Category Archives: Conversations with Eli

To Eli on His Ninth Birthday

This year you requested one final birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese before the video game token embedded in your hand begins to flash and signal that you’re too old for the Pizza Rat. How could we say no to something so overstimulating? For adults, Chuck E. Cheese is actually a wight, draining life out of us by his very presence. He gathered you and your friends to him as if he was the pied piper and led you to the front stage, where he made all of you dance. As a reward, his assistants made it rain tickets on you, which you enjoyed but all of the adults found unsettlingly weird.

Eli is excited about SkylandersYou had another awesome Renèe cake, this one Portal themed. Last year’s cake theme was World of Goo, so you’re continuing your trend of wanting video games everywhere in your life. One day I’ll look at you and see ghostly life and mana bars floating over your right shoulder. Your current video game obsession is Skylanders, which combines addictive platform adventuring with collectible figurines. One night I said, “go brush your teeth,” to which you replied, “Did you say, ‘go play Skylanders’?”

“No,” I answered, “I said, ‘go brush your teeth’, which doesn’t really sound a lot like ‘go play Skylanders’.”

“Well, that’s what I heard.”

I don’t know how much longer you’ll be addicted to Skylanders, though. At lunch on Sunday you announced that you were planning on getting into Pokémon soon. That sounds remarkably like “I think I’ll develop a crippling meth addiction next month” to me, but we’ll see how it goes.

Eli reads on his KindleYour big gift from all of your grandparents was a Kindle, because, hey, we might as well get you addicted to electronics early. It’s been great because you love reading and you really love gadgets. If the Kindle also mass-produced Legos out of a 3D printer on its side then it would be the most wonderful invention ever. You’re as in love with reading as I was at your age, and just like me, you get so lost in what you’re reading that you don’t hear other people talking to you. You discovered Roald Dahl’s books and have been tearing through them. I’ve also been reading The Hobbit to you at night. I’ve discovered that I can’t keep the voices I’m using for all of the dwarves straight. I’m not Peter Jackson, so I can’t use funny beards to help you keep track of who’s who in the book.

Eli and his Nerf gunWhen you’re reading, you’re still and quiet. The other 120% of your life is spent talking. You’re incredibly social, wanting to talk to anyone and everyone about your day, their day, what’s been going on, and what Skylander character you’re most in love with right now. Most every thought that comes into your head pops out of your mouth, as if your brain is on speakerphone. When I get home from work you start telling me stories about your day and what random junk you found at school and the Lego figure you just built and also what are we going to do tomorrow, no, not school, after school. Even when you don’t want to talk you can’t help yourself, the words piling up in your brain and threatening to squeeze out of your nose and ears if you don’t open your mouth and let them escape. “Dad,” you’ve said on more than one occasion, “I thought of something but I don’t want to tell you about it.” “Okay, then don’t,” I’ll reply. “Okay.” (beat) “So what I was thinking was…”

Eli inna boxNot only are you an extremely social person, you’ve got a flair for the dramatic. When you want to express puzzlement, you cock one eyebrow and purse your lips. If you’re unsure about what we’ve told you but you’re willing to accept it anyway, you say, “Oooooooooooooookay,” threatening to use all of our city’s allotment of the letter O. You don’t walk into a room, you make an entrance.

Eli mugs in his knitted capThis year we decided to tackle your all-carb diet and try to make you appreciate other foods. Every day you have to take one bite of food you normally wouldn’t eat. This is tricky: if you really don’t want to eat something, you fret so much about it that you make yourself ill. It’s not helped by how you want to take that bite. Instead of eating, say, one green bean and being done with it, you eat half of a green bean. Then you eat half of the remainder. Then you eat half of that remainder, until the ghost of Zeno rises up and threatens to slap you if you don’t just eat the damn thing. But you’ve gotten better at trying out new foods. You try something and give us a thumbs-up that turns to a thumbs-down and rotates between the two options before settling on a final value that is usually mostly thumbs-down. We got a 45-degree thumbs-up from you one time, which was a miracle. It’s also improved your negotiation skills. “Can I eat hummus for my one food today?” you ask innocently, hoping we’ll forget that you’ve been eating hummus since you were two.

In fact, you want to negotiate everything. You’re nine, which means you want to argue a lot, but since you’re Eli those arguments are more akin to hostage negotiations. “I know you said I couldn’t bring a toy in the car, but I really want to take my Nintendo DS. I can’t? Then maybe I should take a small Lego figure, but since they’re so small, I’ll take two. How about just one? Maybe a single Lego brick?” You’re also a planner. Your mom and I will often hear you playing with your sister Liza and saying, “So first we’ll build up a Lego fortress and then your My Little Ponies can attack.”

Eli and his eye handI’m always amazed at your creativity and how your thoughts dash from topic to topic. You’re constantly dreaming up new things. You went bowling as a school field trip, because this is Alabama and when it comes to educational field trips it was either bowling or a trip to a deer taxidermist. That evening you excitedly told me, “Dad! I invented three new ways to bowl!”

“Do any of them involve rolling a ball down the lane towards the pins?”

“I invented four new ways to bowl!”

Eli and his crazy maskSpeaking of school, the pace of learning has dramatically increased. This year you’ve added an accelerated learning section every Monday. When your mom and I first were told about it we thought it was called AGS, which we could only logically assume stood for “Alabama’s Got Smarts!” We imagined it as a reality show where you have to answer trivia questions or Ken Jennings shoots you in the head. Anyway, you’re enjoying the accelerated learning class, but it’s one more thing to deal with every week. Third grade is when they really start bearing down on you to learn what you need for the standardized tests that will pave the metaphorical highway of your grade-school education. Overall you’ve taken it in stride, with the exception of spelling. You learned to read very quickly and have a gestalt approach to reading, so you’re not absorbing spelling words from what you’re reading. Even worse, you’ve got my dislike of memorizing stuff just to memorize it, and that makes your weekly spelling tests a chore.

Along with being super social, you love people. You have a deep reservoir of empathy that you draw on every day. Last December your mom went to Nepal as part of a group of women to help Nepalese women. That left you, me and Liza on our own for two weeks. Early on I was having a hard time, pulled between your needs and work and missing your mom something terrible. I was frazzled and unfairly taking it out on you and Liza, a time-honored parental pastime of directing frustration at our kids. You came up to me and gave me a big hug and said, “I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time, dad. What can I do to help?”

Eli and Liza togetherYour one empathetic weak spot, the wood to your Golden-age Alan Scott, is Liza. You love her and you want to be with her, but you can’t help doing things to get a rise out of her. When the two of you are playing, you alternate between including her in what you’re doing and ignoring her completely. You want her witnessing every thing you do, and yet you don’t want her having her own opinions. Welcome to life as an older brother! Think of it as training for middle management, the kind of job kids dream of having.

Eli shows Legos to GeofYour birthday celebrations lasted longer this year than they did last year, and yet the entire year has flown past faster than ever before. You’re a living refutation of the Theory of Relativity: even though you’re now moving faster than before, you appears to be aging more quickly than ever. You’ve lived with us for nine years. Chances are, we’ve been through half of your time with us. I try to pay attention to every moment, treasure them so that I’ll always remember, but they’re soap bubbles, popping even as my hand closes around them. That doesn’t matter, though. I have to remind myself that what you need is for me to live with you in the moment. After I was grown, when I talked to your grandparents about what I had learned from them and what I remembered, I was surprised to find that I mostly remembered things that had vanished from mom and dad’s memory. I have no idea what will become part of the mental tapestry you’re weaving out of your childhood. That’s scary and liberating, a reminder that now is what we have, and I am grateful beyond expression for that gift.

Eli and me and his Lego Egyptian pyramid

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!

To Eli on His Eighth Birthday

Your birthday celebration started on February 4th with a trip to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga and will end some time around Christmas. The Tuesday after your birthday trip our friend Renèe gave you an awesome World of Goo-themed cake, undeterred by your reaction to the robot cake she made for your sixth birthday. May and Pop sent you presents, and the weekend after that, Mumsy came to visit. Pop Don and Nana Linda sent you presents after that. This is the longest your birthday fun has lasted, and if this trend continues, by 2018 you’ll still be celebrating your 2016 birthday.

Eli and his World of Goo Cake

The goo balls on your cake were appropriate, as you’re obsessed with video games. Every night you ask what video games we’re going to play (the current answer: Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP). A while back you volunteered your own money to buy Angry Birds Rio for mom’s iPad so you could play it. The greatest day of your life was when we gave you your mom’s old iPod touch. You filled it with games and play it whenever you can. When you realized that it would play music too you looked at it as if to say, “If you could also create chicken nuggets I wouldn’t need those two adults to take care of me any more.”

You actually like games of all sorts. A month ago you went through a two-week obsession with chess. I have a set that your uncle Andrew and aunt Joy gave me years ago that sits in our bedroom collecting dust because chess is not nearly as fun as shooting zombies in the head. You’d occasionally asked to “play chess” before, but this time you were deadly serious. We pulled the chess set down and I explained how to play and why I was making the moves I was making. I won, of course. Even though I’m a terrible chess player, I’m still better than an eight-year-old who’s never played before, and there’s no enjoyment quite like beating such a worthy foe so completely. But you kept wanting to play more, and with every game we played you got better. We checked chess books out of the library to help you improve and found online versions so you could practice when I wasn’t home. Then, as quickly as your storm of excitement arose, it dissipated, thankfully before you got good enough to beat me.

Eli shakes hands with a Tusken Raider

Then there are board games. We’ve spent many nights playing Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne (“Meeples! Let’s play Meeples!”), and especially Forbidden Island, which uncle Andrew and aunt Joy got you. Forbidden Island is especially great because it’s a cooperative game, and let me tell you, cooperative games are so much better than the ones around when I was a child. Forbidden Island is a lot like Pandemic except that, if you lose the game, you don’t feel as if you’ve doomed the entire planet to death or, worse, to playing bit parts in a Stephen Soderbergh movie.

It echoes when I played board game with my dad. I remember being ferociously upset with him when he kept beating me at Monopoly, a game that is designed to grind down all players but the winner. May was in the kitchen and, hearing my weeping, called out to Pop: “You need to let him win!” “No!” Pop replied. “That’s giving him a false victory. It won’t encourage him to do better.” Now I’m in his position, playing chess against you and teaching you how to play while walking the narrow path between giving you false victories and crushing your desire to play.

Eli dressed as a ninja for Halloween

In many ways you’re a typical eight-year-old boy. Your taste in food is terrible. You’re still on the “no carb left behind” diet, eating all of the bread and chips you can find, but you also eat chicken nuggets and peanut-butter-and-Nutella sandwitches and not much else. I have to remind myself that I survived my 9th-grade year lunch diet of peanut butter, baloney, cheese, and raisin sandwiches, and if I’m going to throw stones at your eating habits I’ll shatter the glass Jif jar I lived in.

You also like a lot of things that your friends like. You dressed up as a ninja for Halloween, just like your friend Josh and one of his friends. Even your cousin Sam dressed up as a ninja in Kansas City. We spent all Halloween night desperately trying to keep track of you in your black costume. At one point we discovered that we’d somehow added another ninja we didn’t know about to our herd of kids, as if there is some law of attraction involving ninjas that’s reminiscent of how political opinions on Facebook attract arguments.

Eli's ginormous chicken finger and cheese biscuit sandwich

In other ways you’re very much your own person. You, your mom and Liza recently wrote on our giant bathroom mirror with dry erase markers. Your mom wrote a Bible verse that’s related to her new ministry. Liza drew a dog and wrote “UNOST” underneath it, for reasons known only to her. But you? You wrote “BLOODY MARY” three times on the mirror right where I look when I shave in the mornings.

Your music tastes run to ’80s-style rock, bands in the genre that your mom dismissively calls “chicks with guitars”, and electronic dance music. You’ve discovered the Tron: Legacy soundtrack and can’t stop listening to it. One day you were supposed to go to school dressed as your favorite rock star. Your mom and I couldn’t figure out how to make you look like either Daft or Punk.

Eli mugs for the camera

You’re still a big ham, completely unlike me. Whenever we pull out a camera you begin mugging for it. You have your quiet, contemplative moments, but when you know you’re being observed you tend to put on a show. Part of this grows out of your interest in people and your desire to entertain them. Like me, you’re a people-pleaser at heart. You want everyone to like you and are puzzled when they don’t. I hope you don’t lose that love of people as you grow older and have to deal with more of them who don’t care for you for whatever reason.

Eli shows off his Christmas gift of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

School continues to load you down with homework. You have words you have to learn how to spell, practice sentences you have to write, books to read, Accelerated Reader tests you have to take on the books you’ve read, math homework, and short stories that you must read as quickly as possible before answering comprehension questions about it. Thankfully you still love reading. Books have been my constant companion. Just now I looked through the list of Newbery medal winners and had a rush of nostalgia about many of the books I read when I was your age. I hope you have a love of reading and books that survives your schooling. Fortunately you realize the real purpose of school: to pick up all kinds of random thrown-away or lost detritus, like hair clips and pennies, and proudly show them off when you get home. Every day I ask, “How was school today?” and you tell me about the things you found on the ground and the games you played in P.E.

Eli and Liza and the giant frogs

When you’re not at school or doing homework you’re playing with Liza. The two of you continue to feed off of one another, at once simultaneously unable to do without the other and unable to stand the sight of the other. You’re adept at pushing her buttons, making her angry when she doesn’t do what you want, but you also watch out for her and protect her. And you are often lost without her. Liza occasionally creeps into your mom’s and my bed early in the morning to snuggle, something you can’t do because sleeping with you is like sleeping with an angry messenger bike running at full tilt. One morning when she was sleeping with us you wandered into our room, plaintively calling, “Liza? Where are you?” When she’s not around you mope.

Your independence is growing in leaps and bounds. You had your first sleep-over the night before Liza had early-morning surgery. Shortly after your seventh birthday we were eating at a restaurant with friends. I realized with a start that you were getting back in your seat after having gotten up, gone to the bathroom, and returned. This sounds mundane and stupid, I know, but it was a glimpse into the future when you will no longer need my day-to-day care. I no longer drive you to school; instead, you ride the bus. Some mornings you run out to wait for it without remembering to tell any of us goodbye.

Eli's wonderful smile

The challenge for me now is to let you grow into your own person while providing guidance to shape the person you’ll become. I see a lot of myself in you, and I wish I could save you from the mistakes you’re going to make. You, like me, find a lot of things easy to do, so you don’t want to do things you’re not good at the first time. Talent is fine and necessary, but work and perseverance are far more important in the long run. You rush through your schoolwork to get to play time faster, making silly mistakes in the process. You’re going to have to learn the hard way that, while success involves a lot of luck, it also requires a lot of time spent honing your skills. You’ll also have to learn that a lot of what’s worth doing requires you to push past discouragement and pain.

You’re getting there, though. You love the ocean; when we go to the beach for Thanksgiving you’d spend the entire time in the Gulf if possible. I’ve had to nearly drag you from the water, your lips blue and limbs trembling from the cold. This Thanksgiving you tangled with a jellyfish. Its tendrils wrapped around your arm, leaving welts that stung terribly. As we ran from the beach to the house tears streamed down your face. “I’m never going to get in the ocean again,” you sobbed. But thirty minutes later you told me, “You know, I think I’ll be okay, even if another jellyfish stings me.” The next day you waded fearlessly back out into the water.

Eli's jellyfish stings on his left arm

For me now, parenting is like being part of a convoy as it drives through fog. I can’t see the road ahead and I have only hazy memories of the miles we’ve traveled, and sometimes I can’t see everyone who’s on this journey with us. It’s part of why I write these letters. I am a lepidopterist of memories, capturing them and preserving them carefully in words and sentences and paragraphs. We are the stories we tell ourselves and each other. I want your stories to be as true as they can be, and for you to know who you were when you were still learning yourself.

Eli and Stephen and the Easter peeps

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.

“Happy Birthday, Robot!” is an Excellent Storytelling Game

If you like storytelling games, and especially if you have young children in your life, I cannot recommend Daniel Solis’s Happy Birthday, Robot! highly enough. Using dice and coins, up to five players collaboratively create a story about Robot’s birthday. The game serves as creativity fuel, helps you practice collaborative storytelling, and is a whole bunch of fun.

Art for Happy Birthday, Robot!

Every story starts the same: “Happy birthday, Robot!” From there players take turns being the Storyteller. When you’re the Storyteller you roll dice, keeping some and giving others to the players on your left and right. You then write a sentence to keep the story going. You can write as many words as you have dice, but you get the word “Robot” (or “Robot’s”) for free. The player to your right then adds to your sentence using the same rules, only they get the word “and” for free. Then the player to your left adds even more to the sentence, their free word being “but”.

It’s both very silly and very entertaining. As an example, here’s the story Eli, Misty and I created last night.

Happy birthday, Robot!

Robot went flying and had fun but zoomed down quickly.

As he fell, Robot began to sing and dance but landed on a trampoline.

Robot bounced up into the sky and broke apart into tinier robots.

One tiny robot commanded the others and yelled, “Back to the sky, buddies!”

Tiny robots raced skyward (and how!) but one crashed into an eagle.

And that robot fell down into a trampoline pit.

Robot broke through the trampoline and fell to the hot lava below.

Robot buddies raced down and fished him out of the lava but one fell down.

The other robots helped him out but the hook came off.

All the robots became best friends.

Fun times had by robots!

(The hook that came off, in case you’re wondering, was evidently from where the other robots fished the one robot out of the lava.)

You can get a PDF of the game for $10 or a beautiful booklet of it for $25. If Happy Birthday, Robot! sounds a little too child-like for you because your heart is shriveled, you should instead take a look at Solis’s Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. Solis is raising the funds to publish the game, and if you donate you can get all kinds of cool stuff plus the warm feeling of having helped something cool come into being.

To Eli On His Seventh Birthday

Yesterday you were born; today you are seven. For your birthday we got you tubes in your ears. Hope you like them! You’ve always been prone to winter ear infections, and this year you’ve been on antibiotics almost continuously since December. The surgery center where they installed your tubes has a hall with fourteen curtained alcoves. Patients are wheeled in and out of them with frightening speed. It was part NASCAR pit crew, part Henry Ford factory line. They wheeled you away and, before I could open the soda I bought in the recovery waiting room, they were calling us back to pick you up. “He’s going to be grumpy coming out of the general anesthesia,” they warned us, but as they brought you in, we could hear you happily asking the nurse about the wheelchair they had you in.

Eli looking a lot like Carl Sagan

It’s been a year of medical stuff, culminating in you getting stitches in your forehead. You ran out of Liza’s room, blood dripping down your face, and sobbed, “I hit my head!” It turned out you’d jumped off of her bed and over her Dora dollhouse only to bang your forehead on her dresser. After that emergency trip, you getting after-market ear tubes was a breeze.

It’s also been a year of snow. When we missed Huntsville’s white Christmas, instead having a rainy Arkansas Christmas, I thought you’d never get to see large amounts of snow. The universe set out to prove me wrong, dumping around a foot of snow on our yard in January and more in February. You didn’t have any snow boots, so we outfitted you with multiple pairs of socks covered by plastic Ziploc bags held on with rubber bands. Let no one say your mom and I have forgotten our redneck Arkansas roots. We made a snowman, but you were more interested in eating every bit of snow to see if it tasted different than every other bit of snow. You also had a good time throwing snowballs at me, though you were less excited when I threw snowballs back. We wandered up and down the snowy streets while I convinced you and Liza that the gray snow from car tires should not be eaten.

Eli with snowflakes on his tongue

You’re still in love with videogames. You’ve done so well with your Didj that this year we upgraded you to a Nintendo DS. Now you don’t have to solve math problems to keep playing a game! You’re a big fan of Plants vs Zombies and Kirby’s Epic Yarn. The big change is that this year you’re more interested in playing games yourself instead of watching me play. It’s not just videogames, though. You got a copy of the card game Uno as a birthday gift, and ever since you’ve been beating your mom and me at the game.

Last year we were lucky that your kindergarten teacher was great. This year we’ve been lucky that your first grade teacher is also great. Good teachers aren’t a given, so enjoy the ones you have. School has piled homework on your head. You spend about a half hour a day working on assignments to improve your writing, reading, and comprehension skills. They also have us tracking everything you’re reading, which makes reading into a chore with external rewards instead of something you do because you enjoy it. As you might guess, I’m not a fan of this approach. The schoolwork is only going to increase from here, and it makes me worried that you won’t have time to mess around and do things because you find them interesting, a key component in being a kid and becoming a functioning adult.

Eli reading a book

At seven years old, you’re a combination of loving and thoughtless in the way that young boys often are. You fight with Liza and then are sad because you’ve hurt her feelings. Our friends started a fund raiser to buy an iPad for their autistic son. When you heard about it, you said, “I want to give some of my money for it,” and counted out $3 in change to contribute to the fund.

Your relationship with Liza continues to deepen. She’s teaching you how to negotiate and get along with others, a skill which will come in handy later. You and she get up early in the morning and play together in her room, letting your mom and me sleep in like the awesome parents we are. For Halloween the two of you dressed up as skeletons, you in black and her in pink. You’re like binary stars who orbit around each other in complex ways.

Eli and Liza mugging for the camera

Your creativity continues to astound me. You still love making things out of Legos. You saw a TARDIS, went to your drawer of random Lego parts, and returned with a Lego TARDIS. You made a Lego version of Mario and a bad guy from Super Mario Galaxy and then told a long and complex story about how Mario beat the bad guy. You made a Lego version of Perry the Platypus from Phineas and Ferb, your all-time favorite TV show. I expect to come home from work one day to discover that you’ve made a Lego version of your sister and shooed the real Liza out the door.

Eli's KNEX robot

A lot of your creativity is centered on videogames. You’ve made up countless new plants and zombies for the eponymous Plants vs Zombies. “I have a new plant. It’s like a jah-lah-pah-no only it burns all the zombies at once.” You made a paper peashooter and zombie and acted out various PvZ levels. Once, before I left on a business trip, you made me a paper Super Meat Boy. “He can go with you,” you said.

You’ve even harnessed your creativity for capitalist ends. One day you came home from school with a big plastic helicopter. “Where’d you get that?” your mom asked. “Oh, I got one of my friends to trade it to me.” You’d traded him for a two-page comic you’d made of robots fighting. You mis-interpreted your mom’s bemused expression and hastened to re-assure her: “It’s okay. I can make another comic.”

Eli looking like an anime character

The time with you passes all too quickly these days. Yesterday you were born; today you are seven. I have trouble believing that it’s been seven years already, as I at once see you as the newborn baby you were and the boy you are now. That temporal double-vision is only going to get worse as we shelve more birthdays between the bookends of my memory of your birth and the reality of now. But when I page through those books and spread them out before me, what I see in my memories reminds me of how good we’ve had it and makes me excited for the future of who you will become.

Eli running on the beach

Also I Soon Expect Him to Have Followers

Last week Eli came home from school with a large plastic helicopter. “Where did you get that?” Misty asked him.

“Oh, I got one of my friends to trade it to me.”

She paused. “What did you trade him?”

“This two-page comic I made in school. It had two robots and they were fighting.”

We explained to him that, while we were proud of his ability to make such a trade, his friend might later regret it and that he should offer to give back the helicopter. We’ve now ruined his ability to go into sales when he’s older.

On the plus side, he’s re-invented micropayments using the barter system. I can’t wait until he becomes a web cartoonist.

The Granade Family vs. the World

You may remember that, a while back, Liza fell and had to have stitches in her lip.

Liza in her hospital gown with Ellie the elephant tucked inside

A week later, I rolled my ankle while exercising. It swelled up like an angry pundit and I spent the weekend with it propped in the air. Even now I am wearing this crazy ankle brace which, if science had any compassion, would let me leap hundreds of feet in the air before landing without harm.

Stephen's swollen ankle

Last Thursday night, one week after I rolled my ankle, Eli came running into the kitchen, crying. “I hit my head,” he said, holding his hand to his forehead. Blood covered nearly his whole face.

Our responses, in order, were, “That’s going to have to have stitches!” and “How did you do that?”

“I was jumping off of Liza’s bed and over her Dora dollhouse and I hit my head on her dresser,” he sobbed.

So it was that we bundled him up, left Liza with our friend Alana, and drove to the nearby Urgent Care. There we once again got to confirm that the only thing urgent at an Urgent Care is your feeling of anxiety, as we waited for a little over an hour to see the doctor. Eli soon felt good enough to play with another kid in the waiting room, returning to us every once in a while to get the blood wiped off of his forehead.

Eli's gashed forehead

When the doctor asked him how he hurt his head, he repeated his story, with one twist. “I wanted to jump over Liza’s dollhouse and the third time I hit my head.” At the words “third time” both Misty’s and my heads swiveled towards him as if we were wrathful owls.

We’ve now had enough of doctor’s visits and emergency stitches for a while. If anyone needs us, we’ll be hiding inside of giant hamster balls trying to avoid getting hurt by anything.