a day in your life

To Annie: this is how you spent the day you turned 5 years and 1 month old.

It’s Mother’s Day. Dad reminds you of this when you walk into our bedroom. (“And what do we do on Mother’s Day?” “We’re nice to Mom.”) What you need NO reminder of is this: we’re going to the ranch! After 8 weeks of lockdown, we’ve decided that 6 hours of driving is a reasonable price to pay for 6 hours of running around, with 6 feet of distance between household members. Pandemic math.

Getting ready is not all sunshine and roses, but we manage to accomplish the essentials and get on the road by 7:30. You and Paul munch happily through your breakfasts while we cruise north on the emptiest 1-35 we’ve ever seen. You enter an imaginary world, and Dad and I smile at each other to hear the louder snippets of your story. “…the GREATEST QUEEN in the WORLD!” When your storyline concludes, you request a Circle Round podcast episode, and estimate it will take us 7 stories to reach the ranch. I am impressed—at 20 minutes each, I think you are exactly right. (You later revise your estimate to 19, but maybe just because you love them.)

We arrive 3 hours later and tumble out of the car, so excited yet flustered that we forget about Sous. I find her in the backseat a few minutes later. When we would have hugged your grandparents, we instead offer awkward greetings from a distance, pitching our voices to carry. It gets better after that.

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You inspect the oak tree that’s toppled over, assessing it for climbability and fort-building capacities. We decide it definitely must stay. Reminded of the blackberry bush, you decide it’s time to pick some, and you and Paul race over, one piloting Little Kermit, child-sized jeep, and one on foot. Then some quality sand-pit time. Checking all the boxes.

You hop in the hot tub for a major swim, diving for sticks under water while the adults sit around you, providing all the attention you wish. Gamma and Gobka arrive—more beloved grandparents from whom to keep our distance.

You visit the bathroom and begin waging your campaign to hang out inside. (“I just need to cool off inside.” “I’m so tired: I need to nap on the bunk bed.”) We feed you fried chicken and macaroni and cheese for lunch, on a sheet under the tree. It couldn’t be more beautiful.

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You do more kid-cart driving, and swing in the hammock. We visit the blackberries again, and eat cobbler. Granddad and Susu feed the cows. The afternoon melts away. We eat another dessert, chocolate cake for your belated birthday. It’s somehow time to go.

We get loaded up without tears, and wave goodbye to our family. Time to drive again. You get one more Circle Round story before Dad declares a moratorium. Paul has fallen asleep, and you certainly would if we would just stop reminding you not to suck your thumb. You try to hide it from us behind a doll, and your hair. I talk to you to distract you, and give you things to put in your mouth instead. Sunglasses. A chard stem. Sheets of dried seaweed. When we reach Waco, we declare moral victory and let you play on your tablet for the rest of the trip home.

It’s 7 when we arrive, and you are tired. It’s a cup of yogurt for dinner, and off to get clean. You take a shower in our bathroom (by yourself, “like a grown-up”), and clean yourself adequately. I help you into pajamas, paint your thumbnails with our revolting quit-sucking polish, and read a chapter of the Elsa and Anna book June mailed you for your birthday. Dad tells a bedtime story, and I field a few post-bedtime questions and requests from Paul (who slept for 2 hours in the car). You are tired, though, and laying down everytime I open the door. By 8:15, it’s all quiet. Goodnight, sweetie. You’ve come a long way.

a day in your life

To Annie: this is how you spent the day you turned five years old.

You tiptoe into our room at 7:04, asking, “can we get up a little early since it’s my birthday?” Sure, sweetie. Happy Day. You and Paul climb up into bed, and you stretch your long body across the mattress. I’ve spread out special birthday clothes: a new dress for you that reminded me of your very (and my very-least) favorite “butterfly dress,” worn ages 2-4. Obtaining this new one was an important moral exercise for me in allowing you your own taste and opinions. You love it.

Paul is also dressed to impress.
Paul is also dressed to impress.

Two hours of playtime follow. You and Paul reprise your Swan Lake ballet dancing in the dark, play a bit with your new bucket of dinosaurs, and watch Chris in the back saw wood for the deck. Eventually you realize you have to pee, and omg is it an emergency. I take off your birthday dress as requested, but you have an accident at the finish line. Just a huge volume of pee. Oh my goodness.

You rinse off in the shower, and cleaning up the floor launches Dad into a house-wide project with our new mop. We get dressed again and head downstairs for a late breakfast of oatmeal and berries, and to open some presents.

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“I have a riddle for you.” Dad sets the stage for something mysterious and exciting, that you must ride your bikes to find. You dictate a paragraph for me to post on your helmet, so everyone knows it’s your birthday. I abbreviate. The parks are closed, so we set out for the church parking lot.

Coming around the corner, we find Dad with your new bikes and helmets. !!! Initial joy gives way to a fair amount of anxiety as you try to figure out the pedals and cope with the sensation of a much-larger vehicle. Paul heads home with Dad when he poops out. You keep at it with tenacity, albeit a constant whimper, and we circle around the lot until you take off on your own, for a few seconds, two or three times. We take a long break, sitting in the parking lot, and we walk your bike home together.

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You and Paul enjoy some tablet time (Khan Academy Kids = the pandemic’s MVP) while I bake you a chocolate cake. I toss in a half-cup of chocolate chips and forget the baking soda, and the result is beautiful and dark and dense. (This recipe has become my chocolate cake go-to for some reason, with butter for the shortening.)

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It’s lunch time. PBJs and cherry yogurt. You and Paul are looking for mayhem, so Dad corrals you with video games. You help him kick off Final Fantasy 7 and then play some Donut County, a favorite of yours. This time you work hard to get the hang of controlling it yourself. I work on a fun project of my own, making us cloth masks to CDC specifications.

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You two pop out and are excited to come watch me finish up. We’re having an awesome, fun sewing-machine tutorial, until Paul touches the hot iron oh sweet Jesus. He’s in pain and I’m angry at myself and we’re all screaming and crying and tearing around for what feels like an hour. I can’t get him to keep his hand under running water or against something cold. You are doing your best to help both of us—but you also really want to read your new Frozen chapter book.

A moment of happy distraction thanks to Annie and her present from June.
A moment of happy distraction thanks to Annie and her present from June.

Dad comes out of a half-hour work meeting to find a trail of wreckage around the house. We’ve opened your gift from June: a giant padded envelope full of books and drawings she’s made, and an assortment of kid nonsense. (“MOM! It’s YELLOW STRING!!!”) You love every bit of it. We’ve pursued various components of the package to try and help Paul feel better, many of which worked for 30 seconds.

At last, we settle into some Dinosaur Train on the couch, with a bowl of ice water for finger-dipping. Dad and I pick things up. Paul’s ibuprofen has kicked in. I finish sewing your child-sized face masks. You learn about the 50th type of dinosaur I have never heard of.

I make your favorite dinner: Annie’s-brand macaroni and cheese, with shells. You eat a giant plateful. We bring out the cake and sing, and you’re blowing out the candles before it’s resting on the table.

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Dad invites Paul on a special bike ride, and you and I lag behind so I can show you your recorded birthday greetings from all our favorite friends and family. We lay on our stomachs on the floor in your room and watch them one-by-one on my laptop. You keep turning to me with a delighted smile and telling me fun facts about the classmates who are talking. It’s lovely. We are going through a second time when we hear the front door and the boys are back.

Eleanor Crowder doing her thing:

You want to go for another bike ride, too, right up until you remember the terror of your new bike, so we don’t make it farther than the end of our block. Good news for Mom and Dad’s back muscles—we are happy to head for home and bed.

You pick Make Way for Ducklings for your bedtime book, and I treat you to the unabridged version. Paul’s pick is Dragons Love Tacos—another solid choice. You opt for another book instead of a Mom-original bedtime story, so I read you a vintage 1980s Berenstain Bears number, and then, okay fine, Dragons Love Tacos II for Paul. Phew. 7:20, goodnight. Except not really, and we see you and Paul at least half a dozen more times and herd you back towards your beds.

Five years old. We made it.

a day in your life

To Anne: this is how you spent the day you turned 4 years and 11 months old.

You wake up slowly and in the dark thanks to the recent time change, the pointlessness of which stands out to us all. The morning routine is pretty painless today. You retry your glittery shoes I bought in a fit of despair about you never wearing shoes again. You love them but they itch so you hate them. This choice later causes you grief on the playground when Ms. Liz requires you to keep them on.

Dad takes you to school, per our new routine with my new job: he’s on drop-off; I’m on pick-up. You sail into your class like the queen.

You create imaginary worlds with June in “Dramatic Play Center,” and discuss how germs spread with your class because, well, there’s a global pandemic. We’re happy to observe you washing your hands while counting to 20.

Annie and June
Annie and June
Ms. Liz explains how germs spread. Topical.
Ms. Liz explains how germs spread and how to wash your hands. Topical. 

I pick you up and play stories on the way home. My own storytelling well finally ran dry, and I downloaded four different stories-for-kids podcasts. Our favorite is Circle Round, where they do well-produced versions of folk tales from all over the world. I tell myself there’s some cultural literacy built in. We listen to “The Dozen Loaves of Bread” about a generous baker with ungrateful customers.

Dad has made chicken for dinner, which you don’t eat. We spend a lovely late evening on a “run” through the park. We pass under the bridge by our creek, where a neighbor? random music lover? frustrated SXSW performer? has taken to playing the guitar. You and Paul run to the bench by the creek where neighbors tend tend plants and place renegade Buddha statues. We cross the bridge and snake behind your future elementary school for a romp on the playground. We find that someone else has painted and left their own “love rocks” on the trail.You walk Sous all the way home.

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Bedtime is a little prolonged (thanks again, time change!). Dad tells the latest in his Smaug series, and we say goodnight.

a day in your life

To Annie: this is how you spent the day you turned 4 years and 10 months old.

You and Paul are up and playing diligently at five till seven. Dad knocks on your door at 7:10 and, through the door, reminds you to work in some morning-list items while you’re at it.

I love this shot.
I love this shot.

You chirp back, “We went potty and washed hands!” We take you at your word. After a few more minutes, we insert ourselves to achieve the bare minimum to get downstairs, to our usual healthy breakfast of hot buttered toast, pancakes, and dried mango. No meal is complete these days without listening to the 1950s narration of The Pokey Little Puppy, so of course we do that.

Dad drives you to school, and you read road signs on the way. There, you race in without a backward glance.

Principal Paula visits your class to read a book. “Yes,” you later confirm. “Dmitri. It’s about, um, peace. No, friendship. But it gets a little wild in the middle,” you add with a chuckle.

At lunch, chili burns your mouth, but you persevere. You like the way they serve broccoli. Your whole class makes leopard masks, headbands, and tails, which you model for us later.

Picturing your whole class running around in masks like this is, I admit, a little scary.
Picturing your whole class running around in masks like this is, I admit, a little scary.
"Mom, can you get out of here please?" (P.S. That kid stage right is Moses, and he's your first crush.)
“Mom, can you get out of here please?” (P.S. That kid stage right is Moses. He is your first crush.)

I arrive at four, and you’re in block center as usual, telling me you didn’t even get to play for 20 minutes!! I offer to get Paul first, and you accept. When we come in, you wrap up your imagined story and grab items from your art cubby. You race down the hall barefooted, and out into the 50-degree drizzle.

In the car you ask for a story “about the hyenas and giraffes and wolves—” “And lions!” Paul adds. “Yeah, lions!” you agree. “And dogs and leopards and black panthers—” “And turtles and dinosaurs!” And, and, and… And so I am inspired to tell you the story of Noah’s Ark. You are into it. 40 days and 40 nights, all the animals, two by two, and the dove with a spring of leaves in its beak. We gloss over everyone else’s death by drowning.

We arrive at home to find Aunt Camei! Hello! You are shy for 15 seconds and then inviting her up to see your new bookshelves, and to lifeguard you and Paul jumping off your beds. Then she MUST hear The Shy Little Kitten, and then you ask her to put on “Old Town Road” once, and again, and again, and then it’s blasting on repeat in the TV room while you sing and dance, and Paul is swinging pillows at you until you yell in protest, and it’s the best and worst moment in your whole life.

Dinner is pan pizza (YUM), which you nibble at. Then we’re back upstairs, looking for clues to the whereabouts of Holly Shiftwell. We track her through the bedrooms, quite the pair of sleuths. Paul tags in as playmate, and you’re off and running. We close the evening with a relaxing game of car wash, wherein Dad gets in table pose on his hands and knees, you crawl under him, and he lowers his belly onto you and shakes you back and forth. Just the thing to settle you down for bedtime.

We coax you through tooth-brushing and into storytime. Your pick is a scratch-and-sniff book based on a Nickelodeon show we’ve never watched. I make a silent vow to hide it in the Goodwill pile when you’re not paying attention. I ask what kind of story you want, and you and Paul decide to take turns telling your own. No objections from me! I tuck Paul in while you close us out with an elaborate tale of a magical, multi-generational leopard family. “Their ancestors were STILL ALIVE, even from ROMAN TIMES! …Mom, do I have ancestors?”

I say goodnight. You emerge for a band-aid. Paul comes out needing to pee. Dad checks the monitor and notices he’s in your bed, and intervenes. Paul needs pants, and a hug, and one more drink of water. You’re thirsty, too. Okay, guys. Goodnight.

a day in your life

To Annie: this is how you spent the day you turned 4 years and 9 months old.

You stride into our room with a smile. It’s time to get up, and you’re pleased to be first. I sit down to offer you my lap, and you snuggle into it. Paul arrives a minute or two later with the entire stuffed cow collection. “Do you want to play?” You do. You name the cows Tabibi (the baby), Snow Lilly (the sister—that’s you), and Sally (mom), and get right to it. Dad and I let it go on for a few minutes before we gently insinuate ourselves to get your morning lists rolling. You both get through them with only a little harrumphing, and we’re down to breakfast. Another day of dried mango and mini-pancakes. Mmm, glucose.

Dad takes you to school, where you both want to be dropped off second. Paul wins, but you sneak across the hall after Dad has left you in the All Stars for one last hug—an irresistible request. Your War on Shoes continues unabated, and he notices that yours are, of course, already off.

It’s a good day at school. You spend circle time talking about the calendar, the days of the week, and the number date. Apparently you even nap for an hour.

That's you with Ms. Liz in front.
That’s you with Ms. Liz in front.

Dad picks you up relatively early due to news coverage suggesting the storm of the century is headed our way. At 4pm, he finds you and Paul playing together on the playground, and when you spot him, you both run up for a hug.

On the way home you ask for a story (“and it’s a long one”), but instead you all spot several graveyards and talk about them instead. The conversation shifts to meteorology. “I have a hypothesis,” you offer: “It’s a scientist on the radio telling us about the weather.” Dad offers that it’s probably a reporter who had heard from a meteorologist, who is a scientist of the weather. Then you ask how they knew when there would be tornadoes, and is it when there is warm air and cold air in a mix together? And yeah, you officially know as much as we do about tornadoes.

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You meet me on the stairs at home, excited to show me your bubble necklace from a classmate’s birthday, then settle into Dad’s lap for a chapter of Harry Potter while Paul and I assemble dinner. We eat. Then, exciting surprise: Dad has discovered a previously-unwatched, 7-minute Frozen video about Anna’s birthday. We watch it three times, and then go outside to blow some of your bubbles and check on the weather.

Somehow this turns into a completely awesome Frozen 2 dance party. We do the whole soundtrack. It’s outstanding.

We head upstairs for the final routine, and I read you the current favorite: Super Happy Magic Forest. (Dennis, no!!) We eventually get you into bed, and Dad tells the final story, about Smaug’s 76th treasure (Paladium, and he turns everyone into superheroes).

We think we’re done, but there’s still that storm. At 8:15, you see lightning out the window, and you both run into our room with this important information. I head back with you to watch from Paul’s bed, and Dad spots us on the monitor and joins us (also, of course, with Sous in a light panic).

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We spend an hour watching the storm. You declare yourself the WEATHER REPORTER and keep us up-to-date. “Weather report: BIG chance of lightning. Medium rain. … You don’t need to watch—I’ll give you the report.” In your spare time, you propose we invent a language. “Uhhh-hhh: means YES. Uhhhhhh: means THUNDER.” It’s tonal? Somehow I also end up with alphabet stickers on my face.

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Anyway, eventually I’m falling out of the bed, and the storm is passing but not quite gone. So we send you back to your respective beds, and I spread a blanket on the floor for me. We all fall asleep: Paul, then you, then me.

a day in your life

To Annie: this is how you spent the day you turned 4 years and 8 months old.

I look up at the clock from my phone, where I’m browsing the paper, and discover to my shock that it’s 7:15. You and Paul are still snoozing. I come in your room and sort of stare at you like a creep, and you wake up within a minute. “Paul, look, the light!!”

You see me and hop out of bed, running for the potty. Beating Paul there has become your central motivation through your morning list, and you leave him in the dust (and crying—I literally turn the clock back and narrate a do-over where he gets to the potty first). You slip on your new glittery shoes, which have not overcome your complaints about shoes being SO HOT and basically the worst thing in the world, but at least you’ll put them on. While I finish up with Paul, you head downstairs, in the dark, by yourself, and set out the pancakes and dried mango for breakfast. Wow.

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It’s 40 degrees and raining outside, so of course you two want to spend some time prancing around the front yard in shirt sleeves, and do. At least you trade up to boots instead of ballet flats. We make it to the car, and to school. Drop-off is complicated by my betrayal of Paul’s wish to carry the umbrella, but you encounter June immediately and join up happily with your class.

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It’s Spanish day, so you spend the morning learning some words and a new song. I get a phone call at noon from your teacher to tell me you and your friend Charlie were running opposite directions around a corner and collided in the face. You have a major goose egg on your forehead and spend quite a bit of quality time in safe space to recuperate.

I see you a few minutes after five, so engaged in a read-aloud you have trouble noticing me. When you do, though, you pop out, empty your art cubby into my pocket, and tear off for the front door. I sign your face-wound incident report, acquire your brother, and follow in your wake. You get a good dose of the air vent on the way to the car, and we hold hands in a chain to cross the street. You open a present in the car you think is for you but is actually for me: a tote bag you have painted for Dad and I for Christmas. Cute!

We listen to the Frozen 2 soundtrack all the way home, Paul cackling with laughter to Olaf’s silly number, and you belting out “Show Yourself” with gusto and debating the finer points of Elsa’s self-discovery with me. At home, you talk me into some goldfish crackers as an appetizer, and I boil water for tortellini while you snack and Paul has a screaming fit on the front step (he wanted to open the door by himself, and did NOT approve of my returning to the car for our bags).

You are squinting at the Christmas tree in an effort to only see the lights. "My eyes can do cool things."
You are squinting at the Christmas tree in an effort to only see the lights. “My eyes can do cool things.”

Peace returns, and we eat heartily. You and Paul pretend a cardboard box is a bathtub, and play kazoos along with yet more Frozen 2.

"Where the north wind meets the sea..."
“Where the north wind meets the sea… Bzzz bzzz bzzz bzzz”

We make it upstairs, and wash face and hands and teeth, and you run dramatically to the toilet, telling me you haven’t peed since the morning. I almost believe you. You’re pretty wound up and decline to pick a book, but I get you into bed with the lure of a story about Lightning and Holly and the boa constrictor friends and ELSA. At some point everyone crosses into the spirit world and turns into a skeleton car, and Elsa makes a giant ice slide to get home since Lightning can’t drive on his bone wheels. Paul keeps adding plot twists that begin, “But then, they ACCIDENTALLY…”

At some point you ask me whether wind can blow down a house, and I tell you about tornadoes. Silence. Then, firmly: “Mom, you should NOT have told us about that.” Sorry!! Appreciate your notes on my parenting, as always.

We say our good-nights a little late, and you fall asleep quickly, presumably to have nightmares about tornadoes. Goodnight, little one.

a day in your life

To Annie: this is how you spent the day you turned 4 years and 7 months old.

I see you at 6:30, still snuggled in bed, when Paul emerges from your room to tell me something about his airplane. I pay you a quick visit, smooth your blanket, and ask you both to stay in bed until the light turns green at 7:05. You do not stay in bed, but you follow the real rule and play semi-quietly in your room. You bring the toy castle into Paul’s bed and set up a village. At 7:05 I open the door to find you both perched on top of the dresser, demonstrating once again why we have bolted it to the wall.

You are not interested in starting your morning routine, and it’s Sunday, so we’re in no hurry. I tell you it’s okay to keep playing and just come out when you’re ready for breakfast or help. You say a cheerful farewell to me but ask Sous to stay in the room. When she leaves with me, you ask me to walk back in so she’ll follow me. Smart, Annie. I don’t think I’m supposed to say it to you, but you’re smart.

Dad helps you get dressed in a weather-appropriate outfit for once, and we only tussle over shoes. You just hate them. All shoes. All of them.

Eventually, you are buckled into the stroller for a run with Dad, with a critical stop at new-favorite Howdy Donut. You lick the chocolate icing off of yours and, when you arrive home, present me with several pieces of the remainder squashed together—a donut sandwich for Mom. Aw, thanks, sweetie.

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We embark on three pretty great hours of playtime. I blow up some balloons, and you and Paul have a party. He builds things with legos while you put scotch tape over headlamp lights and pull the shades down for “a concert.” We make tea, which evolves into a large-scale lovey tea party. “Mom, may you fix Chickie?” you ask, employing your latest adorable verbal mistake. We swing in the hammock and talk about the seasons, and why it’s cooler in the fall. I offer you probably-accurate information.

Paul has been skipping his nap reliably on the weekends and then falling asleep in whatever moving vehicle we put him in, so we try to play this to our advantage and head out for another long stroller ride at 12:30. You are not enthused, but a mention of ice cream motivates you to buckle in. Twenty minutes in, your playmate does indeed fall asleep. You entertain yourself by counting as high as you can, inventing excellent numbers on your way, like “two-hundred-onety-one” (it comes after 201). At Congress and Riverside, you decide you’d like to walk, and you do, and cover probably a mile under your own power.

You are delightedly sticking your arm into all the holes in the brickwork.
You are delightedly sticking your arm into all the holes in the brickwork.

We are not the only ones who decided Amy’s on South Congress sounded like a good idea on this gorgeous Sunday afternoon, and we can’t actually face a 50-person line. So Dad, sleeping-Paul and Sous head home while you and I explore South Congress’s ice cream options. (Cupcake truck for the win.) We come home, take in an episode of Doc McStuffins, and we grown-ups let our feet recover from our 8-mile day.

The Crowders come over for the afternoon. You and Eleanor don a series of princess dresses and play pretty independently for a couple of hours. A few art installation pieces go up. We serve a fabulous dinner; you eat the corn nuts.

Artists: Annie and Eleanor
Artists: Annie and Eleanor

6:15 arrives, and we are all beat. Dad’s flying to California tonight, so we say goodbye to our friends and install you in front of the television so we can get things cleaned up. You give Dad a big hug goodbye. You recover from the TV being turned off, and we read Going on Bear Hunt. I tell a final bedtime story about Finn and Holly helping Santa deliver presents (moral: team work is good). I move the turtle lamp onto your dresser so you can both see it glow through the night. You fall asleep quickly after your busy day.

a day in your life

To Annie: this is how you spent the day you turned four and a half years old.

You consent to work with Dad on your list this morning, and end up mining the closet drawer of hand-me-downs to create a spectacular Halloween outfit. It’s always fun to see you in pants. We add a couple of unnecessary band-aids to your feet to complete the look, and we’re on our way.

At school, we navigate around a pile of kitty litter, soaking up someone’s puked-up breakfast in the entryway. Oh, little kids. We drop Paul in the Owls, and Ms. Jojo makes her usual fuss over you. You burst into the All Stars, ready for action.

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Winnie, June, DaRong, and you, crafting.
Winnie, June, DaRong, and you, crafting.

It’s a typical day, so far as we hear. I collect you at 5, and you and Paul hop around on the stumps for a few minutes before we load up. You request a story on the ride home, as usual, “and it’s a long one.” I deliver Elsa rescuing the Cars characters from a swimming pool, which we’ve been riffing on since we watched Kiki’s Delivery Service last weekend. At home, we gather some giant fallen leaves from the driveway on our way inside, which you turn into a headdress/magic wand. You eat some pasta and apples for dinner, then sit on the front porch for a mango push-up pop. Yum.

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You and Paul are sticky now, and it’s 97 degrees, and we need to water the plants, so, naturally, you both strip naked and we hook up the sprinkler. You dance in the sprinkles while Paul swings in the hammock (and, yikes, presents his tender toddler-flesh to a dozen ravenous mosquitos). We head inside, warm up, and get ready for bed.

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It’s few pages of Richard Scary’s Big Book of something or other, and a Dad-story to close. He tells you installment number 4 of Smaug’s Treasures (rubies, and “economic revitalization,” I hear as I’m leaving the room). You and Paul—mostly Paul—attempt a few post bed-time escapes but return to bed pretty amiably, and by 8:30, we’re probably all asleep.

a day in your life

To Annie: this is how you spent the day you turned 4 years and 5 months old.

You and Paul are full of energy this morning, bursting out of your room and giggling under our bed. We keep it playful, and I “find” you there again and again. Your morning list proves difficult to execute with your body under the bed, so I build an Annie out of your clothes and accessories on the floor, and when you’re ready to emerge, you put them on. A special surprise is a new bracelet I’ve strung with for your unicorn charm.

Breakfast downstairs is banana muffins and fruit, and then you load up in the car for a Dad ride to school. He’s playing the Lion King soundtrack; you approve. Dad and Paul drop you in the All Stars, where you eat yet more muffins and fruit for breakfast and check your correspondence. You and your friends have been making piles of notes and pictures for each other the last couple of weeks, and your art drawer is full of them.

Your teacher writes: Dot Art. She is also telling me about how Mom fixed her bracelet.
Your teacher writes: Dot Art. She is also telling me about how Mom fixed her bracelet.

The Spanish teacher comes to your class, and you and your classmates sing the “Buenos Dias” song, adorably.

Lunch is “pizzadillas” with canned pineapple and corn. You eat most of it, and, according to the records, actually nap for a couple of hours.

Your afternoon is a mystery, but scattered rain storms might have spiced it up for you. Thanks also to that rain, it takes me 40 minutes to drive from my building to get you, so you and Paul are the last two at the Center, hanging out with Principal Paula at the front when I roll in at last.

Fortunately, traffic on the highway has eased up by 6:15 when we get there, so it’s a pretty quick trip home. We have a nice, chatty dinner together, as you munch on fruit and eat your cheese into the shape of the sun and moon. You’ve been learning about the planets at school, and we talk about them, and how they also have moons, and how many. Paul poops and we all have a jelly bean. At 7 we head upstairs to get ready for bed. You are sucking your jelly bean into oblivion and thus reluctant to brush your teeth. So we do everything else, and have a nice long hairbrush, and you whisper in my ear about your nightmares last night. “One was a shark, and one was a wolf.” We talk about how dreams are one way your brain makes sense of everything it’s learned and done that day, but thank goodness they’re not real. You brush your teeth.

We’ve missed the reading time Dad has had with Paul, so you climb right into bed for a story. You request one about, no joke, poop eating poop. I manage to work in a unicorn and, for the happy ending, a very well-fertilized forest.

Goodnight, goofball.

a day in your life

To Annie: this is how you spent the day you turned 4 years and 4 months old.

At 7:05, you come in our room for morning hugs, then make me a pretend smoothie for breakfast and get dressed and ready with Dad. Downstairs, you and I make a real smoothie while Paul stays away to avoid the loud blender noise. We add a side of mini-pancakes, or as you’re calling them today: lion ears. You continue your practice of inhabiting the characters that disturb you, and have been pretending to be a hyena for a week or so now, ever since The Lion King became your go-to movie. (Just to connect the dots in case 4-year-old logic doesn’t translate: Hyenas eat lions, in your mind, hence lion ears for breakfast.)

Over breakfast, from the table, you call out to inform me: “Mom, every time I do something, it feels a little harder, so I think I’m flying.” Sounds awesome.

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It’s Saturday, so after breakfast you climb into your stroller and request all three pairs of your sunglasses—which you never wear, but maybe today’s the day. We buckle in and head for the trail, enjoying signs of progress on Little Stacy Park renovation. It’s hot on the trail, and Sous can’t swim thanks to deadly algae, but at least it’s early, and there are a few clouds. You and Paul have saved some toast for the turtles, and we also meet a new family of nutria, our pond’s cutest invasive species.

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You ask for stories, and Dad and I offer the requested plot summaries of The Lion King (you make me tell this twice since I tried the highlights-only version on round one), A Christmas Carol (“why do we only watch that movie at Christmas?), the Boy Who Cried Wolf (we introduced this one for its “stop whining” moral, but you’re clearly just in it for the wolf), and The Tortoise and the Hare. I hold you up to a break in the construction barrier to check out our other playground-in-progress at Butler Park. At the taco truck, you eat in the stroller so you don’t have to put your shoes on.

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You and Paul bomb around the house while Dad works in the yard. We execute a modest art project. At the grocery store, you sip on a half-ounce sample of juice for 15 minutes and help me find supplies for Paul’s birthday cupcakes. From the cart, you load items onto the check-out belt and ask to push the buttons on the credit card machine.

We have a quick lunch—cherries, cheese, corn nuts—and wish Paul a good nap. You and I call Susu to wish her a happy birthday, and you fill her in on all your major news, including receipt of a sweet card and pictures from Auntie Peanut (thank you, Peanut—they loved them!!). Then it’s to work: we have cupcakes to make. You do all the scooping, stirring, and egg cracking—anything I will let you attempt, which means anything not sharp or hot. We make a mess baking and then move onto frosting. Adding the food coloring is big fun.

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I’m beat, so we sit down for one episode of Doc McStuffins before Paul’s up and you’re back at it, racing toy cars around the house and pitching each other ever-evolving pretend scenarios. I dabble but mainly let you run it together. Dad returns from an errand and suggests a visit to the wading pool for 45 minutes before it sinks in. I help you into your suits and wave goodbye.

The pool is crowded, but you are ready to swim. In your goggles, you get your head under water and your feet off the ground and kicking. First swim??? Let’s call it. You’re home an hour later and into dry clothes for a dinner out. I motivate you through the change by offering Paul the chance to open a present before we go. He selects the box that includes a turtle-themed bracelet for you both. You don’t wait for the offer, just pluck yours out of the box and slide it on. We’re out the door.

Tonight we’re trying Matt’s El Rancho, Austin Tex-Mex institution and apparently where to find Republican party members in central Austin. We could have been in MY hometown. But the food is pretty good, and you and Paul are champs in a noisy and hectic environment. I happen to have quarters on me and introduce you to a gumball machine. You chew a giant ball with determination and grit. Paul eats his.

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I teach you how to keep your napkin in your lap and eat your ketchup with a spoon instead of sucking it off your finger. Mother of the Year. You actually really do great. A year ago in this environment you would have gone to pieces; now you’re a pro.

Back home, you and Paul take a shower with Dad, who gets you thoroughly clean. You “teach him” how to scrub the glass, and then diligently wash and rinse a dozen tiny toys. You’re winding up for a frenzy, but we manage to lure you into attention to a couple of books: Your Body Belongs To You (ironic as you had to be manhandled into sitting still for it) and The Grouchy Ladybug. As I tuck you in, you tell me, “The sooner we go to sleep, the sooner it’s Paul’s party!” Dad ends the night with a lively encore of The Tortoise and the Hare. You pop up one more time to pee, and then, the end.