Annie: Paul, can I tell you something?
Paul: NO!! I’m a TURTLE!
Annie: Turtle, can I tell you something?
Annie: Turtle, um, you can swim, even if you’re not a mermaid.
Paul: Yeah, I can swim, in my turtle hat.
Annie: No, you have to swim in a swimming pool.
To Paul: this is how you spent the day you turned 2 years and 8 months old.
You hop out of bed and turn off the green light as soon as it comes on, then open your door to find us. Dad heads upstairs and scoops you up, onto our bed so that Annie can lounge a bit longer. I find you two gazing into each other’s eyes as you gently flick your doggy’s tail.
You’ve slept in a rash guard because it’s “splash day” for the Pandas today, and changing shirts in the morning is one task we can avoid. We change your diaper, add a swimsuit, and strap you into some new-hand-me-down sandals that seem appropriate for a muddy playground.
You’re feeling a little listless this morning, and lay about while Annie finishes her routine and heads downstairs for oatmeal. “Annie, will you save my bowl for me?” you ask, and she says, “Sure!” We make it through the tooth brush and hand rinse—you will not countenance soap these days—and head downstairs. Sure enough, your bowl is still empty on the counter, so you can carry it to the table yourself.
You scoop in oatmeal and strawberries with dexterity that still amazes me, and put away two big helpings. After a quick rub with a wet wipe, it’s off to the car, to buckle in and debate with Annie whether the soundtrack to Frozen or “Olaf’s Party Adventure” will season your drive to school.
You splash and play at school, and release the “butterflies” (I think they’re actually moths) that hatched into the wild. You show off two small construction vehicles at your transit-themed Show and Share. Your classmate Fletcher brings a cool green plane that sort-of flies, and you see a demo outside.
At 4:15, I get a call: you have a fever. Oh no. You hang out with Ms. Stephanie near the front door as Dad makes his way through traffic to get you and Annie. Dinner when you arrive is a big plate of pineapple and a bowl of noodles. You eat the fruit and declare for the first time in your life that you’re tired. You’re not wheezing, exactly, but your breathing is labored in the way that doctors have taught me to worry about. You lie down on the couch with Dad while I finish dinner with Annie.
Dad takes you upstairs and puts on a movie. Annie joins you, and I head to the drug store to get a fingertip oximeter, so I can stop wondering whether we should go to the emergency room. Your measurements are acceptable (95%, with a racing pulse that we watch quiet after a dose of ibuprofen). Oh, Paul.
Dad feeds you some cough medicine a little too abruptly, and you barf pineapple all over my lap. Unfazed, you ask me to clean off your thumbs so you can suck them, and we head to the bedroom for much-needed tooth brushing and a fresh diaper. You play with your airplane while I attempt to get the toothbrush in your mouth without activating your gag reflex. “Airplanes have four wings,” you tell me, “Like Fletcher’s.” Sure! Now open up.
We get there. You read a couple of books and help me fill up your robot cup so you can sip on water during the night—a special arrangement when coughs are bad. Of course Annie gets hers, too. (She’s pretty sure she is also Very Sick.) We have lots of good times with the finger-pincher/oximeter. You are definitely not suffocating, so we tuck you in, and I tell you both a long story about Anna getting sick when she ate some magic gum that Elsa froze when she was practicing her magic. Thank goodness for the trolls, who can almost always fix it.
Sigh. Goodnight, Paul. Keep breathing, okay?
To Anne: this is how you spent the day you turned 4 years old.
At 7:05, I hear you call my name and come out of my room to find you and Paul sitting politely at the top of the stairs. “Is it a school day or a home day?” Paul asks, and I tell him, “It’s Wednesday; it’s a school day; and you know what else it is?” You look up at me, smiling, and I say, just to you, “Annie’s birthday.”
You go to the bathroom all by yourself. You’ve graduated yourself from the little potty seat in the last week, telling me you don’t need it because you’re almost four, and maybe it can just be for Paul now. You climb up on the stool to wash your hands and hold them out so I can admire your excellent bubbles. I retrieve your party dress from the closet, and a back-up dress in case you want to keep it clean at school. We complete the look with your birthday crown and the pipe-cleaner necklace you made at school yesterday.
You’re excited to go to class and be celebrated all day. Ms. Jolene greets you with a hug, and as Dad leaves, you are with your class, checking out the new moth that’s come out of its chrysalis overnight.
Later in the morning your classmates throw you a dance party, and sing you happy birthday as you share the frosted cookies we brought for the occasion. You will later identify this as the best part of your day.
I pick you up at 3 as you are reading books at a table with Eloise. “Can I finish this book first and then come?” you ask. Of course. We grab your flip flops from the shelf, and you tear off down the hallway to get Paul. You carry his dog for him until we get to the front door; then you perch it on the handle and ask Paul if he can reach it (he can). “Because you can reach it, it means you’re almost three!
At home, you open two more presents: kitty-cat ears and tail, and a doll you can draw on, from Aunt Camei and Piper (selected because it has the very most beautiful bag), and a fairy princess (but you call it a butterfly, and we do not correct you) costume from Gobka and Gamma. “Oooooo,” are your precise words, and you immediately strip off your dress.
It’s a pretty day in the 90s, but you do NOT want to play outside because of a morbid fear of bumblebees. (No, I can’t explain it.) So we build another superfort in your room and play an elaborate game of Mermaid and Shark Friend (that’s me), later joined by your brother butterfly.
Despite the dire bee threat, you consent to leave the house for dinner at Home Slice, our friendly neighborhood pizza-joint-slash-Austin-sensation. They give kids wads of raw dough to play with; service is prompt; and pizza is great. What more could you ask? Oh, to DRIVE to the restaurant so the bees don’t get you, and for Dad to pull the car out of the driveway so you don’t have to walk anywhere near our flowering tree that’s buzzing with pollinator activity. Oookay, sure.
You get some friendly attention at the restaurant when we let slip it’s your birthday, and have a surprisingly long video chat with Granddad and Susu, undeterred by the difficult audio. You explain many things to them they probably cannot hear but gamely attempt to respond to because they love you. We order you and Paul a chocolate Italian Ice (gelato? who knows—we do not get a bite) to split, and then the restaurant-birthday gears spin into action, and they bring you another dish of lemon with a candle in it. Apparently waiters singing “Happy Birthday” died with the 20th-century—no regrets—so we do a quiet version, and you blow out the candle and dig into Dessert #2.
Back at home, you hop in a bubble bath enlivened by Gobka and Gamma singing to you and mercifully distracting Paul from a meltdown (1 of 2 for the evening). Our alacrity leaves time for an episode of Pete the Cat, for which you don the ears Piper gave you.
At 7:10 we begin our bed routine. It’s Mercy Watson x2 for you and Paul, and we navigate the delay tactics of light-turning, potty-going, water-drinking, various snuggling and comforting, etc. I tell a story from the door about Mercy stealing everyone’s popcorn, including Elsa’s, and Dad segues into a candy-forest chapter that Paul requested, which has you in tears. I don’t think you want your special day to end. We keep easing towards goodnight and pull it off by 7:50.
FOUR YEARS! I love you, Biscuit.
I was telling the kids a real, true story at bedtime tonight, about their father’s journey to California. It was 100% factually accurate until they populated his plane with characters from the Pete the Cat TV show we watched during rainy-day screen time this morning. Since the rest of the passengers were animals, everyone had to be one, and, oh yeah, our family was on board, too.
“What animal am I?” I asked, hoping for something badass.
“A dinosaur,” Annie offered. “A wolf!” Paul said.
Dinosaur-wolf—I’ll take it, said I.
“A pig!” said Annie. We did just read Mercy Watson again. “A big, BIG wolf,” said Paul. Cool.
“What animal are you, Paul?”
“A little wolf.” Natch.
“How about you, Annie?”
Yep. So there we are.
by Carrie Fountain
by way of Julie Stewart, my best poetry source
When, at the end, the children wanted
to add glitter to their valentines, I said no.
I said nope, no, no glitter, and then,
when they started to fuss, I found myself
saying something my brother’s football coach
used to bark from the sidelines when one
of his players showed signs of being
human: oh come on now, suck it up.
That’s what I said to my children.
Suck what up? my daughter asked,
and, because she is so young, I told her
I didn’t know and never mind, and she took
that for an answer. My children are so young
when I turn off the radio as the news turns
to counting the dead or naming the act,
they aren’t even suspicious. My children
are so young they cannot imagine a world
like the one they live in. Their God is still
a real God, a whole God, a God made wholly
of actions. And I think they think I work
for that God. And I know they will someday soon
see everything and they will know about
everything and they will no longer take
never mind for an answer. The valentines
would’ve been better with glitter, and my son
hurt himself on an envelope, and then, much
later, when we were eating dinner, my daughter
realized she’d forgotten one of the three
Henrys in her class. How can there be three Henrys
in one class? I said, and she said, Because there are.
And so, before bed we took everything out
again—paper and pens and stamps and scissors—
and she sat at the table with her freshly washed hair
parted smartly down the middle and wrote
WILL YOU BE MINE, HENRY T.? and she did it
so carefully, I could hardly stand to watch.