Lately, this is my boy when he sees me sneaking a photo. But when he gets my phone to himself during audiobook time while I’m making supper:
He’s been so into reading chapter books aloud since the new year, and when in flusterment* I handed him my phone with a hastily downloaded Mercy Watsonlibrary audiobook a couple weeks ago when I couldn’t manage to read aloud and chop onions simultaneously, I had no idea how popular this move would make me.
So while Scout methodically destroys my kitchen or deigns to throw Cheerios from her high chair and I frantically finish supper, Pippin listens to the adventures of the Boxcar Children and takes a million, jillion pictures of the things that make up his life. I love his weird compositions of scenes from our messy house during one of the most difficult times of our day as a family. I delete most of them, because I don’t really need (literally) 93 pictures of his Matchbox firetruck. I end up with pictures of the junky Lego book I let him get from the library; of our unstraightened playroom bookshelf; of shoes strewn with wild abandon (even though they know better!). I delete most of them, but I keep a few, mementos of these imperfect, fleeting evenings.
For Pippin’s birthday we bought Octonauts UNO. I was scrolling through Amazon results trying to find the least obnoxious/exorbitant Octonauts merch and thought, “Hey, maybe he’s old enough to play UNO.”
And turns out he was. And it’s such a small thing, but I’m loving it.
I wouldn’t say I’m much of a cards player. But when I was a little girl I’d play all kinds of cards games with Gramps, my dad’s dad. We played War and Go Fish and the excitingly named Dammit, but most of all we played Crazy Eights (which is, I’m assuming you know, basically UNO).
Gramps lived in Sarasota but would visit us in his Dolphin camper with my granny. He had a pliant old deck of Jack Daniels playing cards and in my memory he could perform shuffling miracles. Either he or my dad made me a little card stand out of a length of wood with a groove to hold my hand of cards, because I was so small I couldn’t manage to hold my cards to myself. He and my sister and I would play games of almost intolerable excitement, and he always seemed prescient, almost magical to me, in his ability to guess what I’d play next. (He said he could see my cards reflected in my eyes, which I still want to believe was true.)
Pippin and I mostly play in the little slivers of time when his sister is asleep and he isn’t, after naps, before bed. He beats me without me letting him, and so he’ll probably never believe that I am a magical card expert like my gramps, but I like to think Gramps would approve just the same.
Last week I threw the fourth birthday party I’ve thrown for my boy.
Year 1 he had a homemade carrot cupcake. He didn’t like it. But he liked the strawberries his aunt, the hostess, served, and crawled happily through the legs of adults who love him more than anything.
Year 2 we invited a large family of friends over to our outgrown grad school apartment. We were already in the descent into New England weather and the descent into morning sickness with Scout, though I didn’t know it yet. Our friends, who would turn out to be Scout’s godparents, are gluten free, and Pippin was still resistant to cake so I shaped vanilla ice cream in a springform pan and topped it with whipped cream.
Year 3 we were new to Virginia. I invited the three kids whose mothers I knew and liked best and Pippin requested doughnuts. I really wanted to show off my baking skillz, but hey, it’s his party. He and J ran out before the party for these lovely, local Mennonite-made doughnuts and I borrowed a cake stand and piled them, I thought, quite elegantly.
On Halloween Pippin turned four and at six am on Friday I got up to start the first of two batches of cinnamon rolls. He’s still not a cake man, but he could subsist on the gooey cinnamon rolls his papa treats him to on their Saturday morning outings. The second batch I rolled out and set to rise in the hush of the kids napping. I love bread dough, and how it feels warm and silky and resilient under my hands, like the sweet frog bellies of my babies, and I thought of the baby Pippin once was, blue-eyed and bald and cherubic.
In the past I have railed against Pippin’s food eccentricities, and his refusal to eat cake is one of the more ridiculous ones. How is a doughnut not basically cake? Besides, flour is my love language, and it frustrates me to be able to fix so few of the foods he enjoys. (I could, I suppose, learn to make chicken dinosaurs.)
But thinking of the baby he once was, I realized we may not have many more of these birthdays: birthdays where he makes lavishly bizarre requests, birthdays when I can make his dreams come true.
I’ve been around the block when it comes to truck books. Here is my helpful parent guide to the least obnoxious truck books we’ve come across:
For simple, labelled catalogs of trucks, you can’t go wrong with Richard Scarry. Richard Scarry’sCars and Trucks and Things That Gois a good starting place and our first copy was responsible for getting us to and from Acadia fuss-free when Pippin was about 18 months old.
Backhoe Joe: A breakthrough for us; one of our first narrative truck books. What a relief!
Trashy Townand its companion Dig, about the quietly sweet men who work dirty jobs.
Here Comes Darrell: So sweet, but with enough trucks to pass muster. The book centers around a year in the life of Darrell, an old New Englander who helps out his neighbors with plowing, hauling, and excavating, until the time comes he needs their help. (For my money, it’s a much better message than the more popular Little Blue Truck, where you must help others or you’re left stranded.)
Demolitionand its companions: a good read-aloud for little kids. Lots of action!
Dinosaur Rescuecombines vehicles AND reptiles for a preschool homerun. There are others in the series, but this is our favorite. (The rescue worker dinos sleep with blankies and loveys after their big adventure — so sweet!)
Dishonorable mentions: The Working Wheels series — actually, nearly anything from the junior nonfiction section of the library; I Stinkwhich boasts illustrations of dirty diapers and dog poop; all things related to the Pixar Cars or Bob the Builder franchises…
It’s still hot and we’re still without AC but lately when I’ve been out with the kids, especially in the morning, there’s been the whisperiest hint of autumn in the air (and we all know the sweetest winds, they blow across the South).
The other day when everyone was sick we watched Shrek and I realized Pippin was getting zero of the fairy tale references, except maybe the Gingerbread Man, because it turns out we haven’t read him any fairy tales.
And you know, it turns out reading fairy tales to your kid is kind of scary business. For the parent, I mean. Pippin doesn’t bat a lash at Little Red Riding Hood getting gobbled or Hansel and Gretel’s parents abandoning their own children, and he enjoys knight/dragon battles with a relish I frankly find a little unseemly.
The truth is, I don’t think he’s encountered a lot of darkness in his own life yet, beyond his own not inconsiderable fears and anxieties. Two years ago at Holy Week we started to talk about the crucifixion, but when NPR talks about the latest shooting, we change stations, and we skip the Mr Rogers episodes about divorce, because it hasn’t come up in Pippin’s life yet.
Reading him this sad and scary stuff hurts me a little, as if I’m destroying his innocence, but his excitement and solemn focus suggest that these stories are telling him something he needs to know, and perhaps has long suspected. I’m reminded of that bit from G.K. Chesterton:
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
So I’m letting him know now there are dragons in our world, and someday sooner than I’d like we will give them names: playground bullies and neglectful parents and police brutality and all the other ugly things in our broken world. But I hope by reading him these old stories, I will help him learn to find the heroes and to maybe, someday, become one himself.
(What are your kids’ favorite fairy tale versions?)
For the most part, I’m not usually sentimental about my kids growing up. I’m excited about each new development, and optimistic about the future. I’m not hugely a newborn baby fan, and I like seeing the people they’re becoming. Sure, I feel nostalgic when I look back at pictures of Pippin as a white marshmallow baby and Scout as a tiny pink bean, but I don’t long for time to slow down or anything.
The exception, for me, is weaning. I mean this in the British sense of introducing real food, not in the American sense of completely leaving behind nursing.
The thing is, I really like breastfeeding. I’m good at it (though it’s nothing I can really claim as an accomplishment; a lot seems to be luck and disposition), and I don’t mind it — though I might tell you differently at 2 a.m., or when positioning a noodly newborn. What’s not to like? I could handle more hours in a quiet room by myself with a cuddly baby and a book, I’m pretty sure.
And introducing a baby to real foods — it’s messy, and it’s another thing I have to remember to pack, and it generates a ton of waste, and there are lots of conflicting opinions, and it all seems so fraught.
Our pediatrician (DR. LITTLE, BEST PEDIATRICIAN NAME EVER) told us to start solids with Pippin at 4 months, so we did, with pureed sweet potato, and he hated it and pretty much kept on hating everything. (See photo below.) I had planned to wean him (in the American sense) at 12 months, but if I had, he would have been forced to subsist on boogers and raisins (pretty much what he lives on now, along with peanut butter). He seems to have inherited my gag reflex, which sucks for all of us. Recently, we bribed him with ice cream to try Scout’s avocado. When he finally did, he promptly puked all over himself. J was appalled. “Can I have my ice cream now?” he immediately asked, unfazed.
With Scout, we are doing things differently. We didn’t bother starting her until a bit after six months, and we’ve been loosely trying Baby Led Weaning principles. Things are going well, and it could be because we are so wise, but is probably just because she’s her own person (and maybe because she takes after her father, John “I Like All Food” Bowers). This weekend at book club, I wouldn’t give her any brownie or tea cake and she kicked her legs with energy and indignation. FEED ME!
Cool it, girl.
But it turns out having a baby who’s an enthusiastic eater carries its own challenges for me. And so, just as I felt weird and conflicted about my reluctant eater, now I feel weird and conflicted about my enthusiastic eater. I worry that she’ll choke on something I’ve prepared incorrectly (unlike Pippin, at the same age, she still has no teeth and enjoys nomming on such exotic fare as pesto meatballs and smushed blueberries). I worry about all the food stains I’ll have to get out of her clothes, and mine. I worry that she’ll stop nursing entirely before I’m ready.
In the early months, nursing feels like a project my baby and I tackle together, and it takes both of us to make ecological breastfeeding work. Moving on to the next chapter is a tricky, messy transition to navigate.