Children

To Hayden on His Ninth Birthday

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First of all, I’m sorry. Sorry for the bangs. That clump of brown hair that thrusts itself against your forehead like a shellacked fortress. It took me years to train my bangs into the emblem of the 70’s: feathered wings– with the help of a comb that I carried in my back pocket from grades 6 through 8. Who knows, maybe you’ll bring back the trend.

And I’m sorry that you seem to have inherited the Grinch gene. You are a moody one, much like your Dadicus. You’ve mastered the art of frowning and sulking. From the beginning, you seemed to make your presence known by reminding us that the course of true love never did run smooth.

The day we brought you home from the hospital, you stopped breathing. You started turning blue in my arms. Thankfully, you jolted yourself back into the living world–with a little shaking from yours truly.

At your one week check-up, we relayed this to the pediatrician. He looked at Mom and me and said, “He stopped breathing and you didn’t bring him to the emergency room?” Feeling chastised, we both searched for some lame excuse. “Well, he started up again,” I offered.

And so it’s been for these nine years. You have been such a source of life in our hearts, but never typical in your approach. You are kind, sensitive, loving, and honest. And you can throw a fit like no other.

As you move into a new phase of your life, as your limbs no longer resemble those of a young boy, as you are on track to be taller than me by middle school, I thought it appropriate to give you a glimpse into some of your life thus far. There are so many stories–too many for a single blog post. And because it’s you, I can’t be all cutesy–all snips and snails and puppy dog tails. I want to embrace the many sides of you in words, which is quite challenging, but here goes.

DSC_0003As a baby and a toddler you were the conductor of many a freak-out. In infancy, you cried fiercely. As a toddler, you could throw a tantrum worthy of selling tickets. We consulted books (Brazelton’s Touchpoints/ The Super Nanny/ I’m Okay, You’re a Brat/ Magic 1,2,3); we asked fellow survivors  parents; we took any advice from your daycare teachers, neighbors, friends and strangers.

At around age four, the timeout in your room was no longer a viable option. It seemed like we had tried everything but duct tape. Ohh, we thought about it, but never tried it.

One day at work, a friend shared advice as to how they handled their son as a toddler:  her husband reversed the lock on the door knob to their son’s room. “So, instead of him being able to lock us out, we could lock him in!” Eureka! We had found our answer.

However, Mom was very much against Operation Alcatraz. “Well, I don’t know how to contain him when he throws a fit, and I don’t want to hurt him,” I pleaded.  “We’ve tried everything else-I’m giving it a go.”

The next day, I bought a brand new door knob set, and after school, I set about building your new cell. And as life would have it, you wandered into your room, curious as to what I was doing. I offered noDSC_0017 explanation, just asked you to hold a screw, hand me a tool. Soon, you ambled into your closet, where you started to play with various things. Then you discovered your memory drawer in an old dresser where I started storing memorabilia for each of us. For the next half hour, as I unscrewed and fastened, you paraded out of your closet with photos, and artwork, and blankies, and keepsakes. You wondered at your framed footprints, you squeezed your head into your old beach hat…  Before long, Owen joined in, and the two of you had more fun sorting through your lives.

As I finished replacing the knob–with the lock on the front of the door–you had created a pile of stuff around my tools. Looking down at the items, I was reminded of all the joy and love and hope your life had brought us. Mom came home to find you sitting in my lap, naming all your friends in a picture from pre-school, Owen in the background singing and sorting through his own memory draw. It was one of the tenderest moments of our lives.

But then, she spied the reason we were all gathered in your room. She shot me a look and tears sprung to her eyes. “I cannot believe you are really doing this!” she said angrily. “I’m at the end of my rope,” I replied. “And who knows, we may never even need to use it,” I mused.

The next day was a Friday. Mom had decided to pick you up from daycare so I could get moving on some landscaping projects. As I tilled in the garden on that late spring afternoon, I kept thinking back to the day before. I marvelled at all the experiences we had already created together. It was such a weirdly pleasant event, being in your room as both jailer and guide, and a reminder that we are all working hard at building this enigmatic thing called “a family.”

I was roused from my thoughts when I saw Mom’s car careen into the driveway. Right away, I knew something was wrong.

As she jumped out of the driver’s side, I could hear screaming cries from the back seat. “He’s going right up to his room! Right up!” she called to me from the driveway. You flailed, as mom wrestled you into her arms and inside the house.

Well,  I just had to laugh. How’s that for irony? Mom was the first one to use the new system, and the very next day, no less.

I walked in and stood at the bottom of the stairs. There was Mom sitting on the floor in the hallway outside your room. And you? You were safely in your room crying, yelling and throwing books. And the new door knob was securely locked from the outside.

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Thankfully, we didn’t have to use the lock often. It was more comforting just to know it was an option. Yet, as much as we have had to learn to adapt to your personality, we have reaped the benefits of your charm, your wit, your loving side. I honestly think that one of the reasons you’ve had to adjust your temper is because you feel things so deeply. You absorb the world in ways that others do not. You have a sense of empathy, an awareness of all that goes on around you.

I’ll give you an example. When you were a toddler, I taught in Ghana for part of the summer. I was gone quite awhile and you did the funniest thing. You found an old pair of  eyeglasses with the lenses popped out and you put them on. Mom said you wore them for much of the time I was away. It was as if a part of me was with you in my absence. When I returned, you slowly found no need to wear them. Your other pair of glasses was now safely home. That’s how deeply you care.

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Everything can’t fit in a drawer filled with memories, Hayden, but I wish you could remember so many aspects of your childhood. Here are just a few:

You are a lover of LEGOs.

At bed time, you rotate which stuffed animal to bring to bed with you.

You dance like no one’s watching.

You’ve proudly appointed yourself class clown.

You’ve earned the nickname “Hot Dog” in Little League, and had the thrill of hearing your teammates chant it as you hit a home run this season.

You insist that Mom and I both kiss you goodnight.

You love it when I snuggle you.

When I am about to leave your room at bedtime, I whisper in your ear: “I love you Stinky Face.” (From one of our favorite baby books)

Sometimes, when you and I get REALLY mad at each other, we just start cracking up laughing.

You are the luckiest one in the house–winning raffles and carnival games like it’s your job.

You’ve discovered Harry Potter. You proudly play your recorder for anyone who’ll listen. You’ve never met a carb you didn’t like. You’re loud–REALLY LOUD!

And we love you. Through it all, we love you.

Looking forward to sharing more of this ride with you.

Dadicus

hayden's b-day

The Crayola Factory Is Not Where Babies Come From

Last week, we took a day trip to the charming town of Easton, Pennsylvania to visit the Crayola Factory. Like most families, our kids have been holding Crayola crayons since they were babies. And, like most families, we took this one-hour car ride to the factory to talk to our boys about sex. Nothing says sex like…Wait. You don’t see the connection? (I’m relieved). The two are not connected, but that’s the thrill of parenting: you never know which direction your children will take you, even when you have Google Maps on your phone.

In the morning, as we are getting ready to leave, Owen (10) walks up to Pam and whispers something to her about sex. “Do you know what sex is?” she asks.

He shakes his head no. “Some kids at school were talking about it,” he says.

Hayden (8) chimes in: “And someone wrote it on the seat of the bus.”

We exchange a look. The time has come.

“Well, we have an hour in the car. We can tell you all about it,” I say. Owen looks nervous. “Don’t worry, buddy,” I say, “sex never takes a whole hour.” Pam shoots me a look that says behave, Michael. Behave.

And so our journey began. It was like Masters and Johnson by way of Binney and Smith.

Me: Guys, pause your video games. Mommy and I need your attention.

Pam: Are we really doing this now? We haven’t prepared what to say.

Me: It’ll be alright. We just have to start the conversation today. Boys, do you know anything about sex?

Boys: No.

Me: You have NO idea?

Boys: No.

Me: It’s okay if you have. We just want you to know the truth.

Both boys shake their heads. Sure, they giggle at the word “sexy” in songs. Sure, they wonder why Snow White and Prince Charming kiss so much in the TV show Once Upon a Time. They’ve heard talk, but they just weren’t putting two and two–or should I say X and Y–together.

Me: Well.. (deep breath) sex is something two people do when they are in love. It is a physical act. During sex, a man puts his penis in the woman’s vagina.

Both boys appear panic-stricken.

Me: A man and a woman have sex when they want to have a baby.

Both boys mouths drop.

Hayden: You’re freaking me out, dad.

Owen: Do we have to have sex?

Me and Pam in unison: No!

Owen: Do we have to have sex if we want to have kids?

Pam: Well, no, there are–

Me: Honey, let’s keep it simple. Yes, sex is where babies come from.

Owen: I’m not having kids.

Me: And, when a woman has a baby, it actually comes out of her vagina, not her belly.

Hayden: No way!

Me: Way.

Pam: It can come out her belly if…

Me: Keep it simple, hon.

Pam: Well, both of them did come out of my belly.  Mommy had what’s called a cesarean section with both of you.

More looks of fear.

Hayden: So, you guys had to have sex twice?

Pam: Mm-hmm.

Hayden: Oh, my gosh, Owen, could you imagine if you walked in on mom and dad when they were making me?

Owen: Stop, Hayden! That’s crazy. Can we stop talking about this now?

Me: Yes, we can. But I want you to know, you can ask us anything you want about sex. I’m sure you are going to hear things from other kids, and we just want you to know the facts. I’d rather you hear it from us then on the bus or from kids at school.

Hayden: Sex! Ew, that’s so weird. Why would anyone have sex?

Me: And don’t be those kids that go around telling everyone else what sex is now that you know.

Owen: Don’t worry. I don’t want to think about it. I’m NEVER having sex.

Hayden: Me neither!

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For the rest of the day, the word pops up every so often. The boys crack up and shake their heads in disgust and amazement, but overall. a fine first outing.

AS we explore the Crayola Factory, I am thankful for all of the wonder they still have in being kids. Coloring and creating, climbing the crayon shaped jungle gym; making figurines out of molding clay. This is what it’s like, I think. They are exposed to things, and then they go back to being kids. Like rubber bands, their minds’ stretch, but then return–almost–to the original shape–almost.

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A few days later, Hayden hands me a note from school. It’s announcing the return of his guidance counselor from maternity leave.

“How exciting!” I say. “Maybe she will bring in her baby for your class to meet.”

Hayden seems preoccupied by something. Finally, he says, “Her poor husband.”

“Poor husband?” I say, confused. “Why her poor husband?”

“Umm. I think you know.”

“No, I don’t buddy.”

“Ummm. S-E-X,” he spells.

“Sex!” Owen exclaims.

“Yeah, the poor guy had to have sex with her!” Hayden says.

“He’ll be alright,” I say. “He’ll be alright.”

And so will you, I think to myself.

 

Behold the boys latest creations, brought to you by Crayola markers. Can you spot any damage from our conversation?

"Skater Down a Manhole Cover" By: Hayden

“Skater Down a Manhole Cover” By: Hayden

"Rocky Roads" by: Owen

“Rocky Roads” by: Owen

Elf You!

This post originally appeared on December 5, 2013.

elfIt happened again this morning–another reminder of how I am depriving my children, something that I’m sure will leave an emotional scar for decades to come. You see, our house is elfless. You read that right. We do not have an”Elf on the Shelf” (brought to you by Hasbro…batteries not included). Sorry, certain marketing gems bring me back to the commercials of my childhood.

Anyway, there we were, getting ready for school, the boys eating breakfast at the kitchen counter, when a neighbor dropped off her two kids for my wife to put on the bus. “Now, Adam, don’t forget to have a good day at school,”she calls out to him as he bounces through the kitchen. Then, she turns to us and says, “Blinky had to make a special trip to the North Pole to give Santa a report.” The boys and I exchange confused looks. Pam says, “Oh, you have an elf.” “Yep,” she says, smiling, although I can’t tell if her look is one of rejoicing or regret. “He’s helping Santa keep a close eye on them.” We all laugh nervously–my wife and I with the fear that our boys will ask why we don’t have an elf. Thankfully, they don’t. Yet, as we continue with the morning routine, I feel a bit sad for them. They are excluded from this new holiday tradition. We are completely disconnected from the elf craze. This is what it must be like for my Jewish friends who did not grow up with Santa, I think. Lucky them!

I am kind of a curmudgeon when it comes to Christmas. I hate all the hullabaloo about shopping and buying presents, of giving and getting gifts. “We have to get Soandso a gift because they get us one.” “Another pleather wallet! You shouldn’t have, Uncle Marty.” Really, you shouldn’t have. It’s worse with my own kids, who start making preliminary Christmas lists in June! I think they’ve made six this year (so far). I’m such a Grinch that I look forward to the day when they no longer believe in Mr. Claus. Then, I won’t feel bad about shooting down their wish lists. Now, we have to invent stories about why they couldn’t get a thousand dollars worth of Legos from Santa.

I enjoy family get togethers. I like the idea of decorating a tree and eating Christmas cookies, but the whole consumerism thing gives me a headache as thick as Target‘s Christmas catalogue–which arrived before Halloween. And that’s why I was actually glad when we dodged the snowball of Elf on the Shelf. It has gained popularity just as our sons’ belief in Santa is waning. They are seven and nine for Kringle‘s sake. My wife almost caved last year, but I begged her not to give in. Thankfully, she was strong. But it is awkward for us when others mention their elves. Anyone with younger kids, toddlers and such, HAS to have one, like my poor neighbor this morning, whose son is in kindergarten. If our kids were younger, we’d have an elf. And I’d be in HELF–Elf Hell.

I don’t think American culture needs any more encouragement when it comes to celebrating Christmas. As a matter of fact, I wish there was a little more coal handed out. Plus, I’m bothered by the whole “Watching You” concept. It’s bad enough to invent the omnipresent eyes of the invisible Santa, but now to have one of his minions looking in on you, well, in that case why not just call him Big Brother? Sorry to be such a downer, but you can’t convince me of the value of this. Parenting is just one idle threat after another–I don’t need a plastic pixy to do my dirty work. Just as I try to stay away from Black Friday sales–which are still going on a week later, I might add–I try to avoid all things elf.

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But I did have fun on my way to work. I fantasized about what I would tell the boys if they do ask why we don’t have an Elf on the Shelf. “Mommy’s allergic.” No. “They cost too much money.” Nope, they know how much they cost because they’re on display in every toy and card store. “They will leave poop in the house.” Definitely not. Knowing my boys, that would make them want one even more. Finally, I fantasize about having a conversation with them where I explain how we can’t get an elf because we have two new dogs under the age of one. Huck and Rosie would attack the elf, and could possibly even kill it, I explain. Next, we would all imagine the elf torn to shreds–its pointy nose and impish smile chewed to bits. Then one of the boys would ask if elves bleed, and I would nod yes. Their eyes would widen, as they hug me and thank me for saving one of Santa’s helpers. Then they would go to their rooms, clean them without asking and see all the toys they already have. “Dad,” they would holler, “come here, quick!” I would run upstairs to find them finishing a note to Santa that reads: Christmas List–Revised (in my fantasy, they know what revised means). “Here,” they would say (in my fantasy, they would speak in unison). Then, they’d hand me the piece of paper, which would state: “All we want for Christmas is peace on Earth.”

My boys…I shake myself from the fantasy just as I am pulling into the parking lot at work. I feel good. I’m oddly proud of my sons for wanting world peace. I remind myself to enjoy Christmas with them this year–it’s probably Owen’s last year “believing”.

And then an image pops into my head that warms my heart: It’s of our two dogs lying by the fire Christmas morning, gnawing on the last remnants of an elf ear . Ahhhh. Don’t you just love the holidays?

Photo credits: Michael Kappel

 

Wee the People

The voice of democracy rang through our house last week. Owen (9) came home to inform us that he was running for student council. “Only 4th and 5th graders can be classroom representatives,” he told me excitedly. “Each class elects one boy and one girl. A lot of boys are running, but I think I have a shot.”

As he walked out of the kitchen, I already felt like he had won. I was so proud of the fact that he decided to run on his own. As a parent, you’re often not sure if your kids are getting the message. We don’t keep a checklist on the fridge of all the things we do/do not want them to do. So, we try to lead by example. But, more than that, we hope. We hope a lot. Hope that they will understand all that we cannot put into words. That they err on the side of what’s right. That they just be nice, and kind, and president.

Over the next few days, Owen worked on his campaign. He sat in his room creating posters that highlighted his policies and platform. Posters that looked like this:

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“Wow, Owen!” I said, impressed. “This looks awesome!”

“And I made him this one, Dad,” said his little brother, Hayden (8):

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And just like that, I beheld the candidate and his campaign manager. For the next few days, it felt like I was in the presence of a young JFK and his brother, Bobby. The boys continued their work in earnest.

“Dad, did you notice on my signs where I ask everyone if they got their cards?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said.

“See, you can’t give out candy or prizes, so I thought it would be neat to give each of them a card before they vote.” Cards. He made 28 little cards for his classmates. Cards that looked like this:

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“Here’s the one he made for me,” piped in his manager, Hayden. And he showed me this:

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“Now, Owen, you should put all of these in a folder so you don’t…” directed Hayden, and the two boys were off again. I saw them cutting and folding, and placing everything in what I am sure was the first file cabinet for many of us–underneath the couch.

The day before the election, the boys and I were driving in the car. “So, Owen, if you did win, what is something you think you might do for your fellow classmates?”

“Well,” he said, “every month we go to a meeting with the principal and some teachers and tell them of any problems.”

“What do you think might be a problem you would bring up?”

“Umm, like, let’s say the buses are too crowded. Then I would work to fix that.”

“Okay, how?” I implore.

“By telling them we need more buses!” he answers emphatically.

Would that it were that easier, my son. Would that it were, I think. Yet, I say, “Sounds good, buddy.”

That night, I watch him craft his speech. He doesn’t let me read it, but he allows me to show him how to write it in big letters on several indexphoto (56) cards. Since I will not see him in the morning, I wish him well before bed.

“Good luck tomorrow, O. And just remember, no matter what happens you can still be a leader.”

“Okay,” he says.

“You’re a leader just for wanting to run in the election. No matter what happens–you’ve already won in my book.”

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I first thought about writing this post before the election took place, and I thought it would be cool not to reveal if he won or not. I truly believe he is a winner just for trying to do this at such a young age. And not a “winner” in the sense that every kid gets a trophy at the end of the season regardless of their record, but a winner in the sense that he took a chance, he stood up, he wanted to be a part of something bigger than himself.

But now that I know the outcome, I must inform you–and not for the reasons you might think.

Owen won. He did, and I am proud. But the victory was enlightening for other reasons.

For one, some of his “friends” said mean things about his winning–one even claimed they were no longer buds (the same boy who was playing with him at a birthday party two days later)–and therein lies a hard lesson for anyone. As the wise sage Taylor Swift once proclaimed, “And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate…” An important lesson indeed: there will always be people who will try to dampen your spirits, who don’t want you to succeed. But I am happy to tell you that Owen seemed quite unphased by this.

The second insight from the election comes from the fact that two of Owen’s running mates wore oxfords with bow ties and delivered Power Point presentations. My son wore his usual shorts and sneaks, delivered a heartfelt speech and gave everyone a colorful voting card–looks like Owen’s on his way to being a Democrat.

Regardless of his political leanings–he’ll always have my vote.

God Bless America!

 

 

File Under Funny: A Twig Grows in Blue Bell

photo (53)My second-grader, Hayden, came home from school on Friday with a twig sapling to plant in the yard, in honor of Arbor Day. He put it on the patio table, essentially making it the dogs’ toy of the minute. All weekend, he inquired about when we would plant his “tree”. Finally, I broke the bad news. “I think the dogs ate your tree, buddy.” He handled his disappointment quite well.

Today, Hayden walked in with yet another stick sapling to plant. “What’s this?” I asked excitedly. “Mrs. H let me have the class tree.” “Did you tell her what happened?” “Yeah, and she said to take this one.” “What did you say?” I asked, reminding him of his manners. “I said, ‘I guess that’s why they call it a DOGWOOD TREE.'”

If this tree grows to maturity, Hayden will be 105 years-old. Best of luck, Twiggy.

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XOXO

The following comic was inspired by a previous post of the same title.

Whenever my wife travels for work, she peppers the house with little post-it notes of affection for all. And she likes to put them everywhere.

A note like this will greet me when I come downstairs for my morning coffee.

xoxoxo

And there will be notes for the boys on their cereal bowls.

xoxo

We come across them in familiar spots throughout the day–from beginning to end.

xoxoxoxo (1)

Last year, as I was putting the boys to bed, they finally became intrigued about the ubiquitous XOXO that adorns all of her messages.

At bedtime, I usually sit in the hall while the boys settle into sleep. I had just opened a book when Hayden (then 6) called out from his room, “What does XOXO mean?”

xo2 (1)

 

“Or is it kisses and hugs? X is for kisses and O is for hugs,” I clarify.

“Okay,” says Hayden. Their rooms grow quiet. I continue reading by the glow of the nightlight.

xo1 (1)

 

It’s strange, but I actually enjoy this time, sitting on the hard floor in the drafty hallway. The boys are safely tucked in for the night and I get lost in a book. I am just that when Owen pipes in from his room.

“Dad, what’s sex?”

My eyes shoot up from my book, panic-stricken.

xo3

Why is he asking about sex? What the hell have they been watching? What should I do? Pam’s away!

xo4 (1)

I think back to how goofy and innocent these two are. Like the time I thought they were coloring when they were really doing this with all of their crayons:

xo6 (1)

 

I can handle telling them how to properly use their crayons. But this is another matter altogether.

I take a breath, about to say, “Sex is something that mommies and daddies do when…” Just then, Hayden yells from his bedroom.

xo5 (1)

 

I exhale a sigh of relief. He was asking about X! X is a kiss. X is a kiss. “Goodnight you two!” I say, relieved. “Goodnight!” they reply, innocently.

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Post Script:

As I reflect on this incident over a year later, two things stand out. One, my mind really has gone to shit since having kids. I was not capable of recalling the conversation the boys and I were having minutes ago–I actually thought he was asking about sex, not X! That quickly, the thought is gone.

Second, in hindsight, I understand why I became so panicky in this situation. It’s not that I’m afraid for my boys to have such knowledge. Pam and I have always wanted to be open and honest with them–from the start, we’ve called things by their anatomical names in this house. No “noodle” or “woohoo”–two terms I’ve heard other parents use for penis and vagina. And I do think I would have begun the conversation as I did in my head: “Sex is something that mommies and daddies do to show they love each other…” And in time, that conversation would have developed into “Sex is something that two people do when they love each other…” It’s not the topic, per se, but the realization that I must be prepared at any time to confront questions my sons will have, and to answer them in an honest and respectful way.

I don’t think my panic arose from them knowing about sex, but just that it came out of nowhere. Even though it wasn’t even the question they had, I was reminded about the fact that, like all things in life, we cannot be prepared–we never know when something will occur. We cannot schedule the conversation, block off a half hour of our time for discussion, then cross it off our to-do list. Kids remind us that life is unpredictable, and we must try to be ready for anything.  ANYTHING!

XOXO,

Dadicus

To see how I handled a similar situation this year, click here .

MEET THE CARTOONIST: Jimmy Murphy
When he’s not performing Shakespearean Sonnets at The Great Wall of China, Jimmy Murphy draws everything from the creatures that haunt his imagination, to the ones that haunt his 9th grade reading curriculum, to the squishy noseless people like those seen on this website [figure1]. Although not yet at the peak of his popularity, artistically or high schoolistically, this fourteen year-old has been drawing since he could hold a crayon–the first recorded drawing being a rainbow–[figure 2]. Jimmy’s artistic influences include Shawn CossGris Grimly, and himself. He enjoys reading a good book, ranting about things he hates, raving about things he likes, sleeping, and can be endlessly entertained with a label-maker [figure 3].
[1] Jimmy.1 (1)      [2] Jimmy.2        [3] Jimmy.3 (1)

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March Madness

As the nation immerses itself in the craze of the NCAA College Basketball Tournament, I thought I’d give you another perspective on the rules of the game. I found this gem in Owen’s room, where the boys have weathered some of this winter playing hoops with one of those over the door basketball nets.

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Number 3 continues on back with …for defense.

Number 4 continues on back …a rope tie someone up.

Number 8 is particularly interesting to me, since Owen’s brother Hayden is 7.