enough writing and it has anything to do with the topic at hand, so a close read isn’t necessary here) always tosses ideas around: little wind-storms of other people’s associations that I try to be responsible about ignoring, because the clock is always ticking, but it doesn’t always work.  Sometimes–at least three or four times per assignment–I don’t even know I’m doing it until, yikes, I have a Google window open and I’m investigating some claim, learning whether an oddly spelled word is really a word (it’s usually a medical term used metaphorically by a nursing major), or looking up a concept I recognize but I’m suddenly sure I don’t know enough about.  This morning, I skipped over to one window to fact-check a student’s claim about the differences in time-spent-talking by men vs. women, found a useful article, linked it to her, graded a few more responses, and was derailed by another woman’s description of how she had a teacher once who was startlingly critical of her “purple prose” and red-marked her papers into poppy fields.  I knew the term (a teen in the early 90s, I think I first researched it in response to that EMF song “Unbelievable”), but I wanted to see what the actual criticism was, what the tipping point was (considered to be) between prose being beautifully descriptive and pointlessly purple.  Of course there isn’t one; like all things artistic, prosody is subjective in its ability to please or aggravate its readers.  But I found the origin story (the clock is still ticking, so I might add it later, but I still have an awful lot of forum responses to read in the next 20 minutes!) and, as I poked around, stumbled into a brief writing-lesson blog post whose writer challenged her readers to write the purplest, prosiest, nothing-happening-est follow-up to “it was a dark and stormy night” that they could manage.  Someone took her up on it, dripping velvet-rich description of a carriage ride with no clear destination over a good two or three pages worth of screen-space, and then a chorus of other writers spoke up to talk about how pretty it was and how much fun to read, even if it didn’t go anywhere, and even if it was an illustration of what not to do, and I stopped skimming, just for a moment, and closed my eyes, and breathed.

“This,” I thought.  I’ve missed this.  Writing for the sake of writing.  Reading/ listening to people talking about writing–not about what’s wrong with their semicolons and whether or not they’re writing a you-centered message that will effectively motivate the audience to whom they’re trying to sell something, but about writing for art, for story, for soul.

I love my family.  I am infinitely grateful for my job.  But I really, really miss that sense of quiet that comes from being able to reflect until the right words come, reflect on others’ words, share words about words, and find those little places of magic that lift you with their transparent tiny wings, wings so small you’ll miss them if you can’t seek out the quiet and just listen, breathe, jot a word or two down, and read.

Blink and (perigee four)

10 09 2017

“And you miss it,” they say, where “it” equals absolutely everything small children do and look like and sound like and sleep like and make you think of and are; it consumes you, and then you blink, and it’s over, and you’re old, and you’re sure it was sweet in addition to exhausting, but you can’t really remember.  Evanny is going to be 5 in two weeks, and two posts down I was writing about her being about to turn 4.  Tabitha has already turned 3; two posts down her sister was still 3, and she was only hovering around the flip to two.  They’re back at perigee, three-and-four, sharing almost as many clothes as they have to differentiate on, forgetting within days whose new toys were meant to be whose, playing and talking together all the time about everything, so far up each others’ grills that it’s no wonder every day is a fast-turning tide of “I love you so much!” (that rich, wet sand ripe for footprints and stick-art and possibility) and “I don’t want to play with you EVER AGAIN!” (the flood, the salt-water-up-the-sinuses inundation of too much, too much, too much).


Little explorers check out a floating dock, a computer game at a local library, a play-store stocked with plastic “tins,” and the concept of the duet.

Although it didn’t technically start until Tab’s birthday 5 weeks ago, it’s been a perigee summer: the girls, who are referred to as “the girls” as often as by name these days (there are so few occasions anymore when anyone needs or wants to be identified as “the baby”), in addition to doing absolutely everything together at home and on our few small jaunts, shared a class for swim lessons, shared another for gymnastics, and attended a week-long “Princess dance camp” together; next week marks the start of the fall season of Soccer Shots, and this time Tabitha is old enough to join Evanny’s class so they can share that too.  (And yes, dear lord, this is what my life has come to, already: two small girls means a playroom floor littered with dress-up clothes, a bedroom littered with considered-and-rejected outfits, toy-bins full of miniature plastic animals and sparkly miniature combs and hair clips, flip-flop wars, My Little Pony curls snarled into everything, puff-stickers on the floor, foil stickers on the wallpaper, nail polish on the deck, and Princess Dance Camp.)  They have similar roughness-levels of splash-pool play and similar attention spans for zoo visits and museums.  Tab can hold her own as a hanger-on at Evanny’s playdates.  They have similar needs for traveling and similar tendencies to fall asleep in the car.  They have similar coloring skills and interests–Evanny’s ability stretches further, but Tab has the perseverance not to mind. They swap tricycles even though neither one of them can reach the pedals very well; they swap nightgowns and tell me I’m putting them away in the wrong drawer no matter where I put them.  They’re both perfecting their written alphabets (and they both have a ways yet to go). They’re starting, just starting, to have a little trouble folding into the bath together–they love the camaraderie, and the small-toy adventures, and the tidal-wave swimming, but the colt-legs are coming, and all those knees. (This progress, fortunately, is not yet too-too far along; last week they and their basically-almost-cousin Darcy still fit just fine as a criss-cross set of three, de-mudding after a rainy day hike with her family.)


Baking together at Lola’s house, sharing secrets and penny-wishes at a mall fountain, snuggling in princess dresses in the morning bed, and giggling together in the deck-build doorway.

It’s shaping up to be a perigee year, really.  In all the little ways, they’re very much together lately–they fight over my lap, and then when I move, they fight over how to puppy-pile on each other.  They like and request the same picture books.  They like most of the same foods (Tabitha has recently won Evanny over to the ranch side, which opens up all sorts of possibilities, like eating lettuce). They play with the same toys and embrace the same fandoms and shift easily from one to another, following each others’ whims, mermaids and Star Wars and princesses and dragons, sometimes all within the space of an hour (and at least nine outfits), and the coinciding is lining up nicely with scheduling out-in-the-world activities for the school year: in addition to soccer, when we do the next round of swim lessons, they’ll still be at the same level, and while Ev has bumped up a level in gymnastics, barely, it’s really more like a half-step.  They still have class at the same time and both get their little hands stamped at the end of every session.  Most importantly, though, most-likely-to-be-life-changingly: this will be their one shared year in Montessori school, climbing out of the car together at drop-off every morning, off to Maple cottage, where Evanny will be finishing up her primary circuit, and Oak cottage, where Tab will be starting hers.  They’re both deliriously excited about this, of course, but they aren’t the only ones whose lives are about to change.


Who follows whom? (The answer always changes) Down the creek, up a tree, across the water wearing practice-wings, and across the new deck to taunt Papa and his promised belly-button tickles!

For the first time since Evanny was an infant, I’m going to try to accomplish my part-time teaching job without hiring a sitter this year, because I’ll have a couple of hours every morning when both girls will be at school and I can work.  Both: their perigee brings them so close together this time that they’re doing the same thing at the same time every day, not just for a weeknight sport or a week-long morning day-camp.  It’s a little change–three consistent hours of morning time to allocate responsibly by my own choice–and so common, and so easy to get caught up in the relief of: this is going to save us money!  And I’ll be able to type with two hands!  And the same time!  And maybe even hold a train of thought for more than two consecutive sentences!  My students will be meeting a whole new me!  But it’s also something much bigger: even as there’s a concentration of their togetherness this year, this same indicator is the start of the slide.  Half-day now, full-day soon enough, after-school activities, sports and parties and school plays–the hours they spend where I’m not are going to start to add up this year, and they will never subtract again. We three will never spend more time together than we did last year, when Ev was still in half-day and Tab only at Katy’s 2 mornings a week.  And then we’ll never spend as much time together again as we will this year, when I still have one in only-half and even the long-day girl comes out tired and smiling by 2:45.


Enjoying the end of the perigee summer with puzzle games, a giant swing, melty, crumbly lakeside s’mores, and a deck-rail water-spitting contest.

And most significantly, most gather-yourself-in-advance-for-the-heartbreakingly, these social growth-spurts mean that even as they spend this year in concord in so many ways, they’ll never spend as much time together as they did before, when their activities were more like one kid in and one toddler playing catch-up: different classes at school means they’re spending their time in different cottages, establishing different friend-circles (and new school-friends will mandate that the guest-list for their birthday parties are unlikely to ever coincide again, already.  Already.); different interests are sure to bloom soon after.  So close together (oh, my kangaroos) and yet here at their closest, I can see the future reel, and it’s so subtly already starting to widen the circles of their dances, to fling those tiny arms out and away, a little longer every day, a little farther from their centers, and each others’ hearts, and mine.


Bedtime storytime for two (who still like the same stories).

Little storyteller evolution

28 05 2017

There are a few posts back in the archives of Evanny learning to tell stories, but I haven’t given Tab the mic much beyond the bee-sting tale.  Here’s me making up for lost time with a few copied off of the paper scraps I jotted them on when they happened, one about a month ago and sounding like something she’d have said verbatim this morning (this month has been about other kinds of growth) and one from about 4 months before that, showing dramatic verbal leaps between the two.

Once upon a time, there a tiny girl call Rosabella.  And Rosabella have a tiny, tiny sister names Tabitha.  And they have a tiny Mommy, but not the daddy.  They daddy is big.  And once upon a time they have a dog and dog call Maggie. Tiny Tabitha and Rosabella talk about Evanny and Tabitha and “once upon a time there were two little girls.”

–Tab, 29 months.

Once upon a time you were teeny, and I was the mama, and I loved my teeny, teeny baby, but one day you were scared because there was an ant! And you screamed “ant, ant!” And I came to you and I picked up the ant in my two hands and took it outside.  And you said “Thank you, Mama,” and gave me a big kiss.

–Tab, 33 months.

My favourite things about the first one are the text-within-a-text story-nesting of how the girls in her story tell a story and the fact that none of our princess-or-fairy stories have involved anyone named “Rosabella.”  Ever.  There’s a “Bella” in one story and a “Rosetta” in another, but she created the lovely amalgam herself.  My favourite things about the second are that I get to be kissed and loved and protected, that these are the actions and associations that seem natural to her in her imagined role-reversal, and, of course, the compound-complex sentences.  Effective toddler use of independent and dependent clauses for the win!

And because we don’t want to be leaving anybody out, or losing track of any other evolutions (it’s so easy, when the big is big, to only watch the little, and forget how fast these bigger leaps are leaping!) here’s a contribution from the older sister, in the car on the way home from preschool, free-associating with wild delight:

What if there was a really big thing, like a house, but without any cars, and nobody lived there.  And you could go there, and by it, like in front of it, there was a really big dragon. And when they turned it on, it would breathe.  And if you went in front of it, with your back to it, you’d have to run really fast away from its breath.  And at the beginning, it had a soft claw that came out of it that could go into your throat and take out your voice!  And at the end it would put your voice back, but without any words, so all you could say was “Aggle flabble klabble.” But then they came and got some fire, and shot the fire at the dinosaur, I mean the dragon, and got the words back and gave them back to us.  To me and you, but not to Tabitha.  Everyone in our family got their voices back with their words but Tabitha.  So she could only flap her arms around and make faces to tell us what she wanted.  Like, if she licked her lips and looked really happy, it meant she wanted ice cream.  But if she looked sad, like really, really sad, it meant someone had taken something away from her.  Like her voice!

–Evanny storytelling, age 4 ½ .

There’s so much about this that I love, like the effort to tie it all together, the dividing and specifying what happens to whom, the self-correcting to maintain continuity, but if I have a favorite moment, it’s “Aggle flabble klabble,” which, rather than being the original made-up sound it sounds like, is a direct baby-talk quotation from a favorite book that we haven’t read in months.

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!).