Being James

So James and Owen are in preschool. They go five days a week, 9-11:30am. They seem to love it. (I love it.)

They’re excited to go in the morning. They’re all smiles when they climb up into the van when their day is done.

They sing the songs they learned. They tell me about the rug work they did, the books they listened to, the snacks they ate.

They eagerly show me their papers.



Owen (apparently he can write his own name and cut out bats):

James (this is about as much as he can get done without moving on to something else—in fact, I’m rather impressed with his “skeleton” above):

Today, Andy observed for a few minutes before going to work. Here’s a picture he took, of Owen and James “sitting” on the blue line:

I know you’re not supposed to compare but seriously, all of this cracks me up. Because here’s the thing: I’m not worried about James. Truly, I’m not. Give him a puzzle meant for 8+ and he’ll sit and concentrate, finishing it. Give him anything he shouldn’t take apart and he’ll expertly dismantle it. Give him a pile of tracks and he’ll put together an elaborate, working system. All the rest of it? Well, he just does things on his own time, in his own way.

OK, so maybe if by spring he’s still bringing home papers with only scribbles on them, I’ll worry (a little). And if one of his teachers tells us he’s being disruptive while (not) sitting on the line, we’ll talk with him. If any of this becomes a problem, we’ll deal with it.

But for now, carry on, little man. Carry on.

“If you cannot be a poet, be the poem.” —David Carradine

James & Owen’s 1st Day of Preschool

I have a lot I want to write right now but it’s too much. I can’t put my thoughts together. Sometimes, three-year periods bear little change. Others start with you in the NICU with two little people who—combined—weigh less than your cat and end with you watching them walk down your front walk wearing backpacks.

This picture pretty much sums up the morning. James has just found out that we aren’t going to be in preschool with him (we thought this had been made clear much earlier—apparently not). Owen (who is usually our more timid child) is thrilled.

Check out their personalized handmade backpacks. Andy’s aunt Susan made them by request—contact her here if you’d like backpacks, totes, diaper bags, clothes—she can make anything. (The boys love their backpacks. Thanks again, Aunt Susan.)

At one point Owen clenched his fists and just stood on our porch shaking his arms—he was so excited.

James is (sort of) smiling here only because I was making an absolute fool of myself in our front yard, trying to get him excited/cheer him up.

We drove.

James cried.

“Preschool will be fun, James. OK?” Owen said over and over again.

At Country Hills Montessori (the same preschool Sophie went to—the one we fell in love with) we were supposed to kiss, hug and go. Owen knew what to do as soon as he walked through the doors—where to put his backpack, where to wash his hands … Sophie had talked through all these steps with both Owen and James all summer long.

Owen didn’t look back.

James clung.

“What should we do?” I asked one of the teachers, who was at his level, holding her arms out to him.

“Kiss, hug and go,” she said.

So we did.

After I peeled his fingers off my wrist.

We heard the sound of his cry all the long walk back to our van.

(Parenting can be hard.)

The first day was only an hour long.

I spent it at Fort Thomas Coffee, with a latte, coffee cake and a copy of Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings.

I have long designated this future kid-free time as time to work on my freelance projects, excited about the possibility of not editing at midnight. But today, this first day, I designated this time as mine.

I didn’t read, though. I wondered if James was still crying. I uploaded Instagrammed first-day-of-preschool pictures to Facebook. I wondered if either had had an accident. I ate my coffee cake. I wondered if James was still crying.

And then it was time to pick them up.

Mrs. Richter gave me a thumbs up while helping load another set of twins into a mini van in front of me.

They had done well.

They came out, all smiles and waves, wearing the same clothes I had sent them in, excited to tell me everything—excited to go back.

I thought of the NICU, the times I kissed, hugged and had to go. How hard that was. How hard this was. And then how OK and, ultimately, good it all was, too.

The night before, my parents stopped by for a last summer hurrah—Coney Island, Skyline, Graeters. My mom gave me a gift—a beautiful Liberty print handkerchief, with hand-rolled and hand-sewn edges. (It has since seen some use.) And a card, with this written on it:

“Opie: Cage sure looks awful empty don’t it Pa?

Andy: Yes son, it sure does. But don’t the trees seem nice and full?”

How Is It Not Even Noon Yet?

This morning Andy woke up to find James staring at him, little chocolate fingerprints staining the sheets. Turns out we forgot to close the gate at the top of the stairs. Again. And instead of waking us up, James went downstairs, got into the candy basket and ate half a chocolate Easter bunny. Not only did he eat the bunny, though, he tried to hide the fact that he did. In the bathroom we found bits of chocolate stained toilet paper on the wooden stool and chocolate fingerprints covering the toilet paper roll. He did a fairly good job of cleaning himself up, honestly—except for his chocolate-covered nose.

And then.

Today is Sophie’s last day of preschool. She attends Fort Thomas’s Country Hills Montessori school and loves it. This morning she was a mix of emotions—giddy with the idea of starting kindergarten and upset knowing today was her last day at this place, with these people, who have meant so very much to her (and to all of us). But she was also excited because the boys, who will be attending CHM next year, were invited to spend the morning at her school.

All three were excited.

The boys insisted on wearing their backpacks. They skipped to the car and ran into the school, smiling.

Sophie showed them where to put their backpacks and then led them to the small sink to wash their hands. Then they spotted the gerbil. They were supposed to be sitting on the blue line, criss-cross applesauce. I let them check the gerbil out, thinking a quick peek would quiet them. It did not quiet them.

“I want to see the gerbil!”

whining, wriggling and running off the line

“I want to do the puzzles!”

whining, wriggling and running off the line

“I want water from the water fountain!”

whining, wriggling and running off the line

“I WANT A COOKIE!” (Note, it’s 9:20am.)

whining, wriggling and running off the line

I was so embarrassed.

At this point, Owen was doing better than James. So I pulled James aside (and by pulling aside I mean I had to, literally, chase him down) and explained the importance of the line, of criss-cross applesauce, of being quiet and listening to the teachers.

Once group work started I apologized to the teachers. I promised I would work with them. The teachers were so kind and assuring, promising me this was normal. I’m sure it’s normal, the first week or so. But for everyone else, it was their last week. Everyone else was sitting on the line, criss-cross applesauce—including Sophie, who kept hissing “Boys! Sit down!”

And now we’re home. And they’re fighting over oven mitts.

A confession: I’m already dreaming of fall, when, for 2-1/2 hours three days a week, I’ll have three kids in school.

That is, if they’re allowed to stay …

“Children are a great comfort in your old age—and they help you reach it faster, too.” —Lionel Kauffman

Sophie’s Skeleton

She loves her preschool. So do we.

“If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it to dance.” —George Bernard Shaw


James is anxious to start preschool—even though he has awhile. In the meantime he likes to walk around our house with a backpack on while waiting to pick Sophie up.

“I did not have a chance to write novels until my youngest child started school fulltime.” —Anne McCaffrey

(OK, so that quote has more to do with me than James and preschool and backpacks but, I like it.)

Sophie’s 1st Day of Preschool (2nd Year)

“Holidays are enticing only for the first week or so. After that, it is no longer such a novelty to rise late and have little to do.” —Margaret Laurence

On This Sort-of Rainy Afternoon,

while the boys nap, Sophie is spinning around and around and around. I’m counting the number of times she can spin (38 is the number to beat right now) until she falls down, drunk on dizziness.

We really need preschool to start.

“If there were no schools to take the children away from home part of the time, the insane asylums would be filled with mothers.” —Edgar W. Howe

A School Year

Sophie’s first day of preschool, September 6, 2011

She was so excited.

Sophie’s last day of preschool, May 23, 2012

Her teachers said she was so quiet, her last day. I think she was sad. She’s still telling everyone she’s just on spring break. I imagine she’ll appreciate summers more in her later years.

“Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.” —John Archibald Wheeler

A Bean Plant

Some days I yearn for simplicity. The uncomplicated. The untroublesome. I stand in the kitchen for an entire minute, hands to my nose, simply taking in their scent after peeling a clementine. I watch the cardinals flit about our yard, branch to patio to chair to branch to deck and back to branch, looking for food, looking for items for which to build a nest. I stand in the shower and let my hands get hot from the water and then I place my palms over my eyes, feeling their warmth.

Often, I have to actively remove myself from the complicated, purposefully seeking out the simple. But some days, it’s gifted.

Today’s gift was a bean plant. From Sophie. It’s the classic preschool project—a bean that sprouts in the confines of a wet paper towel and then grows, thanks to small hands, a styrofoam cup, a handful of dirt, a sunny classroom windowsill, a watchful teacher and daily water.

I stared at the plant for a long time today. It had grown so large, in that tiny cup. I thought about the number of small plants that have been started from seed, in styrofoam cups, in classrooms around the world this spring. And last spring. And the many springs before.

There was a lesson with it, of course. A simple lesson. A good lesson.

I loved that bean plant today. I needed that bean plant today. Just like some days I need the smell of orange peel on my skin, reminding me that even on life’s more complicated days, there’s still, always, the simple.

“I go about looking at horses and cattle.  They eat grass, make love, work when they have to, bear their young.  I am sick with envy of them.” —Sherwood Anderson