I really really wish I felt better while pregnant. There are pregnant women being Wonder Womanly and kicking butt at tennis and for a very long time, just existing is a pretty major accomplishment in my book.

I’m finally some better, but in that long hibernation space, I felt like the kids were mostly just watching tv and mainlining Goldfish. As it turns out, though, Pippin was developing newfound independence and a willingness to help.

In the past few weeks, he’s started pouring his own milk (if we keep a small bottle filled for him), feeding the dog, checking the mail, keeping an eye on his sister (who he endearingly and mysteriously calls “Sweet Pete”), helping me put away groceries and helping more consistently with baking.

It’s grand. It’s a reminder for me of a couple things: first, I should keep an eye on my kids’ development and give them chances to try new tasks. And more importantly, I’m learning that even in a season of seeming stasis, the kids are growing all the time. They are not (just!) developing complexes from me repeating, “Please don’t touch Mama, please go watch more Daniel Tiger” — maybe the boredom and benevolent neglect even hastens these leaps.

Well, Sweet Pete, looks like Mama’s not getting around to it anytime soon. Should I try?

Captain Barnacles gives little sis a push on the swing

This Is Four

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 Watson library 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.

*not a word, but should be


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.

Readers’ Advisory: Non-Terrible Truck Books

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’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go is 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.
  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and, to a lesser extent, Katy and the Big SnowClassics.
  • Backhoe JoeA breakthrough for us; one of our first narrative truck books. What a relief!
  • Trashy Town and its companion Digabout the quietly sweet men who work dirty jobs.
  • Here Comes DarrellSo 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.)
  • Demolition and its companions: a good read-aloud for little kids. Lots of action!
  • Dinosaur Rescue combines 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!)
  • Machines Go to Work boasts the prettiest truck illustrations I’ve come across, that’s for sure.
  • Good Night, Good Night, Construction SiteThe best metered rhyme of all the many, many truck books we’ve read. Sweet and sleepy.

Note, these are not necessarily Pippin’s favorite truck books, but mine. (Sometimes, we agree to disagree.)

Dishonorable mentions: The Working Wheels series — actually, nearly anything from the junior nonfiction section of the library; I Stink which 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).


Color me excited. New England autumn used to fill me with dread, but here in the Shenandoah Valley I can embrace the season without fear for coming winter. Here are a few of the things I’m most looking forward to:

  • Hot tea
  • Baked granola and ciabatta bread and roasted vegetables when I can use our oven with impunity
  • Not shaving (sorry)
  • Wearing a hat when my hair is dirty and pretending it’s because I want to wear a hat and not that my hair is dirty (my secret is out, sorry again)
  • The start of preschool (this fills me with a mix of excitement and dread so in traditional Grimm fashion I’m eager just to get it over with)
  • Seeing friends back in western Mass when fall is still beautiful and not yet ominous
  • Blooming ageratum (Does it even in grow in Virginia? I’ll have to pay more attention this year.)
  • Maple leaves, 4eva
  • Less sweating
  • Open curtains. This summer I’ve been a responsible citizen and mostly kept the shades down to keep the house cooler. But I didn’t escape basement living for nothing.
  • A visit from my parents, and a visit from my sister.
  • Taking pictures of Pippin with leaves, because that’s apparently a thing I like to do a lot.

How about you?

On the Scary Stuff in Fairy Tales

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.


The kid’s a Grimm, for heaven’s sake. But I do a lot of child-led book selection and so it’s been all trucks, all the time for the most part, though at least he got some fractured nursery rhymes, which he looooved, from The Big Book of Truckery Rhymes.

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?)

Baby Pip made a pretty adorable Little Red Riding Hood, right?