hallow's eve

1011_Halloween15 Halloween is a Big Deal around these parts. We generally do a neighborhood gathering in someone's front yard with chili and beer and combine forces to pass out candy. Neel always takes Callum on the trick-or-treating rounds and I hang here with the other left-behinds to await the kiddos. Tradition.

Yesterday afternoon was a nightmare. I'm fighting a little cold, and I had a mini-freakout over my debit card (everything is fine). It took forever to get off campus after school. F O R E V E R. Callum needed a hair cut, and by the time we finally got home it was already five o'clock. I felt frazzled. We never got a pumpkin. It's been a weird fall.

Somewhere during all the driving in miserable, stuffy-nosed traffic I did yesterday, I had the thought that it would be nice to do the neighborhood walk with Callum and Neel this time. Could I do that? I don't feel great; could I leave the block behind and head out with my men? I decided to think about it, and before I could say anything to anyone Neel came home and said, "You should go out with us this year."

I'm so glad I did.

1011_Halloween2 Callum started making his own costume last year. This year he decided to be a Klondike Bar. From scary to sweet. Or scary to diets, perhaps.

Halloween_klondikeHe was a huge hit. Grown-ups eat that stuff up, and I do too...who doesn't love a homemade costume? At house after house, he was told that it was the best costume, the most original, and again and again he was offered extra candy for making his own.

Trick-or-Treating, this year? A good walk: not ruined. The rain held of until just as we got home. And he gave me the Whoppers.

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slow and steady

IMG_8696 Once again, Callum falls prey to my capricious whim. It's not all that capricious, really. But I should have paid better heed to his resistance.

IMG_8698 This weekend was the preview of "Aesop's Fabulous Fable Factory," the fall play that his school's theater program puts on. It's a sweet show, featuring four or so different fables. Callum is, can you tell? The tortoise in "The Tortoise and the Hare."

He never came out and said point-blank that he didn't want to do it, but all the signs were there. Silence when I brought it up. Lack of unbridled enthusiasm.

I kinda made him anyway.

When we broke it down, he had two specific fears: that he'd be the only 6th grade boy, and that it would be hard to manage the homework on practice days. "Oh, come on!" I reassured him. You can see where this is going. He was right on both counts.

It's such a tricky thing as your children get older, to know when it's right to push and when to give way. So many times in his young life, he wouldn't be doing something if Neel and I hadn't been behind him, giving him a nudge (walking comes to mind). Since starting, he hasn't complained much at all (for our boy, that's pretty good!), but I can tell his heart isn't in it. It's his last chance to take part in the program, and I so wanted it to work out.

But I have to remember that it's not about my own desires for him, but more about what he really needs. I don't regret it necessarily, but I've learned a lesson here. Pay better attention. Listen more.

IMG_8699 Still, can you fault this mama for wanting to see her boy on the stage (a place he's long loved) one last time?

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box score

1011_secondgame1 He's been worried about his hitting.

1011_secondgame3 Everything changed with Saturday's game. He went four for four, with a 2 RBI double at his first at bat. Stole some bases too. In the bottom of the last inning, with the score tied and runners on second and third, Callum comes to the plate.

1011_secondgame4 Neel hears the coach for the other team tell his players, "Play's at home; this guy will hit." And he did. Walk-off RBI single.

1011_secondgame5 This look on his face says it all.

1011_secondgame6 As does this one. I don't think he's stopped smiling yet.

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sea change

1011_fallball4 Somewhere along the course of the summer our boy picked up a glove and a ball and started throwing it around with anyone who would accomodate him.

He started following the Phillies (Go Phillies!) and asked for a jersey and a cap. And he still wanted to throw the ball. We read this book on vacation. And he still wanted to throw the ball. And then he decided he wanted to try baseball. Play on a fall ball team and check it out.

How could we not let him?

Practice Turns out he loves it.

He loves practice. He loves watching games. And he still loves throwing the ball in the front yard.

Poor guy had to wait weeks for his first game (darn rain), and when last Saturday rolled around, he was so ready.

1011_fallball5 Ready to be part of it all.




When Callum first started practice, his coach got his name wrong a couple of times. This is not that unusual. His name is unusual, after all. Neel pointed out that this was a fresh start in a way. Nobody on this team knew him, and he could be whoever he wanted to be.

The next night at practice his coach kindly said, "I'm sorry son, I forgot your name."
    "It's Callum, but you can call me Cal."

0911_fallball3 Cal, huh? Somehow it suits him. And it works, out there on the ballfield. Baseball suits him too. I can't shake the feeling that we may have seen our last lacrosse game.

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what we did

0911_Callums_Room9 The nature of gifts change as our children grow, and we're not buying boxes of Legos for birthday gifts anymore...sniff. For some reason this birthday felt different (and fear not, I'm already worried about how we'll handle THIRTEEN), what with turning twelve and entering 6th grade and all. At Callum's school it's not middle school, but oh lordy it's close. Anyway. This year felt milestoney somehow and we wanted to honor what a big deal turing tween seemed to be.

We've been joking for years that when Callum became a teenager he'd move into our third floor attic, fondly referred to as the "soft stairs." Callum named it when we moved in because it's the only room in our house that has carpet. But let's face it folks, I don't think he'll ever sleep up there.

What he might do however, is play up there.

And I guess that's what I mean when I say that things have changed. He plays differently now. Friends running in and out, the Wii or X-box on. So maybe a growing up kind of boy needs a growing up kind of space for himself.

Trouble is, our attic has been looking like this.

  Attic2 I apologize for the iPhone photo. And I have to admit that this picture was taken not at the beginning of the clearing out process, but part way through it. Pretty scary, huh? We've just been throwing stuff up into that cave for years. I swear I could feel the weight of all that crap just bearing down on me, you know?

So what did we do on our summer vacation?



0811_Room_prep3 We cleaned out the attic! We knew we couldn't manage this as a surprise, and we wanted Callum to be involved in every step of the way. As soon as he picked the paint color (Pier 14 by Valspar at Lowes), we started the big clear out. After that the big paint. As soon as the walls were covered, we kicked Callum out to do the rest and surprise him on his birthday.







0911_Callums_Room8 We still have some work to do. Hook up the X-Box and a DVD player, touch up some paint. And isn't Callum's paint choice inspired? I never would have gone in that direction, but it totally makes the room. We had red velvet birthday cake and watched the Phillies on the donated flat screen (thanks, Tyler!). I'm so happy about this space for him. The Wii will stay downstairs, so hopefully we'll still see him sometimes, but in the meantime, this is good. Really good.

And in case you thought we'd had enough celebrating around here, today's my mom's birthday! Happy Birthday, Mom!

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Baby 090707 On September 6, 1999 at around 4:30 in the morning we went into labor to deliver this baby. And at 12:34 a.m., in the earliest hours of the 7th, he took his first breath on this earth. He's about three days old in this picture. Have I ever told you that story? The story of Callum's birth? It's a birth story like any other: thrilling to us, less so to most others. Most significant is that he came two weeks early, and my mom once characterized his personality as being much like his arrival. He was in a hurry, he got stuck and he needed help getting un-stuck. Not much has changed in twelve years. When they put him on my chest, he gazed up at me with a look on his face like, "Oh yeah, there you are." I still see that look in his eyes sometimes.

Callum_braces-28 Twelve.

I can barely believe it. He's suddenly a man-child. Still very much my child.

IMG_7299 Callum at twelve is a delight. Mostly. This surely must be true of any child.

IMG_7392 We've definitely had our rough patches this summer. We're all growing into understanding this pre-adolescence thing, I think. There are times when being with him wears on me like an uncomfortably new pair of shoes. Rubbing. Raw. And yet suddenly, his humor will spark through the mire or his need will come to the fore, and I'm reminded that he's both growing up and still so young.

Callumtie He's so very much himself. He still loves dressing up. He still loves science and history. He still loves to read and watch movies over and over. He's still so well spoken and polite. He makes eye contact and shakes hands. I tell him that I never ever worry about sending him into the world, because I know he will always be respectful and thoughtful and a polite young man. He's still one of the bravest people I know. Always willing to try new things if he's developed an interest in them, and he's passionate about the things he's interested in.

Callum_lucy He loves dogs in general and his own three quite fiercely. We joke that he got Lucy, Thea and Violet instead of siblings! Last night, just after the clock had turned to his official birthday, I awoke to a smiling Callum, right in my face. He could hardly contain his glee. "Guess who came to see me?" The dogs sleep in crates at night, and some how Lucy-the-beagle's hadn't been latched completely. Like any smart hound, she made her way right to her boy's room and waited for him to wake up. It was altogether fitting that she was the first to wish him Happy Birthday.

IMG_8329 Every time I bemoan the loss of that little starfish hand that had to grasp my single finger or swear I'm going to put a brick on his head to keep from getting any higher than chin height on me, he'll say something or do something that displays his developing maturity, and I know that it really does keep getting better from here.


Callum walk Happiest of birthdays, my own sweet lovely. And many, many happy returns. Momma loves you.

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Callum_courtday-2 I told you Callum had a big week coming up. Wearing a tie (that he tied himself) during summer vacation should certainly qualify, yes? So here's why he got so dressed up on a hot summer day. Our dear friend Evans's (husband to Nurse Rebecca) dad is a local judge, and a few months ago when the judge learned that Callum had read and loved John Grisham's new books for kids, he offered for Callum to come and spend the day with him at the court house! Yeeeeeee! Neel and I were beside ourselves with glee and envy. I mean I didn't watch all those seasons of LA Law just to see Jimmy Smits. And don't get me wrong, Callum was excited too. I just don't think he quite got how big a deal and how cool this offer was.

So after much negotiation of schedules, Callum made plans to meet with the judge on Tuesday this week and then again tomorrow too. We dropped him off at the courthouse (criminal to the right and civil to the left) where the judge had plans to take him to lunch along with his (the judge's not Callum's) law clerk. After lunch, Callum would spend the afternoon observing the mental health docket. Gulp. Callum was nervous waiting in the lobby so we played some half-hearted games of tic-tac-toe, and when they stepped off the elevator, there was not just one judge, but three!

Callum_judge-2 What a day! Everyone was so kind and helpful and interested in him. He got to sit in on the mental health meeting and then watch the court proceedings for each case. His favorite was when a man who'd been imprisoned for kidnapping was set free based on new information that he was not guilty. He saw deeds for the city dating back to the 1800s. He asked questions about the cases he saw and the law in general. Were there some boring moments? Yeah, sitting around and waiting, but that didn't last long. His favorite part? Maybe lunch (a cheeseburger and coke!), but really seeing the court in session. On Friday, the judge will pick Callum up on his way into work for sentencing day. Now that should be interesting.

We were invited, Neel and I. And oh sure, we wanted to go. But this was Callum's deal. His gig. His own experience, not ours. We wanted him to have it on his own. In one of the emails in the flurry going back and forth between Neel and the judge to set up scheduling, Neel said how much we appreciated Callum having many different positive role models in his life. On Tuesday, Callum asked the judge if he felt bad if the jury found someone innocent when he thinks they're guilty. The judge said sure, but it's worse to see someone innocent found guilty for something they didn't do. That sounds like a good role model to me.

Have I ever mentioned that I went into labor with Callum while I was watching a Law & Order marathon on A&E? We'll be renting some of those for sure.

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another year

Callumtie Dear Callum,

I can't believe we're writing another end of year letter. I checked back just now, and this is the fourth year I've written you one of these. You can read the others here and here and here. This year feels big for some reason. Bigger than usual. You've faced a lot of changes and have been challenged a lot, but you've grown a lot too.

Your Papa and I did everything we could last summer to make this transition to a new school as easy as possible for you. A couple of camps in the new place, to give you a feel for the lay of the land, and we even (through the help of some friends in high places) got you in the 5th grade class of one of your camp teachers, right along with your BFF. Not a shabby way to start things off, you know? Still, it was a hard summer for you, I think, as you anticipated the change.

IMG_4390 On the first day of school, Papa and I both thought that you were the bravest person we'd ever known.

  Callum&Violet It's been a great year though, hasn't it, my lovely? A lot of new stuff to adjust to. Dress codes, bigger classes, longer days and heavier homework loads. Serving the younger kids lunch in the Refectory was a big adjustment too. Eating a lunch that Papa didn't make you was a big change for all of us! You ate it up though (so to speak!). I can tell you feel a quiet pride when we run into a younger student from your school who says hi to you, and we then hear that kid say to a parent, "He serves me."

IMG_8111 From the beginning you worked hard, learning that if you knuckle down and get it done, you have more time to relax. You responded well to the fact that there were more tests than you'd been used to previously. I think you like the concrete feedback. Your grades have been so good, almost from the very beginning. And even the things you've struggled with in the past (like math), saw great successes this year. You continue to be captivated by history and reading and science. You memorized the Gettysburg Address this year (I should totally post a video of you reciting it!), and decided, after a Hands-On Science lesson that you wanted to be a scientist when you grew up, saying, "There. I've decided. That feels good." Your father is over the moon with happiness about that one, you know!

IMG_7898There's been some great weather this school year. Hurricane Earl, the hurricane that wasn't, closed school in the first weeks. Early dismissals came around Christmas for festive snowstorms, and over Christmas itself we had the storm of the century! What fun that was! Inches and inches of snow. A wonderland. Even this spring, we had a storm knock out power to the campus for an unexpectedly sunny day out of school. We loved watching the news for word and getting those "school's out" emails. One never grows out of that, it seems.

IMG_9174 You haven't been sick very much this year, although you've been hammered with your first migraines. Hopefully there won't be many more. You love sports and PE and any chance to move your body, but you still love reading, and had a blast when Richard Peck visited your school. The Redwall series, by Brian Jacques has been a favorite, and out of class you also enjoyed Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer by John Grisham. In class, you read some of my favorites including Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and Tuck Everlasting. 

IMG_1033 You are a delightful companion. You always speak with such confidence and ease with adults, and I am enjoying more and more the conversations we have. You show a remarkable maturity and empathy, whether it's with a character you're reading about or a kid in your class. Sometimes I forget that you're eleven, but you still readily tuck in for a snuggle so I know you're still my sweet boy. You're enjoying the garden with Papa, and you're sparking an interest in cooking. I can't wait to see what you come up with us to eat this summer! You've developed an interest in music, ranging from the Beatles to Lady Gaga. Your iPod is a near-constant companion. Sometimes that's an issue, but often it's not. Often it's just fun for you.

IMG_1891 You jumped in to a lot of new things this year too. The Lower School play and a basketball clinic. In Bulldog Bytes, you participated in a Lower School newscast, taking on responsibilities from director to video to anchor person. So much has happened, I know I'll leave something out! You dropped an egg (successfully) in an egg drop, raised money in a read-a-thon, survived TV turn-off week, line danced on Wild West Day, and met some famous authors. You tried out for the forensics team and made it nearly all the way. When you weren't chosen to go to the local competition, I asked: would you rather be at your old school with a guarantee of making the team or be here, at your new school with the risk of not making it. You didn't hesitate before saying, "Here." We knew, but that cemented it. It was the right choice for you.

When Papa and I made the decision to change schools, moving you into a bigger and more competitive environment, part of what we wanted was for you to be the rule, not the exception. We knew that if the kids around you were striving for good grades and success on the athletic fields or in the auditorium, well, you'd strive for it too. Your new school is not for everyone, we recognize that, but it has surely been a good fit for you. You thrive in the structure and expectation. Here, everyone dresses up for picture day, not just you.

Callum walkAnd that seems like just the right place for you to be. It hasn't always been easy, and you've had to deal with some hard stuff (some of which you'd prefer I not talk about here). Still, we've loved every step of fifth grade, my dearest. Your teachers have been an amazing, perfect fit for you. Every time I talk to them, it's so clear that they get and appreciate you. In each of your conferences, your teacher has called you polite and a pleasure to have in class. Words every parent loves to hear! I hate for it to end. Good thing we've heard that sixth grade is even better, although I can't imagine being prouder of you. Papa and I love you very much, my little man. My favorite moo. My dearest you.

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bright smile, big kid

IMG_4634 Callum had his first orthodontist appointment yesterday. Neel and I both needed braces, so I suppose it was inevitable.  We've been somewhat reisistant, not because we don't want Callum to have a great smile, but more due to the stories we've heard about kids getting braces in 4th grade and then again in ninth. Why rush perfection? (Or, perhaps more importantly, who wants to pay for it before they have to?)

We'd heard great things about the guy we ended up going to, most notably, when we were on our way there, we ran into the dad of Callum's BFF who said, "Jimmy's been twice, but the doc said he wasn't ready yet." Now that's what I like to hear. It may very well be that Callum is ready, but knowing that this guy is willing to wait if you could wait made us a lot more comfortable.

Everybody was so nice, even when I forgot to fill out the whole back side of the medical history form, and they got such a kick out of the fact that poor Violet needs braces. (She really does. We told her we made an appointment while we were there, and I hope she forgets.) And everyone talked to Callum, not just us, which was great too. Callum's main problem is that his bite is off a bit; he has to bite an apple or a carrot on the side of his mouth, not the front, and that's getting aggravating.

When the doctor came in, he was just charming and put us all right at ease. He leaned Callum back in the chair and poked his fingers in our boy's mouth and started calling out numbers. Callum said later, "I speak English, but clearly that guy does not. Left lower Cs; left lower Es; right upper C..."

When he said, "Oh! This is interesting." Neel and I both thought, that sounds expensive. And later when he said about the same part of Callum's mouth, "okay, that's a class C," we both thought that sounds really expensive.

Turns out, it might be okay. Callum has a cross bite and needs things spread out a bit in there. That will help the bite. He has some baby teeth that just don't want to come out either, but the alingment might end up being okay. We'll have to wait and see. Neel and I came away feeling pretty pleased, and Callum came away worried that he might not get braces. Turns out that braces are cool these days. For me, I hope no braces, and it's not just about the money. I love that boy's smile.

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the egg drop

Egg drop2 In Callum's most recent project for school, his science class had to participate in an Egg Drop. It was part of their motion and energy studies. Students had to create a vessel in which to drop an egg from roughly a two-storey height. Of course the egg should not crack on impact. The vessel could not contain typical packing materials such as bubble wrap or packing peanuts, and it had to be smaller than an average shoe box.

Callum spent a lot of time thinking about drag and padding and tried several different containers. While cloth was his original choice to protect the egg, one afternoon we were leaving Michael's and he wondered if Easter grass might not be a better choice. (There was a bit of a concern that Easter grass could be considered "typical" packing material since the Easter Bunny does use it to protect his eggs...)

Using a clamshell that had held strawberries (with vents to create drag), his first attempt was with cloth padding. Splat.

Next try: Easter grass. Success! At least at our house it was successful.

We tried it again off a neighbor's play structure with less impressive results (splat, again) and determined that how you dropped the vessel was as important as the vessel itself.

Egg drop So lid up, Callum dropped his container from the highest point we could find at home and then again, yesterday at school from the top of the bleachers. Success again! (And let me tell you, these kids were really creative. Only four eggs cracked [out of 40], and possibly my favorite container was by one of Callum's buds: bread! It worked! And then he ate the bread.)

For a reward all the kids got to take their eggs into the woods and chuck them at a tree. Now that's what I call science.

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time to get our grill on


Ode to Cheeseburger

Here you come
Steaming hot
Gazing at your cheese melting over
Mouth-watering intensity
Reaching out to grab you
Taking a bite
There is heaven in my mouth
Nutritionists say you're just meat and cheese dipped in grease
They don't know you can be put on many things
Tomatoes, lettuce, and ketchup
Even beetroot and eggs for the Aussies
You are as beautiful as a painting
You are the amazing

~ by Callum

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last day

IMG_8101 My dad got us a gorgeous faux fur throw for Christmas (no dogs allowed) to make it bearable to watch tv in our chilly family room. Yesterday was Callum's last day of break, so after a trip to Target where he spent some of his Christmas money on Nerf gun # 9, we came home and bundled up underneath it to knit a hat for Neel and watch Despicable Me (twice). I felt safer knowing one of us was fully armed.

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