Category Archives: Conversations with Liza

To Liza on Her Sixth Birthday

Liza contemplates a butterfly

Since you still are obsessed with animals, we celebrated your birthday at the Tennessee Aquarium. You got to look at all of the aquatic animals and pet stingrays and vibrate excitedly. Before you were born, I never thought that we’d be the kind of family with a season pass to an aquarium. Now we’ve been there enough that you know some of the animals by name and are disappointed if you don’t get to see Stewie the sea turtle.

Liza with a grasshopper on her shoulder

You love more than just the aquarium animals, which is good since otherwise you’d spend most of your time being sad that macaroni penguins don’t feature much in our day-to-day life. Bugs still hold a special place in your heart. You’ve kept a dead cicada in your car seat’s cupholder for more than a year. Last summer a grasshopper jumped onto your leg and you carefully helped it climb up you until it reached your shoulder so it could become your animal familiar. We have endless pictures of you with beetles and butterflies on your finger. You’re also fond of mammals. You asked to dress up as a cat for Halloween, and at Christmas when you got to visit a horse, your glee was strong enough to melt the snow all around you.

Liza stacks stuff on Anwyn the corgidor

You adore Anwyn, our rescued corgi-lab mix. You call her “puppy” even though she’s an adult dog, though we don’t actually know how old Anwyn is. Vets tell a dog’s age by looking at their teeth, evaluating the amount of tooth wear, and then making a wild-ass guess. One vet who saw Anwyn said that she was three years old, and then the next said that she was maybe a year old. If I tolerated error bars like that with you, this would be my letter to you on your second or maybe seventh birthday. Anyway, you like to hug Anwyn randomly, which she tolerates with the well-nigh infinite patience of a Labrador. She also shares your love of bugs. Some nights you two race as Anwyn tries to eat a beetle that’s skittering across the floor while you’re trying to save it.

Ballerina Liza brandishes a Nerf gun

Stuffed animals also count. You sleep with as many of them as you can pile on the bed. The stuffed animals build up like barnacles or YouTube comments, and like those two things, they have to be scraped off from time to time. We bring in a shovel and clear off your bed so that there’s room for you, but each night you choose a new animal to sleep with until your bed is once again covered. Your mom and I have wondered if they secretly compete to be nearest the bed and thus the most visible, increasing the chance that you’ll choose them to sleep with. We’ve had to limit the number of new stuffed animals you’ve been getting. “I just want this one,” you’ll lie convincingly, but we’re on to you. For you, getting just one stuffed animal is like eating just one potato chip.

Liza hangs upside-down in her rain boots

You continue to be way more athletic than anyone else in the family. When you went rollerskating for the first time since you were very young, you skated like a fiend. You’re still a big fan of swimming. If there’s a ball around, you’ll kick it up and down an imaginary field. At some point your mom and I should stop being lazy and sign you up for an organized sport, or even a disorganized one like kids’ soccer. It may be tied to how you love going very fast. When we went to a local amusement park, you skipped all the slower kid rides and made a beeline for the rollercoasters. It’s a good thing I still enjoy going on them!

Liza's drawing of some kind of weird cryptid

When you’re not running around, you’re often crafting. If I haven’t seen you in a half-hour and can’t hear you arguing with Eli, I know you’re in the office and the floor is covered with paper, crayons, pens, and glue. When I come home from work, I’ll often find a little drawing that you’ve made on a scrap of paper and left lying on a table or sofa or Anwyn. These creations often come with stories. “This is my angel dog cat butterfly,” you’ll say, proudly presenting the new cryptid that you’ve created.

Liza in her Daisy Girl Scouts uniform

All of this comes together in Girl Scouts, which combines crafting and nature in a way that is tailor-made for you. You joined this year and became a Daisy, though not a literal daisy, just a figurative one who earned petals by doing cool activities and also selling cookies. You sold lots of cookies, a number of them to us. I never thought I could be tired of Thin Mints, and yet here I am, completely uninterested in the sleeve of them that’s currently in our freezer and has been for weeks. It used to be that Thin Mints evaporated around me, and now they hang around longer than broccoli hangs around your brother. You didn’t just sell cookies to us, though. We had you do the selling. I didn’t bring the sign-up sheet in to work. Instead, you came yourself to take orders. You were dressed in your Daisy uniform and looked like a stereotypical cute and quiet and slightly shy Girl Scout and so you sold so many cookies.

Liza at preschool graduation

The best part was when you got to go to Girl Scout camp for one day. You communed with nature and told a counselor that compasses work because of the Earth’s magnetic field. Best of all, you got to paint your own t-shirt. You covered it with giant slabs of paint. The other girls in your troop painted dots or swirly lines. You? You got all Helen Frankenthayler on that t-shirt.

This year you started kindergarten, which also involved a lot of crafting. The first time I visited you at school I got to watch you paint in art class, your tongue stuck out as you concentrated. You were nervous before you started, worried that you’d fail kindergarten because you weren’t yet reading well. I was sympathetic. When I was in kindergarten I worried that I was going to fail kindergarten because I had to skip but I couldn’t do it. I practiced and practiced so I could graduate from kindergarten and not spiral down into a life of drunken homelessness. But the year went swimmingly. You made friends like Trinity and quickly mastered reading.

Liza concentrates on painting a wooden block

While school’s been good, it’s brought with it a host of social pressures that you’re all too aware of. One day you told me, “I don’t want to wear anything Star Wars to school. I don’t want the other girls to know I like Star Wars.” As we talked about it, you kept saying, “Star Wars is for boys,” despite how much you’ve enjoyed the movie and the Lego versions of it. “I don’t know any girls who like Star Wars.” I hate that we have to combat these kinds of stereotypes so early. I don’t want what you enjoy bound up in artificial ideas of what’s for girls and what’s for boys.

Liza in her Captain America sleep shirt

It helps that you’ve got an older brother. You and he watch everything from Star Wars to My Little Pony together, and he ignores most gender distinctions about entertainment. You two play together well, barring the inevitable fighting about whose Lego robot is stronger and nuh uh there’s no way that robot’s shield will stop your laser gun. You’ve got my temper, which means I can tell when you and Eli aren’t getting along because you start shrieking loudly and angrily, making chunks of sheetrock fall from the walls.

Liza has a serious "I just blew bubbles" face

Right now you alternate between being fearless and cautious, between running full-tilt ahead and lagging behind. It takes you a while to warm up to new things. We went to a My Little Pony event at the library, where there were people in giant Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle costumes. You didn’t want to approach them at first, but when we were getting ready to leave you wanted to have your picture taken with them.

Closeup of Liza with paint on her nose

I love watching how you react to things. I can tell when something’s funny because you say “heh” in a low-pitched voice. If it’s really funny you giggle. You absorb every song you hear and sing along with it. There’s nothing like hearing your piping voice singing along to Helena Beat one octave up. Like Eli did before you, you’ve learned the rhythm of jokes but don’t yet fully understand their content, leading to you making up jokes like this one:

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Applebee’s.”

“Applebee’s who?”

“Applebee’s got bees in it!”

Liza and friend peer over a pew, laughing

This letter’s a month late because life’s been so hectic lately, but I knew I was going to finish this letter. I’m writing it to future you and future me, so that we can both remember what you turning six was like. We’ll be different people then, the distant descendants of who we are now. My hope is that these letters will tie us to the past and let us re-experience what it was like when you were young.

Liza and dad and a pogo stick

Now This is Science

While I’ve been away doing science things like working on a robot that can read your fingerprints from 10 feet away, Eli and Liza decided to get in on the science action.

Yesterday afternoon they were making popcorn for their afternoon snack. “Can you pop an unpopped piece of corn?” Eli asked. “Let’s do an experiment!” Very soon Eli and Misty were putting an unpopped popcorn kernel in the microwave and re-heating it for a few minutes at a time to see what happened.

Liza, meanwhile, had wandered off to draw on the erasable board that she and Eli use for studying, or so Misty thought. As the kernel was being microwaved a third time, she asked Liza, “What are you doing?”

Liza shows off the results of the popcorn experiment

“This is science. You need a record.” She was busy noting down their results.

To translate, she wrote:

Raoond 1 nufing.
Raoond 2 nufing.
Raoond 3 nufing.

She then proceeded to sign the record as a witness and get Eli to check off his name. Also the smiley face takes away the sting of them not being able to make the kernel explode.

Now I get to explain that they proved their null hypothesis!

Liza’s Awesome Shark Cake

One thing I didn’t talk about in my letter to Liza was her awesome cake. Our friend Renèe has made some awesome birthday cakes, including Eli’s robot cake and his World of Goo cake. She wanted to make Liza a cake, so Misty asked Liza what she’d want. We were expecting My Little Pony or Hello Kitty. Instead, Liza said, “I want a shark cake. With a shark.”

Shark Cake!Renèe totally delivered a shark cake. Look at that happy shark, rising from the cake and inviting kids to pet it so that it can sink its teeth into their tender flesh and drag them below the icing. The shark head was made of shaped Rice Krispy treat, and all of the kids had to take a bite of it. Take that, predator of the deep!

So, yeah, shark cake. I can only assume next year Liza will want a jellyfish cake. If she does, I have no doubt Renèe can make it, and that its tentacles will sting your mouth with their sweetness.

To Liza on Her Fifth Birthday

Liza grins excitedlyYou are another year older, another year taller, and another year obsessed with bugs and spiders. The other day you found a wolf spider outside our garage that had given birth to a gazillion little babies. “Aww!” you said. “Look! Baby spiders!” You paused. “Don’t kill them yet, Dad, I want to watch them some more.” Because you’re so interested in insects and spiders, you’re well aware of how the circle of life works. You killed a fly one time and then promptly put it on a web outside so that a spider would have something to eat, like you were some kind of Sonic car-hop who served fly smoothies instead of cherry limeades. Another time, when a ladybug landed on you, you excitedly shrieked, “Ladybug likes me because I’m salty!” After a pause, you added, “Ladybug pooped on me because I’m salty!”

Liza holds up her Big Book of BugsYou’re not as tolerant of all bug processes. When you discovered that flies vomit on things they’re going to eat you became distraught. Eli helped you face your fears, though. As he explained to us later, “I helped her not be afraid of flies. I told her that when they vomit, they suck it right back up so it goes away.” You’re also not quite clear on when a bug is dead or not. You picked a black beetle up once and put it in your bug catcher, showing it around proudly. “Honey,” your mom told you, “I’m afraid he’s dead.” “Nuh uh!” you yelled. You paused and then shook the bug catcher violently. “See? He’s moving!”

Liza lies beside our corgidor (corgi/lab mix) AnwynYour real obsession, though, has been our dog Anwyn. You’ve been asking us to get a dog since you were two, which means we’ve been listening to your pleas for 21 dog years. You had elaborate plans about the dog we were going to get. A bit before your birthday you announced that we were going to get a dog and that your mom and I would wrap it up and give it to you on your birthday and then you’d be surprised. Instead of going the fake surprise route, we visited a bunch of local shelters, finally adopting a young corgi-yellow lab mix that we named Anwyn. She is young and energetic and some twenty feet long. We thought that her being a lab/corgi mix was an accident of breeding, leading to much speculation about whether a step stool had been involved, but it turns out that lab/corgi mixes are a thing that some breeders are doing. They call the hybrid breed “corgidors,” which is totally fun to say. As a friend of mine said, “Beware the corgidor, my son! The eyes that plead, the legs that creep!”

Liza peers out from under a giant pile of stuffed animalsWe thought having a dog would make you less dog-obsessed, or at least focus your dog obsession. It hasn’t. You’re still able to spot dogs with frightening acumen. It may be in part because you have a love-hate relationship with our corgidor. Anwyn appears to think of you as another young dog. She plays with you by mouthing you and putting her teeth on your ankle to herd you, or by leaping up and knocking you down since she’s only fifteen pounds lighter than you and about as long as you are tall. You are very not crazy about this behavior, and it sometimes sends you into tears. But then Anwyn will calm down and you lie down beside her, hugging and petting ehr and occasionally wanting to play with her ears in a way that would lead to you being called Liza of the Nine Fingers if Anwyn weren’t so patient. I’m sure the two of you were made for each other, though: Anwyn also loves bugs, having a great time nosing them about and snapping at them so that they’ll scuttle away and she can chase them.

Liza and Eli look at a cicadaYour relationship with Anwyn is reminiscent of your relationship with Eli. You and he get along great until suddenly you don’t. You can’t stand to be around each other and then you can’t be separated. Eli has had a sentimental streak for you since you were born, but you’re starting to have one for him. In September you and he got into the habit of collecting acorns from the trees by our church and bringing them home to rot quietly on tables and counters. Eventually we outlawed more acorns coming into the house. He and you decided to plant the acorns instead so you could have as many acorns as the resulting tree would produce. “That’ll take a while,” I warned you two. “You may not have acorns until Eli is in college.” Eli looked so sad that you had to comfort him. “It’s okay, Eli, you’ll be in college and I’ll be in school but we’ll still love acorns!”

Liza slides down a slide in her Halloween outfitOf all of us, you’re the most athletic and the most pain resistant. You’ve taken up swimming, though saying like that doesn’t convey the intensity with which you swim. You leap into the water and paddle furiously. You’ve been taking swim lessons and can just about swim the length of the pool at the Y, and have developed a tiny six-pack and swimmer shoulders. That’s also helped you master the monkey bars, where you swing across them before dropping down from them like a blond-haired ninja from on high. You love riding your scooter and your bike, showing bike trick after bike trick that boil down to two basics: ride really fast, and then slam on the brakes so that you stop really quickly. When I was your age I rode a Big Wheel down the hill at break-neck speed until turning into the driveway and pulling the brake and spinning out, so I understand your love of moving fast and stopping suddenly.

Liza models one of Misty's hats in the sunlightDid I mention your tolerance for pain? In July you had minor stomach surgery. Eli wanted to comfort you and talked about how his anesthesiologist had told him that the anesthesia mask smelled like a monkey’s butt. “No,” you replied, “I want mine to smell of puppies and rainbows.” The surgery went fine. Your doctor told us that you’d need to take it easy for a few days until everything healed and it didn’t hurt to move. Two days later you were tearing around the house like crazy. I asked if it hurt. “Yeah. But I don’t care.”

Liza in a crocheted owl hat and coat brandishes a Nerf gunYour true love is reserved for crafting. You draw. You color. You glue things onto other things. When you stay with me in my office, you color on my whiteboard. “See? This is a sea serpent. Here are the fish in the sea under it.” You give your creations names, like UNOST. You can’t read, though you desperately want to be able to, but you’ve figured out the rhythm of consonants and vowels that let you string together letters in word-like ways. Just last week you turned to me and mom and announced, “God made me to make art,” at which point the sky opened up and your mom went up in a whirlwind into heaven, her earthly work complete.

Liza displays her fingerIf I’m not careful, it’s easy to make Eli the child of firsts and you the child of lasts. Eli has ushered us into various stages of parenting, while you have heralded the end of those stages. That’s not fair to you, though, and minimizes your own firsts and the ways in which you’re carving your own trail through childhood. You are very much your own person, and I celebrate that every day.

Liza gets ready to snag tickets in the Chuck E. Cheese ticket tubeYou requested a birthday celebration at Chuck E. Cheese again this year, and so it came to pass that Mumsy, your mom and I spent another birthday watching children bounce around and ride rides and play video games and vibrate with excitement. Chuck E. Cheese had added something to their birthday repertoire: a ticket-blowing machine. After you had eaten your fill of cake and pizza and also more cake, one of the employees led you into a large, clear cylinder filled with tickets and with an attached air compressor. The employee tucked your shirt in and gave you glasses to protect your eyes from the wind and the flying cardboard slips. She then put one of the tickets that was worth a thousand regular, lesser tickets onto the floor and slid your shoe over it. “When the fan starts,” she murmured, “grab it and stuff it in your clothes.” She then wedged another high-value ticket into a seam in the tube and pointed to it. “And pick that one up as well.” Then she closed the door, the air compressor kicked on, and cardboard went flying. With a nonchalance that made it look like you did this every day, you picked up the two high-value tickets and then plucked a few others from the air for good measure.

Liza enjoys batter licked off of a beaterLife in our house has swirled around like the air in that cylinder. Every day you’re buffeted by new emotions and new experiences. It’s not going to get any slower. Next year you start kindergarten, and you’ll have to learn how to deal with a new group of people while adjusting to an amount of homework that gives me pause. As with Eli, I see the future in front of you and am both excited and afraid for you. But I see you in that rush of life moving past you, carefully and thoughtfully picking up opportunities as they move past, and I know you’ll do great.

Liza and Stephen as Liza swings on the monkey bars

Liza Loves Animals On the Internet

Misty has been haunting Pinterest ever since she discovered that it would serve her a never-ending stream of Doctor Who-related content. A while back she thought, what if I showed our animal-obsessed daughter the Pinterest board that has nothing but animals on it?

The answer: Liza becomes so enamored of Pinterest that her gasps of excitement suck all of the oxygen out of the room.

The best part is that I shot this video some twenty minutes after Liza first started looking at animals on Pinterest. This is her after she’s calmed down.

Night of the Ninjas

We started our Halloween festivities early Monday morning. Eli’s school was having Mad Scientist Day, a celebration I can completely get behind, so we put him in my lab coat, spiked his hair, and gave him purple highlights because that’s all the rage among hip young mad scientist these days. I too dressed up, for the first time ever since coming to work at AOS.

Me as Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters

I don’t quite have the giant walrus mustache that Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters has, but it’s as close as I could get without driving myself crazy. Besides, who wouldn’t want to wear a costume that has your co-workers encouraging you to blow stuff up?

We spent the evening trick-or-treating with some friends in their neighborhood since our neighborhood has been vaccinated against the Halloween spirit. Our friends’ neighborhood appears to have been lifted wholesale from the movie E.T., complete with decorated houses and hordes of kids roaming the neighborhood and attacking anyone with a bowl of candy. At one point in the evening we passed a compact front-end loader pulling a flat-bed trailer filled with trick-or-treaters and a smoke machine. In its front scoop was a flashing pumpkin that made it look like it had plowed through some poor church’s pumpkin patch and perhaps a high-voltage line.

Early on Eli declared he wanted to be a ninja. In hindsight, us letting him dress as a ninja was like an unregulated credit default swap: good in theory, bad in practice. Not only was he wearing a black costume that encouraged him to hide in the shadows, but every fifth boy was dressed as a ninja. We had three kids dressed as ninjas in our group alone. Even his cousin Sam in Kansas City was a ninja. Liza, on the other hand, just wanted to wear a random dress over her warm clothes. She ended up with a mermaid dress that her friend Kate had.

We had between seven and nine ninjas, mermaids, and Angry Birds in our party. The kids quickly divided into three groups. The older boys would run ahead, with Liza running pell-mell in their midst. Liza’s friend Kate would follow behind at a more stately pace, with Kate’s younger brother Jordan trailing behind. Keeping the kids together was like keeping spilled marbles from rolling everywhere. We parents eventually adopted small squad tactics. One parent would run to the first house on the block, the next parent would take the second house, and so on until we were strung out along the street and ready to intercept our mob of candy-crazed kids. As the kids would leave one house, the parent at that house would send the kids to the next parent before running ahead of all the other parents to keep the train going. All we were missing were SWAT vests and shouts of “GO! GO! GO!”

The two Angry-Bird-suited kids eventually tired of wearing their costumes, so I inherited one of them to wear until we got back to the house. This led to a combination costume of Jamie Hyneman and Angry Birds that I can only call Angry Beret.

Me plus an Angry Bird costume equals Angry Beret

While Eli and Liza were mainly excited to run from house to house shouting, “Trick or treat!”, caring little for what candy they got, they ended up with a huge haul of candy. We split it into five gallon-sized Ziploc bags: two for the kids, one for Eli’s classroom, one for me, and one for work.

The giant haul of Halloween candy

In conclusion, this is how I developed adult-onset diabetes.

Becoming Disillusioned With Insects

My first inkling that something was wrong happened the other night when Liza came running to me, holding her large stuffed bee and crying. “A fly landed on bee-hee-hee,” she sobbed, tears leaving shiny trails down her cheeks.

Liza had always loved flies, calling them our “usually fly pets”. I couldn’t understand why she as so upset, which, to be fair, is often the way it is with four year olds. Confused, I asked her, “Okay, but what happens when a fly lands on bee?”

“IT VOMITS ON BEEEEEE!” Liza wailed.

Misty had the same look that my dog MacGregor used to have when he realized he’d done something wrong by accident. “I told her that flies vomit on things they’re going to eat.” She paused. Liza wailed louder. “I think that may have been a tactical error.”

Indeed, Liza took to freaking out any time that a fly was in the same room as she was. The fly would buzz and Liza’s eyes would widen as she backed away from the fly, possibly afraid that it would sense her fear and vomit all over her in a giant Cronenberg-esque display of grotesqueness.

This story has a happy ending, though. This morning at breakfast several flies were flying around our table. “Maybe we could put out really sticky fly paper and put some food on it and then the flies could have their own food,” Liza told us.

Eli chimed in, “I helped her not be afraid of flies. I told her that when they vomit, they suck it right back up so it goes away.”

I can’t wait to see what Liza does the next time she has a stomach virus.

Hey, Stephen, How’s Liza Recovering From Her Surgery?

Friday, Liza had minor surgery to close an umbilical hernia. Our scene takes place Sunday afternoon.

INT. LIVING ROOM – AFTERNOON

This standard suburban living room is square and has all of its furniture away from the walls, leaving a continuous track around the center of the room. The MAN is in the living room. The GIRL enters and begins running laps around the room.

                    MAN
     Hey, what’re you doing?

                    GIRL
     Running a race. I’m racing my invisible friend Jai Alai.

The GIRL continues to run at top speed.

                    MAN
     Is that hurting your stomach?

                    GIRL
     Yeah. (beat) But I don’t care.

Exeunt omnes

To Liza on Her Fourth Birthday

The weekend before your actual birthday we went to Big Spring Park in downtown Huntsville to feed the “ducklings and fishies” that fill the park. We bought several loaves of old bread and did our best to make all of the animals hyperglycemic. You squeezed chunks of bread into balls that you would then throw as hard as you could in the general direction of the fish or ducks, only to have them land about six inches in front of you. After that we went to Build-a-Bear, where you rebelled against the company’s name and instead built Fluffy the Bunny. After that was Chick-Fil-A, your favorite restaurant ever. But the best was that, as we drove back home, we spotted people dressed up in Ghostbuster and Stormtrooper outfits in front of a local comic book store. It was free comic book day! You got to shake hands with a Tusken Raider and have your face painted by the Dixie Derby Girls while they compared bruises in a game of one-upsmanship.

Liza posing in front of a small lighthouse

Your more traditional birthday celebrations were spread out over three weeks. On your actual birthday you had donuts at school. Later that week mom and I took you to Red Robin. Two weekends later my parents showed up and took you and your friends Kate, Josh and Jordan to Chuck-E-Cheese. Sadly I was on a business trip and so missed you communing with Chuck and his scary animatronic band.

You talk far more than I ever expected you to. When I was young I talked a lot — completely unlike now — and so your uncle Andrew never got to talk much. Based on that I assumed that you’d have the same experience, since Eli talks slightly more than he breathes. Instead you also talk a lot, so that often our house sounds like we’ve got two radio station DJs competing for our attention. With practice, you’re leaving your cute toddler speech behind. It wasn’t too long ago that you were calling crayons “crayawns” and talking about your favorite restaurant “Phil Sandobal’s”. At one point you heard your mom bemoaning yet another fly buzzing around our kitchen. “There’s our usual house pet, a fly,” she said, which led you to call every fly from then on a “usually fly pet”.

Liza and Uncle Andrew flying a kite

Speaking of flies, you’re still enamored with bugs. This summer the red-eyed 13-year cicadas hatched and our friend Renee brought some over for you to see. You put them in your bug catcher and carried them around the house while petting them. In fact, you have no real sense that some bugs are evil, even those without scary red eyes. Just a few weeks ago you picked up a small sweat bee that stung you. Undaunted, you later picked up a big fuzzy bumblebee “because he wanted to be friends.” Fortunately, most of your bug encounters have gone much better. You’ve played with praying mantises, beetles, cockroaches, and more without being harmed. One of your favorite Christmas presents was the ant farm we got you, even though we couldn’t get the ants for it at the time because it was too cold. The ants finally arrived in April, as I found when I came home from work and you ran to meet me at the door. “Guess what I got! Guess what I got!” you said. “ANTS!”

Liza in pigtails

You have a gift for naming things. There have been endless Needles the beetle, which you delight in finding and showing us at 6:30 in the morning. You’ve added to your stuffed animal menagerie: you now have Lips the fish and Turtle Turtle Not the turtle. Your scooter is Pixie the scooter. One of your many stuffed dogs is Special the dog.

As you’ve grown, so has your imagination. You have two invisible friends, Poodie and Jai Alai. They are electric monsters shaped like dogs who eat bones and are invisible. Sometimes they shoot electricity. There are also ice robots who follow the car and alternate between protecting the car and chasing it. To you, the large electrical towers that dot our landscape are robots, though it’s possible that’s due to your brother’s influence.

Liza jumping waves

This has been a year of extreme weather. In January we had our first real snowstorm since your birth. You got to tromp around in the snow and make snow angels. A month ago a series of tornadoes tore through our community. We spent the afternoon huddled in a hallway filled with quilts and pillows. You and Eli played on iPads and iPhones; your mom and I fretted. The next day, as the extent of the devastation became clear, we ran to Arkansas, where we were promptly hemmed in by floods. At one point we walked from Pop Don’s house to a section of road that was underwater. “Why is there water on the road?” you said, pitching rocks in to see them sink to the asphalt below.

Liza eating cupcakes

Last year I wrote that, if we were lucky, you’d become potty trained without us having to work hard. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. The transition from you wearing diapers to you being potty trained was so smooth that we almost didn’t realize it had happened. Not so with your pacifier, which required a lot of bribing and crossed fingers. “Put them on the table and the binkie fairy will take them away and leave quarters,” we told you. Hint: it wasn’t the binkie fairy, it was me. I put them in the top drawer of my dresser in case you were absolutely unable to go to sleep without a pacifier. I had a whole story about the binkie fairy feeling bad for you if I had to trade them for sleep.

Liza in an 80s hair metal band

You’re still not the greatest sleeper, though your sleep habits have improved noticeably. Your brother sleeps so soundly that I could tie him to the car bumper and drag him around without him waking up, while the sound of moonlight sometimes interrupts your sleep. When we were visiting with my family during Thanksgiving, we put you to sleep in one bed and then moved you to another. The first night when I lifted you and you stayed asleep, I nearly passed out myself. Most nights aren’t that smooth, though. Putting you to bed stimulates your procrastination gland. “I need to go to the baaaaathroom,” you tell us. “There are shadows in my room. Who’s out there? Can I have some water? There’s a monster in my room. Can you cover me up?” The best of your excuses play on our parenting impulses. “I want you to hug me,” you’ll say. When we do, you say, “Now hug me for a while.” Just last night we went in to find that you’d been playing, dressed yourself in your fairy wings, and only then fallen asleep.

Liza holding Elli her stuffed elephant

The most exciting thing you did all year was fall and poke one of your teeth through your upper lip. You got to have stitches, which sent you into hysterics throughout the process. Lest anyone think you were so upset because you’re a frilly little girl, I’ll point out that, two days later, the stitches were bothering you so you went ahead and pulled them out.

Eli is your best friend and dearest enemy. Sometimes you two fight; five minutes later, you’re sad that Eli won’t play with you. Every morning you wake up and go play with him until he pushes you or you hit him, at which point you wake up your mom and me either by complaining about what Eli did or screeching like an angry owl. Screeching is how you let people in neighboring states know that you’re angry. I’m afraid you inherited my temper. If so, I hope you learn to control it sooner than I did.

Liza and Eli hanging upside down

These days are so hot that we’ve been spending a lot of it in friends’ pools. You splash around excitedly, holding onto two pool noodles while you kick. After a while you tire out and want to be carried through the water while clinging tightly to my neck. I treasure those moments because, as excited as I am about your growing independence, it’s still wonderful to have you holding on.

Liza and me

The Light! The Light!

We live near the eastern edge of the US’s Central Time Zone, which means we get light earlier in the morning. I’m sure it has something to do with relativity and perhaps warp drives. The upshot is that, in the summer, sunrise occurs at 5:30 in the morning.

Eli and Liza care nothing for arbitrary time zones. They’re on local solar time. When the sun rises, they get up. I know some of you don’t have children, so let me put this in a more familiar context for you.

Wandering Toddler Table

Before going to bed, roll percentage dice and consult this table to determine what encounter you will have in the early morning.

d% Encounter
01-20 At 6:00 Eli comes in to show you his latest Lego creation before going back to his room. You are Awake; saving throw before your 6:20 alarm ends.
21-40 Liza knocks on the wall to let you know she’s awake. Pass a DC 15 Bluff or Intimidation skill check to convince her to go back to sleep for a while.
41-60 Eli gets up and goes to the bathroom. When he returns to his room, he shuts his door loudly and wakes you up. You are Awake; save ends.
61-80 Eli pads quietly into your room multiple times. Each time he walks in, pauses, and then leaves. Each time you wake up. The fourth time, when you ask him what he’s doing, he says, “I’m seeing what time it is on your clock.”
81-90 You wake up to discover that Eli is staring at you in a very “Children of the Corn” manner. Suffer a surprise round, during which Eli will say, “Dad. Dad. Dad. Are you awake?”
91-99 Eli gets up and goes to the bathroom. When he returns to his room, he shuts his door loudly and wakes Liza up. Liza begins knocking on the wall. You are Awake; no saving throw permitted.
00 The sun goes supernova. You’re dead, but at least you got your sleep.