Gotta Catch ‘Em All!

So. You might have heard about this “Pokémon” thing sweeping the world. It’s called Pokémon GO, and it’s an augmented reality game. Chances are good you already have an opinion about it – whether it’s “That’s so stupid, why would anyone waste their time on something like that?” or “I don’t understand these technology things” or possibly “GOOOO TEAM MYSTIC!”

I say, "Gooooo Team Mystic!"
I say, “Gooooo Team Mystic!”

I was a late adopter to the game. It came out on Wednesday, July 6. I didn’t install it until Friday, July 8.

That week was a grim week during a grim month. Coup attempt in Turkey. Bombings in the Middle East. Police shootings – on both sides of the gun – here at home. My Facebook page was full of heartache that week: both mine and others. And there came a point where I just started feeling numb and overwhelmed. My coping mechanisms just weren’t up for the drumbeat of sorrow this summer has brought.

And into that week came an augmented reality game built around walking through your community catching the Pokémon living among us. Is it any surprise that it overtook Twitter for active monthly users in the first week? That Friday, I stepped out into the long, late evening walking hand in hand with my sweet youngest son (whom I’ve dubbed the walking Pokédex). In this, I was the learner, and he the teacher. “That’s a flying type Pokémon.” “Oh, that’s a good one mom. Eevees can evolve into many different types!” We walked and walked through the weekend (I got a crick in my neck). And we weren’t alone. There were teenage boys as you would expect. But there were teenage girls, too. There were some older folks, walking in the identifiably Pokémon tempo, stopping to catch those Pidgies. And there were other parents like me, walking with children like mine. In fact, I’ve met at least three other parents of my sons’ classmates, out with their kids, while I was walking with mine.

Stoneham Common packed with Pokémon players
Stoneham Common packed with Pokémon players

I’ve had some great conversations. There was the big brother there with his three siblings. He was a young, black 20 something guy. I wouldn’t have known how to start that conversation in June. In July, I could just ask which team he was on, and get to know him. There was the epic, over-powered teenager who works two jobs and spends all the rest of his time walking around taking down gyms. I’ve offered tips to grandparents who are slightly embarrassed to be caught in pursuit of an Oddish. And I’ve become both conversant and interested in something my sons are passionate about. And I’ve done all this outside, in the soft summer evenings, walking for hours.

This isn’t my first augmented reality game. I played Ingress, the predecessor to this game. (Fun fact: all the Pokéstops and gyms were previously Ingress portals, but not every Ingress portal became a stop). I really enjoyed that game too, where you would battle between two teams to take control of portals and connect them. But everything that made that game less fun… well, the Niantic team should be incredibly proud. They really learned from their first experience, and blew it out of the water with this new game. (Of course, using one of video gaming’s most valuable franchises probably didn’t hurt.)

So, what is Pokémon GO, and what would you need to do if you wanted to play it?

Pokémon GO requires a relatively modern cellphone with both GPS and data coverage. While you can play a little with only wireless, it would be a frustrating and limiting experience. It did use a bit more data than my standard use, but much less than (say) streaming music. You can download it from either the Google or iTunes App Stores.

When you turn it on, you start by customizing your avatar (the digital representation of you) and picking a user name. Other users will see this name and picture when you do cool things, like defending gyms with your Pokémon.

Then you’ll get a chance to practice catching your first Pokémon. This took me a bit of time to figure out, but you basically fling the ball at the Pokémon with your finger. (No need to throw your phone or anything!!) Your first Pokémon you get infinite balls. After you catch your first, you get a bunch of gear. But every time you throw a Pokéball, you have used one of your collection.

So how do you get more gear? That’s what Pokéstops are for. Inside the game, you’ll see a map. That map represents where you actually are in the real world. (That’s why they call it augmented reality.) The Pokéstops look like lollipops scattered across a flat world. They’re most likely to be found in areas with interesting public art or attractions – like town squares or tourist locations. You get gear from a Pokéstop by clicking on it so it takes your whole screen, then spinning it sideways. The stop will “drop” gear. (You don’t have to click on each piece, you can just close the stop and it will all be added to your gear.)

In addition to Pokéstops, you may see multilayered, colored things (more rare the Pokéstops), with cool characters on top of them. Once you hit level five, you can start interacting with these gyms. At level 5, the first time you go to a gym you’ll be asked to pick a trainer. This is where you pick your team. There are three: Blue is Team Mystic, Yellow is Team Instinct, and Red is Team Valor. (You may soon start seeing people wearing clothes with weird logos – each team also has a logo! Adam just brought me home a Team Mystic t-shirt from Gencon…) You can’t really change your team after selection. Blue is the most common, Yellow the most rare.

With gyms, it depends on whether the gym is your gym, or an enemy gym. If it’s your color gym, you can train one Pokémon from your deck against the gym. It can be really hard to make it through more than one or two! But if you defeat your friendly Pokémon, you get XP (which helps you level up) and the gym gets stronger.

With an enemy gym, you pick a team of six Pokémon to fight. There’s some strategy here. For example, fire type Pokémon (like Magmar or Flareon) are vulnerable to water type Pokémon (like Gyarados or Vaporeon). It’s ok if you don’t know that at first – you’ll have a suggested set of Pokémon which are usually a pretty good choice. But it can be fun to argue with your kids about which order of Pokémon to attack with. The strength of the Pokémon are called “CP” (combat power). The higher, the better they are at attacking! They also have hit points, which indicates how much damage they can take before they faint. Pokémon who faint can be revived with the clearly named “revive” medicine. Wounded Pokémon can be healed with potions.

The last important bit is the eggs. Eggs hatch cool, powerful Pokémon. But you can only hatch eggs by putting them in your incubator (click on the egg to do that) and then walking. Eggs can be 2km, 5km or 10km. You only make progress on them if you move at a speed of under 10 miles an hour while you have the app open – so I mostly work on hatching them when I’m out and actively playing.

There’s quite a bit more in the finer points… how to attract wild Pokémon, how to encourage Pokémon to stay captured once you’ve thrown your Pokéball at them, etc. But the game is designed to teach you by playing – and to encourage you to share tips with the players you meet along the way.

No game can cure the ills of the world. It is just a game. But when I’m outside, walking with my son and meeting people in my community… I’m not fixed on the sorrows of the world. I can enjoy the things that are funny and silly and light, and remember that the world contains much more than sorrow.

Unlike Grey, I have not yet caught a Pikachu
Unlike Grey, I have not yet caught a Pikachu

PS – if you can’t figure something out on your Pokémon GO game, I’m happy to help!

The perfect age of boy

I remember when Grey was about three months old. He’d just started smiling. I looked over his fuzzy head to my husband and said, “I wish I could just freeze him at this age. He’s just perfect.” I wished it again at a year, and at three years (each time thinking I’d been foolish the last time – he’d clearly only improved). Granted, there were a few times in the life of each boy I haven’t wished to freeze them in place (see also: Thane at 4, Grey at 6), but so far I’ve really enjoyed my sons.

This last week or so was a particularly great time to be their mom.

On Friday, I installed Pokemon Go. I mean, everyone ELSE in the office was playing, and I’d really enjoyed Ingress. It’s, um, a touch addictive, so I happened to mention to the boys. Which explains why I spent hours this week, walking around my town with my youngest son, consulting my living breathing encyclopedia of all knowledge Pokemon related. (Seriously, these kids are amazing. They can rattle of the evolution paths, types, relative rarity and stats on like hundreds of different Pokemon. This may seem like arcane information until they’re out of their minds excited because you caught an Eevee, which can evolve into any type!)

Thane and I walked along the waters of Spot Pond for two hours today, trying to catch water type Pokemon. We stood in the twilight, and listened to the wolves in Stone Zoo howl to the waning crescent moon, while catching yet another Ratatta.

Serious Pokemon Expert
Serious Pokemon Expert

Thane will have considerable time this next two weeks to display his astonishing expertise to me. This afternoon, on a cold and drizzly day, I dropped my eldest son off at Camp Wilmot, with four other good friends by his side. It was a very gray day, and a very long ride in the car. About an hour in, he said, “Mom, I appreciate you doing so much driving. I appreciate everything you do for me. Thank you.” Awwwww. I think he’s actually gotten more affectionate as he’s gotten older, and better sees what it is that his parents do for him. I’m going to miss his good company over the next two weeks, very much.

Even though he was more than ready for me to go, and invited me to depart _several_ times before I actually went. There’s loving your mom, and not wanting to look too much like you love your mom at dropoff time.

I’m under strict instructions to write regularly, and to send a care package with his father’s bread in it.

The camper, very ready for his mom to depart
The camper, very ready for his mom to depart

You can see pictures from our 4th of July Camping Trip, and this Camp Wilmot dropoff! Enjoy!

Screen free camping

For the eight year in a row, as Memorial Day has come around, we turned the car northward to New Hampshire to go camping. I marvel every year that Thane has done this literally every year of his entire life.

The waitresses here know us, and remember when Thane was a baby. One time, they kept a lost item of ours between camping visits for us.
The waitresses here know us, and remember when Thane was a baby. One time, they kept a lost item of ours between camping visits for us.

Usually, the kids play on their screens on the car rides while we’re camping. Well, and in the mornings while mommy sleeps in. (Let’s talk about things I’m really, really bad at: mornings.) As their screen tastes have trended less towards DS games and more towards top 10 Youtube lists, Vines and those gawdawful addictive freemium games, the whining about the fact there’s no wifi in camping has ramped up a notch. In fact, I’ve been increasingly unimpressed with what they use their screenful time for. At least video games are problem solving. Watching other people play video games? Mmmmm…. And those freemium games are just click click click “Mom can I buy some gems with my allowance?” (Ugh. No.)

My children like to read, but it’s not their first choice activity. Their first choice activity is screen time. They only read when they don’t get to do screens. I wrestle with this. I love reading. Adam loves reading. The kids apparently read voraciously at school. But they don’t lose themselves in their rooms for hours working their way through novels. This makes me sad. I really don’t think watching other people play video games is as rich an experience as, say, reading Lord of the Rings was for me. (Which I read when I was Grey’s age.)

Ice Cream & Book
Ice Cream & Book

After a particularly whiny session in which the kids argued about who got which iPad and complained about the lack of wifi, I told the kids I was thinking about a screen free camping trip (I heretofore unheard of concept). And then we decided to do it. Better yet, our camp site was out of cell coverage, so Adam and I also put away our screens. And we all spent four days doing other things.

I prepared for this by making sure everyone had lots of books. A heavy stock-up trip to The Book Oasis was the bulk of the material, with a top-up trip to White Birch Books mid-trip. We also stopped at Toys-R-Us with an amount that the kids were to spend on toys that didn’t require screens. Thane got a Lego set. Grey got a Nerf Gun. Adam got a Nerf Gun with which to pelt Grey. I got a mocha at Starbucks.

I also prepared myself for the massive amounts of whining I expected. “I’m bored!” “There’s nothing to do!” “I hate this – I wish I had screens.” I practiced my lines in the mirror “Being bored builds character.” “Go read a book.” “If you don’t have anything to do, the dishes need doing.” “How can you be bored when you have this beautiful camp site to play at?”

You know what? I hardly needed those lines at all. Grey spent then weekend nose-deep in The Mysterious Benedict Society which is on the Stoneham Fifth Grade Reading List (which in an awesome small town moment was sent to me by the owner of the Book Oasis). I read it after him, and I have to admit it’s a very enjoyable read.

He enjoyed spending time creating with his Legos.
He enjoyed spending time creating with his Legos.

Thane dove into Tashi. I keep overestimating Thane’s reading level, and it’s been hard to find just the right books for him since he finished The Magic Treehouse series. He tried a few others, and did a great job of keeping count of the words he didn’t know to identify his just right reading level. But he loved Tashi, and I loved the fact that when he’s reading, he can hardly hear you talk.

I, uh, could take better pictures from the ground. That's it. (I'm not afraid of heights, but I didn't love the torsion on my knee.)
I, uh, could take better pictures from the ground. That’s it. (I’m not afraid of heights, but I didn’t love the torsion on my knee.)

In addition to time spent reading, we did a bunch of fun adventures. We did a great ropes course that Thane is now just tall enough to fully participate in. (I am also tall enough, but between my knee and my lack of upper body strength, I had less fun than the boys did.) The boys rode their bikes around the campground. We rented innertubes and as the mercury cracked 97 degrees we floated our way down the Saco, splashing together and really enjoying each other’s company. And yes, we did the rope swing pictured in the link above, but I didn’t bring a camera since I don’t (yet) have a waterproof one. We hiked to the top of a granite cliff (the course of the biggest screen free meltdown as Grey opined that we were completely wasting a day by hiking). The boys biked around the campground, and built a fort in the boulders behind us.

Grey had exactly 0 fear
Grey had exactly 0 fear

It was idyllic. I feel like the children grew a lot even in so brief a time.

Of course, now I’m caught on the horns of a dilemma. I never want to bring screens again – this was perfect. But I also don’t want to punish the kids for their great behavior. And they do see screen free time as a penury. So now I have to figure out how to talk them into doing it again for the 4th of July!

Looking over Echo Lake
Looking over Echo Lake

Easter Weekend updates

This weekend felt like the first time in WEEKS we’ve all been together. (I know it’s not true. It feels true.) I went to Seattle, then I went to California for nine long days. Then I went to Madrid. Then Adam went to Seattle. The busy times are tailing off, but not over. We have another weekend of apartness coming up. I have a customer coming onsite (which is very time consuming, if not as bad as traveling). But the light at the end of the tunnel is growing.

Learning to speak in math sentences
Learning to speak in math sentences

Big news this weekend came from the Russian Math department. Thane has shown a great passion for math, over several months. He LOVES to get a new concept and will go on at length about how much he loves math. The other day he calculated a fraction faster than either Unka Matt or I could. But he’s not so much into doing worksheets at school of the various concepts… so how to support him? It turns out there’s an advanced school about five miles from our house. (Maybe less.) I took Thane in for an evaluation on Thursday. The principal was very impressed with his acuity, and welcomed him into the advanced class with no prior tutoring needed. She’d like to see him in the competition team this summer, which sounds super fun, except for now I’m afraid that I’m becoming “that parent”. I just want to be the “that parent” who supports their child’s interests, not the one who demands genius ahead of joy. So we’ll give that a shot for a few weeks, and then decide about the summer.

Lined up and waiting to go hunt!
Lined up and waiting to go hunt!

Saturday was just lazy and lovely. It started with the annual neighbor egg hunt. (The moms had stuffed the eggs the night before.) The kids crawled all over the hill and the grownups clutched our coffee. Grey has grown two inches this year. (I last measured him on his birthday.) I watched the “big boys” (ten year olds), mine with the white and blue-checked Easter basket I bought him when he was born, and wondered how many years we have left of Easter Egg hunts. I tried to enjoy it extra, just in case.

Grey, reclining with eggs and loot
Grey, reclining with eggs and loot

In the afternoon, we went for a leisurely hike around the Winchester reservoir. I brought the foraging book with me for the first attempt of the year. It’s still very early for even the early early spring stuff. I thought I might see some wild garlic or ramps. We saw neither on our trip, but we did find a huge patch of wintergreen. We’d seen something earlier that I THOUGHT was wintergreen, but it didn’t have the identifying minty smell so we passed it by. My caution was vindicated because it wasn’t wintergreen, this stuff was! We carefully harvested a very small amount of a very large patch. Of course, I hate mint and it sounds like the most useful thing to do with wintergreen is infuse alcohol so… well… it was fun to gather. I have it soaking in water to see if we can make a weak sort of infusion. If I’d gathered more I could’ve made a jelly, but I didn’t.

Bridge building
Bridge building

The Easter celebrations in our church were good ones. We are still a little raw from loss, I think. This was our third pastor in as many Easters. But there were pancakes and music and children and cries of Alleluia! We had a superb dinner with friends afterwards, which was oh so good in both food and company. I learned a lot about Danish wedding customs!

How was your weekend? Did you enjoy the pascal celebrations?


I have pictures of the weekend which you can see here! If you’re particularly strong of stomach, I recommend the video of Grey reciting his “poem” with the classic refrain “I shall not pee. I shall not pee.”

Kiss me and smile for me

If you had to sum up your objective in raising kids, what would you say? What’s a one-sentence goal for parenting? I think mine is something like this, “Raise healthy happy humans who make a positive impact in the world, and who are capable of full financial, emotional and personal independence.”

Saying goodbye to brother and father
Saying goodbye to brother and father

Basically, my job as a mom is to make it so my sons, when grown, do not need me. (Hopefully they’ll want me, but that’s another story.)

Clearly, to my mind, this doesn’t start when they’re 22 and turning the tassel on their cap for their BA. It probably doesn’t even start when they’re 18 and walking across the stage to the sound of their name in cheap rented polyester robes for the first time. It started a long time ago, and the work of that independence is in full force.

The long airport waiting
The long airport waiting

I’ve taken steps to encourage this all along. The kids have walked to school – about 3/4ths of a mile along a major road – pretty much every day this year. Grey has gone to sleepaway camp two years now. The kids have regular chores they’re responsible for, and just last week I trained them on how to do the dishes. (Not that I followed up with the educational experience by having them do dishes by themselves…)

He was, understandably, nervous
He was, understandably, nervous

But this weekend marks a major moment. I’m putting my ten year old son on an airplane for a transcontinental flight. (His first question when I told him, “Will I have wifi!?”). I’ve never done this before. The whole unaccompanied minor thing remains a mystery. (I love the advice to give my child a cell phone and credit card. Um, no. I’ll pack some really nice snacks instead, ok?)

Waiting to board
Waiting to board

He’s going to spend February break with his grandparents in Washington. So far I’ve heard of a major financial outlay for Poptarts. We’ve loaded his laptop with the software he wants and figured out authentication for Minecraft when we aren’t present. We’ve got a backpack and a computer case packed. Laundry is being done in support of the rest of the packing. And before dinner tonight I’ll wish him well and walk him to the gate and kiss him goodbye.

In most circumstances I would say “And then I won’t see him for a week.” But things are complex now. My grandmother’s health is very rapidly failing, and it’s not unlikely I’ll see him in California for a funeral in this next week. Death is hard to predict though, so there are almost two branching plans in my mind, with a great moment of uncertainty. I’ll talk more about that later.

He did not look back
He did not look back

But all these things help build independence. The trip across the country. The packing. Even the sudden change of plans and brush with mortality. They help turn a child into a boy. And lay the groundwork for a boy to grow into a man.

The weary traveler
The weary traveler arrives at the gate

Sound the trumpet

Trumpet and reading
Trumpet and reading

Many of you know that the most important part of my life in junior high and high school was trumpet. One day early in sixth grade, in a wooden band room in a mountain town, most of the sixth graders in town lined up to try out and pick instruments. There was a guy from the band instrument company there with samples and paperwork. (I remember him distinctly – he’d lost his vocal cords and had a voice box which was both gross and fascinating to my young self.) My school was pre-feminist. There were still strong gender lines – for example the default schedule was by gender and put kids in either home economics or shop based on whether they were a girl or a boy. The gender lines held strong and true in band. Girls played flute, clarinet or maybe saxophone. Boys played trumpet, trombone, drums and maybe saxophone.

But I picked trumpet. It was likely – I can hardly remember – an iconoclastic move on my part. I wanted to be different. I did not want to conform to the strong expectations laid upon me. I probably also liked trumpet – I can’t remember? But my sister had played trombone so I couldn’t play that, but I wanted to play a brass instrumet. Trumpet it was.

A boy and his new trumpet. OMG.
Grey’s moment picking his trumpet

This was one of the most important decisions of my life. The boys made my life pure misery. I got back in the only way an undersized girl could – by kicking their rear ends in trumpet. I got invited to play in a small youth symphony (the school superintendents wife is an orchestra conductor, and their daughter who was like five years older than me drove me to the rehearsals an hour away). I loved it. I thrived on it. By the time I graduated I was playing in an excellent youth symphony (that produced many professional musicians among my friends). It was the great passion of my youth, and a kindling of life-long pleasure. I still play my trumpet, primarily at church these days.

My attempts to raise brilliantly musical children were not successful. Piano lessons were met with indifference. Guitar lessons led to some of our biggest blowouts. I knew that winds – introduced last in life due to the physical requirements of playing them – were my sons’ last chance to open the door I’d so enjoyed, but given our track record I tried to keep my expectations low.

The whole band thing was a complete pain to arrange. The band practice for the fourth graders is at 4 pm at the school. School gets out at 2:40. The absolute only way this could work was for us to arrange school afterschool on Mondays (the one day a week they have practice), so Grey’s week is now completely mixed for where he is when and we have two pickups this day. But by gum, I was going to give him every chance.

Grey's first day on trumpet.
Grey’s first day on trumpet.

He started really strongly. I was super pleased he picked trumpet because it was a place where I could really help him. He asked me to give him lessons, and when he did I gave him my complete 100% attention and praise for every piece of minor progress. I think it actually helped that I’m pretty good, since I could tease out the scraps of what he was doing right from the blatty noise of a kid learning trumpet.

After a few weeks, when he was doing really well, he started agitating for “his own” trumpet. I recalled that process from my own youth. I first rented a trumpet, then got a very cheap very bad trumpet from the Sears catalog – of all things. Then my parents bought me a good “starter” trumpet. Then (and I still don’t know how they managed to afford this) they bought me the slightly used silver Bach Stradivarius that is still one of my prized possessions.

I set him a goal. He’s excellent at pursuing goals. If he practiced 50 times, I’d buy him a trumpet. Thinking about Christmas which was about 6 weeks away, I added that if he practiced 30 times before Christmas that would count too. My hope was to get him in the habit of practicing, and to get him past the period where he couldn’t actually play anything with the motivation of this carrot. That second goal required him to practice all but about 5 days between the setting of it and Christmas.

Grey's practice log - he practiced 30 times in exactly one month.
Grey’s practice log – he practiced 30 times in exactly one month.

He practiced *every day*. Some days he practiced twice. (I didn’t set the bar too high for how long he would practice – even five minutes counted but practices had to be separated by time.) He got extremely good for a 10 year old who’s had the trumpet for two months. And last weekend I found myself at a local music store, proudly forking over the cash for the “good starter trumpet” variety of instrument.

Proud owner of a new trumpet
Proud owner of a new trumpet

I’m trying REALLY HARD not to put too much on this. But I’m incredibly proud of my son for what he’s done so far.

Here he is playing Jingle Bells.

A theme from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is his favorite piece to play.

Good King Wenceslas is a good addition to the young trumpter’s repertoire.

The warm woods

The December weather was astonishingly temperate
The December weather was astonishingly temperate

The weather this winter has been exceedingly unwinterlike. It’s barely dropped below freezing since the thaw finally came last winter. The powerful El Nino that holds us in its thrall is bringing late September temperatures to a December-dark world. So much so that our activities last weekend were a hike and a bike ride. I had thought we’d put the bikes away for the year, but I was wrong!

The hike was more adventurous than anticipated. We started at about 2 pm, with about two hours of good daylight, with an unambitious course. I wanted to visit Doleful Pond, mostly because it’s named Doleful Pond. I also wanted to see the remnants of the old trolly line decaying above Doleful Pond. That section of the Fells is criss-crossed by unmarked trails. It’s easily the most-lostest section of the Fells. But I had not one but two maps! We would prevail! Grey stopped and sketched an interesting section of trees.

The artist at work
The artist at work

As we course corrected (despite my preparations, we had managed to be on the wrong trail. Sigh.) I saw a woman being held up by a man and limping badly. I called out to them and we booked it down the hill to see if they needed help. They did. She had badly broken ankle. We were 3/4s of a mile from any road access. I called 911 and then took off with Grey to guide the emergency responders to her location. Adam kept the backpack and got her foot elevated and worked to keep her from going into shock while we got help. Grey and I made excellent time to the trail head – but it served to make it clear to me that there was no way we were getting her out that way. (I actually slipped on some of the trail and have a livid bruise to show for it now). We met the fire crew and paramedics at the Bear Hill entrance. We drove partway up something that was generously marked as a road but that quickly became impassible to even to their manly 4 wheel drive. (Even under the circumstances I thought it was pretty cool to ride in a fire pickup through the Fells!)

A strange procession
A strange procession

We didn’t get nearly far enough. I led the crew the rest of the way to her on foot. I hadn’t realized just how much of first responding was improvising. As the paramedics stabilized her ankle, my maps became invaluable as we tried to find a better way to carry her out. That was my biggest lesson: maps can be the most critical first aid tool you have. They finally got her on a backboard and carried her out of the woods, and our stories diverged again.

Watching nervously
Watching nervously

The boys did an amazing job. They were both upset by her injury. But Thane was excellent in the role of comforter and care-taker. Grey’s feet had wings as he went with me to find help. I was really grateful, in a strange way, for this chance to show them how it is we should respond when need arises for helpers to help. I also felt really, really glad for the comprehensiveness of our first aid kit and hiking gear. It was a great reminder why we never go into the woods without it.

We walked out – never having seen Doleful Pond – just as the sun was setting.

She’s been in my prayers since. I hope that maybe the bone wasn’t broken at all? I hope her healing is fast, and that we run into her again on some trail in the Fells.

Thane turns 7

My almost 6 year old
My almost 7 year old
How I still think of my Thane
How I still think of my Thane

I find my youngest son an absolute delight. Thane is an extremely sweet child. (It’s funny how that can simultaneously be true with a phase that finds the word “poop” HILARIOUS.) He is incredibly affectionate and snuggly. I accused him the other morning of stealing my snuggle pills in order to become more snuggly. Showing that he’s internalized our attempts to instill a growth mindset, he replied, “I haven’t been taking snuggle pills, mom. I’ve just been practicing.” And so he has. I’m treasuring every moment that he leans that cheek on my shoulder.

Thane loves his medallion
Thane loves his medallion

It has been interesting to watch his early inclinations and gifts flower into more grown versions. For example, he can still put together a puzzle like a boss. But that intense focus and physical understanding have been turned to more abstract things. He’s approached Pokemon with a scientific mind to put Linneaus to shame. He’ll lay out his stacks of cards sorted by type, carefully reading each, and memorizing the (extensive) evolution paths. He can spend hours with them, quietly singing or talking to himself, and laying out his cards. I’ve been thinking how nice it would be if there were, say, Geography cards that made learning something useful as easy and engaging as it is to learn something that will be less helpful when he’s 30. But his learning skills are growing, regardless of subject.

Thane loves math. He’s probably better at mental addition and subtraction than I am. He doesn’t have multiplication tables memorized yet, but has good strategies for getting to the answer. He can do some division. He is in first grade. I have sought out some mathematical problem books that are age appropriate, but not things he’ll be spending the next three years learning. So far, he’s learned how to be gracious and appropriately attentive in a class where he’s already mastered the key material, and his teachers have done a good job of supporting his interests.

Possibly my favorite moment
Possibly my favorite moment

He also loves to read. This spring, he turned the page on his reading ability and started picking up chapter books. He then methodically worked his way through all 53 books in the Magic Treehouse series. Interestingly, it was REALLY IMPORTANT to him that they be read IN ORDER. Through his hard work and attention, he made sure that happened. Since he wrapped that up, he hasn’t really started another series. But I’ve discovered he will read more or less any book I leave next to his book at bedtime. Muahahah!

One thing I’m struggling with is that Thane, well, doesn’t prefer the name Thane. I intentionally gave both my boys names that were proper and normal. The names on their birth certificates are great names, but I love their nicknames. It’s hard to even call it a nickname when many people who know my sons don’t know their proper names (although I do trot them out when they’re in trouble…). But at school, Thane has opted to go by Nathan instead. Now, I love the name Nathan. It’s one of my favorites. And so far he hasn’t asked that I change what I call him. But I find myself sadder than I would have anticipated to think of NOT calling my sweet boy Thane, even while I remember that this is exactly what I thought about when I first laid a name on my child.

Thane at Soccer
Thane at Soccer

This year, Thane has played soccer. He’s pretty decent for his age group. He’s played goalie pretty well a few times. I’ve been impressed by his attention to his task, and his physical durability. The primary things he’s working on are a) not falling down all the time b) being aggressive on offense. He is still tall for his age – at the 91st percentile for 7 year old boys. He doesn’t seem to notice pain very much. The other day he took a playground swing to the face (leading to a doozy of a black eye!) and didn’t even cry.

I mean, I'd cry...
I mean, I’d cry…

Thane loves Pokemon, board games, books and his brother. (The two of them are thick as thieves.) He is self-contained, but so loving. He can be shy (which surprises me every time), and incredibly goofy. There are few things in this world I find sweeter and more precious than this beloved child of mine.

Gaming with his daddy
Gaming with his daddy

Grey turns 10

Milestone birthday don’t come much bigger than 10. There are only two times in life you can change the number of digits in your age – and the second is hardly guaranteed. On Tuesday, Grey experienced that first one. He took it well in stride.

Let the games begin
Let the games begin

I’ve been thinking a lot about my eldest son lately. (As opposed to normally, where I think about my kids all the time…) The who of him is coming through clearer and clearer. At the same time, I’m seeing growth and changes in some of the ways I’ve most deeply hoped. He’s an incredibly complicated kid, with a richness of personality that he will spend a lifetime uncovering and revealing to those he loves.

And therein lies the rub. As I sit in front of the keyboard wanting to tell you, his fan club since the day he was born, who he is I find myself constrained. Because increasingly it is his story to tell, and not mine. A mother is a terrible point of view character in the hero’s story, and he’s becoming ready to be the narrator in his own adventures. So I’ll run all this past him first. Still, here are a few observations on my first-born.

Doing his homework with stuffie help on Library/Pizza night.
Doing his homework with stuffie help on Library/Pizza night.

1) He’s deepening his ability for hard work
This has always been an area where Grey has had work. Early on, we ran into challenges with things that were hard: guitar, soccer, homework, chores. In the last year or so, I’ve watched a profound change in Grey where he’s started to be able to shoulder his load without complaint. He has played hard at every soccer game and soccer practice. Not once this year has he stomped off the field because he’s too tired or worn out. I think his body is stronger, but his mind is much stronger too. He has taken on trumpet and is fighting the heaviness of the horn, the relentlessness of practice and the hardness of doing something you’re bad at. And he’s embraced it. His homework this year has gotten for real. He has 7 different things he needs to do every school night, and they take over an hour. Understand we don’t get home until 6 pm. Dinner isn’t ready until 7. Bedtime is at 8:30. Have over an hour of homework in that span means he gets very little “downtime” at home. But he is doing what needs to be done, often with grace.

2) He has some great friends
Friends are one of the great protective elements in life. In my life, the friends who surround my days are peace of mind, fun, and a warm sense of belonging all wrapped into one. Grey has some deep and powerful friendships (even if listening to them you become convinced that 90% of the 4th grade brain power is Pokemon-centric). And I must say that the friends he’s picked for himself are exactly the friends I would pick for him. They’re kind, low-drama, fun, cooperative, smart and well behaved. Mostly. I watch them walk together and see how their shoulders just casually bump into each other, and see a group of boys who have each other’s backs. That’s what I would wish for my son.

These four are quite a tribe.
These four are quite a tribe.

3) Grey is incredibly emotionally astute
I might spend my time observing him and coming to poetic observations. But the truth is that he does the same to me. The richness of his emotional vocabulary is astounding – and kind of scary. I wonder how someone who feels as deeply and powerfully as he already does at 10 will deal with his first heart break. And he is knocking at the door of the next stage of his life, when we feel most deeply. But at this moment, I am just in awe of his empathetic understanding.

Sliding down the sides
Sliding down the sides

4) I really like my kid
Of course we love our children. But it’s an extra special bonus to like our children. I really enjoy spending time with Grey. He’s funny and thoughtful and kind. He knows things I don’t know. (When does that start?) Sometimes I find it hard to put him to bed because I’m enjoying spending time with him. (Also because bed time is hard right now – he’s having trouble falling asleep which leads to a tired kid and a cranky mom.) He can beat me at board games. Grey is simply good company, and I love spending time with him.

Here are pictures of his birthday celebration, plus our apple picking Saturday!


Greys 4th birthday writeup
Grey at 5
Grey’s 6th
7 – the year of Legos
How did he get to be 8?
Nine years, not nine months

The trumpet shall sound

I was strictly rationed on how many pictures I got during the rental.
I was strictly rationed on how many pictures I got during the rental.

In my imagined version of what it would be like to raise children, those children picked up where I had left off with music. They loved to sing before they could even talk. When I introduced early piano lessons, they spent hours dedicated to wringing skill out of their fingers. They practiced guitar until their fingers were red.

Those were not the children I got. They sing – but only when no one can hear. Practicing was a huge struggle when we tried it. They just weren’t ready.

In first grade, arguments about practicing guitar were frequent and unpleasant.
In first grade, arguments about practicing guitar were frequent and unpleasant.

Now with music, there are different entry points. The world class violinists start at 3 or 4. The pianists 5 or 6. Even Thane is probably too old to be world class in some instruments. But… a child is physically too small to play a brass or wind instrument until they’re around 10, which is perfect since that’s much closer to the age at which a (normal) kid is more ready to spend long term focus working on a remote goal. (Well, at least my kids.) So although I’ve watched that particular parental daydream disappear – along with any girl-daydream and my quiet dark-haired poet daydream – I prefer my actual real children over my daydreams.

But my parents thought I was not very musical after years of piano lessons in which I didn’t really focus or practice or excel. And then I hit trumpet and the world was a new and beautiful place and music took a central place in my life. So, there is hope.

And then, last Tuesday, a huge moment came. Instrument rental night. My last best hope for a child to follow in my musical footsteps.

A boy and his new trumpet. OMG.
A boy and his new trumpet. OMG.

Now, I tried really, really, really hard not to make this too big a deal for Grey. I casually asked if he wanted to do band. (Please note: band is at 4 pm on Monday afternoons. School gets out at 2:20. So I had to switch Grey’s afterschool to school afterschool instead of Y afterschool on Mondays to make this work. SO MANY LOGISTICS. What a terrible time for a working parent!) Then I lightly inquired if he’d thought about what instrument he wanted to play.

“I want to play trumpet!” – words every parent wants to hear.

When asked why, there were many answers. “It only has three buttons! It’s the easiest!” “I love how it sounds.” Then in a quiet, vulnerable moment… “Because I want you to be proud of me.”

Ah. How clearly our children see us. It breaks my heart a little that my son is searching for ways to win my approval, as though it is some elusive and difficult substance. But yet… he is right. I cannot stop my heart from glowing that he picked my instrument. He’s asked me to teach him, and begged me for lessons every night since. I am not sure I have ever seen him more excited than he was the night we went to get his instrument. “I’m not actually sure I’ve been more excited myself, mom.”

I hear him working his way through to “Hot Cross Buns”. I remember a little girl on her front porch, some 27 years ago, doing the same. And I can only hope that he has as much joy of his instrument as I had and still have of mine.

Welcome to brass, my son.

First trumpet lesson: posture and hands
First trumpet lesson: posture and hands

Enjoy some pictures of both King Richard’s Faire and rental night!