Raising Boys

To be 5 years old (with gusto) by Christina Rosalie

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2014-02-20 16.56.30

2014-02-20 16.56.23 You turned 5 (last Thursday!) with gusto. For the week before your birthday you kept asking when you birthday would be and then counting down the days. At night you’d wrap your arms around my neck and hug me close, and whisper: “My birthday is in____days.” And I’d say, “It is” and rub your nose with my nose and stare down at him completely disbelieving.
Remember how the time between birthdays felt like an eternity? Remember that sweet feeling of anticipation that last nearly until you’d burst? Would that we could still feel that luxurious stretch of time, easy and slow with the salty sweet of anticipation like taffy being pulled. Now the days have a staccato feel: dominos tumbling one after the other in a rapid-action blur. They come they go in an instant. I keep thinking, wait, didn’t I just turn 34? How am I 36? How did two years possibly pass? Let alone 5. Let alone, my last, my baby is 5 and not a baby at all.
When the day finally arrived, you woke terribly early, and in turn woke Bean and you both came tumbling into our room. It was a school day, so there was less snuggling in our bed than might have been had it been the weekend, and when we all made our way out to the kitchen your cheeks were flushed and rosy.
On the table, crystals and shells around his plate, a fat rose in full bloom, a birthday card from Granny sent in the mail, and beneath the table, leaning against a table leg a present (the first of several) in rainbow striped paper.
“Oh my gosh!” you gasped grinning, your body practically vibrating with glee. Yet you sat down and slowly opened the letter, savoring every bit of the delight, the envelope, the card itself, the small packet of zinnia seeds she also sent like colored suns.
Even with all your gusto and volume, you have this remarkable capacity for delayed gratification, as though you really understand what the moment offers. How it’s here to delight you only for now, and then it’s gone for good.
When you unwrapped the stripes you found a a scooter, like Bean’s but smaller. You’d waited four whole days since Bean’s birthday, hoping. Next you were a whirl of speed; a streak of delight. Then waffles, then backpacks, then school, where your kindergarten teacher put on a puppet show in celebration of your arrival on this earth, and we sat there with you watching; watching you among your classmates, sort of reeling internally with wonder. Five feels old. It’s the last year of smallness.
Oh time, hold still, hold still.
In the evening you were beyond ecstatic to get the “pirate stuff” you’d asked for, and went around the house decked out in mardi gras beads and a Captain Hook arm, yelling at the top of your lungs. Fearsome with your eyepatch, and so darling I just wanted to keep hugging you even when you squirmed free, and when Nonna and Poppy gave you their gift, you literally pumped your fists in the air with delight: a long coveted lego set. Something about a museum break out. Good guys and gad guys of course. Escape vehicles. Fire hoses. You and Bean became so absorbed he had to be coaxed back to the table for the ice cream cake you’d begged for.
So many candles blown out to mark the start of a new year around the sun for you, sweet little one.
You are my teacher of gusto and joy.

At the cusp between wonder and fact by Christina Rosalie

Bean is 9 - Christina RosalieTonight you made a fort before dinner: a quilt over two white kitchen stools, set up just so.
In went a metal tool box (your inheritance from my father) In also went your metal lock box: one you saved for and paid for yourself from the Barge Canal vintage shop on Pine Street where we go every so often, and you poke around, curious fingers in everything, always loving the things that come with lock and key.
Now you and your brother lie on your bellies, or sit cross legged, your heads bobbing up in the quilt. You light the room you’ve made by flashlight, and haul in 8 ball, assorted legos, and Honey Honey, your faithful alligator who has become your steady companion since we moved.

Bean Turns 9 - Christina Rosalie Honey Honey first arrived in a green box when you were four, in the upstairs hallway of our house at the end of the long dirt road. The box was on the old sewing machine table that we’ve since given away.
It said: Hello, I’m Honey Honey, and I’m here to go on adventures with you.
Before she arrived, you talked her often. You told me who she was, and how she could grow in the bathtub. You told me how she was magical.
Then she was there.
You’ve never doubted her magic---in the sweet, fearless way that children are about their beliefs. You know, and you don’t know—and you want to stay that way, at the cusp between wonder and fact.
You're wise enough to protect the magic that you love by not questioning too fiercely how the magic happens. Once, you left cookie crumbs on a small plate beside your alligator, and came back moments later to find them completely gone. “Ah ha!” you said.
I thought you’d call one of us out for nibbling them up, or possibly say, “See! That proves it!” but instead you said, “She likes cookies!”
Proof was never the point. You were simply interested in her dietary preferences.
In actuality your Honey Honey might really be a crocodile. She has a crocodile smile, but, to be sure, I’ve never been an expert on either. All I know is that she fits in the palm of my hand, and that the word FLORIDA is printed on her belly along with a set of numbers you declare is her birthdate and birthplace.
Who am I to argue?

Bean Turns 9 - Christina Rosalie Twice, she’s been eaten by the dog. Not eaten all the way—but had parts mangled. The first time it was her feet and tail. You cried and so I promised I’d bring her to the doctor, and she was gone for a week, and even more days after that you said, “Why is it taking so long? Is the doctor’s office busy?”
I said “Maybe there is a hippo in front of her in line to see the doctor. Hippos are big.” And I say something about how bandages take time to heal and you look terribly serious.
When she comes back, her feet and tail are, in fact, a different color: browner this time, than the green they were before.
You’re so glad to see her, you carry her on a string around your neck.
When we moved away from the only home you ever knew this summer, she rode with you like that, on a string around your neck, close to your heart. She was the only thing steady and for certain among the jumble of boxes and the bitter sweet confusion of grown-up conversations then.
There were tears, there was the ice cream truck, a new neighborhood, new bunk beds, and fields forever lost to you. Had we stayed to see you turn nine there, you would have claimed those fields this summer. Made them your escape, your wild home, your solace. But there it is: the edges of grown-up life and grown-up needs crowd in around you. You don’t have any control. You are probably only vaguely aware of the whys and hows. Commute time doesn’t mean much to you, nor does the word “work” which is one of the perpetual mysteries of childhood.
You and your brother talk about “daddy’s work” and “mommy’s work” but when I ask you to explain what that means you say things like: it means going to a place and being on the computer all day; and you go someplace where they pay you for something that you do. True enough. The ache of what those things mean, and the glory are both completely lost on you. For this I’m glad.
Yours work is that of growing tall. Of navigating the fine and fragile line between innocence and curiosity, between wonder and science.
What is true is wide and deep.
Fairies still inhabit the forests at the edges of the this truth, and the sky is filled with stars. “Up there,” you tell me, “in the stars, that’s where I came from before I came here.”
Yes, I nod. Yes. Nine years ago you came here from the stars and made me a mother.

DSC_0056 At bed you can’t find Honey Honey. You crawl back into your fort on your belly, looking everywhere, your urgency increasing.
Daddy and I wait. We’re ready for this part of the day to end. Ready to kiss you tonight and to find, in the quiet of lamplight, the company of our own thoughts without interruption.
Your voice betrays your worry. “Where did I put her?” you ask, shimmying out, and inadvertently shining your flashlight in my eyes, as you inquire. I crouch down and peer into your small world of quilt and semi-dark, feeling with my hands along the edges of things.
“Think back,” I say. “Where were you with her last?”
Soon enough you look on your dresser and find her just where you left her, there among your other treasures: microscope, spy binoculars, batteries, Lego ships, quarters.
Your gladness rings out, “Here she is!” You kiss her tenderly, then kiss me harder, wrapping your arms around my waist.
You come up to just under my chin now. An inconceivable fact. Almost every night as we lie on the couch, and I read out loud to you, I cannot help but marvel: you were a baby. My first baby.
“You fit just here on my chest. How is that possible?” I say out loud.
You say, “I still do.”
Then you curl yourself against me, folding your flexible limbs up small, smaller, until you are contained right there, beside my beating heart and I can wrap my arms around the all of you.
“Yes,” I say, kissing your hair. “You do. You always do.”

Home is wherever I'm with you by Christina Rosalie

Home I don't know where to begin because things have already begun. Summer. The fire flies blinking. We're always in the beginning, the middle, the ending of something; our lives made up of this simultaneous stuff. Life, happening.
It happened fast and slow this time, and perhaps this, too, is the way things always happen. We'd been thinking for a while. Talking together, circling the idea. Talking with friends. Imagining ourselves somewhere other than this house, this place that has become home to us, that has made us the family that we are.
Because the thing is, when we moved here eight years ago I worked down the street at the local elementary school, and T worked from home. Bean was a rambunctious, curious, wee 18 month old. Life was radically different than it is now--with an 8 year old and a 4 year old and work that brings us both into Burlington almost every day.

Really, it's because of the driving. The fact that we are always driving. That we spend more time in the car than anything else. Including here at home, among the wild fields of tall grass. And it's that truth that finally, gradually hit us.
But also, we've gradually become a part of a community of creative, fun, incredible people who all live and work near Burlington, and we never ever see them on the weekends. There are no dinner parties. No after work drinks. No meeting friends after the kids are in bed. No casual play dates. It's never worth the hour spent in transit.

The truth is we've outgrown this long dirt road, in a way neither of us imagined we might. We're on the cusp of new things now. New directions, projects, adventures, discoveries.
The boys are all legs their hair long with summer; their elbows scraped. They walk down Church street ahead of us. They ride bikes without training wheels. They want to learn to skate board. They want access to a pool, to the lake, to friends, to the library, and all the things that come with living in a neighborhood instead of on a homestead.
And T and I? We want things. Some are clear: less driving. More time. And some still unnamed. Still undecided. We'll rent for a year, if not more. Let our compass needle spin for a bit, until we find the right place.
Less driving. More time. It's a simple equation really. With proximity to downtown every day will yield 180 minutes a day of untapped time. Imagine what could be done in that time!
Still, when we decided, it didn't feel like we'd really decided. It felt like fiction. Like something we'd agreed to in a story. It seemed like the decision would take forever to be real. We expected a long summer of house showings. We expected having to met out the very thin reserves of patience we barely have. We expected haggling. We expected waiting things out. Instead it happened in a weekend. The right buyers. The people who will love this place harder and more and better than we have, if that's possible. We're so happy the found us.
In a weekend.

What happened next: I was euphoric. Then I wasn't.
I panicked. I cried. I felt a thousand things. Uncertain, grateful, scared, self-doubting, anxious, exhausted, giddy, obsessive. Every rental we looked at was confusing. Yes and no. Pros and cons. Nothing felt like us. The us, of who we've become here. And even though I know that that is not the point. To continue being the same, following the same habits, fumbling for the same light switches, walking down the same hallways, the familiar has a hold I didn't expect on me. And all I wanted was everything to be settled and certain.
I was unprepared for familiarity. For the longing of it. The animal tug of comfort. For the hungry way that habit pulls you back again and again. And feeling myself pulled this way, I felt betrayed. This wasn't what I was supposed to feel. This was not what I've always said I feel, wanderlust running deep and blue in my veins, the one who always has an escape route planned, the one who wanders down unmarked roads for the sake of it, who is called by faraway cities.
It's an unreconciled thing really. Familiarity and wildness. Wanderlust and roots. And it's clear I've not made my peace with either.
Also, kids complicate things. Apartments without yards for these country boys would be the death knell. A place in the Old North End that I would love, tucked between an African market and a honeysuckle hedge, is fraught with obstacles when it comes to their innocent big eyes. Across the street the Labor Ready place where people stand about listlessly for hours, tossing cigarette butts to the curb; radios playing non-stop; an the endless stream of traffic stop and go at the light. To me, it's all material; all story. But to them?
Sprout will hardly remember this place as home. 4 is only the beginning of memory. The beginning of time transferred from short term to long term for safe keeping. For him it's not leaving that will matter, it's where we go that will count. But Bean will remember, sensitive and big-eyed. He's torn about moving. Excited, eager, and then suddenly sad.
Really, home is us, but more than that it is here.
It's the 4 of us, and who we are becoming. Our dreams, caught like fishes in the nets of our imaginations and reeled into the nearness of the present tense. Our lives, like a series of stop-motion films. One day happening and then the next together marked by the countless meals and walks and loads of laundry that make up the weft of our lives.
May 26, 2013
It took mea going alone to the top of a mountain to reconcile everything: the glee, the possibility, the devastation, the exhaustion, the responsibility, the opportunity, the hurdles. It too letting the birds eye view from up there fill my soul. It took lying and listening to the wind. It took list writing, and remembering. And then hiking back down.
Then the next day we found a perfect little place to rent. For now. For this year. Suburban. With a creek. And sidewalks. Kid-friendly biking distance to the farmers market, the library, the park, the lake. A place to transition in. To acclimate. To find ourselves becoming something else. Something new.
So, it's likely things will get a whole lot more adventurous around here, and saying that makes me see how habitual I've become in the way I see and record the moments. How for-granted everything is. The road with it's wild raspberries. The mail boxes. The neighbor's pond. And the house, with our steep stairs and red wood stove and our kitchen island around which life pivots: pancakes, coffee, sandwiches, noodles, toast, markers, legos, experiments, to-go lunches, magazines, love.
This will be a summer drenched in nostalgia and lasts. I'm planning on recording and sharing them here, so we can remember when we've moved on. So we can live each moment twice. Boxes packed and the door flung wide to the wild blue. It's bitter sweet and thrilling, all at once.

Faces that I love: by Christina Rosalie

Big grin -- Christina Rosalie Rascal -- Christina Rosalie

Pouty Face -- Christina Rosalie

My oldest boy -- Christina Rosalie

My oldest boy -- Christina Rosalie

My oldest boy -- Christina Rosalie

Puppy Portrait - Christina Rosalie

I've been using my DSLR again lately, and I have to admit, I almost forgot the depth and texture that it captures. I use my iPhone so much--simply because it's always on hand. But I so love slowing down, and really looking through the lens. I think these shots totally capture the boys right now. Who they are, and what they're like--mud streaked, pen marked, dirt under their finger nails. They've been on vacation this week, and finally the weather has started to turn warm--inviting long hours of outdoor play in little aluvial streams, climbing apple trees, and building forts, Clover always nearby chasing sticks.

Through the lens on a walk today by Christina Rosalie

Empty nest - Christina Rosalie Springtime In Vermont - Christina Rosalie

Reflection - Christina Rosalie

Rings on water - Christina Rosalie

At the pond's edge - Christina Rosalie

Before the green - Springtime in VT - Christina Rosalie

Moss in spring - Christina Rosalie

Dog sipping water  - Christina Rosalie

Moss on log - Christina Rosalie

Spring runoff - Christina Rosalie

Feather - Christina Rosalie

At the surface - Christina Rosalie

Wild crocuses  - Christina Rosalie

Rural VT farmhouse - Christina Rosalie

Rural Vermont - Rosalie

Pussy willow catkins - Christina Rosalie

Pussy willow catkins - Christina Rosalie

T and I went on a walk this morning with the pup, looking for signs of spring here in Northern Vermont where the winter still has been particularly reluctant to leave. We saw an owl take off above the pond with the widest wing span either of us have ever seen, and flickers with their gorgeous, almost-neon red heads and spotted plumage pecking in the newly greening grass.
What does the world look like where you are?

Watching a boy grow up: by Christina Rosalie

We're nearly late, and I still don't have my things together when he asks me to to put the finger lining right-side-in, inside his glove. "Fine," I say, putting the bag I'm carrying down, and I crouch beside him, my too-big hands awkwardly cramming into his still-small gloves.
Inevitably, I am wearing wool and overheat immediately with the effort. It doesn't help that I'm already feeling the panic of a day too filled with things: lists I'll never make it to the bottom of, tasks unfinished from the day before. And as I am struggling beside him, asking him to try to push his hand inside his glove, his arm goes limp.
I look up and see that he's caught sight of Sprout playing with a little red flashlight. The one I found deposited carelessly on the driveway, buried under snow. I'd told Sprout he could have it. But now Bean wants it in his customary way: "That's mine!" he says, grabbing. Even though it isn't.
No amount of nudging or barking at him would get him to refocus on the situation at hand: namely his hand inside his glove that still would not fit. And suddenly I am caught up in my own hormonal, over tired, overheating tide of frustration and stress and I yell at him with a ferocity I don't expect.
Then I walk away, furious. Unable to stop, I keep yelling, caught in the sadness and shame of my own anger, and not one a bit demonstrating the the grace the self-discipline that I wish for my boy.
Eventually enough time has passed in the car on our long drive, and when we talk, his voice mostly so quiet, I can hardly hear as he replies "Yes mama" and the "No mama" and then "Yes mama," again.
I'm not sure if any of what I am saying will make a difference to him. If he'll remember my apology, or my outburst down the road. And I can feel the way we're navigating something new now. An unfamiliar terrain where feelings matter more than words, and logic is sidelined by reckless hearts. "I love you," I say to him as he climbs out of the car.
He looks at me, his face ethereal and serious and pale. "I love you too mama," he nods. "Bye!" And then he turns and walks away.
Today I idle and watch him go. His backpack so heavy, it's nearly as big as him. It's his choice. He doesn't have any books to bring. Instead, he brings extra clothes for worst case scenarios and because he likes to be the one to share with friends when they forget, and also because he's like a bit like crow, always gathering a rookery of things.
Little scraps of fabric, pencils, tape dispensers, invisible in pens, and mailing inserts. Used-up gift cards, marbles, yarn, and costume jewelry. Pen knives and hole punchers, batteries, postcards and locks and keys. These he stows in a vintage lock box that he bought from a flea market with his own money; the kind hotels used once, to keep the room keys safe with little rows of hooks on the inside.
"They might come in handy," he says. And often they do. More often though, I'm finding them in his pockets.
When he gets out of the car his backpack tilts sideways. And he has to lean awkwardly and throw his weight around to right it before he sticks one arm threw a strap and then the other.
I wave goodbye but he's not watching. Instead, he's turned to grin at another boy, walking with a blue puffy hood pulled tightly around his chubby face. He looks older than Bean, and they're not in the same class, but they seem to know each other in that casual schoolyard way of boys. He shows Bean a pencil stub he's got in his and as if it bears some importance. Both grin with big front teeth. Bean leans in with curiosity.
In their world, pencil stubs are still important.
I watch them walk into the school building together; a walk I no longer make with Bean, instead dropping him off at the circle, as he slips off into the secret world of school where he navigates everything on his own, becoming whomever he is becoming without me.
This is the crazy part of being a parent. The part when you realize that all along they weren't really yours. Not even as a tiny baby when all you did was teach them how to sleep and how to smile and how to eat and how to dream, they weren't yours. Not even then. But it's easier to fool yourself then, smelling the top of their head and believing they'll always fit just there, their small head tucked under your chin.
Now this colt-boy of mine will be 8 in a week. This wild, tender thing I've raised; long limbed with unruly hair that refuses to lie straight, even slicked under the tines of a wet comb. This boy. Becoming his own self.
He is skinny, he is lanky, he is a live wire full if electric energy and ideas. He is sentimental and nostalgic and terribly, remarkably bright. And he's so stubborn sometimes my heart breaks.
This is my lesson today: I can't really control him. Only he can truly control him. I can give him guidance and good habits, and do my best to hold my own tempestuous heart at bay, but he has to show up in his own way, finding the tenor of his own conscience, and the discipline of his own will.
And oh, how I hope we get this balance right before he's 16 and muscled and full of testosterone causing wild tides to rush in to the uncharted caves of a young boys soul. Would that we get it right before I resent him and he resents me.

Later, after dark, when I come home from work he's there at to greet me and when I put my things down he flies up into my arms. He is so light still, and lithe, his legs wrapping around my waist like some small koala bear. "Mommy!" He shouts. "I missed you! I'm so glad you're home."

To love, to care for, and to dream by Christina Rosalie

Saturday morning the boys woke up early, their voices carrying down the hall before the sun was up. The sky was overcast and pale with the milky light of pre-dawn, and I nosed in next to T, smelling the fragrance of his skin where his clavicle meets his shoulder, and burrowed farther under the covers. But soon they were at our door, two eager faces, one with a jack-o-lantern grin of missing teeth, the other a pacifier still in his mouth, in spite of the fact that he is almost four.

“We’re going to the zoo today!” they announced, as if we might have forgotten.

We’d planned the trip for a week. A two hour drive north across the boarder to the Granby Zoo, and somehow, suddenly, it was Saturday, and they were ready to pounce, impatient, grinning, gregarious. T got up first, and while he showered, they tucked in under the covers with me—and we whispered about what we were looking forward to seeing the most. Me: the hippos. Sprout, was hoping for lions. Bean said, “possibly giraffes.”

tiger || Christina Rosalie

It’s not something I ever did as a child—curling up with my parents in bed. The closest thing to it was curling up with my dad on the wide arm of his big brown La-Z-Boy.

But it’s something that feels completely intuitive and animal, to nose in next to each other, all warm and soft and still only half-here and half in the fantastical blurry almost-nowhere place of dreams. And it’s something I love, maybe it’s the thing I love the most about being a mother: this dozy time with them under the covers next to me, when they’re still in their pajamas, their hair all mussed and sweet smelling.

Sprout always tucks his hand into the nook of my neck, and Bean often ends up, propped on an elbow, telling me about something or other with a still-dreamy, faraway look on his face.

The porcupines know what this is like: to doze together, and to dream. The hippos too, know how it matters to be near in rest, as they spend their time underwater breathing only occasionally, first one, and then the other; taking long slow breaths before drawing their heads back under the surface to doze, one upon the other’s haunches, lulled by the lapping blue water of dreams.  

* * *
This is what being a mother teaches me again and again. That we are animal first, then human. with spirits bigger than our skin and breath and bones, this truth humbles me again and again.

flamingo || Christina Rosalie

As the shower thrums, we hear T start to sing, “Oh we’re going to the zooooo…” and we burst into simultaneous giggles, and then join in, singing all together a slapstick, made-up song. Then there were socks, and jeans, and cinnamon rolls bought from one of our favorite bakeries the night before, and coffee, and then more coffee in to-go mugs, and a box of snacks, and hats and rain gear and then we were off.

And if I can pass along anything about going to the zoo with young kids it would be this: go at the end of the summer season. Go in the autumn on a somewhat rainy day. Go with snacks, and warm clothes and zero expectations, except to be amazed.

elephant || Christina Rosalie

We had the zoo to ourselves, almost. We rode the monorail, and saw every single animal in the zoo, and had all the time in the world to feed the nectar drinking parrots, and pet the sting rays, and watch the tigers get fed, and stand in baffled delight as the elephant made a bee-line for us and then picked up a trunk full of dirt and hurled it directly at us, flapping her huge ears, before trundling off.

We had enough time to eat lunch, and let the boys run everywhere they wanted to run, and then ride, side by side in an extra-wide push-cart. And because it was the end of the season, the carnival rides were all closed, save for the bumper cars, which were free, and Sprout’s face was worth a million bucks when he figured out that he could press down the accelerator pedal and actually drive.

And the truth of it all is that I’m not sure about zoos. I’m not sure about the way it feels to stand there, watching on one side of the glass, while the small world that exists on the other is terribly finite. But I also know, that these creatures are the captive evidence of some far greater, wild—and also dwindling--proof: the world is rife with such extravagant, vital, irrational beauty.

hippo || Christina Rosalie

That there are hippos, big and unwieldy, with nearly waterproof hides, and self-sealing nostrils. That “jackalopes” exist at all. That porcupines sleep, despite their quills, one piled atop the next, breathing in synch, sharing porcupine dreams. That giraffes must stoop, legs spread like precarious A-frames to eat the tender grass. That the primates are so like us, eyebrows moving up and down in curiosity or disapproval as they watch us watch them from beyond the wire mesh or glass. And that intolerance is something that is exclusively and terribly human—borne of some feverish desire to draw lines, to exclude, to possess.

But before that, beyond that, we are animal first. And if going to the zoo can anything beyond simply standing in wonderment, I hope that it is this. A reminder of our place among the creates of this earth, and that our work, as brave and tender and terrible humans, is to love, to care for, and to dream.

Being brothers by Christina Rosalie

This is what being brothers looks like.

A jar of apple butter. A jar of peanut butter. Two spoons. A completely unsanctioned snack that was Bean's solution to the ravenous feeling they both have at about 4pm.

I decided to instead of saying no, to just hang out and watch them from behind the lens. I like doing this. Sitting back, seeing without interrupting or intervening. Just letting them be their silly selves. I love their unintentionally matched shirts; their nose rubs; their eyelashes; the way their body language is synchronized.

Best decision ever: to have both of them. Brothers rock. They have this bond that makes me feel like they're gonna be okay no matter what. I wonder if they'll feel that way about each other when they grow up? (Is that something that a parent can actually influence at all?)

Tell me about your family. Do you have siblings? Are you close with them? How did that relationship evolve?

My second son: three times around the sun by Christina Rosalie

Do you remember him then?

I do. I remember the way I loved each day of his infancy; the way his smiles exploded my heart; the way I felt always a little high with helium wonder watching him watch the world. I've said this many times, but it's true: if Bean taught me to be a mother; Sprout taught me to love the process of it.

The year Sprout was born was the hardest year. 2009; the year everything upended in our lives. The year the stock market lurched, and pitched T's old job as a day-trader into a no-man's land of guessing. The year I refused to go back to work in a classroom where test scores came meaningful learning and bureaucracy held creativity in check. The year our marriage felt like a painful off-kilter dance between two sleep deprived drunks. The year that forced me to begin to imagine a new paradigm; a new way of thinking; a new way of being in the world.

It was the year A Field Guide To Now began in my head as inklings, as drafts, as snippets here on the blog.

And it was the first year with my sweet second son.

And now:

He's 3.

He is hilarious. He is empathetic. He is shy and boisterous in turns. He is all about yelling things and gesturing expansively, true to the core to his Italian heritage one minute; and then hiding behind my leg when he meets someone for the first time, the next. There are times when he loves to lie on the rug with his matchbox cars, driving them along the imaginary roads that the patterns make; or building block castles all by himself; and other times when all he wants to do is wrestle and hurtle around the house on his tiny two-wheel bike with training wheels, singing at the top of his lungs.

He loves to sing. He loves to rub noses. He loves to laugh.

And every morning he finds me while he is still half asleep, and I am still half asleep, and together we doze for fifteen or twenty minutes, curled into each other, our cheeks and noses touching, while T showers. I adore this time. I adore this boy of mine.

He has taught me contentment. He embodies verve. He is the pure poetry of love in motion.

I don't know how she does it, guilt, and telling another kind of story entirely by Christina Rosalie

I don’t know where I am going yet, but I know that this is the beginning. The beginning of finding true velocity: a unity of moments, a lithe tempo, a right algorithm of speed and grace.

I am still rather far from it now, in the final semester of school, with my new job already nearly full time. And I’ll be the first to admit: The days don't always offer the time I need for pondering, for the daily practice of writing, for rest. Until I’m done with graduate school, I know the hours will ignite, one after the next at a certain pre-determined heat, each one double booked, precious, full to saturation. And I'm humbled by the process. By being here again, at the outset again, new to the particular set of challenges and opportunities my life offers and asks. I spend my day tripping, sprinting, catching my balance, careening, laughing with sheer delight.

There are wins and losses: I drive Bean to school every morning; we have a part-time nanny who helps with the laundry; Sprout is finally making headway with potty training; T cooks weekday meals with the grace and kindness of saint. And I'm still trying to find an hour that offers itself for writing; time for running is inconsistent; I have a birthday party for Bean to plan, and no time to make it to the store for favors; I see my husband less than I'd like. And in the midst of it all I've realized I've somehow reached the life velocity that causes people say, “I don’t know how you do it” to me now.

I find myself shrugging at that remark. I don't know how anyone does it. We've all got our own particular mess of moments and necessities; priorities and stumbling blocks. Each life is remarkable.

But beyond that, I shrug because I'm particularly resentful of cultural paradigm from which that statement springs.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the book that spawned that phrase. Both it, and its movie counterpart have been suggested to me by no less than six women friends as a seminal narrative that “tells the story like it is.” I’ve been given two copies of it in fact, one from my mother. And I ended up watching the movie on the way back from California in the plane, but regretted my choice upon landing, as manufactured guilt clung like burrs to the back of my mind as I greeted my boys; drove home with my husband; and then helped my kids put on their pajamas and brush their teeth and go to bed.


I don’t think it is a terrible book by any means. It gets many of the details right, of a full-velocity life. The pace, the tumult, the jam-packed days. What I resent is the paradigm it perpetuates. It’s that Kate's primary emotion and modus operandi is guilt: About her work, about her husband, and her kids.

It gives fule to myth: That you should feel guilty as a woman if you work away from home; and that the smug comments of stay at home mothers are both assumed and justified. I call bullshit.

Women who work at home, and who work away from their home, and who stay at home each have the choice to frame their lives in terms of guilt or fulfillment.

Whatever you slice it, you see a different slice. There are challenges and advantages to each way of being in the world, and to tell the story of a woman who works and has children as a guilt riddled narrative does a huge disservice to all women, regardless of their childrearing status.

So as I’m writing now, about the early phases of doing this full velocity thing called life that includes work and kids and a thesis and whatever other bits fall into the mix, my hope is that I can begin telling the story in a slightly different way.

Less guilt, more fulfillment. Less culturally perceived “shoulds,” more personally perceived moments of sheer awesome.

I am at the beginning of a new phase; an epic; an adventure. It feels off kilter some days. There are days that I don’t have enough time for anything more than the barest essentials. Still, unless I read about it somewhere, guilt doesn’t factor in to the equation.

My life is asking for new definitions and capabilities. It demands that I cultivate the ability to adapt to the speed of things moving in multiple dimensions and directions simultaneously. It pushes me to imagine bigger constructs; and to see time, and speed, and distance, and success as new non-linear relatives.

My life is being altered by the nature of the work I am doing; by my expectations for myself; by the sunlight gradually softening towards spring; by my sons turning three and seven; by a dozen years with the man I love; by my thesis; and by all that is unfinished at present. And instead of guilt, what I am striving for is to acquire a certain degree of nonattachment. To do my very best, to pour my soul into the work I do, to love my boys when I am with them, to trust that when I’m not that they are flourishing, and to let go and know: Our right lives are happening now, in dynamic unison, every morning, every afternoon, every night.

Work-Life balance: Daily routines and the quality of light by Christina Rosalie

I leave and arrive now in the in-between light; the light first spreading from the un-tucked hems of the morning, or the light leftover at the end of the day that spreads like a stain across the tablecloth of evening. On the way in, I drive with Bean. For the first part of the drive we’re mostly quiet as I sip a flat white in a ceramic cup and eat fried eggs wrapped in a soft flour tortilla, and he watches me from the back seat, patient, knowing better than to demand too much interaction before caffeine and quiet have set the internal tuning fork of my mind to thrumming with alertness.

Then we talk.

He asks me to tell him about summer when I was small, and when he asks, I smile, my mind slipping to the far off drawers of memory I keep inside my head.

I tell him about going to Bryce canyon and riding horseback with an old guide named Pinky up and down the steep canyon cliffs. I tell him about packing just enough clothes to fit in a sigle drawer in the camper; about the sketch book I always kept; and about about the way my older sister would yell at me every night when it was time to set up the tend and I’d just stand there holding the stakes, staring off at a neighbor’s campsite or into the sagebrush, stalking stories with my eyes.

I tell him about the jackrabbits with their enormous ears and big hind feet, and about the full moon above the canyon and the silvery pink rocks; and then I picture what it will be like in another summer from now when Sprout is a little older and we can travel together, all four of us, across this wide, wide country through the dessert to end up at the wild Pacific where we’ll collect sand dollars and blow on bull kelp bugles.

And abruptly we’re there, in the snow covered parking lot of his little school, and I pull up in the drop-off circle and he unbuckles his seatbelt and leans forward to kiss me and then grabs his backpack and goes in.

It seems improbable, all of this.

That I am leaving and arriving in the nearly light of early morning and the twilight of a spent day; that I have a job like this, full on, full time, full of possibility; that I am the mother to an almost seven year old who does the things I remember doing. Kisses me on the cheek, grabs his backpack, goes to school.

I remember that same routine with the indelible clarity of long term memory. The feeling of my backpack, the way my sneakers looked against the walkway cement leading up to my classroom door. I had a favorite cobalt blue sweater and my bottom teeth were missing, just like his—though his are growing in crooked like T’s were.

Bean's little boy smile is almost unrecognizable to me some days. He's a certifiable kid, now. Half way to fourteen already.

And so I kiss him quickly and then he slams the car door and goes into his blue school building where he spends the day discovering the world, while I drive off into the city and park, and then climb three flights of stairs and settle into my little brick and windowed office where I watch the light shift across the walls above my head.

I drink more coffee in a white mug, and at lunch I go running outdoors along the bike path that I used to run on every day when I first moved to this city and started running years ago. It feels strangely familiar: each turn and slope somehow written into the kinetic memory that the soles of my feet recall.

Snow cakes under my shoes, and I have to kick them hard against the ground every so often to loosen it, and above the lake the light is almost entirely flat gray, save for a place where the clouds are ripped and a rosy apricot spills through.

When I return, I am red faced, sweating, and focused and the rest of the day slips by in an ellipsis of concentration; the dark gathering unexpectedly, without my watching. When I return home, the house is full of lamplight and yelling. The boys are hungry. Dinner is on the table. The dog is whirling under foot.

This is the new tempo of things. The new state of leaving and arriving; the way the quality of light reveals much about this new process of becoming.

// How does daylight mark your daily routines? What do you spend your day doing?

On holiday expectations, collisions, and delight: by Christina Rosalie

There is something about first days of the holiday vacation when we're all together as a family, converging on the kitchen with our apron pocket hearts stuffed full with expectations. We show up aproned and get flour everywhere, and then burst into tears, each of us in turn, when there is too much crowding and impatience, too many elbows around the mixer or fingers in the icing. "Mine!" the boys chorus back and forth like harpies.

It's this bittersweet thing, the way we all show up needing. Wanting. Wishing. We put carols on the stereo, and dance to Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, and then we end up arguing about something insignificant, a phrase said slantwise or some careless remark, and each of us far more crushed than necessary by the other's harsh tone.

So few days. Full velocity. From one frame of mind to the next we go: from work to full-on family, rolling out sugar cookie dough while tying up loose ends: the last of deadlines, proposals, promises, details. We check our iPhones, catch each other doing so, and sigh, while dreamy snowflakes fall outside. Just enough snow to make the world magic. White on blue, and in the distance cirrus devour mountain tops. The dog licks our bare toes, the fire makes the house toasty, and still we collide. We kiss, we rub noses, we snap, we argue, we laugh. It is all inevitable: this mess, this frantic loving, this silliness of converging in the time allotted before the holiday. Everyone excited, hopeful: imagining perfect days that unfold like the lyrics of the nostalgic carols we play. And though days never do, still we find delight the minute we let go; the minute we remember to just lean into the chaos.

This is just a little reminder to you today: be gentle with yourselves as you converge with family and try to find the rhythm of your mutual expectations. Rest into the mess of it, into the moments just as they unfold. Know that there is no perfect, save for exactly the way the day unfolds with you in it. Be content in the way things will inevitably unravel. Find ways to shake off the expectations and hold instead to the moments of delight that emerge unexpectedly. The easy sparks of joy that come from the simplest things: warm sun, touch, coffee, quiet.

Wishing you each peace + light + delight this holiday. xo! Christina

How to fall in love with your life: the wisdom of little boys by Christina Rosalie

Bean is watching my every subtle move. We are in the middle of a game of “alligator” and Sprout, perched on the couch cushions above us launches himself suddenly through the air, chubby thighs bare, and lands between his brother and me, straddling my chest, laughter erupting.

Alligator is a game that Bean invented. It requires certain might and restraint and all the physicality that little boys crave. The rules are simple: I catch him and wrap in my arms and legs, my fierce alligator jaws devouring his lithe little body, and then I hold him tight regardless of any plea, or request, or peel of giggles as he tries to wriggle free.

Sometimes I follow the rules. I am a fierce and steadfast gator, remaining unswayed until just exactly the right moment when the wiry-mulled little boy I’ve trapped is clever enough to outwit me, or strong enough to slip between clenched biceps. Other times I add a twist: I pretend to be asleep and snore, and he slips out easily, much to his delight and my pretend chagrin. And then there are the times, when it takes everything I have not do not to devour him whole: soft cheeks and sandy hair that smells like honey and milk.

Today he’s already made his first escape, and has immediately clambered on top of my ribcage for more. His weight familiar. I’ve always carried him; always held the heft of him close; always been the cradle for his small knees and elbows and belly. And thisI think, is part of what I do that makes it possible to sustain this full velocity life. Of doing the work of my heart in all the ways that I must: writer and mama, strategist and artist, graduate student and runner, all in unequal measures as the day demands. No matter what the day holds, it will always finds us like this, limbs colliding in this certain and unequivocal choreography of love.

I watch him watch me, imagining what he must think of me. My own childhood was far less physical. There was no puppy piling, no running through the house, no yelling. I remember often being told to be quite, to find the boundaries of my ebullient self and rein them in. I praised for my intellect, never for my ability to make people laugh; and other than sitting on my father’s lap to listen to a book read aloud, or hugging my parent’s goodnight, or holding hands when walking along a busy street, love was never spelled limb against limb, twirling in giddiness, kissing like blowfish, or howling like the pack of wild hyaenas always on the loose and restless in my soul.

Which is why his answer delights me deeply when I ask:

“If you were to describe me to someone who has never met me, what would you tell them?”

He tilts his head to the side and looks at my face.

And then he says, “That you’re strong…. that you’re funny*….and that you stay up late.”

Then he adds, “And that you wrestle with me.” As if this is the most important thing of all.

It’s such a gift to catch the tiniest of glimpses into how he sees me. It’s a gift, always, when you can get a glimpse of how anyone sees you. It broadens your view of yourself; increases your imagination of what you think is possible, and makes you lean into your potential differently. Give yourself this gift today: go ask someone how they would describe you to a stranger. Bask in their reply.

xoxo! Me.

*FUNNY made the list! Funny. You have no idea how over the moon that makes me.

The morning begins like this: by Christina Rosalie

The morning begins when I am less awake than dreaming, and with shut eyes I shift my body, truing towards the warmth of my husband beside me; pressing my nose against the warmth of his bare shoulder. I pat the edge of the bed when I hear my littlest come in, carrying his bear, a pacifier in his mouth. He climbs up and burrows in next to me like a puppy, finding the curve between my neck and shoulder where little head fits just exactly so. Then we all doze, until his brother starts to call from their room down the hall; ever the bright eyed one in the morning, Bean wakes up curious, eager, effervescent, loud. Sprout props himself up on an arm, then sits off, shoving the warm covers back. “I’m coming,” he calls, then trundles off. The morning begins like this: I am between sleep and waking, sitting at the edge of a mossy dock. Below me the water is warm, and when I slip into it I discover amethysts sparkling below the surface. Then I am here, with the cat purring at my hip, and I roll over so that I can run my hand along her apricot fur, her purr vibrating up through my finger tips, into my palm, my pulse. In the kitchen below me, the boys sound like herd animals. They make the wood floor thunder. They shriek and laugh and yell. The house smells like woodsmoke and bacon (two of my favorite things) and soon I push back the covers and stumble toward the shower, my vision blurring suddenly to stars. Head rush. I hold the door frame and pause.

The morning begins with all four of us around the butcher block island in the kitchen on stools. There are white bowls of oatmeal with butter and maple syrup, seedy toasted baguettes with butter and raspberry preserves, fried eggs, bacon, flat whites. There are greasy little boy fingers. There is a scuffle over the last slice of bacon. Both boys ask for milk, then water. T and I look at each other over the table and smile.

The morning begins with this: I am sitting beside the wood stove, this mix is playing and the sun is out. It makes shadows fall in bright contrast across the un-vacuumed floor. I sit with my new notebook (I’ve filled the last one up) and a pencil with soft lead, and find my pulse. I watch wild turkeys run across the far meadow, and settle into the steadiness of my hand moving across the page, scrawling careless, messy script. “What chu doin mama?” Sprout asks within minutes, his face right at table height, his cheeks rosy, his bangs in his eyes.

The morning begins like this.

No one prepared me for this: The end of my baby's babyhood by Christina Rosalie

He's out in the sandbox, sunlight falling across his cheeks, and I am at the table writing. Through the window I watch him wipe his eye; watch as he rubs sand into his forever long eyelashes. He rubs it again, this time like I have taught him-—not with his sandy fingers, but with the sleeve of his jacket, a hand-me-down his brother wore at three and a half. The sand still clings.

“MAMA!” he yells, eyes close, face upturned. “MAMA!”

I run out in bare feet across the cold November grass, to cup his soft warm cheeks in my hand and brush the sand from his eyes.

“Thank you Mama.” He says, this small exclamation of gratitude something secondary to his nature. He grins as I kiss face, and returns happily to playing. I stand there for a minute, then go back indoors where the maple floors are warm and golden with slanting sun, and my work awaits.

This is the boy/baby who as of Sunday no longer sleeps in a crib. He’s been climbing out for months, agile and sure footed. He’s been swinging with the ease of a gymnast over the railing, in and out, the crib growing less and less sturdy with every vault, and finally I made the decision to put it away.

I didn't expect that he would be terribly sad.

“I’m still da baby!” he wailed that night, sitting on the potty, his face in his hands.

The next night he said, “My new bed is so cozy. The crib went bye bye. I'm big. ” (Yes, he said cozy.)

And just like that, I can feel the way things are ending. His babyhood. And with it an entire span of time where motherhood was straightforward and consuming. Where my physical presence could solve nearly anything; and a kiss could most likely solve the rest.

Now there is separation. There is the complex terrain of emotion. There is getting to know this person he is becoming, beaming-faced, hilarious, stubborn.

Neither of us are quite ready for the way things are inevitably shifting. At the dinner table he's taken to crawling into my lap, wanting to be close to me, wrecking havoc with my dinner plate. Some nights I'm all patience and games: "Here comes a bite for the hyena, the lion, the hippo." Other nights, like tonight, I'm worn thin by the way he squirms, his strong little body knocking me off kilter. But when I set him firmly back in his chair he begins to pout and then cry.

And I know the years to come will pass just like he counts now: “One, two, three, four, five, eleven, eighteen.”

It’s not something I expected or even considered: That it would feel this way to be here, at the other side of babyhood: Bittersweet and uncertain. He’s just shy of being done with diapers, and with that, he’ll be all kid, hair in his eyes, doing tricks on his bike, swinging ling a monkey from his bunk bed frame.

The world narrows so much when you’re in the thick of mothering in the first years—-when your kids are small, and then suddenly the aperture shifts, and they're chest high and learning to read.

How to do this gracefully? This part where I try to stop calling my baby “my baby?”

An autumn glimpse + Do What You Love Shared Stories Feature: by Christina Rosalie

Just wanted to share these photos from a woodland walk with my sweet Sprout yesterday afternoon. It's such a different pace: To go with just him through the woods, noticing, looking, laughing. It was a good break between projects and potty training and school pick up and all the other "shoulds" and "musts" of a busy Monday.

Also, I wanted to let you know that a some of my words + images about creative process and finally doing the work that I love are up over at Do What You Love: Shared Story Series this week.

What work do you love? Does it make it to your daily to-do list?

Breakfast + Boys by Christina Rosalie

This is the last week of my semester. Then a little more than a week to work on my book flat out before projects for the next semester already resume. Cannot believe summer is almost over. Bean has a loos tooth. Sprout has started talking in complex and lengthy sentences all of a sudden. My book is almost done. Time = flying.

What have you been up to?


Today is many things: by Christina Rosalie

Today is many things. It is my half birthday. It is the day my father died nine years ago. It is a day of lavender mountains at sunset, of queen annes lace in the fields fluttering like cut-out snowflakes, of crickets chirring their endless message: that summer is on the wane.

It is also the day that Cookie S. Fish died. This morning he was still swimming, barely. We don’t know why his brief life was so fleeting.

Maybe he was old from the start, when we carried him home in a plastic container at the beginning of the summer. Maybe the heat wave we just had was too much for him: indoor temperatures were in the low eighties for nearly a week. Or maybe inexplicably, it was simply the right time for this tiny collection of gills and bones and fins to die.

Whatever the reason, when T saw that he was dead, we were eating raspberry sorbet after dinner. The boys had rosy mustaches. Bean paused mid spoonful, and looked at the tank with wide eyes and said,

“Maybe can burry him and write a sign that says Cookie Sandwich Fish so that we know where he is.”

“Ok,” I said, “we can do that.”

“What, what happened?” Sprout asked. “What happened to Cookie Fish?”

He scooted off his stool and climbed up by the tank.

“What happened to Cookie Fish?” He repeated. “Why he not up der?” Why he not up a da top?”

“Because he died,” T told him, tousling his hair.

“Dat make me sad,” he said softly. Still looking at the tank.

How he could even know that it was sad, I’m not sure. It’s the first time anything has died in his small life. His brother was still scooping raspberry sorbet, the reality of what had happened hadn’t yet fully hit him, and T and I were both rather neutral. We didn't say that it was something to feel sad about.

Sprout just gets things like this. I’m not sure why. He been like this from the day he was born. I can’t explain what I mean, except to say he’s always been incredibly tender and loving. He's always been exceptionally dialed into our emotional states. He is soulful, and loving with every cell in his body.

After dinner I carried a small shovel up to the rocky bank at the back of the house and dug a small hole. Bean carried the tiny tank out, and suddenly he was in tears. I helped him pour the tank water and pebbles and the small blue fish into the hole, covering it with more pebbles, and then a smooth flat rock.

Bean began to sob, and if sensing his brother needed some space, Sprout backed off, and quietly occupied himself exploring along the rock wall while I held Bean. T and I both told Bean that he’d been a wonderful fish owner, and that we were proud of him.

“So it wasn’t because of me?” He asked.

“No, no honey. You did everything right.” I assured him. Because it’s true. He was awesome. He changed the tank water, and fed him the requisite number of pellets and not a single extra, and he watched him every day. When the fish was well, it would respond to Bean putting his finger on the tank. It would swim up, following the movement of his hand.

“I want to get that crystal rock there, and put it on his grave,” Bean said.

He’s been through this before. One of the amazing blessings of being in a Waldorf kindergarten for two years is that he’s gotten to work on a working farm every week. There, they celebrate and honor the lives and deaths of the animals. It’s a gift to have those experiences, I think. Because it gives them some tools to later turn to, when grief will find them as adults, and it will.

As he wrote on the crystal rock with a sharpie, sobs still coming, I felt my own hot tears on my cheeks.

We’re never ready to lose the things we love.

After T and Sprout had gone inside to brush teeth, Bean and I stayed on the back stoop.

“How come it took so long for him to die Mama?” he asked me, looking up at the sky above us.

“Because his spirit was taking a while to let go of his little body, I think.” I said.

“People are like that too,” he said. “Our spirits don’t want to let go either.”

“I think your right,” I said.

“But I think for fish and for every animal, and for people too, there is a time that’s the right time to let go and then your spirit knows.“

He looked at my face earnestly.He’d heard me talking about my dad while T and I were making dinner.

“Do you still miss your daddy?” He asked.

“Yes, I still do.” I told him.

But it’s different now. Nine years is a span of time that has transformed me. I wish that I could talk to him now because I see bits of him in who I am becoming. He’d be so fascinated by the program I’m in. We’d have the best conversations about it. And he’d be proud, I think, that I’m finding my voice as a writer + artist. That this is my calling now. That my book and art and stories are coming to fruition.

I carry Bean inside.

His legs are suddenly so long. They wrap around my hips, wiry and muscular.

This is time passing. These boys. This love. These moments.

// Things I want to remember by Christina Rosalie

So busy this week, back to school, back to being in a hundred places at once. Still, it's summer and I'm trying to be in it. At the dinner table watching our boys run out across the grass holding hands to look for sticks for roasting marshmallows, T says: "Oh love, I want this to last forever."

I nod, knowing exactly what he means. Them, as they are with shaggy summer hair, scraped knees, berry stains on their fingers. And us. Our lives full to the brim right now, but in good way.

Things I want to remember:

// Dinner tonight: flatbread baked on a stone on the grill along with summer peaches + a hint of vanilla, chicken with olive oil + thyme, and a salad of summer's brightest: new plump blueberries, arugula from the garden, baby lettuces in a mustard maple balsamic vinaigrette.

// The way morning gallops in, with my boy's on it's back. They're wearing capes and wielding swords. It's before 7am. They are whirring with elbows and energy and laughter.

// The laundry whirring in a quiet house while the babysitter takes the boys on a bug-catching walk. They bring back crickets in a plastic egg box with holes poked in the top. It stays on my counter over night: some wells filled with water, others with grass. In the morning the insects are all alive still, and I make a plea for their release.

// Impending angst about my book deadline. So much to make a book. So many words. Picking the right ones seems feels daunting some days.

// Returning from an afternoon run just as thunder breaks the sky open. Then sitting in a circle of pages, blue post it notes scattered about like the petals of some sacred offering to the writing gods while the thunder rolls about like a bowling ball above me in the sky. Rain falls through the open windows onto the sills bringing the scent of earth and green.

Being Six: or how we're all learning to focus on the positives by Christina Rosalie

We decided to start using a marble jar a few weeks ago after a series of ruckus days where everything seemed to be “No!” and “Stop!” and “Don’t do that!” Both T and I were exhausted by the constant reprimanding and redirection, and both of us agreed we needed to do a better job of pointing out the positives; of noticing the small, awesome, kind things Bean does daily—and of pointing those things out to him and affirming them.

Being six is hard, I think. It’s hard for me as Bean’s mama, for T, for Sprout, and maybe hardest of all for Bean.

Being six means being at the cusp between being small, and maybe not being quiet so small any more. It means being on the verge: of ending kindergarten, but not quite starting first grade. It means utter pure distraction one moment (he has this habit of pulling his socks off wherever he is and never ever remembering where he left them) and then absolute focus the next (he’ll draw for an hour now, his pictures the detailed blueprints of a future engineer.)

Being six means understanding that the world might not be all good: overhearing the news, wide eyed in the car; it means dreaming of Tsunamis, of thunder, of tornados, of things that can come out of closets at night. It means unwaveringly believing in fairies and gnomes and in one very special plastic alligator named Honey Honey who mysteriously eats the food he leaves on a small china plate for her before bed.

And most importantly, being six means trying to learn how to be in charge of yourself—-which often looks like trying to be in charge of everyone else. Especially his brother. And somehow the marble jar shifted the focus away from the struggle to the good stuff.

Keeping a marble jar has made us more aware of all the ways that he is helpful and thoughtful and self-reliant, and it makes him more aware of how he can grow those behaviors. Less frustration, more easy moments. Less negotiating, more helping. Less yelling, more hugging between brothers.

His first goal was easy: ten marbles would result in a family trip for ice cream cones. The next goal, harder: twenty marbles would be an indication that he’d be ready and responsible and caring enough to take care of his very own fish. And he did it. We did it. We all noticed and helped and laughed and shared.

“This is the very best day of my life!” Bean said as he walked through our front door carrying the small plastic container with a carefully selected Beta fish inside.

Meet Cookie S. Fish (short for Cookie Sandwich Fish). The very newest member of our family.