The Land of Luke and Sam Sifting for jewels in the sand of this hourglass

Can’t Call it Quits!

IMG_2717Kids are like dry ice people, appearing solid and the same from moment to moment but so drastic in their changes if enough moments collect. We protect, clothe, pack school lunches for, and tuck in at night these swirling clouds of transformation spinning around only the tiniest speck of permanence beneath their shifting layers. I look at pictures of Luke from when he was Sam’s age and barely recognize the spark that’s always been the unmoving force under his surface, like the canvas for his passing phases and physical changes. I watch Sam giggle at Luke’s antics today and remember the bouncy, smily baby in the doorway jumper, springing in his feety PJ’s this time 2 years ago. I still fall into the depth of his molasses brown eyes, rich and warm like hot fudge on a sundae, when he looks at me and smiles. IMG_7341“Does he even have pupils?” my mom joked once when Sam was barely 4 months old. I am in awe of his sweetness, and marvel at the way he laughs and plays his way through a day. He moves like a cartoon character. Sometimes he reminds me of a forest creature.

Sam squishes up the English language like clay in his little fists to say what he wants and he gets very frustrated when the person on the other end of the conversation misses his point. IMG_7256The exchanges between Sam and Luke are (almost) always entertaining.

“Sam, you’re hilarious,” Luke said to him once.

“No me he-wear-e-us,” Sam answered. “Me Sam!”

The other day on a drive, Sam suddenly piped up from the backseat.

“Me see wams, Mama” he said.

“Wams?”  IMG_8850

“No, WAMS!” he said louder.

“I don’t know, Honey. Land?”

“No, wams,” he said again. “Me see seeps!” This time he spoke more slowly, really emphasizing his words.

“Lambs? And Sheep?” I asked, almost as happy as he was to have solved the riddle. His face lit up with a mixture of delight and relief.

“Yeah!” he said.


IMG_0526Then there’s Luke, these days like a disco ball spinning in constant motion, beaming light and humor and spunk and charge in all directions. He never.stops.talking. I have to remind him to take breaths between words and to stand for more than a fleeting 5 seconds in line at the store without bouncing from thing to thing. He is intensely curious. His mind is like a pinball. Tonight we bought spun honey instead of regular honey for some granola bars we baked together. Luke couldn’t get his mind around how different it tasted, and was still asking questions an hour later about how spun honey is made and why it’s so different. He came up with a very elaborate explanation for the stuff as he stood beside me, asking questions and theorizing about theIMG_4197 details of its production. Even at his bedroom door, the finish line of our busy day, he announced very randomly, “I really love odd numbers. Do you know why? Because they have a middle. See?” he held up three fingers. “There’s a middle. One and three and two’s the middle.”

Luke sees humor in everything. His exuberance is delightful at times and maddening at others. He’s a kid who lives to the max. He’s extremely kind, extremely inquisitive, extremely silly, extremely loud, and extremely argumentative and stubborn. I’ve IMG_3724been spending extra time each week working on the photo books I’ve neglected every year since Luke was Sam’s age. I can’t help but notice how many pictures there are of Luke like these.

He has always been intensely joyful, beaming with enthusiasm and excitement. I am thankful the world hasn’t yet dimmed any of the spark I see in these photos. I hope, on some level, he keeps this intensity always. Even though I spend a good part of the day wishing he’d calm down and be quiet for longer periods, in the end I’m glad he hasn’t lost any of the sparkle at his essence. Even though on one end of the stick are qualities that test my patience at least several times each hour, on the other end is a kid who pries the world open with inquisitiveness and enthusiastically bounces his way through every hour he’s awake.

IMG_7474Two years ago Luke got very sick with croup. It was the sickest he’s ever been in his life. That week I sampled what it’d be like to have a calm, quiet, less intense version of Luke and I desperately missed his spunky self. It reminded me of the Winnie the Pooh episode where Rabbit decides he “likes the bouncy Tigger best” after Tigger falls into a funk and stops bouncing. As crazy as it drives me sometimes, I love Luke’s intensity.

There’s a particular unchanging quality about both boys, like unmoving boulders in a creek as the water of time sweeps by them. When I really think of it, this essential nature is more like a pebble, a tiny nucleus of permanence around which the rest of them flashes by–a new scene in every moment, a fresh story almost from scratch at every birthday.

IMG_3340Luke will be 7 in a matter of weeks. I took this picture of the back of him recently and noticed how old he looks in it. It surprised me, the way 4:00 feels like only noon on a day you’ve lost track of time. I feel like he should be turning 6 this year–not 7. The 2 years since Sam was born have turned in what seems like one motion. The constant buzz of busyness like white noise in the background leaves me feeling disoriented when I pause long enough to get my bearings. Sometimes it feels like I’ve multitasked our days down to a nub.

Time has this deceptive way of making you feel like the particular spot along the timeline you notice when you stop and check is a permanent location. When Luke was a tantruming two-year-old it felt like we’d always be trapped in a cycle of fits. When Sam didn’t sleep more than a 3 hour stretch at night it felt like I’d never sleep through a night for the rest of my life. In truth, Luke has mellowed out considerably and, while he’s as headstrong and tough minded as I am, he listens to reason and can change course on a whim. And Sam sleeps through the night and past 8:00 most days. The hard parts of former phases have passed like windstorms and I have hardly any recollection of them now.

IMG_3347Seven and 2 now seems like my permanent resting place but I know these notches will zip by as fast as all of the others. While I’m here, I want to jot down everything. I want to remember the way Sam talked at 2, knowing when he’s Luke’s age all of the details of these days will have faded into the fog of a past I’ll barely remember. Running full-speed in the park a few weeks ago, Sam slammed into the side of a picnic table. Today I noticed the red mark on his nose where the scab used to be, and I had to ask Luke to remind me what had happened. It had only been 3 weeks before, but I couldn’t remember the details, only that Sam had been hurt. “How did Sam get that scratch again?” I asked Luke. It was the same feeling as forgetting why you’d walked into a room. Luke remembered.


I want to remember the way Sam said “That yummy in mine tummy” at breakfast this morning, holding his waffle in both hands like a plate. I want to preserve the day he got in trouble for telling me, “Just leave me alone!” in a very sassy tone. I carried him upstairs to his crib for a timeout. “Mama, that makin’ me sad,” he sobbed. It broke my heart to follow through with the consequence. Later, I talked to him about what he’d said and reminded him to talk nicely to me. “No,” he argued very matter-of-factly, defending what he’d said. “I was just trying to get you to stop talkin’.” Chances are, I’ll only remember these things if I write them down and this blog is my favorite way to do it.

IMG_8400I’ve only posted here twice this year. A month ago I decided to stop blogging completely for lack of free time to work on these posts. Writing here hangs over my head with the many to-do’s on a long list that loops in the back of my mind like thoughts on a treadmill. So, I printed every post I’ve written on this platform since 2007 and, 8 rounds of ink cartridges later, I held in my hands the results of years and years of time and effort. I found bits of memories I am so glad I captured. I’ve decided to keep waving the net of these pages around through our days, in hopes I can keep some specks of this magic. Plus, focusing on the magic and the moments that fill me to the brim helps keep the times I want to pull my hair out in perspective. These days are definitely a balancing act, as I walk on a very thin line between both extremes.

Before and After

photo-3In the space it has taken me to update here, the main character in the last post–this cute plush puff ball in a tracksuit–has become a well-loved remnant of his former self.unnamed-1 “Sweatsuit Pup” as Luke affectionately calls him, is still in the top three of Luke’s favored nightly companions. He is very attached, perhaps because this particular stuffed toy provided Luke with a loophole escape out of a very desperate moment. Confronted with the painful fact of change when it comes to the things we love–even the things we love most–Sweatsuit Pup was a convenient lifeline for Luke. If our favorite things also happen to be made of balloon materials, unfortunately these changes are accompanied by a loud popping sound, the sound of insult and injury. Thankfully, I was able to pull Sweatsuit Pup from a stash of stocking stuffers and console Luke on the day of the popping.

It’d be easy to say not much has changed since my last update, but the reality is everything has. My head has been buzzing for weeks with snippets of updates spanning this past half-year. There is an overwhelming amount I’d love to share in this post. I regret how impossible it has been to squeeze the luxury of leisure time from the busyness of our days and sit down long enough to compose a new blog post. I miss my time here and intend to write more often, especially since now I’ve broken my long silence.


Luke and Sam have both transformed so much, each in unique ways. Their depth and complexity astounds me when I stop–I meanreally stop–and think about it, which I don’t have much time for lately–hence the lack of content here. We stay so busy! Aside from the daily list of chores and practical things that keep us occupied, I still strive to fill our days with adventure. Even if the adventure for the day doesn’t land us far outside a one-mile radius from home (which is more often the case now with Sam in the mix) we are always striving to pack the daylight hours with maximum fun.


Luke is still full of inquisitiveness and spunk, bouncing around from thing to thing and thought to thought like the shiny round piece in a pinball machine. He inspects everything closely, as though studying every speck of his experiences in microscopic detail. Several days ago, I reminded him not to overlook something as he busied himself in the kitchen. “Just pay attentions to ‘this,’” I said, half-distracted enough at the time as I hurried to finish packing our lunches that I can’t even recall the specifics of the moment.

“I pay attention to everything,” Luke answered, in the same tone as if I’d just asked what day of the week it was and he responded ‘Monday’ with the confidence of knowing a simple and absolute fact. And he does pay attention to everything, and asks for explanations about any inconsistencies he notices or if he comes across something he doesn’t understand. It is mentally exhausting sometimes!IMG_1389

Sam is a wide-eyed chatterbox with an infectious giggle and a grin that’ll melt your heart if he flashes it at you. He uses the English language with the kind of poetic skill reserved IMG_4508only for the very young and can articulate the most random requests and observations in comedic ways. He uses “ing-words” as nouns and verbs (“Me do that oranging,” he’ll say for “I want an orange” or “Me playing hiding” for “I am hiding from you,” etc.).

Today we walked by a fountain and Sam pointed to it enthusiastically, as though he felt it his obligation as the more observant of the two of us to draw my eye to it also. He called it a “waterfall,” and asked sweetly from my back in the Ergo, “Mama, me make that wish?”  (Or, rather, “Mama, me maquk that weesh?” as Sam still pronounces all his “k’s” like a duck quack, something he’s done since one of his first words–”truck”.) He then proceeded to toss four pennies in the fountain, without even a millisecond of pause between them for the actual wishing. Really, the wish is probably a minor detail when you consider how wondrous it must be to watch your tiny copper disk plop into the water four times in a row when you’re two.


Sam responds to any “where?” question with “that way.” And if this doesn’t suffice in directing your attention, he clarifies: “This way.” For example, the other day, Sam’s lip hurt. “Mama, me have owies,” he ran up to me and complained.

“You do? Where?” I asked.

“That way,” Sam said, pointing to his lip. He also answered “That way” when I asked him today where his hat was as he rode on my back in the Ergo. “That way,” he said, and held up his hat for me to see.

Sam knows Super Heros save days. It’s what they do, like dogs bark and cats meow. The other day Sam tugged on my skirt on the ironing board, pulling the whole thing down onto him. He stopped it from falling, calling proudly over to me in the next room. “Mama, me save that day,” he said, and held the ironing board up with all of his two-year-old might until I could come to his rescue.

IMG_4483Together, Luke and Sam make quite a duo. Sam is old enough now to play harmoniously with his big brother for long stretches at a time. Sometimes they even sneak up to their bedroom alone, engrossed in games of (usually) Luke’s invention. Luke also enjoys reading to Sam, an activity which Sam loves just as much. These are some of my favorite times. unnamedNot only are they a sweet sight together, snuggled up and cozy with a book between them, but they’re calmly occupied for as long as the reading session lasts. Times like these are rare and generally brief, but golden when they happen!

As he gets older, Luke impresses me on a daily basis with his sweet, kind, and considerate nature. He still brings up the fly he “met” years ago, a fly he befriended on a long drive once. He says now he could never hurt a fly after meeting that one, because all flies look the same and he’ll never know if the next fly is his long-lost friend.


Recently Luke told me of a kid he noticed at summer camp who always ate lunch by himself so Luke decided to eat with him the next day and keep him company. Hearing of this move made my heart swell. I love that these choices come so naturally to Luke. It is just the kind of kid he is to the core. I adore this quality about him.

There was also a day at the pool last week I overheard Luke’s response to a kid who questioned the blue nail polish on his toes (because, according to this other kid, obviously nail polish is only for girls).

“Well, I went to a special place and had them painted there because I like this color and it’s not just girls who want their toenails painted,” Luke told him, with the same matter-of-factness in his voice as if he was defending why he likes pepperoni on his pizza. And it’s true. After months of requests, I finally let Luke come with me for a pedicure. He picked iridescent cobalt blue for his toes, and loved every minute of the experience. I love how Luke busted through the bubble of the other kid’s condescending judgment, unfazed by his comments and responding with a statement of fact. I’m sure there are many little boys Luke’s age and older who’d second his position on toenail colors. I mean, who wouldn’t want a cool color on their toes? I was happy for Luke and his display of self-confidence, so evident in his very assured response.

IMG_5168Given all of these positives, my only complaint lately is the speed at which time is passing. Time, like a turbulent whitewater rapid I’ve fallen into, seems to be swishing us away toward the future at ever increasing speeds. We are so busy and I can’t stand how fast this is passing! The weeks are zipping by at day-speed. All of a sudden, Sam’s toes almost touch the tips of the shoes it feels like I bought less than a month ago. In reality, it’s been several months. It’s been over six months since my last blog entry! Luke is a junior orange belt in Tae Kwon Do, 3 belts up from where he started last October and he will be in first grade in a matter of weeks. Sam can ride a scooter with such agility and speed it’s impossible to comprehend he’s the same helpless baby I held in my arms in what feels like just the last frame of these scenes passing like clips in an animated movie. IMG_1581I want to savor every second of this journey, but sometimes it’s all I can do to muster up the energy to postpone one of Luke’s inquisitive conversation starters with a sigh and, “That’s really complicated, Buddy. Let’s talk about it later.”

I’ve realized parenting young children is like having coveted front row seats to the concert of the century and regretting for the whole show that giant iced tea you drank on the way from home. You want to savor every precious bit, but there’s this persistent tug away from the moment by the dishes in the sink or mound of clothes to be folded on the dresser, not to mention the nap you’re always in a condition to take.

“Mama, pat me,” Sam whispers sweetly, tugging his comforter up to his shoulders as I tuck him into bed. Two thirds of me would stand there and rub his little back for hours until he fell asleep if it’d make him happy while the other third of me can’t wait to bail out of there so he can fall asleep so I can put Luke to bed and finally enjoy some real downtime.

Time is passing swiftly and no matter how hard I dig my heels in about this fact, it passes just the same. I wish I had more of it to sit down and write here, so at least I can always remember the way Sam fell asleep holding his belly button at this age the way other kids suck their thumb or snuggle stuffed animals, among the many gems I want to cherish from these days.

IMG_4364“That happy day,” Sam said to me recently after I’d spun him around in a motorboat circle for about the 4th time in the swimming pool. I appreciate one of the reasons time passes so quickly is we’ve been busy squeezing every drop of joy from it. Most of our days are happy days, and even the grueling ones are filled with mostly happy moments. It doesn’t mean I’m not in countdown ’til bedtime mode from 5:00-8:00 on some days, or that I don’t get frustrated when Sam turns up his nose at everything on his highchair tray, or don’t want to collapse in a sudden nap on the clothes piled high on the bed rather than put them away in their respective closets and drawers. Ultimately, though, I know this time is fleeting and I want to appreciate these moments, exhausted or not. There is so much to savor in these days!

Lessons Learned from Balloon Animals

IMG_3179The boys were thrilled the day we randomly stumbled into a Christmas fair. For them it was a fun diversion from the otherwise dull chore of shadowing me on Saturday errands. The surprise of it all probably felt to Luke and Sam a little bit like it’d feel to me if I found $20 in the pocket of an old coat. Complete with carolers, Christmas characters, face painting, games, and even a horse-drawn carriage ride, the event was a blast for both boys, and a nice change for me from the paying side of things since all of it was free!

“Nothing costs anything,” Luke commented from our bench in the carriage as we waited to be pulled by a horse over speed-bumps in the shopping center parking lot. “That is so nice!”

It was very nice, an unexpected treat in the day for all three of us. We stayed as long as it took to do everything Luke wanted to do there. Sam was quick to befriend Frosty and Rudolph after, seeing all of the fun happening at his level, he demanded his way down from the Ergo. He tagged along with the characters wherever they walked, like a tiny grass burr stuck to their suits. Luke colored ornaments at a craft station, waited in line for a balloon animal, and sat for a face painting while Sam played and danced happily with his new celebrity friends. Luke chose a reindeer for his face art, “to match my balloon animal,” he said, proudly showing me the painted side of his face.

Not quite six on the day of the fair, Luke seems to live with each of his feet firmly pressed into the ground of different worlds these days. He seems right on the cusp of big changes. While he’s comfortable in the safe and familiar little kid realm, he’s also intrigued by the ways of big kids and the seemingly very different world they inhabit. In one moment, Luke tells me Sam’s music is “too babyish” for him, or asks things like, “Remember when I used to tell people I was Luke like Luke Skywalker?” (It was about a year ago he used to tell people this.)

“I do!” I answered when he asked this a few days ago.

“Now it just embarrasses me,” he said.

“Star Wars embarrasses you?” I asked. He’s implied similar things about Spiderman recently, like Spiderman is for babies since he liked the super hero back when he was two and three.IMG_9101

“No, it embarrasses me that I used to tell people that,” he said, shaking his head and gesturing with his hands for emphasis. “It was just like a baby phase I went through or something.”

In another moment Luke is fidgeting anxiously in a long line of kids, excited to be holding his own $2 of “paper money” to tip the lady who’s about to make him an animal by twisting up a long balloon sausage.

Luke loved his balloon animal. I don’t think he’s had one since his birthday dinner at The Rainforest Cafe years ago with his buddy, Max (it was a balloon Spiderman!). Luke buckled himself into his carseat and held his reindeer lovingly, the way he holds his many treasured stuffed animals at home. He was curious about how the woman could make such an interesting creation out of only a balloon, and asked questions about how she did it as he inspected the inflated antlers. Then suddenly, a twist in a set of antler balls came undone and, trying to fix it, he quickly made it worse. Soon, all of the main twists in the antlers had come undone and the fixture above the thing’s head looked more like a bridge of balloon balls than antlers. This obviously bothered Luke. He can be very particular about such things, and tends to fixate on this kind of flaw. Soon, the balloon blob in his hands looked more like a clump of random balloon shapes than anything resembling an animal, let alone a reindeer! Luke wanted his reindeer back.

I tried to capitalize on the teaching moment, drawing Luke’s attention to the unfortunate fact of the nature of balloon animals. We’d had a similar chat only a few weeks before this when he insisted on bringing two paper airplanes he’d made and decorated to the park to meet a friend and lost one of them. He was very sad about the plane that day, but we talked about how happy another kid might have been to find it and I reminded him about the time recently when he found a Lego mini figure buried deep in a sandbox.  We talked about how fun it had been to discover such a fun treasure.

“Besides,” I said, “paper airplanes aren’t supposed to last forever.”

Reluctantly, Luke agreed, at least with a few parts about what I said. With his reindeer, there didn’t really seem the same potential for a positive spin, as there clearly was in the case of the Lego guy and paper airplane.

I told Luke I could try to tape the antlers of his reindeer when we got home, and not to mess with them anymore because he might just pop the whole thing. I reminded Luke his reindeer was only made of a balloon. It’s a delicate position, to love something so fragile so much. Sensing his balloon animal might not last much longer, Luke decided he’d draw a picture of it when we got home. I think it was his attempt to find a loophole in the conflict between loving the reindeer and knowing how fleeting it was. He’s painted pictures of sunsets before, to help me “keep them.”

Something felt familiar about the scene as all of this unfolded in my backseat. I couldn’t place the feeling at first. Then my memory flashed to a moment from my own childhood, a night I remember almost more vividly than any of my childhood memories. I was probably also five at the time. The scene reeling right then in my head was similar in some eerie ways to what was happening with Luke and his broken, very fragile reindeer. IMG_3124

In my own version of the antler story, my mom had taken me to see Santa at a fancy Southern California mall one night and an elf had given me a paper antler hat, I’m sure along with whatever photo package my mom also purchased. Even I–almost three decades later–remember the tantrum I threw when the antlers tore, kicking off a series of events that turned ugly fast. The memory of it is branded in my brain with the heat of the intense emotions raging in me when it happened. I remember pouting and then accidentally knocking over a rack of men’s ties in Nordstrom. I remember being scolded in the middle of a crowd of holiday shoppers for my behavior. I remember running away from my mom in the parking lot when we left the store, knowing I was in very hot water with her. I remember how upset my mom was with me, and how mad I was back at her.

My parents tell me I didn’t throw fits often as a kid, but when I did I guess they were big ones. And I remember this fit, almost as if it happened yesterday. When I remembered the whole thing was sparked by a tear in a paper antler hat, it helped me stay patient with Luke–allowing me access to more patience than I might have been able to muster without this memory. After all, in an almost eerily literal way, I’d been there. I smiled, imaging how I’d tell my mom about what was happening with Luke and the witty things she’d have to say about my turn in this challenging seat. At the same time, I was a little nervous. It felt like I was holding some kind of karmic time bomb in my hands, watching the spark creep inwardly along the fuse. I know Luke well enough to know with certainty his cool would pop if anything happened to his reindeer, at least if it happened before he had the chance to draw it like we’d talked about.

When we got home, I told Luke I’d tape the antlers so he could draw his picture but I couldn’t find the tape. I cut off a piece of fishing line instead, thinking tying them back together might be a better idea anyway. Luke played at the other end of the room from where I stood at the kitchen counter as I worked like one of Santa’s elves to stitch the reindeer back together. The scene, especially given my own story behind it, made me smile. I thought again about how I’d soon tell my mom about Luke’s version of antler drama. Little did I know this story was about to take a very sharp turn when suddenly one end of the fishing line jabbed into the balloon body of Luke’s reindeer and POP! Luke’s head snapped up to attention at the sound of it. His mouth hung open. He didn’t say a word. His eyes were wide with shock.

VILLAGECORTEMAD_20131207_000007“Oh no! I’m sorry, Buddy. The string was sharp and…” I started to say, but before I could finish speaking, Luke had scurried upstairs and sat, sobbing with his head in his hands at the top of the stairs. He wasn’t crying because he was angry–at me or the reindeer or the lady who twisted it too loosely or any combination of the three. This wasn’t a fit like I’d thrown as a kid (or like the countless doozies Luke has thrown since toddlerhood). Luke was sad, devastated, heartbroken. I hurried up the stairs to console him. I sat beside him and rubbed his back. It felt like the time I accidentally slammed his fingers in the car door only worse–emotional pain!

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know that string would pop it. I should have known it would pop it. It’s a sharp string!” I explained, trying to make Luke see even a speck of the silliness of it all.

The reindeer could have met some other eventual demise–deflating into a shriveled blob slowly like his other ones have or maybe popping in the sharp paws of one of our cats–and, even with the same outcome, I am certain Luke wouldn’t have such an extreme reaction. It was his stronghold of this idea of fixing the balloon animal and then drawing it so as to somehow keep it–as ridiculous as spraying a coat of sealant onto a sand castle at the beach, but still a real solution in his mind–that made Luke’s loss sting so much. Of course, the loud dramatic pop and the look on my face when he heard it probably didn’t add much in the way of levity to the mood in the room when it happened. I imagine to Luke it felt like the day he lost a helium balloon to the laws of physics for the first time, only with the pang of sadness he felt watching it float so high and out of reach accompanied by a pop so loud it made him jump.

Sam watched from the base of the stairs as I did my best to comfort his big brother. He seemed captivated by the intensity of all of the emotion. Luke sat sobbing for a long time, unable or maybe just not wanting to speak beyond crying. I sat quietly beside him, plotting my next move. Thank goodness I remembered my gift stash down in our garage, things for Luke’s birthday and Christmas gifts for both boys. I told Luke I had something that might help him get his mind off of the popped reindeer. I keep honey sticks and lolly pops for Luke’s biggest crashes, scrapes, and bangs in my bag at all times for just this purpose. I returned with this pup, photo-3a toy I bought with the intention of stuffing it in Sam’s stocking. Just as I’d hoped, Luke seeing the cute little puff of a dog all dressed in his blue track suit immediately lightened his mood. He grinned slightly, his red face still wet with tears.

“Do you like it?” I asked. “This one won’t pop,” I said, smiling.

Of course, Luke loved his new stuffed pet and has slept with it every night for the past three weeks. His love of stuffed things rivals even my own as a kid, something I didn’t think was possible. Luke’s stuffed toys are very real and special to him, a fact that probably made the sudden pop of his air-filled friend especially traumatizing.

I’d recently found the DVD of the old claymation Rudolph movie amongst our boxes of Christmas things and suggested to Luke he and Sam relax for a bit and watch it. Sam, of course, lit up seeing Rudolph and Frosty again after making such fond memories with them at the Christmas festival earlier in the day. Luke snuggled up in the big blue rocker with his new pup and watched the movie as Sam followed his bouncy attention-span from toy to toy around the living room. IMG_3173

I never had the heart to tell Luke what his tears over the popping had done to his face paint. I only reminded him to scrub his face a little extra at bath time that night. When he asked why, I reminded him face paint just doesn’t last longer than a day. “It’s not like you can keep it on your cheek forever!” I laughed.

“Oh,” he said, and ran upstairs to run his bath water. He never knew his tears over the balloon reindeer had already rendered his cheek art an unrecognizable smear of brown paint.

Ironically, in a twist so perfect it feels almost scripted, we took Luke on the ferry for an all-day adventure in San Francisco on his 6th birthday. And there this happened when we stumbled into a comedy show just as randomly as the Christmas fair we’d enjoyed so much a few days before.


Little Kids, Big Ethics

IMG_3505Listening to Luke and Maddie’s backseat conversations unfold on our drives to school can make for some of the most entertaining parts of my week. A five-year-old mind has such comic potential even if left only to its own devices. Mix in with it a second itty bitty brain (and remove your adult self from the equation as much as possible) and the result can seem like something scripted by a junior SNL cast.

The other morning their chat while I drove made me smile and made me very proud. Those 20 or so minutes in the car went a little something like this:

About halfway to school, Maddie sighed and lowered her tone to a dramatic whisper. “Sometimes kids at lunch laugh at me for my water bottle,” she announced very randomly. I imagine she’d just been running through the details of how their day might go as she noticed we were near their school and guessed something that’s happened before–maybe only once or twice–would happen again this day.

“Why do they laugh at your bottle?” I asked her. “What do they say about it?”

“When sometimes I have milk in it,” she answered sort of cryptically.

“Do they laugh at the milk in the bottle or just at the bottle you use?”

“They laugh at the bottle,” she mumbled.

Maddie uses a small plastic bottle with a yellow lid for her drink at lunch. Later, her mom told me she insists she likes the bottle and wants to keep using it, despite the attention it attracts from other kids. She likes its small size and the way it doesn’t get stuck in her lunchbox like the one they bought for her to use at the beginning of the school year. I guess some of the other kids laugh because they think it looks “baby-ish”.IMG_8184

Suddenly, Luke piped up from his seat beside her. “I don’t laugh about it!” he said, then he lowered his voice to sound all serious. “Maddie, what if I try to get them to stop laughing?” he whispered.

Sometimes it feels like the teaching moments are handed to me on a platter–times when spontaneously everything coalesces and sparkles with meaning and maternal wisdom flows from my mouth like I’m some modern day mom Aesop. Other times, these small people leave me baffled and speechless, fumbling my way through bad answers and murky explanations. Take, for instance, the drive home only two weeks prior to this when out of seemingly nowhere Maddie and Luke sparked a rather rousing discussion about God on the way home from school. That one left my head spinning! This one seemed more my size, though. I was eager to tackle this issue involving the water bottle in Maddie’s lunchbox and the kids at school who sometimes tease her about it.

“Well, Maddie,” I began in a parental tone like something from a 50′s sitcom, “that reminds me of something Luke and I talked about a couple of weeks ago when he told me how some kids laughed at a picture he drew in class and how it hurt his feelings when they did.”

Hearing this, Luke took the reins. “Yeah!” he said, “They were making fun of me because they didn’t like my art. Remember when they laughed at my picture that day because they didn’t like my African drawing?” he asked Maddie.

IMG_2091Maddie paused. “I didn’t laugh at your picture,” she said.

Luke sat quietly for a second, probably replaying the scene from a few weeks ago in his head. “I know. But some kids were laughing at it.”

“I didn’t laugh at it, Luke,” Maddie insisted. “I loved it and I thought it was even better than my drawing.”

“But some kids were laughing,” Luke repeated.

Luke and I had already had a long chat about the art incident at school and what he could do and say next time to try to curb this kind of situation when it happens again, as inevitably it will and in different forms for the rest of his life. I knew it bothered him the day he relayed the details of it with me, especially because it happened right after his recent art boom started. Suddenly he loves to draw and spends much of his free time at the kitchen table, filling sheet upon sheet of blank paper with pictures of things he “gets from (his) brain,” he tells me. He is very proud of his work.

Searching my mental archives for a fresh example of this lifelong lesson of an idea to use in my talk with Luke and now Maddie, I realized I happened to be wearing the funkiest ear flap hat in my entire winter hat collection. I leaned over the middle console of the car and asked Maddie if she liked the hat I was wearing.IMG_8246

She inspected it closely and didn’t answer right away, prepared to give my question an honest answer. “Yes,” she said. “I love it.”

“Well, it’s sort of a weird hat. Isn’t it? What if I wore this hat to a store with lots of people and half of the people liked my hat, but the other half didn’t like it and what if one of the people who didn’t like my hat told me they didn’t like it?” Maddie sat, imagining this scene and considering what I was saying. “It wouldn’t bother me,” I said. “Do you know why? Because I like my hat and that’s really all that matters. Don’t you think?” Maddie and Luke both sat, thinking about my story. “There will probably always be people who try to tell you something is wrong about something you do or the way you do it,” I added, “even when you’re an adult! It’s something you kind of have to practice, the not letting it bother you or make you sad part.”

“Sometimes the only thing that works when people make fun of you is to just ignore them,” Luke added–a bit of perfect wisdom disguised as a childish cliché.

Suddenly, Maddie glanced out the window as we sat at the red light at the intersection and, in typical little kid fashion, bounced right off of our topic and on to the next, this time even more random but also much lighter. It felt like a commercial break. “Yesterday was my garbage day. Today is some people’s garbage day because not everybody has the same day for their garbage day,” she said, watching a garbage truck drive by her window.

IMG_0661“Maddie, I will try to get them to stop laughing at your bottle,” Luke said after he watched the green truck roll slowly out of view.

“Just try to focus on all the people who aren’t laughing at your bottle,” I added. “I’m sure they weren’t all laughing. Ignore the people who were if it made you feel sad. Or at least try to ignore them.”

“I will just focus on Luke,” Maddie said. There wasn’t much more to add. Less than 10 minutes later we arrived at school.

That night my friend, Erin, called to tell me what had happened at school. She relayed to me the conversation she had with their teacher when she picked them up earlier that afternoon, knowing nothing of the discussion our kids and I had that morning on the way there. As it turns out, exactly what Maddie predicted did happen again at lunchtime. Then Luke held true to his word, following through on his promise to his friend. Erin said Luke stuck up for Maddie, telling the other kids she was his friend and they shouldn’t laugh at her bottle because it hurts her feelings when they do. The  teacher overheard the whole thing and used it as an opportunity to have a whole-class discussion about teasing and friendship and feelings.


And NOW they have matching smiles (Blog post to follow…)

Hearing this, I think I was as proud of Luke as I was on the day he said his first word, learned to walk, to swim, ride a bike, and read combined. He was a good friend to Maddie and had the courage in an important moment to do the right thing and stand up for her. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of him for anything, ever.

Growing Up, Changing Clothes, and Treasure Hunts

IMG_2520At the playground near a nature trail we sometimes visit, I overheard Luke try to introduce himself to a little girl he’d just met there. The two of them were gathering buckeye seeds and cracking them open to see the insides.

“Do you know what my name is?” he asked her.


“Luke,” he said, then added, “For some reason I am just really strong.”



When my mom saw this picture she asked if they were watching world news.

Luke and I talked in whispers as I lay next to him in bed the other night. Our bedtime routine is very hushed these days since Sam is always asleep in the room by the time Luke goes to bed. Without all of the distractions in the day, our tuck-in talk is usually our best conversation. It’s a neutral, peaceful time where I can be still with Luke and really talk (and listen!) to him.

That night, Luke was sort of randomly comparing his height to mine and then to Kevin’s, I think trying to assess where he is in the whole growth process. Then he wanted to compare the size of his hand and my hand.

“Do you know what?” I asked him, pressing my hand against his. Our hands looked like shadows in the dim light. Right now his fingertips barely reach the length of my first knuckles. “I’ll bet one day your hands will be even bigger than mine are!”

Luke didn’t say anything at first. I imagined the gears turning in his head as he wondered quietly about what I’d just said. Then he smiled. “That’s just ridiculous,” he laughed.


As we drove by a field of cows, Luke looked out the window and asked me, “Have you ever had a cow never bite you before?”

I’ve given it days of thought, and I still don’t know quite how to answer this question.


Luke enjoys hiding things around the house and leaving hand-drawn treasure maps behind for us to use to find what he’s hidden under an “X” he fashions out of random household things. Once I found a treasure map at my feet when I came out of the room after I put Sam to bed. The map led me to a coffee canister in the middle of the kitchen floor. When I approached it, Luke popped out and roared, then laughed and explained he was a booby trap. Underneath the coffee can was this note, folded in a tiny square. I love his punctuation almost as much as what he wrote.unnamed-2

A few nights later, Luke asked me very enthusiastically, “Do you want to find the treasure of the banana?” Then he was quiet for a second. “And do you want a banana, Mama?”

Luke knows treasure hunts are only fun if you’re searching for something you actually want. Maybe I should tell him where I hide the chocolate and make them extra fun for both of us!


“Sam!” Luke yelled from the kitchen table. He was playing DJ with internet radio on my phone as they ate. “I’m the one picking songs for you and the way you say thank you is you flick applesauce at me when I’m not looking? That is not nice, Sam. I do not like that.” Luke frowned, genuinely annoyed. “Now I have to go change boxer shorts,” he huffed and IMG_2390stomped away to his bedroom in the holstein cow boxer shorts his grandma made for him. Then he returned–his feathers still ruffled–wearing the vintage puppy print pair she’d also made.

Something about the underwear aspect of the whole conflict really lightened the tension, at least from my side. It was difficult not to laugh at Luke’s frustration. Sam just seemed stunned by all of it. I don’t think the applesauce flicking had been on purpose.


“I didn’t look at anything I just looked at stuff in my brain and used my imagination to make it,” Luke said, handing me his latest drawing.




IMG_0608I remember catching myself when Luke was about two with the sound of his “Mama” in my head one night long after he’d gone to bed. The word in his voice just surfaced out of nowhere, the same way a song can begin looping in your mind whether or not you’ve consciously invited it there. I remember smiling on my way back to the car that night at the grocery store, finding myself in the strange gray place of simultaneous opposite feelings. I’m sure it’d been a long day. Most days are. I was thankful for the spa-like retreat of the experience to be at the store alone, but at the same time missing my spunky and inquisitive little toddler sidekick, his smile, and the unique way he called me “Mama” back in those days. Luke still says my name like this from time to time, but it’s less of a familiar happening and more of a memory at this point. I know it when I hear it, though I can’t necessarily recall the sound at will–like recognizing a face in a crowd even if I can’t immediately place the person or how I know them.

IMG_2078Luke is three years older now–double the age, in fact. Back then I had no idea how quickly the little nuances of his phases would zip by, how fast I’d forget the things so vivid and seemingly permanent about him at the time. Today we have a different set of nuances, a precious little collection of quirks about Luke I wish would never change. At the same time, I know it’d be slightly awkward for him if he still talks about how “insided” things make him later in his adult years, or if his high pitched rapid squeaking laugh is a permanent trait–the laughter I know is reserved only for extra hilarious things.

There’s this quote I love: “Memory is like a net; one finds it full of fish when [one] takes it from the brook but a dozen miles of water have run through it without sticking.” (Oliver Wendell Holme, Sr.) Sometimes I think of this blog as serving the function of this net for my early parenting years, knowing these memories are slippery and IMG_2014can flop right out of my hands. Writing helps me compartmentalize, something I enjoy doing with disorder of any kind. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just hoarding memories here, giving these days the semblance of order as I upload bits of them, each one neatly packaged in its dated little digital bin.

If there’s one thing so far about Sam I wish I could shellac, shadowbox, and keep forever it’d be “happah,” a word he says constantly, and one I can only really define with examples. “Happah” is probably Sam’s favorite word, and though what he’s actually saying is “happy,” the way he uses this word is difficult to translate literally into adult English.

It all started with the Pharrell Williams song–”Happy”–from Despicable Me. IMG_2119Luke loves this song, and I have to admit so do I, especially back when it felt like an exciting new song (before I’d heard it for the 1,011th time). When we first discovered it, we’d listen to it on repeat at Luke’s (and eventually Sam’s) request. Anytime the song ended, Sam would rush to fill the silent space between it and the next song with a little “happah” sound from the backseat, as in “Hey, let’s listen to that song called ‘Happy’ again, Mama!” Then Sam started using the word “happah” interchangeably to mean “more” and “music” at different times, whether or not we were in the car. He found my phone in a chair once and toddled frantically over to me with it, like he’d just found a treasure. “Happah, happah, happah!” he said, his voice bouncing with each step. He wanted me to play music.

IMG_1951Sam even used the word “happah” the other day in his own little toddler concoction of a sentence when he said to me, “Happah ummmm,” as in, “I want something to eat” or literally “more eat,” since he uses the sound “ummmm” to tell me he’s hungry.

The funniest thing about Sam’s “happah” is the different tones of his voice when he says it, giving one word endless meaning. Once after a slow song he said “happah” in an especially relaxed and mellow voice, drawn out almost as if saying it mid-yawn. Other times, his voice is mad and demanding when he says it, a perfect example of how the tone we use speaks volumes louder than the words themselves. For Sam, “happah” can mean “Again NOW!” or “Again please?” depending on his voice and inflection. Luke and I both laughed recently when I didn’t meet Sam’s “DJ Mama” demands fast enough, prompting him to ask for “happah”IMG_1003 in the saddest, most pitiful voice, like “Does nobody even care if I ever hear music again? Doesn’t anybody even love me?”

“That was the saddest ‘happy’ I’ve ever heard, Sam,” I said, and Luke giggled at the joke. There’s nothing like a little word play humor to get this boy laughing! (“Abby? A bee? You see a bee? Where? Luke, that’s just Abby, our cat. Where’s a bee?” still gets him every time.)

Sometimes I even catch Sam talking to himself, telling himself “happah” when he does something he intends to repeat a few times. He’ll take a truck out, put it in, take it out, and put it in again, chattering something about “happah” to himself the whole time.

Yesterday in the car Luke recited “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” no less than fifteen times (in a IMG_0998variety of voices) because each time he’d finish, Sam piped up in a surprisingly matter-of-fact way for such a little guy, almost like it was his first and only warning before the far less pleasant and patient whiny demands. “Happah,” he said and waited with his eyes locked on Luke–the intense Sam stare–for an encore.

“I’m not a radio that plays whatever you want, Sam,” Luke said finally, only half joking. “I’m your brother!”

I know someday Sam’s voice will be as deep and little-boy sounding as Luke’s is and I’ll forget there was ever a day he didn’t make requests in full sentences or use the words with ease his little mouth can’t even make yet. IMG_1956Someday I’ll look back at the clothes in a neatly folded pile on his dresser now and strain to remember how he used to look in them, or how he could ever have been so tiny. I’ll see the pink streaks of paint on his shoes and see flashes of scenes from the day he spent alongside Luke in art lab at the Discovery Museum when he was only a year and a half old. I’ll scroll through pictures I haven’t even taken yet and wonder where the time went.

Though the images are so crisp now, I know all of this will fade into the dusty archives in the same mind that can’t even remember to pack shoes for the baby (a couple of weeks ago we actually had to make an emergency shoe stop at the store so Sam didn’t have to hike in socks!). In the meantime, I’ll just keep sketching the stick figure scenes of these days onto these blog walls in hopes that one day this finished product will be enough to dislodge a few of these relics from the archives of my cluttered head.

IMG_1416Below is a video I took, hoping to catch one of Sam’s “happahs” when I played a sort of dance song he loves at the moment. Sam almost always says “happah” at the end of songs. Instead, this happened–a couple of minutes of happy in the context we all recognize. I’ll take it!


Owl Heads, Stubborn Letters, The Bright Side, and Other Funny Kid Stuff

IMG_1821“Mama,” Luke said in the authoritative tone he gets anytime he’s excited to tell me something he thinks will be news to me, “do you know how you say ‘lookit’ in Spanish?”

“How?” I asked.

“Si, si!”

Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do, but I just smiled and pretended he’d taught me something new.


“Ah!” Luke huffed, frustrated. “All of my ‘S’s’IMG_0047 keep turning out as ’3′s’!”

He was trying to write “Luke’s Room” and “Luke’s Books” but his brain couldn’t stop making his hand do this.

Oh, to have a five-year-old’s problems! If this kid only knew how good he has it right now.

I think there’s some child proofing mechanism on this truth in life. There must be, or we’d all see this as children. None of us seem to appreciate this hard truth until we grow up enough to look backwards, and by then it’s too late.


Luke woke up in the night with growing pains recently. He goes through spells of having them like most kids, but some nights the pain seems especially intense. Sometimes, I know the culprit is a muscle cramp instead of growing pains because of the way he describes the sensations in his legs. Having experienced these often, I think screams of agony are an appropriate five-year-old’s response to this kind of pain waking you up at 2:00 in the morning.

IMG_1568Whatever the cause of these night wakings, it’s the absolute pits for the whole family when it happens–especially on nights Sam is up multiple times anyway for his own reasons, like he’d been this particular night. Usually, a warm bath is the only remedy for Luke’s nighttime pain, no matter what is causing it. This night, the pain seemed worse than ever. His doctor describes growing pains as sometimes feeling localized in the joints, as Luke described he felt this night. He rubbed his knee frantically, like there was a fire under his skin his hands could put out if he rubbed hard and fast enough.

Luke was inconsolable at times that night, demanding something to instantly stop the hurting, and even rejecting the little cup of Motrin in my hand because he knew it’d take too many minutes to kick in. The hot water wasn’t helping as quickly as it usually does. Luke was beside himself. I knew eventually the pain would subside, but it was difficult to see him in such a panic over it, desperate for relief. It was also difficult being suddenly awake at that hour, and in crisis mode.IMG_1595

Thankfully, Sam slept through the whole ordeal (even if he did wake up 2 hours later with his own issues!). Everybody else in the family, however, was up and gathered around Luke as though holding a vigil to help him through it. Even our pets were there with him.

Finally, longer pauses began to fill the space between Luke’s crying. The hot water was working, or the Motrin was taking hold–maybe both. Or perhaps the pain was just easing on its own.

IMG_1359Finally, after it’d been about 5 minutes since he’d stopped crying, Luke looked up at me. His eyes were red and bloodshot, like he hadn’t slept in days, and his hair was wet from his middle-of-the-night hot shower.

“Well at least if it’s growing pains at least tomorrow I’ll be bigger than usual,” he said.

I was blown away. After all of that? Now, that’s looking on the bright side!


photo2_2-256x300When Luke was about 2, we used to find walnut halves that had fallen from the trees at the park. I’d show them to him like I’d found a treasure. “Look! It’s an owl’s face.” Eventually, we started calling them owls. Sometimes we’d come home from the park with a whole collection. I’d find them in the dryer sometimes after Luke would bring them home in his pockets.

The other day on a walk through a grove of trees, Luke held up a walnut half and said as though confessing a deep dark secret, “Mama, did you know when we used to find these and we called them owls I thought they were actually owls?”

I smiled.

“Back in those days,” he said.


Sometimes Luke seems truly baffled by Sam’s attachment to me–for example, how I can’t leave the room without sneaking out or he’ll cling to my leg or desperately call my name–“Mama, mama, mama…”–until I’m back in sight. IMG_1638

“Sam thinks you are the best person in the whole world,” Luke said the other day, genuinely puzzled.

A few days earlier we’d been in Costco. Luke and Sam sat together in the cart as I swiped my debit card to pay for our things. Sam started crying when the person helping to box up my things scooted the cart around the the end of the register, away from where I stood.

I called over to Luke when I heard him tell Sam to relax. “He’s just confused, Buddy. He thought she was going to just roll the cart away from me with you guys in it.”

“Forever?” Luke asked.IMG_1622

“He might have thought that.”

Luke leaned in towards Sam who was still wide-eyed and puzzled by the strange scenario and on the edge of his seat to see what might happen next. “Sam, well at least we’d still have Dada,” he said.

There’s that “bright side” again! Luke is very good at finding it.