Kindergarten and Americorps, sending my kids into the world

This week’s blog post is not about books. The title of my blog reads, “random thoughts connected to my boys.” Here are some random thoughts. Thanks for reading!

boys playing operation

Max, Ben, Calvin.

Sitting in a neuropsychology office looking at a plastic brain and talking about one of my sons, I tried to remind myself that change is natural.

It’s a time of transition at our house. All good things. My twin boys are headed to kindergarten. My adult stepson is headed to a new city nine hours away, after earning two degrees. He will be working with Americorps.

Then why is this mama feeling weepy? It could be hormones, that brain thing, and the fact that I’m probably feeling like moms everywhere sending their kids to kindergarten.

For many of us, sending our babies to kindergarten, while exciting, is emotional. It represents the end of babyhood. Suddenly, all the joys and trials of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers is….over. Of course, there is more to come, but this is a big life step.

And my oldest? He’s 24 but for the last six years he’s been 2 ½ hours away in a town where one of my best friends lives. Easy to access, easy to visit.

We’ve always celebrated dual transitions as a blended family. A month after our oldest went to college, I gave birth to twin boys. A few weeks after one of the twins finished chemotherapy, we went to college graduation.

Back to the plastic brain and the chemo. At a little over two years old, our son Calvin was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Eleven hours of brain surgery, 12 rounds of chemotherapy, and four years later, we have a healthy, happy, redheaded child. We are grateful every single day.

But as his mom and a natural born worrier, it’s hard. I worried about letting him go to preschool four months after treatment, but the intimate setting, short day, and loving teachers won me over. The longer day, new teachers and students, stresses me out.

The plastic brain came out when we met with neuropsychology to discuss the results of recent tests. Surgery may have impacted his brain and they will monitor him for years to come. I never thought I’d have to talk about my son’s brain as a way to prep for kindergarten.

These three make me realize things will probably be ok. Last night, they sat around the kitchen table playing the oldest’s game of Operation. The 24-year-old patiently taught the younger two math skills when working with the paper money. It takes a very steady hand and a patient older brother to play old-school Operation.

The twins’ biggest concern about kindergarten is what to pack for the lunch; Max suggested popsicles. Meanwhile, the oldest just bought a car and is excited for his next big adventure.

I listened to their chatter, laughter, and buzzes of the game as I loaded the dishwasher. This moment of domestic family bliss reminded me how far we have come, how lucky we are.

I have to mention books
If you didn’t see my email this week, take a moment to check out Brandon T. Snider’s work. This fellow Mariemont grad is the author of several Cartoon Network favorites.

Max and Calvin weigh in on video

board books

Many of my kids’ first books are chewed on. They loved them that much.

Max was and still is a chewer. The frayed ends added some humor to a discussion we had the other day about “their baby books.”

They helped me pick out some of their favorites – see below.

“I liked the alphabet books because I didn’t know my letters very good,” said Max.

“I loved them all,” said Calvin.

I personally remember wishing I was one of the hippos in The Belly Button Book when they said, “We don’t do much throughout the day, that’s how we like it best. We watch the waves, we nibble grapes, we take a little rest.”

Then we got crazy and made some videos of us reading the books. Enjoy!

Some of our favorites and a shout out
First, a shout out of thanks to Ellie Hutton! When the boys were born, she sent us an entire box of wonderful board books!

ABC’s by Charley Harper

Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boyton

The Belly Button Book by Sandra Boyton

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin and Eric Carle

I am a Bunny by Ole Risom and Richard Scary

School Bus by Donald Crews

Unlocking memories with The Secret Garden

My Papa and I blowing out my candles on my sixth birthday. My own kids just turned six! Read about it here:

My Papa and I blowing out my candles on my sixth birthday. My own kids just turned six!
Read about it here.

On my first read of The Secret Garden, the first few pages made me burst into tears and tell my parents it was horrible.

Spoiler alert – I made it through the part where young Mary Lennox wakes up in India to find everyone she knows dead or gone.

My original misgivings aside, I fell in love with this classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett and read it several more times throughout childhood. The book was given to me my Gigi (my grandmother), who bought it in England. In subsequent years, we traveled there together.

My Gigi's inscription in the book.

My Gigi’s inscription in the book.

The story, first published in 1911, and the trip were a strong influence on my future as I later ended up living in England.

My mom and I recently saw the play of The Secret Garden at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.

“I wish Gigi was here with us,” I said, referring to my grandmother. “But she would be 106 and senile.”

We laughed. We weren’t being cruel; sometimes laughter is all you can do about the hard things in life.

I had many years with Gigi; she passed away when I was 32. She was around 91 and had dementia for 10 years. Her later years, when our roles were reversed, allowed me to make amends for my bratty teenage self.

Mary finding the door of the garden. Illustration by Charles Robinson.

I wasn’t as fortunate with her husband, my Papa, whose memory is tied up in my first reading of The Secret Garden. He was dying of Cancer while I read the book in the hospital waiting room. I was surprised when he actually died. I was eight.

The gorgeous play not only made my mom and I cry and laugh; it caused us to talk about the past.

I know it’s always made my mom sad that her children don’t have as many memories of her dad. But I do have some nice memories tucked into my brain, including the fuzzy, not-so-nice ones of him being sick.

Revisiting the past lead me to a cool revelation. I have always had pieces of my Papa, right here in my mom. She looks like him (but pretty). She has his sunny outlook and social disposition. She has his smarts and work ethic.

And she carries his memories, like when she burst out one recent Christmas morning and said, “My Dad would have loved this.”

One more of us. Gigi made the cake. The dress had a duck on it. (She bought me my beloved stuffed duck.)

One more of us. Gigi made the cake. The dress had a duck on it.
(She bought me my beloved stuffed duck.)

This is the beauty of the written word and the glory of books. Stories tie us to our selves, our loves, and help us remember.

About the book and more info
My Papa, Verne McClellan, passed way years before the Internet – 1978 – but as a small-town lawyer and community-leader in Mt. Vernon, Indiana, I thought he might show up on Google. Besides his ancestry listing, I found one mention of him in his friend Bill Goss’ 2009 obit:

“Bill and Verne McClellan arranged for the purchases of the properties of GE Plastics, BWX, and WSI, located west of Mt. Vernon.”

My mom confirms this is true. I thought that was cool.

If you haven’t read The Secret Garden, please indulge. My copy was illustrated by Charles Robinson.

My other favorite book by Burnett is The Little Princess with gorgeous illustrations by Tasha Tudor.

For Cincinnati locals, the play has left the Playhouse but check out their current season.