Annie sucking her thumb; Paul picking his cuticles; both in Christmas pajamas in September.
To Paul: this is how you spent the day you turned 4 years and 1 month old.
You stride into our room at SEVEN ZERO EIGHT, and you and Annie commence a cheerful half-hour of play. We get dressed, and Annie administers a band-aid for your vaguely banged-up elbow. Big plans to make a smoothie break down when Annie instead of you pulls the frozen mango bag from the freezer. We power through your tantrum and make it to the table. Dad pulls the stroller up the front steps, and you hop up to unlock the door for him. “Dada, I love going on runs with you.”
We make a nice loop through the neighborhood. Annie sings. “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love Paul, tomorrow. That’s Annie singing,” she clarifies, “but she put a ‘Paul’ in there because she loves him.”
Back home, it’s time for our projects. You’re excited to help Dad with the yardwork, and our tiniest leaf blower suits you just fine. We read some books, and you and Annie play, play, play.
Dad is heading over to Colibri to spruce up the internet connection, so I let you watch TV for a couple of hours while I make dinner and do boring grown-up things.
Dad comes home, and it’s time to eat. You put away a huge chunk of salmon and even a few vegetables. It’s a dessert day (!) and I’ve made lemon sherbet, so you eat a little bowl of it on the back deck. Before we know it, bedtime arrives. No bath tonight, just a quick story and a chapter of Charlotte’s Web. Goodnight, my man.
To Annie: this is how you spent the day you turned 5 years and 5 months old.
You sleep in; it’s 7:30 before we see you, and you pretend to be asleep through the whole dressing routine. It’s a shocking 57 degrees outside on this early September morning, so we opt for pants under your dress. You also insist on mittens. You are excited for banana bread for breakfast, and I carry your “sleeping” body downstairs.
You’re still chewing your sticky pieces as Dad and Paul are leaving for their bike ride, and I hustle you to the kitchen to sign into your third day of distance-Kindergarten. It is not going well. Dad and I—no technology slouches—spent 30 minutes before you woke up wrestling with multiple log-ins. Your classmates do not know how to mute themselves. Your teacher is very sweet and working very hard, and running into broken links and fumbled audio at all times. You are still in your shy phase, and prefer to sink down out of sight of the camera while the other children wave and smile. Today everyone is introducing stuffed animals to the class. You decline. “Mom, I don’t want to do this.” You mean all of it.
We soldier on until the 8:20 dance break, and I drive you and Paul to school. Well, first you engage in a lengthy negotiation about who will carry the vitamins to the car. Talks break down. You end up working together to unscrew the lid, and each carry your own vitamin. Oh my god, children. I’m counting the minutes and calculating whether I’ll still have time for a jog in the chilly air before my work day begins.
As we back out of the driveway, you declare you are not going to school, you are going to stay at home forever. We all agree to accept this as a joke. On the way we discuss how “goo goo gah gah” is not really something baby’s say; it’s like “woof”—a word for a sound that’s sort of like what a dog says. I miss the opportunity to teach you the word ‘onomatopoeia.’ Soon. At school, you giggle and wave through the car window at Ms. Patricia, then go in cooperatively. Thank heaven.
At Colibri I think you’ve been working with the place value blocks because, well, your teachers told us so, and later this night you’ll ask me if ten tens make a million. You seem disappointed in yourself for getting it wrong. It’s not raining for the first time in a few days, so you get your usual outdoor playtime, and instead of taking a nap, you spend two hours on your school tablet. Hopefully you spend at least some of that time in class!
Dad picks you up at 5, and you and Paul chase each other around the house for 30 minutes, mostly cheerfully. I get home with takeout at 5:30, in time to hear you announce from upstairs, “This is the funnest game in the world!!” Spirits are high. You both eat five cherry tomatoes off your dinner plates, drink a glass of milk, headbutt each other, and start running races around the kitchen. Oh, and yelling. Dad and I tell you if you’ll put on your pajamas and brush your teeth, you can watch two episodes of something from PBS Kids. You eagerly accept this deal.
Five minutes later, you’ve gotten ready for bed and tucked yourselves into ours. You sample an episode of Let’s Go Luna and then revisit an old-favorite Nature Cat. We should really donate a lot more money to PBS.
We go to the bedroom. Dad reads you a picture book that’s basically a big math problem about setting tables for a dinner party, and then you get in bed for our final story. We finished The BFG last night and are starting Charlotte’s Web. These books are perfect for you. We read the first two chapters, and Paul fusses about something. You tell me you’re going to come make him feel better. “I really need you both to be in your beds,” I say. “Mom, do you want him to stop crying? Then I need to come over.” I find this hard to argue with, and acquiesce. You kiss him and roll your back over his whole body. As promised, he is cheered. Okay, now to bed. You say the thing about ten tens making a million. Paul complains about everyone interrupting him. One of you asks me to pronounce the whole alphabet. “Aah-buc-duh-efgheej-klemnop-qrstuv-wxxxeezzzz,” I say, and I close the door.
To Paul: this is how you spent the day you turned 4 years old.
You know it’s your birthday, so there’s no holding back when you wake up. You burst into our room, ready to go. “LEMME TELL YOU WHAT TIME IT IS,” you shout as you climb into the chair by the window, and get face-to-face with the digital clock to tell us. “SEVEN, OH, SIX!!”
You have recently discovered that telling time is THIS EASY, after years of us pointing at the analog clock and confusing you with details about how the hour hand is shorter than the minute hand but also more important. Nonsense. Now you just read the numbers and there you go! Every new minute is a delight and merits an announcement from our self-appointed town crier. (Seven, oh, SEVEN!!!)
Anyway, it’s your birthday. Breakfast is your very favorite sausage roles, and you open two presents. One is your big one: an unconscionably expensive American Girl doll, so you can join Annie’s play community. She arranges an immediate introduction to Julie and Felicity, and you name the poor kid Pez. Pez Lez Paul. I don’t know what to say. The second present is a pair of new sneakers, which you put on immediately to test their speed. It is, to be precise, “super-fast giant big speed.” You and I end up on a race circuit around the kitchen. I lose.
It’s time for school, and you’re okay with that. We make the short drive, and don our masks in the car before we unload. The teachers are waiting at the door, and Ms. Patricia begins singing in her beautiful voice as soon as she sees you. “Cumpleaños feliz, cumpleaños feliz…”
You show her your new shoes, and she asks if you can go fast in them. I think she knows you. You get through the temperature and sanitation drill, and are in for the day. You are celebrated well, with cake bites to share and a giant piñata in the yard, and make a family tree in the art studio, with green stars for each member.
Dad picks you and Annie up at 4:30, and you come home to more presents and playtime. You tear into a giant bag from Charly’s sweet mom, and we read some books together and color a page in a coloring book.
The Crowders join us, and you run around with Eleanor and Riley for a while before the chaos overwhelms us, and we turn on some pacifying television. Dinner is more of your favorites: hot dogs, blueberries, and corn on the cob, on the dinner trays with little compartments for everything. You all eat around a kids table, with Sous on high alert.
You requested blue cake with green cupcakes, which is a little silly, frankly, but it’s your day. We bring it out singing, and you get this particular small smile on your face I will do anything for: the quiet pleasure of feeling special. You blow out the candle, and everyone gets a slice and a cupcake.
Phew. It is after seven (SEVEN, OH, THREE). We say goodbye to our friends and make it upstairs for a quick bath and the usual routine. You are tired, and sad that your birthday is over. I read you a last story (a chapter or two from Jack and Annie at the first Thanksgiving), and say goodnight. My four-year-old.
To Annie: this is how you spent the day you turned 5 years and 4 months old.
You wake up right on schedule, in good spirits on this Monday morning. You have “Love” the dog, a year-old party favor you’ve recently rediscovered, and you are making her kiss everything she sees, and moving her stuffed legs to show us how she walks. Today will be our third day at Colibri, the new Spanish-immersion Montessori school started by your erstwhile nanny and some colleagues. It has been open a week, and you and Paul represent 1/3 of the current student body. You must appreciate the structure and challenge to some extent because your level of complaining about the change in routine has been very low.
While I pack lunch and three snacks each for you and Paul, Dad helps you get dressed in what is among your most fabulous sartorial compositions. You don’t even mind wearing shoes. Breakfast goes quickly, and you kiss and hug Paul to cheer him through a small fuss. I buckle you into the carseat and administer your vitamin, and we’re off on the 5-minute drive through quiet streets.
I pull into the circle drive, and we put on our masks. The teachers, also masked, greet us at the door, take your temperature, and give you sanitizer for your hands. You and Paul submit earnestly to the routine, and Ms. Patricia takes you around to the yard to play. Before you enter the school, they’ll sanitize your shoes.
The school routine is similar to what you had at the UT CDC, and I suspect you appreciate it. After morning playtime with Eleanor, Riley, and a couple of new friends whose names you can’t remember, you have a snack, some self-guided learning, singing, a video about germs that scares Paul, lunch, nap, and then more of the same. You wear a mask all day. Our pick-up window is 5:30-45—families are staggered to avoid crowding—and the teachers escort you outside. No other non-staff adults are allowed in the facility. Common pandemic-era practices.
Dad brings you home. You bustle in, curious about what’s for dinner, and eat strawberries and milk while Dad and I feast on fancy Mexican food from a favorite restaurant.
It gets briefly silly after dinner. About one second after I take this photo, Paul accidently trips you. The mood is broken; you head up for a bath. After a good soak, it’s off to snuggle into our bed for an episode of Molly of Denali. Our TV consumption has definitely escalated. Ours and the rest of the world’s.
I read you Bubble Trouble, a fun tongue-twister of a book, and Dad follows up with Tidy, about a badger who paves over a forest in a neurotic fit of cleanliness. Once you’re both in bed, I give you two chapters of your latest Jack and Annie book, a series about a time-travelling brother and sister. In this one, they help prepare the first Thanksgiving meal.
You need to find Love the Dog again for more tricks and kisses and bedtime companionship, and retreat into your bed-cave, which has been draped with one of our king-sized sheets for a few weeks now. It makes you feel safe. One more drink of water, and a few more questions, and goodnight.