Forget Free Range Parents …

We’re the neglectful ones. About 2 weeks ago (I’m not even certain the specific date), Dom lost a tooth. He was romping around with Ella and didn’t even notice its disappearance. When he realized it, he couldn’t find it.

We joked about how the tooth fairy was going to know about his lost tooth. Then we promptly forgot. A few days later, he insisted that the fairy still hadn’t come. To buy some time, we suggested he put a note under his pillow.

Tonight, he asked me, after I had said goodnight and was downstairs, if I could bring him some paper and a scissors to make a tooth. He could only find black construction paper, so I told him that was fine.

Thank goodness I FINALLY remembered to check under his pillow. I found THREE pieces of paper and immediately felt horrible …


In case you can’t read 2nd grade writing, that’s “Money?” & “Money Please” & “Dominic.” Needless to say, the tooth fairy had some reparations to offer!


Vintage Play

Ella wonders why everyone doesn’t play with vintage Star Wars toys. “They are a lot of fun to play with. Why doesn’t everyone do it?”

Not everyone has a generous Godfather who recently cleaned out his basement! Joe was so organized that he kept the little catalog that came with the toys. Ella wants to know if she can get one of the out-of-production toys.

Ella Star Wars


On Thursday night, I was reading to Dom before bedtime. He interrupted me to ask, “Would you like me to have a girlfriend?”

“I don’t know, Dom. Do you want to have a girlfriend?”

“Mymno.” [That’s my feeble attempt at typing his habit of saying “I don’t know” without opening his lips.] “I just can’t figure out why A—- [boy from school] broke up with B—- [girl from school].”

“Were A— and B— boyfriend and girlfriend?”

“Yeah, but then they broke up, and I just can’t figure out why. I keep asking them, and they won’t tell me. Even Señor A—– [his teacher] doesn’t know why they broke up!”

“Did Senor A— know that they were boyfriend and girlfriend?”


“What did it mean that they were boyfriend and girlfriend?”


“Did they play together at recess.”

“Yeah. I just can’t figure out why they broke up.”

I didn’t expect to be having a conversation with Dom about this at his age, but I like the fact that he was thinking about the complexities of love and that he talked to me about it. It’s only the beginning of a life full of love mysteries, my boy.

Dominic at Eight

His big sister’s yearly update was all about transition, but Dominic’s is one of continuity. He’s the same guy he was the last year, and the year before that, just more so. He’s taller. He’s eats more — a lot more, including more apples, which I wouldn’t have thought physically possible. When he talks he sounds a lot older. He’s lost teeth and gained teeth and some of the new ones are so big that there’s not really room for some of the other new ones, enough so that the dentist recommended an early check-in with the orthodontist (oh joy).

At the first parent-teacher conference of the year, one of his 2nd grade teachers summed him up quite nicely. “When we first got Dominic this year, we weren’t sure about him,” she started off tentatively. By “not sure,” she meant: not sure he had a flying clue about what was even going on around him. Not sure if he was learning what he needed to. Not sure what was UP with him, exactly. But then her face brightened, and she continued, “But then we realized …” Realized that, though he IS prone to stare off into space, he usually knows exactly what is going on. He is, furthermore, “A big sweetie.” “We wish we could have twenty Dominics in our class,” his other teacher said fondly.

He can still be a space cadet sometimes, sure. But you know that thing where you tell your kid A, B, and C, and it seems like they’re not even listening, so then you say: “Dominic! What three things did I just ask you to do?!” These days, more often than not, he’ll slowly lose his faraway gaze, think for a moment, and respond calmly “A, B, and C, Dad.” And lately whatever nebulous worries I may have had about his lack of “focus” hampering his academic success seem unfounded. He’s rocking the school work, particularly the math-y stuff.

When I was a kid, older than he is now, probably more like ten or eleven, G.I. Joe action figures were the big thing. I liked the toys, sure, but what I LOVED was the fact that each one had an info card you could cut out of the back of the box, with that particular figure’s vital statistics, background, training (“Proficient in all NATO and Warsaw Pact small arms”), and a paragraph of description. Raw data, baby. At one point I opined that I would rather have all of the info cards for all the G.I. Joe characters than I would the actual action figures. The other kids looked at me like I was crazy.

Dominic didn’t live before the Internet, so he has never had to rely on box cut-outs for his information. But he’s got the same urge. He had the Star Wars Character Encyclopedia practically memorized before he saw all the movies. With his own money, he recently purchased the Chima Character Encyclopedia. And don’t even get me started on the Monster Manual . . .

I had been waiting for a while for the right time to start up a roleplaying game with the kids. When the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons came out recently, I thought it might be a good fit, particularly for Dominic’s propensity for detail and minutiae. So family D&D night is now a thing, and he has indeed taken to it, spending hours on the couch perusing the game manuals, sucking in information like a vacuum cleaner. That didn’t surprise me — what surprised me was how readily and easily he embraced the storytelling elements of the game. It took him no time at all to “get” the idea of playing a role and speaking as your character at the table. If you have an hour you don’t mind losing, ask him for his backstory for Himo, the wood-elf ranger.

Unlike his sister, Dominic did opt for a birthday party this year, which he thought about for months beforehand. For a theme he settled upon Chima, which, for those who don’t know, is a line of LEGO sets with an associated storyline, mythology, and aforementioned character encyclopedia. It helped that he and Ella had already made a Chima game, drawing out a maze of movement squares on a piece of cardboard and making up (if not writing, exactly) a list of rules as long as it was ever-changing. Not surprisingly, they didn’t get around to playing the whole game (or even a few turns) at the actual party, preferring other spontaneous activities like hide-and-seek or just running around trying to punch each other in the behind.

A poor second child, Dominic has played second string to his sister’s extracurricular activities. He did soccer because she did, even though he was never really into it, so this fall he gave it up. Instead he had private swim lessons, which were needed as a result of us not being on the ball about getting him proper swimming lessons before this point. Fortunately they seem to have caught him up quite nicely. Also this fall, he got to have his own activity that Ella didn’t have — a Minecraft modding class run by the city rec department. Actually it was more of a Intro to Programming class via Minecraft mods, and while he was initially disappointed that he wasn’t going to learn how to re-sculpt his favorite video game according to his personal whim, he still had a blast, and hopefully learned a few things along the way.

A poor second child indeed: Dominic’s birthday update is coming in some weeks after his actual birthday. I was finishing this up on the way to Michigan for the holidays, but got sidetracked. In the meantime there’s a whole new post to be written on Dominic and board games and how he has turned a corner there — he can now pick up the rules of a new game faster than most adults. And he’s always up for a game and doesn’t get hung up on whether or not he wins. He’s a joy to play with and a joy to be with.

Reading with Dom

Dominic and I have been enjoying reading The Search for WondLa. I checked the book out of the library several months ago, but we didn’t start reading it that time. A few weeks ago, Dom requested that we read it together. I was mostly thrilled that he was asking me to read him something besides Calvin and Hobbes, but I also liked the idea of taking on a long chapter book with him. We’re not that far in, but we’re enjoying the story.

Little did I know that I was opening the door to Spoiler King. The book has these wonderful two-page illustrations at the beginning of each chapter. The first time when we had the book checked out, Dom evidently paged through the book and seems to have discerned the story by carefully examining all the pictures. As we’re reading, he keeps coaxing me to page ahead and look at the next few pictures. Tonight, he took the next step by blurting out things about characters that I did not want to know about. He took great delight in my plugging my ears and sing loud melodies to myself to block out his spoilers.

A funny thing I noticed tonight is that Dom has adopted certain mechanical concepts to the way that he communicates. At one point he announced, “Pause, pause” so that I would stop reading and he could run to the bathroom. He also announced that he was wiping his brain of thoughts so that he could focus on something different. I don’t think he was trying to be metaphorical either. … If it were only that easy, Dom.

Ella at Eleven

Ella at eleven is a girl in transition. Her feet are firmly planted in two different worlds.

The first world, the world of her childhood, is best experienced by watching her among the neighborhood kids. They are a large and merry throng, several families’ worth of kids who in good weather will spontaneously gather at the nearby playground or out front of our houses and run and play, and then, when the weather turns or when their feet tire, will gather up their iPads and assorted other devices and clamor for a “Minecraft party” inside somebody’s house. Ella is the oldest of all these kids, and enjoys her role as ringleader and as showrunner of their myriad shared narratives. This is the Ella who comes home with impossibly dirty feet, and grime under her fingernails.

More and more, though, that second world, the world of her future, keeps peeking through. This is the world of her school friends, all hurtling headlong together towards middle school, less than a year away. In the neighborhood, she is 11 going on 9. With her school friends she is 11 going on 13 — at the very least. Looking back at last year’s post I see that already then she was coming to the conclusion that her parents were inherently incapable of understanding or appreciating her thoughts, feelings, and priorities, and therefore, to a certain extent, were useless. Oh my, does that trend continue. She craves greater independence, and proves worthy of it more often than not (though not always).

But I am the one looking ahead and thinking about her future. I’m the one worrying about how she’ll handle middle school. I’m the one wondering whether she’ll find herself growing apart from the younger neighbor kids. Ella herself is living firmly in the present. “Dad, we have such a good life right now,” she said in the car the other day. “We’re not going to move, are we? We can’t move and we can’t change ANYTHING.”

Here’s Ella’s “look” right now. This picture was taken stealthily because that is the only way to capture her on film these days.


Black skinny jeans and Converse remain standbys for her. The jacket she found and bought with her own money and it is impossible to overstate how badass she thinks she looks in it. The bandana is one of my old ones that was on the clean laundry pile after I used it as a hanky, but she has co-opted it. For a good while now she has had her own sense of style, and no fear about adding something new to the mix, confident that it will be awesome.

She’s still a voracious reader. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, and everything by Rick Riordan multiple times over. Her favorite character in the Percy Jackson mythos is Leo Valdez. As someone who has, up until now, had a pretty good handle on all of her interests (having inspired many of them myself), the fact that I had to google “leo valdez” in order to try to figure out what it MEANS that he’s her favorite character is a little disconcerting.

A more recent development is that she’s been doing some independent writing. Her writing has always been fine at school but until now she’s never expressed an interest in doing creative work on her own time. But now she is belting out tales in which characters based on friends in the neighborhood are plunged into thrilling adventures. And I do mean belting out — it is fast-paced action with snappy dialogue and good flow, but she’s typing it in all caps with minimal punctuation and fast-and-loose spelling, a copyeditor’s nightmare. She hears from me and from her favorite teacher, Ms. English, that writing is an iterative process, a cycle of revision. So I was especially proud when she asked to print out one of her stories so she could go back and notate some changes. She hasn’t actually gotten around to DOING that part, though — which, at the end of the day, is fine. Saturday morning, still in bed, I eavesdropped on Ella reading her stories out loud to her brother in the other room. She was in full performance mode and he listened attentively and it was one of those moments as a parent that you want to freeze in time and hold onto forever.

Soccer remains her main athletic pursuit, in the local rec league with her beloved Del Ray Rockets. We were going to throw piano lessons into the extracurricular mix this year as well, but she surprised herself and us by auditioning for and successfully joining the Alexandria Schools’ All-City Band on her clarinet. Those weekly rehearsals, as well as a ramped up practice schedule at home, have advanced her clarinet skills considerably, which, as one of the people who is nearby when she practices, I am eternally grateful for.

This year Ella opted for a “birthday buyout” — some additional hard currency in exchange for not having a birthday party. The notion runs against my usual “experiences > possessions” bias, but some of her friends had done it, and she was interested, and she doesn’t seem particularly short on memorable experiences these days, so we allowed it. (Not having to plan back-to-back December birthday parties certainly doesn’t hurt, either.) She will prudently refrain from spending her new-won wealth until after the holidays, at which point I’ll be curious to see just what she spends it on — the intriguing thing is that the answer will not necessarily be LEGOs. It might be, but it might be some article of clothing that she deems sufficiently kick-ass. For someone who loves tuning out the world by putting on headphones, she doesn’t actually have a lot of music, so maybe she’ll get some on her own?

But if so, what will she choose to listen to? I honestly have no idea. And it is incredibly exciting that this person, who I used to lead by the hand, is now someone growing and changing in ways that surprise me as much as anyone.

Enjoying Springlike Weekends

We have had a few weekend days in the past month that have allowed us to get a glimpse of spring. Yesterday was one of them. We went over to our friends’ house for an early St. Patty’s party. Ella, Dom, and I made chocolate-chip cookies that we dyed green for the occasion. The kids had fun jumping on the trampoline. Ella even took part in a game with the adults – playing kubb. Who knew that we could be so acceptable to spend time with … in a fenced-in backyard, that is.

A few weeks ago, Nate and Ella decided to take advantage of the warm temps to go on a bike ride. Dom and I went to the National Building Museum to celebrate National Engineering Week. Several engineering professional societies, local employers (NASA, Boeing, etc.), and PBS each had booths in the huge atrium to host experiments for the kids. Each table was an opportunity to build, calculate, design, or imagine your way out of or into a situation.

When we got home, he and I made mango-yogurt smoothies. We found an Asian cookbook for kids while cleaning out the kids’ rooms the weekend before, and Dom decided he wanted to make several of the recipes. So far, we’ve done the smoothies (which were oh-so-tasty with fresh ginger), the chocolate-covered chowmein noodle cookies, and orange chicken. Dom has always been willing to try something new and doesn’t shy away from spicy foods. He also likes to sample the flour when we’re baking, so I guess he has an all-around palate.

Here are photos of our adventures.

Dom Sleeps Near the Ceiling

Tonight, Dom finally leaves the toddler bed behind him. For a while we were not sure a twin-sized bed would fit into his shoe-box-sized room. Then we heard from a neighbor about a loft bed he constructed. Suddenly, the world opened up (quite literally).

While constructing from scratch wasn’t a realistic option for Nate or me, we did find options at IKEA – especially if we read the height numbers as suggestions.

The toddler bed served Dom well the past four years, but the way he has been eating the past few weeks suggests that it will soon be doll-sized to him. Not only has he taken two helpings at every meal but he’s also eaten in half his usual time. With the big exception being breakfast, when we need to keep asking him to stay on task with eating.

He complained a bit tonight about being scared of sleeping so high, but he fell asleep shortly after that. And he couldn’t be happier with his new found floor space to spread out Legos and read on a cushion.



A Curious Theology

I’ve been reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to Dominic at bedtime. Last time we got up to the chapter where the White Witch reminds Aslan about the Deep Magic and wants to claim Edmund’s life. There’s talk about the Law of the Emperor Beyond the Sea, which even Aslan doesn’t want to go against, and then Aslan makes his mysterious deal with the Witch that somehow saves Edmund’s life.

We got a little bit into the next chapter — enough that D, who is pretty sharp when he’s actually paying attention, suspects that Aslan is planning to take one for the team, so to speak. But that’s where we stopped. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen next, but he has strong opinions about what should happen next.

According to Dominic, the animals should get some SCUBA gear. I reminded him that there may not be any in Narnia, so he suggested that they could go back through the wardrobe to our world to get some. He explained that they needed that stuff because the Emperor is beyond the sea (duh), so the animals are going to need to swim in order to assassinate him. Because it’s his crazy Law, after all, so if he’s out of the picture Aslan can just gobble up the darn Witch. Problem solved.

Dominic at Seven

Regarding Dominic, one of our friends recently said, “Man, I can’t wait to see how that kids turns out.” It is a comment that encapsulates both his adorability and his … quirkiness. No doubt, he is earnest and affectionate, and, let’s face it, downright cute, so he is able to charm people somewhat effortlessly. But it’s good that it doesn’t take effort, because he is far too oblivious to the fact that he can be charming to actually make something of it.

In fact, “oblivious” might be the best word to sum him up these days. He can be into his book, or into his LEGOs, or lost in his own imagination, and you can say his name, over and over again, louder and louder, and get no response from him. At first I mistook it for selective hearing, but no, he really doesn’t hear you. He’s that lost in his own head.

Dominic geeks out like no one else. And he’s always eager to share. Whether it’s about his latest discovery in Minecraft, or something to do with his imaginary video game, Whip, or superheroes (he’s mostly a Marvel guy, but nevertheless adores Batman), he will be happy keep talking, at length, oblivious to whatever social cues you might throw his way that you’ve heard enough. As someone prone to a bit of geeking out myself, and someone familiar with most of the things he’s into, and someone who’s his father, even I sometimes get a little weary of all his carrying-on.

He sometimes seems like a bit of a loner. When we had actual (barely) sleddable amounts of snow a couple days ago, he expressed no interest whatsoever in going outside and playing in it. He’s often fine playing alone, and when he does crave company he’ll drift into a situation with a single other playmate, if possible. And yet, for his birthday party he had no trouble listing off the classmates he wanted to have over, and playing ringleader to all their antics at the party itself.

School-wise: I’m not sure he’ll ever be able to keep track of his own homework (see “oblivious,” above), but everything is coming pretty easily to him. His reading continues to improve at an alarming rate. He’s taking on short chapter books with ease now, albeit sometimes complaining at their relative lack of pictures.  His handwriting is still pretty atrocious. His Spanish-language teacher, the one he has for math and science, was a little concerned about his behavior and ability to “focus” early in the school year. That all seems to have cleared up, though — I suspect it had more to do with her than with him — and now he’s one of her favorites.

He’s doing a Tae Kwon Do after school club at the moment, and recently announced that in the spring he’d like to take a class at Grand Master Yang’s dojo instead of doing soccer. Suanna and I breathed a sigh of relief at this, because, much as he enjoys soccer, he is a classic Ferdinand on the field, darting up and down, oblivious (there is it again!) to the actual location of the ball. Who knows how it will turn out with Tae Kwon Do, but he enjoys it, and is devastatingly cute when he does his stances. (I realize that that is probably not the desired effect, but there it is.)

He’s the kid with allergies, poor guy. With winter here it seems like he’s always sniffling. Humidifier in the room at night, Flovent, Nasonex, even with all that it never seems like quite enough, and it’s easy — too easy — for him to get short of breath running around. In the past, it all meant he got sick more often, colds and ear infections and the like. But he rarely gets sick these days. It may have something to do with the constant stream of fruit he takes into his body, all day, every day. Mostly apples, but bananas will do if we’re out of apples. He’s not great at remembering to throw the cores away, and so we are always finding them lying around the house or in the car.

Looking back over what I wrote about him last year, I see that a lot of things — the apples, the geeking out, the reading — are all continuations, and nothing new. But it would be wrong to think of him as largely unchanged this past year. Everybody comments on how much older he looks — taller, a little more thinned out. A little more … mature? That word doesn’t quite seem to fit someone who is still capable of full-on, kicking-on-the-floor temper tantrums. But there’s something to it. The two of us are always sitting down cross-legged across from each other on the floor to play a board game, but while that’s always been fun, I think it’s crossed over from fun-because-you’re-teaching-your-kid-to-do-something to fun-because-it’s-just-fun. It’s the difference between doing something for him and doing something with.

Finally, I made a conscious choice to write all of the preceding without any reference to his big sister, Ella. That was really, really hard to do. Inevitably, I frame his traits in comparison to hers, and so much of his behavior is driven by his relationship with her. So, to end, one sibling anecdote:

Every morning it’s a struggle to get him out the door in time for school. Our adorable space cadet can easily lose track of the task at hand (putting clothes on, eating breakfast). Task-minded Ella is always ready to head out the door right on time, and now that she’s old enough to walk to school herself, she doesn’t hesitate to leave without her brother, leaving me to rush him through getting his shoes and coat on and escorting him to school. But he really, really likes walking to school alongside his sister. They both are kind of eager for the moment when I don’t even come along at all, when they do the whole walk by themselves, but not so much for Ella to  leave a single minute late on account of her brother, and not so much for Dominic that he will actually eat his breakfast in a timely fashion. (It may also be the case that their father doesn’t quite want to give up the daily ritual of walking them to school …) Anyway, almost every morning, Dominic leaves a minute or two behind Ella, and once out the door, he breaks into a run to catch up to her. He’ll dash ahead of me to the corner, eager to catch a glimpse of her further down Commonwealth Avenue, and then he’ll glance back at me, still trotting behind, for the nod for him to cross the street and keep heading after her. And here’s the thing: Ella, for all  her punctuality, for all her exasperation at her brother not being ready to leave on time, she lingers. She really doesn’t want to walk to school alone any more than he does, and so she’ll hurry out the door only to slow her stride halfway there and give him a chance to catch up. By the time they reach the light with the crossing guard across from school, they’ve been walking together for a block, Dominic trying to talk to Ella about something, Ella trying to maintain her aura of impatience, but actually happy to have him there. If I walk fast enough I can give them each a kiss on the head before the light turns and they dash across the street into school together.