So there’s a baby coming. He or she — we haven’t asked, gives us something to look forward to — is due in April some time, probably later than sooner. And the family will get larger, and the house will get smaller, and the third row of the van will get more use, and my memory will continue to wear and fray around the edges and creases. I am, after all, nearly 50.

So maybe now is the time to start writing again. I won’t remember this stuff forever. If I don’t write it down, I rarely remember it for longer than a week.

Sarah, for what it’s worth, is doing well. She’s uncomfortable, but she looks more lovely than she did on our first date, which is saying something. The kids couldn’t be more excited, even if they don’t know what they’re getting into. Mia wants a little girl that she can mold and dress. Max wants a girl too — someone who won’t take his stuff. Whatever, they both want a little something — a new toy. Could even top the pet that Mia’s been begging for.

Yeah, time to start writing again.

It had been seven months since I took the training wheels off the bikes, and for seven months the kids shunned them. Didn’t go near them, wouldn’t join me at the park to ride quick streaks down the grassy hill or slow circles around the basketball courts, wouldn’t even let me mention them. So I gave in. The training wheels went back on. They weren’t ready.

But of course, they were, and they are. And today, I haggled them into letting me take the trainers off – not for good, but for three runs down the hill. Just three, and then they’d go back on. I had suggested four. Mia wanted two. We compromised. No tears.

They stayed off for eight runs. Eight runs each kid, and I swear, Mia was riding on her own, pedaling her way across the soccer field before spinning to a stop in front of the goal. Max, meanwhile, flipped over the handlebars halfway down his second run, scuffed up his belly, and burst into tears. And went for another six runs.

Man of my word, I put the extra wheels back on when they were done, and they agreed to do it all again tomorrow, three runs at a shot. Then we rode back to the basketball court, where we practiced our set shots and they did slow, confident circles from stanchion to stanchion.

***

Back home, Sarah was busy dreaming up these masterpieces, which she made and decorated for and with the kids. We made calzones too.

It gave us something to do before the cake.

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There was a brushfire in the hills on Sunday, and as we sat listening to the roar of the fire planes passing overhead, Max told me all about an unfortunate (and apocryphal) scuba diver who got sucked up into the belly of one of those planes and dropped directly into a blaze.

“W. told us about it,” he told me. “They found him in a tree.” Mia, sitting next to him, nodded solemnly.

“Wow,” I said. “That sounds like a lousy surprise when you’re scuba diving, doesn’t it?” They both concurred, and we observed a brief, respectful moment in honor of the not-really-fallen aquatourist.

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And then Mia looked up and said this:

“Daddy, W. told us that once, there was someone scuba diving and there was this fire, and when one of those planes came to the water to get water to put out the fire, the scuba diver got sucked up into the plane—”

The fact that I was laughing must have distracted her from her story, because she stopped mid-sentence.

“Wait,” she said. “Have you heard this story before?”

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“Daddy?” she said.

“Yes Mia?”

“I just noticed that I have a booger in my mouth and I don’t know why.”

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Awesome, I know. I’ve told Sarah that if I’d known just how funny these people were going to be I’d have made them way sooner, and it’s true. And this exchange, delivered with such a guileless, How about that? expression of discovery, was just perfect, so much so that I wanted to – had to – wipe it on my sleeve, and save it for later.

She’s still a little kid, of course. I need to remind myself of that sometimes. Not that there’s any real confusion, not with her still-missing front teeth (fourteen months and counting), or the way she seems utterly incapable of grasping the notion that I can’t follow a phone conversation when she’s standing in front of me asking for permission to wear feet pajamas. Some things just jump out.

But we’ve had her for so long now, and she’s changed so much, that it’s hard to imagine that we’re still at the beginning of the arc. She’s four years from middle school, ten years from college. She’s halfway to high school. Soon she’ll develop a life entirely independent of us. She’ll push away, as she should. Boys will happen.

I squint and grimace and turn away at the thought. It will all happen eventually, and it should all happen. But I’m not always great at letting go. I’m not always great at marching forward. There’s a lot I’d like to put off. So the unexpected discovery of wayward boogers is a relief. She’s growing, but she’s far from grown. We’re not there yet.

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There are other comforts. We were at the park back in August. We were early for camp drop-off, and she asked if we could go to the playground to wait. We had 10 minutes to play, maybe 15. She explored the play structure while I hid in the half-shade of the latticework above the picnic tables.

She called out to me. “Come play with me.”

I demurred. The heat, Mia. The heat. It had been mid-’90s and sticky all week, and the last thing I wanted to do was chase Mia around a Habitrail.

“But why are you wearing long sleeves?” she asked, and she had a point. I have to go to work, Sweetie. I’m going after I drop you off.

“Oh,” she said. “Is it dress-up day at work?” In a manner of speaking, I suppose it was.

She clung to me that day at drop-off. That week, actually – all week, she held on when it was time to let go. Nothing heartbreaking – she just squeezed my hand and pulled me close and asked me not to leave her just yet. Not yet. And I didn’t.

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She still leaves the house in mismatched outfits with her hair a bird’s nest, completely oblivious to convention. She still asks me to close the guest room door because the green light blinking on the wi-fi router scares her. She still sleeps with Pig and Other Pig clutched close, and she still needs a night song and a butterfly massage before she’ll do it. She still asks me to stay a minute, just a minute, to snuggle.

There will come a time when I’ll deliver her to school, or send her off to bed, and she’ll dart away. I know it’ll happen, I know it has to happen. I just hope I’ll know enough not to hold on when it’s time to let go.

Because there are already days when I miss her childhood, and it’s still here.

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0904-spaghetti-monster

I made spaghetti hot dog monsters for the family last night, but only Max had them for dinner. Sarah tasted one – it was a favor to me, since I needed someone to verify that the pasta was cooked through – and she probably loved it, though she didn’t say so explicitly.

Mia also tasted one. Shortly before dinner was served, she announced that she didn’t like hot dogs anymore, and anyway Mommy served hot dogs the night before, so she wanted something else, and she got it. But she did ask for one of them, late in the meal, and then she smothered it in catsup and turned it into a bloody spaghetti hot dog monster.

Max, though, he ate them and enjoyed them, as you can see. I too enjoyed them, far more than I expected to, though I didn’t eat them. Next time they’ll have eyes, if I can figure out what to use and where to put them. Capers on the side of the dog? Peppercorns? Penne? Perhaps.

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As entertaining as Max’s meal was, it wasn’t sufficient to keep him glued to his seat. That’s a thing – neither kid seems willing to sit down in a chair, in front of their plate, during a meal. Mia is the worst at this – I have seen her stand on one foot, bent sideways at the waist with one elbow on the table, stretching her body a good three feet in order to eat a plate of macaroni and cheese. With her bare hands.

I thought it was just our kids – perhaps Sarah visited a barn while they were in utero? – but I’m told by good friends that they’ve seen the same thing play out with their children. It’s not easy to understand, this insistence on raising the degree of dinner difficulty. The pile of macaroni on the floor after every meal, on the other hand, is.

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We’ve long known that Max leans vegetarian, spaghetti hot dog monsters notwithstanding. He regularly skips the chicken fingers or hamburger patties or meatballs on his plate, opting to stick with the pasta. Now from Sarah comes news that he made her shoo a spider outside rather than swat it, pointing out that spiders are, after all, living creature.

Just a data point. Maybe it’ll mean something in hindsight.

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Max: When will I die?

8 Ball: Ask again later.

Mia: Will I have a good dream tonight?

8 Ball: Very doubtful.

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Max: Is a meteor going to hit the earth?

8 Ball: Without a doubt.

Max: Will I ever lose a tooth?

8 Ball: You can count on it.

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Mia: Will Mommy and Daddy ever have another baby?

8 Ball: Yes, definitely.

Max: Is that true?

8 Ball: It is decidedly so.

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Mia: Will Daddy grow back his beard?

8 Ball: It is certain.

Max: Why are you a ball that talks?

8 Ball: Ask again later.

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