Year 4

Pappa Travis juggling the careful dual-adoring of one energetic, love-drunk toddler and one nervous-and-vocal-about-it tiny baby near summer's end.

Pappa Travis juggling the careful dual-adoring of one energetic, love-drunk toddler and one nervous-and-vocal-about-it tiny baby near summer’s end.

Dear friends and family,

2014 was a busy year, a blurry year, a year best remembered and remarked upon in holidays and milestones: Caleb lost his first tooth at the start of second grade, Evanny participated in her first neighborhood egg-hunt for Easter, moved into a big-girl (toddler) bed in her own new room, and sustained her first major injury, and Matt threw immensely pregnant Tyra a wonderful (don’t count) birthday celebration, a week-long party at a gorgeous, way-out-of-our-league house on Oneida lake at which friends from down the street and across the country gathered to swim, lounge, cook, eat, game, and chat the days and nights away far, far too quickly.  Less than a month later, Tyra, with an excellent partner/driver by her side, brought Tabitha into the world (in a mad, wild, rapid little rush that almost had her place-of-birth on her certificate listed as “2012 Nissan Rogue”)!  Other 2014 highlights: Matt and his father Gary put new front steps and a new deck on the house, we painted (4/5ths of) the living room, Matt put up, stained, and filled the bookshelves he and his dad got as far as designing, the rescue cat ran away (and is now living out the winter in the back woods, like an idiot, but comes up to the house sometimes to yowl for kibble) Tyra’s dad, Travis, bought a house down the street and he and her grandmother Maxann spent their first summer in Syracuse, Tyra’s mother Jan, who blessed us with two visits, gave Evanny her first big-girl toenail painting and helped her bake and decorate her first batch of Christmas cookies, Tabitha charmed two parents, two siblings, two grandmothers, one great-grandmother, and one grandfather (Gary’s visit was before she arrived, so charming him is still on her to-do list) with her snuggly nature and winning smiles, Matt managed a second free trip to England to pop in on friends and family while chaperoning students on a school trip and got to drive across America like he’d always wanted to do, earning us a “free” second car through the journey, and we saw the NY State Fair as a 4-generational family of seven!

Evanny and Caleb checking out a baby goat at the State Fair in August  (child #3 was asleep at the time, strapped to the photographer, and too young for goat-investigating anyway)

Evanny and Caleb checking out a baby goat at the State Fair in August (child #3 was asleep at the time, strapped to the photographer, and too young for goat-investigating anyway)

Almost all of our neighborhood friends (and a handful of our farther-away ones as well) had new babies this year too, so although we were on our own for a while with Evanny, still making the connections we needed to start raising her in a village, Tabitha arrived with year-mates, neighborhood playmates, and a BFF already (Darcy was born 19 days before her, and so was right there waiting to start what’s already an extensive photo collection of the two girls lying side-by-side and holding hands–next year, we’ll try it sitting up and standing, and maybe make a Flickr set about it!).  Tyra has continued to teach writing courses online, benefiting gratefully from the chance to spend the time she used to spent commuting playing with babies instead, and Matt has continued to excel at MPH; the end of the year has brought some significant challenges for the school that might bring about big changes for us in the one to come, but whatever happens, we’re confident that the time he’s spent there so far has been a terrific investment for his teaching portfolio and a great chance to work with some truly wonderful local families.  He’s been diligent about getting some guitar-playing in despite new babies and busy schedules, too, finding occasions to both practice with friends and play live now and then.  Caleb has blossomed this year into an able reader with an obsession with Minecraft that we’re constantly battling as we try to help him find a balance between enjoying a hobby and being an addict, grouchy whenever he has to walk away; he’s still a closet math savant (his teachers don’t seem to have noticed) and a terrific big brother, truly skilled at playing with, rather than at (or just bossing around) a 2-year-old and pretty handy at “here, hold this baby while I…” Evanny is loving the enriching environment of her 3-morning-a-week neighborhood nursery school, where she gets to hug, tackle, and play with her friends and do art far messier than her parents can handle right now (and there’s an indoor bounce house), has almost learned to pronounce “unicorn” without a “t” in the middle, and has her first crush: Jack Frost in Rise of the Guardians.  “I love Jack Frost” she says, and although you have to know her to understand the second half of the sentence, the smile that creeps across her face when you mention him is in a universal language.

Tea with Grandma Jenny, with a brand new Peppa Pig tea set!

Birthday tea with Grandma Jenny, with a brand new Peppa Pig tea set!

Evanny’s second birthday, at the end of September, was a sweet little success: on her actual birthday, there were school-friends cupcakes at Katy’s and presents with Grandma, and then, that weekend, with her Papa and great-grandmother Mammy still in town, and Grandma just arrived for her 3-week autumn visit, and Papa’s girlfriend Lynn up to visit for the weekend, we had a superhero-themed playdate at the neighborhood playground with her friends, then came back to the house by way of a costumed parade to have presents, cupcakes, balloons, and more playing here at the house.  Caleb wore his Superman costume from last Halloween (the up-north version, since he was Bilbo here with us), and she was Ladybug Girl, at least for the first half of the party; we had to find new clothes to wear back home once the stripping started!  Kids were happy, grown-ups got to visit, some wonderful presents blessed my little ladybug’s entrance into the years-club (no more counting months), and she went to bed in her big blue room sugared and happy.

Parading home from the park on Daddy's shoulders--without even once hitting him in the head with the maraca

Ladybug Girl parading home from the park on Daddy’s shoulders–without even once hitting him in the head with the maraca

Halloween was warm and wonderful too, despite the general chill of the season: Tyra did a Zoo-Boo outing with the kids and our local friends the Gregories early in the week, we marched for the first time in the neighborhood kids’ parade a few days before Halloween (just the four of us, since it was on a weeknight), and then friends Todd and Jenn were in from Maryland to spend the actual holiday’s weekend, and our neighborhood BFFs came down for the evening’s festivities, wherein we made little naan pizzas for everyone, and then the daddies and the grown-up friends took the four big kids–we’re still struggling, sometimes, with the idea that Evanny is one of “the big kids,” but it gets easier every day–out trick or treating while the mums stayed in with the babies, lit some candles, and took pictures of the littlest girls in their pumpkin shirts.  Evanny, on her first door-to-door Halloween excursion, went bravely and fearlessly running up sidewalks and up to strangers’ doors, cheerfully crying out “trick or treat” with the bigs and welcoming herself into houses to say hello, whether she was actually invited or not!

Gathering the throng before the march--Strathmore neighborhood kids in costumes, ready to parade the streets (Andrew aka H.P. waves his wand behind our little ladybug)

Gathering the throng before the march–Strathmore neighborhood kids in costumes, ready to parade the streets (Andrew aka H.P. waves his wand behind our little ladybug)

Caleb had a zoo birthday party this year–a major achievement unlocked in that he had only one party, finally, with his mother, members of his northern family, and some of her-side family friends as well as our down-here friends and our family, all together to celebrate turning seven, somehow already the beginning of his eighth year on Earth.  There were games and arts-and-crafts; there was sugar, running-around time, LEGO Star Wars, an animal to pet, temporary tattoos in goodie bags, and lots of opportunity to play, making it everything a boy could want.

Birthday hug-for-all: Will, Andrew, Caleb, Silas, and Nate, with Matt and Dan goofing off in the background

Birthday hug-for-all: Will, Andrew, Caleb, Silas, and Nate, with Matt and Dan goofing off in the background

Thanksgiving Matt and Tyra are still patting themselves on the back about: we had Caleb this year, giving us three kids, one a needing-to-be-carried-a-lot 4-month-old infant, and we had no grandmas or other helpers this year, family or otherwise, and yet we still managed to not only make a Thanksgiving meal, but put it on the table at a reasonable time in the afternoon, when everyone was awake, without burning anything or destroying the house, and then everyone sat down together to eat it.  We’re not sure how that happened, or if we’ll ever be able to replicate the miracle, but as a first-Thanksgiving as a family of 5, it was a tremendous tone-setter to grow from!  (Maybe next year, we’ll work on making sure everyone is dressed by dinnertime!)

Thanksgiving project: the Christmas photo shoot that never became a card (again)--also known as "dancers and divas: the Santa Hat edition"

Thanksgiving project: the Christmas photo shoot that never became a card (again)–also known as “dancers and divas: the Santa Hat edition”

Our Christmas season was quite a picture of abundance: we accomplished “holiday party” with the 2nd annual neighborhood cookie swap, where all three kids got to play and play and play, two of them glutted on sugar until they staggered, and Matt got to chill on the couch and drink beers and chat with the dads, and Tyra got to visit with mommies, chase children, and wipe sugar-paint off Evanny’s everything!  Our tree bulged with gifts from friends and neighbors even before any wrap-a-thons began, and Jan was in town the week before Christmas, baking cookies with Evanny, rocking and cooing with Tabitha for a few days, and leaving candy canes on the tree to sweeten her wake with peppermint. Christmas eve we spent visiting with neighbors, and Christmas day, the first Evanny was old enough to really participate in, she almost missed, sleeping late, but was happy enough to open presents (and share them with her sister) when we got around to it!  We “scheduled Santa” to drop by later in the week, when we had Caleb with us, so her first year of making Christmas memories was underscored by the fact that she got to do it twice!

Little watcher, bedecked with bows, holding a new bear amidst the wrappings and packages

And the little watcher, too young to remember anything, but bedecked with bows, holding a new teddy-kitty from Grandma amidst the wrappings and packages

The second run featured the yearly Christmas Eve craft (painting some ornaments Grandma bought from Caleb’s school sale while she was here), a seasonal movie (I think they watched Rise of the Guardians again), cookies and rum left out for Santa, wrapping for Caleb to do to ready his presents for the girls, and one more round of last-minute wrapping (and rum-sipping) for us before everybody finally went to bed; we had a merry little morning of present-unwrapping and new-toy playing, and then invited friends to join us for a mid-day “dinner” (since it wasn’t actually Christmas, we weren’t interrupting anyone else’s traditions, and since it was ours, we got to make a big, festive meal AND have enough people there to help eat it!); we’re getting the hang of the dual-house holiday thing, working out a few bugs each year, trying a few things that work great and a few that don’t, and it will keep evolving as the players age (the next time there’s an off-year Christmas, Caleb will be nine, and will more than likely have to be a Santa-inventor with us rather than a believer in our ability to call up St. Nick and schedule special drop-offs!), but it’s turning out to be at least as much fun as aggravation, rolling with the changes, so on we roll.

Caleb (in his new Angry Bird pajamas) and Evanny opening presents on Christmas morning 2.0

Caleb (in his new Angry Bird pajamas) and Evanny in her furry cat-suit opening presents (featured: Minecraft calendar, full of ideas for things to build!) on Christmas morning 2.0

In England, NYE parties are costume parties, a Halloween redux without the zombies (apparently a longer standing tradition, actually, and it’s the bleed-over of American Halloween that makes it a doubling-up), and, conveniently, Santa brought our whole family Batman-themed pajamas for Christmas, so Matt and the bookends wore Batman jammies, Evanny was a little Robin, and Tyra was in a hodgepodge of a Harley Quinn sleeper and bat-themed stockings.  Our friends Chris and Jessica came over in geek-themed pjs of their own, and friends Kira and Carrie brought treats and games, and new friends David and Lindsey brought more games and they and late-night joiners Jeremiah and Sarah were dressed all posh and more in line with American party expectations, so the photos are a nice hash of silly and sparkly.  There were sweets and savories to snack on, movies and board games for Ev and Caleb and his friend Silas, a long bout of kitchen-chatting and an eventual meanderingly long, winner-less round of CAH for the adults after little Robin, sticky with “choch-choch” and strawberry ice cream, went off to bed; Harley spent half the night with her motley open and an itty-bitty Batman on her boob, Kira took the boys outside to set off sparklers, and the new year was rung in with a many-waves round of clinking classes, some champagne, some cider, all bubbly.  And then, in the morning, most of the same crew descended upon Jessica and Chris’s house for brunch before I brought the littles home to nap while Matt went out to do a little guitar-balladeering for a New Year’s Day showing of painted skateboards at a downtown art gallery, an opening gambit in his new venture of dream-following by getting onstage and playing regularly, with-or-without some friends in a band.

Bat-babies, with Robin--a cultural icon that just seems to keep following us through our celebrations (two or three kids were Batman at Evanny's birthday party, and you can see the caped one crashing Caleb's party too (okay, Nate WAS invited)!

Bat-babies, with Robin–a cultural icon that just seems to keep following us through our celebrations (two or three kids were Batman at Evanny’s birthday party, and you can see the caped one crashing Caleb’s party too (okay, Nate WAS invited)!

It was a good first day combination of things in ratios worth emulating: some friends, some music, some family, some good food, some energy, some stillness.  My hope for us, and for any of you on board, although you might tweak your contributing elements a bit (and we might have to too, along the way–you’ll notice there’s no “writing” and no “work” on that list!) is a similar balance of good elements, a toddler-meal-plan of a year: some days too far skewed in one direction, some days way too far in another, but overall a nice mash-up, with all the food groups of a happy life represented.  So Happy New Year, everybody.  May she bring you a few small dreams’ fruition, resting safely in your hands, and a few big dreams to chase after, so that you may throw yourself into living the chase, with the wind in your hair and the stars calling you forward.

Love,

Matt, Tyra, Caleb, Evanny, and Tabitha

P.S. The lake-house link above leads to our Flickr photo collection, which you’re free to poke around, but you’ll notice that Tabitha’s birth back in July is the last album we even tried to make, it’s not very substantial, and we’ve probably missed a lot of things before and (definitely missing a LOT of things) after; we do plan to update that someday.  You know: when the time-faeries visit, and leave spare-minute-generating “pinkie dust” all over the house.

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