Kids with guns

Jonah woke up under the weather today, with a low-grade fever and a headache, and a lack of appetite that’s the opposite of everyday-morning-Jonah. We aren’t sure what brought it on because he was 100% himself all day yesterday, but I’m watching him sleep from where I’m sitting and have spent time alternately stroking his head and back and bundling him up in blankets throughout the day.

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Last night we attended a “crappy dinner party” at the home of some friends. It was raucous and lovely, a house full of kids (four of theirs, three of ours, and four belonging to another family) and was the first time that we’d met their oldest child, a sweet boy of nearly eleven. Jonah focused in on him as well as two other boys, and inquired about his nerf gun arsenal. Jonah couldn’t wait to show me the secret nerf gun cabinet (hidden in the wall of their midcentury modern home), and towards the end of the evening all but the two youngest children suddenly made the collective decision to play outside (despite the 40-degree temperatures).  Continue reading

A million jumbled thoughts about kindergarten

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Last night was kindergarten orientation, and I’m not ready. I’m not ready to have a big kid; I’m not ready for him to not be a baby any longer. I’ve been dreading this day for well over a year, ever since we attended last year’s orientation on the slim chance that we might send him early (but didn’t, because why rush them through their childhood if we don’t have to?). It was clear to us then that he was beginning to really thrive in his Montessori-style preschool and that he would do far better there for another year than in the outrageously disappointing public education system. But we knew even then that he’d end up in public school the following fall, because the public schools are a big part of why we moved here, and this particular public school is a part of why we chose this neighborhood. Continue reading

The meaning of quality time

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If things people write on the internet are a good barometer for the collective consciousness, absolutely no one was disappointed to see January come to an end. While the latter portion of winter is always rough for me, I don’t remember past Januarys feeling quite this gloomy. For much of the month I found it challenging to create magic or even come up with ways to spend time together that don’t involve folding laundry or yelling at the kids to stop vaulting onto the couch. Continue reading

Jonah at five

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You are five now, and in lots of ways I marvel at how much of who we are is clear from the very beginning, but in other ways I’m amazed by the ways you’ve grown and changed over the past year.

At five you seem a bit more sure of yourself, more willing to try new things (unless it’s food) even if those things might be challenging, you seem comfortable in your skin and where you are.

You’re also more patient and sometimes more generous. Gigi and Papa Doc got you a big new crane truck for your birthday, a toy that you said was, “the best toy I have” and one morning when Jude stumbled into the kitchen still sleepy, the first thing you asked him was, “Jude, do you want to play with my crane truck?” then turned to me and said, “he likes to crank it up and down.” When he inevitably did it wrong and pulled the string out of the spool, you walked over calmly and said, “he always breaks it.” Fixed it calmly, and went back to what you were doing, leaving him to continue his play. A year ago you would have yelled, perhaps grabbed him in frustration and anger. This is a beautiful turn.

Your independence is also growing and you’re much more willing to do things yourself without help, like picking out your clothes and getting yourself dressed (things you used to insist on help with). You seem quite proud of the things you’re able to accomplish, and it makes us proud to watch you.

You care about rules and how things are done or how they ought to be. You get upset when Vivienne sings the wrong lyrics to a song, or when someone plays with a toy or a game incorrectly (according to you). It’s clear that you’re detail oriented and truly believe that there’s a right and a wrong way. You remind Jude and Vivienne of house rules when they break them, and if someone forgets to switch laps at bedtime story time (the one who chooses the book sits on the reader’s lap) you remind everyone of the proper process. More often than not you do exactly what we ask.

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You’re compassionate. In the Detroit airport in the early morning you took Mama K’s hand and asked her to go with you to find a staff member to help some birds trapped in the terminal. When the man behind the bar told you that they have names and that he leaves food and water for them under the bar because they’re too difficult to catch, you were satisfied with his answer. I don’t know if any of it was true, but I know that you wanted those birds to be OK.

You can still be brooding and pensive and quiet at times, but when your friends came over for your birthday party it was almost a surprise to see the silly energy that they seem to bring out of you. When you’re with other little boys at school there’s a different goofiness in you, and it’s a fun new version of you.

You love books and being read to. When you opened a pop up dragon book for your birthday when we were in Charleston you stepped away from the chaos of the family party with your cousins to sit on Mama K’s lap while she read it to you. When a colleague of Mama K’s gave you and your siblings an early Christmas gift yesterday you said, “I hope it’s a book!”

You love to bake with us, and are proud of the apron that Gigi made just for you. Rolled sugar cookies with me, and apple crisp; pancakes with Mama K.

You love machines and different parts that can be linked together and tinkered with. Ropes or cords with a hook, things with magnets, strings with carabiners, suction cups that can be affixed to the ends of things.

More often than not you seem to really enjoy playing with your brother and sister. You play with them on the playground at school, and while you all fight sometimes, as siblings do, very often the three of you keep one another happy for long periods at home without interruption. Being a big brother suits you.

You’re still my baby in a few ways. Still a snuggle bug who needs to touch my belly whenever you’re feeling tired or cuddly. You still come find me halfway through each night, sometimes stroking my face until I wake up before asking me climb into your bed with you. You’re loving and kind and still like to sit in my lap. On the morning of your birthday, when I told you that I loved you you said, “Every time you say you love me I feel like the only cutest kid in the world.”

It’s hard sometimes to see you grow up so quickly, but I’m so proud of the person that you are. You’re the best thing I’ve ever done.

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How quickly time passes

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My first baby turns five a week from tomorrow, and I’ve been dreading it for some time now. Not because five is a horrible number, or because it means he’s reached some awful turning point, but just because time passes too damn quickly and I wish that he could stay little forever. I also associate the age of five with kindergarten, and I have all kinds of feelings about the kids graduating from preschool and moving into the public school system that I don’t exactly think well of.

I’ve also decided this week that I’m going to try to finally make the twins’ baby book as one of their Christmas gifts. I have a Chrome extension that allows me to have a to-do list on a new tab, and pretty much ever since we brought them home from the hospital it has said, “Start the twins’ baby book” but I have yet to start it; they’ll be three in February. So of course I’m going through old photos and of course those also include Jonah when he was tiny, so I’m feeling sad and nostalgic about how quickly they’re growing up. I’d also intended to make a year-one baby book only, but once I started looking through images I realized that they’re all in New York. So now I’m thinking that it needs to be a birth-through-the-move baby book, because I want them to remember New York (not remember it exactly, but you know what I mean).

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I didn’t start blogging until we were leaving New York, which means that while I did an OK job of capturing little notes about Jonah when he was tiny (because I worked on his baby book one month at a time as he grew) I still didn’t write a lot of narrative or get everything down. And then the twins came along and suddenly we had three kids under three and I stopped taking notes on anything at all. There are so many things that as a parent feel so significant and memorable about your children, and it’s astounding and crushing to me how easily they can be forgotten as time passes.

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It makes me feel like I can never write enough to record everything that I want to remember. Like the way Jonah, who has been very articulate since he was like one and a half, makes up words every so often by blending other words (and doesn’t realize he’s making them up) and they’re cute and funny and I never want to correct them. Words like “laundry hamster” (hamper) and “prickamore balls” (sweetgum seed pods) and “skyser” (geiser).

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We’re headed to Charleston for Thanksgiving next week, and the other night I was thinking about all of the people who will be there with their small children and I imagined someone throwing a child gleefully into the air, and I realized that I don’t know when I last threw Jonah into the air. When did he get too big for that? How long ago was it? And Kristin pointed out recently that Jude has stopped sucking his first two fingers and we don’t know quite when he stopped, or why.

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For years I’ve had anxiety about not spending my time in a quality-enough way, even well before having children, and while I’ve worked on moving past that fear and being more mindful about what’s happening right now, seeing how quickly children grow brings all of that fear back up again. I want to get it all right and I mess up about a million times a day and I feel like there isn’t enough time to get it right for them, and they deserve to have the best of us.

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This morning I ended up yelling and lecturing again, because no one would listen even though I asked them to do things like finish their breakfast and get dressed and put their shoes on a million times, and then Jonah told me as we were finally getting into the van that I needed to ask more kindly (something he’s surely heard from K and I over and over) and I just about lost it. Because I had asked kindly, dozens of times while they ignored me. And then we got to preschool and as I was helping Vivienne put her things into her cubby one of the teachers came up to me and said, “I just have to say, you are so patient with them, you and Kristin both.” I almost burst into tears. I thanked her, but admitted, “you should see me in the morning trying to get them out of the house.” She said that everyone yells sometimes, and I told her that being a mom is my absolute favorite job, even when I do lose my temper. She replied, “It shows.”

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I wish that I could slow down time though; I want so much more of this. And while I know that the people they’re becoming are just as wonderful as the babies that they were, I’m not ready to let this phase go.

Because I said so, and other insufficient explanations

Jonah’s teacher called me towards the end of the school day today to talk to me about a couple of incidents. This isn’t a teacher I hear from very often, in fact she pretty much only calls if Jonah hurts someone or is hurt by someone else (both of which are rare). Last year Jonah had a wonderful teacher who sent me photos every couple of days, updated me via text if Jonah made a new friend, and stopped me to talk about how Jonah was doing almost daily at drop off. I felt 100% confident that she understood who our son was and what his unique needs were and was doing everything in her power to support him and us. This year’s teacher has many more years of experience but hasn’t made as much of an effort to get to know us, which doesn’t help when she calls about problems.

The first issue was that Jonah brought a pair of binoculars to school (his own, which I allowed) and apparently hit Jude with them at some point, so a teacher took them away. (It’s worth noting that all three of our kids dispute this story, and have told me that the binoculars weren’t at all involved in the incident – that Jonah simply pushed Jude and it seems the teacher confiscated them perhaps just because she needed a quick punishment, which I’m not OK with, but I didn’t know that during the phone call). The teacher told Jonah that he needed to talk to her about what happened in order to get the binoculars back, he refused, so they were put up high. Later he snuck them down when she wasn’t looking, and they were confiscated again. I told the teacher to feel free to keep them until he did as he was asked and had a conversation about the incident.

I like to think that I’m not the kind of parent who will make every excuse on behalf of my child so that they’re never held responsible for their poor choices. A bad decision is a bad decision and sometimes there are consequences. I didn’t think that Jonah ought to get his toy back simply because he’d managed to maintain his stubborn position until the end of the school day. I told the teacher that she had our support on that one.

The second issue though, gave me pause, and made me wonder if I’m ever going to be able to fully buy into the norms and rules of the public school system. Music class came after the binoculars incident, and at the start of class apparently there was some dispute about where a good friend would be sitting (again, Jonah’s story doesn’t match that of the teacher at all and he’s not much of a story teller). The teacher claims that a good friend of Jonah’s didn’t want to sit next to him, and Jonah was upset about it. Jonah tells me that a teacher moved the friend because they were talking, which is a very different proposition. We’re talking about four-year-olds here. At any rate, Jonah was probably stewing over the two issues and chose not to participate in music, which isn’t entirely unlike him. He never liked music last year and it often took a great deal of coercion to get him to participate. This year though, he’s been better about it, but on this particular day it made sense to me that he was upset, and he chose to sit outside of the circle and suck his thumb. His teacher was clearly bothered by this.

I spoke to Kristin about it when she got home and told her that I was struggling to figure out how to talk to Jonah about music class because I couldn’t come up with a reasonable explanation as to why he needed to participate. I mentioned this to his teacher during the call, not by way of argumentation, but because I’d hoped that she might offer some early childhood wisdom that would help me to coach him. She told me that she’d threatened to put him in the other music class with the smaller children (which she knew he wouldn’t like), and I told her that I wasn’t sure threats were the answer, and that I’d like to come up with a way to intrinsically incentivize participation. I also suggested that I might mention kindergarten norms for next year, and tell him that in kindergarten he’ll be expected to participate. She responded that it wasn’t about kindergarten; if a teacher asks you to do something you need to do it. That was where she lost me.

Sometimes Kristin has a hard time removing her teacher hat when it comes to questions of school behavior (and parenting in relation to school behavior) but this time she was 100% with me. Neither of us feel that, “you have to participate in music because you have to do whatever the teacher says,” is a reasonable explanation as to why he ought to do something, nor will it do anything positive for his feelings about school or learning or music for that matter. Had he been running around the room or getting out toys that weren’t a part of the lesson or yelling or doing almost anything else at all, we might have felt differently. But sitting quietly just outside of the circle sucking his thumb? He was wrestling with big feelings and upset from just a few minutes earlier and he was trying to cope without bothering anyone or disrupting the class; where’s the problem exactly?

And this is where my dread about enrolling our kids in school begins to seep in. I just don’t think that this is how you cultivate a love of learning and experiences and curiosity in children. I want to raise children who know how to think for themselves, and are moved by things that they’re moved by, not kids who simply know how to listen to directions and follow them regardless of how they might be feeling. Jonah likes music at home; all three of our kids ask to have music turned on during breakfast and in the car on the way to school in the morning. You develop a love of music when you enjoy music, not when you’re told, “you’ll sing because I said so.”

I’m not suggesting that they ought to let him go do something else that he’d rather be doing, but if he chooses to sit silently and wait for the lesson to end, who cares?

So tonight I’m feeling sad and kind of angry about it, and it doesn’t help that Jonah turns five in a few weeks and for some reason that makes me want to cry. I’m not ready for him to be a kindergartener (which I realize won’t happen until next fall, but still, there’s something about turning five), partly because I want him to stay little forever, but also partly because I don’t have a lot of hope for the public school experience. I want to believe in it, but I just don’t. I went through public school and turned out fine I suppose, but I also developed study habits that were entirely about my grades and had very little to do with actual learning and curiosity. Even once I was in graduate school and had the self-awareness to know that my motivations were misguided I couldn’t seem to re-program the way that I studied. I want more for our kids, I want them to learn because they love learning, to discover passions because things inspire them, and to participate because life is more interesting that way.

I’m a pleaser. I hate to disappoint others and find it gratifying to help someone when asked, but I’m also someone who has always asked, “why” and needed a logical explanation as to why something ought to be done. To me, “because I said so,” just doesn’t hold water, especially when we’re trying to teach a four-year-old about the world.

Crying over lost chicken

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Two nights ago I went to bed quite late after a lovely family movie night (Moana), and found myself sobbing over a small stuffed chicken. I’d been losing sleep over chicken all week long, ever since we’d been unable to find him as we left for school on Monday, but this was the first time I’d cried about it. I lay there in bed fully cognizant that it was, frankly, ridiculous that I was crying over a lost toy when there were so many more horrible things going on in the world that were worthy of tears, but I couldn’t stop.

Parenthood is so strange and complicated and powerful. I become more and more aware of all of the baggage (both useful and burdensome) that we carry with us from our own childhoods, and even things that our own parents carried into ours. I have a thing about stuffed animals, I always have. I struggle mightily to view them like other toys and to this day if someone steps on one I wince and want to rescue it. I can’t explain this phenomenon exactly, and honestly I wish it weren’t the case. I’ve always hated The Velveteen Rabbit (do any children truly enjoy that story? Do adults?), and when we became parents I tried to avoid stuffed animals, because I knew that once we had them I’d never be able to get rid of them. But then everyone else started buying the kids stuffed animals and now we have dozens that no one plays with stuffed into bins and cradles all over the house.

Jonah never really got attached to a particular stuffed creature; he didn’t really have a comfort item per se (well, besides me). But Jude and Vivi like dolls and stuffed things more, and when Jude got this small yellow chicken in his Easter basket from Grandma Sue this past spring, he took to it. He’s taken it to school on a number of occasions, it travels with us, and he sleeps with it often (though he’s perfectly able to sleep without it, so it isn’t the kind of comfort item that many children end up with). He doesn’t necessarily ask for it every day, but he has been known to say, “I love chicken so much,” and it’s as adorable as it sounds.

When we went to Northern Michigan this past August, chicken came with us. When we stopped to eat lunch in a town somewhere between Traverse City and Mackinaw City, Jude insisted on bringing chicken in and somehow we left him. We were about 20 minutes away when suddenly, from the back seat, Jude yelled, “chicken!” There was panic in his voice. We turned around immediately, called the restaurant, and they retrieved chicken from the table and kept him safe for us until we got back.

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Chicken was probably just out of this shot, sitting on the table in the foreground.

When chicken turned up missing this week, I kept thinking of that restaurant and Jude’s panicked realization from his car seat. I also thought about my green pillow. When I was tiny I had a small green pillow (known just as “green pillow” much like chicken is simply “chicken”) that I took everywhere.

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I know, I look just like Jonah.

When I was still quite small it was lost somehow. Every night when my parents put me to bed I would ask them to look for green pillow, and they would assure me that they would; this must have gone on for months. I don’t know whether they actually looked for it, but probably not because I believe they told me eventually that it was left at a hotel. My parents have talked about this loss for as long as I can remember, but I don’t think that I’ve ever asked them how they felt as I went through it.

My dad has been writing these stories for me lately, memories from his youth about all sorts of things. (I’ll write about that another time, but it’s via Storyworth and it’s wonderful). I’ve noticed in his stories that seemingly small things, anecdotes that others might breeze past, still carry tremendous hurt for him.

We travelled to Kentucky Dam Village at Kentucky Lake and stayed in a cabin Tuesday night before heading to Iowa on Wednesday after breakfast. I recall this because we kids were given the opportunity to buy a souvenir of our trip. I picked out a straw hat with a red plaid hat band with the rim turned up all around. Not your typical souvenir but it was what I wanted. I think we bought it on Tuesday. Wednesday morning we had breakfast in a resort log type cabin restaurant that seemed similar to today’s Cracker Barrel but was a local establishment. We finished breakfast and hit the road for Iowa. I don’t remember how far we had gone when I realized I had left my hat at the restaurant, I just knew it was too far to go back.

Reading this broke my heart for the small boy in the story, and I can tell by the way my dad tells the story now that there’s something about childhood sadness in a moment like this that just hangs on and shapes you. There was this one too.

While in Peoria, I went fishing with my brother and sister and the other kids on the river and I caught my first fish. It was small but I was so proud. Bud and Frannie had just returned so everyone was at the cottage and I remember running up from the river to show everyone my catch. It was a small mouth bass and I recall Bud and my dad telling me it was too small and I should have thrown it back. My mother then pointed out to me that it was young and its mother was probably looking for it. I was crushed that I had taken this small child fish away from it’s mother for all eternity. I just bawled and ran out of the house and hid behind the large propane tank and cried and cried. I will never forget that day.

Do you ever wonder what your children will remember and what will truly shape them? My dad is so sensitive in such a beautiful way, and I know that I get a lot of my sensitivity from him. When he told me the fish story one day recently before having written it down, he cried. That moment hurt him so deeply as a young boy, and sometimes I’m overcome with fear that the mistakes I make with our kids may scar them in ways that never quite heal. I feel like I make at least a dozen potentially significant parenting mistakes every day.

I listened to a podcast awhile back (edit – found it thanks to Kristin) and the episode involved a scientist who also happens to be a parent. The scientist was talking about how much we change over time, not just in personality but every one of our cells. They were also talking about memory. We have memories of significant things that have shaped us, but every time we recall those memories we corrupt them in a way and they change ever so slightly. So even memories of our most significant times begin to change along with our cells. But memories from our very earliest years, we can’t recall those later in life. Most of us can’t remember anything from before the age of four or so. And so the researcher concluded that perhaps that’s one thing that stays with us as we grow. Those very early memories are incorruptible because we cannot recall them and inadvertently alter them, so perhaps they’re always there and always the same.

As the week wore on and chicken still hadn’t turned up, I felt heavier and heavier. Every day I’d comb the house again, go through baskets at preschool drop off just in case he’d been left there, ask the teachers to keep an eye out, and I started to worry that something terrible might have happened. Had he fallen out of the minivan and been left in a parking lot somewhere? With my stuffed animal neurosis that was more than I could take.

In families with multiple siblings it’s easy to feel like there isn’t a lot that truly belongs to the younger one(s), and that feels especially true when it comes to Jude. Vivi has such a big personality that she asserts herself and everyone knows what she likes and what makes her uniquely her. But Jude? He’s so easy going, so easy to please, and he’s happy to play with Jonah’s toys and take Jonah’s hand-me-downs, and to tag along with the things Vivi loves. There are so few things that seem truly special to Jude and that are his alone, and chicken was one of those few.  Despite the fact that Jude didn’t seem all that concerned about chicken’s absence (save for a tiny bit of upset on Monday), I could not let this go. Maybe in the back of my mind I knew that this was more about my baggage, my sensitivity, my worries about not giving enough of myself to each of my children, my attachments and losses, than it was about Jude’s. But I couldn’t let it go. An ocean of parental guilt washed over me when I thought that perhaps my carelessness had contributed to chicken’s disappearance.

At 11:30 on Friday night as I lay in bed sobbing there was no way that I was simply going to sleep. I got out of bed and grabbed a flashlight and began looking everywhere, again. Kristin seemed bewildered by my emotional state and need to find chicken, but she was incredibly gracious and took up the search alongside me. I went out to the van, I searched the basement again, Kristin searched our bedroom closet and Jude and Jonah’s drawers, we both went back into Vivi’s room where Vivi and Jude were sleeping (and where chicken is most of the time) and started going through everything again in the dark. I put my hand inside of the blankets at the bottom of Vivi’s mattress and felt something fuzzy: chicken. I pulled him out, whispered to Kristin, and then collapsed into her lap and cried.

Is this even the tip of the heartbreak-iceberg for any of our children’s lives to come? Of course not, so it’s the sort of episode that makes me wonder if my heart is even cut out for something as emotionally wrenching as parenting. Glennon Doyle Melton has a quote that I love: “We think our job as humans is to avoid pain, our job as parents is to protect our children from pain, and our job as friends is to fix each other’s pain. Maybe that’s why we all feel like failures so often – because we all have the wrong job description for love.” I know that I can’t protect my children from pain, and that doing so wouldn’t really equip them for the world anyway, but it doesn’t stop me from wishing that I could. I hate to think that my oversensitivity might leave them sobbing over a stuffed creature at midnight decades from now, or that someday they’ll recall a mistake I made or words I chose poorly with tears in their eyes.

The next morning, Jude danced into the room where I lay in bed with Jonah. He was holding chicken and he was smiling, and in that moment everything felt lighter. One tiny crisis had been averted, only a million more to go.

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Are you thinking, “that’s definitely a duck, not a chicken”? We know. At some point it was decided that it’s a chick and that was the end of it.

Ghosts of Halloween past

It’s almost October, which means that we’re preparing to kick off some serious Halloween costume crafting. Back in late August, Jonah really wanted me to buy “spooky stuff” for the house, but it felt way too early even if we did put it all away till October. Then September raced by, and suddenly I realized that I only have five weekends till Halloween and I need to get cracking. Even though I’ve had a theme in mind for the kids’ costumes since March, this week I’ve been thinking a lot about the costumes we’ve done in the past, as well as some sources of inspiration.

I’ve mentioned before that Halloween was big in our house growing up. I grew up in a spectacular trick-or-treating neighborhood where, even now, folks say that you can easily hand out 700 pieces of candy by 6:30 p.m. My mom always made costumes for me and my sister, and my dad always took us around the neighborhood while my mom stayed back to keep the porch light on for the other trick-or-treaters. I don’t have vivid memories of my mom working on the costumes, but now that I do it for our kids I can only imagine that hours of work that she must have put in. My mom has a much more low-stress approach to crafts than I do (plus she’s crazy talented), so last year I loved being able to work on costumes with her at night (since we were living in their house).

Last year we did Octonauts, because the kids were all really into the show. I won’t elaborate on it because that one has its own post, but I wasn’t blogging in the years before that so I’ll share a few highlights from other Halloweens.

The previous year, Jonah set the theme by asking to be a John Deere tractor. I wasn’t really going to try to make him blend in with the equipment, so instead I sort of made him a tractor driver, or a farmer if you will. That led us naturally into a farm theme, so I made Jude a scarecrow and Vivi a chicken (a rooster, I suppose is more accurate).

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I didn’t document the process for any of these, but for the most part they were all pretty simple. Not quick, but simple. While it’s hard to tell from the photo, Jude’s overalls had patches sewn onto them, with straw sticking out from a number of places. I made his hat from burlap and twine, put him in a flannel shirt and called it a day. Vivi got a TON of attention while we trick-or-treated. Her costume was actually just a feather boa loosely tacked around a white long-sleeved bodysuit, orange leggings, and some baby shoes hot glued inside kitchen gloves. My mom helped us to make her little hat with the comb on top. Jonah had a diaper box painted in John Deere colors (no, I didn’t pull any Pantone or RGB codes, but I chose as closely as I could from memory), with reflective tape for headlights and tail lights. He seemed pretty pleased with the result.

The farm was actually our second year of diaper box costumes, since the previous year Jonah wanted to be a bulldozer (once again, I went for “bulldozer driver/construction worker”).

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I was pretty happy with the way this one turned out, especially since it was my first box costume. The bummer was that when it came time for trick-or-treating, he wouldn’t wear it. I carried it the entire time we were out. He only stepped inside once towards the end of the night to let me take a picture.

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The year before that was Jonah’s first Halloween. He was eleven months old and had just begun walking, but was still in that in-between place where crawling was much quicker. He was also too young to choose his costume, so I made him an octopus.

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I spent many an evening sewing buttons onto tights, and while he was too young to trick-or-treat, we did spend the evening with friends and I was proud of my efforts.

There are so many extraordinary costumes out there, and while none of mine have ever come close to that level of artistry or originality, there’s something important to me in the process of making them. Earlier this week I was actually looking up something Christmas-related and went back to a blog that was probably the thing that made me dream of blogging someday. While it doesn’t appear to be operational any longer, Sweet Juniper was one of the first blogs about parenting that I read hungrily, many years before I ever had children of my own. It was also a blog about Detroit, and a family that moved there from San Francisco, so while we were still firmly planted in New York it was a welcome glimpse of what it might be like to move away from a big city on the coast back to the Midwest of our youth. But maybe most of all it was a source of inspiration for the kind of parent I could only dream of being someday. It was written by a stay-at-home dad who created the most magical childhood for his daughter and son through exploration, endless curiosity, and a willingness to build or craft just about anything you can imagine. They were the kind of family that made all of their Christmas presents by hand (for real), so naturally their Halloween costumes were outstanding.

I hadn’t given much thought to Sweet Juniper in quite a long time, but as I poked around on it this week I realized what gratitude I owe that father for sharing his parenting adventures with the world. Even before becoming a mom I knew that creativity at that level was probably not in the cards for me, but I do have to say that parenthood has brought out my willingness to try, and to end up with something imperfect and maybe unimpressive, but to still feel great pride that I gave it a go.

This weekend Jonah and I have a date planned to shop for Halloween costume supplies, and he tells me that he’s going to help me this year. I’d worried that I hadn’t chosen costumes that are interesting or unique enough, but now I feel like maybe it’s the perfect year to let Jonah have some control of the process. Too often I’ve let perfectionism get in the way, but maybe what matters most is letting the kids see how much fun creation can be, no matter what we end up with.