a day in your life

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

You pop up this morning raring to go, clad in a girls-fit Halloween shirt with sequined jack’o’lantern and your standard track pants. You claim to have brushed your teeth—questionable—but we elect to take your word. Downstairs you and Annie launch a play world, but agree to pause for a waffle and yogurt. While Annie does kindergarten work, you and Dad make paper airplanes.

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Dad drops you at school. You’ve brought the airplanes: one for you and one for friend Shae. At 9:15 Annie joins you after her annual check-up, and at lunch you are dismayed to discover it’s the sandwich which used to be the only thing you liked so we ordered them forever and now you hate them. Ah, life. You’re engaged in some sort of circle game at pick-up.

Home, you bustle in and are delighted to find blackberries on your dinner tray. You trade me five peas for one of mine, and save one tiny seed to plant so we’ll always have plenty. (We do not, alas, actually plant the seed.) Annie invites you to the bathroom to tell you a secret, which pleases you. You finish the fruit parts of dinner and ask to be excused.

It’s time to jump on the couch, which you haven’t done in so long I’d hoped you’d forgotten about it. And of course you need the White Stripes, “side D.” Annie finds some of Dad’s rejected neck gaiters in the give-away pile, and these become costume pieces. You rock out.

Couch jumping evolves into obstacle-course building, which you two collaborate on and lay in a track all the way to the downstairs closet. There you create a nest we will later discover to be a disaster, but keeps you happily entertained for at least 20 minutes. Overheard: “Now I need a TRILLION pillows!!” You emerge and decide it’s time for an airplane ride on my feet, and carefully position me so that, without any risk to my person, you can pretend to knock me backwards from sitting and then launch into the air. “No tickles but high,” you specify. Yes, sir.

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Unfortunately, during the nest-build Annie cuts her foot on something, and screams in fear of the blood. We manage to get it bandaged, and you get in on the post-war-wound soothing video, an episode of Nature Cat via Dad’s phone. Then it’s upstairs. You brush your teeth, really this time, and make it clear you’d much rather be playing with your cars and helicopter than listen to stories. Dad lets you take them into bed while I read and you ignore The Great Kettles. You stay reasonably near bed, though, for the story and then afterwards. You flip through a book about the planets and ask me which planets have rings, and how do they get rings, and could the Earth have rings, which causes me to talk about the moon exploding, and then Annie to ask whether the Earth could explode. “No,” I say firmly, then, “Okay, goodnight, I love you!”

I see you again at 8:45. Annie has accidentally awoken you with some elaborate plans to act as the toothfairy and leave you treats under your pillow. (This is the secret she was telling you earlier.) I soothe you back to bed…and assist her with execution at 9:30.

a day in your life

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

You’ve slept well, and emerge into our room still groggy at 7:10. Dad and I take turns snuggling you as you wake up.

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You’re extremely hungry due to rejecting dinner last night, so ask if I can help you with your clothes and teeth so we can get down to breakfast asap. Of course! We dress and descend. You tell me I can pick what’s for breakfast, so it’s sort of the end of a few bags of cereal, mixed up. Yum. Also some yogurt.

You and Annie decided yesterday you want to be the first to school, and everything is smooth sailing, so you depart with Dad at ten till 8 and are delighted to be the second kids there. There’s a fiesta at school today to celebrate the beginning of spring, with Venezuelan-themed snacks. You play and play.

Dad picks you up, too, and at 5 you and Annie ring the doorbell, pretending to be delivering packages. Actually, you are the package, and I sweep you up in a hug, “my favorite delivery of all.”

You’re giddy with the possibilities of home, and bounce around between options for fun (the swings! a new box to play in! painting that box!) before settling on, no surprise, a level of the robot game while dinner finishes cooking.

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At dinner, you turn to me and ask, “Do you know HOW I learned I had super powers?” “No, how??” “I could pick up a WHOLE HOUSE.” “A whole house??” “Yeah, OVER MY HEAD.”

You decamp to the swings with your push-up pops for dessert. Finding an ancient deflated beach ball partially filled with water, you return and ask us to fill it up, all the way, with water. Dad declines and smuggles it to the trash while you return to romping.

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It’s Friday and movie night, so we pop some popcorn and fire up The Incredibles, which you mostly follow. Super heroes, man, they’re all over the place.

During the movie, you turn to me and share: “Mommy, do you know what my car looks like? It’s rainbow polka dot, and it has two projectors on both sides, and a turbo jet on top, AND it can get clean with a lightning bolt. It doesn’t even need to go through a car wash!” Awesome.

We head up to bed at 7. Brush teeth, change clothes, and read the customized books Nanny Charly got for you both years ago. Annie executes a sun salutation with Dad while you and I lie in your bed-tent-cave, and you tell me about our super powers. You are Lightning Storm, who fights storms by creating new suns that pop the clouds. Whoa. I am Superman, you tell me, and I save people from fires. There is a lot more. You could go on. At 7:35, I extract myself, and Dad reads a chapter of DogMan. Spirits remain high. It’s going to be a good weekend.

a day in your life

To Paul: this is how you spent the day you turned 4 and a half!

Today would have been your Friday Valentines party at school, but instead we are enjoying the headwinds of an arctic air mass. The streets are covered in ice, and school is closed. You appreciate this news, and, accustomed to proudly stating your age as “four and a quarter,” you are also keen to hear that today you are four and a half! We celebrate with cupcakes for breakfast. At your request, I make you and Annie ribbons of honor to announce your age to the world. Off to a strong start.

You and Annie jump into some play together: you set up camp in a tent, and she delivers presents to you. This breaks down after about half an hour, and you persuade me to feed you yogurt. With Annie, you embark on a cooking experiment involving water, a cherry, and lots of mashing. It ends messily.

To get out of the house despite the cold, cold weather, Dad to take you to the grocery store, where you happily procure fruit and tortillas and even more yogurt. Then it’s time for some screen time while both of us are in meetings: your pick is Super Hero Elementary.

A peanut butter and banana sandwich makes a late lunch, and you run back to watch Annie play the Playstation 5 tutorial game, the first video game either of you has shown sustained interest in playing rather than watching. It’s pretty cute. Dad supervises some rowdy play, and helps you both build an art center and a yoga center. Annie persuades you to explain how you do magic (“I poof it out of my hands.”) and your secret recipe for magical things (sugar, water, flour, and grow powder). You are dismayed to have revealed this secret. (“Annie made me say what I didn’t want to say!”)

It’s 4pm, and movie time. You settle in for Tinker Bell, and then we roll right into The Jungle Book for an encore. Dinner is mac and cheese. Dessert is, oh wait, we had dessert for breakfast. But popcorn, we eat that too. And a little bit of Snoopy. Ah, snow days.

We hustle up to bed, and you indulge in a little racing around on your way to bed. I read you I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, and say goodnight.

You and Annie are not quite done. When I peek in on you at 9, I find your campsite. I take a picture, and tiptoe out.

a day in your life

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

At 7:05, you parade in cheerfully, and make an announcement: it’s snuggle time. You scooch right into bed between Dad and I and let us both cuddle you close. Annie is still in bed, and you are quite content to have us to yourself. You ask for my help getting dressed, and I bring you clothes and your toothbrush. We head downstairs.

You are determined to prepare breakfast yourself. You hunt for the dried mango in the pantry, stack up mini-pancakes into two towers of four, and carefully punch the microwave buttons to cook them. Triumphant, you tuck in.

Annie joins us and you have seconds. You bop around the house while she listens to her kindergarten teacher on the tablet. When it’s time to load up, you climb the counter to retrieve your daily vitamins and head out to the car with me, declining a jacket. It’s 30 degrees outside. You joke around in the car while I hover at the door, trying to playfully persuade you to sit down so I can I buckle you in. Frost is melting on the roof of the car and dripping onto the back of my neck. We accomplish our mission. Dad drives you to school.

You tell us nothing about your day. Dad picks you up at the end of it, and you and Annie watch 10 minutes of Blippi (Google him) while I finish cooking. Dinner is tortelli, tomatoes, and cheese, and you put it away fast.

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Excused from the table, you launch into solo play, riding your firetruck around the house and talking to yourself. About 10 minutes in, you have crash-landed back by the table. I jot down the following exchange:

Paul: It seems like I’m always sad. I always have a sad face.

Mom: Mmmmm.

Paul: But I don’t know WHY I’m sad.

Mom: Hmm.

Paul: (flipping over and examining the firetruck ladder in your hand) But at least I have this boat!

And the ladder becomes a boat and you are off and running again.

You help me order groceries online from Costco—“of course blackberries”—and then agree to play upstairs. You and Annie start with running camp, doing tight laps around the inside of your room, and then evolve through a few other sports into ballet. Dad arrives. Swan Lake plays.

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Annie assigns you roles as a co-dancer and team doctor, and when our attention wanders from the performance, abruptly announces a game change to garbage trucks + throwing balls at each other. Okay, sure.

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Given that progression, it’s unsurprising that bedtime is a little wild. You sit in my lap for a book despite seditious Annie whispering in your ear that you should come run around with her. Dad has to threaten no story at all to get you in your beds, and after a chapter and a goodnight, you and Annie appear out of bed another time or two with additional demands. One is to hold you and sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, which I’m not unhappy to do, rocking you ineptly while your long legs dangle past my knees.

a day in your life

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

At 6:45, you are crying, loudly. I enter. You are in your sleeping bag on the floor, in a circle with Annie, Eleanor, and Riley, on the morning side of a sleepover. “Eleanor HIT ME,” you confide/accuse, tears in your eyes. “She hit me in the cheek. And she called me STUPID.”

Yikes, brother. I issue the verdict that Eleanor has made a bad choice, and ask you all to use your words and bodies to help each other feel good, not bad, then leave you again to your own devices. You all keep talking and playing. You start crying again, in a more performative tone, and we hear you say, “I’m going to KEEP CRYING until MOM COMES.” I decline to be summoned in this manner. We hear Eleanor apologize to you for unknown infractions. You calm down. The playing continues.

At 7:05 you all burst screaming into our room. The light, it turns out, has turned green. You all work through your short list, then assemble around the dining room table for pancakes and grapes and dried mango. Calories ingested, you get right back to playing, chasing each other around the house, pulling toys off the shelf, loudly denying Riley the right to play with your firetruck—the usual.

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After about an hour of this, we decide the walls can’t take much more bouncing off and launch a walk. You lead the pack down the hill, determined to go all the way to the trail. Fortunately, the empty playground proves a suitable distraction. There’s a man sleeping under a tarp at the entrance to the big slide, but otherwise many possibilities available to you. We head home in time to meet Doug and Kalia with a mess of breakfast biscuit sandwiches, and you fit in one last round of imaginative play, building a dinosaur world with Eleanor and Annie before they depart.

You are interested in a breakfast taco, so we make one together. You carefully tap the eggs to crack them, then squeeze them with your fingers until they explode over the bowl—aside from the mess on your hands, a suprisingly effectively technique. You eat your taco proudly and declare yourself ready for our Saturday morning walk. “FARTHER than Colibri,” and also “to the trail.” With those requirements in mind, we decide on our usual loop in reverse. You are riding your bike, and Annie’s on her scooter. All goes well until the downhill on Bouldin, during which you seem to be having a little too much fun at the expense of safety, cruising across streets without requisite adult accompaniment. At the bottom of the hill, consequences come due, and I basically pry your bike out of your hands. This does not land well. Some time is spent in reconcilliation activities. With assurances of safer practices and listening ears, we agree to another chance. We cross Barton Springs, and you tear off into the park, quickly out of range again. Oy.

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You continue to test the proverbial fence line until we’re nearing the final leg, then surrender your vehicle and ride the rest of the way home in the stroller. Phew. It’s 1:30. We’re beat, and give you over to the embrace of your tablet for an hour or so.

At 3:30, we continue our wildly social day with a masked, backyard playdate with Shae, a new friend of yours from school. Your initial reluctance gives way to great fun swinging and shoveling gravel and chasing each other in circles around the deck. (We enjoy chatting with his parents; his dad is a physical therapist at UT’s medical school, and in line to get the Pfizer vaccine in the coming week.) When you accidentally clobber Shae and retreat under the dining table for a shame spiral, I manage to redirect you with gift-making possibilities, and you reconcile over a handful of balloons.

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We say goodbye to them just before six, and head inside for dinner. While Dad and I dine on a delicious pot roast, you inhale half a cup of refried beans and eat a mango popsicle for dessert.

You sit in my lap for a few pages about road-building in Cars and Trucks and head to bed pretty willingly for the last chapter of Stuart Little. Stuart is driving in his mouse-sized roadster, heading north with a song in his heart. I say goodnight, close the door, and you wink out like a light.

a day in your life

To Paul: this is how you spent the day you turned 4 years and 3 months old.

For the first time since the time change 10 days ago, you sleep until 7. Accustomed now to half an hour of playtime before you emerge, you and Annie launch into some extended imaginings in your Pinky Store / Turtle Store playscape. You burst in around 7:20 to let us know the light has turned green, and Dad steps in to help with your preparations.

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Downstairs, you eat buttered toast, dried mangoes, and pear slices for breakfast, then request some sausage rolls that we happen to have left over. Sure. We grab Annie’s kindergarten tablet, and you help her add different numbers up to ten to turn in for her daily attendance; then I read you both a picture book at her request, Salty Dogs.

You LOVE math. And tablets.
You LOVE math. And tablets.

The pirate story, I speculate, inspires your subsequent rowdy behavior. Uncharacteristically, you declare your refusal to go to school and run around the house, squeezing into various hiding places. Under the kitchen desk, you pull the chairs together and tell me your door is locked.

Somehow we lure you out to the car. Dad takes you to school, and you tromp in. Here’s what you tell me about your day: “Shay played with me for the WHOLE day and NEVER stopped.” This is a good thing. “And even wanted to come HOME with me, but, the teachers made him not.” What did you play? “Me and Shay were the flies, and we got caught in a spider web, and the spider wrapped them up, and it ate them.”

You also make a pretty cool orca out of paper plates.

At 5:15, you throw open the front door. Paul is HOME! Dinner is apple, cheese, and some noodles that are flippin delicious. You eat the apple + four tangerines. Sigh.

We’re just finishing up dinner when, surprise! Aunt Camei walks in! You and Annie are thrilled, and immediately incorporate her into your plans to make carpet angels in the TV room, and then show her the deck and the slide and the swings, and then it’s a mandatory tour of The Pinky and Turtle Store(s). You head back downstairs wrapped in blankets: you are, I believe, Baby Prince Snoopy.

You and Annie have a little art time. You write your name on a chalkboard. Names, actually. “My first name was NO,” you tell me. Then, it was “O. M.” Then it was “P Y T,” and now, of course, it’s “P A U L.” Right on, kiddo.

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Bathtime. You’re happy to hop in the tub and show Aunt Camei how you can mix exotic coffee drinks with the colored bath drops. We cap off the night with a little Ruff Ruffman Show, and a few pages from What Do People Do All Day, one of the many fine Richard Scary books beloved by you and gifted to us by Aunt Peanut and Uncle Dan. Into bed, you listen to a chapter of Charlotte’s Web courtesy of Dad, wherein Charlotte weaves the word “Terrific” into her web.

family TV time
family TV time

Another terrific day. Goodnight, Paul!

a day in your life

To Paul: this is how you spent the day you turned 4 years and 2 months old.

You show up at 7:06, having slept hard and well after our weekend of camping. I offer a cuddle, but you tell us gravely that Annie needs to see us. We head into your bedroom to find her busily minding her “shop” of toys and assorted merchandise. You are her assistant, and taking your duties seriously. You politely request your five little doggies to make into a doggie train and industriously assemble some elaborate Duplo machines. When your doggie train delivers you a toothbrush, you use it, and head downstairs for breakfast.

You and Dad weigh out 25 grams of dried mango strips for breakfast, and then you plow through a few handfuls of frozen pancakes. It’s time for your run: you tell Dad you want to go wherever your toes will take you. Turns out it’s across the newly-renovated “secret bridge” across Blunn Creek. Nature calls halfway through, and you execute a subtle public pee. Good skill to have.

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School time. We load up, and talk on the way about learning to cook our favorite foods. Ms. Patricia meets you and Annie. You put on your mask without prompting and accept a dollop of hand sanitizer. Annie spritzes the bottom of your shoes with disinfectant, and you disappear into school. As usual, you have a morning Mandarin lesson. You later report, “We FINALLY know how to say thirteen. Shir-shan.”

You play and learn and eat and spend time on your tablet rather than napping. Usual day. Dad picks you up a few minutes before five, and I see you when you burst onto the back porch, where I’m paper-macheing a turtle shell for your Halloween costume. You consider helping but opt for the swing. You rejoin me in the kitchen while I finish up dinner, eating blackberries at the counter and posing math challenges for me. “What’s nineteen and eighteen? What’s four and four and four and four and ten?”

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Dinner is served: deep dish pizza, one of our pandemic faves. Annie proposes a dinner tradition like Max and Rose have, so we light a candle and hold hands and talk about something good that happened today. Yours: “I got to play with Shae for NINETY DAYS. No,” you correct yourself, “EIGHTY DAYS.” (Shae is, you told me this weekend, your favorite friend at school.)

Upstairs for a bath to wash the paint off your legs (who knows), and there is just time for an episode of Let’s Go, Luna, another wholesome educational offering from our favorite media outlet ever, PBS Kids.

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When it wraps, you ride a velociraptor (Dad) to the bedroom. You bounce off the walls for a minute before accepting Annie’s offer of a toothbrush, and to check out a book from the library in her store. Brown Bear, Brown Bear is your selection, an old favorite not tapped in some time. You present it to Dad and settle in. Book concluded, you race a couple of toy cars into your bed, and merrily play and talk to yourself while I read a chapter of a bedtime book. I say goodnight. “But I’m still working on a project!” you tell me. Despite this, I turn down the light and close the door, and Dad and I listen to you clicking Duplo together until you fall asleep. (She wrote, optimistically, ten minutes later.)

a day in your life

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.”

It's 70 degrees, so of course you need a blanket.
It’s 70 degrees, so of course you need a blanket.

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.

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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.

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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.

a day in your life

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!!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

a day in your life

To Paul: this is how you spent the day you turned 3 years and 11 months old.

We’re at the ranch! It’s been so long that the clock in your room hasn’t been switched for daylight savings time, so you and Annie spend a bonus 45 minutes playing in the top bunk, patiently waiting for your light to turn green. I finally get curious and discover you. Liberated, you head for the kitchen to see what wonders breakfast holds. It’s Susu’s pancakes, yum.

You and Granddad scout out the Pou’s storage closet for building supplies and return with good news: the lake is equipped for sand castles. The party sets forth, and you and Annie scoop sand with all the interesting shovels. You are in your element. You have clearly been holding a mental list of all the things to do at the ranch through the time we could not be here, and have marched through them with a singleminded focus since we arrived.

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Next up: a ride with Dad in the kayak. Check. Then a more leisurely float with Mom and Annie, check. Then back to the ranch for lunch. But first just a little racing cars down the slide. And burying things in the sandbox. And the playing with Annie in the hottub.

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We take a load off with a few episodes of Stinky and Dirty, right up your alley, and then you’re back on Little Kermit, doing laps. By this point, you are pretty darn tired. Yesterday at this time you declared you needed a nap and went off and took one (whaaa??), but today you descend into whines until we prop you up in front of the television again.

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We straggle through dinner and manage to bathe you. Cake for dessert. Dad reads you some things, administers hugs, kisses, and songs. You snuggle down in the bottom bunk, and fall asleep.