Easter Celebrations

Our Easter celebration this year stretched across two weeks and three main locations, but more than that, Elena and Roman really got into it. Elena really started to understand the religious significance of the holiday, and Roman figured out how to make the most of an egg hunt.

The week before Easter, we visited Grandma Nancy, Grandpa Kevin, and Uncle Mark. Jenny and the kids had gone down in the middle of the week; I took the train down on Friday. When I arrived, I found batch of sugar cookies that Elena had helped Jenny and Grandma make and decorate earlier that day. On Saturday morning we visited Amazement Square, which is one of Grandma’s favorite places to take grandchildren. There were fun exhibits for all of us. Elena and I spent a lot of time in a multiple-story maze of tubes and ladders in the middle of the building, which was fun at first, but I was just a little too big to be comfortable; I got tired of it much sooner than Elena did. Roman’s favorite exhibit had a lot of golf balls and tracks to run them along, illustrating some of the principles of physics. He especially enjoyed the golf ball roller coaster track.

In the afternoon, the Easter bunny visited and laid out a special egg hunt just for Roman and Elena. There were special football easter eggs for Roman and hard boiled eggs that Elena had helped to color. I think that the kittens joined in the search for the better-hidden eggs. The only problem with such a fun egg hunt is all the candy that goes along with it. We managed to put a dent in it the following day on our drive home, which started out in the middle of a freak spring snowstorm. We outran the storm and had an easy drive, but it followed us and left a surprising accumulation of springtime snow the next morning.

A week later, on Easter Saturday, I spent the morning helping Leisa and Sam move out of an apartment and into their first home. Congratulations to them! While I was away, Elena and Roman went to their second egg hunt, this one for all the kids in our neighborhood. They had a great time, and were happy to share their candy with Jack and Luke, who showed up only two minutes late–apparently the number of kids who showed up exceeded expectations.

The next morning, Elena and Roman woke to find that the Easter bunny had brought them baskets full of gifts and candy. Unlike the Esater bunny that came to my house when I was a boy, their baskets weren’t hidden. After church we made the trek south to visit Leisa, Sam and Vera in their new home. They did a good job with what must have been a big task getting it ready to host Easter dinner in the one day since we had moved all of their things. Sam’s parents were there along with mine, along with Luke and Jessica. The food was especially good; we contributed a Texas sheet cake that turned out well. Jenny found novelty sprinkles that made it look like a field with Easter eggs hidden on it. Although we didn’t have a full-blown egg hunt, Gran Ann and the kids took turns hiding and finding a few eggs. When the children started to cry almost as much as they were laughing, we decided to leave on a high note, before the ratio of tears to giggles tipped any further. All in all, it was a long and fulfilling Easter celebration.


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The Adventures of Flat Stanley

When I was a missionary in Russia more than a decade ago, I once got a very special envelope. It came from my college rowing coach’s daughter, who had read a Flat Stanley book with her class in school and received the assignment to send her very own Flat Stanley to some far-off place. My companion and I showed Flat Stanley around Moscow, then sent him back along with pictures and a couple of souvenirs (although empty candy wrappers might not have been as cool as I thought they were). Ever since then, I’ve loved the idea of Flat Stanley and hoped for another chance to host him.

One of Jenny’s high school friends that we visited while in Utah a few months ago has children in elementary school, and one of them recently received a Flat Stanley assignment. Our name must have come to mind because we had just visited, and they sent him to us for a visit. I certainly don’t consider Maryland to be nearly as exotic a place as Moscow, but we were given specific instructions that Flat Stanley wanted to see the water. One Friday in March, Jenny and I went to Annapolis for a dinner date and took Flat Stanley with us.

We showed him the State House, which is one of only a few locations that has served as the Capitol of the United States, then went down to the waterfront and took his picture with some boats. There was even a boat that had Stanley in its name, so we took a close up of that one. We ate dinner at Chick and Ruth’s Delly, a local greasy spoon that serves a three pound burger and six pound milkshake and has named most of the sandwiches on its menu after famous Maryland politicians, and liked it so much that we took a picture of Flat Stanley there too. Flat Stanley did not get to eat any of the yummy chocolate dipped marshmallows that we had for dessert.

The following weekend we took Flat Stanley to Fort McHenry for a final adventure with us before he had to go home. It was a beautiful spring morning, and the Fort has been well-preserved and seen significant upgrades since I was a boy, the last time I visited. Elena loved the movie at the visitor’s center that depicted the Battle of Baltimore and the writing of the Star Spangled Banner. Ever since then, she excitedly points out the American Flags she sees wherever we go. We learned even more during a flag talk inside the star fort proper. A large group of Boy Scouts were visiting, so one of the park’s volunteer docents had everyone stand around and hold a flag as large as the original star spangled banner while he gave a talk. Elena and Roman eventually got bored, so they and I went to see the ramparts and take more pictures with Flat Stanley. We all enjoyed the beautiful views of the Inner Harbor, where Roman could show us all the boats and Elena could find all the American flags. I think we sent Flat Stanley home on a good note.

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Close Friends

Jack and Luke live down the street from us; we go to church together. Jack is a little bit older than Elena, and Luke is in between Elena and Roman. They have twin baby brothers who were born about six months ago, just before we moved here. Because the twins were premature, they weren’t allowed to leave the house much until recently and as a consequence Jack and Luke don’t really get out as much as they, or their mom, would have liked. Once Jenny realized that, she started to drop by their house any time she took Elena and Roman to the park, and offered to watch Jack and Luke whenever it would be helpful. This arrangement has worked out really well for everyone.

Going out to play more is certainly good for our kids; I imagine it’s the same for Jack and Luke. The greatest benefit I’ve noticed for Roman and Elena is just how nice it is to have friends that live nearby. They can just knock on the door and ask if Jack and Luke want to play, without having made any prior arrangements. We have to drive by their house on the way to and from ours, and Roman always perks up, points at it and says “Jack, Jack, Jack!” It’s obvious that he likes and admires the older boys. Elena, who is naturally sociable and friendly and frequently needs to give goodbye hugs at the playground to children she only met thirty minutes before, but who have become her dear friends in that short interval, enjoys this longer-term friendship just as well.

There is one possible downside: the toys. For one thing, Jack and Luke have more boy-focused toys than we do. Roman loves balls–basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, and more–but until recently when Jenny scored some on freecycle, we didn’t have many at home. Roman would easily become upset on the playground when other kids had balls and he was the one left with nothing. It was sometimes hard to remove him from Jack and Luke’s house peacefully while leaving their balls behind, but now Roman does have some of his own to carry around whenever he wants.

I don’t mean to imply that arranged play dates aren’t good. Elena’s and Roman’s friends Saoirse and Maeve live about twenty minutes away from us, but they enjoy each others’ company. Jenny and their mother Lauren have a longstanding weekly appointment for the children to have a play date. They alternate weeks, and while one of them takes care of all four kids, which can be exhausting, the other gets a whole free morning to do whatever she wants, whether that’s running errands, relaxing, or anything in between. It’s a good deal for everyone involved.

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March in Review

It seems like we’ve been jumping from one holiday or celebration to the next, with barely any time to clean up from one and get ready for the next. Jenny has been experimenting with theme dinners and Elena really enjoys getting ready for special days, so I guess I’m the only one who has been feeling any celebration overload.

For our seventh anniversary, Jenny had an idea for something special. Instead of eating our dinner with Elena and Roman, we just had appetizers–shrimp cocktail and a vegetable tray. I’m sure Jenny envisoned a peaceful evening and an early bedtime for the children, but that wasn’t the way things played out. It was my turn to tuck them in and Jenny wanted to finish fixing our dinner while I was doing that, but Roman decided to be contrary and fight vigorously for his desire to be tucked in by his mommy. He was so angry and loud that Elena started crying too, which rarely happens. Even with my best and most patient effort, I made no progress calming them and Jenny had to intervene. After sorting them out, she finished making dinner, because she is the best wife and mother ever. Eventually, we got to enjoy the fruits of her labor: pan-fried steak with couscous and root beer. We don’t have steak often, but Jenny had called her dad for advice and the results were great. I enjoy occasionally going out for dinner without the kids, but there was something special about enjoying a quiet meal alone together at our own table. It was the perfect way to observe our anniversary, especially since we finished it off with chocolate coated marshmallows, Oreos, and strawberries. Our anniversary evening was really just one part of a month-long celebration, during which Jenny and I went on a date every week. I didn’t really figure this out until the end of the month when Jenny told me how proud she was of our accomplishment.

Less than a week later was St. Patrick’s Day, which has always been one of my favorites because it coincides with my half birthday. We all wore green to church, although the thin green stripes on my tie were probably too subtle for Elena. Jenny made corned beef and cabbage for dinner, which we supplemented with green jello and green juice. Elena and I made the dessert–green Rice Krispie Treats. Less than a week later, we had the first of two Easter celebrations, but that deserves its own post. By the time April Fool’s day rolled around, I apparently had nothing in reserve. Well, I did do a little something at work that hardly anybody noticed, but I didn’t try to prank Elena. Maybe next year, when Elena is five, she’ll appreciate a good April Fools-ing. I should start to prepare now.

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Acting Grown Up

Roman really wants to be a big kid. He tries to convince us, usually through his actions, that he should be able to do all the things that Elena gets to do. When he knows that a meal is almost ready, he climbs into a chair at the table and sits down with a big smile on his face, as if he expects that we’ll let him stay there for dinner. Jenny lets him have snacks at the table, so he thinks that maybe, just maybe, today will be the day he gets upgraded to a regular chair at mealtime. When we pick him up to put him in the high chair he usually protests, but not too much. The harder task for us is getting him to eat his dinner instead of making a big mess; somehow he doesn’t realize that this is the main criterion that we will use to judge his table readiness.

Something similar happens at bedtime. As soon as we find our way into the kids’ room to start our routine, Roman makes a beeline for Elena’s bed, climbs in, and lies down like he’s ready to go to sleep right then and there. We convince him to join us while we read scriptures and say a family prayer, during which we struggle to get him to pay attention, but after that he’s likely to run for the bed again. When the time comes, we can take the side off his crib and convert it into a toddler bed, but he won’t be ready for that anytime soon.

I did make one big kid bedtime concession a when it was my turn to tuck him in a few nights ago. Many nights he resists me and Jenny ends up going in after he cries for a while, but this time Jenny was away and I wanted to give Roman the best possible chance to fall asleep peacefully. He had been playing with his ball a lot that evening, so I let him hold onto it when I put him down. He was so happy, fell asleep peacefully, and showed it off proudly to Jenny the next morning. I think we started to let Elena have stuffed animals in her bed when she was about this age, so why shouldn’t he get to have a ball?

When we brush teeth, he used to be content just to hold onto his own toothbrush while I brushed Elena’s teeth. Now, he wants me to brush his teeth at the same time I work on hers. This time his desire to be more like his big sister is a good thing, even though I’m pretty terrible at the simul-brushing.

The last example of this is just funny and cute. He’s enjoying books more, because he’s begun to find the patience and self control to pay attention when we read. When I tell him to go pick one out he runs over the bookcase, then bends over a little bit and stares intently at the book spines, as if he’s reading them all and pondering all of his options. Then he picks out one of his favorites and brings it over to me, obviously pleased with his selection. When he chooses one of the simplest board books he loves to help “read” the one main word on each page and point to the corresponding picture. He really is growing up fast, but maybe not quite as fast as he sometimes believes.

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February Holidays

Sometimes the fun in celebrating a holiday is in taking an idea as far as it can go, and then a little bit further. For Valentine’s Day, Jenny and I each did something like this. A week in advance, when Jenny had a dentist appointment and I took the kids for the afternoon, we went in search of the best local ice cream in the area. Our search took us far and wide, first to a family-owned dairy farm and creamery out in the country, then to an ice cream shop in the city that boasts unusual vegetable flavors. At the first we picked up s’mores ice cream: chocolate, with marshmallow cream and graham crackers mixed in. At the second we found two interesting flavors: sweet potato pie and cardamom. We were in the car for a long time, but I think it was worth it. To keep the ice cream a secret, I hid it in the back of the freezer and asked Jenny not to go poking around back there. Elena did a great job keeping her promise not to tell Jenny about the present.

Jenny’s grand Valentine’s Day plan was substantially more creative. She made heart-shaped everything: individual meatloaves, jello jigglers, and bites of fresh pineapple and cantaloupe. It was truly impressive. She also appealed to my sweet tooth with a bouquet of marshmallows and heart-shaped jelly candies. One thing didn’t work out quite as she had expected: it turns out that vanilla pudding is just a little bit yellow, so the addition of red food coloring makes it orange instead of pink. It was just as tasty, especially when served in parfait-style layers with whipped cream. There was one more thing that wasn’t ready until the next day, because it took longer to set up than Jenny had anticipated. It was a batch of homemeade marshmallows, which is something I’ve wanted to try for a long time. They tasted great, and the texture was much better than store-bought ones. I hope that I get to help the next time we make marshmallows, and maybe we’ll experiment with other colors, flavors, or mix-ins.

Less than a week later, we celebrated Washington’s Birthday in the biggest way we could imagine, by going to Mount Vernon. Leisa alerted us to the fact that admission would be free and that there would be activities, including a birthday celebration and the laying of a wreath at Washington’s tomb. We made plans to meet up and spend the day with her, Sam, Vera, and Granny Annie. On the day of the event, we arrived early enough to get parking, but everyone else got there later and had a harder time–I think Grandma enjoyed her one mile hike in from a remote parking area, but she almost missed our tour of Washington’s home. While she was walking, we watched the wreath laying ceremony, which was performed by a real-life General with an honor guard of contemporary servicemen representing all of the Armed Forces.

One highlight of the day was the demonstration by Revolutionary War reenactors of some of the tactical maneuvers employed by Washington’s troops; later in the day we saw them marching around the grounds several times. Roman especially enjoyed the drum and fife corps that followed them, but after that it was time for us to warm up inside, so we found a cottage where a Mrs. Washington interpreter was taking questions from the audience, then enjoyed the sunshine on the back yard of the mansion, where there’s a beautiful view of the Potomac. After that we knew we needed to head out to our lunch–Grandma had brought something in her thermal cooker.

On the way to the exit and the cars, we did suffer a small mishap. Jenny saw a statue of the General and knew that I would want to copy its pose in a picture, but as she pulled the camera from her pocket it fell on the hard floor and broke. I was pretty upset because it was a brand new camera that I had given her as a Christmas present. I spent most of the afternoon trying to figure out how much it would cost to have it repaired, but then a thought came to my mind. Here’s a fun fact that I figured out: there are just about ninety days between Thanksgiving and Washington’s Birthday. Coincidentally, many credit cards offer a 90 day warranty on new purchases that even covers accidental damage! That will certainly help me to have fond, rather than sour, memories of how we spent Washington’s Birthday.


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Fourth Birthday

A child’s fourth birthday must be the best one. At least I can’t imagine that Elena’s excitement about and appreciation of any future birthday could ever be greater than it was for this one. We may very well try harder to seek out fun activities, throw nice parties, and give thoughtful presents, but I fear that we’ll be chasing diminishing returns from here on out, because she was just that into this birthday. As evidence, consider this video of what happened when Elena excused herself briefly from dinner to visit the restroom.

Preparation for the birthday started several days in advance, when Jenny started talking to Elena about what kind of cake she wanted. Elena said she wanted a ‘princess’ cake, but she would change her mind about the flavor and frosting colors every time we asked her. In the end, they went to the grocery store and Jenny let Elena pick out what she wanted from the party supply and cake decorating sections of the store, which was a treat in and of itself because those areas are always so appealing, but we only rarely buy things there. Elena remained engaged in the making, decorating, and especially eating of the cake.

Our main day for festivities was Saturday, one day before the actual birthday. First thing in the morning, Elena and I put up decorations while Jenny decorated the cake. Jenny was very happy with how her frosting flowers turned out; it’s been a while since she last made them. After that Gran Ann joined Elena and I at the municipal aquatic center. It was our first time there, and although I would like Elena to be more daring in the water, we still had a lot of fun. Our favorite part was the whirlpool. We went straight from the pool to lunch at Elena’s favorite restaurant, the Chick-Fil-A. We met Jenny’s family there; they had driven in that morning. It was very crowded, but one kind worker took pity on us–she helped us find a seat and took our order as if it was a sit-down restaurant. At the conclusion of lunch, Elena showed how grown up she’s becoming by thinking of a creative way to get us to let her play for a little while.

The party picked up again in the evening when we reconvened for dinner, presents, and cake. There was one more addition to the group, as my father joined us. Jenny prepared some excellent pulled pork to fill tacos, which was what Elena had requested for her birthday dinner. She takes after her mother, who loves tacos so much that she requested them for her birthday every year, even though that was a dinner they had about once a week. Dinner was followed by opening presents, which was when Roman displayed some jealousy. As soon as Elena started to open another present, Roman was all over the previous one, which of course elicited a negative reaction from Elena. We managed the situation as well as we could, distracting him with balloons and whatever else was at hand. He especially liked her new Tinkerbell doll; not surprisingly, she likes that one too. To finish up, we sang “Happy Birthday” and had cake and ice cream, which helped Elena and Roman forget their conflict over the new toys.

I do regret that we didn’t invite any other children Elena’s age, but we just don’t know very many people here. And watching Elena play with her grandparents and then say happy goodbyes to them, I don’t think she could have been any happier.

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Non-Volatile Memory

We went to my parents’ house a few weeks ago for a family gathering, which just happened to overlap with the Super Bowl, and Jenny took the opportunity to ask my parents about a part of my youth that I don’t remember as well as I should. Listening to them, especially my mother, recall that time in great detail made me realize that my ability to recollect things about my children will probably not be nearly as strong as theirs. I’ve always intended to use this blog to make up for that deficiency, but that won’t work nearly as well if I take long breaks from writing, so I’m trying to repent with an offering of at least a brief summary of our recent activities. (At times like this I wish I was as expressive as my sister, or rather her dog, who can say in two words and a picture more than I can capture in several paragraphs.)

Christmas was a whirlwind of family; we opened presents no fewer than three times with different branches of it. After six months abroad, far away from everyone, we were especially grateful to see so many cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. We spent Christmas with Jenny’s family, then New Year’s with mine. Jenny was so eager to get Christmas started that she and the kids left mid-week, and I rode the train down to meet them the Friday before Christmas. Although we all got more than our share of nice presents, the thing that I appreciated the most was a whole day to spend alone with Jenny while the grandparents watched the kids. We visited Poplar Forest, the partially-restored second home of Thomas Jefferson, then went to see Les Miserables, and closed the night out with dinner at a little Mexican restaurant that we went into because it appeared to be the only thing open, only to find that they had delicious and authentic food, starting with the chips and salsa and continuing with everything that we ordered.

Elena and Roman are among the younger children in any family gathering, and they really admire the older kids and love playing with them; in particular, Elena’s Hide and Seek skills have undergone a substantial improvement. There were some hazards, for instance: after we arrived up at my parents’ home, my brother’s boys had to be more careful with their brand new, recently assembled Lego sets. Everything came to a peak on New Year’s Eve, when everyone stayed up long past our various bedtimes. We snacked on yummy treats, played games, and watched Star Wars. It was an extra-special evening for Matthew, because he got to stay up until midnight to welcome the new year in person for the first time. We all had so much fun that we were exhausted and called it a night not long after the ball dropped. The next morning, we tried to keep the spirit alive as we all packed up to head back to our own homes, but after John’s family left there was a palpable sense of increasing emptiness. Along with Leisa and Sam, we stayed for lunch with my parents, but it was clear that they were going to miss having everyone around once we left.

Just two weeks later we embarked on a trip which would allow us to see all of Elena and Roman’s remaining cousins that we hadn’t seen over Christmas, along with some that we had. David and Carrie were getting married in Utah, which meant that all of Jenny’s family would be there and that we could see the branches of my family local to that area. We knew that it would be plenty to keep us busy for the whole week of our visit. Unfortunately, we all battled with illness during the trip, some of which we took with us and some which we acquired along the way. The extremely cold temperature and persistent inversion layer certainly didn’t speed up our recovery, but we did the best we could given the conditions.

We were lucky to stay in the most hospitable places. At the beginning and end of the trip, my sister Heidi opened her home for us. Elena and Roman loved playing with cousins Ginny and Vanden (and all of their fun toys), and Heidi made sure that we ate more than our share of her good cooking. During the middle of the trip, we had the pleasure of staying with Grandma Flo, a woman we had never met before but who has been Carrie’s parents’ neighbor for years. Her home was an oasis of warmth; I can’t imagine that she treated us with any less kindness than she treats her own children when they visit her.

Of course, the main purpose of our trip–the wedding and events surrounding it–occupied a couple of full days. The wedding itself was beautiful, and the temple was up high enough that the skies were clear and blue instead of murky and blue when it was time to take a big group picture. Roman didn’t handle the cold well during the picture, and we couldn’t offer much comfort because we hadn’t realized that our hand warmers would take a long time to warm up. The other events: a family lunch at a churrascaria, a beautiful reception, and David’s bachelor party, were all pleasant and warm.

We found plenty of fun non-wedding activities:

  • Window shopping at the new retractible-roof indoor/outdoor mall, followed by quality play in the Land Before Time-themed play area at the food court, which was entirely indoors.
  • Dining at some of the Utah’s finest new establishments. At Sub Zero ice cream, we even got to observe one of the owners, who we had seen the week before on Shark Tank, having a discussion about the business with a marketing class from BYU.
  • Visiting with a group of Jenny’s friends who all live in Utah now.
  • Seeing the sights on Temple Square. Jenny and I had never taken a tour of the conference center before, and it had been a long time since either of us had visited the Beehive House
  • The baptism of Cousin Michael, which his parents chose to have in Utah so that the whole family could attend.
  • Dinner at Great Grandma Barbara and Great Grandpa Ralph’s house, along with several other people from my side of the extended family. I only had to prompt Elena a little bit to get her to ask her great grandparents what toys they liked to play with when they were kids, a question that she has since asked to other adults several times without me suggesting it. (Roman and I also had a short visit with Aunt Norma, who can’t leave her home much.)
  • Driving with Laura up the mountain, out of the valley to escape the inversion and feel the warm, bright sun on our shoulders, after which she introduced us to some great hamburgers.
  • Playing at the Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum. All kids love balls, water, building things, and running around! Elena, Ginny, Roman and Vanden all played so hard and got so tired that they fell asleep on the short drive from there to Laura’s home, where she had prepared us yet another delicious dinner.

Writing it down now, I find it hard to believe that we fit all of that into only a week. It’s no surprise that we were worn out on the trip home. As the plane descended, Elena looked at me and said “Dad, I don’t want to go on any more trips.” I hope that she just needs a break to recharge her adventure batteries, and didn’t intend to say that she doesn’t want to go on any more trips ever.



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Dancing Girl

Mark and I have spoken about getting Elena in dance classes several times. In January, we finally decided to get serious about it. And once I told Elena our plan, there was no going back–she started asking every day about when her class would be.

After several phone calls to different dance studios, Elena and I headed to one last Wednesday for a preliminary class. We walked into the waiting area of the studio to find several other little girls waiting with their moms while the previous class finished up. When the blaring music behind the door stopped, the teacher came out and invited the young girls in. Elena had been hanging on my leg since we walked in and I became concerned that she would be too shy to go with the teacher. But, as soon as the other girls went into the large dance room, Elena went right in too, running with the other girls as if she did this every week. She didn’t even look back as I called a goodbye to her.

I felt a bit awkward as I sat in the small waiting area, while the other dance moms talked on their phones and discussed upcoming events at the dance studio. I read my book and tried to make friends with the 2 year old girl sitting next to me on her mom’s lap playing on an iPad. I spoke with the studio manager and collected details about the remaining schedule and associated costs. The last five minutes of class, the instructor called the moms into the practice room where we all gathered around the edges. The girls were poised in the middle and as soon as the moms were settled, they performed the dance they had been working on. Although Elena looked like maybe she wanted to do her own dance, she followed a lot of what was going on and looked to be thoroughly enjoying herself. At the end she came running over to give me a hug and tell me how much fun she had! I asked her several times if she wanted to come back and dance some more and each time she enthusiastically responded that she would.

The next morning, she woke up and quickly got dressed on her own and came down to find me in the kitchen feeding Roman. She started twirling around the kitchen and declared she was ready for another dance class! We’re excited for Elena’s new adventure!

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It isn’t easy to get back to writing after the break I’ve taken to start of the New Year. But it’s nothing compared to learning how to talk and write for the first time. Roman has come to the age where he clearly has things to say, and he likely thinks that he has the skills to say those things, but in reality while he’s mastered some of the sounds and intonations of our language, it will still be quite some time before he’s able to understandably express himself. He gets frustrated when we don’t understand him, and more than once he’s subjected us to angry toddler tirades–not crying, just yelling and (apparently) cursing, although we have no idea where he would learn that kind of language.

He is learning to say words for real, but the number of words we can actually understand is still not large. It’s still limited to yes, no, mom, dad, banana, Jewel, Please, Elena, snack, that, and a few more. During our tooth-brushing routine, we usually sing the alphabet song as a way of making sure that we’ve been brushing teeth for long enough. Roman doesn’t want to be left out of this, so he always asks for his own toothbrush and sings along. He does a pretty cute rendition of the first few bars, even with a toothbrush in his mouth. It’s probably evidence that some of his learning will be influenced by wanting to be like Elena, and by trying to do the things that we approve of in her.

Elena has been working on the written form of communication. Jenny prints out letter worksheets that have the wide, dotted lines I remember from kindergarten, although printer paper is much smoother and easier to write than the rough yellow stuff in the notebooks back then. Each worksheet has a letter written out completely a few times, then a line or two where Elena can trace the dotted lines to write the letter, then a few more blank lines where she can try to write it on her own. Elena likes working on them, although there is a limit to how long she can maintain her focus. We saw a tangible benefit when she was able to write her own name on thank-you notes for Christmas gifts she received.

I have an idea for a fictional short story that falls in the Stuart Little sub-genre of Magic Realism. The story is about an normal family, ordinary in every way except that their toddler inexplicably is acquiring a foreign language instead of their own–Instead of “yes” and “no”, he learns to say “да” and “нет”. There are some great themes to explore: the mysteries of learning, the challenges of communication between parents and children, the fine line between ability and disability, and so forth. I am afraid that I would not be able to do justice to the characters or plot that might accompany this initial idea, but maybe someday I’ll try.

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